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Stress, pubs, and rock and roll

I’d had influenza for exactly one week and was beginning to feel the symptoms of crazy, and I think that is why I accidentally double-booked myself for bar trivia. I’d never done trivia in a bar before, and then somehow I managed to join two different quiz teams, each playing at 8PM CST on opposite sides of the city. Whoops! But I was very committed to meeting my friend Robyn for the quiz because, put together, we are a dainty, shrieking Ken Jennings.

I read somewhere that pub quizzes are more stressful than first-person shooters. I think I read that somewhere, anyway. (No, I just checked. It’s an actual video game called Pub Quiz, I see, that is so stressful, as opposed to a digital pub quiz.) But this sounds believable, right? Studying for the GRE is stressful. Taking tests is stressful. Public speaking is stressful. If I could only be on Jeopardy!, I could at long last fulfill my dream of vomiting on television. Without Robyn to steel me, I am not much like Ken Jennings at all. I have a numb brain and a slow trigger finger.

I felt both social and bloodthirsty, so I started my shit-talk well before the quiz began. But then, as our competitive spirit waned, Robyn and I decided to combine forces with our friends Brian and Ben. They let us join their team even though I had been emasculating them for an hour. That was a pretty shrewd move by all of us, though: Brian and Ben are versed in politics, movies, and history, but especially sports. They both are writers, too. Four writers at a table! And for as smart as we are, we are awfully loud and awfully good-looking.

I don’t mean to be a creep, or smug, but I did announce that we had the best-looking team by miles.

The quiz started. Guess what! Just one member of the team had two thumbs and zero idea who Clarence Darrow is: this gal!

The actress from Saving Grace? I started to write down “Brenda Blethyn.” Robyn slapped my hand. “Holly Hunter!” she hissed. Oh, a TV show! Not a movie!

“Oops, there is also a movie,” I told Robyn. Which I took my parents to see! Eleven years ago! I picked it! I drove us there! I’d already seen it once before! It’s about marijuana! And! My parents loved it!

Midway through the quiz, Robyn and I, who do not have the sports streak or zeal for self-improvement and exercise that Brian and Ben have, admitted that we each had become incredibly competitive. We had gone from giggling and slacking in round one to MIGHTY by round three.

“I have tasted blood, and I liked the flavor!” I said to Ben.

“See?” Ben said. “Now you are thinking like a winner.” Ben high-fived me.

“I think I should keep this feeling!” I said to him. “I don’t know when I stopped being competitive, and I think it’s my biggest problem. Content with my station in life.” Robyn and I nodded at each other, then, frowning.

What I remember best about trivia night last night is me-not-knowing-things, but the truth is, combined, our team knew almost everything. Brian knew the names of both Chicago restaurants (Alinea, L20) with three Michelin stars. Offhand, he knew! Fuck that guy! (I’d thought Brian was saying “Millennia,” also, so even after I’d been told the answer, I still did not know the answer.)

Robyn: “What’s a Michelin star?”

Me: “It’s, uh, the highest top honor. That you can give… food.”

The highest top honor you can give food. Great.

My high school drama coach signed me up for competitive extemporaneous speaking once. She had done it without consulting me, and then she assured me that I was smart, confident, composed, polished. She had a hunch about me. Isn’t that nice? And I had honestly never realized how inarticulate, blubbering, and gaspy I am, and then one day I am 16 and standing, frowning at the ceiling, in front of a human nightmare of smirking faces, and I feel myself turn red with watery eyes, and my voice is trembling violently. And also, I am twitching. This is crying in public! I would rather vomit in public, bleed in public, or be naked in public, than cry in public. And this was domestic extemporaneous. Can you imagine if it were foreign extemporaneous? That was when I learned to write down what I am going to say before I ever make a phone call. Not an outline; a real script. I will even plan my responses out. I will plan my responses to the AT&T service representative on the other end of the phone. Do you know what is more stressful than even the most stressful video game? The phone! Defusing a bomb! The humiliation that is making a show of your own incompetence! A pub quiz!

Robyn: “Oh, OK.”

Me: “Chef’s food. French?”

Robyn: “Michelin stars.”

I was on the verge of explaining the history of the Michelin Man, Bibendum, using gestures and magnetic poetry diseased brain pidgin alcohol word salad hemodynamism. And instead I ruefully clamped my jaw shut, in case another infant thought tried to fart out. Do you see why I picked Robyn as my teammate? Do you see how splendid and patient she is?

Boy George on Tuesday! This last Tuesday! Trivia Tuesday! Brian successfully deduced that Madagascar is the fourth-largest island. He did this by pointing at nothing and counting on his fingers.

What tree uses all five vowels? Sequoia.

What’s the ‘G’ in “G-spot” for? Gräfenberg.

“Gräfenberg,” Robyn and I whispered together.

“What?” Brian asked us. He had the pen.

“Gräfenberg,” we whispered simultaneously, louder.

Brian wrote a ‘G’ on the page. “What?” he asked us.

“Gräfenberg,” Robyn hissed.

“Gräfenberg,” I repeated in the same hiss.

Brian balked. “How do you spell that?” he asked me.

“How can you spell something that doesn’t exist?” Ben howled, slapping the table.

Then I needed help with celebrity gossip. “The star of Edward Scissorhands plus Kate Hudson’s son. Brian? Kate Hudson was married to a musician, but who, again?”

“Kate Hudson was married to Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes,” Brian replied. He is so cool and you would never know he is a dork, because he is unkempt but sharply dressed (my friend Whitney is accurate when she refers to the phenomenon as passing), but Brian almost gives himself away socially, because he uses complete sentences. Like, in casual, spoken conversation, he uses subjects and predicates. Isn’t that strange? Weird, right?

“WINONA RYDER ROBINSON!” I said. “Wonderful!” Other answers from that round: Holly Hunter S. Thompson, Daryl Hannah Montana, Pee-Wee Herman Melville, Jennie Garth Brooks, Soulja Boy George, et cetera. That last one, “Crank That rap artist and Karma Chameleon singer,” I did not even have to think about. I had command of the pen for that round only, and I’d just started writing.

“Whoa, whoa. Wait,” Ben said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, OK, no yeah, ha ha. I know the words to ‘Crank That,’” I said. “It is the worst song. So I’m very sure.” I’m sure that it is an entire song about splooge.

“Wow!” Robyn said.

One question stumped us all, however: “What 1981 Journey album includes the song Don’t Stop Believin’?”

We sat there, staring into our drinks.

Brian regretted aloud that the question wasn’t about Foreigner. He would’ve had the answer for sure! That’s a pretty good joke.

After another terrible silence, I whispered, “If we can’t think of anything, try Self-Titled. No! Wait! I know! Write in ‘Greatest Hits’!”

Ben roared. I was a genius! “1981,” Robyn sighed. Then we all sighed. I was not a genius.

Robyn made little invisible circles on the table with her green glass Woodchuck bottle. “I can sort of see the album cover in my head. It’s blue.”

She said that, and it jogged my brain. If my brain is a constellation of neurological lights, a too-small Ursa lit up. “If only this question were about the Journey game for the Atari,” I frowned, “I’d be useful.”

Can you believe that I said that aloud, even. About a videogame from 1982. Can you already see how I am an imbecile?

I played through the whole game in my head. There is a discordant, chippy version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” playing, and then the game really begins. You are an actual member of the world-famous rock band, Journey. You have just played a show, and because you are so famous and good-looking, you now have to escape your lovestruck fans (represented by hearts with legs), escape from conniving unscrupulous concert promoters, and escape the paparazzi flashbulbs. It’s an entire video game about having social anxiety! So you are racing toward your spaceship, yes, spaceship, which is shaped, hmm, is it shaped like a trilobite?

No, no, it is shaped like a plain old beetle type of bug. Or like a scarab beetle, that’s what I had been trying to think of. Your sprite is running toward a big scarab. You would never know that the bug icon is supposed to be a spaceship, judging the television screen itself, but if you had taken the time to look at the box, you would know that there is a scarab-shaped spacecraft on its cover. Ha, ha! That’s right! The whole game concept is based entirely on the nonsensical cover art fantasy painting of a bug-shaped spacecraft exploding—I’m sorry, escaping—from a, uh, a, uh, a big blue spherical orb. Blue. Blue.


I clapped a hand over my eyes.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” I whispered to my teammates. “I’m so sorry. I am so dumb. The Atari game is called Journey Escape, and it is based on some weird album art, and I bet that means the album is called Escape.”

Everybody was amazed.

The point is, we won. We won first place! And we didn’t just win by a handful of points. The distance between first and second place was incredible. We amazed even ourselves. We were the greatest butt rock metal band ever. We agreed that our team was made of magic and that we would meet the very next week to DESTROY SOME MORE DREAMS and also, to spend our gift certificate.

We also won koozies.

Outside, a man was belittling Robyn, so I walked over and stood next to her. He introduced himself as a member of team Third Place. Then he was mean to me. I was grinning so big, just the sorest winner ever. His ire was like a high five and a slap on the back. His ire was greater reward than any piddling gift certificate. ALL IS FAIR IN ROCK AND WAR, MISTER THIRD PLACE.

3 responses to “Stress, pubs, and rock and roll” »

  1. karobit says:

    As someone who loves trivia games, mourns nightly the loss of xbla’s 1 vs 100, and would love to go to pub trivia if he drank, I love this story. Thanks.

    • Jenn Frank says:

      Man! I was about to recommend a couple different quizzes here in Chicago, and suddenly I realize I had assumed you live near Chicago (which, no, you do not). On a happier note, being the soberest player ought not be a hindrance, and the kinds of places with quizzes tend, too, to have tater tots galore.

  2. Kevin says:

    Journey Escape is an awesome and confounding game when you are a child. To this day I’m not entirely certain why robots and the Kool-Aid Man are actively assisting Journey in getting to their yellow… thing, but that chippy Don’t Stop Believin’ fills me with nostalgia every time.

    It’s also one of the few games my mother played heavily, and was actually the one that caused her to stop playing games after she had cleared it with the whole band. As she figured, what was the point of playing it again if you’ve already beaten it?

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