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Thursday, May 27, 2004 04:19 pm

Grace about town 5-27-04

Here comes the judge

Many things to report:

• My one-woman show, "Grace Talk #1" went better than expected. The place was packed Wednesday night, and even more people turned out on Thursday. And they laughed. The really great thing: If you saw me up there and I looked like I was enjoying myself, it's because I was. Boy, it was fun. Thanks to all of you who came to the show. People say I should do "Grace Talk #1" again, for people who missed it. I'll let you know. Look for updates on Graceuncensored.com. I'm hard at work already on "Grace Talk #2." Expect it on July 9-10.

• On Friday afternoon, I went over to Fire Station #2 on Stevenson Drive to sell chicken dinners for the Children's Miracle Network. We set up outside the station house, and I was up to my elbows in coleslaw and potato salad. This is the third year I've volunteered, but this is the first time a firefighter has helped out during the actual chicken dinner-selling frenzy. His name is Patrick Trees, and he greeted people as they came up, which I'm sure gave them a thrill (in addition to being nice, Patrick is a mighty cute firefighter). At one point, all the firefighters had to jump in the truck and hurry away briefly, but it wasn't an extra-huge emergency, so soon Patrick was back, greeting people and helping out. Thanks a lot, Patrick. I'd be happy to buy you a drink for all your niceness.

• We sold out of chicken early. So, thoroughly exhausted, we went to fortify ourselves at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Xochimilco. The location I like best is across from White Oaks Mall, in the little strip mall across from the other strip mall across from the mall. . . anyway, Xochimilco has very friendly, efficient waiters, and great food and margaritas.

• Because of my Superior Judgment Skills (as evidenced by my recent Very Exciting Improving Springfield Contest), I got to be one of the distinguished judges during the 18th annual Illinois History Exposition, held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center on May 6. The contest is run by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The guy in charge is Pete Harbison, Grand Poohbah of History.

Kids from all over the state participate in the Expo. The winners get to move on to the national History Day competition in June. I'm assuming the Ultra-Grand Champion Winner will get to be the next president of the U.S. of A. (hopefully, effective immediately).

I was assigned to judge entrants #298-307, in the junior exhibit category. My co-judge was Brian Heatherton. I asked him where all the judges came from, and he said he'd met Pete at the YMCA. This is an excellent judge-recruiting tactic: Ask the guy if he wants to be a judge right after he gets out of the shower.

I didn't reveal to anybody that I'm extremely lacking in the knowledge of history department, and luckily they didn't find out. We had to give each contestant a numerical grade in four categories, and then we had to add our scores. The adding was the most difficult part for me. OK, I'm not so great at history and math, but boy, I'm a good speller.

A critical part of the judging was the written comments. It was important to say something nice about each entrant, and to be constructive and helpful. I always tried to include a "Great job!" with each one.

The exhibits were fascinating. Every historical topic you can think of, including the Cozy Dog Drive In, the Kerasotes movie empire, ghosts in southern Illinois, and the Orpheum Theater. I saw two exhibits on Popeye the Sailor Man. (Did you know that Olive Oyl's original boyfriend was named Ham Gravy? That would be a superb Trivia Night question.)

One exhibit chronicled the history of Walgreens. The last line of the Walgreens creed is "we believe in courtesy, in kindness, in generosity, in cheer, in friendship, and in honest competition." Stirring.

Some of the exhibits were mighty slick. Most of the kids in the junior division were in 8th grade, and either there are a whole lot of incredibly precocious 8th graders out there, or some of them got a lot of help from mom and dad. So, do you give an exhibit a high mark even though you have suspicion that a parent did a lot of the work? And do you grade something down, because it's clearly done solely by the 8th grader?

I compared my scores with Brian's, and was surprised how close our evaluations were. Even though there seemed to be a lot of complicated factors, some innate judging ability enabled us to make fairly consistent decisions.

As I left, I picked up a program. I was dismayed to see that all kinds of stuff had been going on upstairs while we were toiling away downstairs. Ceremonies, speeches, presentations, etc. I generally recoil at stuff like that, so it's probably better that I was doing something so vital to the contest process, there under the ground.

All I have to say now is, bring on the competitions. Spelling bees, bake-offs, male supermodel bathing suit competitions -- whatever needs judging, I'm your girl. Just let me know.

To see Grace's latest video click here.

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