27
Jan

I just found out that next month Jeopardy! will be airing episodes with a contestant named Watson. Watson is an IBM supercomputer. As if I didn’t have it hard enough already.

Jeopardy! is one of my last remaining outlets to prove to the world that I’m smart. A way to separate myself from those pathetic souls on Leno’s “Jaywalking” segment who religiously watch every episode of Wife Swap, yet cannot name one state capital. Though as much as I hate to admit it, I have a lot more in common with those folks than merely wishing Jay Leno had never entered our lives.

It’s embarrassing how much I don’t know nowadays. This wasn’t always the case. For instance, I used to know what a polynomial was. I used to know who Andrew Carnegie was. We all knew who Andrew Carnegie was. Sure, sometimes school sucked. Waiting for the bus in subzero wind chill wasn’t so much fun. My uninspired lunches were a bummer as well. (FYI, Dad. No child ever needs or wants two apples in her lunch bag.) Those minor irritations aside, at least I knew how to properly diagram a sentence.

However, everything fades with time, including intelligence. I was confronted with this sad truth some years back upon applying to grad school. Aside from having my transcripts and recommendations in order, I decided to sign up for the GRE. Though not required for every program, I wanted to cover my bases just in case. Besides, how bad could it be? Specifically, I figured the quantitative, or math, section would be a breeze. Believe it or not, math was my strong suit in school. However, I hadn’t taken a class in quite a while, so I snagged one of those GRE prep books and cracked it open to the quantitative section. I instantly flipped back to the front cover. Had I purchased the hieroglyphic version of this book? Because I had no idea what I was looking at, let alone could I decipher its foreign language. Eh, no big deal. I assumed it would all come back to me within a day or two. Within a day or two, I reasoned it would come back after a week or two. After a week or two, as I rode the bus to the GRE testing facility, I prayed it would come back during the exam ala A Beautiful Mind. I imagined myself a female (and non-schizophrenic) version of John Nash and compelled the mathematical genius within to reveal itself. Fast. When my score arrived in the mail a few weeks later, my eyes searched for the quantitative result… I hadn’t performed so much like John Nash as I did the guy from Sling Blade. Sidenote: the grad school I eventually attended did not require the GRE.

That was the last time I was truly tested in the academics department. You might ask, “Didn’t you go to grad school after that?” Yeah, I did. For film. Not to say that film studies can’t be strenuous, but let’s call a spade a spade. Going to grad school for film is not the same as continuing your education in law or medicine. While I was debating the legacy of John Hughes in American cinema, my med school friend was delivering babies. There is a difference. Now all I have left to prove my academic worth are Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit.

The trick to Trivial Pursuit isn’t so much having raw smarts as having common sense. Most times you don’t need to know the answer at all; you just have to pay attention to the way the question is phrased. Example: “What did 100,000 self-conscious American women buy 200,000 of in 1980?” The key words here? Self-conscious. American. Women. Answer? Breast implants. Obviously. Yet sometimes you still come up short. Especially mortifying is when you know the answer but your brain refuses to release it. Then you look like a real idiot… So I was playing Trivial Pursuit with my family over the holidays. Question: “Who were the actresses that played Thelma and Louise in Thelma & Louise?”

I yelled “Susan Sarandon!” before my cousin even finished reading the card. “And… And… Shoot. Hold on a minute. Just give me a minute. I know this! I know her! I can picture her in my mind right now! She was in The Accidental Tourist. She played the president on that TV show. And she was on Family Ties!” My cousins politely listened to my exercise in thinking out loud. How could I not remember this actress? If my grad school education was to prove useful in any way, now was the time… Nothing. I hung my head in shame as the name Geena Davis was spoken.

And now Jeopardy! How can I possibly compete with a supercomputer? This show was my last saving grace. One of the very few opportunities to feel superior to others, both those on the show and in your living room, should you know “What was Commander in Chief?” when no one else does. And if you didn’t know Commander in Chief? Well, whatever. Nobody watched that show anyway.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20
Jan

June 14, 1992. Game six of the NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Portland Trail Blazers. It’s the end of the third quarter. Bulls are down by fifteen points. I am in the bathroom… praying.

That’s not a euphemism. I did it a lot as a kid, this praying to God in the bathroom. Every time one of my teams began to falter, I would calmly excuse myself from the living room and go have a chat with The Man Upstairs. Why I didn’t use my bedroom, which was just next door, I don’t know. I suppose I thought the intimacy of the bathroom was a better spot to beg. In exchange for a victory, I would promise God the world, which is a tad ironic when you think about it. I also put Him on the spot quite a bit. Many a time I uttered the phrase, “If you really love me…” Yet our conversations were mostly one-sided, and not so much a conversation at all as a desperate plea for my team to win.

My dad couldn’t watch the game either. At about the same time that I rendered the bathroom occupied, he decided to take a walk around the block. That’s where he did most of his praying. My family didn’t mess around. We immediately invoked help from the Da Big Guy because above all else, this series could not go to a game seven. My father and I needn’t have worried, though. Our beloved Bulls came back from that deficit to win the game – and a repeat championship title – with a final score of 97-93.

To date, I’ve never had to deal with a game seven. How exactly do fans survive one? I fear them more than earthquakes. At least earthquakes you can prepare for. I have a stockpile of bottled water and candles should ever The Big One hit, but I just don’t know what I would do if a game seven happened. A crushed apartment I can handle; a crushed heart I cannot.

I’m not a hugely superstitious sports fan. Every time one of my teams makes it to the postseason, though, I do find it necessary to perform a ritual or two to help out in any way I can. There’s the praying in the bathroom. I think that one makes a lot of sense. Yet sometimes I’ll take a break from watching the game for an altogether different reason. Though I love my teams, occasionally I feel like I might be bad luck for them. Somewhere deep down inside, I know that I’m affecting their performance so I’ll shut off the television. Crazy, right? How can a devoted fan be anything other than good luck? But guess what? Half of the time, my team rebounds after I stop watching and they end up winning the game. So there. It works.

As mentioned, though, the worst is when the game is close. I may get a lot of flack for this, but it’s kind of a load off when you know your team is going to lose. Case in point? Super Bowl XLI. It started promisingly enough with Hester’s kickoff return touchdown, but pretty much went downhill from there. Of course I didn’t want the Bears to lose, but if it wasn’t meant to be that day, then I was thankful to have had those three hours to come to terms with my grief. Had they lost from a last-minute field goal or touchdown, I would have had a heart attack.

I’m just getting too old for the stress that comes with watching a close game… June 9, 2010. Game six of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. Overtime. I didn’t even have the energy to walk to the bathroom. Instead, I was curled up in the fetal position on the couch, pillow over my head. A few moments had passed with me not knowing what the hell was going on, so I snuck a peek just as Kane made that fateful goal… The goal no one realized he scored. I remember sitting there utterly confused while the sportscasters and referees and players themselves looked around, wondering why Kane and Co. were stripping off their gear and celebrating. Huh? They won? Really? Oh… They won!

Now my Bears are just one game away from playing in Super Bowl XLV. I haven’t had much of an appetite lately. My sleep has been only so-so. I know one thing, though. Come Sunday morning, I will most certainly be having a little heart-to-heart with a certain JC – and I don’t mean Jay Cutler – to give my guys the edge against Green Bay. But seriously, how can God possibly back a team whose fans call themselves Cheeseheads? (Shakes head.)

Image: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

13
Jan

They call it the OC.

I lived there once upon a time. The interlude years between Chicago and LA. My time spent in Orange County coincided with the rise of such socially profound shows as Laguna Beach and The O.C., which held hostage the imaginations of Americans not living in southern California. Having been born and raised in the Midwest, I harbored my own delusions. During that grueling three-day road trip to the promised land, my sanity was sustained only by the thought of being able to wear flip flops all day, everyday, all year. I also entertained the notion that once I entered California country, I would instantly be blessed with a perennial tan and inherently know how to surf. I made peace with the idea that I would always have sand in my car and clothes.

Though it was weird to live somewhere to which I referred by county. Back in Chicago, never once did I say, “Yeah, I live in Cook County.” In fact, once you mentioned living in the city, the questions quickly multiplied. What side of town? What neighborhood? What street? If you weren’t careful, you might just be inviting a would-be robber to your front door. Yet when I told people I lived in the OC, that pretty much satisfied their curiosity. They knew exactly what that meant thanks to MTV.

After a few months of adjusting to my new life of continual sunshine and exorbitant rent, I realized that something was missing. Quite literally. The visitors? Where were they? I don’t mean the peeps that fly in from wherever to crash for a few days. I mean those individuals who already shared my time zone. During the years that I lived in Orange County, only twice did my LA friends trek down to hang in the 714. I couldn’t understand. Were they not curious to see this mythical land of beautiful homes and even more beautiful people? Apparently not. I usually found myself being the one to battle the 405 in order to see friends. Which is fine. Really. I swear. Gave me the jump on knowing my way around town once I finally moved to La La Land.

But now that I actually live in Los Angeles, not much has changed. If anything, the problem has gotten worse. Though we all reside in the same city, perhaps within the same area code, it’s like pulling teeth to get people to go cross-town. Easily one can go months at a time, even a year or more, without seeing someone you consider a friend. If they live in Echo Park and you’re in Venice, forget it. I speak the truth. I even have a running joke with some very dear friends – all of them diehard Los Feliz folk – that they refuse to cross west of Highland. And I too am now guilty of this friend-on-friend crime. My magic number is twenty-five. Anytime someone wants to meet up, I mentally calculate how long it’ll take to get there. If I determine that it will be more than twenty-five minutes, the odds of me showing up instantly drop by ninety-nine percent. If the occasion is a birthday, however, I’ll tack on an extra fifteen minutes for good measure. In essence, that is my birthday gift to you. An hour and a half of my life stuck in traffic; I count roundtrip time.

We’re all busy little bees. I get it. And maybe I’m just suffering the effects of some strange post-holiday sentimentalism. Or it’s the brand new year resolution thing. Either way, to those loved ones that live in Los Angeles – or even Orange County – whom I did not see last year, that will change. Definitely. I promise. How ‘bout I Facebook you and we’ll set something up? It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out a place to meet in the middle, right?… Right?

Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

06
Jan

We live in a country divided on a number of issues: gay marriage, abortion, jeggings. However, I’ve noticed that there is one thing the American people can agree upon: how much air travel sucks. Yes, we all love to hate flying the friendly skies.

Which apparently has become a little too friendly for some folks. This whole brouhaha with the new security measures fascinates me. I get why travelers are upset. People don’t want their junk x-rayed and/or handled by a disgruntled guard who got up at 3am that morning for a paycheck. What do I think? Meh. I don’t really care. In fact, I’m very curious about that x-ray scanner. What exactly can you see? Everything? Cool. Then there’s the pat down if you opt out of the x-ray… I kind of want to see what that’s like, too. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) I think it would be funny. For me at least. I mean, come on, do you really think those poor people thought to themselves, “I really love my job!” upon reading the memo for the new pat down procedure? I doubt security guard Rhonda would be pleased by my chuckling as she frisks me, but that’s exactly what I would be doing. Plus, if it at all lessens the chance of my plane blowing up as I leisurely sip my watered down airplane coffee, then that’s an added bonus.

But I mostly agree with the general consensus. Delays are a pain. Those baggage fees are bogus. And I’m pretty sure all the airlines have doctored their scales so that your bag somehow doubles in weight during check in. Which, guess what? Now requires you to pay an extra hundred dollars. Each way.

I feel terrible for the flight attendants, though. If it weren’t for the enforced security measures, there would be a lot more dead travelers upon landing. I wouldn’t blame the attendants for packin’ either. People are on their worst behavior when flying. Once we pass through those terminal doors, it’s like we’ve regressed back to preschool except with more temper tantrums. Nothing pleases us. Nothing can make us happy. You only serve Coke on this flight? I wanted Pepsi. We’re delayed by bad weather? How can that be? I’m only flying into O’Hare in December. I love people watching at the airport, but it’s bittersweet. On the one hand, hilarious. On the other, I weep for our country.

Case in point… Like many of you, I too was traveling over the holidays. Our flight had been delayed three hours – due to bad California weather! – but the entire crew was rolling like clockwork once okayed to depart. I was stoked not only because we were finally leaving, but also I was about to score an entire row to myself. Until he shows up. You know those people who are always breathing hard not because they’re two hundred pounds overweight, but because they’re just that mad all the time? He was one of those guys. Crabby McCrabison. I had the aisle seat; he takes the window. “Okay,” I think to myself, “It’s only an hour flight.” He’s deep in conversation with someone via cell phone; apparently a great injustice has been done to him. Because I can’t not listen, I learn that he didn’t hear any of the twenty or so announcements regarding our delay, nor did he think to check the monitors stationed all throughout the terminal. He almost missed the flight. Of course this is the airline’s fault. To quote: “I went up to the counter and yelled, ‘When in the hell did you make those announcements because I didn’t hear a damn thing!’” Charming.

He finally shuts off his phone, which is lucky for him, since I will go postal on those peeps (I’m talking to you, Josh Duhamel!) who keep their phones on despite the dozen requests to turn them off prior to takeoff. I don’t care if you need to discuss last night’s “Biggest Loser.” Shut it off. But then this guy begins to mess with my head; he takes his carryon, already stowed under the middle seat, and moves it to the empty space in front of him. I look over in surprise. He chirps, “So you can have more leg room!” Come on, dude. Don’t be nice to me. I already made up my mind about you.

Though a short flight, we still get our freebie drinks. I notice that my rowmate says neither please nor thank you upon ordering and receiving his coffee. Okay, he’s back on my list. FYI… If you’re exiting a door that a brown-haired, blue-eyed gal is holding open, and you don’t say thank you, you will most certainly hear an irritated, “You’re welcome!” shouted at you because that gal is probably me.

Anyway, I am content that the evidence against this guy outweighs the good. One nice gesture on my behalf does not make up for his jerky behavior toward the flight attendants. Especially Lynda. Lynda sings! How can you be mean to a singing flight attendant? Check her out! My rowmate refuses to clap for her.

We land at last. I make a call to my family. The poor foursome has been waiting at the airport for hours. Apparently eavesdropping is something my rowmate and I have in common because as we deboard he asks, “So you’re the last one into town?” I tersely reply, “Yes. They’ve been waiting all afternoon.” His response? “Well, I’m sure they don’t mind. Now they get to see you!” Damn you, McCrabison! As I begrudgingly say thank you, he hits right where it hurts. “Have a wonderful time with your family! Happy holidays!”

People confuse me.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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