I entered my first game show at the age of 15. It was for young adults and it was a quiz show, much like Jeopardy. I played Trivial Pursuit, a gift for getting through the first round of tryouts, for 5 weeks straight before my premiere with anyone I could beg to play. My parents over cereal breakfasts. Late into the night with my friends. I would bring the game to school and play with my classmates after school, my teachers during lunch breaks. On Saturday mornings, I would bring the game to Schroeder Park across town and pursue trivial knowledge with strangers. In return for their time, I would give them Pokémon cards and MLB Player stat cards, my most prized possessions.
I won three rounds of the show in a row, one per week. In total I won $1,000, walking immediately to the T.D. Bank downtown with the freshly sealed envelope tucked in my jacket pocket. It was a wave of money crashing over a 15-year-old. But, even better than the prize money was being the best at something, at game shows. It was the first time I’d realized a talent in myself. I am good at remembering trivial facts.
The following seven years filled my agenda with game show competitions across the continental U.S. A new show nearly every other week meant that I was training in-season constantly. My parents placed trophy after trophy above the fireplace in the living room, displaying the triumphs of my brain to anyone who walked through the door. They were proud, I was talented; a gene pool success!
One day in March the perfect reign of my factual kingdom came crashing down. It came in the form of a telephone call. A female telemarketer, asking by name, for me.
“Is Gregory Hammond available?”
I should have hung up. No one called the house for me, ever. Except for Grandma Millie every June, but every word was a yell, “HAPPY (Deep breath) BIRTHDAY (Deep breath) GREGGY (Sigh).” But instead I responded, stupidly.
“Yes, he is speaking.”
“I’m calling from Brickenworth University. This call is simply a general survey to review the area’s student-age population and their aspirations. May I ask, what is your favorite quality about yourself?”
“Quality? I’m not sure what that means. My ability to focus I guess.”
“Great! What a nice quality to value,” the automated voice belched out, “another question for you, how would you describe yourself in 10 words?”
“Um. That’s weird one. No one’s ever asked me that before. I don’t know…I’m good at quizzes?”
A muffled noise one the other end of the line, and an actual human voice responds.
“Oh! What an interesting way to describe yourself. One last question for the survey, if you don’t mind, how would you describe the person you would like to become? In other words, who do you want to be?”
I slam the phone on the side table, missing the cradle entirely. I leave it there and run, actually run, to the kitchen. Who do I want to be? What kind of question is that? I’ve known the answer to every question I’d been asked in years. Who’s the first non-human to win an Oscar? Mickey Mouse. What is a group of bears called? A sleuth. Who was the Sun God of Ancient Egypt? Rah. What part of the body do bugs most commonly bite? The foot. Who do I want to be? All I can see is a massive, slowly spinning disco ball, lighting up hundreds of new blinding squares every second. It won’t stop spinning.