John Lamb, Published November 13 2012
Lamb: Spell shocked on stage, who’d have guessed?
This is in equal parts because:
A) When in doubt, I make up words.
B) I was too easily distracted to be a good student and retain useful knowledge.
So when I was asked to be a celebrity speller in Moorhead High School’s musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” I knew the joke would be on me.
But being asked by one of the actors at his mother’s wedding, it was an offer that was hard to refuse. Plus, I figured it would count as a wedding gift, and assurances that I wouldn’t have to sing helped win me over.
The show is pretty straightforward: A colorful cast of teenagers compete at said spelling bee, and through the performance, more and more of their character is revealed. But because there are still openings, members are called from the crowd. My name was called opening night along with TV and radio personality Steve Poitras and Rat and Zero from Y-94’s The Morning Playhouse.
All three of these guys have more experience in front of live audiences, and I’m dependent on copy editors and spell check, so I didn’t have much hope. Even less after Poitras was bumped right off the bat for misspelling “xerophthalmiology.”
When my name was called, I shuffled to the microphone at center stage, as the audience was informed by the color commentator that I am “Bigfoot’s third cousin, twice removed.”
In addition to being a bad speller, I’m also bad at math, so while I was trying to figure out that relationship, I was asked to spell “cow.”
While the other spellers objected over the relative ease of the word, I recited my only lines: “Can I get a definition?” and “Can you use it in a sentence.”
The responses from the judging character, Vice Principal Douglas Panch, (“A cow” and “Please spell cow”) didn’t help, but my Fargo Public School education prevailed and I moved on to the second round.
Eventually, after being dragged into a dance number (OK, it was more like Ring-Around-the-Rosy), I huffed and puffed my way to the mic for my second word, “gardyloo.”
I didn’t know how to spell the word for, “A cry formerly used in Scotland to warn pedestrians when slops were about to be thrown from an upstairs window,” but it sounded like a word I would make up, so I spelled it right.
My celebration was short lived as I was immediately called back to spell “kinnikinnick.”
“Isn’t that a character in ‘Grease?’ ” I asked.
Turns out that’s “Kenickie.”
As I and the audience learned, “kinnikinnick” is “a mixture of bark, dried leaves and sometimes tobacco, formerly smoked by the Indians and pioneers in the Ohio valley.”
I was ruled out for “missing every other ‘n.’ ”
My failure wasn’t in vain. I was consoled and serenaded (conserenaded?) by Mitch, the creepy convict/comfort counselor who told me he liked my beard. I was given a juice box for my effort and escorted off the stage as the first act came to a musical close.
I wasn’t bit by the drama bug and I haven’t become a better speller, but I was happy to be a bit part of a fun production.
In hindsight, I wish my biography would’ve read: “John Lamb is a graduate from Fargo South High, but they never ask him to do anything this cool.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533