The Time I Lost an Art Contest

When I was six years old, my parents took my brother, my sister, and me on a lovely cruise on the SS Norway to the Bahamas.

I was young and confused, and full of destructive energy. To keep me from tearing apart our cabin, my parents shuffled me off to the children’s program, which was supposedly designed to entertain kids and keep them out of trouble. However, either I was somehow too old for the program at age six, or whoever created it was aiming at babies and toddlers.

I’ve seen good kid’s programs (notably one on Sanibel Island that kept me from eating sand and drinking sea water), but this wasn’t one of them. We were often shut in a room and given crayons, then told to have at it. It was waxy chaos, with children drawing on each other and eating crayons until they vomited.

One day, we were told there would be a contest for whoever could draw the best cruise ship. A large photo of the SS Norway was taped onto the wall, and the crayons (or what stubs remained) were distributed. I apparently was craving some structure, and I decided that I was going to blow all these chumps out of the water. I sat down and painstakingly drew a 3-foot cruise ship to scale, with each porthole and lifeboat in its proper place. It took ages, but I was damned proud of my creation.

Once finally finished, I glanced around at my competition. This was going to be child’s play. Most of the other kids had drawn sailboats (WRONG VESSEL, JIMMY) or even spaceships. The colors were sloppy and garish, and few took the time to even color within their own lines. My specimen looked like a fucking technical spec drawing compared to theirs. I put down my crayon, a look of smug superiority on my face. We hung up all our drawings, and my blueprint of the ship shone like a OCD star.

Then the winner was announced, and it was a picture done by a kid who had actually pooped himself while drawing. It was a boat in only the most abstract sense, and it had been colored mostly with drool.

I was so pissed off that I took my drawing and left the program for the day, determined to have nothing more to do with it. Later, I was forced to dance in a conga line around the ship while singing “Doo Wah Diddy” by Manfred Mann. I once again escaped the children’s program, and hid by the ice cream buffet. Every time I thought I was out, it just sucked me back in.

I still have my cruise ship drawing, and it’s actually hanging in my childhood room in Cincinnati. It still holds up, if I do say so myself. The experience led me to not enter another art competition until high school, where I still didn’t win. Sigh.

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