Vanity, Thy Name Is Bill Spencer

Trophy presented to me, Bill Spencer, for my glorious 1st-place victory in a one-mile Fun Run almost 40 years ago. Honestly, the pedestal alone would have been sufficient recognition. Many young children and elderly retirees cried tears of defeat that day, I can assure you.

I’ve always been vain.

When I was two years old, yes two, I ran away from home, my plan being that I would walk to my grandmother’s 50 miles away. I was confident I could get there. I thought I would just turn left when I got to Watson Boulevard, which was the opposite way I should’ve turned. I was thwarted in my daring adventure by a funeral home director, who saw me toddling past his cadaver parlor about three-fourths of a mile from my house. My ego suffered a small blow that day when I was returned to my mother and she popped me once on my tiny bony butt. I’m probably the only person in history who can honestly say that when I heeded the Call to Adventure and set out on my Hero’s Journey, I got spanked. Mothers never recognize the greatness of their precocious progeny.

When I was four and my grandfather (Pawpaw) stopped at the gate to his farm, I asked to get out of the back of his pickup so that I could race him to the pond. I was lightning-bolt fast and was sure I could beat his truck in this little hundred-yard dash. Imagine my shock and confusion at seeing his tailgate zooming away in a cloud of dust. Within seconds I gave up, stopped, and stood there in the ashes of the bonfire of my own vanity, sobbing my little heart out.

At age ten, I saw in the local newspaper that there was a skateboarding competition at our recreation center. I don’t know why I didn’t enter since I’d been expertly zigzagging down my steep concrete driveway for over a year on my homemade scrap-lumber-and-metal-roller-skate-wheeled skateboard and hadn’t scraped up my hands and knees and bled all over my bedsheets more than a dozen times or so. But I did go to observe, just to reassure myself about my sports superiority. Right away, I noticed all the contestants had commercially produced, long, wide, flexible boards atop wide polyurethane wheels. Some did handstands on their moving boards. Others jumped off their speeding boards, over obstacles, and then landed back on their wheels with perfect balance. This wasn’t even what I’d call skateboarding. It was acrobatics, like at the damned circus. I was stunned and did a lot of self-reflection that day and finally reached a humbling epiphany: I’m the vainest person who ever lived.

But I do think I’ve grown. Grown a lot. Despite my world-class, gold-medal conceit, my life experiences have chipped away ever-so-slightly at my smug self-assurance that I’m the best at everything. Now, sometimes, I briefly entertain a single iota of doubt and wonder if perhaps, just perhaps, Bill Spencer might possibly not be the funniest writer on the planet.

Someday, in fact, it might occur to me that my whole life is just an errant, arrogant little stroll from childhood home to the funeral home.

Someday. But not today.


Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh

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4 thoughts on “Vanity, Thy Name Is Bill Spencer”

  1. You ARE the funniest writer on the planet and you’ve taught me to use more big letters than I ever thought I would use.

    1. Thank you for the insight and the encouragement, Paul. My grandmother’s house doubled as the Greyhound bus station. Downstairs in the bus-station portion were jars of Lance crackers for a nickel and an upright Coca Cola cooler box with cold water in the bottom third, perfect for small bottles of Coke and Nehi orange and grape sodas, and also the perfect place to make a watermelon ice cold.

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