Thursday, February 4, 2010

Fifteen Minutes

There's a Nightline crew on campus interviewing our celebrity biologist about his upcoming National Geographic special. That brought back memories of my big TV appearance in high school.

It was nothing so glamorous as National Geographic. It was a quick recall contest sponsored by the state's PBS affiliate. We were brought in as fresh blood, the only one of the three competing teams that day that had never appeared on the show. We were expected to lose.

We arrived to find that of the teams scheduled for that day's taping, we were the only one that didn't have uniforms. The previous year's Grand Champion team had blue blazers and matching regimental neckties. I noticed immediately that I was the only girl out of the nine players on-camera.

One of the blue blazer boys made a comment about girls' inherent inferiority in quick recall.

Hopkins rose slightly from his seat. I eased him down, leaned around him, and flashed blue blazer boy my biggest, syrupiest smile. To his credit, Hopkins shuddered; he knew that I had just made eye contact with my prey. I patted him reassuringly on the arm, gave him a real smile, and turned toward the cameras.

We were barely leading as the moderator announced, at the end of the taping, "Today's lightning round category is...opera." A soft groan rose around the studio- what sixteen year-old kid knows anything about opera? All three coaches slouched hopelessly in their seats.

My father is an opera buff. I grew up with the "Marche Triomphale" from Aida thundering through the walls of the living room late at night. Hopkins looked stricken but gradually registered that I was tensed up like a jungle cat just before it pounces. The moderator got in one deep breath before I went into the zone; he ran out of questions before we ran out of time. I don't really remember exactly how it went down- I was so far gone that it was basically a blackout. I got to hear Hopkins tell that story a few times and I did see the show when it aired, but as for being there in the moment, I wasn't. Still, not bad for a girl.

The promotional photo is the best picture ever taken of me in my life. We're all grinning like idiots, including our coach. I looked like I'd just hit the lottery. It was a good day- no, it was a glorious day- in our odd little world. I made sure to give another big ol' saccharine smile to blue blazer boy as we were leaving, too. The show was single elimination; they wouldn't be back until next year.

I'd love to say that our second TV appearance went equally well. It didn't. We had a good day, but not a great one. We finished second and were eliminated. That wasn't fantastic, but it was okay. We'd proved our point the previous round; we weren't anybody's goats. If I'd distilled that first taping into a jar, it would've carried me through a lot of very dark days that lay ahead. I still remember the sheer joy of it, the sort of heady dizziness that we'd accomplished something truly special. My father recorded it on a Betamax- the tape is in the top drawer of my bureau at their house. Maybe someday, further down the road, I'll make an effort to have it transferred to a new format, but not now. It still cuts too close.

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