I reside in a family of the uber-competitive. My husband has twice captured the largest fish trophy during the annual fishing trip. Dad is the best golfer, Step-Mom is the best baker (seriously, best homemade apple pie on the planet), and brother Scotty is hands-down the best story and joke teller. Within the family tribe we have our ace poker players, our lightening-round crossword puzzle champs, and one outstanding bowler (this would be my son Jimmy).
My challenge is—and always has been—that I’m not particularly good at any one thing. I’m not much of an athlete (OK. I have zero hand-to-eye coordination; it’s a good day if I get the pantyhose on straight), I can’t sing, and trust me you don’t ever want to see me try to dance. I could say I excel at making lasagna, but even my success here is attributed to Aunt Mary Ann’s recipe. In summary, I possess very few natural assets that afford me an opportunity to be the best at anything. There is, however, one key exception: amongst my kinfolk I’ve been bestowed the dubious title of Trivia Diva. I may have missed out on the athlete gene, but I can readily recall the 1953 best picture winner (From Here to Eternity) or that Tony Curtis’ real name was Bernard Schwartz. It’s a rather nerdy accomplishment, but I have my moments when I am truly proud of my ability to recall the name of Colonel Potter’s horse (Sophie) or the number of beads in a Catholic rosary (fifty-nine).
Unfortunately, few situations arise where I can utilize my trivia prowess to enhance my standing within the tribe. There is the occasional Trivial Pursuit or Scene It game played over the holidays but, for the most part, I’m relegated to shouting out answers while watching Jeopardy. So, imagine my delight when a family cruise recently presented an opportunity for me to flex my trivia muscle.
Cruises are a wondrous invention, designed to create a make-believe world where you never have to make a bed, cook a meal or pay a bill. No matter what time of day or night, somewhere on these beautiful vessels food, drink, cocktails and entertainment are always available. Throughout each day and evening there are so many activities scheduled that it would be impossible to do everything, and many of these activities take place in the various ship lounges. Conveniently, while you are waiting for the start of a magic show, or an edible fruit and flower-arranging seminar, there are plenty of hovering lounge wait staff who are eager to bring you the yummy drink of the day. Bless this magical cruise ship staff; I would have never had the courage to do what I did on a particular cruise evening had I not been fortified with the “Fruity Rum Runner of the Day”.
The family had gathered in the Lido Deck lounge for an after-dinner drink when we discovered that the Movie and Television Trivia Challenge would soon commence. How could I have possibly missed this contest announcement in the printed daily ship planner? We had to compete. Trivia is my turf! I quickly registered our group as “Team PJ” (my dad’s initials). The contest prize: a cheap cruise bag for each player on the winning team. When I say cheap, I mean very, very, cheap. We’re talking mass-produced recycled thin fiber bags with the cruise line name silk-screened across the front. The quality of the bags didn’t matter. Those bags were a trophy, a shining symbol for me to finally be the best at something, anything. All of this may sound a bit petty, but I had patiently waited 46 years to be Queen of the Hill (well, Queen of the Lido Deck).
Sitting there in the comfy lounge chairs, surrounded by our growing collection of cocktails, mixed drinks and spiked punches, we easily sailed through the first two trivia rounds guided by my knowledge of 1970s sitcoms, Elizabeth Taylor and Sesame Street. However, there was some serious competition assembled in that room. A particularly snarky bunch from the Midwest was actually talking smack to us. I’m not kidding. We were told we were “goin’ down” after it was revealed that Team PJ and Team Buttercow were tied for first place after a particularly grueling set of questions about The Brady Bunch.
For the third round of competition, each team was asked to send one player to the stage to compete for up to 10 bonus points. A bonus round! I literally leapt to my feet. Here was my shot, my chance at glory. The family cheered “Go Kimba!” as I walked to the front of the room and onto the lounge dance floor. Any inkling of stage fright was suppressed by ego and the third Fruity Rum Runner I had just downed.
Once we were assembled and lined up across the dance floor, the perky and chatty assistant cruise director—I swear her name really was Julie (trivia geek shout-out reference to the The Love Boat)— announced that for up to 10 bonus points we would each be re-enacting a famous movie scene. Julie paused for effect. Scenes from famous movies started racing through my mind:
“I could have been a contender.” On the Waterfront.
“Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?” Dirty Harry.
“Say hello to my little friend.” Scarface.
We were all transfixed on Julie when she smiled sweetly and announced that we would be re-enacting THE scene from… When Harry Met Sally. That’s right. I would be faking the ‘big O’ in front of hundreds of people. Including my dad.
Nervous laughter spread across the audience as several players uttered a resounding “Oh, hell no…” and left the stage. Not me. There was no way I would back down from this challenge. I made eye contact with the representative from Team Buttercow and we both knew that this game was on.
First up was a sweet, young newlywed who was so red-faced and so obviously embarrassed that she could barely get out a squeak. Of course, that could have been a genuine rendition of her nocturnal vocalizations, which made it even funnier. There were yells and croaks and various muffled noises as the competition advanced down the line and closer to me. The competitor to my immediate left, a sweet angelic-faced old woman, let out the most ear-piercing wail I had ever heard. It was both horrifying and hilarious.
Finally, the microphone was handed to me; it was my turn to perform. I looked along the edge of the dance floor and saw sweet elderly couples who looked way too much like my grandparents. At a table near the right side of the dance floor sat a group of twenty-somethings who very much resembled my son and his college friends. And there, at the left side of the parquet dance floor, kneeling down so as to not block anyone’s view, was my grinning husband—holding a video camera.
I turned to Julie and begged her to let me turn my back to the audience. There was just no way I would ever be able to do this if I had to face my dad, who was right there in the audience, I explained. My plea got a big laugh from the crowd and one rather loud, incredulous gasp. Julie took pity on me and allowed me to turn around.
I took a deep breath, swallowed my pride and did my best rendition of “Yeah Baby!” I scored nine out of 10—the judges deducted one point because apparently my last “Oh God” was not particularly convincing.
When all the contestants had finally finished and the last “Yippee” was groaned, I shamefacedly walked back to my group where some greeted me with a standing ovation while most were still doubled over with laughter. I never thought I would ever be the best at anything in my family. However, at that moment it didn’t matter that I wasn’t the fastest or the smartest or the best cook. I had just completely humiliated myself in front of a room full of strangers just to ensure my family could win a ridiculous trivia contest and some silly, useless bags. I realized the people I love adored me not because I was the best at something, but because I was willing to do anything for them.
But I was the best at something. I won the contest—and those ridiculous bags. Team Buttercow screamed for a re-match; sore losers the whole bunch of them. My cheap-yet-priceless cruise bag now hangs in my kitchen pantry. Every time I open the door, it puts a smile on my face. That bag, that silly bag, forever trumps the family’s biggest fish, best hole-in-one, or most delicious apple pie.