Valley News – Easier: With “Jeopardy!” that’s just the facts, and that’s what we need
i can’t pretend that Peril! saved my life during the pandemic, although this column would have a better chance of going viral if I could.
No, the game show didn’t save me, help me lose 7 pounds in 7 days, or preserve my so-called sanity. But my appreciation has only grown since COVID hit in early 2020. (I had to google its debut as the weather is fuzzy right now. I don’t think my last two birthdays should even to count.)
With us Peril! part of the routine — as with preschoolers, routines are essential for retirees. We don’t move around much anymore; most nights we watch local and evening news on NBC.
Then comes the national news: fires, floods, famine and tampering, supported by an inspiring little story. You know you’re supposed to be inspired because the segment is called “Inspiring America,” but I resist. A kid sells a world record amount of cookies for charity and I see the hidden hand of helicopter parents, a retail consultant or his college admissions coach. When I complain, my wife, Dede, kindly says, “Oh, I think that’s a great story,” and it reminds me that the world is as we see it.
But then we hear the Peril! theme and we’re leaving all of that behind, especially national politics, which came to a fork in the road – and crashed into a tree, starting a dumpster fire, melting all the ball of wax and mixing our metaphors.
Reality itself is disputed, but on Peril! facts are facts, eternal truths are always true, the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 and always will. Clara Barton founded the Red Cross, Hammerin’ Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, Dean Rusk was John F. Kennedy’s Secretary of State.
This last fact is recalled from my youth, from the depths of my memory. I have no use for it except Peril!, but it’s good that a fact can wait years for its moment, like the cicadas, which come out every 13 or 17 years.
After a controversy over the choice of a new animator following the death of Alex Trebek, Peril! was blessed with the affable champion Matt Amodio for a long run last year.
I guess I could memorize Shakespearean characters and state capitals, but how do people like him excel at things like minor characters in Russian novels, small towns in Nebraska, Balkan mottos, hupmobiles and the studebakers, the indonesian provinces and the things no one remembers?
I play the game during the show and I usually do quite well, even if sometimes I shout like a madman from the street: “Marie-Antoinette”, “Vladimir Lenin”, “Lake Titicaca”. Fortunately, there is only one other home spectator nearby. But at 69, my performance is variable. Some nights the stars align and I am Sirius, the brightest in the sky. Other nights I’m a gunslinger who lost half a second in the coin toss. “Billy the Kid,” I want to shout in response to a question about the Wild West outlaw, but a contestant has already pulled the trigger.
I don’t remember that Lebanon arrived Peril!, although famous son Phineas Gage may have. He was a railroad worker whose personality changed when a large iron rod was driven through his head in 1848, destroying much of his frontal lobe. It’s a tough way to get into the history books.
Dartmouth College occasionally does well, but less than the attention-grabbing Harvard and Yale, who think the world stops when they play football.
New Hampshire (and Speaker Franklin Pierce, White Mountains, 400-member House of Representatives) and Vermont (Speaker Calvin Coolidge, Green Mountains, ice cream icons Ben and Jerry) also get airtime, although less than New York and California, which is understandable.
But in my mind, there are too many questions about people like Montana, Arizona and Dakota. They could just combine a bunch of them and name the state “Tumbleweed”.
The big fun lately has been watching the success of Amy Schneider, a smart, pearl-wearing transgender woman who topped the million dollar earning mark. Her wide range of knowledge is an inspiration, as she undoubtedly is.
Facts have lost some of their value these days, because they’re all at your fingertips – if you can find your smartphone. The human brain can no longer keep up, and phones are sneakily tricking us into relying on them more and more.
But not sure Peril!, where there is no time to research the capital of Suriname, the organ that purifies your blood, or the name of John F. Kennedy’s Navy ship. In that split second that decides victory and defeat, Paramaribo, liver and PT 109 are everything.
There’s nothing but you and your memory. At my age, it really is a moment of truth.
Dan Mackie lives in western Lebanon. He can be contacted at [email protected]