Last weekend there was a big trivia bee to raise money for schools. I was asked to be on a team and – because of my nerdiness – jumped at it. I didn’t think much of it, but as it got closer, it became more and more apparent that this wasn’t a little “Hey, have a few beers! Do some trivia! High-five each other for knowing that Timothy Hutton won the Academy Award for Ordinary People!” For starters, it wasn’t in a bar, it was in a very large, very classy theater. Also, it was catered. And there were programs. And each team sponsor had to pay $500 to enter. And…
You get the idea.
It went from a fun get together with some guys from work, to something that had me walking around in the days leading up muttering, “Arizona was the last state admitted to the union before Alaska and Hawaii. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the NBA record for fouls. The elephant is the only land mammal that can’t jump.”
Most teams were sponsored by big players – research labs, law firms, etc. We were sponsored by the garbage company. I’m not saying that with embarrassment; I loved it. People often dress up, so we got the whole uniform: reflective vest, hats, work gloves, boots, etc. Then we threw empty garbage cans into the audience and shouted lewd things at the women.
Only not really on that last part.
I thought, this will be fun and all, but who‘s going to come to a theater and watch a trivia contest? Everyone, apparently, with money who wants to get drunk and feel like a philanthropist. My wife and our friend couldn’t even get in because they didn’t reserve tickets.
There were 7 preliminary rounds. Each round had 7 teams. 9 questions, 20 seconds to answer. Whoever gets the most right, advances to the championship round against the other prelim winners.
We were in the first round.
First question: What band, formed in 1972, featured potato-people on the cover of its fifth album? I answered, with great dignity and elegance, “Devo. Devo! DEVO!!” BOOM. VICTORY.
This turned out to be a practice question. Oh. But the tone was set.
We – how can I put this nicely? – totally dominated our round, likely driving our opponents into a spiral of shame and self-hatred that can only end in a burbling swamp of booze, tears, and madness.
The guys from the research lab even tried to cheat off us. I know, what?!
During the down-time until the championship round, people came up to us in a steady stream saying things like, “Hey, I know it’s not glamorous, but the work you guys do is so important” and “It was great watching you take down the brain trust!”
Everyone thought we actually were garbage men.
Some of it was kind of condescending, but mostly people genuinely loved the idea of the bluest of blue collars showing up – apparently with no time to change out of their work clothes – and crushing.
The championship round started off a little rough. We made a comeback, but there was a science question that our science guy KNEW… then CHANGED it… then was – you know where this is going – RIGHT THE FIRST TIME.
That one question knocked us out of the tie-breaker. And we knew the tie-breaker questions. Ouch.
So, we came in third. I even replayed it in my head in bed later, as if we’d botched the play in the 4th quarter of the big game. “If only we’d ____, and then ____, victory would have been ours!”
But still. Not bad for a humble sanitation engineer.