Friday, December 30, 2005

The Pursuit of Victory

When you’re a kid, your parents whoop your ass in things like Monopoly and Scrabble, or any other leisure activity that requires strategy and experience. There’s no secret as to why this happens—young children are simply too uneducated and ignorant to beat accomplished adults in Risk tournaments. I, too, received my fair share of romp-stompings as a tyke, and the game of choice was that trivia-based bastard of a game, Trivial Pursuit.

We played it every New Year’s Eve all the way through the end of high school. The Children versus The Adults, an age-old battle (so to speak) between intelligent people and their offspring. My family, along with two close friend families, would lay out the board around 9:00pm, pour some Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice, and get the dice rolling shortly thereafter…

Usually, it was six adults going up against seven children, which sounds like we would have had a slight advantage. However, numbers and statistics are misleading. The Adults had my friend Marty’s mother Joan on their team. Joan taught (and teaches) French at a semi-prestigious Catholic high school, and watches Jeopardy like it’s her religion. I’m not kidding—she’s got more skill than Rosie Perez’s character on “White Men Can’t Jump.” The woman knows her foods that start with the Letter Q. As a child, Marty and I would play Ninja Turtles in the living room while Joan watched Jeopardy, and as sure as I stand before you today, handsome and upright, she would answer 85-90% of those questions correctly, IN question form. She’s something of a genius, but never auditioned for the show because she was afraid she’d freeze up in front of all the millions of people.

But on New Year’s Eve, there are far less than millions of people, and Joan usually hustled our young asses like Bill Gates at a computer inventing contest. Shortly after the end of the game (which was almost always a New Year’s frustration for the losing children), we’d despondently count down from ten, watching The Ball in Times Square drop and light up. Every January first, at 12:01am, we made a resolution: Next year, we beat our parents at Trivial Pursuit.

Overly dramatic? Yes. And we never actually made verbal resolutions to earn retribution. Actually, after I graduated high school in 2000, I sort of forgot about Trivial Pursuit. All seven children, similarly college-aged, had gone off to school and had begun attending their own New Year’s Eve gatherings, away from the Usual Routine. The whole vendetta to beat the parents just… disappeared…

That is, until a few short nights ago, when amazingly, five of the seven children reassembled, along with all six parents (and a few add-ons: two other Adult players and my lovely girlfriend, Amy, who proved crucial in the outcome of the match—you’ll see). We laid out the game board, selected the orange pie pan, and handed the pink pan to our parents (David, one of The Children, did this symbolically to send a message. For the first ten years of his life, David’s father, a Michigan graduate, told David that the Notre Dame football team wore pink jerseys. David believed this, but didn’t let it affect his decision on what college to attend. He is now the student body president of Notre Dame University). Then, we were ready to rumble.

Joan answered her usual plethora of questions, but The Children jumped out to a huge 4 pie piece to 2 pie piece lead. Adam spoke in tongues, answering the majority of the People & Places questions. None of the sports questions, usually a strength for us, had ANYTHING to do with sports (ex—What former NBA star was given a baton scholarship in college? I’m serious. That was a real question). The game was full of nonsense, but The Children had a strong lead and looked absolutely dominating.

Desperate, the parents actually CALLED the husband of one of the two new Adult women to answer a sports question for a pie, and as a result they got a controversial pie piece, which we complained about for the rest of the night. Later, the parents woke up a sleeping “team member” to answer a question about boy scout badges. This earned them a second contentious pie. I felt like the Anaheim Angels in the 2005 ALCS when AJ Pierzynski “stole” first. Everything was going The Adults’ way, until eventually, we each had our pie pans full and were aiming from the center space. It was neck-and-neck, and both teams botched very difficult questions for the win. Finally, we got our pie into the middle and awaited the final question. It read:

“What does TTFN mean when signing off an internet chat?”

All of us had read this expression before, and most of us had an inkling that the FN stood for “for now,” but none of us could answer the question. Suddenly, my girlfriend, who had been sitting on the floor in front of me, turns rigid and bolts out an answer. She said, “Ta-Ta for now!” And by God, she was right! Amy, who had sat there almost silently (though quietly answering the correct answers to obscure questions in my ear), came up with a clutch answer! I’ll tell you what, people: It. Felt. Good.

So that was that. The Children finally took home the proverbial Trivial Pursuit trophy. It wasn’t on New Year’s, and a few or the original 13 were replaced with some newcomers, but it was good. It was nice to see all of those people, because we haven’t been together like that in a few years. All joking aside, it was a much-appreciated belated Christmas gift. I’ve had a wonderful break, and I hope yours have all been great too.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Robot

I was an overly-imaginative kid, and as a result, I ended up being a very disappointed child for several consecutive Christmases. My imagination has helped me a LOT in my life, getting me the jobs I wanted, helping me to express myself via music, poems, and blog entries, but at age seven, my active mind caused nothing but sorrow.

“Why?” you ask? Because my imagination concocted a small robot that would be able to clean my room and do my chores for me, so I could play outside with my friends.

I sent letters to Santa Claus for three consecutive years asking for this robot (it was to come with a remote control), assuming that Santa was the owner of the most extreme toy workshop on the planet. I gave no seconds thoughts to the fact that Santa would not be able to concoct such an item. I made plans for this robotized mechanical slave; I imagined myself romping through fields of flowers, inadvertently kicking the heads off of the colorful blossoms as I skipped through. There were harps and acoustic guitars playing as my body danced against the ocean blue sky. My God, it was going to be wonderful. I would be free to watch Ninja Turtles, drink the coldest Kool-Ade, play baseball until my hands were calloused, and ride my bike around the neighborhood exploritorily like I was Francisco freakin’ Pizarro.

I even asked him nicely. I said, “Santa, could you please bring me that remote controlled robot I keep inquiring about? I’ve been especially well-behaved, and I would appreciate the extra free time.”

But, alas, my robot never did come. That fat, red-suited waste of Christmas cheer ate all our cookies, choked down all our dairy beverages, and flew off into the night, laughing maniacally all the way back to the North Pole.

I’m not saying I never got cool stuff, because I did. At least, it was cool to me back then. The popularity of origami has waned since 1989 (Actually, I’m not sure it was cool when the Ancient Chinese INVENTED it), and I remember absolutely LOVING my Design-a-Saur model set. With it, I could create hybrid dinosaurs that never actually existed by unhooking and mismatching the bones of Triceratops, Pterodactyls, Brontosauruses, and T-Rexes. My favorite creation ever was the Triceradonitopsis Rexosaurus. I was quite the inventor.

And at that point, on the day after my 7th Christmas, I remember my imagination kicking in again. It said to me, “Joel, if you are able to concoct such creative and amazing dinosaurs, SURELY that lazy old sack of eggnog Santa Claus should be able to construct a remote-controlled robot!”

I saw the logic in this, and as a result I wrote a letter to Santa Claus on December 27, 1989, asking once again for the gift of my dreams.

Unfortunately, in my imagination is where that robot stayed.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Call Me Now for a Free Reading

Either I'm a psychic, or I'm just getting REALLY good at reading children's faces.

Between twenty and 1,753 times a day, a child walks up to me, leaning forward with an inquisitive look on his or her face. Their eyebrows raise, and they fidget with their hands. They approach my desk in fast-forward, almost like that creepy crawling girl from "The Ring," but more comedically than frightening. They have something urgest to ask me, something for which the world must stop until it is resolved:

"Can I go to the bathroom?"


"Can I get a drink of water?"

It's like Chinese Water Fountain torture for my psyche, where constant inquisitive drips tap my forehead, uninterrupted, for 9 months a year. Thing is, these students don't REALLY have to use the commode; they're bored, and they want to get up and roam the hallowed halls of Olympia High School. They want to peer into classroom windows and make silly faces at their classmates. All they want is to simply go for a stroll.

You know, I'd almost prefer their honesty over "Can I go to the bathroom." For example, if it were "Can I go take a short walk around the school, I'm getting antsy sitting here," I just might be inclined to say yes...

Anyway, the point is that I realized today that I am able to predict which of my two least favorite questions is going to come out of the student's mouth before he or she reaches my desk. I can't put my finger on how I do it, but I can do it. I'm 8 for 8 today.

Gotta go; I'm REALLY thirsty, and I have to piss like a racehorse.