Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 2001 Mr. Libertyville High School pageant

Last week I was having lunch with my colleagues when the topic of pi reciting arose. Pi reciting is the competitive task of reciting as many memorized digits of pi as possible while a witness holds the reciter accountable by silently reading the printed digits. I cannot call it a feat because simply saying “3.14” would qualify one as a pi reciter. The idea is to be able to recite an impressive number of digits or more than anyone else you know. 

My department chair’s student had announced to the school over the speaker system that his math teacher could recite the first 200 digits of pi. This was not actually true; apparently the student held a playful grudge and thought the public statement would embarrass his teacher.

“I think most of you already know that I was in a school-sponsored male beauty pageant in high school,” I interjected. “The guy who placed second recited the first 314 digits of pi. It was legitimate; he had distributed the 314 digits to everyone in the sold-out theater. His name was Roger Hsiao.”

What I did not tell them was that Roger stumbled in the middle of it, probably around digit 200, and then recovered only after a couple digits of help from a judge.

“I never forget pi,” he said as he shuffled off the stage, shaking his head. “I blew it.”
The misstep had shaken him and probably cost him the title of Mr. Libertyville High School in the final interview.

I had watched his performance in the wings in swimming trunks and an Australian Outback hat, hating myself for choosing a talent that neither required rehearsal nor inspired awe. I had chosen to wrestle an inflatable crocodile into a garbage bag. I knew I would look foolish following Roger's effort, but I had no option to do anything except for what I had already barely planned. None of the contestants had divulged his talent to anyone prior to the big night, so nerves were high. I guess they got to Roger, and they were about to get to me.

I went out there, and the sound guy cued my techno mix track filled with Steve Irwin quotes like “IT’S FEEDING TIME” and “I HAVE NO FEAR OF LOSING MY LIFE.” My friend pulled on a fishing line that dragged the croc onto the stage. I was feeling too nervous to honor Irwin’s guile, so I decided to end it quick. I pounced, rolled around a bit and stuffed half of the pool toy into the bag. The other half wouldn’t fit. I quickly ran off stage to startled applause.

“Did you win?” my colleagues asked. “Did you beat Roger?”

“No,” I said. “Ben Polite won. I think he wore a Speedo in the swimwear portion.”

I resolved to find video footage of the pageant to surprise my colleagues, but LHS could not find it in its archive. Perhaps this blog post will stir the video to the surface.

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