Capital M

The other night I watched Bad Words, the movie with Jason Bateman as a 40-year-old who is allowed to enter a national kids spelling bee because of a loophole in the rules. It’s funny and dirty with a couple of good twists in the story, and Bateman does a fine job of directing. It’s quite entertaining.

But it made me think of something that happened four decades ago, when I was in fifth grade. We were on a class outing to a part of my hometown called Stage Fort Park, a large recreation area with lots of green grass and rocks to climb and beaches. There was food and games and other activities, including a spelling bee (they had to mix in some learning with the sunshine and running around). I was pretty damn good at spelling so I entered. I got through a few rounds no problem, and then I got the word “Massachusetts.” I spelled it correctly – M-A-S-S-A-C-H-U-S-E-T-T-S – and my teacher even said “That was really great Bob.”

I think I gave a little smile and maybe even a silent sigh of relief, but then he added “…but you forgot to say CAPITAL M.”

I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, and I lowered my head in shame and disappointment (D-I-S-A-P-P-O-I-N-T-M-E-N-T). All that work and I was disqualified (D-I-S-Q-U-A-L-I-F-I-E-D) because of what I consider a technicality (T-E-C-H-N-I-C-A-L-I-T-Y). I’m pretty sure I thought of some bad words as I walked away. I don’t remember too many things that happened in my fifth grade class but 40 years later I remember that.

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