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Opinion: Hibernation, Anyone?

Columnist Marsia Mason writes about her brush with game show glory, and how it helped her get out of her autumnal funk.

Lately, people have been slinging seasonal sentiments my way then waiting for me to make the appropriate response. I sometimes try to say what I think they want to hear, like, “Can’t wait to get the sweaters out of the attic,” or, “Oh yes! Autumn is a lovely time of year.”

Those of you who truly know me know I haven’t worn wool or anything resembling a sweater since 1998. I have piles of warm wool sweaters stacked up in the attic, just waiting for the day when my internal thermometer resets itself, yet again, and I go from being hot all the time to being cold all the time. Even in Florida. In August.

I hate saying goodbye to summer, which is why I feel so horrible about autumn. Summer is all about spontaneity while fall is all about returning to routine. Autumn is a time of transition, a time when I get sad, a little bit crazier and a lot more rash. I do unexpected things like dabble in agronomy, consider adopting a third dog—maybe four—or running for the presidency. Several years ago, I was in the throes of an erratic autumnal delirium when I decided to audition for a popular game show that tapes in New York City. Every time I tuned in (which, to be honest, was every Wednesday at the gym), I seemed to know all the answers.

Before I go into all the gory details, there are a couple truths I need to share:

1) The audition questions are way harder than the actual game show.

2) If you force-feed Jeopardy to your children, it will not make them smarter; it will make them loathe Alex Trebek, with or without facial hair. It might also lead them to speak in questions?

The game show I speak of had its heyday in the 90s, when Regis Philbin was still the host and $1 million was actually a pretty spectacular prize. Now, the show is relegated to the noonday hour, also known as the black hole of TV viewership. 

One Wednesday, as I correctly answered one question after another, an ad flashed on announcing upcoming auditions. Sorely feeling the lack of children in my home, I rearranged my work schedule, booked a tryout, and two weeks later drove up the turnpike to pick up my million dollars. I left the house at 6 a.m. for my 10:45 a.m. appointment, a thermos of coffee in hand, my mind spinning funny quips and treacly compliments for host Meredith Vieira. But somewhere around exit 7A, my daydreams of game show triumph were interrupted by a jackknifed semi that had flipped on its side, spewing some viscous liquid across all six lanes. I got to the Upper West Side at 11:15 a.m. and was told to try again at a later date.

The second time I went for a tryout, the show was holding auditions at the Convention Center in Philly. Piece of Tastykake! I parked the car and walked to an oddly quiet building, where in the lobby slouched a lone and very hefty security guard, filing her nails. “Is this where the auditions are?” I asked gaily. “Where is everyone?”

She looked me up and down, then snorted, “They was here yesterday, when they was havin’ auditions.” She then went back to her talons and I tried to affect a devil-may-care attitude until I got out of the building, at which point I shrank to the size of a peanut and slinked back to my car.

I was convinced the third attempt would be my charm. This time, however, I would rely on public transportation. And so, on another Thursday, giving myself plenty of time, I took the train to Manhattan and hoofed it to the Upper West Side. Two hours before showtime and the eager auditioners were already snaking around the side of the building, comparing notes. I hurried to join them and was rewarded with spectacular eavesdropping opportunities.

Many folks were game-show-audition veterans. One man in a very purple outfit (shirt, jacket and hat) was lecturing the newbies on the process in a loud, authoritative voice. “I’ve auditioned 10 times,” he bragged. “Meredith knows me by name.” Next to me was an older couple dressed in black and precious metals, their faces tanned and suspiciously wrinkle-free. Their demeanor was meant to inform the rest of us they were only doing this as a lark, a prank. There were visitors from out of town, recognizable by their eager friendliness, and many retirees who seemed to frequent these auditions as a way to pass the time without spending a dime.

When the gray sky began spitting chilling rain, I began to regret blowing a whole day on a silly fantasy. Then, as they always do, the umbrella men magically appeared hawking cheap $4 umbrellas, good for one use. We soon made a canopy of flimsy black domes, only to be herded inside minutes later.

In my fantasy, I went in, took the test and aced it. In the damp and chilly reality, we shuffled like cattle into the cold studio, were told where to sit and when to laugh at the “warm-up” comedian, then handed the test and a souvenir pencil we were free to keep. Big whoop. We were then warned we could not leave the studio until all three games had been taped. They would announce the people who had passed the test between each of the three tapings. I don’t like threats and neither does my bladder.

Still, I took the test, or rather, I guessed my way through questions like, “Who has been married more times, Larry King or Elizabeth Taylor?” (Larry?) and “The state of Virginia is named after which person?” (Virginia Slims?)

After the surly comedian did his shtick, Meredith entered the studio. We were told to cheer and whoop. I had always liked Meredith. She seemed like a very down-to-earth celebrity, until she walked in wearing 5-inch heels the day after running the New York Marathon. Then, I despised her and wished myself anywhere other than a frigid studio where, obviously, I was not going to win buckets of moolah. My face frozen in ersatz delight, I sat through three tapings only to discover I had not passed the test. As we losers filed out, we were encouraged to try out again. And again. The purple man apparently flunked the test for the 11th time and the couple with the leathery skin was also among the deflated leaving the studio.

The slog back to the Port Authority in the rain, my cheapo umbrella leaking, was gruesome, the train ride home almost unbearable. I tried to remember the questions on the test, so as to memorize them for my next shot at game show glory, but my mind was vacant, the questions gone from memory except the one about Larry King. Hard to believe, but he HAS been married more often than Liz. Apparently there is a certain segment of the female population that is hot for a man that looks like an insect wearing suspenders.

I still get audition come-ons in my email. Usually I delete them immediately. I’m just not willing to waste six hours of my day with Meredith, an angry comedian and a bunch of dreamers. Maybe if they had offered cookies and Hawaiian punch or a nice cup of hot cocoa, I might have tried again. Then again, maybe I’ve gotten to the point where I can own my blue autumn mood, knowing it will pass without venturing too far out of my comfort zone.

I kept the souvenir pencil. Every once in a while, it appears in one of my junk drawers and gives me a good 15 minutes of mirth as I recall that day.

But right about now, on an unseasonably chilly afternoon, I wish I could crawl into a downy nest and sleep until spring. Hibernation, anyone?

Ann DiBlasio October 15, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Oh, Marsia, you've done it again! Thanks for my Monday morning laughter.

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