Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Life and death in Skidmore

My wife and I are watching a six-episode documentary entitled “No One Saw a Thing.” It is about the town of Skidmore, Missouri whose residents, in 1981, watched one or more of their neighbors blow the head off Ken Rex McElroy as he and his wife sat in their pickup outside the town's bar.

The title stems from the fact that, to this day, nobody has come forward to identify the person(s) who pulled the trigger(s), even though up to sixty townspeople may have witnessed the incident. Rumor has it there were as many as three shooters, but the authorities will never know for sure. All the shell casings were picked up and they, along with the guns from whence they were fired, were thrown into a van whose driver supposedly took them to Wyoming. It seems like overkill (pun unintended but I'll let it stand) to transport the guns 600 miles to dispose of them — the Missouri River isn’t that far away — but that's what townsfolk say happened.

McElroy was Skidmore's homegrown Darth Vader who terrorized everyone in town. When his kids were accused of shoplifting penny candy, he shot the owner of the town’s grocery store. He was accused of raping a teenager and burning her parents’ house to the ground. Those who crossed him were threatened with death and stalked. 

Skidmore residents were perfectly happy McElroy was killed and none of the people interviewed by the filmmakers seem to have changed their minds in the 38 years since. The only downside they acknowledge is the publicity. It is safe to say Skidmore will never be selected to host the Democratic National Convention though the NRA would likely find the welcome mat out. 

The producers, clearly, had a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that nobody has ever told the police whodunnit even though everyone who was there that day knows or knew -- many if not most have passed on to that great shooting range in the sky. McElroy’s wife named a man she claims she saw pull the trigger but said the police "didn’t do nothin’. Ain’t no one been indicted and 38 years later, it is unlikely anyone ever will be. 

As someone who grew up in a rural Missouri town with only a few hundred more residents than Skidmore, I followed the McElroy murder from the git-go. I was living in New York at the time and the incident received extensive national and international media coverage. Knowing I was a small-town Missourian, friends and co-workers asked me for details as if I personally knew the victim and perpetrators. 

I didn’t but I do know lots of people who wouldn’t have hesitated to take matters into their own hands if my hometown had a McElroy-type character.  

It’s difficult for most Americans to understand that many tiny rural towns don’t have full-time or, even part-time, law enforcement officials. It does no good to get a restraining order against someone like McElroy because there’s nobody to enforce it. The nearest officer may be 10, 20 or 30 miles away. Skidmore residents felt they had no choice so, being practical Missouri types, took matters into their own hands. And those that were there that day still don’t give a damn what anyone may think, they’d do it again.

The documentary, available to stream on the Sundance Channel, incorporates footage from a 60 Minutes story Morley Safer did shortly after the shooting. Townsfolk who were interviewed nearly forty years ago are, today, every bit as matter-of-fact about what happened as they were then.

My city friends who watch it will shake their heads and ask how in the hell something like this could happen. 

My small town Missouri friends won’t have to ask. They know. 

So do I.

Friday, August 16, 2019

A free t-shirt for all my readers!

The folks who run New York Senator Kirstin Gillibrand’s campaign have decided that I want, or can be convinced to want, her to win the Democratic nomination for president. 

I’ve received dozens of messages from Gillibrand on my Facebook feed, including the one below inviting me to, “Enter to win a whiskey with Kirsten.”  

The premise is simple. Send money to help Gillibrand secure the nomination; get entered into a sweepstakes for the chance to have "a whiskey" with the senator.  I assume we'll each get our own glass and won't have to share in case one of us has a cold sore.

The ad's secondary objective, without a doubt, is to make Gillibrand out to be someone voters would like to have a drink with and I, for one, would most definitely welcome that opportunity. I'd ask her, while waiting for the bartender to pour our drinks (make mine a Maker's Mark on the rocks) why she, a lawyer, doesn't believe in due process because she led the charge to force Al Franken, a senator who actually accomplished something, to resign without so much as a hearing. But I digress. 

As an advertising professional, I find the headline uninspiring. Why didn’t the writer use alliteration to add interest?  “Win a Kalhua with Kirsten." "Win a Kamikaze with Kirsten." Or (ideal for Utah where a substantial percentage of voters are Mormon teetotalers),  “Win a Kool-Aid with Kirsten."

The ad makes sense only to those who know Gillibrand bragged that whiskey is her beverage of choice, as if that is a reason for anyone but Jack Daniels stakeholders to vote for her. 

I thought Gillibrand's advertising couldn’t get any dumber until two days ago when I saw the ad at the top of this column, inviting me to “Chip in $1, Get a Free T-Shirt.” Apparently Gillibrand needs 130,000 individual donors to contribute at least $1 in order to qualify for the next round of Democratic debates, so some marketing whiz came up with the idea of offering a shirt to every contributor.  

There are so many things wrong with the ad that I hardly know where to begin. 

For starters, it is deceptive. The t-shirt isn’t free. You have to give at least $1 to get it. 

And there’s an economic issue here. There isn’t a third-world sweatshop that can produce a two-color screened t-shirt and ship it to America for $1. Not to mention, the campaign has to pay someone to put each shirt in an envelope, address it, and pay the postage.

Knowing something about t-shirts  -- I produced tens of thousands in my agency days -- I’d have to guess each shirt is costing the campaign at least $4.50 to put in the mail,  probably more. If everybody who orders one contributes just $1, they’re going to lose a load of money. 

I contributed $1 immediately, and received two emails. One told me to expect my t-shirt in six to eight weeks. The second asked if I would consider increasing my contribution. I deleted it. 

Today I received a follow-up message asking me to reconsider the amount of my contribution. I wrote back. “No."

It gets dumber.  Although I first saw the ad two days ago (and my son did too, because we laughed about it), it is still showing up on my Facebook feed. Gillibrand's social media experts know I clicked through, contributed money, and they should have instructed Facebook to stop showing it to me because every time it appears, they have to pay Facebook a fee. Surely by now, at least 130,000 Facebook users have figured out they can get a shirt worth at least $4.50 for $1 and, if they support one of her opponents, help drive Gillibrand's campaign into bankruptcy. Are Gillibrand's advisors even keeping tabs on how many shirts they have promised to send, and how much money they will have to shell out?  Clearly, the senator and her advisors have no understanding of basic economics, much less marketing. 

Whatever, I’m looking forward to my new t-shirt, which should be arriving soon. 

The rag I use to scrub my grill is saturated with so much grease I'm afraid to put it in the washing machine. 

This will be the perfect replacement. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Fraud department, may I help you?

Bank Call Center Rep: Credit card fraud department. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking today?

TD: Ny name is Thomas Dryden. I just got a text that someone tried to use my card in Europe.

BCCR: Alright Mr. Thomas, I see you are calling from the phone number we have on record for you. Can you tell me your password?

TD: Dachshund. That’s d-a-c-h-s-h-u-n-d.

BCCR: So, you are saying you didn’t attempt to charge 23,352 euros at the Casino de Monte-Carlo in Monaco 12 minutes ago?

TD: That’s right. I’m at home. And I’m looking at my card. It hasn’t been out of my possession.

BCCR: Okay Mr. Thomas. We will open an investigation into that charge, cancel your card, and send you a new one with a new number which you should expect to arrive in eight to ten days.

TD: Wait a sec, I use that card every day. I must have at least a dozen accounts on auto-pay – my cable, gym, cell phone, water bill and others. Am I going to have to contact them and give them the new number?

BCCR: Yes, Mr. Thomas.

TD: Is there any way you can get the new card to me faster?

BCCR: We can send it express mail. You’ll have it no later than Wednesday.

TD: Thanks, that’s doable. And thanks for notifying me about the fraud. Good catch.

BCCR: As long as I have you on the phone, Mr. Thomas, can we review some more charges to your card?

TD: Sure, good idea.

BCCR: Yesterday at 7:37 p.m., $55.98 to TGIFridays, Naples, Florida.
TD: That’s legit. We went with friends for Happy Hour. They’re running a special, all the appetizers you can eat, just $12.99 per person. They were pretty awful but hey, they were filling. And cheap.

BCCR: Saturday at 7:24 p.m, 640 euros to Madame XXX and her Nubile Nymphettes, Amsterdam.

TD: No, that’s not legit. How could I have been in Amsterdam at the same time I was in Florida?

BCCR: Alright Mr. Thomas, we will mark that charge as suspicious. How about Saturday at 5.02 p.m., $39.01 at Exxon Mobil, Bonita Springs, Florida?

TD: That’s legit.

BCCR: Friday at 2:25 p.m., $192.52, Bud's Best Cannabis Dispensary, Denver, Colorado.

TD: No, that’s not mine, either.

BCCR: Alright Mr. Thomas, we will investigate that charge.  

TD: You don’t have to investigate. I haven’t been to Colorado this decade.

BCCR: Friday at 10:11 a.m., $39.02, Ace Hardware, Bonita Springs, Florida.

TD: That’s legit.

BCCR: Thursday at 6:19 p.m, $103.11, Publix Supermarket, Bonita Springs, Florida

TD: That’s legit, too.

BCCR: Thursday at 4:42 p.m., 460 Singaporean dollars at Raffles Bar, Singapore.

TD: No. Unfortunately.

BCCR: I beg your pardon?

TD:  It's not legit.

BCCR: Just a few more, Mr. Thomas. Thursday at 3:54 p.m., $44 Cinema Multiplex, Estero, Florida.

TD: Yeah, we took our grandsons to see Toy Story 4.

BCCR: Thursday at 1 p.m., $35.14 to CVS Pharmacy, Bonita Springs, Florida.

TD: My allergy prescriptions. Legit. 

BCCR:  Okay Mr. Thomas, I see that all other charges took place in Florida and have already been posted to your account, so they are legitimate.  Please allow up to 48 hours for delivery of your new card.

TD: Okay, I'll be looking for it.

BCCR:  Thank you for calling (Bank Name). Is there anything else I can do for you?

TD: Yes.

BCCR: And what is that, Mr. Thomas?

TD: If you ever find him, introduce me to the person who made all those charges. He’s having more fun than I am.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Comebacks to stupid comments you’ll get when when you announce you’re moving to Florida

Thanks to Boomers like me, Florida has overtaken New York as America’s third most populous state. According to demographers, a thousand Boomers are moving to the Sunshine State every day. That’s 365,000 new (okay, "old") Floridians a year.

And the numbers are only going to increase thanks to new laws limiting deductions for property taxes and state income taxes, that are propelling residents out of tax-happy northern states like New York, Illinois and New England at ever-increasing rates. Our property taxes here are roughly one-third of what we paid in Connecticut for the same size house that didn’t come with a pool, golf course views, or friendly neighbors. Plus, Florida has no state income tax.    

If you’re among the millions of Boomers who are going to be moving here, be advised that everyone – family, friends, co-workers  – will want to express their opinion when you tell them you’re heading to Florida.  Some will say they’re happy for you. Some will say they are jealous. And others – perhaps the majority of folks around your own age – will make comments so stupid or nasty you’ll have trouble refraining from decking them. 

Why? Because you are their contemporary. The fact that you are retiring to Florida makes them feel old, a state of being many Boomers refuse to acknowledge. If you’re old enough to move to Florida, then they must be old enough to move, too, and that, for some reason, makes them feel compelled to explain why they would never consider it. 

Here, for your convenience, are quick comebacks to some of the most common comments you will receive when you tell people you’re moving to Florida. 

“I would never want to live around old people.”  
“Fine. I hope nobody ever forces you to.”

“I went once and couldn’t stand it – it was so phony.”
“You went to Disney World for Chrissakes. Disney World isn’t real.”

“I couldn’t move to Florida. This is my children’s home.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, they don’t live with you any more. When was the last time I saw one of their cars in your driveway? Thanksgiving? Christmas?  Have you ever considered they might prefer spending the holidays on a Florida beach rather than driving through a blizzard to be cooped up in a musty-smelling house where the windows haven't been opened since October?”

“I couldn’t live anyplace that doesn’t have four seasons.”
‘Let me get this straight. You are saying you would miss raking leaves, picking up fallen branches after sleet storms, shoveling show and paying fuel oil bills that, in any given month between November and April, amount to more than you made in a year on your first job?” 

“There’s no culture in Florida.”
“Au contraire.” (Be sure to use that term. It’s French, which means you know a thing or two about culture.) “There’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Heat, Jacksonville Jaguars, two ACC and one SEC college football teams, the Daytona 500, the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Orlando, and the Live Mermaid Theater in Weeki Wachi Springs. What more could you want?”

“I can’t stand Southerners”.
“So don’t move to Mississippi. Everyone in Florida is from the north. People who live in the south already enjoy mild winters so they don’t move there.” 

“What are you going to do all day?”
“Golf, tennis, swim, sail, windsurf, take walks, and ride my bike 365 days a year, after which I'll go to an open-air happy hour with my new friends. What will you be doing when the snow’s piled up so high you can’t open your front door?”

“People there are so different from the people here.” 
“Yes, getting away from closed-minded bigots like you was a significant factor in my decision.”

“What if you hate it?”
“I’ll move back. At least I am willing to try something new rather than ramble around a house that’s too big that I have to spend most of my disposable income to maintain while growing old in a town geared to young families that has no social services whatsoever for its senior citizens.”

"It must be a million degrees in summer." 
"Yep, northern and central Florida – Tallahassee, Pensacola, Jacksonville, Orlando and Ocala for instance -– experience hot, humid summers. But the southern half of the state, the part below the frost line which runs roughly from Sarasota to Vero Beach, enjoys tropical weather that doesn't vary all that much from month to month. Temperatures rarely reach the mid-nineties, even on the Fourth of July. The highest temperature ever recorded in Naples and Ft. Lauderdale was 99. Miami reached 100 exactly once, on July 21, 1942. How many 100-plus degree days do you have to endure summer after summer? Your A/C bill will be higher than mine."

“Florida’s too flat.”
“You really are desperate, aren’t you?”

“Will you ever be back?” 
“Yes, for your memorial service unless you die during the winter in which case I’ll send a lovely spray of flowers” 

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Goodbye Alfred E. Neuman

The publishers of MAD announced this week that the magazine is toast. It will still be published but will contain nothing original, only recycled material taken from its archives which must be pretty extensive because, like me, it has been around for 67 years.

MAD is — was — a humor magazine. Humor is no longer relevant in a nation where everyone seems to have lost theirs.

According to DC Comics, MAD’s publisher, the magazine topped out at 2.8 million subscribers in 1973. It has less than 150,000 today. 

In the late 1960s, when I was in high school, MAD was considered the gold standard for irreverent adolescent humor. Nothing was sacred. Its writers made fun of anyone and everything, from JFK to Castro to Batman-ia to Woodstock to Nixon. My buddy Craig, who moved to my tiny Missouri hometown from LA our freshman year, introduced me to MAD. We inhaled every issue and laughed our asses off. I emailed him the sad news about MAD today and he wrote back, reminding me he once owned the first 100 issues.

Magazines are folding right and left and those that remain are disturbingly thin, but MAD wasn’t your typical magazine. It didn’t accept advertising. And because it didn’t, its creators didn’t have to kow-tow to advertisers or pander to any group. MAD was an equal opportunity offender, taking on subjects some folks held sacrosanct and finding the humor in them. 

The primary reason MAD folded, the reason comedy clubs nationwide have gone out of business, the reason you no longer see comedians on late night TV who make you laugh out loud, the reason situation comedies on TV no longer make you smile much less laugh, is because comedy writers are scared shitless of offending so they are writing material that is, literally, witless. With the exception of self-deprecation, humor is almost always at the expense of someone or something else, who becomes the butt of the joke. Humor writers are no longer able to joke about women, Democrats, Republicans, socialists, liberals, conservatives, Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Latinas, Asians, gays, straights, transgenders, politicians, entertainers, athletes, Italians, Poles, rich, poor, Christians, Muslims, Jews or people who are fat, thin, bald, young or old, without offending someone. 

We have become a nation of thin-skinned, humorless snowflakes who take offense at anything that makes fun of us or our beliefs, refusing to concede the possibility that humor can be found in almost anything we take seriously or hold dear.

College kids seem particularly sensitive and, as a result, joyless. Jerry Seinfeld has returned to stand-up comedy, but refuses to play college campuses, claiming political correctness has robbed students of their ability to see humor. But getting back to MAD.

A month or so ago Trump sent a tweet comparing Democratic presidential aspirant Pete Buttigieg to Alfred E. Neuman, the gap-toothed mascot who has appeared on the cover of every MAD issue since 1956. When you look at their pictures side by side, there is definitely a resemblance.

Buttigieg responded that he had to google Alfred E. Neuman, he hadn’t heard of him.

There is, I readily admit, no reason someone Buttigieg’s age (37)  should be familiar with a cartoon character who was at the height of his fame 45 years ago but this old fart found Trump’s observation hilarious. Say what you will about him but Trump does have a sense of humor. I still laugh at his contention during the 2016 primaries that former Texas Governor Rick Perry started wearing glasses to make him look smart. But I probably shouldn’t have put that in writing. Some of you will write me off because I just said something positive about Trump. 

Did I say I voted for him or agree with his policies? Nope. The mere fact that I mentioned Trump's sense of humor will be enough to convince some snowflake readers that I must like him and so, because they hate him and everything he stands for, they will no longer like me, in which case all I can say in response is (scroll down even though you know what's coming) ...

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The boy in the oval picture frame

This column was first published in the Wilton (Conn.) Villager the week before Memorial Day, 2000. It was reprinted in the paper twice and this is the third time it has appeared on Several people mentioned in the original have died since I wrote it, and I've made a few updates to reflect their passing. 

Atop a table in our guest room is a hand-tinted photograph, taken in the summer of 1933.

The photo is of my grandparents, Burton and Judith Tate, and the first four of what would eventually become a brood of 14 grandchildren born over a span of 35 years.

On my grandfather's lap is my cousin Robert, six months old. Robert grew up to be a computer specialist. Grandma is holding another baby, my cousin Nancy. She grew up to be a nurse. Kneeling in front of them is my six-year-old cousin Paul, who, when he grew up, married his childhood sweetheart and became an Army General. Next to Paul is my cousin Jimmy, a boy of four. Jimmy was killed in Korea in 1951. He was 21.

Nancy, Paul and Jimmy were the children of my mother's sister, Margaret, a tiny wisp of a woman. In 1923, Margaret married a giant of a man, Pat Timmerberg, who stood six feet three inches tall. Pat's parents had immigrated from Germany and settled on a farm near my grandparents' Missouri home. When America entered World War I, Pat joined up and was shipped off to fight his own people in the fields of France.

Margaret and Pat's oldest, Paul, joined the army in 1945, the year he graduated from high school, just in time for VJ Day. Like his father, Paul showed a natural aptitude for soldiering. He was selected for Officer Candidate School and, shortly thereafter, was a Second Lieutenant, on his way to earning his stars.

Jimmy, who graduated from high school in 1947, enlisted in the army the next year, when he was 19. After basic training, he was sent to Colorado, where he captained the 21st Engineer's basketball team. He was shipped to the Yukon for eight months, back to Colorado and, in August, 1950, to Korea, where he was a machine gunner with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division.

Jimmy was killed in action near Changgong-Ni on April 28, 1951. His tour of duty was almost over.

When they received word of Jimmy's death, the Timmerbergs were preparing for Nancy's high school graduation. She had graduated first in her class, and was looking forward to giving the valedictorian's speech at Montgomery City High School. She went ahead and delivered it, though her heart was broken and the audience knew it.

In those days before jet planes, families often had to wait months for their loved ones to arrive home for burial. Jimmy's flag-draped casket arrived in Montgomery City on a Wabash train on November 20, and he was buried with full military honors. According to his obituary posted on cousin Robert's family web site, a quartet sang "In The Sweet By and By" and "Safe In The Arms of Jesus." A solo, "God Understands," was also performed. My mother couldn't attend. She was in the hospital, having given birth to me three days earlier.

We visited Aunt Margaret and Uncle Pat often when I was growing up. They were always full of news about Paul and Nancy and their growing families. But I was always aware of the presence of a third Timmerberg cousin, a handsome dark-haired boy of 18 or so with a fixed broad smile, who peered from a gold oval frame on the dining room wall. Of him, never a word was spoken.

Pat died in 1963 and Margaret, who lived alone, began spending a lot of time at our house with my mother. They spent hours discussing the family and events of the past. But they would never mention Jimmy. Every Memorial Day, my mother took Margaret, who never learned to drive, to the cemetery, and they would return looking grim.

As a teenager, I used to accuse Aunt Margaret of being a pessimist. She wasn't much fun to be around. She always seemed to look on the dark side, to expect the worst out of life.

I take it all back, Aunt Margaret. Once I held my own sons in my arms, I understood. And now that one of them has two sons of his own, I understand even more. And I want to tell you this: You were amazing. I don't know how you were able to go on, but you did.

Margaret died in 1988, and was laid to rest next to Jimmy and Pat, near my grandparents. My mother continued making the trek to the cemetery every Memorial Day until she stopped driving.

Paul died in 2008 and was buried at Arlington in an impressive military ceremony with a 13-cannon salute befitting his rank. He was inducted into the Military Police Hall of Fame and there is a building named for him at Ft. Leonard Wood.

Up to the day before she died in 2015, Mom talked on the phone at least once a week with the last of my Timmerberg cousins, Nancy, and kept me up to date with what was going on with her and her family.

But nobody in our family ever spoke, or speaks, of Jimmy. I don't think those who knew him can. Though his headstone has faded, the horror of his loss never will, until the last person who loved him is gone. And there aren't many of them left.

Many of my grandparents' 14 grandchildren accomplished great things. One graduated from West Point, as did Paul's son, their great-grandson. The youngest, named for his cousin Jimmy, ran a major music company. All of us married, most had children and grandchildren, and two are even great-grandparents.

Scattered from Florida to California, the ten of us who are left will celebrate Memorial Day. We'll enjoy sunshine and picnics. And I guarantee that all of us will remember the boy in the oval picture frame on Aunt Margaret's dining room wall, the boy who, unlike the rest of us, never grew old.

I hope that, whatever else you have planned, you will also take the time to remember Jimmy ... the hundreds of thousands of other young men and women who paid for our freedom with their lives ... and their parents, like Uncle Pat and Aunt Margaret, who buried the best of themselves with them.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Why I'm watching Jeopardy! again

I’m watching Jeopardy! again, a show I stopped watching several years ago.

The reason I’ve returned to the fold: The current champion, James Holzhauer, makes Ken Jennings, the all-time champ who won more than 70 consecutive games, look dim-witted by comparison.

Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler in his early thirties, employs an unorthodox game strategy that, over the last 15 days, has earned him more than $1 million. I've no idea how long he will remain champion but if I had to guess, the reason he will exit is because he will grow bored and want to get out of the studio to spend his winnings. The producers are going to have to search high and low to find someone who can outplay this guy.

I’ve loved Jeopardy! since the original version, starring Art Fleming, debuted in 1964. I immediately applied to be a contestant and received a letter thanking me for my interest but informing me 12-year-olds weren’t accepted. Luckily, when Jeopardy! in its second and current incarnation, starring Alex Trebek, premiered in the mid-eighties, I was accepted. (For that story, click .)

As it has been since the beginning, Jeopardy! is played bass-ackwards compared to other game shows: The host reveals an answer to which the players must provide the correct question. But today's version is significantly different than the original in many ways:

1. It’s in color. (Duh.) 

2.  The answers on the game board are revealed electronically. In the first version, before digitization, a cover was raised manually to reveal each answer.

3. It is impossible to discern which player knew the question first which, in my opinion, should be every bit as germane to the scoring as knowing the correct question to ask. Originally, players were able to “buzz in” the moment they knew (or thought they knew) an answer, from the split second the cover was lifted until a few seconds after Fleming had finished reading the answer aloud. Speed readers ruled. When Trebek took over, he didn’t want players interrupting him so players are now forbidden from buzzing in until he finishes reading an answer in its entirety. A computer determines the nano-second Alex finishes, and only then are players able to buzz in. The player who knows the answer first isn’t necessarily the one who gets to answer it.

4. The current version has been dumbed down to the point it annoys some serious fans.

For example, an answer from the original version, under the category of “Presidents,” might have been phrased: “He was known as the Father of our Country." That’s two clues — one from the category title and one in the answer.

Today, the answer in the same category would likely be, “Our nation’s capital is named for him, the commander of the Continental Army, who is also known as the Father of our Country.” Four clues.

That’s a big difference — the difference between having to connect two dots or having the exponentially easier option of having three or four paths to lead to the correct question.

An answer on last night’s show under the category “What’s for Dinner,” revealed a photo of a plate of tamales with the following text: “You have to go south of the border to get these — get them while they’re hot!.” Four clues again. The category and plate of tamales would have sufficed or, at the very least, only one of the two additional clues should have been included.

A few days ago Holzhauer blew past $1 million in winnings by correctly providing the Final Jeopardy question to this answer in the category of "American History": "On May 1, 1869, these two men met at the White House 4 years & 3 weeks after a more historic meeting between them." In that case there were five clues: American; the participants were men; it happened four years after 1865 which even the most casual student of American history should know is the year the Civil War ended; the meeting took place at the White House, an indication a president was most likely one of the two men; and the two had met before at an event of some consequence. All three contestants came up with the right question, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. So did my dachshund, Rupert.

Four or five clues aren’t provided for all the questions but most contain at least three which makes the game less challenging for viewers who want to test their own wits against the players rather than watching passively. My wife and I found all those gratuitous clues so annoying we stopped watching until the media hoopla about Holzhauer.

If, last night, the first player who recognized the tamales —as they likely all did— could have buzzed as soon as he or she saw the picture without having to listen to Alex read two more clues, viewers would have known which of them was the first to connect the dots. 

But I’m not really complaining. It’s a pleasure watching Holzhauer, who is whip-smart and seems like a good guy. In one episode, he credited his deceased grandmother, who wasn’t a native English speaker, for watching Jeopardy! with him every day after school. He promised her he would someday appear as a contestant and it's nice to imagine her cheering him on from wherever she may be.

One last and unhappy fact about Jeopardy!: Trebek revealed last month that he has stage four pancreatic cancer. Attempting to inject some levity into that shocking announcement, he said he isn’t going to give in to the disease because his contract runs for several more years and so, for now, he’s continuing as host. It is difficult to imagine what a struggle that would be for anyone, much less a man in his late seventies.

Jeopardy! without Alex Trebek would be like a year without the December 25th holiday celebrating the birth of the Christian savior on which Santa often leaves gifts for kids under a decorated tree. 

May his long run continue.