March 03, 2008

"My Crossword Life," by Melissa Balmain

The ACPT contestant folders contained a two-page short story by Melissa Balmain, laden with crossword answers we have all seen countless times. I didn't read it until the flight home, but boy, was it funny! Especially if you read it aloud with someone else who's crossword-savvy. Melissa was kind enough to extend permission for me to share her wee saga with you here (those of you who missed the tournament or missed seeing the story), and I am sure you will say "Olé!" when you read it. The story is, of course, copyrighted by Melissa Balmain, so please don't steal it. Thanks for writing it and sharing it, Melissa!

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My Crossword Life
By Melissa Balmain

There’s nil in the atelier for a nosh—nada, zip—just an olio of orts that I’ll feed Asta the Lhasa Apso. Sigh. So I hie to the loo to redo my henna and peruse my anat., from ulna to fibula. (Memo to self: that aloe-and-agar oil is a lulu. Skin is rosy and dewy, not ashy and sere.) I lave my face, tease my do into an epic nimbus.

Now for togs. I try on the mini with the boa and the maxi with the obi, then opt for an ebon A-line and ecru fez. I have a yen to look chic for Oleg-Olav.

He’s such a oner—heir to an I-beam magnate, A-one oboe player, grad of the most élite el-hi écoles. At Eton he was tops in jai alai. He earned an Eli B.S., aced his MCATs. Today he’s an M.D. at the acme of his area (osteo) and I’m ready for a little TLC in his ICU—stat. So what if he’s a tad endo around the gut?

Oleg-Olav arrives right at his ETA, in teal Levis and an aqua tam.

“Ave, Oona-Uma,” he says. “You look more jolie than Anita Loos.”

“You doll,” I say with a wee moue.

Sipping ales and ades, we gab about Edens we adore (spas in Boca, fens in Rio, tors in Eire); sports VIPs (Ashe, Ott, Orr); and lit. Brits and Scots (TSE, RLS, et al).

“Dearie,” I purr, “want to see my rare ewer etched with emus? It’s next to my Serta.”

A ratatat at my apt. entry. ’Tis the asst. super—hale, able, ochre-clad.

“Shoo!” I say. “Can’t you espy I’m mid-tryst?”

“That’s like on a date, right?” he says. “Well, hate to tell ya, but there’s a leak in your bathroom that’s dripping down into 3-F.”

“An agua snafu in my W.C.?”

“Uh, yeah.” He ambles toward the potty, then brakes. “Can I ask you a question?”

Bien sûr.”

“Why do you talk like that?”

“Like qué?”

“You know, all the funny words. Half the time I come up here, I have no idea what the hell you’re saying. Early in the week it’s not too bad, I guess, but then it gets worse and worse all the way to—Jesus, this is Saturday, isn’t it?”

Oleg-Olaf appears an iota vexed. “My cher esne,” he tells the super, “I rue that you do not grok my belle’s twee argot. But we are having a tête-à-tête ici. Bitte, zip on down to your lair and revisit mañana.”

“Holy shit, it’s another one,” says the super.

“Eh?” says Oleg-Olaf.

“Nothing,” the super ripostes. “Freak.”

“Hmm,” Oleg-Olaf says, sotto voce. “It’s triste there’s no gat or Sten handy, or I could ice this chap.”

“Hang on, buddy,” says the super. “Are you saying you want to kill me? No offense, but if I was you I’d stick to the word games.”

Irked—nae, ired—Oleg-Olaf snares the épée that’s above my urn. “En garde!”

“Gimme a break.” With an élan that nearly halts my aorta, the super snags a ballpoint from my niche, lunges, and sends the épée aloft from Oleg-Olaf’s mano.

“Neato!” I say, awed by his coup. “Such style with a stylo!”
I opine, with a sneer, that Oleg-Olaf never could be so apt with a Bic. He’s a pencil user only, even on Mondays.

“Oona-Uma!” yaps Oleg-Olaf. “Whose moll are you—mine, or this base payee’s? Are you blotto from the ale?”

“Blotto?” I yip. “Ich? You should hablar, you stinko sot!”

He says that’s some slap, coming from an inane yoyo who acts like Teri Garr on LSD. I up the ante and say at least I’m not a snob nerd with the abs of Ed Asner.

He says I have mossy tibias. I say his ego needs an edit. There’s an eerie lull.

“Look,” the super says. “I’m not too sure what you guys are yelling about, but you’re giving me a migraine. Couldn’t you just, you know, kiss and make up?”

“Oona-Uma,” says Oleg-Olaf, “for once the peon speaks A-OK. Mea culpa for the loco slurs I hurled. Amo, amas. Let’s elope ASAP.”

“Are you a total dolt, or do you just ape one?” I yelp. “I can’t erase your sass. Oleg-Olaf, you’re no longer the bona fide amir of my amor. We are exes.”

“Darn, drat, dang!” he emotes. “I thought we were bound for the nave and the apse!”


“My esprit is kaput,” Oleg-Olaf says. “I will flee Gotham. I will become an eeler on the Oise—or maybe an angler on the Oder.”

“Thou, a tar?” I emit a haha.

Oui,” he says. “Though I do abhor the notion of myself asea, solo. Won’t you come be my teeny naiad?”

“Scat,” I say.

With gusto, he busses my pate. “I will think of you,” he says, “at ebb tide and neap tide, both port and stern, fore and aft. May we meet anon.”

“Ta ta,” I say. “Hasta—”

“—la vista,” he finishes.


“—la vie.”

He exits.

“Whoa,” says the super. “That was something. I have to admit—all that weird talk, it’s kinda sexy when you do it.”

“You’re a jot afire yourself,” I say. “Alas, I’m not hip to your nom.”

“Will,” he says. “Will Shortz.”

“Wow, oho, aha! Are you kin to Will Shortz of the Times—the puzzle tsar?

“No, but my aunt Ethel sells ads at the Post. She likes solving those daily jumble things.”

“Alike enough.” With brio, I ogle his macho torso. “Want to see my rare litho of lassoes and leis?”

“Sure, whatever. What room is it in?”

“Just one down and two across.”

© 2007 Melissa Balmain

Melissa Balmain is a freelance writer and crossword addict whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. Samples of her light verse are online at and You can reach her at