The year was 1979. I was in fifth grade at Carver Elementary School in San Marino, California.
Toward the end of the school year, we had an Olympics-style competition, where we competed in various sports and won ribbons for First, Second and Third Places.
I won nothing.
But at the end of the sports was a competition called — prepare yourself here — The Posture Parade.
The glorious Posture Parade involved a team of 10 people, all of whom stood in a straight line and proceeded to walk along a designated route across the playground. Judges graded your team on how straight each of you stood as you walked. The more erect, the better.
Like in the sports competitions, I expected to win nothing.
But lo, the wheel of fortuna turned in my favor that spring day.
All of the slouchy kids (and the kid with the spinal disorder, affectionately nicknamed “Johnny Hunchback”) were all assigned to other teams.
I, Stephan Pastis, was left with a team of absolute ringers. Our point man, Bob, was perhaps the most athletic person in the school and walked so erect he was practically on his tip toes. Sarah, just behind him, could balance a stack of delicate pottery on her head, like those women you see in National Geographic.
And there, in the third position, was yours truly. After Bob and Sarah, I had only to hold my own. And hold my own I did.
I walked like a superstar.
I think my greatness that day was due to the fire that raged inside me following my many losses in the various sporting events. Take, for example, the pull-up competition. While some kids could do a dozen, I couldn’t do one. Worse, everyone in my class stood around at the base of the pull-up bar watching closely as I failed. A dark day, indeed.
But the Posture Parade was my shot at redemption.
And I ran with it. (Well, walked erectly with it.)
When the judges gave out the ribbons that day, my team came in first. I was so excited, I jumped up and down. This looked odd, as none of the other kids on my team showed any reaction.
But it meant more to me.
I was a champion.