I’m addicted to game-shows. One of the first things to pop into my head every morning is me standing face-to-face on a stage with Bob Barker, the fucking Elvis Presley of game show hosts. Every day I hear good ol’ Bob telling me to spay and neuter something or another in one ear and good ol’ Mom whispering to me how much, “Bob’s gonna love you” in the other.
I have spent my entire life learning the answers to questions that are completely useless in the real world. These answers only mean something in a world where promotional consideration is paid for by HASBRO: THERE’S LEAD IN THE TOYS. Where answering the kindergarten level question, “This virus is named after the Ebola River valley in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” entitles me to glamorous vacations that are advertised on giant cardboard cutouts with a model wearing an evening gown. Just so you know, “The Ebola Virus”
As a kid, I‘d wake to the sounds of game show music and hear the announcers calling out the title of the show, “THE PYRAMID. THE PASSWORD. TIC TAC DOUGH.” I would grab a bowl of SUGAR TIME cereal: sweetened with whole cubes of sugar. It’s so good; you’ll go crazy and plant myself on the scratchy red and orange and black speckled shag carpet. The morning was a world of magic, fabulous prizes and opportunity. I would sit there with my mother while she wrote her weekly correspondence to Bob Barker. Letters that she’d spray with floral perfume. Letters that had a picture of me inside. I’d eat cereal until I got to the bottom of the box and pull out the plastic piece of shit toy that was inside. My mother would sit on the couch half passed out by from finding her own prize at the bottom of a bottle of Anderson Scotch Whisky: Enjoy it with your cigarettes.
Once she told me, “I am going to teach you to be the most well known person ever. You may get old and die, but they are going to talk about you on a game show. You’re gonna be worth a million dollars. You are going to be the answer to the million-dollar question. The bonus question.”
She also told me that we’d all grow up as one big happy family. Me, her and good ol’ Bob. So not only was she insane, but she was also a liar. Or maybe he was the liar. One way or the other, he’s gonna know who I am. When I meet him I’m going to offer my left hand to him to shake. Just like Bob Barker did to my father years ago on the day of the famous ‘Massengil incident’.
My mother was so excited to be there at the Price is Right studio. She had hoped and prayed that Rod Roddy would call her name. When they said his name, my Dad looked angry and my Mom looked disappointed. I thought it was exciting. I could feel electricity on the chair. My dad stood up and walked down the aisle. He didn’t run. He stomped his feet. He walked like he would walk when he had to go to the can. Like it was a chore. He had to price a fabulous product. “HOW MUCH DOES THIS PRODUCT COST?” The lovely spokesmodel picked up the large red box to reveal a smaller box with a smiling lady on the front that looked eerily similar to my mother.
Let’s play the Family Feud! Reasons to hang your head in shame. Top three answers on the board: Asshole Dad. Drunk Mom. Massengil game show incident.
“Massengil? Mary Jo! How much does your douche cost?” the asshole dad says to the audience.
My mother retreated under her seat so low that her shame sucked me down onto the floor with her. It was the first time I ever saw women’s underwear. There was complete silence. Not even Bob Barker could think of anything clever to say.
Weird how a feminine deodorant product for a lady’s private parts is one of the reasons why I ended up here at a bar playing some low rent version of quizzo with a host named Johnny Good Times. A fat fuck of a host who can’t help but fellate his microphone after every question. He swallows it and asks, “Animal Husbandry is the practice of doing what?” If there were a category for best blank stare these four idiots sitting next to me would be tied for grand champion.
“Breeding livestock,” I answer. Before Johnny WhatEver tells me that I’m right I say to the rest of the contestants, “If I wanted to play with myself I would do it while watching Wheel of Fortune.” Promotional Consideration is paid for today by Anderson Scotch Whisky: It tastes like shit.
I stopped off here at this quizzo for dummies to get my juices flowing for my appearance later tonight on The Genius Gauntlet hosted by game show legend Bob Barker. One of the most stressful, but orgasmic experiences of an info junkie’s life. The most difficult game show ever conceived. Hours and hours of intense questions and answers. This show makes Jeopardy look like Press Your Luck- stupid and made for babies to entertain themselves. The line in Vegas is that the finals will come down to me and the Russian. He’s my nemesis. The Russian follows me around like the clap to local quizzo nights, trivia times or what-ever-the-fuck you want to call them. We trade victories-he usually cheats or I let him win. The Russian is the closest thing to a rival that I have. He’s always my second. My runner-up. He pushes me. He makes me better at what I do. He’s a necessary evil. He’s the closest thing to a friend that I have. Right now, at this Kindergarten Quizzo Time he’s just standing in the back scouting me, not participating. He’s saving his jib for the Gauntlet. So in his honor, I order a strong Black Russian on the rocks from the bartender as the glow of white, ivory piano keys nestled between the botoxed lips of the Russian catches my eye. I send the bar girl over to him with a White Russian just to be a dick. He’s lactose intolerant. I hate him and every day I hope for his death, but right now, if my plan is going to work, I need him now more than ever.
Johnny Bang Bang over enunciates the last word of the question, “JACKSON.” I slam my hand down on my buzzer and on the bar, the force vibrating my glass sending premium Russian vodka hopping up into the air in a tight drop then diving back down. “William Harding Jackson. Deputy Director of the CIA in the 1950’s.” I scream my answer out. “Can you guys hear the questions? You’re not answering any of them,” I say looking down the line at the morons with the collective IQ of 88 still nursing their beers.
Right before the lightning round begins, we’re on another commercial break. I walk down the bar to congratulate two of the contestants for making it as far as they did. They’ve been eliminated and will get a nice consolation prize from one of the sponsors today: Wisk. Ring around the collar? Yes. The unmistakable odor of guilt? No.
Johnny Blah Blah kicks off the lightning round and I make it a point to let everybody in this room know who the real threat is. If good ol’ Bob could see me now he’d know who to watch out for. I fire off my answers, rat-a-tat, like a machine gun, “Don Pardo- the voice of the Price is Right from 1956 until 1963. Sunscreen. Beach Towels. The Declaration of Independence. Gary Coleman. Potato Soup. The Chinese. Hamburger Helper. Pantaloons.”
The answers come out of me like reflex. A reflex that makes me want to win fabulous prizes. Possibly a new car. Makes me want to be the answer to the million-dollar question. A subject on Jeopardy. A reflex that wants people to say my name in the form of a question. “Who is Trivia Barker?”
I am going to dominate the Genius Gauntlet and stand face to face with the angel of death. Nose to nose with the man who ruined my life. A reflex that wants to hurt him like he hurt me.
My Mom had watched the Price is Right program every day since 1972, the year I was born. Once I started to talk back to her, she would tell me, “Trivia. I’m wet for Bob Barker.” I would ask her what that meant.
Then she would say, “That’s exactly why I named you Trivia. You always need to know the answer.”
After the Massengil incident, she had to remove the Price is Right from the daily line-up. My father was insistent on it and he had conjured up some crazy idea that Mary Jo, my mom, had an affair with Bob Barker in early 1972. Maybe conjured up some crazy idea is not an entirely accurate statement; my mom who was really drunk on Anderson’s Whisky had told him that she had an affair with Bob Barker around early 1972. Whether it is true or not is still unclear. Turns out my mother was crazy.
After dominating the competition at quizzo, I hop in a cab and tell the driver to drop me off at 50th street and Wolfberry Ave. She turns to me and says, “The convention center, right?”
That’s when I notice that she looks an awful lot like my mother. Immediately, I started to resent her and blame her for everything that has gone wrong in my life.
Richard Dawson, host of the Family Feud says, “Name something you should blame your mother for? Top four answers on the board: Vegetable aversion. Fear of clowns. No social skills. An obsession with useless information.
Isn’t that what we all do on some level or at some time? We blame our mother. The drug addict says, “I smoke crack. My mother didn’t hold me enough.” The fatty says, “I eat too much food because my mother left me alone at a Woolworths snack bar”; or “I gamble and I have a thing for fetish pornography because my mother produced sour breast milk,” the overall degenerate says. If you pull my string I’m going to say, “I get beat up because my mother was a drunk who lived in a fantasy world and fed me a diet of sugary cereals and game shows.”
“Yeah, ” I say, “the convention center. I’m a contestant on the Genius Gauntlet. I’m going to win.”
“Funny, you’re my third fare to that Price is Right thingy today. I dropped a Russian guy off about ten minutes ago. He told me the same thing,” she says.
“What… that I was going to win?” I say. My blood was boiling at the mere mention on the Russian but at the same time I was glad that he was getting there ahead of me. If my plan was going to work he needed to be there first. Gives him plenty of time to rub people the wrong way.
“No, he said HE was going to win… not you,” she says. This broad had no idea what she was saying or what I was capable of doing. “So, Bob Barker, huh? I loved him on the Price is Right.”
“Look lady… The Price is fucking Right? The Price is Right is for morons! A show where all you need is a willing idiot to come on down and make a fool of themself. A hard on and great big boob….”
“I’m sorry sir. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll just drive,” she says.
“The Price is Right is a cattle call. A show where they just grab some random asshole out of the audience to price douche and laundry detergent; they just look for a specific type of person. Some bozo that will line up for hours in advance to wait in the hot sun, eating bugs and rotten tomatoes for the chance of winning a plethora of taxable prizes. Gay, Asian, elderly, grizzled. All types. The obsessed woman and her mad at the world husband. Rip Torn. Betty White. Clint Eastwood. The little boy wearing the t-shirt that says I’m going to kiss Bob Barker because that is what little boys do to their father. The woman with the boobs so large that it is almost guaranteed that when she runs down the aisle one of them will flop out. And trust me, she will run down the aisle when they call her name and one of them will flop out…” I say thinking about how my mom would practice in front of the mirror, bouncing up and down making sure one of her boobs popped out. It didn’t bother me to watch it because it was part of my school assignment.
I didn’t go to regular school. My mom called where I attended “real school”. I attended the university of CBS or ABC or NBC depending on the time of the day. I stayed home and took copious notes while my teacher, Monty Hall, would ask me to pick a numbered curtain. If I passed the test the curtain would open to models standing next to speedboats and cookware. If I failed then I could have a donkey wearing a cowboy hat or a monkey playing the kazoo. I watched movies all day. We had boxes of videotapes with game shows on them. My mother would tape hour after hour of game shows. When we would sit outside in the yard, she would bring her cassette tape player and we would listen to audiotapes of the videotapes that she had just made. Instead of telling me a story before I went to bed, she would run through a list of facts and pieces of information. She wrote all of them down in a little red notebook that had a fire truck on the front. That notebook sat by my bed every night until my father set it on fire…the bed, not the notebook.
At age six I told the checkout girl at the grocery store that the first televised game show was SPELLING BEE and it aired in 1938. I let the bag boy know that Jack Barry’s real name was Jack Barasch. At the doctor’s office, I would recite facts about the Vietnam War. I would spell the word vagina and penis and would explain how they worked and I would provide references to them in popular culture. Contrary to what my father said about me game shows weren’t rotting my brain; they were forming my worldview- a model in an evening gown and some idiot standing next to me in the showcase showdown.
The cab driver dropped me off fifteen or so blocks from the convention center. Most people are in a hurry to get away from me. There’s nothing around except a 23-hour Laundromat, being guarded by a dog with three legs; what appears to be a cardboard house; a bodega sponsored by Blanco Brand Condoms: Can’t make you look better but can keep you from getting Aids; and a bar. I think it was a pirate bar because the sign kept flashing AR AR AR.
Walking there gives me plenty of time to think- refine, craft, and plot points on a Plinko board. I think of the Russian who will most assuredly be pitted against me-for the drama of the TV audience of course. I think of where he fits into all of this. How torn I am that he will forever be linked to me when this is all over. I think of how many times at our weekly quiz nights or our regional quiz offs that I have felt slighted by his knowledge that was paid for by College: It’s where rich people go to play and poor people go into debt. His victories are trophies of opulence. My knowledge was paid for by fire. My victories are scars and pain. His victories are fluffy things and roses. My father always called me the “son of a bitch and Bob Barker” and my mother never denied it either. Now, with both of them gone, I can answer the question on my own.
Waiting to go into the Genius Gauntlet hosted by Bob Barker, with the herd of eventual losers, I think about watching game shows on television- alone in my house, naked on the couch, shoving corn chips into my mouth; I think about cutting the head off of the fat balding man from Idaho who can’t seem to remember that the first toilet ever seen on television was on “Leave It to Beaver”. I lock eyes with the Russian, who towers over everyone in the crowd. I blow him a kiss and he catches it in his hand and then throws me a middle finger in return. If I didn’t need him so much in my life, I would walk over there and stab him in the stomach and watch him bleed out while eating a bucket of Poppin’ Fresh Popcorn: Share some with your best enemy. In the crowd of victims I see signs that say: Come on Down: to Oklahoma! Or RSTLME loves Pat Sajak! They dot the skyline like tiny skyscrapers. I see one that says I want to fist Howie Mandel. He’s not even on a game show. What happened to Ken Jennings? Michael Larson, the legends of the business? I am not one of these people. I can’t believe that these are the type of people that my mother raised me to be associated with. I hate her and understand why my father called me a fag every time he caught me in my bedroom looking at pictures of game show hosts. If I had a sign, it would read: I’m going to kill Bob Barker.
My dad would slink through the door once the evening news was coming on. By this time my mother had sobered up and was usually in the kitchen making some sort of slop out of a box. Swanson: Not Real Food. MMMM! My dad looked a little like a sloth. He had a very small head and tiny eyes. He carried a big hump on his back and his body hair was so course that it would poke through the tiny holes in his undershirt. He would usually come home defeated, deflated and embarrassed at his miserable existence. Or he would come home hungry, angry and ready for a fight. Most nights I would simply turn off the TV and open up the crossword puzzles. The word jumbles. The multiple-choice simple tests. I would fill them out with crayon and drown in the sounds of my dad sobbing or yelling or laughing at Archie Bunker. All of those things sound alike to a kid. I would sink under the waves of my mom singing, her incessant rambling and her complete denial of the world that she and I shared. It was as though once the sun went down and the moon came up that I no longer existed. They would both completely ignore me. Every so often he would tell me to watch sports with him. He would say, “Stop being a pussy and watch sports with me. Now.”
I learned a lot of statistics, which have helped me over the years. ESPN ran a quiz show for a while. It was for jocks or morons. Either one, take your pick. Whenever I am asked a question about sports or the city of Cleveland, I get the same feeling that one gets when they think about going back to middle school or high school as an adult. A feeling of dread. The feeling that was in the living room while the old man and me were watching the Cleveland Browns play football. The team that my father chose to root for even though we lived in California. The team that lost every week. The team that took our money. My father would spill all of our money all around town to just about everyone. He had a gambling problem and he blamed it on his mother.
One night my mom and dad were arguing over Bob Barker. My mother was still professing her undying love for the man. She’d told him that I was the son of Bob Barker. I was created from his seed. I was worth a million dollars. I guess he had enough and he smashed the television set with his own head. He ran out of the house bleeding. Said he was going to the dogs. I was angry. I just wasn’t sure who I was angry with.
Years later, the official report says that my father bled to death. Reason: Excessive bludgeoning to the head. In his wallet were photos of him, a woman that looked eerily similar to my mother and a boy that looked like he loved the Cleveland Browns. My father’s existence had been reduced to a reason. A reason why he left us that night to go to the tracks. A reason why my mother hated him. A reason why she got sick in the head. A reason why she drank. A reason why she loved Bob Barker. I don’t know if I knew what I was doing at the time, but now I think that I was saving my father. And my mother. Leaving myself to dangle in the wind, alone, priced right.
In the lobby of the convention center, an episode of Family Feud hosted at the time by Ray Combs plays on an enormous television screen. I watch the old man in the Fast Money round on the TV screen think about turkey.
Ray asks him, “Name something you would take to the beach”
The old man, smiling, knowing he’s about to win a lot of money says, “Turkey.” This old man wants to take turkey to the beach. I watch his family on the same TV screen think about how things would have been different if he would have died. The host is probably thinking about how things would be different if he died. Here’s an interesting bit of trivia: Ray Combs, host of the Family Feud from 1988 to 1994, hung himself in a closet in a psych ward.
I think about how things were different when she died.
I started taping The Price is Right for her every day while she was at “work”. “Work” was the act of making the trek to Bob’s mansion in the hills and camping out for hours waiting to see if he got her letters. There were times after she’d come home when she’d watch the tapes and I would look into her glassed over eyes and I could tell that she had just won the BRAND NEW CAR provided by: ANDERSON SCOTCH WHISKY: CREEPING DEATH. CREEPING DELICIOUS. She’d tell me with slurred speech how she would one day, “run down that aisle. Let one of my boobs flop out.”
She hated the Barker Beauties. She’d scream at the TV, at Bob, when the allegations of sexual harassment came out from Diane. She was devastated. Her life crumbled into tiny little price tags and Lose-a-Turn spins on the wheel. She would disappear for days at a time. Then she would come home and lock herself in her room. The only sound sliding out through the walls was the sound of the Big Wheel spinning in a loop. Some nights, all I would hear is the familiar disgusted voice of my father-his one moment in the spotlight- with the audience laughing and him saying, “Mary Jo. How much does your douche cost?” She would play that part of the episode over and over and over.
“Mary Jo. How much does your douche cost?” “Mary Jo. How much does your douche cost?”
“Mary Jo. How much does your douche cost?” Then she would be gone again.
When I got the call from the cops I was almost surprised that I did not answer in the form of a question. She was found outside of Hollywood. About an hour drive from our house on a secluded driveway. There was a heavenly gate that led up a hillside to a beautiful house. The kind of home that they might give away if you answered twenty questions in twenty seconds. The foliage was splendid. The trees strong and masculine. Strong enough to hold up the body of a ninety-pound woman, hanging by her neck, swaying in the breeze. The cops said that she had left a note. It was addressed to Bob Barker. It read:
I have known how much Borax cost since the first time I laid eyes on you. I have spun the wheel at your feet until my heart hurts. I can no longer live without you. I told him he was your son but that wasn’t true. If you meet him tell him I said that. Plinko.
The cops said Bob Barker wasn’t even there. I don’t think that’s true. I think that he saw my mother there every day eating bologna sandwiches, scrawling this note in a mixture blue pen and bird poop and blood. He chose not to talk to her. I think he recognized her from the Massengil incident. When my father embarrassed her on national television. I think he saw her at the studio audience tapings out front, trying to get back in, and he intentionally never picked her. I think he saw her T-Shirt that read: I want to mother your children Bob Barker and willingly chose to ignore her. Everyone that I had is gone because of him.
The producers of the Genius Gauntlet are smart enough to know that good television is about drama. It’s about holding off until you can’t hold it anymore and then exploding all over the place, like confetti. But there also needs to be some comedic relief. Something light. Knowing that they will eliminate the fruitcakes in Round one. What that means is that more than likely I will first be facing the seven year-old boy, the guy dressed up like a vagina, three clowns and the girl dressed like a penis. Those of us who did well on our preliminary exams will not compete against one another until the audience is in place and the real show begins. The producers will keep me from the Russian until the audience is at a fever pitch. By that time he will have cemented his status as villain and I will be the hero in this drama. I see him backstage as I am going out for the first round and say, “Good luck out there in the kiddie pool.” I know now why they call Russians ‘REDS’ because his face turns beet red and he stutters, trying hard to think of something clever to say. Instead, he just spits in my face.
Here are the rules: Ten contestants on stage at a time. A question will be asked. Hit your buzzer if you know the answer. If you answer correctly, you stay. If you miss, you leave.
Question One: The category is American Presidents. Who was the 23rd president of the United States of America? I hit my buzzer before the host-in-training even got the words good ol’ US of A out of his lip glossed mouth.
“Here’s a tip, dummies. He already told you the category was about presidents. As soon as he says 23 then you know that it’s, drum roll… Benjamin Harrison.” I say.
I decide to answer every question until they send me straight through to the next round. “Neuro-Transmitters. Pete Rose. Jolt Cola. Peru. Tempeh. Andre The Giant. War of 1812. Syphilis. Benjamin Franklin. Uranus. Cellular respiration.”
Backstage, I watch the Russian destroy his questions in his broken English accent. He insults the other players calling them “panties” and “fackers”. He makes little children cry and pee their pants. Everything he touches seems to wilt like rotten fruit. It’s all gold for me because by the time he and I do our dance together in front of Bob and his beauties the millions at home will have done most of the work for me; they’re going to hate him as much as I do.
Little do these people know that I am a shadow looming over the sky like a plague of locusts. I am the buzzing hum of death. The coming tornado of destruction to their dream of internet fame and search engine celebrity. I will be immortalized. I will be the answer to the final question of the show. Saying my name will be followed by balloons, confetti, overwhelming joy and congratulations or by the heavy weight of failure dragging down the spirit of the person that thought they knew it all. My name will bring about celebrations. My name will drive people to suicide. My name will be worth a million dollars to someone with 30 seconds left on the clock.
I would come home from picking up my disability check or meeting with my case worker to get my food stamps and pound through hours of videotapes of game shows. I would read the dictionary or the encyclopedia. I carried my Sony Walkman with me everywhere. I would listen to old tapes of the soft sane voice of my mother telling me the answer to questions like: Who was the 17th president of the United States? Who wrote the script for the first episode of Guiding Light? How do you make cherries jubilee? I would listen to her in my ear. I re-trace the steps she made to and from Bob’s mansion on the hill–his respite from his life of celebrity and power. I sift through his trash, look in his window, try and catch a glimpse of him. Try and see what my mother saw in him and in me.
Contestants of the Genius Gauntlet stay at the luxurious Excelsior Motel and Motor Lodge. Come get good and sick.
I find myself living in a shit bag rat infested motel and motor lodge with off colored bedspreads; scratchy carpeting that seems to carry a sheen of grease in the fibers; and curious lack of Gideon Bibles down the road from the TV studio. I need to prepare for my destiny. My mouth has a canker sore from drinking out of dirty cups. My teeth are going to fall out from using DENTAL BRITE brand tooth whiteners. For a smile as bright as Betty White, use DENTAL BRITE. I have my weapons, my TVs, VCRs, tape players & speakers. I have my videotapes, audiotapes, cereal, a variety of pajamas, notebooks filled with my mother’s handwriting, old photo albums, self-tanner. I have hair gel. The kind that leaves your hair encased in a hard shell, impenetrable. I liken it to Magic Shell.
I listen to my mother’s voice telling me the answers to all of the questions that I have ever heard. Where do babies come from? In what country is the leaning tower of Pisa located? What is a baby kangaroo called? All of the questions that I asked as a child she had written down, she had recorded and archived. In this dirty room filled with spin again after buy a vowel after bonus round of chances to achieve the American Dream, I encase myself in a glass bubble of television signals and audio cues and microwave dinners. I hear the familiar words BRAND NEW CAR being played forward and reverse. I recite history lessons, the periodic table of elements, and a list of Oscar winners from 1962. Best picture nominees, Grammy winners, recipes for pound cake, engine parts, items in a grocery store. All at once the voices, the images, the words, the sounds, the announcers, the hosts, converge into one picture. One image. One answer. My mother sits on that dirty hotel room bed, her neck flopping back and forth. My father, torn and mangled, sits on the other side of the bed. They pull back the covers and tuck me in, snuggly soundly. They turn off the televisions, stop the audiotapes, close the puzzle books. They open the doors, the windows, let in the outside world. We go on vacations, play catch, watch funny movies and cartoons. We stay in one place and listen to music and make popcorn. We tell each other little things. We are happy. I tell them that soon I will let them go. What they represent will be over. They will no longer be trivia questions to me. I will kill what ruined my life. Not because I want to. I have to in order to be free. I have one more question to answer and that is how do I let go?
At the TV studio, we’ve been forced to stop production while the producers deal with a death threat. Security is herding the contestants into lines and groups. There are reporters and camera crews. Chopper 10 from Action 12 news is hovering, buzzing. There are body searches and checkpoints. Like Baghdad, but with Orange Glo brand self tanner: It’s so orange it glows. Bob Barker, the host of this show, received a mysterious videotape in his dressing room with the words PLAY ME taped to it. When the tape starts we see Bob’s arch nemesis, Pat Sajak and his sidekick Vanna White turning letters on a board that reveal the answer to the puzzle category: WARNINGS. A jittery, Vanna turns the letters as they light up and spell out the phrase: I AM GOING TO KILL YOU ON TV GOOD OL’ BOB BARKER. Not the most proper or subtle way to express your intentions but I must say that whoever made this shit was a genius. One of most beloved shows on television, Wheel of Fortune. A show watched by everyone’s grandmother and grandfather turned into a death vessel. The author of this little love note edited together various episodes of Wheel of Fortune using clips where the lovely and ageless Vanna White revealed the appropriate letters. Then they used screen shots of the clips and created an animated movie. A beautiful method for delivering a horrific message. I can only imagine Bob as he watched the tape; he probably took a shot or two of scotch, applied his ORANGE GLO brand Self-Tanner-for when the sun is eclipsed behind the clouds, and marched out on that stage to do this show like John Fucking Wayne.
When the red light comes back on, I blitz through the first set of questions. “Tapioca. Franz Ferdinand. Cumin. Ocular Cavity. Cotton candy.”
It’s hot under the lights. I worry that my sweat is showing through the armpits of my white sports coat. That my orange skin paint is staining my bleached white teeth. Before the next round begins, I swallow the microphone and say, “Bob. Before we go on, I’d love to say hello to my friend, he’s Russian, so I won’t even try to pronounce his name”, I wait for the laugh track to die down. “I just want to wish him luck. He’s a contestant in the other brackets and he’s struggling. He and I go way back. Anyway, good luck buddy.”
Round two: “Pork chops. Anal warts.” As the answers roll off of my brain and out of my mouth, I look over and see the Russian thrashing around backstage like a bull ready to explode out of the gate because some asshole cowboy keeps poking him with a cattle prod.
Round three: “34,609. ARRID X-TRA DRY.” Round four: “Dinah Shore. Lesbian.”
The semi final round. There are four of us remaining. I am about to take down a 13-year-old boy. Cut him off at the knees. Ruin him. He had lost his 2nd round but received a free pass when he cried to the judges telling them what an honor it was to be beaten by someone as skilled as the Russian player. The judges fell for it. Fuck this kid. “The answer is Sherman Helmsley, Bob.”
“You are right.” He says back. All I do is smile and nod, but what that smile and nod says is, “You’re goddamned right I am right you mother fucker.”
Now it’s on to the Russian. The Russian, holds the second record for most consecutive trivia questions answered at Thursday Night Trivia Time. A local competition that he and I attend every Thursday. He is my shadow. My runner up. Always behind me trying to get in front.
Here are the rules: Final round 2 questions each. If we tie we go to sudden victory. Most points wins.
I look deep into the Russian’s one brown eye and one blue eye. His breath smells like smoked potatoes. He opens his mouth and Ivan Drago, the villain from the final satisfactory movie of the Rocky franchise played by Dolph Lundgren comes out, “I shud to shave my heed befure I distroy you. So you cun see my mind mawscles flixing.” I have to admit that this was a nice touch on his part. He is nothing short of a brilliant showman.
Bob reads the first question. I hit my buzzer. “Applesauce.” The crowd erupts. He reads the second question. I hit my buzzer. “Author Ken Bingham.” A collective sigh of relief from the crowd. Question number three comes out like a bullet. The Russian spits in my eye and answers correctly. Question four and the Russian beats me to the buzzer. The crowd lets out a deep sigh. We go to commercial. Promotional consideration paid for by the following: Starbucks… You know what, fuck you.
Bob stalls before reading the final question. He takes a minute to remind us to spay and neuter our parents. I’ve often wondered why he has such a small and thin microphone. It is not until I am up close to him that I realize that he has very small and thin hands. The microphone is used to make his hands look larger than they actually are.
“Okay gentlemen, this is it. Whoever answers this question will go on to the bonus round of the Genius Gauntlet. The final question. And I’ll tell you he was a friend of mine… that is until he never paid back that 20 bucks he owed me…”
I’ll tell you that Bob Barker was a real pro. He knew how to cut the tension like nobody in the business.
“…Who was the host of the $25,000 pyramid from the years 1974 to 1979?”
My hand hits the buzzer. In order to really milk the moment, I look over at the Russian and I smile. My teeth stained with orange streaks from the self tanner that has run down my face and into my mouth. I look over at my best friend in the whole world who I hate and want to die violently and whisper to him, “Bill Cullen.”
Knowing I answered correctly and feeling the same feeling that he feels every time he and I go head to head, the Russian pushes his chair over, stomps around on the stage and explodes. I look at him and I slowly flip my middle finger up at him and make it move back and forth. In mass the crowd roars, bleating like sheep. Like a hungry bear, the Russian lunges at me like I have a pork chop around my neck. He tries to put his hands around my throat. I lean in real close so he can reach around and grab my neck. Squeeze real tight. As he pulls me close to him, I whisper in his ear, “I sent the tape. I’m going to kill Bob Barker. There’s nothing you can do about it. Try and stop me.” He lets go and backs up away from me as Security rushes him and takes him down. They wrestle him to the ground and twist his arm behind his back. Applause. The producers of the show must be lapping this up. My plot to kill Bob Barker is in the hands of the chaos. Chaos is the nature of man.
Bonus Round: I’m seated face to face with the angel of death. My father, he was an absent asshole. He deserved to root for the Cleveland Browns. He deserved to have his head bashed in by a Hammerhead brand hammer: Beats harder than he does. My mother was a lunatic. What kind of a mother sits around all day every day and watches game shows? She was as absent as he was. She didn’t raise me. He didn’t raise me. Wink Martindale raised me. Bob Eubanks. The Secret Square. Richard Dawson. Bob Fucking Barker. All my mother wanted was a BRAND NEW CAR. A NEW SET OF DISHES. A TRIP TO PUERTO RICO. CAMPING GEAR. She wanted her life to be decided with the spin of a wheel. She wanted a world where everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. All of this can be yours if you can determine the price of this box of DARCO CHLORINE BLEACH. When you should probably just throw it away…DARCO.
That is why I have to kill him. Because of what he represents. Bob Barker is to game shows what God is to religion.
Final question: Where is the entrance to the exit? Right here. The entrance to the exit is at this moment.
The celebration began with my breath before I inhaled and headed over towards Bob Barker’s outstretched left hand. I knew that the left hand would be extended as he holds his signature skinny microphone with his right hand. The music blared loudly throughout the auditorium. The crowd stood up and applauded. They cheered for me. A wall of confetti slowly trickled down from the ceiling. Everything was happening quickly. The Russian was rushing the stage screaming something that no one could make out. I was standing next to Bob Barker. In the midst of chaos the nature of man emerged. My hand thrust forward towards Bob Barker, behind the wall of confetti, behind the world of lights and products and commercials, I quickly stole the life from the stage. I easily passed through his leathery skin. An edge finding a home somewhere inside of him. As quietly as we had been escorted out of the auditorium on the day that my father asked my mother how much her Massengil costs, I took the life of Bob Barker while the Russian lunged for us both in a fit of panic and chaos trying to prevent the inevitable. As the wall of party favors and balloons slowly floated away the stage was dead. Bob Barker lay lifeless on the ground. The Russian, struggling with the security guards. Screaming out again. “I did not do it!” It twas heem! It twas heem!”
Security was poised, ready to strike. Ready when the Russian jumped on stage. I had told the Russian that I sent the tape because I knew he would try to stop me so he could say he beat me. He wanted to be number one so badly that he didn’t realize that I had him right where I wanted him. His desire for victory had secured his place in Trivial Pursuit editions throughout the rest of time. The celebration, the chaos of the moment. The nature of man would allow me the distraction I needed to cement my place in history.
Even though he didn’t do it, the Russian will always be the answer to the final question: Who killed Bob Barker?
The hard one, the answer to the bonus round question, the million-dollar question of Who won the Genius Gauntlet the night that Bob Barker died?, will always be my name: Trivia Barker.
Chad Meadows lives in New Jersey, with his wife and daughter, where he teaches creative writing. His work has appeared in the SquawkBack.com, Crack the Spine Literary Magazine and on The Literary Review website.
“Trivia Barker Can’t Lose” first appeared in Crack the Spine.