Sunday, July 17, 2011

Still locked out but I won't be a millionaire soon

The NBA is still locked out.  At least one NBA player has signed to play ball in Europe, specifically Turkey.  A reason:  the need to make money for his family.  Ahem.  You make millions of dollars a year and you need to play ball in another country to get food on the table?  I am pretty sure if you injure yourself in another league you will be SOL for injury assistance forever more.  If you'd like, you can send me an email and I will assist you in setting up a budget.  In no time, you will have saved zillions of dollars and your wife and kids won't think you're a mope.  You're welcome.

The Joffrey Ballet is still locked out.

The NFL is still locked out but rumored to be very close to an agreement but please note the July 15 deadline has come and gone.  It is also rumored the retired players will probably get nothing much out of this deal.


Chicago is a big city and major game shows and talent competitions come here regularly to get new participants for their offerings.  This week, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" came to Arlington Park to recruit local Brainiacs and I went.

I have a game-show past.  In 1977, while a very young woman living in Manhattan, I was a contestant on "The $20,000 Pyramid," hosted by Dick Clark.  In 1994, I was on "Jeopardy," hosted by Alex Trebek.  In 2002, I was a contestant on the daytime version of "The Weakest Link," hosted by George Gray (now a permanent announcer on "The Price Is Right").  At each of these auditions, an appointment had to be made in advance.

At the time I was on Pyramid, the only way to get on was to know someone who had been on the show, to get picked at random from the studio audience, or be visiting from out of town and write in advance to ask for an audition.  I ran into someone I'd known in theatre at Michigan State and mentioned I'd seen him on Pyramid, he told me who to call, and bingo, I had my audition.  At said audition, twenty people were in a room and we played Pyramid back and forth across the room.  My first partner was very smart and a very good player but he was also very soft-spoken and laid back, just what a game show doesn't want.  I was chosen for the next round because I am neither soft spoken nor laid back; I've been accused of having been a high school cheerleader but I am merely enthusiastic.  At the end of round two, the woman running the auditions advised us that she thought we were all very good and they were going to use us all.  I ended up winning $2325, which was a fortune in 1977.

For "Jeopardy," one had to send in a postcard to get chosen at random to get a chance to take the qualifying test.  I sent in five postcard and was not chosen.  The next year I sent in twenty postcards and was selected at random but flunked the test.  Year three I was going on vacation and didn't want to cancel, modify, or otherwise not go.  Year four, I sent 37 postcards.  I got four calls inviting me in to take the test.

The test was in a downtown hotel, there were several sessions each day, and we all filed in and sat at long tables, each provided with a blank test sheet (numbered 1 to 50) and a pencil.  The test was on TV and featured the voice of Alex Trebek.  I was mentally prepared and I passed.  This was followed immediately by a verbal test and having to stand before the contestant coordinators and talk about ourselves.  I don't remember what I said but four months later I was invited to come to California to be on the show.  I ended up winning $9001 and was a returning champion.

In 2001, at the end of the year when everyone was still in shock from the events of 9/11, "The Weakest Link" came to Chicago.  I believe I sent in 30 postcards (and was called twice) and took the test at another downtown hotel where there were long tables, each with a blank test sheet (I don't remember how many questions but I think 50) and a pencil.  I don't remember how the questions were administered but I passed and went to California to be on the show.  I won nothing but, hey, I was not the weakest of the weak links.  "The Weakest Link" is not the ideal show to be on if you know something and want to win a couple of bucks.  It is a stab-your-neighbor-in-the-back affair and best left to the UK, where it originated. 

For each of these, there were tables, we arrived for specific appointments, there wasn't excessive waiting around and contestant overlap, and we were not treated like cattle in the barnyard.

Several months after I was in California, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the daytime version, came to Chicago for testing.  A coworker asked me if I were going to try out and I said no, I wasn't because I didn't think I wanted to do it again.  And so it went, year after year.  They came to town, I said no thanks.  This year it coincided with day one of the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and I'd taken the time for it two months ahead.  Oh, dear.  I felt compelled.

The day before I was to take the test, I decided I didn't want to go wait in long lines in the heat and humidity of a Chicago suburb, in the parking lot of a racetrack, plus have to drive 30-45 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there.  I wanted to just go to the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and score some shoes, a top, and some black pants.  I wanted to take the test but I didn't want to stand outside in a parking lot and then stand around somewhere else before I could take the test which I did want to take.  Ultimately, I decide yes, I would go and give it a try.

The whole time I was standing there, I didn't really want to be there.  Here come the TV cameras and it's my favorite morning show!  I stood behind a guy so no one would see me even the hosts of my all-time favorite morning show.  (I take this opportunity to say, "Hi, Robin!  Hi, Larry!")  And so it went until we were sent into the room.  Where were the long tables?  There were chairs and tests in envelopes ("Do NOT open your envelopes!" they admonished) and cardboard rectangles that were to serve as tables on our laps ("Leave the cardboard for the next group," they admonished).  Scoring was via computer so make sure to press hard! There was the two-page test sheet and the cardboard, so good luck juggling that.  No, not the ideal way to give a test like this or any other kind.  The young woman running the test talked mostly about herself and what she liked and she'd never been to Chicago and it was so so nice.  And she so loved Tina Fey.  And asked if anyone worked at Second City and she didn't care about the fact that the woman who said she worked at Second City said she taught there.  This young person wanted to know how to score tickets because it was her dream to see a show there.  And Chicago is sooooo nice!  She didn't think it would be this pretty!  Finally, someone behind me shouted in frustration, "This isn't Chicago."  I agreed loudly.  There wasn't enough a/c.  We were given magnets and t-shirts and got to keep our pencils but I suspect the local Millionaire affiliate had to pick up the costs (their logo appears as well).

Long story longer, I didn't pass the test and I didn't mind at all.  I was probably the only person practically skipping out of the building.  I watched all the previously happy potential candidates reduced to subdued cattle.  They wanted it so much.  I didn't want to be on TV, I didn't want to get a new outfit just to be on TV, I didn't want to stand in a parking lot to take a test to be on a game show ever again.  I would, however, be willing to take another test if they let me sit at a long table in a room where there was plenty of air conditioning, where I'd arrived for a scheduled testing time, and I would certainly be willing to go to New York.  I would also be willing to advise the young woman to stop talking about herself and totally focus on the crowd.  Be encouraging and add, "When people ask you how you did, tell them you missed it by one."  Drill that into the crowd so it becomes second nature and they leave with a comfortable bit of fiction for their loved ones and feeling good about themselves.

By the way, after I lost on Pyramid, the first call I made was to the Internal Revenue Service.  I didn't wait until I got home.  I stepped up to the first payphone I saw and talked to someone in Lower Manhattan.  This is true.  I like living in a free country but I also want to pay taxes so I can enjoy civilization. 


Yesterday's errands took me to a hardware store.  I am a size queen when I shop and like big stores and lots and lots of options.  I went to a wicked huge, two-story Menard's in a suburb, efficiently chose what I needed, and took these items home.  When I got home I looked to see where everything was made, fully expecting to see it had been made somewhere on the western side of the Pacific Rim to be followed by some light cursing.  Wrong.  In their TV ads, Menard's has been bragging about stocking its shelves with goods that are made in the USA and my items, bought without country of origin in mind, were made here in these United States.  Menard's now has me and my ugly mug as its newest loyal customers (as my ugly mug is a whole other person).

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