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.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Anything is possible

Don’t tell me there is is nothing that can be done to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Don’t tell me it’s impossible for Hillary Clinton to yet be president. Or for Trump to win a second term in a landslide. 

Don’t tell me you will never be called up to the stage to accept an Oscar. Or be named Super Bowl MVP. Or win the Powerball jackpot. 

Anything — anything — is possible, as I, the world’s unhandiest person, proved today when I changed a light bulb in my pool.

Granted, it took five hours, I had to watch seven youtube "how to" videos, made three trips to the pool supply store, and my index finger is bandaged after being pierced by a screwdriver but, by God, I did it. 

And I’m going to switch it on as soon as I can find a youtube video that will reassure me it’s OK if water got into the fixture as I was screwing it back into the side of the pool.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Help! I need somebody.

I’ve been in denial for months, hoping my many issues would somehow resolve themselves but they haven't, so today I admitted defeat and called a handyman.

I hate dealing with handymen. With the exception of one I hired years ago who has mysteriously disappeared like that Malaysian Airlines jet, the ones I have hired are undependable and inept. My theory is that every idiot handyman who can’t earn a living up north figures he might as well move to Florida where at least he can bask in his ineptitude in perpetual summer.

Another reason I hate calling handymen is that they make me feel inadequate. The reason they make me feel inadequate is because I am. I am completely clueless when it comes to fixing anything. That side of my brain not only doesn’t work, it doesn’t exist, so I don’t know enough to stop a handyman when I see him doing something my gut tells me is wrong. Two years ago when I called one to repair an electrical outlet in the dining room, he removed the toilet in the guest room. I assumed there was wiring under it and they were somehow interconnected. Turns out his boss had given him the wrong “to-do” list — he was supposed to repair the toilet for another client. After he reinstalled it, the toilet leaked so I had to call a plumber in, but he couldn’t fix it. So I called another. The minute he left the kitchen faucet started leaking. For all I know, it's leaking toilet water.

So, I wait until I have a fix-it list as long as my arm — and until my wife insists she can’t live this way another minute — before I make that call.

Right now we have, as mentioned, a leaking kitchen faucet. The pocket door to my wife’s closet has been stuck open for at least a year, leaving a 12-inch gap for her to squeeze through sideways. The termite guy, when he came for his annual inspection today, discovered that the pulldown door to our attic is broken so he couldn't inspect. The house, for all I know, is being held up by termites holding hands.The French doors between the kitchen and living room have swollen from all this humidity and won't shut so they need to be removed and the bottoms shaved off. 

There are burnt out can lights in our family room and living room ceilings. I feel like an idiot having to hire someone to replace light bulbs but the ceiling is 12 feet high and I’m 67. I'd no doubt fall off the ladder and break my hip, catch pneumonia from lying in bed unable to move, and die. I’ve been meaning to have the 21 can lights in those rooms replaced with LED fixtures that supposedly won’t burn out for 45 years so I’m going to have the handyman do it. That way I won't have to get up on a ladder and change the bulbs until I'm 112 but then, I'm sure he'll install them wrong and they'll all come crashing down. That's what happened when I had the last handyman change the fixtures in our bathroom. The new one can fix those, too.

A double-paned window is fogged over, the gutters are full of pine needles, the aluminum cage that towers 20 feet above our pool is covered with green slime and needs to be pressure washed, none of our exterior lights work, and the light in the swimming pool spa burned out after our two-year-old grandson turned it off and on 100 times. I watched a youtube how-to video and decided I could replace it myself but got the shock of my life. Someone told me I should’ve turned off the fuse box. How the hell would I have known that?

The locks on all three sets of sliding glass doors are stuck and we can’t open them. To get to our lanai, we have to go out the front door and circle around the house, then come in through the screen door to the pool cage. Which, come to think of it, doesn't close properly because that tube-like thingie that is supposed to make a hissing sound as it shuts is hanging off the door. Last but not least, we go on daylight savings time this weekend so the clocks in both cars will need to be moved forward. Or is it backwards? I'm never sure.

I’ve asked friends but they all laugh and say they fix those things around their houses themselves. so no, none can recommend a handyman because they, of course, have never needed one, but I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that none of them can conjugate Latin verbs as well as I can.  

And so, once again, I’ve chosen a handyman out of the yellow pages, the one whose ad has the best design and fewest typos. 

He said he will be here two weeks from Friday but he won’t show. 

They never do. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Colonoscopy

This souvenir polyp photo was a
lovely parting gift

10:45 a.m.

TD to hospital front desk receptionist:  I have an appointment for a colonoscopy. The doctor said I should be here an hour early. Where do I go?

Receptionist: Can you tell me your name?

TD: Of course I can.

Receptionist: Well, what is it?

TD: Thomas Dryden

Receptionist: Middle initial?

TD: J.

Receptionist: Date of birth?

TD: November 17, 1951.

Receptionist: Take the elevator to the third floor and turn left. The GI lab is the second door on the right. 

TD: Thank you.

10:48 a.m.

TD to GI lab receptionist:  My name is Tom Dryden. I have an appointment for a colonoscopy.

Lab receptionist: Your full name?

TD: Thomas J. Dryden

Lab receptionist: Your date of birth?

TD: November 17, 1951.

Lab receptionist: OK, somebody will be with you in a minute.

11 a.m.

Admitting Clerk:  Thomas?

TD: Right here!

Admitting Clerk: Come with me. Have a seat.

TD: Okay.

 Admitting Clerk: What is your full name?

TD: You already called me. You know it.

Admitting Clerk: I have to ask. It’s the law.

TD: Thomas J. Dryden.

Admitting Clerk: What’s your date of birth?

TD: November 17, 1951.

Admitting Clerk: Do you know why you’re here?

TD: Of course. Do you think I’m here for the sport of it?

Admitting Clerk: Okay then, why?

TD: I’m having a colonoscopy. 

Admitting Clerk: I see we have your insurance information. Go back to the lobby and a nurse will be calling you shortly.

11:16 a.m.

Nurse: Thomas?

TD: Right here.

Nurse: Follow me please. Here’s the room where you’ll be changing into a gown and waiting to go into the examination room. Can you tell me your name?

TD: Why do you people keep asking me this? It’s not instilling much confidence you know what you’re doing.

Nurse: It’s a requirement.

TD: Thomas J. Dryden

Nurse: Now, give me your birthdate.

TD: November 17, 1951.

Nurse: And what procedure are you having done today?

TD: A lobotomy.

Nurse: That’s not what it says here.

TD: Colonoscopy. 

Nurse: Here’s a gown and a plastic bag. Please put the gown on, leave it loosely tied in back, and place any valuables — your wallet, Kindle, glasses, cell phone, etc — in the bag. 

TD: All right.

11:30 a.m.

Anesthesiologist:  Hello, I’m Dr. Payne. (Note to readers: I am not making this up. That was his name.) I’ll be administering your anesthesia today. Can you tell me your name?

TD: On one condition.

Anesthesiologist: What’s that?

TD: That you won’t ask my date of birth. 

Anesthesiologist:  I have to.

TD: OK, Thomas J. Dryden, November 17, 1951. Please knock me out now so I won’t have to answer that again.

Anesthesiologist:  I can’t until we’re in the procedure room.  An aide will be coming to wheel you in there in a few minutes.

11:42 a. m.

Aide: Hi, I’m Michael. I’ll be taking you into the procedure room. Are you ready?

TD: Ted Bundy. January 24, 1989.

Aide: I beg your pardon? What did you say?

TD: Never mind.

11:44 a.m.

Gastroenterologist: Hi Tom, how are you today? Are you ready to get this over with?

TD: I didn’t think there could be anything worse than drinking two jugs of that God-awful laxative stuff and spending the night on the toilet, but I was wrong. Did you know that …

Gastroenterologist: Can you tell me your full name and date of birth?

TD: I had an appointment with you three days ago! Don’t you remember?

Gastroenterologist: It’s policy.

TD: My God, please, please put me out now. I can’t do this any more.

Gastroenterologist: Do what? 

TD: Tell you my name and date of birth one more time.

Gastroenterologist: I have to ask.

TD: Thomas Joseph Dryden, that’s D-R-Y-D-E-N. November 17, 1951. That’s N-O-V-E-M-B-E-R.

Gastroenterologist: Can you tell me why you’re here?

TD: I’m having a C-section — twins, but it might be triplets, I think I felt an extra heartbeat today. 

Gastroenterologist: There’s no reason to yell. 

TD: I’m sorry, but this is fucking insane.

Gastroenterologist: Well, I’d like to remind you I’m holding a five-foot hose I’m about to shove up your ass. I can either be gentle or, if you won’t cooperate, I might not be.

TD: Because I’m having a colonoscopy. I’m sick and tired of having to answer the same questions over and over and over. Look at what the blood pressure monitor says. I’m about to … aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh  (anesthesia kicks in)

12:15 p.m

Nurse: Hi, Mr. Dryden. It’s over, you’re in the recovery room. The doctor will be here to go over the results in a few minutes.

TD:  Ugg … ga … ga…

Nurse: Can you tell me your name?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Goodbye my old friend

"Dad! Someone broke in and stole all the furniture!"
 Rupert in his almost-empty family room. On the left is
 his "Santa Weenie" stuffed toy he got for Christmas

It is always sad to tell your old car good-bye as you drive away in your new one. Will it miss you? Will it be frightened, sitting outside overnight in a strange dealer’s lot when it has spent every night of its life secure in your garage? Does it feel abandoned after years of faithfully transporting you and your loved ones safely? Is is hurt, knowing you are leaving it for a newer, sleeker model? 

I’ve always felt that way about cars but never about furniture until this morning when two men from Habitat for Humanity came to pick up the 12-year-old sectional sofa, matching chair and two tables in our family room we donated to their resale shop. A new sectional will be arriving later today.

I don’t miss the chair -- nobody ever sat in it -- or the tables, though the coffee table did make a convenient prop for my feet.  But, now that it's gone, I do find myself missing that sofa. 

I spent thousands and thousands of hours on it reading, working on my laptop, cruising the internet, eating, napping and, most nights, watching TV with my wife and a couple of wiener dogs snoring between us.

Our beloved dachshund Bonnie spent ten of her 16 years perched atop one of the back pillows where the two sections came together, a comfy vantage point from which to keep her eye on everything going on inside and outside the house. Bonnie died nearly two years ago, but that pillow never did regain its shape where she squished it down, even after it was re-stuffed.

With its thick, plush upholstery, the sofa was the most comfortable piece of furniture we’ve ever owned. The fabric never frayed or faded, but the cushions and back pillows had become misshapen and the sofa was looking a bit outdated compared to the ones I see in our friends' houses. Sofas today are white or at least light colors and for good reason: Manufacturers know you'll spill something and the stains won't come out so you will have replace them more often. The old sofa was a dark brown tweed. And there was damage not readily apparent to anyone but us. Bonnie's brother Billy Ray, who lost control of his bladder in his final days (not that he or, for that matter, any dachshund ever had 100 percent bladder control in the first place)  peed on it shortly before he went to spend eternity with Bonnie on that tweedy soft sofa in the sky. We were able to get the odor out but the stain remained, so the cushion couldn't be flipped, the unpeed-on side had to remain face up. Bonnie’s successor, Rupert, in his early days, chewed a corner of a cushion we were able to disguise when company came by covering it with a throw pillow. Another cushion could no longer be reversed because it would have revealed a stain from the plate of spaghetti and meatballs I once spilled.

The new sofa was my idea. My wife said she was fine with the old one but I convinced her to go shopping on a recent afternoon and the first sofa we saw, we bought. That’s how we always make almost any major purchase— a house, car, furniture, you name it. 

So, I’m waiting for a call informing me the furniture delivery truck is on the way and, in an hour or so, the room won’t be so empty. We’re not replacing the tables or chair yet; we’re going to live with just the sofa, which is bigger than the last one, for now. We may not need a chair at all.

I just the hope the old sofa, bouncing around in the back of a darkened truck somewhere, isn’t hurt or frightened or feeling unloved, and that the next person or family who buys it will appreciate it, enjoy it, live, learn, and relax on it, and treat it better than we did.
Bonnie in the place where she spent most of her 16 years.