Cosmic Laughter and the Charity Spelling Bee.
Read the Episode:
It’s Sunday evening, and I’m in the kitchen of my monster home, and I just got off the phone with Constable Randy. Good news. The police don’t need a another statement from me about the deceased organist, because a janitor was also at the church while I was there, and he’d seen him alive after I left.
In fact the organist had asked him to check for a drunk who might be loitering in the foyer, and he didn’t see me at all. I was on my way back to the coffee shop by then, so the organist’s untimely death had nothing to do with me.
I was quite relieved that my recovery of Bill’s watch hadn’t blown up from a good deed into suspicion of murder. More relieved than I felt seeing that Finnegan’s dish was half full when I visited my neighbour’s house to feed him on Saturday night.
Exactly how relieved was I? So relieved that I agreed to Constable Randy’s request that I attend an impromptu Spelling Bee on Monday night to help raise funds for the Organist’s Funeral Expenses.
“A spelling bee?” I’d said to the Constable while we were still on the phone. “I thought they were for grade school geniuses.”
Constable Randy chuckled a little then mentioned that the Charity Casino wasn’t available on such short notice.
“How are they supposed to raise money from spelling words correctly?” I asked.
He said that the audience will pledge an amount to donate for each round their favourite contestant makes it though.
“What if you’d like to donate more money than your contestant’s knack for spelling allows you to.” I asked.
The officer said that a good church will never refuse a donation.
“And what kind of contestants can you find on a whim that spell words suited for competition,” I ask. “The organist might have to be buried in a card board box.”
Constable Randy assures me the church administration is going to make it a fair contest, and that the audience will get entertainment value for their donations.
On that note I agreed to meet him at the New Moon Church at 7pm when beverages and snacks were to be served.
After I arrive home from the Antiques Store early Monday evening, my house seems a bit empty. I have a bit of time before the Charity spelling bee, so I drop by the neighbours, Swen and Ebba, to hear about their weekend at the meditation retreat, and see how their cat Finnegan is doing.
Swen and Ebba are a thirty-something couple from Stockholm, Sweden, who have a furniture business in Toronto. They’re quite a friendly couple, always chipper and welcoming. Tonight, however, the friendliness has exceeded all expectations, as they’re both naked when they answer the door of their voluptuously large brick house.
“Hope you don’t mind our appearance,” Ebba says.
“No, not at all,” I say, in robust Canadian politeness.
I really don’t know how to ask them to put some clothes on, so I tell myself that answering the door together is the most startling part of their greeting. I mean, is it some kind of power dynamic they’re trying to overcome? It’s just a door.
But I’d like to mention they are a lean fit blond couple, so I might be uncomfortable about the surprise nudity, but not put off.
Anyways, I manage to keep my attention on their faces, while I smile as though nothing abnormal is going on.
“How’s the cat?” I ask.
They both say good at the same time, then invite me in for some pickled herring and crisp bread. I agree with slight hesitation, because I’ve already planned to have snacks at the charity spelling bee.
In the living room there is a red leather couch with a wooden coffee table in front of it. The food is already on the table, along with a bottle of white wine and dish-ware. Swen makes a trip to the kitchen to get a plate and a glass for me, then we all sit on the couch.
I ask them how their furniture business is doing, and they both laugh as though it’s a happy secret.
“How am I supposed to take that?” I say, then chuckle a bit.
Ebba, says that business has been as wonderful as they have ever hoped for, but their spirits are still at the meditation retreat. They just released some cosmic laughter, which was part of an exercise they learned about over the weekend.
“Were you tickling each other with telescopes?” I ask.
“No,” Swen says. He explains that releasing cosmic laughter is more serious than an insensitive joke about telescopes. Unless I meant the tickling should further liberate humanity, then he would surely empathize with me.
Man, Swen has a lot to get off his chest for a nude furniture salesman.
I ask him to explain cosmic laughter, so I won’t have to cross him again.
Swen says to achieve oneness with the cosmos we must reject the meaning of life, so its essence can flourish inside us without question. At the meditation retreat they achieved this through an exercise in cosmic laughter. Each guest speaks about a helpless moment in their life, then the rest of the group laughs in their face.
“So cosmic laughter induces an indifference to helplessness,” I say.
“No, No,” Swen scolds. “The laugher is only for the sake of laughter. It robs the helpless moment of its heart, and without one, it can’t emit emotional suffering into the psyche. We have no pain to find answers for, leaving us with the purest meditative state.”
“But why did you laugh when I asked about how business was?” I say. “It’s a very average question. There was nothing intended to be sensitive about it.”
He admits that we both sell furniture, so what I really mean to ask is how’s the competition. That’s a helpless moment. I couldn’t control that they might be doing better than me. It’s why they laughed in my face.
“Look, we’re not really in the same business,” I say. “I sell classic hardwood antiques, and you sell stylish self assembled cork board.”
“It’s not all cork board,” Swen yells. “We sell wooden furniture too. And we are definitely doing better than you, because our house is a few bedrooms larger than yours.”
Ebba grabs Swen by his naked shoulder, and insists he relax. She reminds us the pickled herring and crisp bread are untouched, and they will lose their flavour soaking up too much oxygen.
“I appreciate your hospitality, but I’m expected soon at an event where food and drink will be served, so I’ll try a little, and only out of courtesy.”
While I’m helping myself to a portion, Ebba asks what kind of event could I dig up on a Monday night.
I tell her the event has nothing to do with digging up, but burying – the organist at the New Moon Church has passed away and they’re hosting a spelling bee to raise funds for his funeral.
Swen and Ebba drop their jaws.
“We’ve never been to a spelling bee before.” They cry.
In this moment of awe they seem more naked than ever.
“Well, it’s for charity, so everyone’s welcome. Would you like to come?” I say.
Ebba hesitates with a dainty frown, then asks if the event will carry on long into the night.
“Good question,” I say. “I haven’t been to a spelling bee since, well, I haven’t been to one before.”
Swen admits in a light hearted voice, that they’ve never come across such a startling opportunity. They’ve been to a tomato throwing festival in Spain and a bull taming festival in India, but a charity spelling bee seems stranger.
I have a warm feeling their company will do me good. I insist they join me, then tell them I’m bringing a couple hundred bucks or so to bet on the contestants. They agree it’s an appropriate amount.
After we snack and chat some more, they go to their bedroom and put on some spring wear fashion, and we’re off.
The overcast sky has cleared and the full moon has risen in the twilight, as Swen, Ebba and I are approaching the New Moon church by foot. The building’s modern rectangular design looks elegant in the fading dusk.
Ebba says it’s a romantic Monday night, and she can use a glass of wine.
“C’mon Ebba. We’re going to a church for a spelling bee,” I say. “Stick with the program and help yourself to a coffee, tea, juice or water.
She says nobody will notice her sneak a couple of bottles of wine into the church.
“that’s enough to get a wrestler tipsy.” I say.
then she mentions they’re airline sized bottles, which fit snugly in the pockets of her jacket. It’s a couple glasses of wine, to be specific.
I was open minded when they ate pickled herring and crisp bread in the nude, so why shouldn’t I accept that they’re smuggling booze into a church event?
“Swen,” I say. “I suppose you need a glass of wine to smooth out the spelling bee?”
He disagrees with a nod, and says a cup of coffee will do. He’d like to be ideally sober when he picks his favourite contestant.
In the vestibule of the church about twenty people are lounging about, dressed in semi-casual clothing. A shorter, balding man in the centre of the room smiles at our small group, then motions us over with his hand. He has a name tag on his grey blazer that reads Jerry Jones, and he’s holding a stack of programs.
“You’re here for the spelling bee,” he says.
“Why else would we come,” Swen replies.
Jerry smiles and hands each of us a program for the evening.
I glance over it quickly.
The event is taking place in the Education Centre, which is adjacent to the nave. During the first part of the evening a few members from the Universal Harmony Choir will perform a tribute to the organist while snacks and beverages are served. Also at this time, attendees can pledge money for the spelling bee. A few local businesses have donated prizes that we be raffled off to the lucky ones who pick the spelling bee champion.
There is a list of the participants and their professions:
Donny Perry – the owner of Perry Plumbing Supplies
Maria Kalowski – A kindergarten teacher at Pino Private Schools.
Jane Donaldson – An agent at Regal Real Estate.
Dean Williams – the manager of Greenies Golf Club.
“Four contestants isn’t a lot,” I say. “They better be able to spell more than pot and pan, so it doesn’t get boring.”
Jerry mentions that they’ll be under extra pressure to spell correctly, so we should stay positive throughout the event, and avoid any heckling as it’ll result in automatic ejection.
“Did you get security for a spelling bee?” I ask.
Jerry says the church has ways of dealing with inappropriate behaviour. He suggests we make our way to the room before all the good seats are taken.
We agree and he points us to a door at the far end of the foyer that leads to the room.
The Education Centre is the size of a small school gymnasium but with lower ceilings, and it has a stage at the front with four chairs and a microphone on a stand on it.
There are round tables everywhere, and the closest ones to the stage are already occupied with attendees drinking from styrofoam cups, eating sandwiches, salads, and cakes, and chatting in a low rumble of expectation.
A few of the tables in the rear are manned by volunteers, who are serving food and beverages and signing up pledges.
Ebba grabs a table at the rear, which I suspect will reduce her chances of being caught pouring her wine.
Swen and I go to a pledge table, and I ask the ghoulish looking woman stationed there how exactly the competition will run. In a creepy high pitched voice, she says that each contestant will spell ten words per round, and the person that spells the least words correctly will be eliminated.
We can donate an amount for each round a contestant wins, and the further they go, the more comfortable a funeral the Organist will receive. In the end, prizes will be raffled off for the attendees who pick the winner.
Swen squints his eyes in concern, then asks for the odds of each contestant winning.
The lady says that she’s been asked that several times already, and there is no way of knowing, since she’s never seen any of them spell before.
“I’ve never seen anyone spell before either,” I say.
She agrees with a wry smirk, then points to her name tag, and says her name is Gail, by the way. She reminds Swen the contest is for charity.
Swen says that a contest is a contest when it comes to winning, so he’d at least like to know who the crowd favourite is.
The kindergarten teacher, Gail says.
If she wins the contest, the people who picked her will have less a chance to take home a prize than if another contestant comes in first place, Swen says.
Gail agrees, but says the late great organist is going to have a beautiful coffin, which is most important.
Swen says he’ll pick the Real Estate Agent, Jane Donaldson, and donate $50 for each round she wins.
I ask what happens if fatigue brings the spelling bee to an early end, because ten words each round is a big challenge for inexperienced contestants.
Gail says the contestants will run on adrenaline from being on stage in front of all the people. If they mess up for any dumb reason, they’ll look incompetent, which won’t be good for their business.
I ask Gail how many people have chosen the plumber, and she says nobody yet. “Well, I don’t rock the boat on Monday’s,” I say.
I put $50 a round on Dean Williams, the manager of Greenies Golf Club.
Neither of us are hungry after the herring and crisp bread, so we pick up a couple coffees and an empty plastic cup for Ebba’s wine, then we return to the table.
She snatches the cup away from Swen, then pours some wine for herself under the table.
Swen asks her to guess which contestant she thinks we each picked and why, but at that moment the small group from the Universal Harmony Choir begins to sing on the stage, and we all turn to enjoy their heavenly voices.
The tables are filling up quickly, and line ups have formed for snacks and pledges. To my surprise Bill the blind ex fireman enters the room with his seeing eye dog Ram, followed by Constable Randy, who isn’t in uniform.
I notice he’s wearing a brown leather bomber jacket, which is similar to one I used to own.
I wave at them, but they don’t notice me, instead they go straight to the pledge table.
The choir finishes their song, the audience applauds, then the singers leave the stage. A tall thin man wearing a pink cardigan takes the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man says in an Eastern European accent. “I’m your host Boris Yaktuvavitch and welcome to our humble spelling bee in memory of Charles Norton, the long time organist here at New moon church.
Then the host recollects the organist’s history, and how he greatly contributed to the church.
He goes on to name the contestants, then mentions that the words they will be spelling were chosen by the church administration.
He invites the four contestants to join him on stage.
They appear from behind the stage curtain, and seat themselves on the chairs.
Mr Dean Williams from Greenies Golf Club, the host says, please stand up and take microphone.
The audience claps while Dean Williams stands up slowly. He is a stylish gent in a black corduroy blazer, who looks to be in his early 50s yet has a thick head of slicked back blonde hair.
He gets behind the mic, and shivers a bit in anticipation while a young Brunette woman in a red dress appears on the side of the stage.
She introduces herself as Shawna and announces she is about to read the first word of the night. She takes the top cue card of a stack she is holding.
Beelzebub, she says.
The audience gasps while Dean William’s face turns red.
End of part five