Most of my life I’ve been a loser.
Contests, family members, jobs, loves, keys, the lotto—you name it, I’ve lost it.
When you’ve spent as much time losing at things as I have, you get to a point where you’d be happy to win just about any old thing just to feel like a winner for a little while.
When I was 11 years old, I entered a school-wide poetry contest. The theme was “Michigan” and I intended to win, baby. I spent hours composing the perfect prose.
It was a great poem. The greatest poem. A masterpiece. Other poets would write poems about my poem’s greatness.
Governor Blanchard would call my family to tell them how my poem changed his life, and he’d call me “sport” and say I could call him “Jim” and me and Jim would have dinner in the governor’s mansion and they’d commission an oil painting of me standing at a podium, reciting my poem.
Even the title “Ode to Michigan” was a bit of terrific. I remember it still:
Cars are great and so is money
but I know a state that’s sweet as honey
Michigan’s the state, yes it’s true
if you lived here you’d love it, too
How could I possibly lose?
I lost. I lost? How did I lose? I had the soul of a poet and the wit of a—well, something pretty goddamn witty!
The incident so galled my prepubescent brain I vowed to someday win a subjectively bestowed award in a narrow category of peers who varied widely in ability. And then I would have my revenge!
Then there was the Halloween costume contest of 1995.
I was dealing blackjack at a casino that fall. Employees were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. I guess the idea was to cheer up the alcoholics, degenerate gamblers, and make the evening shift just that much weirder. (Frankly, between people dropping dead at the card tables, soiling themselves and refusing to leave their slot machines, patrons getting beaten in the parking lot for their winnings, and the gaming commission storming the place on a semi-regular basis to haul some middle-management type out in cuffs, we were the least scary thing in the building.)
Still bitter from my big poetry prize loss, I went all out to win the $50 costume purse by spending roughly twice that much on an outfit. I would win the love and respect of my peers and customers. I even had my speech all planned out. (And, yes, I intended to open with my poem.)
I rented a long black cloak and cowl. My aunt did my makeup. Warren Zevon sang “Werewolves of London” at some point during my Oct. 31 commute. (My hair was perfect—it was a good sign.)
I was going to be the scariest grim reaper outside an Obama Death Panel … or an Ingmar Bergman flick for you artsy liberal types. (It’s called “The 7th Seal,” look it up.)
What I hadn’t planned for was the tall muscular coworker who dressed likewise. Nor was I ready for how much my shorter, chubbier reaper resembled not the eternal symbol of death but a younger fatter Uncle Fester.
My uncle—a pit boss at the time—sealed my fate by reciting lines from The Addams Family whenever he walked past my table.
He took a break from calling me by his usual nickname for me: the sausage (because I was packed into my tuxedo uniform like a bratwurst in patent leather shoes.)
“Hey Gomez!” he’d shout across the room in his best high-pitched Fester voice. (He’s pretty brash for a guy named “Bert” but he gets away with it because he’s the funniest guy I know.)
He laughed, the customers laughed, and the physically fit grim reaper laughed all the way to first prize.
I fumed—stop laughing! I’m the grim reaper, damn it!—but it was no use. Even with all the makeup and costuming I was, at best, the Grim Sausage.
But all that changed two weeks ago when my newspaper won first place for General Excellence in the Michigan Press Association 2014 Better Newspaper Contest.
To be honest, I’ve always felt excellent in a general way. And, now that I’m generally excellent, I won’t have as much time for corresponding with the common man—that’s you. I’m going to be too busy doing generally excellent things to bother with chores like writing this column or neglecting raking my yard, so I plan to begin interviews right away for a personal assistant. The position doesn’t pay money, per se, but one cannot put a price on the sheer amount of general excellence you’ll witness while under my tutelage.
Prospective candidates must be proficient at backgammon, raking, and be old enough to get my cherry whiskey from the corner store.
Poets and losers need not apply.