Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jason on Jeopardy

Sorry I haven't submitted in a while, busy summer. The following is a colomn from earlier this year...

A relative of mine was on Jeopardy recently. Jason won a bunch of money in less than a week. His mother Kathy and I share grandparents and half a century of friendly camaraderie and light spirited conversation. Kathy is clever and funny and she, Emmy, and I have made each other think and laugh through the good and bad years. It is no surprise that all three of her kids are super smart. Jason’s father is no slouch when it comes to mental dexterity either.
I suppose it is a bad habit, but I comment or talk to my TV, usually but not always in a derogatory manner. From my living room chair, I talked at Jason while he was on Jeopardy, trying to be helpful. In the beginning, he didn’t seem to be pushing the button to answer the questions. I mostly yelled, “Push the button” then louder, “PUSH THE BUTTON”. It didn’t seem to have any effect on whether or not he pushed the button, no matter how loud I yelled.
I always knew Jason was a smart young man, but as I watched the show, I couldn’t believe just how smart and fast he is.
In any conversation that turns adversarial, or in any argument, my snappy retorts make less and less sense along the lines of, “so is your mother” or “up your nose with a rubber hose.” Sometimes I just slip into overused repetitive profanities. If given the chance to sleep and regroup my thoughts, muttering to myself overnight, I can come up with a great reply. They don’t give you that much time on Jeopardy.
As I watched the show, I knew few of the answers. When I did know answers, the contestants had pressed their button and replied (in the form of a question), long before the answer made it from the ‘I know that’ stage in my brain to actually verbalizing the words with my mouthparts.
Early on, I was pretty happy with myself and a bit disappointed with Jason because I knew the answer to a question having to do with the planting of our flag on Iwo Jima and an old Johnny Cash song. The song is about superior achievements of persons from which the rest of society would not expect that much. The answer was “Ira Hayes”, more appropriately, “Who was Ira Hays.” It was one of the few questions to which Jason didn’t have an answer.
A line from the song in a time when political correctness was a bit less correct than it is today is, “…call him drunken Ira Hays, he won’t answer any more, not the whiskey drinkin’ Indian, or the marine that went to war.”
That turned out to be the only answer I knew well enough to have pushed the button first and placed in the form of a question.
After that, the questions got harder. Jason won Jeopardy money knowing the names of various Norse characters, some of which I thought he made up. He knew lines from George Washington’s inaugural speech and sports terms I never heard of. He also showed a wealth of knowledge from movies, the serious to the amazingly frivolous. In the TV department, he knew three stooges trivia and daytime soap opera characters. He knew the answers to questions when I didn’t even understand the question.
Jason’s education has been and still is, his own hunger for knowledge. On Jeopardy, most of the competitors Jason knocked out were well-educated, degree holding professional types. He won over $150,000, not bad for an engine assembler from right here in Western New York.
I always wanted to be on a show like Jeopardy, maybe I could do well if they limited the questions to old Johnny Cash lyrics..
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Grandaughters, Wives, and Computers

Emmy and I have been chatting online lately. For my fellow computer illiterates ‘chatting’, on the internet is a kind of fast form of email. If you don’t know what email is, you’ve just woken from a long comma, congratulations!
In a two-person chat, both people are on line at the same time, and have a written (typed) conversation. In the old days, you dialed up a person to chat, their phone rang, and they answered. Now both people find themselves online at the same time. In my love/hate relationship with computers and the internet, one thing I love is the communication. I think something almost mystical is at work.
You could be minding your business, doing something important on the internet, like finding out how many people recorded specific rock and roll and blues hits from three decades ago on You-tube. A little balloon window will pop up in the corner of your computers’ screen and tell you someone you are acquainted with is online and ‘available’.
Knowing that someone is willing and waiting for a chat interferes with my concentration. It forces me to put some thought into a talk with a person I may not have been interested in chatting with in the first place. If I ignore the little window, I begin to feel guilty. After all, how many different video versions of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” can I possibly enjoy? (The number is vast)
If the ‘chat’ person went on line for some companionship and I sit like a bump on a log will they feel rejected? Maybe no one will talk to them. Maybe they are having a bad day- personal crisis; maybe they need to talk to someone.
I try to think up something intelligent to say, I type in, “What’s up, dude?”
A little balloon pops up claiming the person is no longer available. I wonder if the person is ‘not available’ because I am the one who responded, maybe I should feel rejected. What I really feel is relief– I don’t have to think up any more great lines like, ‘What’s up, dude?’
If my granddaughter is the individual on line, ready and available, we are always happy to chat with her.
Our son Jon sets up the chat session from their home, and Paige continues chatting as she pleases.
We travel for business, in our little truck camper. The last trip we took was six weeks. The chats with Paige lift our spirits, bringing a third person, a favorite one at that, into our small space. We use Emmy’s computer and she types in my comments as well as her own.
We have a lot of patience for our granddaughter; at six years of age, Paige doesn’t have a long attention span nor is she a fast typist. She sometimes wanders off in the middle of a chat, only to return minutes later. There is a lot of hang-on time between sentences.
In the camper, on our end of the conversation, Emmy spends the wait-time sewing beads onto fabric and leather; I read and write and watch videos.
Though not speedy, our granddaughter most often replies in full sentences with perfect spelling and grammar. She already has a sense of humor and often makes some very adult observations. At one point we were chatting and there was a longer than usual wait.
Emmy typed, “Are you there, Paige?”
Paige wrote, “No.”
I told Paige, I wished I had a mail delivery owl like those in the Harry Potter novels, a nice, fluffy solid white one.
Paige said, “Grandpa, you do know that is only fiction don’t you?”
She was so serious, I couldn’t answer.
Even if she doubts my knowledge or my sanity, Paige will always be welcome in any chat of mine.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I love MMB-- recycled column

Meredith Baxter Bernie (MBB) announced a few weeks ago that she is a lesbian. Many people last knew her as the wholesome Mrs. Keaton from the classic sit-com “Family-Ties”. I’m sure the declaration upset a multitude of people concerned with other’s sexual preferences.
On the show, she portrayed an ex hippie type mom, opposite her radical-right-wing-Nixon-admiring son, Michael J Fox. As the Mom, the voice of reason, she doled out advice and consolation to her family. In real life, she married three times, but did not realize until lately the pool in which she was fishing contained the wrong gender. If common sense could have carried over to her real life, maybe she would have stopped marrying men. She could have at least given it some thought between weddings.
I was head over heels infatuated with her back when ‘Family-Ties’ was popular. I liked her almost as much as Emmy hankered after Willy Nelson.
Somehow, in my fantasy I saw Mrs. Keaton and me, running off. We would consummate our relationship on some tropical island beach, living in a grass hut, existing on sushi and margaritas, happily ever after. Being a fantasy and my chances of success so small, I didn’t mull over details such as, what would become of my spouse and kids. Maybe Tiger Woods should have put a little thought into that.
I know my chances were not good with Mrs. Keaton but I have a vivid imagination.
One year, while the Family-Ties sit-com was still in production, Emmy, our two boys, and I were on vacation in Washington DC. I saw Michael Gross, the Dad on the Family-Ties series, at a table near ours in a Bennigans.
Under the guise of getting his autograph for my kids, (not for me, of course) I went over to his table with a pen and piece of paper. I am fully aware that actors on TV are most often not married to, or related to the people they perform with on sit-coms, but I remember studying the people he was sitting with to see if the woman I adored was in attendance. I didn’t even care if the wildly popular Michael J Fox was there. It turned out Mr. Keaton was with regular people, most likely his own family. How boring is that?
I felt bad that I disturbed him; I was committing an unwelcome act. He got up from his chair and walked me back to my table, explaining that he didn’t believe in giving autographs unless he was at a publicity event. He was friendly and courteous then shook my hand and went back to sit with his family. Though I felt like a lout for bothering him, I thought if I were he, I would probably just tell someone like myself to go away or conversely, just sign the piece of paper and be done with it.
I was in a funk about Meredith Baxter, coming out of the closet. Married women tire of their spouses, opening up the possibility for good-looking blond stars to run away with fat old men like me. I can fantasize that they would love to spend their lives in abject poverty on a beach in Samoa. However, when women realize they are batting for the other team they seldom start back with the original line up.
Emmy Lou has been well aware of my fixation for MBB; I’m pretty much an open book. When she came home from shopping I glumly told her I found out Mom Keaton was no longer interested in men. I said I guess that is one more fantasy I’m was going to have to leave behind.
Emmy told me I didn’t have to give up the dream, pointing out that Mrs. Keaton is just as likely to run off with me now, as before she discovered her new sexual orientation. “The odds of it happening haven’t changed a bit.” She said.
As often happens, Emmy’s keen observation brightened my day.