Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wile E. and me: Two kindred souls

I feel a certain kinship with Wile E. Coyote.

OK, so I've never been blown up by one of my own inventions.

When it comes to mail -- electronic or snail -- I'm not on Acme Products' sucker list.

And I've never run 20 feet off the edge of a cliff before realizing that, as Ms. Stein might put it, there's no more there there, and I've never waved goodbye just before the gravity kicks in, sending me to the ground with an impact that produces a muted sound effect and mucho broken bones.

Nope -- never been there, never done that.

But I have tried out for "Jeopardy!"


At least four times.

I would have tried out for the show 50 years ago, back when the great Art Fleming (at left) was the "star," but I was only a kid.

(My family had most of the editions of the "Jeopardy!" home games. I usually served as host. My siblings were fond of referring to me as "Art Phlegm." Ah well. As the Bible sayeth, "An emcee is without honor only in his living room.")

My most recent attempts have been made online, through the show's annual test.

My second attempt was at a Native American casino in a nearby town. I went with two other newspaper staffers. We and the other would-be contestants were given a 10-question test. All three of us flunked, but it wasn't a total loss: One of my colleagues treated us to lunch after visiting the gaming room and finding that, at least on this day, the House was a lot more merciful than Merv Griffin Productions.

But I especially remember the first time I tried out for "Jeopardy!" on a Friday afternoon in 1987 after working late the night before.

I was then assigned to my newspaper's news desk and had Fridays off. My desk handled national and international news, along with whatever local stories were deemed worthy of the A section.

And on this particular Thursday night we had a doozy.

One of the city's ex-mayors had been indicted in a kickback scheme.

Not only that -- he was a major ex-mayor, having once served as head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

As for his overall popularity, I'm sure he had fresh charisma flown in every day.

So it was a particularly long Thursday night with a lot of page proofs for me to read.

But despite my fatigue after such a long shift, I still showed up around 1 p.m. the next day at the suburban hotel where the test was to be given.

I was far from alone. At least 50 other people stood around nervously before we were led inside a ballroom where card tables had been set up, one for each would-be contestant.

The test consisted of 50 answers. The good news: Our responses didn't have to be in the form of a question. The bad news: We had only 12 minutes to complete the test. No points were taken off for wrong answers, so even a semi-educated guess would be better than a blank space.

As I recall, I knew a few answers immediately. The others? Here's an example: "What 80 and a grand slam have in common."

Give up? Four score.

(Don't feel bad -- I didn't figure it out until I was more than halfway home.)

The answer: "We're whipped!"

The correct response: What was the collective sentiment in the room after those 12 minutes had passed?

As the papers were collected, a TV at the front of the room was turned on and one of the show's staffers said something like:

"And now, while we're scoring your papers, you can watch your favorite show!"

Most of us, I think, just wanted to slink out of the room, holding our coats and hats up to our face in case any photographers were waiting outside to record our shame.

Instead we commiserated about how badly we'd surely done, only to be shushed at one point by a nerdy guy who was sitting near the front and wanted to hear his "favorite show."

"If he doesn't make it," the guy next to me said, "it will have been worth it."

Finally the show's staffers came out to announce the names of those who had made the cut and who would the go on to the next round, in which they would play a pretend "Jeopardy!" game.

A name was announced.


Another name was announced.

More applause.

"And that's it! Thank you for coming!"

Only two?

I don't know whether it's physically possible for a group of people to gasp in unison, but I'm sure we at least deserved an E for effort.

And I'm pretty sure that Mr. Shusher was sent packing along with the rest of us.

The ex-mayor went to prison, eventually returned home and wound up as a greeter at a downtown restaurant. He died one Christmas Day, leaving me with no one else to blame for any future "Jeopardy!" failures.

But I still take the online test each year, and I'm sure that someday I'll be right up on that stage with Alex Trebek.

Just as Wile E. is sure that he'll be having that long-awaited Road Runner repast any day now -- just as soon as that brand-new, atomic-powered slingshot arrives from those ever-innovative geniuses at Acme. What will they think of next?

1 comment:

Judy Berman said...

Unlike Wile E. Coyote, your "try, try, again" attitude may pay off. His doomed,ill-conceived schemes only land him in E.R. rather than with the hoped-for snack. Meep - meep.