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Unfriendly Competition

Continued from yesterday.

Circa 1984: My psycho friend and I managed to talk our junior-year English teacher into letting us both read and report on the novelized version of The Empire Strikes Back. The gimmick she suggested (since we both, of course, had seen the movie just a few years earlier) would be for us to do our reports as a competition. We should both prepare a list of questions to ask the other one, and after our “reports,” the class would vote for who won.

Now remember, all you kiddies who’ve grown up in the age of VCRs, laser disk players, DVD players, and movies on demand: such devices were not common in the early 80s. And even if someone we knew had one, ESB was not released for viewing for several years after it was in theaters. And even after it was released, it was like searching for the Holy Grail to find any of the Star Wars movies on the movie rental shelf (read: convenience store shelf).

So, understand that our book reports would have to honestly come from reading the book — it had been 4 years since we saw the movie, only 2 or 3 times.

I read the book a couple times and made many notes about the plot, people, places, and things. I made a list of a dozen questions I thought could stump psycho friend in our competition. He and I didn’t talk about the book or movie with each other for a couple weeks. Then the date of the book reports came.

He and I stood at two podiums at the front of the classroom. We both had note cards and memories in order for the bout. Although my opponent considered me a friend (even though he had threatened me with a knife a couple years earlier), I considered him a jackhole that I wanted to nail to the wall with tough questions.

How long after Star Wars was The Empire Strikes Back set? [Everyone still knew the first movie as just “Star Wars.”]

Who was the general leading the AT-AT walker force invading Hoth?

What is standard Imperial procedure before jumping to hyperspace?

What kind of creature attacked Luke on Hoth?

What is the name of Darth Vader’s flag ship star destroyer?

Name three of the bounty hunters Darth Vader was talking to on his ship? [One name is a gimme.]

What is carbonite usually used for?

What substance did Cloud City mine?

What were C3PO’s first words after Chewbacca turned him back on after finding him in the junk pile?

That last one was directed at me. I answered, “Stormtroopers? Oh no!”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly right. I missed a couple of inconsequential words, but my psycho opponent played up the error very well. “Ooooh, nope, that’s not right. It was . . . .” I still can’t remember what the exact words were — and I just saw the movie again with Calfgrit8 two weeks ago. (I now have a mental block about that scene, C3PO’s lines now just sound like warbled gibberish every time I see the movie.)

That was the only question between us that either of us failed to answer exactly right. We both had that story nigh perfectly memorized, and it greatly annoyed me that he asked me to exactly quote a line from the book. It’s one thing to know a character name, a plot element, and such, but really, he asked me to exactly quote a single, unimportant line.

After our competition, the class voted for who won. Because only one question was missed, by me, my psycho friend was the victor.

I was unhappy.

My opponent managed to mention that victory every once in a while for the next year. He found ways to work it into completely unrelated conversations. If he had been a true friend (one who doesn’t chase you around the kitchen table with a butcher knife), I would have taken it all as fun ribbing. But since I had a real dislike for him by that time, every mention of my loss at his hands rankled me to no end.

Since then, I’ve tended to avoid competition with people I dislike. Even with things I’m sure I could win over them, it’s just not worth the potential of having to lose against someone who would love to rub in my face. So if you know me, and I’m willing to be competitive with you, you know I like you.


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