Arnon Grunberg
Words Without Borders

CLMP Spelling Bee

My agent sent me an invitation to a fundraiser. I was in town, so I had no excuse not to go. Besides that, I'm in generally in favor of fundraisers.

I would happily go to a fundraiser in support of better living conditions for milk cows in the Midwest, but I would be equally supportive if some organization was trying to raise money for young Chilean video artists. Even without knowing their work, I would buy a ticket or two. I gather that when an organization is trying to raise money for Chilean video artists, they must be good at something.

 And the sentence, "I support young Chilean video artists," is everything but a conversation killer.

 The fundraiser that my agent had invited me for was in support of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

The evening was going to start with drinks, and then there was a spelling bee with famous contestants.
In all these years that I have been in the U.S., I had never been to a spelling bee. Finally, I could do something about this omission.

 I invited a friend from Brooklyn to join me. Weddings parties, gallery openings and fundraisers are events that you should never go to alone. Otherwise, you will drink too much while standing alone in the corner of the room until somebody walks up to you and says, "And who are you?"

 And then you answer, "I'm the brother of the groom's cleaning lady." When this person walks away rather quickly, you realize the mistake that you've made.

 The fundraiser for the CLMP took place at the Diane von Furstenberg Studio in Manhattan.

 "Have you ever been to the Diane von Furstenberg studio?" my friend from Brooklyn asked me in the taxi.

"No," I answered.
"To be honest, never."

 A spelling bee virgin and a Diane von Furstenberg virgin; the evening wasn't starting well.

James Frey, Nancy Franklin, Ben Greenman and Alex Kuczunski were among the contestants. My agent turned out to be the MC.

Shortly after my friend and I arrived, the bee started.

James Frey said, "I always lose in the first round."

 Giving money is so much more fun than being a participant in a bee. Imagine if you misspelled an easy word.

 The bee was especially instructive for a non-native speaker like me. A few times, I whispered in my friend's ear, "Have you ever heard of this word?"

 The easiest word, for me at least, was "dirndl." What's not to love about this word?

 Whenever I happen to stand alone at a wedding party, fundraiser or gallery opening, and somebody comes up to me and asks "And who are you?" I will now answer, "Oh, I make dirndls."