“Here’s the host of JEOPARDY!, Alex Trebek!”

While I’m sure Alex Trebek had agreed to the special venue across the country, I think it took him a while to warm up to the change in his rhythm

Alex Trebek
Alex Trebek, Boston, 1998
Some arithmetic guy, and others, have asked me to write about Alex Trebek, in light of his recent diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

I’ve noted in the past that my JEOPARDY! viewing goes back to the 1960s, watching Art Fleming host the weekday show on NBC-TV. When the show returned in 1984, I was fine with the new host, Alex Trebek. I had seen him on a couple games shows, notably High Rollers. Given the fact that I was annoyed by the amount of luck involved in the play, that’s high praise.

When I was on JEOPARDY!, it represented a unique set of circumstances. It was recorded in September 1998 at the Wang Theater in Boston, the first time the regular show took place outside the Los Angeles-area studios. The Massachusetts city was very excited, and expressed in its stories the ‘appropriateness” of the show being recorded there, with all the smart people from Harvard, MIT, et al.

While I’m sure Trebek had agreed to the special venue across the country, I think it took him a while to warm up to the change in his rhythm. For one thing, he had to talk to the press quite a bit: the Boston Globe – in which my picture appeared!- and the Christian Science Monitor, for two.

Alex Trebek quite often says that the reason he likes doing JEOPARDY! is that he enjoys being around smart people. During a lengthy sitting around period for the contestants, we contestants got to watch, though not hear, him being interviewed. You could see on his face and in his body language when he was asked a question he thought was stupid and/or obvious.

Trebek was also reportedly annoyed by how difficult it was to get into the hotel that he and the contestants stayed in. There was a fundraiser for some Democratic candidates there, and Bill Clinton was among a wealth of politicians, reportedly including Vice-President Al Gore, and US Senator Ted Kennedy.

Of course, no one got close to that entrance. Earlier that day, there were massive protests and counter-protests regarding special prosecutor Ken Starr’s probes into Clinton’s behavior.

So it’s in that context that I can try to explain what happened on stage while I was getting a picture with Alex Trebek – he did the rabbit-ears thing on me. I knew it at the time because I could see him doing so in a monitor. Why me? Maybe because, at 45, I was the oldest contestant.

Weeks later, though, I got my photo from being on JEOPARDY! and it’s me alone. I will admit that I was quite disappointed at the time, but I’ve mostly let it go. Still, after hearing the frightening diagnosis, I felt melancholy. I wish I had my paired picture with who The New Republic in November 2014 referred to as The Last King of the American Middlebrow.

Watch these JEOPARDY!-related scenes:
Groundhog Day
Golden Girls
White Men Can’t Jump

Black History Month: Skin Deep

Seven ideas to help Boston become a more welcoming place to all

Bring Black History Month to the classroom by teaching your students about the work and lives of influential African-Americans

Presbyterian Church USA resources to understand and combat racism

The arc of history bends towards justice quote originally came from Theodore Parker

Celebrating the Afro-Puerto Rican ‘Father of Black History’ Arturo Schomburg

Jimmy Durham, Victoria soldier

In 1887, African-American cane workers in Louisiana attempted to organize—and many paid with their lives

Fredi Washington negotiated bigotry and made her way in the movies; the black celebrity from Hollywood’s Golden Age who revealed the complexities of passing for white

When cops raided a hip 1970s London cafe, Britain’s Black Power movement rose up


From online troll to white supremacist leader: exposing the lie behind one man’s rise

Cheap White Whine: Racism, Affirmative Action, and the Myth of White Victimhood

Racism, fundamentalism, fear and propaganda: An insider explains why rural, white Christian America will never change

Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV Statement on Leaving His Church after Speaking Out against White Supremacy at MTV VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS

Defiance In The Cold Sunshine: The Martin Luther King March overshadowed by racist profanity

Banned – Reports of Voter Suppression Tactics Pour In From Alabama Election

I used to lead tours at a plantation; you won’t believe the questions I got about slavery

Owning My Racism: a sermon given at First Parish Church in Billerica, MA on January 14, 2018

Boston. Racism. Image. Reality. A better Boston? The choice is ours; the final installment of The Boston Globe Spotlight Team’s series on race showcases seven ideas to help the city become a more welcoming place to all


Skin Deep – Playing For Change and Buddy Guy; the song includes over 50 musicians from coast to coast featuring Tom Morello, Billy Branch, Chicago Children’s Choir, and Roots Gospel Voices of Mississippi

Shakedown – Valerie June

Jumpin Jive – Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers; from the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943)

Black Pearl – Sonny Charles and Checkmates, Ltd.

Quincy Jones Has a Story About That

A Boston marathon of random thoughts

I made the most unfortunate error of listening to the news all afternoon on Friday, April 19.

* I have been to Boston several times in my life, though not in the past five years. I had an ex whose family lived near there. I loved the mass transit in the region.

* My very good friend Karen used to live in Somerville, which is just north of Cambridge, part of the area where a lot of the activity on Friday took place. Her sister, who I have known for decades, still lives in that section, and I was wondering how much she had directly affected by the shutdown.

* I won $17,600 on JEOPARDY! in Boston in 1998, with friends Karen and Judy, and Judy’s son Max in the audience.

* Some talking head wondered if the bombing in Boston would make Americans more sensitive to the ravages of war that take place in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere. My guess is no.

* A lot of bad info from CNN, who had reported a bomber had been captured on April 17, then awkwardly walked back its own story on-air later that afternoon.

* Amy’s poem Boston Meltdown reminded me why I stopped watching ABC News; it was the cult of personality – “Diane Sawyer’s my friend!” – which rankles me.

* Some news analyst referred to the M.I.T. cop who was shot and killed as the Officer Tippit of this case; I remembered who that was, amazingly. He was the police officer shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald after the JFK assassination. That’s rather arcane stuff, but when you’re filling the news cycle 24/7, that’s what you’ll get.

* Tried very hard not to listen to all the speculation about the identity and motivation of the bombers before they were identified, and assiduously avoided other people’s blather on the topic.

* Tegan is quite right that crowdsourcing looking for the bombs and bombers can be a dangerous trap.

* As terrifying and awful as the Marathon bombing was on Monday, April 15, the shootout, manhunt, and capture on April 19 was tenser in that one knew what COULD happen with the remaining suspect. My daughter in particular was tense over the fact that the Watertown neighborhood looked like a war setting.

* I made the most unfortunate error of listening to the news all afternoon on Friday, April 19. Tried listening to NBC but it kept reloading on my computer. Listened to four hours of CNN, expecting the door-to-door search would surely glean the suspect. No go. Then CNN timed out on my computer. Paying attention gave me a terrible headache.

* Yet then listened to CBS News when the announcement that the suspect was not captured but that the lockdown was over (wha!), but had gone to dinner when the capture of the alleged second bomber took place.

*Still, there were two interesting threads in the interviews of the suspects’ families. Their uncle in Maryland, who called the young men “punks,” wore the ethnic badge of shame, that their alleged actions brought shame to the Chechen people, that was very much like all of South Korea seemed to feel after it was revealed that the Virginia Tech shooter was from there. I’d forgotten that the VT massacre (32 dead, 17 wounded) was this time of the month (April 16, 2007).

* The mother and father, back in the former USSR, and the aunt in Canada, conversely, seemed to think the younger son was incapable of such heinous actions. The aunt, who is a lawyer, was particularly fond of the theory that her nephews were framed. One CNN reporter suggested the mother was “deluded”; a mother not believing her son was a killer seems understandable. The classmates of the younger suspect, who survived the shootouts, expressed great surprise as well.

* Even before this, I had pretty much decided that I wasn’t a big fan of large crowds such as New Orleans at Mardi Gras and Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

* Must admit this made me laugh.

* Mark Evanier tweeted: “America’s currently debating whether a guy who can’t talk should have been informed that he has the right to remain silent.” Of course, the issue isn’t just about one hated individual, but whether a naturalized US citizen can be considered an enemy combatant, and thus not subject to his Miranda rights. It’s good that he’ll be tried in civilian court.

* The family went to see West Side Story at Albany High School Sunday afternoon. It was quite good, especially the young woman playing Anita. I wonder, though, if the decision to have a sign on the front window, which said they would be taking extra precautions as a “result of Boston and other recent events,” was a function of the violence in the musical. Everyone was wanded.

* The lectionary scripture for this past Sunday included the 23rd Psalm. the choir sang The Lord Is My Shepherd from the Rutter Requiem [LISTEN], which I love.

* In the sermon, the pastor noted she had scrapped what she was thinking about in terms of her sermon after Monday afternoon. She noted that times were also difficult when Psalm 23 was written: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

* Cheri collected some sporting events videos from this past week appropriate to the topic.

*I happened to have had the eponymous Boston album in my desk at work, even before the events, reason enough to LISTEN to it.
Allan Arbus, best known for his dozen appearances as the sarcastic psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on the TV series MASH died at the age of 95. Here are three minutes of Sidney’s best quips. Read what Ken Levine, who wrote for Arbus on MASH, has to say.
Richie Haven was only 72 when he died on Earth Day. He was forced to become the opening act at the Woodstock concert in 1969 because no one else could get there and ended up playing three hours, covering every song he knew. Here’s a story by Albert Brooks about being the opening act for Richie; NSFW.

Drop a Flag on that Barkeep

I became so incensed that, had I access to a baseball bat, I am afraid I might have started smashing the drinking glasses that hung over the barkeep’s head.

When I went to that conference I mentioned, there was some free time on the first two evenings. So I went to the bar to get a glass of wine. Somehow neither of the bartenders saw me initially, and I waited a bit longer than I should have, but eventually got served.

This sent me to a flashback to June 14, 1991. My Significant Other and I were in Boston to visit her mother and her brother. For reasons too complicated to describe here, we couldn’t stay at their house but had to stay at a hotel.

Since we were in town, we decided to see if, somehow, there were tickets to that night’s Red Sox-California Angels game. We seriously doubted it; Roger Clemens, the Red Sox ace hurler was on the mound against the one-handed pitching phenom Jim Abbott. Somehow, there were not only seats available, but we got to sit right behind home plate!

The game itself, which you can read about in this box score, was great. The Red Sox fell behind twice but came back to win 9-4. The play I remember most was in the 6th inning when Clemens threw over to 1st base several times to keep Dave Winfield from stealing; I don’t think he’d stolen a base all season. A throw gets past the first basemen, Winfield gets to second and eventually scores an unearned run.

So afterward, the SO and I check into a Holiday Inn not far from Fenway Park. We decide to go down to the bar to get drinks; she sat at a table, and I stood at the bar. And stood. And stood.

At least three times while I was standing there, the bartender acknowledged my presence with an index finger suggesting “Just a minute.” But people who came to the bar well after I did get served. And I became so incensed that, had I access to a baseball bat, I am afraid I might have started smashing the drinking glasses that hung over the barkeep’s head. (Probably not, but I DID envision it.)

Instead, livid, I complained to hotel management and later to my credit card company, to no great satisfaction, since he never REFUSED to serve me. It was a very sour ending to what had been a great night.

It is why I HATE ordering drinks at a crowded bar to this day. It just doesn’t follow the queue.

My Favorite Years QUESTION

Note that we DIDN’T pick 2004, the year Lydia was born.

Possibly around the time I was writing about nostalgia, the Wife and I were talking about the favorite years in our lives.

I picked 1969, the year I turned 16, and my parents let me have a huge party. I had a girlfriend, I got elected president of the student government, which made me an irritant to the new principal, and I was figuring out who I was politically, especially compared to the transitional 1968. Music was great that year, too.

Then there was 1978, the year I worked at the Schenectady Arts Council, got a girlfriend, and finally stopped my nomadic existence.

1984 was the year after Mitch Cohn was fired from FantaCo and Raoul Vezina died. This made Tom Skulan more dependent on me to deal with the day-to-day stuff, while he worked on publications and the “big picture” stuff. Yes, affairs of the heart played here too.

Carol and I both picked 1998, the year before we got married, for different reasons. Her reasons are her own (she can start her own blog – unlikely). For me, it was going to Detroit (visit friend, Motown museum, Ford museums, Tigers game), Cleveland (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), Washington, DC (visit friend, take JEOPARDY! test), and Boston (appear on JEOPARDY!) Interesting that neither of us picked 1999, the year we actually GOT married because that first year in that half a house she owned was tricky; buying OUR house in 2000 was definitely a vast improvement.

And we both picked 2003, which was the year Lydia was finally conceived. Carol and I went to Poland Spring, Maine after that. Note that we DIDN’T pick 2004, the year Lydia was born; that took some getting used to.

So what are some of your favorite years, and why?
My Favorite Year with Peter O’Toole – Final scenes

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