Reading the fine print is important. If you sign things without reading all those boring words, you may find you’ve agreed to payments you didn’t realize or, worse, have to get up and read your poetry in front of people.

You laugh, but it happens.

It happens to me.

It happens to me a lot.

Upwards of one time.

So far.

I entered a poetry contest at the local library on a whim. I found out about it on the last day of entry. The biggest draw was the grand prize: a cash award of 2,500 US pennies.

Being unemployed, that was a lot of money to me. I could stretch $25 into a week’s worth of food. Just like this:

  • Day 1: Go out to a Mexican restaurant. Fill up entirely on chips and salsa. Doggie bag the whole meal.
  • Day 2-7: Mexican food leftovers.

The poetry contest also sounded like fun. Mostly it sounded like money.

So I spent a couple of hours and wrote a poem. Then I submitted it, wildly clicking the “Okay” buttons without really reading everything that they were in reference to.

6-8 weeks later, I received an email, thanking me for my entry and informing me I was one of 8 finalists. I was so excited.

“When did I enter a poetry contest?” I asked.

But in an excited sort of confused way.

The email went on to invite me to the awards ceremony where they said there would be light horderves and then the winner would be announced and presented with their prize right after a brief presentations wherein all the finalists would read their poems.

I was surprised to read that and not in a good way.

I started shouting at my email, “Now wait just a minute! Just because I entered your poetry contest, now you think you can make me get up in front of people and read my writing? Audibly? IN PUBLIC?!? WITHOUT VOMITING?!?”

It’s not that my poem wasn’t good. I’m just pretty sure the poem loses a lot of its charm when more than just the voices in my head are listening to it.

On the other hand, 25 dollars is 25 dollars. Maybe more. And so I resolved to do it.

I got all dressed up, watched a YouTube tutorial on how to put on lipstick (I don’t wear makeup a lot), and poured myself a good stiff Dr. Pepper to calm my nerves and almost guarantee that I would have to belch at the worst possible moment.

Once I was there at the awards ceremony, I was actually glad I went.

That lasted about 11 seconds until I noticed a couple across the room. I recognized my ex-boyfriend and what was either his new girlfriend or an overly affectionate sister reenacting the scene between Luke and Leia in the Empire Strikes Back.

I wanted to turn around and leave, but he saw me. He didn’t just see me. He saw me seeing him. Then the girl saw him seeing me seeing him. Then I saw her wrapping her arms possessively around him and kissing him again. Then I belched quite loudly and everybody saw me.

I mingled awkwardly with some empty chairs for a while. I did my best to keep up my end of the conversation while trying to also figure out a good exit strategy.

But I couldn’t back out now. Not after how many horderves I had eaten. I had no choice.

I’m sure if you’ve read my blog, you can imagine the sort of poem that I wrote. It was less Edgar Allen Poe and more Po from Kung Fu Panda. I am a silly person, so I wrote a silly poem.

Poetry, it turns out, is not a silly art form. Like ballet. You would not walk into the famous Russian Bolshoi Ballet studio and start cracking jokes about ballet. I mean, I certainly would, but I’m crazy. Which is exactly how I ended up in this mess in the first place.

So this is how the line-up of finalists’ poems went (complete with photographic representations of each):

    • Poem about death of a spousesad dog
    • Poem about death of a parentdisgruntled ostrich
    • Poem about death of a babyelephant
    • Teenager’s dark and graphic poem about having sex that made everyone uncomfortablepuppy in covers
    • Poem about dying of cancerbear
    • Veronica’s poetic equivalent of farty-armpit noisesexcited puppy
    • Poem about suicidesad chihuahua
    • Poem about a decaying bodycow

I like to think I expanded the horizons of some of the poets that night. Or at least weirded a few people out.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t throw up. (Well, maybe a little on the inside)

Also, I didn’t win.

I did get an honorable mention (although that apparently got lost in the mail because I never received a mention, honorable or other wise)

Guess who did win?

Miss Kissy-Face-With-My-Ex.

Pardon me. MS. Kissy-Face-With-My-Ex (If she’s reading this, I wouldn’t want to offend her)

And when they called her up to the stage, I noticed she had the same last name as my ex.

“Ha!” I thought. “It is his creepily affectionate sister!”

And then I saw she was wearing two rings on her left ring-finger, one of them a VERY large diamond ring.

That actually made me feel better. I may write goofy poetry, but at least I’m the not the kind of guy who gives his sister a diamond ring.

And that’s why I always read the fine print.*