Like most people, my childhood was dominated by one primary goal: getting sick enough to stay home to watch game shows on morning television. I think we all made a sandwich out of the old mayonnaise in the back of the refrigerator, kissed the dog on the face, and sat in the bathroom for an hour with the heater on in hopes of getting a Symptom bad enough to get to stay home form school. You didn’t want to actually become ill, just… unwell. Fevers, sniffles, and coughs were pay dirt, diarrhea or a sore throat was acceptable, but vomiting meant you had Gone Too Far, and meant that you couldn’t have snacks while you were home, just Ritz crackers and Sprite. No sane adult can look at Sprite now without having a flashback to himself saying “Mom. Mom, come on. I won’t throw it up. Let me have some bacon. I hate crackers. I’m well. Not well enough for school, just bacon well. Mom. Bacon. Mo-om. MOM. Mom. Bacon,” stealing some bacon, and then vomiting the bacon.
But if you managed to get just a little parvo from the dog, you could have a wonderful few mornings. After the morning performance of “I Feel Bad,” America’s most popular song-and-dance, your parents would go to work (or, in some families, your father would go to work and your mother would pop a few Xanaxes and listen to murder mysteries on tape for a few hours…uh, let’s just say for example.) You were at home more or less alone in the daytime, which was the best thing EVER. (You know, if you didn’t have friends.) The good shows didn’t start for a while, so you had to occupy yourself with games like Drink the Syrup, See What the Dog Will Eat, and Hide in the Clothes Hamper. You could watch Nick at Nite, but they always filled the morning with crappy shows like “F Troop” and “Bewitched” with the second Darren.
Finally, the game shows started at about nine. There were a bewildering array of game shows in the early Nineties. That weird Scrabble with the back-and-forth letters and the weird sound effects. The (Amount Will Vary) Dollar pyramid, the rules of which I literally never figured out. Name That Tune, which I think was staged – no one can recognize “Lady in Red” from three notes, let alone “Stardust.” Press Your Luck, with Whammy and Tammy and the lights bouncing around the box. And, of course, the big ones: Hollywood Squares and The Price is Right.
Hollywood Squares. Lordy-lou, that was a gas. This was the era of Whoopi Goldberg in the center square, and if this Tulane Chris Thursdays gig lasts, you better believe I got a whole damn post about Whoopi just waiting in the wings. I don’t know why I liked this show, because I never knew who anyone on the periphery was. Now, as an alleged adult, I think the idea of Charo answering trivia questions is amazing, but back then I thought she was the Queen of Spain or something. (Fancy dress, spoke Spanish, famous for an obscure reason… it makes a little sense, admit.) I did, however, badly, badly want to be on Hollywood Squares so I could have a square. I picked out which one I wanted (top left) and I wondered if they’d let me decorate it. I was going to put houseplants in it, as well as a gold trashcan like my grandparents had in their study. For some reason, I thought this was “fancy.” Objectively, this is probably just a combination of two common childhood fantasies, fame and having one’s own place. It still makes me sound like a weird fucking little kid, though, which I apparently was.
Why is The Price is Right so much damn fun? Part of it is watching fat, marginally educated people jump up and down and scream while performing menial tasks for money. Actually, that’s probably all of it. The prizes were always kind of shitty. Even as a child, I wondered if I could get cash instead of a hutch or, God forbid, a pale salmon sectional sofa. I think they reused the same sofa set for seventeen years because no one wanted the damn thing. The Showcase Showdowns were the worst – you had a choice between a nautically themed living room set with a ship’s wheel coffee table and portholes agogo and a package tour to the People’s Islamic Republic of the Grand Duchy of Wallawallabingbangboom Days Inn Resort. People competed for these, tooth, nail, and arm fat – I remember one man spun the glittery wheel so hard it broke.
I was watching The Price is Right with my grandparents the other day, and I imagined what it would be like to be on it. I realized quickly that I was the last person they would choose. Imagine, if you will:
“Tulane Chris, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, come on down!”
“I am not from Philadelphia. My great-great-grandfather owned a plantation in…”
“Come on down!”
“…moved to Texas after the war, and so anyway I don’t have any actual Yankee blood, not that that’s necessarily…”
“COME ON DOWN.”
I walk sedately down the steps, one at a time, without hooting, hugging a stranger, or thanking Jesus or the Blessed Virgin.
“Tell us a little about yourself!”
“Well, my mother went into labor during Thanksgiving dinner of 1984, which I think is why we’ve had a difficult…”
“And next, we’ll be bidding on this lovely Supreme Court china set! Each Justice, past and present, has been hand-painted on a piece of fine bisque porcelain. From the William Howard Taft gravy boat to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg lazy Susan, this set is a collector’s dream! Bids!”
“I wouldn’t pay a dollar for that. Sandra Day O’Connor makes me nauseous enough with her looking up at me from a sherbet cup. As for that wet sack of hot crap, John Roberts…”
“Bid is one dollar, and since all others have overbid, you win!”
A sedate, hootless walk to the stage. There is a scuffle as I avoid hugging Drew Carey. I do poorly in the game, having estimated every price as “too Goddamn expensive, wasteful to pay that much for a blouse.” A lucky spin lands me in the SHOWCASE SHOWDOWN, where I insist that the other contestant take the polyester dinette set and the trip to Ebola Island. I am called a poor sport, and put on the Studio Audience Blacklist. My Supreme Court dishes and I have to take the Greyhound back, and I pay for road food by staging puppet shows where David Souter and Sonia Sotomayor have a fistfight for Felix Frankfurter’s attention.