The University of Pennsylvania, Department of English, is offering a course with the title of, “Wasting Time On The Internet.”
The Usual Suspects were there when I arrived and, after exhausting the topic of the Chicago Cubs Baseball team, they began to talk about “Tele-Evangelists we have known.” This had nowhere to go but down and it did so very quickly.
TERRE HAUTE (That’s French for “I hope there is enough parking.”) is a town that loves something – anything, that is new. If you want to create a stir in this town just open a new store or restaurant.
“Build it and mail out coupons and they will come.”
— Paraphrase from “Field of Dreams”
THE FATHERS DAY Holiday, Celebration, Acknowledgement is hard upon us.
On days like that I really don’t think much about my role as a father. I picked up the honorific in midstream, becoming a “Step-Dad” at the age of 56. I don’t think about my role because it is an evolving thing, changing from day to day – sometimes hour to hour.
EVERY MORNING WHEN I TURN ON MY PHONE and look at the baseball scores, double check the weather forecasts, peruse the news, see if my calendar has any appointments scheduled, monitor the local gasoline prices and check my email (in fact, I do everything except use the phone to make a call) I discover that two or three people have sent me something they regard as “trivia.”
What is or isn’t trivial is really quite a subjective call. It is like whether a particular person is sweet dream beautiful or merely nightmarish, or do Brussels Sprouts make your mouth either water or fill with projectile matter. It is like wondering if some favorite politician is a lowlife, scum-sucking career criminal or just a thieving degenerate spawn of Satan.
You catch my drift?
Most of the things sent my way are not trivia. The fact that today is so and so’s birthday is not trivia. The fact that some guy at a County Fair in California is selling “Deep Fried Slim-Fast Bars” is not trivia. It is hellishly funny, but not as funny as another guy, in Milwaukee, who has erected a sign on the roof of a building on the approach path to the Milwaukee Airport that reads, “Welcome to Cleveland.”
That is a guy I’d like to meet.
For the better part of last year I participated in a weekly trivia contest at a local pub. Teams of erratically educated people would get together to show off, compete for gift cards good only at the pub, and to drink themselves into memory erasing stupors.
Our team had one member who must have done nothing for the last 20 years but listen to Top 40 Radio and watch sitcoms. He was a very valuable person to have on board. Another member had a disturbingly encyclopedic memory for anything to do with Sports. I was the Old Guy who could actually remember something that happened before the invention of TiVo.
I was doing the trivia thing for the enjoyment and to get out of the house so my loving and talented wife, Dawn could have some peace and quiet. I can be a bit like a young beagle puppy at times – cute, but headache producing.
I don’t drink – a fact that helped late in the game as I was one of the few left in the joint who could remember facts about William Howard Taft and get my car keys in the ignition on the first try. Through chance and dumb luck our team was surprisingly successful. Appetizers for everyone!
I began to separate myself from the weekly event because I began to suspect that our Sports Maven was nuttier than a truckload of Payday candy bars.
The trivia game is supposed to be fun. Am I right? But for this fellow it had turned into a Blood Sport. If he supplied the wrong answer to a question about who won the Orange Bowl in 1913, he would slam his fist onto the table, turn persimmon red, and have to go take a walk to cool off.
Naturally, I would throw kerosene onto the fire.
“I think you’re right! Tell the Moderator that you challenge her answer and that you are playing under protest.”
“##^@@&*$##%%!!!!!” (followed by a few laps around the parking lot)
That’s a paraphrase, of course.
I used the Holiday Season to completely exit from the team – and so did all of the other members – leaving Mr. Pecan Log teamless.
I heard that he glommed onto another team and proceeded to drive them batty.
I may go back over to the pub and play the game again someday, but I’m going to assemble my own team beforehand. I want no psychotics, nobody who has to keep throwing away their sobriety pins and no one who thinks the answer to every question is either Al or Tipper Gore.
THIS PAST WEDNESDAY the Powerball Lottery drawing Grand Prize had reached 500 million dollars. Wow! Half a billion dollars! That would keep you off of food stamps for a while.
For reasons I’m still not sure of, the State Lottery Commission decided that the drawing needed some additional allure. They set up a publicity stunt here in Terre Haute. I guess they felt that the smell of all that money wasn’t enough.
THE THIRD AND FINAL game show that I invaded was my favorite – “Win Ben Stein’s Money” on the Comedy Channel.
It was 1998, during the show’s second season. I was in LA for a few days and arranged for a tryout. Compared to the Jeopardy quiz this audition was more like asking someone out on a date. I chatted with about five staffers and we sat around cracking jokes. They liked that I had just put out a small book called the “Joy of Revenge,” and was pretty much a sarcastic SOB. After all, this was on the Comedy Channel.
Two months later, at about ten o’clock at night I got a call from them asking me if I could come to LA the next day to be on the show. It was kind of last-minute, but I said, “Sure, no problem.” So what if it was a 450 mile drive, did I care? Well, yes I did, but this show had one very attractive feature: you played for cash. I didn’t need any more rice.
In contrast to the Jeopardy shoot, “Ben Stein’s Money” had the feeling of a “Wayne’s World” episode. The set looked like somebody’s basement rec room.
My fellow contestants were a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and an LA lawyer. After the first round the lawyer was history. I was in first place. The reporter dude was in second and Ben would be joining the game.
In the second round my brain kicked into overdrive and I smoked both Ben and the reporter. That meant that, after a short break, it would be Ben and me, one-on-one, mano-a-mano, winner take all – $5000 and no parting gifts.
During the break Ben and I sat down on the edge of the stage and chatted. He was very nice and at ease. He asked me how I prepared for the show. He was taken aback when I told him that I had been called less than 24 hours ago.
For the final challenge Ben and I were sequestered in our own private “Isolation Booths.” His had an easy chair, Art on the walls, and a cooling beverage on a small table. My booth looked like the inside of a plywood shipping container: one bare light bulb hanging down, a wooden stool, and sitting in the corner a half empty box of cheese crackers.
My theory on shows like this is that, “You either know this crap, or you don’t.” You really can’t study for it.
Jimmy Kimmel asked me ten questions about all sorts of things. I got 7 out of 10 correct. Dumb luck. He happened to ask me about stuff I knew.
He then asked Ben Stein the same ten questions. He got only five correct.
A ton of confetti and balloons dropped from the ceiling and Ben congratulated me, shaking my hand. He told me that only about 1 out of 10 contestants bested him. I beat him like a rented mule.
About two weeks later I got a check for $5000 in the mail – no dishes, no Zenith televisions, and no rice. Just money, lucre, scratch, geetus, dead presidents, moolah.
About half of it went to taxes and a healthy portion of the rest went into a new, state of the art, computer and printer.
The television industry limits people to three game show opportunities. They don’t want people to make it into a career. Trust me – given my track record on game shows, it would make a lousy career. Not a lot of money, but at least there would be something to cook up for lunch.
IN AN EFFORT TO FULFILL my citizenship requirements in California I applied to become a contestant on Jeopardy – or as they insist on calling it “Jeopardy!”
The tryout for the show is a two-parter. First you take a written test of about 60 questions – with a ten minute time limit. Not multiple choice, you have to know the answers. The day I took the test, in LA, on the Jeopardy! set, I was one of about 80 people scribbling madly. There were a lot of tweed jackets with elbow patches there.