They came, they drank, they spelled.
A Happy Meal at McDonald's will get you little more than a fist-size cheeseburger and a plastic toy. But at Purdy Lounge on any given Sunday, a Happy Meal ($6) delivers a Jäger shot, a bottle of Miller High Life, and just enough booze-fueled bravado to ask five frosty librarians how to spell the word chlamydia. Joanne, a red-headed devotee of the Dewey Decimal System, takes a stab. C-l-a-m-i-d-i-a. She mangles the word like the infirmity despoils a woman's reproductive organs. So I try something more topical: Jägermeister. "Y-a-e-g-g-e-r-m-i-e ... I don't know!" the 36-year-old says. "Who cares? I don't like it anyway it tastes like licorice." But Joanne should care. Tonight is the drunk spelling bee, and to win the lucrative prize of a $50 bar tab, she'll have to first follow the rules: Spell a word right and take a shot of Jäger; do it wrong and be cast into the gorge of eternal peril or, more realistically, stand aside and watch as a drunken nerd beats the inebriated competition. "I love the idea of a spelling bee, but I'd just rather have buttery nipples," Joanne says and then pauses. "I'm talking about the drink [of butterscotch and Irish cream liqueurs], though, not nipples with butter on them." Lore has it that the drunk spelling bee began sometime in 2005 or 2006 as a way to lure the club's notoriously late crowd in before midnight. Purdy offers "no attitude, no cover, no bullshit," according to its ads, and draws everyone from polished Collins Avenue beauties to dive bar dwellers. They all come, post-inebriation, to dance to the likes of Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" until 5 a.m. Buzzing bees like the one at Purdy have caught on in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Minneapolis, where sometimes-chic, sometimes-unchic joints mix adult drinks and grade school drivel. But if you like your shots straight up and sneaky, Purdy's next event, Attack of the Killa Bees, takes place this Sunday night around 11. (Full disclosure: New Times' music editor Arielle Castillo, who in 1997 finished eighth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee YouTube it! won the drunk bee three times in row.) Joel Meinholz, the bee's creator, is a willowy man with wavy, shoulder-length silver hair. He claims to have created the drunk bee because he can't spell but his friends can. It was about making some fun for my friends," Joel says. "It was something for them to come out and do." Back at Purdy, the bee begins around 11:45 p.m., when about 60 patrons young, old, hip, and librarian move from the club's main room and past the grungy couches and trippy, graffiti-inspired walls to an elevated dance floor in the back that's surrounded with colorful chairs shaped like hands. Contestants and their personal cheering squads gather around a DJ table as Joel calls roll. Those on the dance floor raise their hands. Before the first word is called, Katie a slim 39-year-old med student whose deep tan is emphasized by a white sweetheart-cut tube top conducts a pre-bee warmup with a couple of friends. "D-e-f-i-n-i-t-e-l-y," the brunette spouts. Impressive. Most people replace the second i in definitely with an a or an e. "Can you spell cunnilingus?" I ask. "C-u-n-n-i-l-i-n-g-u-s," she replies. "And it's much better than fellatio." Then Katie, a recent divorcée, adds, "And my first time with a lesbian was ... a better experience in every possible way!" Before I can delve deeper into Katie's marvelous muff-diving adventures, the night's MC, DJ Soarse, officially starts the bee. As he calls names, the contestants approach and, for the most part, spell words such as embarrass and separately incorrectly. Maybe this is due to poor education, or perhaps it's because Soarse has an entertaining habit of mispronunciation. Though most players have been eliminated, they still get a courtesy shot just for participating. Katie's is one of the last names to be called. "Schi-zo-phrenia," Soarse says slowly. With an air of casual confidence, Katie spells schizophrenia correctly and trots back to her group of friends. Just then, a first-round flunky named Michelle, who sports heavy eyeliner and blunt Cleopatra bangs, asserts that if she had been given a simpler word than imagination, she would've stayed in the game a little longer. So I ask this skinny girl in skinny jeans to spell dumb. She gets it wrong. I try testosterone. Wrong. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. She doesn't stand a chance. Although it's technically not a word, she spells manscape correctly through a fit of giggles. "It reminds me of the only time I ever hooked up with an Asian guy," she says. "I was in college and it was like, a Tuesday, and my friend comes over to my apartment with this really beautiful Korean man. After a bottle of wine, we start messing around. This was before waxing was a big thing, and I hadn't hooked up in a while, so I had this jungle bush going on. But this guy had the most meticulously groomed pubes I have ever seen! It was perfectly manicured, like he'd used a ruler or something." Unfortunately Michelle can't spell meticulously. So it's back to the bee. In the second round and thereafter, free liquor must be earned. If you get the word right, you drink. Six rounds and 20 minutes in, most of the contestants are out. The previous month's winner a doughy guy in jeans leaves when he misspells the word collaborate after seven shots. Clearly the alcohol makes the process more difficult. By round eight, Katie and a curvy babe in denim shorts named Jennifer are duking it out for the title of top-gun drunken geek. The tense crowd sways depending on level of intoxication. Some people stumble ever so slightly, and others trip over their own feet. Then there's Dale, a ripped black dude in his midthirties who's rooting, quite ardently, on Team Jennifer's side of the mass. He full-out booty dances whenever his favorite participant gets a word right. She spells fluorescent; Dale's ass shakes. I ask him to spell Xanax. "Z-y-n-a-x" he replies, "but I'm from Plantation, so I don't have any cool South Beach/Xanax stories." Jennifer spells her last word, charismatic, incorrectly. She's noticeably drunk, but still holds herself well. As she sulkily stomps over to her group of friends, I notice her white pointed heels. I ask Dale what he thinks of them. "I think white is the sexiest color, because it's very pure and you want to always think you're the first, so white's nice. I mainly date white girls," he says proudly. "It's like Coke or Pepsi; you like one or the other." Nice. Race-based philosophy. Back at the bee, Katie is on the verge of winning. She has to spell only one more word, abbreviate, correctly. Before starting even though she's nine shots in she gives Soarse a look that screams "Seriously?" before nailing it and taking another shot. After her victory, Katie invites me over to the bar to share the spoils. A few bottles of Miller High Life later, I let her in on next month's Wu-Tang theme. Because she'll be defending her title, I ask her to spell the name of The Clan's de facto leader, RZA. "R-i-z-z-a?" And sadly the first word Katie gets wrong is an abbreviation. I blame the Happy Meals.
Sundays. Starts: March 1. Continues through Sept. 27, 2009
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