My Afternoon With Alex





The charming and erudite host of Jeopardy!, Alex Trebek, is surprisingly sardonic off camera. The studio audience—about 100 split between members of the general public on the left side of the theater, friends and family of the contestants on the right—had plenty of opportunity to ask him questions during down times between segments, sampling his slightly snarky sense of humor.

I got in the first question, a technique I used as a reporter, knowing that even at a major press conference there is often a reluctance to ask the first question. So I prepared my question in advance, rehearsed it mentally and was ready to go when Trebek asked for questions from the audience.

I asked if he'd ever been a game show contestant; if he would ever be a contestant on Jeopardy! before he retires; and how did he think he'd do as a Jeopardy! contestant.

He said he'd been a contestant on a few game shows, but would not be a contestant on Jeopardy! because then someone else would have to host the show, and "he might be better than I am." How would he do as a Jeopardy! contestant? Trebek said he would probably do well against his "peers." Then, looking directly at me, he said, "I see by your white hair that you might be one of my peers. I would crush you!"

A middle-aged man in the mostly middle-aged audience asked, "How do you pronounce all those foreign words?" Trebek answered with overemphasized, drawn out speech: "W-i-t-h M-y M-o-u-t-h."

I also talked to crisp-toned announcer Johnny Gilbert, asking how many tapings per day the winners do. He said they tape five shows a day. For Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings to win seventy-four consecutive games, he had to win five games in a row, then get up the next morning and go win another five games. Whew indeed! The show tapes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, three weeks a month, nine months a year.

Gilbert introduced two of the three Clue Crew members who were at the taping—Sarah and Jimmy. When the pair stood up and waved to the audience, I saw that Jimmy was wearing a maroon hoodie with "HARVARD" emblazoned on the front in big letters. Yeah, OK. You're smart.

A Few Candid Moments

A fortyish woman asked Trebek what his favorite karaoke song was. He replied, "My favorite karaoke song?" then turned his head to the side and pretended to spit on the floor, saying: "I hate karaoke."

Another audience member asked him what he thought about rap music. As he began to criticize it, he seemed to pause and take a quick scan of the audience, then said he disliked most of it because of the bad language and negative references, adding that he thought it was a bad influence on youth. "Not all of it is bad, but most of it," he said, apparently not wishing to condemn the entire black youth culture.

Surprise! Trebek Doesn't Know Everything

When one of the contestants incorrectly answered "era" instead of "eon" in response to a science question requiring a three-letter word with two vowels, Trebek told the young man that "era" was not a scientific term. One of the fact checkers disagreed.

(Era can be generic, such as the era of horse and buggy, or scientific, such as the Paleozoic era.)

Trebek seemed to think "era" had only a generic meaning. But after the fact checker disagreed, he walked over to the front of the stage where a semicircle of fact checkers are located in a pit behind computer screens and telephones, and picked up one of their dictionaries. He seemed genuinely interested in making sure he had the correct information, although the staff photographer who took candid photos during the taping of the show moved quickly into position to take a few shots of Trebek studiously peering into the dictionary. He lingered just long enough to ensure a good publicity shot.

Trebek Is 73

When asked what books he's read, Trebek said he reads a lot of nonfiction, "political stuff," and also likes novelist "John . . ." and then couldn't think of the author's last name until an audience member called out: "Grisham." Then he mentioned finishing a book during a recent trip, but could not remember what it was. "It'll come to me," he said. It didn't.

So even the sharp-witted Trebek, adjudicator of all knowledge, cannot escape the symptoms of an aging mind. Or perhaps it was just overload, considering all the data that had passed through his brain by the last taping of the day. It was the fifth and last show during a day in which he'd already articulated 264 questions with but a very few misspeaks. Is this reassuring to those of us who worry about occasional memory loss? I don't know, but I'm gonna keep playing.



(Written March 2014)


~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




The Boundaries Of Heaven

















We draw the boundaries of heaven
Around the spaces of ourselves,
Marked off by threat
And bluster,
As if heaven were a place
Unwelcome.



~ text and photo by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved




I Knew A Young Man


















I knew a young man
Who drank warm water
Right from the faucet,
From his cupped hand.

Everything he did,
An act of defiance,
An act of strength,
His way through the world.

They sent him to the war
And he didn’t last a week.





~ Poem and photograph by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

Life Went On




It was Sunday,
And many millions
Living in the most powerful nation on Earth
Spent most of the day
Watching the big football game on television,
Cheering,
Moaning,
Screaming at the electronic moving pictures of football players
Running back and forth and sideways,
Trying desperately,
Valiantly to get hold of the football
And take it to one end,
Or another,
Of the flat grassy space.

The next day,
Life went on,
Much as it had before.



~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved


The Age Of The Pure Self


 

Anarchy,
Not just for the dispossessed anymore,
It's catching on like wildfire,
A fad,
A new sport for the upper crust,
For those separated from the great mass
By privilege,
Power,
Perception.

This perception of superiority,
Now this is the motive force,
Not just for the well-to-do anymore,
No,
Even the lowest inhabitants of the social order
Feel superior these days.

Now,
In our cities and our streets,
In our homes and office buildings,
In all manner of public and private places,
Now,
No one is safe from this self-righteous anarchy.

This is war.

To each their own pure self,
The pure self that needs no law,
That bends to no man, woman or child,
That considers not its own frailties,
Sees no larger world beyond itself,
Enforces its iron rule without mercy,
No matter how trivial or mundane its kingdom may be.

Nor more humility,
No backing up,
No admission of error,
Of guilt,
Of responsibility.
All actions and motives of the pure self are beyond question.

We encounter one another
In our day-to-day lives
And exchange the menacing glance.
All is understood.
Ours is the age of the pure self.


© All Rights Reserved





The Other Virus




Trump has a virus.

I do not refer to the coronavirus. This other virus is far more deadly. 

The notion that the erratic course of the Trump presidency is the result of a localized infection centered mostly in the White House, aided and abetted by compliant media outlets and servile politicians, was further dispelled by the anarchistic minions who stormed the U.S. Capitol bearing Trump flags and assorted MAGA accessories.

Talk about a pandemic!

The virus that infected and elected Trump has spread to every nook and cranny of the Republic.  It is a pandemic of willful ignorance, spread by those who believe their certainty inoculates them against rational examination.

Yet even the impermeable Trumplings of America are but a subset of a global pandemic of authoritarianism whose existence depends on the strangling of truth and the obedience of ignorance.

In how many countries has democracy been overtaken by authoritarianism? Too many. Who can stop and reverse this advance of totalitarianism? The United States of America comes to mind. Despite the best efforts of Trump, his minions and his compliant political apologists, our recent elections do indeed seem like a turning point, a turn away from the abyss of another Trump administration and a restoration of sanity.

But let us never forget the names of those who defended the evil untruths of the Trump administration that have torn our citizenry apart.

Sanity, leadership, character and conscience: These virtues are not Republican or Democrat virtues. They are human virtues that must guide the course of our nation. May we defend them against the evil, soulless intentions of those who would subvert our Democracy.

May we call out the defenders of ignorance. May we demand educated, knowledgeable leaders in all walks of life to speak out against tyrannies both small and large. And may the freedom-loving people of the world once again look to the United States of America as an example, not of chaos, but of enlightened governance.

The great work lies ahead. The great work calls us. We must answer.


    What happens in America happens to the rest of the world.
     ~ Maria Ressa, Filipino journalist, author and dissident


Donald Flintstone

 





The Myth Of Unity




It is the clarion call of politicians: Life in America would be ideal if only we would all come together as one people and be unified and united, preferably under their all-embracing leadership.

If there is anything that marks the distinctive identity of life in America, it is the freedom we all enjoy from not being unified and united. The battlefield of our differences produces compromise, which allows our society to experiment with ideas, to push forward in one direction or another without resorting to the kind of extremes that total unity would command.

Yes, total unity would be commanded, by an authoritarian government that no longer tolerated dissent and by a politically correct media turned into an enforcer of unity, of “the common good,” a mainstream media castigating anyone who would dare express an unpopular opinion.

We have already had a taste of this, haven’t we?

Why do we applaud when politicians promise national unity?  Is it because each person who applauds believes his or her vision of “the truth” will become manifest under such national unity? Is it because we are so sure that our particular religion, our particular political philosophy, our general sense of what is right and what is wrong will surely prevail in a perfect world?

This country was formed by generations of political refugees escaping the kind of national unity that strangles freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to criticize and change one’s own government. The refugees are coming still and the great work continues.

Our government works because we are a diverse people, full of opposing ideas, forced to compromise. And compromise means that many opposing ideas must be taken seriously when policies and laws are made. If Americans are anywhere near being united at all, it is in the belief that each of us has the right to fight for an idea, to oppose an idea, to be taken seriously. This is the check and balance of American democracy, this freedom to amend or replace a flawed idea with a better idea. America is a birthplace and battleground of ideas. 

Yet politicians and media pundits shake their heads and bemoan how “polarized” the American people have become. Our polarization, our fierce differences of opinion are evidence of a free society in which we all are emboldened, empowered and encouraged to express our opinions vociferously, knowing our opinions matter.

The day we are truly unified and united will be the day we are no longer free.





I Am A Simple Man





~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved