So, back in the dark days of consistent unemployment, in the midst of scanning newspapers and the Internet for any sign of a decent job (or at least an affordable "Caddyshack 2" poster on eBay), I found out that the producers of the new daytime version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" would be holding an open audition at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan.
This was it, I thought. My desperate need for cash was about to come face-to-face with a lifelong desire to be on a game show, and this clash would lead to me becoming a millionaire. Or at least a $32,000aire (pretax), because I knew that would be a piece of cake. Yessir, the worm was turning.
Since I had already met up with my personality inadequacies at a "Weakest Link" audition (see Critical, But Stable, pp. 93-98; cover price: $11.95), I was determined to stand out this time. So I put on my best Hawaiian shirt (well, really my second-best, but I thought the hot pink one would be a bit much) and headed out to the Hard Rock. And when it came time to fill out the personality questionnaire, I mentioned my lack of exciting achievements in a winking, clever way that signaled that I was in on the joke. Sure, maybe my eighth-grade spelling bee success was as wild as I got, but my willingness to mock my blandness would surely indicate that I was a guy who could deftly handle a head-to-head with Meredith Vieira. America, or at least the portion of America with the time to watch afternoon game shows, was surely going to fall in love with me as I climbed my way to a cool million. Or a hot million. Whichever temperature million they would give me would be fine.
Of course, before my personality would have a chance to dazzle the couchbound, I would actually have to demonstrate that I was smart enough to pass the written quiz. After I finished the test, I thought my chances were pretty good. I had only come up blank on a few and I felt much more confident than I did after the "Weakest Link" audition. And as I talked to the other potential contestants and compared answers, my confidence grew. Then, sure enough, my number was called. I had made it to the next round. The interview round, where the producers would talk to everyone individually for about five minutes and decide in that time if we were TV-ready.
C'mon. I was a self-mocking, unemployed but clever guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt. This was a lock.
See, the problem is that, once again, I felt obligated to mention on my personality questionnaire that I was an autograph collector. It's an admission that grows more embarrassing by the day, but it's also the type of thing that I sense impresses producers. It seems to say, "Oooh, he must have some good stories!" And I do have a few. But my best one--that's the one that did me in.
After exchanging pleasantries and being told that my shirt was the best they'd seen that day (score!), talk turned to my unemployment (which I deftly mocked) and then the autograph collecting. They asked me what my favorite signature was, which is an entertaining story to me, but I realize that saying that the autograph I treasure most is from William Hickey, the guy who played Uncle Louis in "Christmas Vacation" and Billy Sparrow in "My Blue Heaven," isn't really an attention-grabber. And that was confirmed after one of the producers steered me away to another question after only a few seconds of me trying to explain why the autograph meant so much. Then, the producer tried "What's your most valuable autograph?" Again, I don't have an interesting answer. In fact, I don't have any idea. If you've seen the apartment, you are keenly aware that I'm not collecting valuable autographs. Unless professional wrestler Dusty Rhodes murders someone. Then that one will skyrocket in value. Steaks are on me.
Anyway, we finally hit upon the fatal question: "Do you have any good collecting stories?"
Well, yes, I did. And whenever someone asks me that question, I've got my A-1 story. I don't even think about it, which, it turns out, can be a bad thing. It goes like this:
I have this Woodstock poster that's signed by a lot of musicians that played at the original festival in 1969. For a good portion of my younger years, I was determined to get as many signatures on it as possible. Most of the time, that was a fun pursuit, because I got to meet Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Garth Hudson from the Band; John Fogerty; Arlo Guthrie; and other people I like and respect. But the collector's mind compels him to try to get everybody to sign the poster. Everybody. Even lifeless fat asses like David Crosby.
So when Crosby, Stills, and Nash's bus pulled in front of the Beacon Theater stage door for afternoon soundcheck, I was there waiting with my Woodstock poster, along with another collector we used to call "Sniffles" because he either had real bad sinus problems or a horrible cocaine addiction. Waiting with him meant hours of sniffing and constant mindless chatter about his experiences and his Fillmore posters and how he didn't sell them and blah blah blah.
So it had already been a good solid hour of that before Graham Nash bolted out of the bus, ignoring Sniffles's cries of "GrahampleasestopGrahamsignmypostersGrahamwe'vebeenwaitingfor hoursGrahamplease" and my silent indifference. I'd heard Stills was the only decent one of the three, so I reasoned that if I could just get him, it would be a successful day. Sure enough, after coming out of the bus, he quickly signed a few things, and then got some more done after soundcheck was over. Graham Nash, we were told, was inside taking a nap. Soundchecks, apparently, are very draining.
I had completely written off David Crosby, because he had a reputation for being a world-class crank, right up there with Chuck Berry as one of the most ornery signers in music. Plus he had recently had a liver transplant and really wasn't looking all that great (though, really, has he ever looked all that great?). So when he waddled out of the bus, oblivious to Sniffles's pleas and whining, I wasn't particularly stunned. Oh well. I guess I'll stick around, since I have nothing else to do.
But then, after soundcheck, something, some divine force, compelled David Crosby to stop shuffling back to the bus and sign for the three people waiting behind the police barricade (there was one other guy who, I think, wanted him to sign a postcard or something). But it wouldn't be easy for him. And he had a message to deliver to us, an important declaration that we would be wise to soak up. And, so, as he signed my poster and moved on to Sniffles, he said the following:
"If I ever find out that any of you guys are selling these, I hope your dicks fall off."
Y'know, I like that story. I tell it pretty well. But you know who didn't like it? One of the "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" producers.
"Oh, I didn't know we'd be cursing today," she said. As she said this, she had a look on her face that suggested I had just shit in her Corn Flakes. Excuse me, moved my bowels in her Corn Flakes.
I tried to recover, tried explaining that "dicks" really wasn't a curse per se. She suggested that maybe I should have considered substituting another word there. But "dicks" makes the story. I suppose "cocks" would be an acceptable trade-off, but that probably wouldn't have worked in the situation. "Penises" wouldn't have had the same punch.
In any case, the interview was pretty much over. I'm sure I said something after The Dick Incident, but it was of no use. I could have mentioned that I rescued a collection of babies and kittens from a threshing machine and lost a foot in the process and it wouldn't have made a difference. The producers just said goodbye and the one I most offended wished me luck in my job search.
There would be no callback. No hot seat. No witty banter with Meredith Vieira. Done. Over. Final answer.
But, for the record, my, um, well, you know, my, er, thing has not fallen off.