Well guess what? I’ve MET him. I’ve HUNG OUT with him.
See, my friend Jessie Christensen used to be on some BYU College Bowl of Smart People with him and they did world tours or visited Idaho occasionally or something. (I’m a little unclear on the specifics because I’ve never won millions of dollars on Jeopardy because of my breathtaking memory.) At any rate Jessie invited our family over for dinner one night to celebrate her son’s birthday. It was gonna be a small family thing, a few friends, some good food because Jessie’s a great cook. No big deal.
Except, when we got there, Ken Jennings was there with his family. And nobody else. Us. The Christensens. And the Jennings.
I was like “Oh, hello Ken Jennings…” and then I looked away awkwardly for a moment, not sure of what to do next.
Soon the pressure to talk in order to end the silence leads you to contemplate another conversation starter, but your brain defaults to: “this guy knows a lot of trivia. I know what I’ll do! I’ll think of the most trivial thing in the entire world and totally stump him.” This plan seems like a fun, engaging choice until you realize you don’t know any trivia other than the very rudimentary knowledge of your fields of study. This leads you to think of gripping questions like “what language is primarily spoken in England?” (answer: English) or “what letter does the word ‘therapy’ start with?” (answer: does “th” count as a letter?) or “what was my second minor again?” (answer: who the crap gets two minors in undergrad? Someone who’s too cool for paychecks, that’s who.)
As a last ditch effort, your brain decides it might be cool to ask something really original and probing like “So, is your real name actually Kenneth?” but before you get the chance Jessie comes in and sits down with her husband Ben. Whew. Pressure’s off. Except, oh no, what is this? Jessie and Ken start talking about… stuff. First there is a discussion about art or something, and then somehow the conversation funnels down to a discussion of Holy Week in Latin American countries as opposed to Spain (where Jessie, her husband Ben, and Ken all served their LDS mission) and I may have, sorta, kinda said something that wasn’t true at this point.
The convo went something like this:
Jessie: Yeah, I can’t exactly remember what Holy Week is like in Latin America. Josh, you lived in Venezuela. What do you remember about it?
Me: (looks up, doe eyed, distracted from counting and recounting how many fingers he has (do thumbs count as 1 or 1/2???)) W…w…what?
Ken: We’re trying to remember how Holy Week is celebrated in Latin America. Do you remember?
Me: Is that the same thing as Semana Santa?
Jessie: …Yeah. That’s a direct translation. Do you remember how they celebrate it?
Me:(stuttering) I’m…a… pretty sure they ride actual donkeys to emulate Palm Sunday… and then go straight to Lent… followed by Rosh Hashanah… and a parade featuring salt-water taffy and rain dancing…
Ken: Hmmm, I don’t remember reading that…
and then, somehow, I found myself unintentionally asserting that whatever it was I had said was correct. Not explicitly. But somehow, in my demeanor, I accidentally looked like I was sitting across from Ken Jennings, a man who has won Jeopardy more times than I have watched Jeopardy, saying “you know? I think you’re wrong about an item of trivia I’ve never studied.”
It was awesome.
Thankfully, the guy’s gracious. I think he might have even said “Well, you might be right…”
No Ken. No. I wasn’t right. I was barely even able to track the fact that six people were engaged in a simultaneous conversation. I was probably strained at having to breathe and speak at the same time. I most certainly don’t know squat about Holy Week in Latin America. But thank you for not making me feel stupid because you’re a genuinely nice guy.
Anyway, it was about this time (HEY, when did I switch tenses? English just tricked me!) that Jessie threw out the idea that maybe we should play trivial pursuit.
Seriously Jessie? SERIOUSLY?
It only took a moment for my brain to log what this would look like. Ken Jennings, Jeopardy champion, playing with Jessie, who has qualified two or three times to be on Jeopardy herself, and their spouses who are also very smart, and Wife who runs circles around me in knowledge of trivia, playing against me, who recently pooped his pants on a run when there was a porta-potty about ten feet away from him, and who tends to get lost on the way back from any bathroom, anywhere, and who, just today, couldn’t remember if the percent sign goes before or after the number (it’s confusing, okay?)
Yeah. That would have been rousing.
Thankfully, other voices of dissent ruled, and the idea was shot down. And then we had hot chocolate and cake and, and as the evening wore on, I for one ended up having a good time..
But I’ll always remember how close I came. How close I came to playing Trivial Pursuit with arguably the most brilliant trivial mind alive today. And how close I came to losing so drastically that my self-esteem was irreparably, irretrievably destroyed.
Ah, the memories…