Friday, May 29, 2009

Local Boy Does Good

I have a strange combination of tunnel-vision desire to win anything I compete in and crippling fear of failure. So when I first heard about a sports spelling bee at ESPNZone this past Tuesday, I only had a couple of days to chicken out and decide not to go even though I officially registered for it by e-mail. The event was Thursday (last night), and I had to call my job several times to find someone with authority to give me the day off work, yet still I came close to not going. Wednesday night, I found myself contemplating how embarrassing it would be if I made the trek downtown and got all riled up only to get knocked out in the first round on some obscure hockey player's name. Then, in a flash, I got the inspiration to go to the Blackhawks web site and look at their roster, just to see if I could perhaps memorize the crazy surnames hockey players seem to possess. And with that, I decided that I was in. If I'm going through the trouble of doing even a little bit of studying for such a goofy event, then by God, I was going to take my shot.

I also have a tardiness problem, inherited from my dad. So I arrived at ESPNZone at 6:35P, five minutes later than I was requested. I rushed out of the train station and speed-walked two blocks to the place, and panting hard, I asked the young black girl at the front desk, "I'm embarrassed to say this, but I'm here for the Sports Spelling Bee?" "Why should you be embarrassed?" she said with a smile. "You might actually win the thing." How nice of her to not laugh in my face, as I'm sure she must have been tempted to do. She directed me to someone sitting at a desk upstairs, who gave me an entry sheet to fill not and told me to hurry into the pre-game briefing and bring her the sheet later. I stepped into a side room--coincidentally, a room where my friends and I sat and had dinner the last time I was at ESPNZone, about five years ago--and as I put on my participant's placard and sized up the competition, I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't too late. The moderator for the event, a Bob Saget look-alike in a suit more expensive than my wardrobe, was giving the rundown of how a spelling bee works, and because I'm a veteran of spelling bees, I didn't think I missed anything pertinent, so that allowed me to catch my breath and relax. He said at one point that the names in the first few rounds would be rather easy and would be current Chicago sports names, so it would be a get-your-feet-wet situation. Some guy mistook that for getting a free pass in the first round, and we all had a chuckle at the idea. I figured the others competing would be nerdy white men, and I was right. There were fifteen of us, and one was a white woman, and two (including me) were brothas. Considering the prizes for the winner--a VIP party at ESPNZone, two White Sox tickets, and a trophy--I thought there may have been more, but there was no publicity for the event. I heard about it because I'm a member of a Facebook group for former National Spelling Bee participants, and the moderator of the group works for ESPN, so she posted a one-line blurb about it and put a link to the website.

I didn't have time to get nervous after the briefing, because Bob Saget led us to the front where the big-screen TVs show various sporting events in perpetuity and started the show. The sound for all the TVs was turned down, and Bob Saget let everyone know that he was aiming for us to be finished by the time the Magic-Cavaliers NBA playoff game started at 7:30P, to which I thought to myself, Man, he must have some hard names on his list if he plans to have us all eliminated in the next half-hour. He introduced the first contestant as last year's winner, and I started to get a little scared at the thought that hey, maybe there are some guys in this field that are even bigger sports geeks than me and will spell until midnight if they have to. We all stood in order of arrival against the wall and walked to the back of the line when we got a word right, so I, being #15, had to wait until everyone spelled one name before I had my crack. And when the first person got eliminated--he froze on the name Urlacher, which is dumb if you live in Chicago because he's a legend here--I thought, yes, I'm not the first guy out! The woman was about three people ahead of me, and I heard her chatting with someone else in line, telling him, "I'm gonna win." And believe it or not, that actually got me fired up. Not because it was a girl saying that, but because how dare anyone say that out loud. I took offense for some reason. I guess I figured that we're all here trying to win, so for her to verbalize her plan to win regardless of everyone else was more than a little arrogant, and besides, I'm the former Spelling Bee champ here, so if anyone has a right to victory, it's me! When Bob Saget asked me if I had a job that helped me in knowing all these names, I responded, "No, but I must admit. I am the 1990 Chicagoland Spelling Bee champion." I heard some cheers from the people for that, then I saw a yellow flag fly towards me. The judge, a curly-haired guy who couldn't have been older than 23, had "penalized" me for being a ringer, to which I replied, "You never said that professionals weren't allowed!" I was much more relaxed after that exchange.

I have to say, they pulled some fucked-up names not only from the Blackhawks but from the Chicago Fire soccer team that would have eliminated me had I gotten those names. But I didn't. And as the competition went along and people dropped off--the otha brotha, some prick from Milwaukee, some guy in a St. Louis Cardinals cap, the girl, a guy right in front of me with those paraplegic support stilts that attach to your wrists because his legs were all rubbery, and even last year's champ, who didn't know there were two Rs in Correll Buckhalter's first name--I started to have a little more fun with each turn. At one point I wrote out the name on my placard with my finger, like the little nerds do in the actual spelling bee because they're visualizing the word, and at a couple of other points when Bob Saget read off NBA names that had been retired several years ago like Dan Majerle or Detlef Schrempf, I gave him a raised eyebrow and said, "Are you serious?" That got a laugh out of the crowd. But the reality was, either you knew the names or you didn't, and fortunately I knew all of the names I got. However, I'm old, so I don't remember the name that I got right to win. I do remember my celebration when I won--an exaggerated fist pump and four thumps of the chest with both fists like I saw Rafer Alston do for the Magic a few nights ago. I proudly held my trophy up for the patrons to see, and they politely applauded for the geek with way too much glee for winning a sports spelling bee. Then I was interviewed by a reporter for a newspaper in Indiana, congratulated by some of the competitors who stuck around for the end, and asked to fill out some release forms by Bob Saget, who also took a bunch of pictures of me and the trophy. Then I shook his hand and went right back to the train station that I just ran out of a couple of hours ago, shaking my head at how eerily similar the experience was to my win in 1990. All the same emotions--pride, joy, shame at being so happy about something so utterly meaningless, and a little bit of bashfulness at my moment in the spotlight. And the same lasting emotion when all the others have cycled through--the thought that no matter what, I accomplished something, and no one can ever take it away.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Champ Is HERE!!!

The Spelling Bee Champ is back! For one night only...Sports Spelling Bee, Thu. May 28, 6:30P, ESPNZone, downtown Chicago...I'm in it to win it!!

Tying The Knot, Part 4: Keeping The Flame Alive

Nothing is easy about a long-distance relationship, except perhaps for the fact that my fiancee and I don't have a chance to get on each other's nerves. But one of the worst factors is that there's no physical contact. It's not just about sexual intimacy, which isn't even a component in our relationship since we are waiting to have sex until after marriage, but even the slightest bit of staying in touch is key to not feeling like you're in a loveless relationship. I was pleasantly surprised by my fiancee's attempts this past weekend to spice things up.

A week and a half ago she sent me an online article she read about how there should not be any secrets or shame in the bedroom between two married people. Anything goes when it comes to being intimate with your spouse. Many people feel that they can't or shouldn't do certain "dirty" things in bed, the article said, even when it's with their own husband or wife, when in fact the Bible says that it's part of the act of marriage and love to explore the heights of intimacy. My fiancee took this to mean that maybe we should be less inhibited about sex when it comes to talking about it or expressing desire. To that end, she sent an e-mail detailing three things she decided to do: 1, she told me that anytime I was willing to try phone sex, although she may not be any good at it initially, she was game. She had always said that she believed phone sex was something we should do only after we got married and were separated from each other for a few nights. 2, she said that she was fine with any kind of dirty talk or passionate utterances I wanted to say the next time we fooled around. Before, she has had a problem with the chance that in the heat of the moment I may say something she takes offense to, like "Suck my dick bitch!" or something to that effect. I've been very careful not to go down that road, and I won't say that it has stifled my enjoyment of our fooling around, but it would be fun to see how nasty we can get. I'm not sure if I should take her up on it, though. I have a knack of fucking things up, and it would be my luck that I find the one thing to say that makes her burst into tears or something. But it's still makes me smile to see that this article has given her the idea of having no limits to our sexual experiences. She said that her 3rd point taken away from the article would be revealed at a later date. I had no idea what that meant, and it slipped my mind after a day or two.

Then a week ago, as I'm about to play a video game, I got a text from my fiancee saying that I had something special waiting for me in my e-mail. It wasn't there yet, so I had to wait a couple of minutes, but when it arrived, I was surprised to see that it was a picture she took of herself in her bra and panties after getting out of the shower. She had scrawled "I LOVE U!" on a piece of paper and attached it to her bathroom mirror, then took a pic of herself in the mirror. This was a bit of a shock because it was out of her element to take pictures that could be construed as naughty. I was happy more for her shedding her inhibitions a little than for receiving the pic. Then I got another e-mail titled "The Girls." Sure enough, it was my God-fearing fiancee with her bra off and a devilish smirk on her face. Very arousing. A third pic came in titled "Booty," and this was her in her thong showing off her fantastic ass. (She told me later that she had originally bent over for the ass shot, but decided that it made her butt look too big. Sigh. Typical woman.) A fourth e-mail came in titled "Something To Suck," and because she was literally and metaphorically letting her hair down, I assumed this would be a spread-eagle pic of her clit, but she wasn't quite ready to go there yet. It was a close-up of one of her large nipples. I was still very impressed at her ability to let herself go free. She even promised that I could take more intimate pictures when we got a chance, especially since "it's hard taking those kind of pictures of yourself." I can only imagine.

My fiancee and I had been having some issues lately concerning how I handle my money and how I would handle it when it became "our" money. We had avoided name-calling and hurtful dialogue, but it was still stressing us out, on top of my stress from the job and her stress from job-hunting and our stress from the distance between us and the inability to plan our wedding at this time. But by this one (or four) act (or acts), she let me know that continuing to want each other emotionally and physically is still a vital part of our relationship. It worked, too. She's visiting in a week and a half, and I want her as much as I ever have.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

He's Done It Again

Jim Cornette, a long-time manager in the wrestling business, has written another all-time great commentary piece (blog post, do I dare call it?), this time about the history of "hardcore" wrestling and the damage it has done to the industry. I actually expected to hate the piece due to my neverending love and respect for the old Extreme Championship Wrestling, or ECW, of the 1990s. But after reading the article, I see the harm done by having those kinds of matches night after night. I should just find a way to link to Cornette's web site so that every time he writes a new commentary, it automatically shows up on my blog.

BTW, I'll have another blog post about me and my fiancee in the next day or two. I'm sure you 3 people still reading my blog just cannot wait.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Normal Working Hours?

I almost forgot what it was like to work Monday through Friday, morning to evening, but through a chain of events, I will rediscover the feeling. Due to the U.S. Postal Service eliminating the time shift that allowed us mail extractors to receive mail on 2nd shift, we were informed in a meeting a few weeks ago that our 2nd shift would also be getting terminated. We were handed sheets with new potential schedules and told to put our names on the sheet and rank our most and least desired new shifts. There were only two choices for full-time workers, which is what I am, and they were 7A-3:30P and 9A-5:30P. I chose the 9A-5:30P slot because I couldn't imagine waking up at 5A to get to work by 7A every day. But either way, I was excited to be leaving 2nd shift and going back to 1st, freeing up my evenings again. I had become accustomed to my life as an evening worker, but it was stifling the slightest bit of social interaction I may have had a chance to experience, and it was also not making my fiancee happy that she couldn't have a decent conversation with me after work because she and I were tired at that time of night.

I worried about not getting the 9A shift and having to work at 7A, but I would adjust if need be. Hell, I knew I'd be okay with the earlier shift the first night I would be able to be home at 6P for the start of the night's baseball games, which I'm never home to see except on my off days, Tuesday and Wednesday. Well, a couple of things happened a week ago that altered my plans. First, we were informed in another meeting that J.P. Morgan Chase had worked out some kind of agreement with the USPS to have a skeleton crew work that shift, making it possible for us to retain several people for our 2nd shift. Chase still wanted some people to move to mornings, but it was no longer necessary for everyone to have to find a new shift. They handed out new sheets for us to ponder what schedule we preferred, and now I had to make the decision: Did I really want to go back to mornings, or was I comfortable enough working evenings to stay? I chose to ask for the 9A shift again. It was just too tempting to not have to worry about getting home at night because certain bus lines had stopped running, and finding places to go on my 7P lunch break since some restaurants around my job closed by 5 or 6P, and like I said, it would make my fiancee very happy to have me available in the evenings. At the same time, I had been placed in a program where I was processing all of the courier packs of mail that were dropped on the floor, which is a lot of work because sometimes those FedEx and DHL and UPS envelopes are just stuffed with checks. But hey, processing checks is processing checks, and I have to be at work 8 hours every day regardless. I was never given a straight answer why I was chosen for this project, but I've been doing it for almost a month now, and I'm getting used to it. Little did I know how important doing this project would turn out to be.

Last Friday, I was informed by my current supervisor that I received the shift that I asked for, which is 9A-5:30P. I was excited. More chances to hang out with friends, more baseball and football games that I could actually watch, more conversation with my fiancee. Now, I assumed that I would keep the same weird days that I work, Thursdays through Mondays with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, because I've been constantly told in the three years that I've worked there that we get most of our mail on weekends and Mondays, and that's when they need the most people. And it's true; I've worked a couple of Tuesdays in the past month in order to free up a weekend day to have off instead of burning a vacation day, and the work has been so light, I've seen people arriving for work on 3rd shift at 10P be turned around and immediately sent home. However, when my supervisor told me that I would be placed in the same courier-pack program when I move to mornings, I wondered how it would work out. We get almost no courier packs on the weekends. Would I be sent back to my regular workgroup on Saturdays and Sundays, as I am now? Wouldn't it make sense for morning courier-pack people to work Monday through Friday, since we don't hardly have any courier packs on weekends? I wondered this to my fiancee, but I never spoke to anyone at work about it. Then, this past Monday, my supervisor gave me my new schedule in writing, and there it was: Courier Pack Group, 9A-5:30P, Monday through Friday! OMG!! She explained that on 1st shift, everyone in the courier-pack group works weekdays only. For the first time in 3 stinking years, my weekends are free again!

I have to wait until June 1 to start this new stage of my Chase career, but I cannot wait. All I've been thinking about the last several days is, Saturdays and Sundays off to do as I please...talking on the phone with my fiancee...stepping out and going to weekend activities with her when she's in town...watching baseball...watching FOOTBALL, which I haven't done much of the last 3 years...attending family functions and events without using up vacation days...perhaps once again joining a bowling league with my uncle, who only bowls on Sundays...spending a weekend at friends' houses, or maybe even hosting a poker weekend at my crib...getting home every day when the sun's still out...I'm not going to know what to do with myself. I suffered through 3 years of that shitty schedule, and now it's paid off, because I have to believe that I wouldn't have been chosen for the courier-pack group unless I had the experience at this job to not panic at the large volume of work and the daily deadlines that come with courier packs. Of course, seemingly everyone else at my job is unhappy with their new shifts, but we've been told that preferences for certain shifts were assigned based on productivity and quality of work, and since I don't make errors and do a decent amount of work every month, well, I guess that made me the pick of the litter. I'm a little sad for some friends who didn't get the shifts that they wanted, but I'm certainly thrilled about how things worked out for me. Sometimes, patience does pay off.