And the winner is…



The Emmys were on Sunday, kicking off the entertainment industries’ self-congratulatory awards season. Numerous writers have already said all that needs to be said about the fashion, the speeches and the musical numbers.

It struck me today. I’ve never won anything.


I won second place once, but more about that later.

OK, OK, yes I’m a winner – I have three great kids and a wonderful wife and an adoring dog. But I’m talking about checkered flag, gold trophy, first place – in your face, Charley Sheen WINNING!

Why does this bother me? Because I was raised in the non-PC, pre-AYSO/everybody plays, “Yes, we’re keeping score” era.

In 3rd grade we had a Halloween Carnival at good old Coldwater Canyon Elementary. I hope they still have Halloween Carnivals. I can imagine some Wiccan group demanding “their” holiday be celebrated as they deem correct, with actual raising of the dead and communing with Satan. In the safe old ‘50s we didn’t really care – anyway.



This was the one day of the year we wore something other than our usual school clothes. For me it was a nifty Spaceman costume direct from the rack at Woolworths.

After school there was the usual games of chance around the benches outside the cafeteria. Breaking balloons with darts, tossing a ping pong ball into a fishbowl and the oh-so-lame fishing booth where unsuspecting Kindergarten kids would lower a string attached to a pole over a fence and a dutiful PTA mother would tie a “prize” to it that made Cracker Jacks prizes seem really upscale. These were not for me.


At the end of the line of booths I spied through the fogged up goggles in my Spaceman mask an amazing sight. There, displayed on high, was a true, all metal, genuine Tonka, Hook and Ladder Fire Engine. And for this beauty to take up residence underneath my bed all I had to do was guess the number of beans in the jar!

fire engine Beans in a jar? A glass jar so you could see the actual beans? Really? This is a contest? I stood back and watched my competitors technique. Some kids were trying to actually count all the beans all the way around the jar. Then I heard one older kid say to his buddy, “All ya gotta do is count the beans in a little square and figure out how many squares there are on the jar and then multiply it”.

Multiply! That was the magic! Mrs. Green had just started to introduce us to the mystic multiplication tables…and just in time, I might say. As soon as the unwitting 6th graders left, I started my calculations. I picked out a likely one inch square in the middle. My Dad Beanshad told me the first knuckle of your thumb was an inch long. I quickly counted the beans in that area and then retreated to a nearby bench. I estimated the jar was 14 thumbs high and 5 thumbs wide. We had gotten to the “7s” table so this was easy…now times the beans…oh and you have to count the four sides. I scribbled my winning answer on a piece of paper and approached the guesses box.

Then something in my 8 year old mind made me look again. With my hand poised over the “One Entry Per Child” slot I drew back. Looking down at the jar I realized there were even more beans not seen by the naked eye, beans behind the beans! An avalanche of legumes, so far uncounted! I snatched back my woefully low computation and reassessed. I won’t go into the wild calculations I attempted at the bench but it took the entire rest of the afternoon. Just as the Carnival was wrapping up I ran to the entry box and crammed my scientifically ascertained, obviously-correct-to-the-last-bean answer in. Now all there was to do was wait.

A couple of weeks later on Saturday there was a knock at the door. My Mom answered and I heard “Hello, I’m from the PTA. Is Fred here?” Mom turned and said, “Freddy, there is someone here to see you.”

My heart pounded with excitement – I won! I had actually won! I tore over and looked through the screen door. The lady said “Congratulations! You won second prize in the bean guessing contest!” SECOND PRIZE? What the hell?!

She handed me a large square box and smiled and I dutifully thanked her…second prize, jeeze. But wait! I never saw what second prize was. The box was pretty big , and big boxes are usually a good thing. Closing the door my Mom said, “C’mon honey let’s see what you won.”

This moment has remained indelibly etched in my mind for over five decades. I pulled the  box open and took out the wrapping paper and gazed at second prize…a plastic, gold metalflake, chip and dip set. What kind of sick mind would put up a chip and dip set for prize at a little kid’s carnival? I’m guessing Wiccans. 




Behold, the Chip and Dip set from about 1975


My Mom was ecstatic. In 1959 this was obviously the height of culture and class for the modern homemaker. That damnedable chip and dip set haunted me for the rest of my life. It held fruit, candy for trick or treaters, it was the base for a model volcano my brother made for a science fair and was generally the centerpiece for any family occasion. And each time it was trotted out, it required the retelling of my masterful second place attempt to count beans.

So for those of you who didn’t win a statuette or did wear something as ugly as my spaceman costume. I feel your pain.

A note to anyone anticipating a blog about the town festival. It rained.


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