There are times when your dream doesn’t seem to be coming true no matter how much you work toward it and how hard you wish for it. You can pray about it, and sometimes the answer is not a resounding rejection, but simply a “not now.” It may not be the right time yet. And everyone knows that good things are worth waiting for.
However, I find it much harder to deal with an answer to prayer that appears to be “too late.” It’s one thing to have to wait for years to achieve your goal, but it’s quite another to realize that your time has passed. “Could have beens” are rather sad, which likely accounts for the popularity of YOLO and “no regrets.” Indeed, it can be difficult to watch someone slogging away at something that might have been achieved years ago but no longer has any reasonable chance of coming to fruition. Most painful of all is when the person whom you’re watching struggle in vain is none other than yourself.
Then there are those of us whose motto seems to be “never say die.” Fool that I am, I count myself among them.
Thus, a couple of weeks ago I went merrily off to register to take a test to become a contestant on the TV quiz show Jeopardy! Um, for the third time. I told you, some people just don’t know when to quit.
A famous saying posits that taking the same unsuccessful action time and again and expecting a different result is indicative of insanity. So call me crazy. I am one of those suckers who appears undeterred by the statistical unlikelihood of winning the Power Ball, video poker in Reno and a place as a contestant on a well-known quiz show.
The first time that I took the Jeopardy! test was years ago, in person, at a road show event held at a giant car dealership in Placer County (coincidentally, the same place I recently went to deal with a recall on my car). This was back when we lived in California’s Central Valley, involving a fairly lengthy drive on freeways with which I was then quite unfamiliar. For my trouble, I had the privilege of standing on a long, snaking line in the hot sun until I reached a tent where I could sit at a picnic table and complete the test. Fifty questions on an orange sheet of legal-sized paper, both sides. I turned it in to one of the judges, whom I could tell had graded these papers a few thousand times. The smirk on his face showed me that he knew perfectly well that I hadn’t a chance. He went down the page with a pencil, making marks at each of my errors. He shook his head as he handed me back the page. Dejected, I began the long drive home. I didn’t even come close.
I didn’t bother trying again for another decade or so. By then, personal computers had become ubiquitous and I learned that the Jeopardy! test was given online each January. I knew a few of the answers, but I remember calling out a number of the questions to my wife for assistance. Between the two of us, we got nowhere.
At least when I took the test in person, I learned that I had failed immediately. When one takes the test online, it’s a case of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Of course, they don’t call you (because you did so poorly). Months go by and you forget about it. Until, after a few more years go by, you hear that it’s time for the online test again. Except now it’s being offered at the end of May instead of in January.
What makes me think that I will do any better this time than I did last time? I have no idea, other than to say that hope springs eternal and that there will always be fools like me. Just call us “live bait,” as Frank Gilbreth did a century ago. Or, in the immortal words of P.T. Barnum (even longer ago), “there’s a sucker born every minute.”
I actually think I improved a bit this time. Not by much, and certainly not enough to make a difference, but a little. So is it “third time’s a charm” or “three strikes, you’re out?”
Decidedly, the latter. The problem, I soon realized, is that I am not as quick on the trigger as I once was (not that I ever was). As much as I admire octogenarian and nonagenarian marathoners and ironmen, the fact remains that most of us eligible for the senior discount are a bit slower now than we were in days of yore. Then there are some like myself who have always lagged a step or two behind. Although I have amassed a great deal of knowledge in the course of my lifetime, I have never been accused of being the sharpest tool in the shed. And now that I’ve strayed into AARP territory, I find myself playing the part a little too well by forgetting words at inconvenient times and wracking my brain to recall a name or fact that I know I know. Dictionaries, both the online variety and the thick bound ones on my shelf, are my best friend. Take it from me, the “senior moment” is a real thing. So I suppose it’s kind of crazy for me to think that I’d have any chance at all in such a fast-paced competitive environment as Jeopardy! Never mind trying to come with the questions to their answers, but how would I even press the signaling device fast enough?
Taking a trip down memory lane brings me back to my days as a senior in high school, when I competed against other schools as a member of our quiz bowl team. Even at the tender age of 16, I was more of a liability than an asset. As much as I was into trivia, I rarely knew the answer to the question asked. And if I did, someone else would beat me to the buzzer almost every time.
You’d think I’d give it up by now, wouldn’t you? Oh, no. Knowledge of my limitations in no way dissuaded me from taking the test a third time. I should probably pay attention to Alex Trebek himself, who (when not hawking life insurance) admits that, even after years of working with endless streams of facts, he’d have no chance against a sharp, young competitor. I believe his words were “he would clean my clock.”
So as I log into the Jeopardy! test website after work on a Thursday evening, I remain hopeful even as I know quite well that I am on a fool’s errand. I would estimate that I knew about half the answers, more or less guessed at another quarter, and came up entirely emptyhanded on the final quarter. Inevitably, there were questions that I was sure I knew the answer to, but couldn’t come up with on short notice. The senior moment again.
For example, the northern extension of the Appalachian Mountains in Pennsylvania. Ah, geography, my strongest area! A map of the Keystone State pops into my head. Pittsburgh? Altoona? Uh, the Monongahela? Bloop! The question disappears from the screen. Time’s up! Oh, well.
That night, I woke up suddenly from a dead sleep. The Alleghenies! Of course! Duhhhh . . .
And then it happened again. The next morning, in the shower. I simply could not come up with the name of the director known for his work on Titanic. But, sure enough, while shampooing my hair, it struck me like a lightning bolt. “James Cameron!” I yelled.
The next day, of course, I again was unable to remember his name. I had to Google it. (Uncle Guacamole takes the walk of shame.)
Let’s put it this way: I am not expecting a call from Sony any time soon. Uh, or ever.
Clearly, I don’t know when to give up the things of younger people. If I were truly committed to competing on Jeopardy!, shouldn’t I have done it years ago? So why can’t I say “too late,” admit that my time has passed, and move on?
I guess I just can’t take no for an answer.
So what do you say, shall we go for number four?