Tag Archives: personal essay

Trivial Pursuits

by Hope Madden

It has been ten years since George and I packed our bags for a trip to Orlando to try out for VH1’s “World Series of Pop Culture”—a game show where teams battle each other for the title of biggest movie/music/TV trivia nerd.

My husband and I had watched the first season with our then-14-year-old son Riley and sought to impress him with our heady command of all things trivial. He was duly impressed and mounted an all-out campaign to persuade us to audition for season two.

He didn’t have to try too hard. We flattered ourselves that we easily could have trounced any team from season one—something I’m still hard-pressed to disbelieve. The champion missed questions about Caddyshack, Star Wars and Monty Python.

And you call yourself a nerd!

By comparison, between film reviews and George’s radio gig (a job he’s had since high school, by the way), we know movies and music.

But we did have one big weakness: George and I haven’t watched a TV show since The Sopranos went off the air.

It occurred to me that my friend Martha seems to watch every program on every channel at all times. I proposed the idea to her of joining our team and she nervously accepted.

One problem: my vanity. Martha is stunningly attractive and I realized I didn’t look forward to being the team frump.

Meanwhile, George had asked his friend Dan, who also watches no TV, to join the team. And though Dan’s strengths were basically the same as ours, he’s no prettier than I am. Excellent.

So, we kicked Martha to the curb and Shark Sandwich—named after the Spinal Tap album—was born.

Martha, by the way, took it well since she was hoping the audition wouldn’t come to pass anyway.

Because we were especially weak when it came to reality TV, we hatched a strategy. Whenever we were asked about the subject, we would answer “Flavor Flav.” This was 2007, after all, and he was literally the only reality TV star we knew.

I found this strategy so amusing that I considered using it in everyday life.

Officer friendly: Do you know how fast you were driving, ma’am?

Me: Flavor Flav?

In Orlando, hundreds of teams were tested over three days. We’d already passed their online test, which is how we got the Orlando invite. Once there, Shark Sandwich and 39 other squads of wannabes were ushered into a hotel ballroom to take a 50-question exam.

We were given half an hour to complete it, and the top two point-getters would move on to the next round: a face-to-face interview with producers. The other 38 teams would go home and the next 40 teams would move into the ballroom.

My teammates were supremely confident, but I was nervous about the test. I signed a contract, so under penalty of law I cannot divulge any questions. Still, if you don’t know that, say, Keanu Reeves’s character in Point Break was Johnny Utah, former quarterback for The Ohio State University, go ahead and head home.

Shark Sandwich missed a total of three questions, making us one of the two teams to be invited to sit with the ridiculously young VH1 producers.

Again my teammates were supremely confident, and they probably should have been: They’re entertaining. Dan, longtime morning show producer and radio DJ, fronts the Dan Orr Project, a band famous locally for its clever parody songs. During our audition, he sang a bit of “Nights in White Castle” (to the tune of “Nights in White Satin”).

I think the twentysomething producers were amused, and that’s what they were looking for, right?

They wanted teams that would draw interest—love or hate—from an audience. Could the three of us elicit such passion?

Here’s where the beautiful Martha probably would have come in handy.

After our meeting, we were encouraged to wander around the area’s theme parks and wait for a call. If we passed, we’d be one of the eight teams in the local Orlando tournament, with a trip to the big TV tournament in New York on the line for the winning nerds.

We’d had a few cocktails by the time the producers phoned, which makes it all the more surprising that we didn’t unleash a profanity-laced tirade when they rejected us.

No reason was given, so we assumed it was because VH1 felt that America-at-large couldn’t root for a team whose members knew their stuff because of their jobs and not just for the love of trivia.

It was an easier philosophy to accept than many other options—too old, too boring, too drunk.

So we swallowed our pride and watched season two from home. Our main interest was seeing the team that came from our Orlando tryouts: They’re Real and They’re Spectacular. All right, maybe taking a team name from a Seinfeld line was clever, but whether or not they were real, they were far from spectacular.

They didn’t answer a single question correctly. Not one.

They’re Real and They’re Spectacular went out on a question from the TV show “Friends.”

Good lord. Even we knew Ross’s monkey was named Marcel.

Why did they say Flavor Flav?

OK, they didn’t really say that. But I would have respected them more if they had.

Donovan Riley happened…

by Hope Madden

I was not a pleasant pregnant person. There was no legitimate reason for my nastiness—I didn’t have a particularly problematic pregnancy. I wasn’t bed-ridden or diabetic, didn’t have kidney stones or anything. Two of my sisters and a niece-in-law all passed kidney stones while they were pregnant. Fuck! So I had no real reason to complain, but complain I did.

During the time that I was pregnant, I worked at a restaurant in the now-defunct City Center Mall called The Boulevard. There were several servers hired at one point or another during my pregnancy, and once Riley was born and I’d returned to work, one of them—Dawn—said to my friend Tori, “Wow! Motherhood’s had a big impact on Hope. She’s so nice now. She’s a completely different person now that she’s a mom.”

Tori responded: “No, she was a completely different person when she was pregnant. We just got her back.”

My dickishness was fairly legendary at the restaurant. At one point, while I was taking an order from one table, the man at the next table started pestering me.

“Excuse me. Miss! Excuse me! Excuse me!”

I asked my customers to give me just a second, turned my head toward the offending patron and barked.

I’m not saying that metaphorically I barked at a customer. I’m saying that I made a barking noise, loudly and as viciously as I could, toward this man. Who shut right up, by the way.

Why so grumpy? Well, first of all, people touch you when you’re pregnant. The minute they realize you’re pregnant, it’s as if that misanthropic asshole they’ve known all their lives has disappeared and in its place is a polite woman who invites you to put your grubby hands on her belly.

As if!

Also, when you do express your frustrations, they make excuses for you. “It’s just the hormones…”

Hey, buddy, fuck you. Acknowledge and accept my seething anger or risk being pushed down those stairs like that last idiot who underestimated my bloodlust.

Mainly, though, I felt claustrophobic in my own body, like I was trapped inside my ribcage or something. Plus, the smell of anything made me vomit—not just for the first few weeks, but for the entire pregnancy. All 9 ½ months of it.

That’s correct. He was two weeks late. Imagine how pleased I was. I would walk up and down the stairs, jump up and down, curse out neighbors—any of those tried and true methods of encouraging the baby to just come out already.

None of it worked, until March 12. We were facing a very late blizzard and the boy decided it was time.

Not, like, immediately. I was to face hours and hours of lies as George—eating from a basket of candy that, I still feel confident, was meant for me—would join in the doctor’s chorus of, “Just one more push!”


Oh, the string of expletives that would follow such deceit. So bad that I won’t repeat them here, and I’ve already said fuck at least twice. That’s how bad.

I will share one anecdote that you don’t want to hear. The head of my bed faced one side of the room and the foot of my bed faced the door.

That, friends, is just bad geography. As the door opened and closed, opened and closed while nurses and technicians came and went, I got—impatient is not the word, but it’s in the area code.

“Do you think we could keep the door closed?” I asked politely in between screams of pain. “It may be just a birth canal to you, but I’d rather not share it with passersby.”

I’d have smacked somebody if I could have, but that’s the other real drawback of pregnancy—immobility.

Anyway, sometime after 11, after George had eaten all the good candies from my basket and Married with Children reruns were on the wall-hanging TV, Donovan Riley joined us.

All giant head and tiny body and furrowed brow, he looked very worried. And he should have been because we were all about to be tossed out in a blizzard since we had no insurance or earthly way of paying for a night’s stay at a hospital.

Or maybe he was worried about the cluelessness that wafted like a fog off his parents.

Oh my God, we were parents.

And maybe we didn’t suck at it because here it is, 25 years later, and he is the very best, bravest, loveliest person we have ever known.

Happy Birthday, baby bunny!

The Pileup

by Hope Madden

Damn, it is cold out. Cold enough for me to be oh so happy I no longer make that commute every day from Grandview to Crosswoods—easily the nastiest drive in Columbus.

In fact, I don’t have to drive anywhere, which means I don’t have to warm up my car, don’t have to scrape off the windshield. Truth be told, I don’t have to shower.

I mean, I do. Often enough.

But I did drive to Crosswoods last week to return a laptop and meet my friends for lunch and it was stupid-cold and it reminded me of that time I totaled my car.

Among the many casualties of the winter of 2011 was my Toyota Matrix. I’m not nearly over the loss.

This was the first new car George and I had ever purchased. It replaced our beloved, if ridiculous, 1993 Ford Festiva.

We got our new driving machine for a song. Columbus had recently fallen victim to another ludicrous weather patch—the great hailstorm of April 20, 2003—and Tansky Toyota had some damaged vehicles to move.

A bit romantic about our first new car purchase, we thought about going with an undimpled-by-hail version, until we remembered that we don’t have a garage. We could very well have paid an extra two grand for a car that would, by morning, have hail damage, depending on the zany Ohio weather. So we embraced the tiny divots.

That’s the voice of reason at work right there.

Dimples or no, the Matrix was a good car. It required almost no maintenance in the seven years we owned it. It got great gas mileage. It was paid off.

And yet, Mother Nature called it home.

Perhaps your morning commute was delayed one day that January because of three accidents on Rt. 315 north near the hospital curve. Mine was similarly delayed, as I was in one of the accidents.

Yes, if you waded through the metal carnage that morning, I was in the gold Matrix on the left berm—the only one of the six cars involved not to make it home on its own four wheels. Awesome.

Lest you mistake the morning’s escapade for a six-car pileup (how exciting!), it actually was three separate accidents within eyeshot of one another. Maybe less exciting, but certainly odd.

My own misadventure was caused by a slowdown of all lanes of traffic, causing me to veer from the center lane into the far left one. That maneuver allowed me the most stopping distance. It seemed like a smart move since the roads didn’t look bad in the slightest.

Yet, when I applied the brakes, my car continued moving forward at the same speed.

I turned the wheel, deciding it made more sense to hit the median than that black pickup ahead of me. But my vehicle still moved in the same direction.

The culprit? Black ice. Aaarrrgh!

I don’t know why, but the phrase “black ice” makes me want to talk like a pirate.

So I did hit that poor guy in the black pickup, which, unfortunately for me, came out victorious in that battle.

Jeff, the awfully nice man whose vehicle I hit, pulled his truck into the berm and then helped me push mine over. Then we wondered what exactly one does at this point. Call AAA? Contact the police? Notify our insurance agents? Surely all, but in which order?

We decided he’d call the police while I phoned AAA. As it turns out, either of us knew how to call the police except by dialing 911, which seemed like an exaggeration of our predicament, but that’s what he did.

Meanwhile, I forgot what my responsibility was so I got ahold of George.

Jeff never got through to the police via their emergency line, but a cruiser showed up nonetheless. The officer asked whether we’d called AAA, which reminded me to call AAA.

Somewhat obviously, it turned out I had a concussion. My poor car, though, suffered unfixable injuries. No amount of anti-inflammatories or ball bearings or whatever fixes cars would help.

Concussed as I was, car shopping took a backseat to trying to understand the words coming out of George’s mouth for a couple of weeks. And then the nasty winter weather goaded us into putting off the task for a few more weeks; we limped along sharing and bumming rides from friends.

And once springlike weather arrived, we claimed an altogether revolutionary idea—one that proves I learned shockingly little from the horrific weather we’d survived.

We bought a motorcycle.

Maybe I’ll blame the concussion. Anyone living in Central Ohio who buys a motorcycle can’t possibly be in their right mind.