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Last night was not looking good for trivia. If I don’t get at least three teams signed up, I have to cancel the show, which always makes me sad, and looking around bar, I wasn’t sure I could even scrounge up three. There were two old ladies getting ready to leave, a German couple who barely spoke English, and a few sad-sack guys slumped on their stools, nursing beers and staring at the TV.
Suddenly, a group of four people walked into the bar smiling, looking as if they were here to have fun and not just pickle themselves into oblivion. I grabbed a few answer pads and trotted up to ask if they wanted to play trivia. But no, they were here to play darts in the back.
So I made my way down the bar, asking each of the sad-sack guys in turn if they wanted to play trivia. No, no, no, each one told of them me. One guy just ignored me completely. The man at the end of the bar was engrossed with playing Angry Birds or something on his phone, so I didn’t even bother to ask him.
I went back to my table.
A few minutes later, the man from the end of the bar put away his phone and walked over to me. He was a nice-looking, middle-aged man who had gone a bit soft around the gut, but his eyes were bright and his teeth straight. He wore a green sweater that looked like it had been bought for him by his wife, or a female family member.
“Are you an honest person?” he asked me.
“I try to be,” I said.
“Will you be honest with me? Will you tell me the truth about something?”
“Sure,” I said slowly. He was starting to sound aggressive.
“Why did you ask everyone at the bar if they wanted to play trivia except for me?”
A jolt of adrenaline shot through my stomach. I hate being accused of wrong-doings.
“You were on your phone? I didn’t want to disturb you?” I wasn’t exactly being honest. I’ve harassed people on their phones plenty of times. The truth was that I’d just assumed that he, like everyone else, would say no.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “Do you want to play trivia?”
“Not now I don’t.” He stalked away.
I sat there feeling terrible. I hadn’t asked him because I had been tired of getting rejected. But he felt that I had rejected him. We’d both been thinking only of ourselves.
I glanced over at him, sitting at the end of the bar with a fresh beer. I wondered if I should go apologize, or if that would just make things worse.
Things were not looking good for trivia tonight.
At seven on the dot, Uncle Sam, the fifty-three-year-old autistic guy, showed up. His real name is Barry, but he goes by Uncle Sam and wears one of those red-white-and-blue striped Cat in the Hat hats. I’m not sure if he dons the hat just for trivia, or if this is an everyday, everywhere accessory, but it certainly makes him easy to spot. Uncle Sam walked up to my table and tapped at his watch.
“I know,” I said. “We might have to start late. I’m still trying to find enough teams. You’re the first person to sign up.”
“One down. Two to go,” he said. He knows the rules.
“I like your shirt,” I told him. “It’s very sparkly.”
He was wearing a bedazzled Spiderman t-shirt. It stretched over his enormous gut, and he had tucked it neatly into a pair of belted
Wrangler jeans. He barred his teeth at me, which is his attempt at a smile. Whenever he does it, he reminds me of a woodchuck getting ready to chow down on some wood.
“Did you know,” Uncle Sam said, “that the meningitis death toll is nineteen? And also the wildfire in California have burned fifteen acres and firefighters are still working to contain it. And that it is exactly twenty days until election day 2012?”
“No,” I said. “I didn’t know all that.”
Uncle Sam could go on like this all night, giving me tidbits of information and numerical facts, such as how many months younger he is
than Madonna. I looked over at the bar. The man in the green sweater was looking at me.
“I’ll see if I can find us some more teams,” I told Uncle Sam.
A couple had just walked in, and they agreed to play. The Shooters, they wanted to be called. Two down. One to go. I walked over to the man in the green sweater. “So, did I ruin my chances of getting you to play trivia?” I asked him, bracing myself for an angry response.
“I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I shouldn’t have said that to you.”
“No, no!” I pressed my hand to my heart. “I feel bad. I should have asked you. It’s just that I was so tired of getting rejected.”
“No, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m having a bad day.”
I smiled at him. “It’s funny. It made me think about how sometimes we don’t even realize how our smallest actions can affect other people, you know?”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “I’m going back to school for my bachelor’s, and I’m surrounded by twenty-year-olds all day. I just get tired of being treated like a….” He shook his head. “I don’t know.”
I nodded. “I can imagine.”
He sipped his beer.
“So do you want to play trivia?” I asked.
“No. I actually have to go soon.”
“Well, I hope you have a better day tomorrow,” I said.
The sad-sack guy two bar stools down leaned over to me. “Hey,” he said, motioning towards the answer pads in my hand. “I’ll give it a shot.” He wanted his team name to be Jimmy Joe.
* * *
By the time I started trivia, I had five teams signed up, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but believe me, it’s an accomplishment. The fifth team was a group of construction workers who came in late but I convinced them they should play anyway. “We’re not going to be any good at this,” they told me. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” I said. “Just give it a try.”
I headed back to my table and looked over at the bar. The man in the green sweater was gone, and in his place sat an old man with a long, gray beard.
As usual, Uncle Sam pulled a bar stool up next to my trivia table so he could be as close to me as possible. “Is it against the rules to read the newspaper during trivia?” he asked. I told him it was fine.
An old lady coming back from the bathroom stared at Uncle Sam, who was slouched on his bar stool reading the paper. When he turned and looked at her, she jumped back, startled. “Oh!” she said to me. “I thought he was one of those stuffed people!” She headed back to her table.
Uncle Sam didn’t seem offended. “Hey, Eva,” he said. “You have to read this editorial in the Opinion section. Here.” He started to hand me the newspaper.
“I can’t right now. I have to concentrate on trivia. But thanks.”
“OK” he said.
I picked up the microphone. “And the answer to question five is…Gone with the Wind!” Dead silence. “Come on, you guys,” I said. “It’s OK to clap for yourselves. A lot of you got that one right, and I’m really proud of you all. So when I give the answers, I don’t want to hear crickets. Let’s try that again. The answer is: Gone with the Wind.”
“Woohoo!” the Latecomers yelled. The Shooters clapped. Uncle Sam smiled his little woodchuck smile.
“Much better,” I said. “I want to hear that every time. Now, the next question is, what is the world’s largest structure that is made my living organisms other than humans?”
Suddenly, Old Gray-Beard came hobbling towards me. “What do you do? Tell you the answer?” he asked.
“Sure,” I told him. “You’re a little behind, but you can start playing now if you want to.” I handed him an answer pad and pencil.
“I don’t want to play. I just want to answer this one question,” he said. “I think I know the answer. I think. I’m not sure. I might not be able to spell it. But I think I know. I have an idea. Maybe. I’m just going to try.”
“Yes, please do! Go for it!” I told him. He took the pad back to the bar, and I watched him labor over it for a good three minutes.
Just as the song was ending, he came back. “And the answer,” I said into the mic, “is the Great Barrier Reef.”
The Latecomers cheered and gave each other high-fives.
I looked down at Gray-Beard’s answer sheet and saw what had taken him so long. He had written the answer in painstakingly beautiful cursive. It looked something like this:
Suddenly, I was full of a strange sort of love for these people. The sad men at the bar who were having bad days, or bad weeks, or bad years. Uncle Sam, who, as annoying as he was, just wanted to share information with me. The Latecomers, who were really getting into this game of trivia. And now Old Gray-Beard. Something about his Great Barrier Reef answer sheet touched my heart.
I turned it over and wrote:
I went back to my table and picked up the microphone. “And the answer is…Greenland,” I said.
“That’s OK, guys. We’ll do better on the next round. You all are doing such a great job.”
I know being a bar trivia night host doesn’t seem like a big deal, but even our smallest actions can have an affect on people.
All-in-all, it was a great night for trivia.