“The Bear Who Auditioned First” [On parlaying a Jeopardy! audition three weeks ago into fifteen minutes of fame, then into a lifetime as a cherished cultural icon.]

Please note: For the piece itself I will forgo the exclamation point after Jeopardy. It is stupid. If they had one of those Spanish upside-down exclamation points before it, too, I would happily reconsider.

This morning I’m in a coffee shop writing. I forgot my earbuds, and I’m way too lazy to walk out to the car and grab my “emergency” pair. Then I remembered that I auditioned for Jeopardy three weeks ago, and, as parting gifts, they gave me a set of Jeopardy! earbuds and a Jeopardy pen. “Please do not use the pen as a ‘practice’ buzzer. We do not travel the country to hear people click pens.” Noted. The earbuds came in a little Jeopardy blue pouch –Pantone 2935 U, because if you want to be on Jeopardy, you need to know these things. I took the pouch out of my bag, removed the buds, and flopped the pouch on my table. It landed logo-side-down.

IMG_1183That would not do. I flipped the pouch over. Now folks coming through the front door of Luck Brothers Coffee can see the blue of the pouch highlighted against the black of the café table. This is by design. When the eye is fully adjusted to darkness, blue stands out against a black background more than any other color. This is why railroad signals and those little reflectors people in the country use to mark their driveways are blue. Yes, it’s bright sunny out today, and everyone’s eyes are adjusting in the opposite direction, but if someone does ask me about the pouch I can tell them all about blue reflectors. And they will say, “Wow! You certainly do belong on Jeopardy!”

In my time as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ (I figure I should start trademarking various aspects of my upcoming fame and icon-hood), I have been amazed at how many people are interested in the audition process. As luck would have it, my audition coincided with a visit to NYC to see friends that I was already planning. (I used to live in NYC. If someone asks about the blue pouch, I can also work in that I used to live in NYC. Moreover, I will tell them I lived in Brooklyn because that’s more specific, and people crave specificity –especially specificity that involves the word “Brooklyn.”) So in NYC, instead answering “Why are you visiting?” with “Columbus is boring.” I could proudly say, “I had a Jeopardy audition.”

Then they would inhale a little bit, maybe subconsciously stroke their hair or beard with a couple fingers. “You did?!? Please do tell me all about it? This will certainly be enlightening and fill an intellectual void I did not know I had.”

I gave the people –Would it be wrong at this stage to refer to them as “my” people? –what they wanted:

“I didn’t think I did that well on the online test. But I guess it was difficult for everyone.”

“About three hours.”

“In the Gershwin Rooms at the Westin Times Square. Both of them. I and II.”

“I was the only one in the place who knew what a motte and bailey castle was.” [NOTE: This should always be accompanied with a pause to give the conversation partner the chance to demonstrate their knowledge of Norman castle architecture. When no reply comes, try not to nod too patronizingly when explaining that “motte” comes from the Old French for “mound.” People dig both etymology and controlled nodding!]

“They don’t start taping again until July, so I wouldn’t hear anything to at least June.”

“Pretty good I think. But I need to brush up on my Catholic university sports history and Cardi B song titles.”

“Have you heard my pen anecdote yet?”

On the Saturday after the audition, I attended a friend’s birthday barbeque in an extremely crowded Bushwick backyard. I hate crowds. I also hate small talk. Normally, I would find a place outside the main flow to stand with my arms akimbo. People normally turn right upon entering a space; this knowledge can aid much when choosing a party stand. This time, however, I felt free to move about armed as I was with actual interesting small talk.

I’m definitely going to have to budget my exposure when I become a public figure. It’s exhausting telling people how brilliant you are.

At one point about two hours into the barbeque, I needed a respite. I found a close friend who was hiding in a hammock at the back of the yard. His husband had passed away a couple of weeks earlier, and this was his first real social outing. He seemed taxed from everyone coming up to him and reminding him that his husband was dead. I put a hand on his shoulder and said, “I think I know what you’re going through. People won’t stop asking me about Jeopardy.”

I figure an odd combo of empathy and self-centered inappropriateness will be one of my signature charming quirks when I become a cherished cultural icon.

Mind you, I kept that inappropriate streak in complete check during the audition. I was a good boy for nearly three hours. Said please and thank you. Stood without my arms akimbo. Didn’t say, “Fuck me!” like I did during that one audition for a movie trivia game show after I couldn’t identify the female lead in the third Indiana Jones movie. (It’s Allison Doody.) Took a stab at eye contact.

I think I even hid my involuntary eye roll when a young Auditioneer™, maybe nineteen, said he wanted to go on Jeopardy to honor his friend who was “a survivor of the Parkland shooting.” Really? Seems a tenuous connection at best. Then the room muttered approvingly in a “Thank you for your service” tone. And for the rest of his interview, the casting agents treated him with kid gloves, like the way an airline rep does after you ask for a bereavement fare. Hell, I probably nodded along, too, because, you know, that signature empathy North America will love.

But the kid had nailed it. He had a brand. The casting agents will forever know him as “Parkland Guy.” What am I? Fat guy from Ohio with a beard looking uncomfortable in a Men’s Wearhouse sportcoat? That’s not a brand; that’s a Venn diagram and not even a good one. Everyone knows Venn diagrams get weird after three sets.

I steadied myself self by rationalizing that my brand with the casting agents should be “The Guy Who Auditioned First.” When the agents returned to the Gershwin II room after grading our responses to a fifty-question quiz on fifty different categories, they announced they would be calling us up to the front of the room “in no particular order.” I was called first. There’s definitely an order. As they were facing the Auditioneers™, I was at the front and first on the left. But then they called on some woman from the middle of the room. Therefore, I can only assume they were going in descending order of quiz scores. I can’t imagine anyone getting both Villanova and “Bodak Yellow” correct and not missing anything else.

I was a role model as “The Guy Who Auditioned First.” I will admit that when I answered the very first question correctly, the lead casting agent did remind me to speak up. But he would’ve told anyone going first to speak up. People who speak at proper volume on the first try come off as pushy, and that is decidedly off-brand. When I answered the next question correctly, I summoned up all my improv training and PROJECTED. I did so without over-enunciating, which is my greatest Jeopardy contestant peeve after people who lean on the podium with one elbow.

And I was a god on the buzzer. Yes, I rang in too early once. But after the next question: “I hope everyone notices how Chris corrected himself on the buzzer. Good job.” Any more winning like that, and the rest of the room was going to beat me up afterwards for blowing the curve.

Then came the interview to evaluate us for that part of the show everyone fast-forwards through when there are just three of them. This was thirty of them. Please do not pretend the buttons on your pens are fast-forward buttons. We had each provided the agents with five “interesting” things about ourselves. I had five good ones, none of which resorted to cat ownership.

(We all let out a sad sigh when a woman went to the cat-well during her interview. “There for the grace of God, go I,” thought a room full of folks who probably all had cats.)

I was ready with a precise anecdote about seeing a gay pride parade in Budapest that no one was allowed to watch. They called it a Dignity Procession. It’s anecdote gold! And then casting agents will know me as “The Gay Dude Who Auditioned First.” And when the casting folks go over their notes, the ginger twink who ran the camera for them will tell them all about bears. He never left the room. He was always watching. He couldn’t help himself; I was in the front row. And since science has proven that all twinks secretly covet bears, he will definitely bring up the whole bear thing to his bosses.

My fifteen minutes of fame will start among the gay bear community. I have a few friends in the community who I like to believe could qualify as minor bear-lebrities (a portmanteau that people actually use). They will chatter about me on their social medias and location-based dating apps. From there it’s up to me. That is not a problem. All I need is a toe-hold. It stands to reason I will go mainstream when North America discovers I’m cuddly and non-threatening. And, I say “North America” because I will test well in Canada as I have a really adorable way of pronouncing “sorry.”

But the agents didn’t ask me about any of my interestings. My heart sank when he asked me “What do you do?” This was going to be frigging small talk. One of my endearing traits is how much I hate small talk. Didn’t this guy get the brand-awareness memo? Then: “What are your hobbies?” Who the fuck has hobbies? If I had a cool hobby, don’t you think that would’ve been one of my five things? I said, “Uhh, I like to go on long road trips to nowhere,” sounding way too much like a Playboy centerfold from 1974 attempting to spice up the standard “long walks on the beach.” Long road trips didn’t really seem to register with the agents, so I sputtered out, “I also collect…”

I don’t collect anything. I was heading into the land of lies, the land of creative non-fiction.

“…sports pennants.” I haven’t added a new pennant to my collection since 1982. Outside of the occasional Packers game (QB Aaron Rodgers won Celebrity Jeopardy! in 2015) and my quadrennial fixation with Olympic curling, I don’t even like sports. But I was now basic ill-fitting khaki sports guy from Ohio. How are the gay bears supposed to kickstart my fifteen minutes if they think I like the sportsball?

“Oh. How many do you have?”

“Between 350 and 400.” Lies! I only have around 175.

“What’s your most valuable one?” I so wanted to blurt out, “The one I got at the goddammed Dignity Procession!” But then the specificity that North America craves kicked in: “A 1973 Met National League Championship one with a team photo. I got it when my dad took me to see them in World Series at Shea.”

Not bad. Managed to combine America’s pastime with fatherhood. The lead agent nodded his head. I could live with being America’s basic straight khaki guy. I could pass as straight for the length of a game show. Twenty-two minutes of airtime per show multiplied by, let’s say, fifteen shows equals three and a half hours. Yeah, I could do that. I was in the closet til I was thirty-three. I can do three and a half hours of straight on my head. And as a cuddly asexuality is part of my brand, it could only serve to unlock North America’s love.

No, I must remain true to myself. I owe it to the twinks. I got to get the whole bear thing back on track.

Throughout the beginning of my fifteen-show run, I can always drop a few dog whistles for the bears. Maybe do that stupid smirk all bears do in selfies when the camera’s on me for ten seconds on the first show. Drop in a “Woof!” after a true Daily Double on the fourth. Run a category called “Beard Soup” (“I’ll name a soup; you tell which 19th century President would order that soup in a deli.”) on the eighth. Then I’ll hit them with the Budapest Dignity Procession during my interview on the eleventh. The next day, both AV Club and New York magazine will do a short piece on me; one paragraph of each will be given up to explaining what exactly a bear is. The public’s interest will be piqued, and I will begin my run as North America’s Accessi-Bear.™ I think my people are ready for Accessi-Bear. The whole bear thing is kinda played out in the gay community proper anyways, and it’s time the whole bear thing joined “YASSS Kween!” in the mainstream.

With increased visibility comes increased social responsibility. Therefore, we also will maintain a healthy body image. Please not that I am not using the “royal” we; I assume that I will, over time, gather an entourage. They will always be “on message.” One’s entire posse should reflect his goals. We will maintain a healthy body image as a squad. There will be no self-loathing. The proper posse is a hierarchy; all self-loathing will start at the top. I wore a dark green oxford under my dark jacket. Both were slimming. Unfortunately, the sleeves of the oxford stuck out a few inches past the cuff of my jacket, which had been altered to match my stubby arms. I pray the casting agents won’t think my T-rex arms would look strange operating a buzzer. They’ve probably focus grouped various body configurations and how they look against Pantone 2935 U.

I will need to practice standing in front of a blue background for the next few months.

I cannot stand weirdly. The bears, the twinks, and by extension, all of North America, are counting on me. All role models have good posture.

Once I figure out how to stand, I can then concentrate on my line of XXL plaid shirts with inspirational smart things written on the tags to uplift North America in a body-positive way. Then I can navigate my four-way Twitter feud with Ken Jennings, Mila Kunis, and Trixie Mattel. There will be some blowback from the Twitter feud because I will foolishly underestimate how much North America loves Mila Kunis even though she will know what she did. TMZ will side against me. Unflattering photos that have nothing to do with body image will be shown.

I will explain them away by saying, “Well, last Tuesday was a different era.” For some reason this will work.

Then it will be time for my comeback tour. It will start on a special edition of Jeopardy where I will compete against IBM’s Watson 2.0 and genetically enhanced dolphin named Algernon.

Algernon and I will get gay-married early in 2021. We will sell the photo rights to In Touch magazine for $2.7 million.

But first, I think I need to adjust the Jeopardy! pouch so that the logo faces the door as people come into the coffee shop. This will allow people more time to come to grips with being in the same room as a Jeopardy Auditioneer™ and formulate their small talk accordingly.

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