Thursday, March 29, 2012


Since one of the bloggers I read just appeared on Jeopardy and wrote about her experience (Jeanie Kenkel of The Jeopardy! Fan) last night, I thought I'd refer back to my posting about auditioning for the show ... and then I realized that post didn't exist. The only thing to do, then, is to write it.

Let's hop into the Wayback Machine and set the dial for - um, I don't remember exactly when - January? February? could it have been March? of 2010. Every year, Jeopardy (I'm dispensing with that annoying exclamation mark from here on in; please, no one sue me) gives an online test which is the first step along the path to your theoretical appearance on the show. I took it once (maybe twice) before, when I remembered to sign up and actually be online at the appropriate time. They don't tell you how you did, so unless you have a photographic memory (which it should be clear by now, I don't) or you use some other means to keep track of the questions (I don't know how you write them down or take screenshots and answer in the few seconds allotted), it's sort of like shouting your answers into a tunnel. They just disappear into the ether and you never hear anything more about them.

Unless, of course, you do. As I said, in 2010, I took the test and promptly forgot about it. Honestly, I can't even say whether I felt particularly good or bad about my responses. I was reminded about it, however, when I got an email in September telling me I'd been selected to do an in-person audition for the show in November. I had chosen San Francisco as my audition city, I think because I figured if I should manage to get an audition, I could bundle it in with a visit back home. The closer option would have been Salt Lake City, but I didn't have any reason to want to go there.

So this is sunrise, hm? I think I'd rather sleep.
It didn't exactly turn out to be part of a leisurely trip, though. The circumstances were such that I flew in the night before and was scheduled to fly back home the evening of the audition. "Whirlwind" is a good description of the schedule. I stayed in San Bruno, so I had to get up early to get ready, take the train to the city, and find my way to the appropriate place in the St. Francis for the audition. They run multiple sessions over the course of a couple of days, and as it turns out, we had some extra people from the previous day's sessions because the Giants had just won the World Series and it created transportation havoc for the folks trying to get to the city for that day's auditions.

What's the environment like in a Jeopardy audition? Are you imagining a Nerd Herd full of eyeglass-wearers and snorting laughs, perhaps heatedly debating matters of physics or astronomy? Or maybe you imagine that it's just a bunch of regular folks, chatting about the weather and baseball or movies? Either way, you're wrong. (And please note - I have no way of knowing if any other audition was like those scenarios - I've only done it once. Other people have done it multiple times and seen a wider cross-section. I can only tell you about what  I saw on this one occasion.) Disclaimer out of the way, I'd describe the overall atmosphere at my Jeopardy audition with this phrase: accountants at a funeral.

A lovely parting gift, or instrument of Satan? You decide.
Everyone was quiet as we were seated and waiting for the contestant coordinator to come back into the room (she'd left to give us time to fill out our paperwork). Even after everyone was done with the forms, there was pretty much only the sound of paper-shuffling or pen-clicking. (A note about pen-clicking: If that sound bothers you, do yourself a favor and never audition for Jeopardy. They hand out these pens, and everyone promptly starts not only clicking them out of nervousness, but also as a means to practice their ringing in. Large parts of the audition for me were an exercise in not standing up and yelling "For the love of all that's holy, would you please just STOP THAT?!!!!!?!") Ahem - where was I?  I looked around, and about 98% of people were either staring straight ahead or at their shoes. I said, "Soooo ... are we allowed to talk to each other, or what?" I got a couple of hesitant smiles and remarks, and then silence fell again. I was left with nothing to do but watch the poor guy next to me fidget nervously and sweat.

Eventually, the actual auditions began. We were herded into another room (where two of the only other talkative people sat on either side of me, thank goodness) and given a written test. They show a question at the front of the room, you write down your answers, they collect the tests and go outside to grade them, you never find out how you did. On this one, though, I know I aced it. I got one out of the 50 (?) questions wrong. Then they come back in and have you go up to the front in groups of 3 to play a mini game of Jeopardy. You do a little interview segment, and then they show you a board and you ring in and answer and all of that. The contestant coordinators give you helpful hints, telling you if you're ringing in too early or too late. They're just trying to get a sense of whether or not you might be successful at playing, and whether or not your heart can withstand being the center of attention. I'm sure their ideal contestant is also personable, but I've seen some people on the show that let me know they can't always manage that one.

I did all right in the mock game too, I thought. I didn't have to be told to speak up, or prompted about buzzer techniques. Then suddenly it was all over, "thank you all for coming," and like every other part of the process, you have no idea what anyone thought of you. You go into the pool of possible contestants for 18 months after the audition. I left feeling confident enough about my performance that I went home and started studying immediately. After a while without hearing anything, I got lax and eventually stopped (especially because at the time, we were expecting to be going to China within a year, so I'd told them I wasn't available after August). I don't know how everyone else fared; I haven't seen every episode since then, but to my knowledge there's only been one person on tv from my audition session.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forever - However Long That May Be

I've been trying to write a post for several weeks now.

First, it was going to be a post about how our various endeavors have caused months of us being occupied in solitary pursuits and less togetherness than we normally would like.

Then, it was going to be a post about our first anniversary.

However, the day before our first anniversary, tragedy struck for an online friend of mine. His wife died suddenly. I was devastated for him - they had one of those marriages, just so close and happy. He is only a few years older than I am, and hearing the news struck very close to home for me. You know that of course, anyone could be gone in an instant, but you push that thought as far back in your mind as you can. You have to; no one's sanity could withstand having that at the forefront of your thoughts every day.

But after hearing that news, Morgan and I looked at each other and saw what we really are ... terrifyingly fragile life forms. He said, "I couldn't imagine losing you." I said, "I couldn't imagine losing you, either." But the reality of life is that one of us will most likely be left behind, though hopefully at least it will be after many more years together. (The other alternative is that we're together, struck by a meteorite slamming into the earth. That would be okay.)

I suppose this is where I should probably say something about how we've resolved never to say a word in anger to each other, and to never go to bed angry, and to never part company without saying "I love you," but as lovely as that would be, it's just not realistic. We try to be kind to each other, we try to be patient and understanding, but we are only human. It is a fine goal to aspire to, I suppose, but getting back to what I said about living with those thoughts at the top of your mind - it's a little bit paranoid, too. Luckily, a relationship isn't made up of only one last moment. It's made up of many moments and decisions, large and small.

A small story: One evening in August of 1991, I called my parents (they were living with my Nonna at the time) and talked to them. My dad said, "Do you want to talk to Nonna?" and I replied, "No, that's okay. I'll talk to her next time."

You know the end of this story, don't you?

Well, you're right. She died before there could be a "next time." I felt bad for quite a while, but eventually I realized that the things people tell you in a situation like that to make you feel better are really true. It doesn't matter that I didn't talk to her on that particular night; she knew from a lifetime of conversations and time together that I loved her. I was a 19-year-old kid; thinking about the possibility of someone not being there wasn't really part of my decision-making process. So I don't feel bad about it anymore. I don't regret it, because I know in the end it doesn't matter at all.

How that pertains to my relationship with Morgan: it's not an excuse to be thoughtless, but it is a sort of pre-forgiveness for our own humanity. We're less than perfect, but that's okay.