I stared blankly into space as I asked her to repeat the question, this time in English.
“Who was Howdy Doody’s brother?” she asked again, confident we would not be able to provide an answer. Not many questions had involved answers up to this point, and this one would be no different.
The night, until now, had been fun. It had started with a dinner among six close friends, all members of the esteemed Generation X. Food and drink, a warm fire in the fireplace, and ‘90s music blaring from the speakers had coalesced to make for a fun Saturday evening. It was good to be with close friends, carousing after a long week of being semi-functional adults. I’m not sure who had suggested we play Trivial Pursuit, or why any of us agreed to do so, but the snowball was rolling downhill and it would soon engulf all of us in its avalanche of ignorance pretty quickly.
I should’ve known we were in trouble when I realized early on that the version we were playing had come out in 1981. To put that into context, in 1981 I was four years old, AIDS was just beginning to emerge from its latent shadows, Nightline, with Ted Koppel, was extended from 20 minutes to 30 minutes, and Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President. We decided to pair up into two teams based on gender. There were three of us men against our three wives.
I rolled the dice and found our little piece nestled safely on orange. I felt confident that a sports question was coming our way. I thought it would be a good ice breaker to get a question on a topic we were all well versed in. In typical male fashion, the three of us began trash talking the wives and flexing our biceps.
“What is the main vegetable in vichyssoise?” one of the wives asked.
“Huh? How is that even a sports question?” I asked my puzzled male teammates. They looked back at me, confused and sad by what was transpiring.
“It’s probably a leisure question, since the category is sports and leisure,” another wife retorted, smirking as she spoke.
Silence ensued. Finally, we had no choice but to answer. I think I said ‘Vichy,’ hoping it would at least be close enough to save some of our machismo from being taken out back and beaten with a log. The answer wasn’t even close to ‘Vichy.’ The answer was pureed leeks, which I was quite sure the ladies had made up until I Googled it on my phone a few moments later. The ladies fared no better; they just lacked any machismo that could be lost in the act of playing this horrifically humbling game.
Amazingly, both teams were able to answer a question here and there, though it was mostly based on some odd quirk in the space-time continuum or just dumb luck, rather than any sort of raging intelligence.
An hour passed. Questions that only required one to have lived in the 1920s to be able to answer were posed from each team to the other. A question was asked about who John L. Sullivan had defeated in August 1889. We knew Sullivan had been a boxer because a movie from 1994 referenced that fact. That knowledge didn’t help us answer the question. Another question asked for the name of that serial killer from the Chicago World’s Fair from the 1890s. I actually knew the answer to that one: H.H. Holmes. Unfortunately, Trivial Pursuit wanted his real name, not his alias. As if anyone currently living on the planet Earth would know his actual name! (It was Herman Mudgett, by the way.) Saddened, I went to the refrigerator to get another beer. That’s what I told everyone anyway. In truth, I went there to sob quietly to myself.
Semisonic’s Closing Time played on the radio and one of the wives suggested we order the 1990s edition of Trivial Pursuit for the next time we played. It was an appropriate song as we neared the end of this extremely humbling evening.
We had no idea who Howdy Doody was, let alone that he had a brother. I did recall my father mentioning this show as one he watched in his youth, but I had no idea if it was this guy or Captain Kangaroo. So we stared at each other, the embers of the fire slowly dying out in the fireplace near us. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here,” lyrically played through the speaker.
“We have no idea who Howdy Doody’s brother was! We were born in the 1970s,” one of us said, exasperated.
“Double Doody,” a wife responded.
That was an apt description for what the evening had become.