I like to enter writing contests. I love how they force my brain to think in new and exciting ways. I would even say that some of my best writing efforts were the direct result of such contests – especially the ones with strict rules regarding subject matter and word count.
I suffer from a sort of Contest Compulsion, I think. Sometimes I win these contests, which, of course, is awesome. More often than not, I lose — but losing never bothers me much; for the real victory is in the final written product, the story that didn’t exist before I decided to compete.
Thanks to Patricia Tilton, I recently learned about the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Competition. Due to my Compusion, I had to enter. The rules were simple: One had to submit a humorous essay fewer than 425 words written in the style of the great Erma herself.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed channeling Bombeck’s propensity for exaggeration. She also loves dialogue, which allowed me to exercise my long-atrophied playwrighting muscles.
What’s posted below didn’t win a thing, but I thought it might be fun to share. Here’s hoping you agree.
My son, Alex, and I have two very different definitions of the word “clean.” This poses a problem when I attempt to use the word in a sentence, such as “Clean your room.”
My “clean” is defined as, “Put every single solitary thing away forever.” His definition is, “Consolidate the six or eight smallish piles of stuff into one, colossal pile of stuff. Then shove the pile into the mathematical center of the room.”
“Is your room clean?” I shout down the hall.
“Yes!” he shouts back.
Since our definitions of “clean” differ somewhat, I pose a follow up: “Would I find your room clean?”
“Yes!” he shouts back. Unfortunately, Alex and I also have different definitions for the word “yes,” so I trundle down the hall and steady myself for anything.
The pile of garbage I discover is large enough to bury a marching band with their instruments. If I wasn’t so horrified, I’d almost be grateful, for even a casual viewing reveals a treasure trove of objects I assumed had drifted off into an alternate dimension.
“The battleship!” I cry.
“Hm?” Satisfied with a job well done, Alex was busy evaluating a Lego — perhaps attempting to decide if it was hard and sharp enough to leave on the bathroom floor.
“You have the battleship from Battleship.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s for a game.”
“I know it’s for a game. The game is Battleship. Why is it here in your landfill instead of in the Battleship box?”
“Because I needed it for my own game.”
“The refrigerator magnets!”
“I need them for my game, too.”
“All of them?”
“It’s a big game.”
“I can see that. So while your playing your game, I’m duct taping phone messages to the fridge.”
“You should use Post-its.”
“Where are the Post-its?”
“They’re in here somewhere…”
Growing bolder, I plunge my hand deep inside the pile. As it negotiates mystery objects that poke, jab, scratch, and nibble, I feel a piece of paper. Out of fear that Alex’s epic game includes the deed to the house, I yank it out.
It’s a two of clubs.
“No wonder I can never win a game of solitaire,” I mutter. “And is that the Christmas silver?”
“You don’t need it. It’s April. I’ll put it back in December.”
But, again, we have that differing “yes” definition problem.
So, at that moment, I decide to change my definition of the word “clean.” The sentence “Clean your room,” now means, “Play your games in the attic.”
Alex happily consents.
“Use a dust mask up there,” I caution.
“No problem,” he replies. “I have at least a dozen in my pile.”