Question: How long have you watched “Jeopardy?”
In Birmingham, Alabama, it aired every morning at 10:30, its original host, Art Fleming, encouraging the audience to think hard, think fast, but also to think outside the norm. Though oftentimes players had to be reminded to respond to the answer in the form of a question, most people got it. Even at age nine, I got it quickly, though I seldom knew the answers, much less the questions offered.
Categories like “Shakespeare” and “Physics” didn’t trouble me because I knew that I didn’t know anything about their content yet. Instead, it was “Potpourri,” “Odds and Ends,” and “Hodgepodge” that left me wondering about the geniuses behind the show. If you’d “answered” me the following: “Hodgepodge, Potpourri, and Odds and Ends,” I would have questioned: “What three Jeopardy categories amount to the same thing?”
No on-air contestant ever complained about the indistinctiveness. I suppose they were too busy trying to question the answers to “Aviation and Space” or “Proverbs.” So I assumed it was just me who bothered himself about these quirks of Jeopardy and that this was yet another example of my asking the wrong questions or, in this case, answering them.
Even in my childhood, I felt like a question waiting for some answer to choose me. Or maybe I was the Daily Double: a half-Jewish kid living on a sunny avenue in Waspish Bessemer, Alabama, with his two parents, one grandmother, one brother, a variety of dogs and my New York Yankees t-shirt featuring the M&M boys stuck like adhesive to my torso. I loved bologna plain, fried, and kosher. I demanded that my mother buy offbeat books from a wired basket displayed on the coffee aisle at Bruno’s Grocery, and I preferred to be sitting at home watching Jeopardy rather than play the outdoors competitive games of childhood.
I don’t know how I would have labeled myself had I been a category on Jeopardy. But when it came to answers and questions in formal settings, I had a knack for getting things just skewed enough to disturb and provoke my questioners I wasn’t trying to defy the authorities governing my show. I simply knew what I knew, thought what I thought. However, I always answered in the right form, and only when called upon.
It seemed that all I ever won was that moment of silence when those questioners wondered what game show stage I had wandered onto by mistake.