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Friday, Feb. 21, 2003
Corporate Partner Stu was taking himself a little break yesterday after an exhausting two hours of watching his son and I assemble an endless series of custom fence panels in the shop. Lounging on a three foot high stack of newly cut lumber, he took a long draw from his Gatorade and turned up the radio just a bit. The Oldies station, it was. Some tune from the summer of love. Stu looked reflective for a moment.

“Say Junior, do you know what happened on July 20, 1969?” It should be noted that these out of the blue trivia questions are not out of character for Stu, the man who once ranted for an hour on the relative merits of a particular brand of beer that no one in the room had ever heard of before.

Junior, being a wise lad of 26 who has borne the brunt of many of his father’s wisecracks and double entendres, considered long and hard. “No Pop, I don’t. What happened on July 20, 1969?”

Stu snorted. “Why, the first man landed on the moon! The moon, I tell ye! I can’t believe you didn’t know that! What the hell happened to all that schooling you got?”

And of course he turned to me in mock disgust and together we wailed and moaned about educational systems in this country and how we, as venerable oldsters had forgotten more than the “kids these days” will ever know. Stu continued his queries, asking Junior about Vietnam and legends of rock ‘n roll and a handful of other obscure topics. Junior missed most of them, to the chagrin of Stu, who began a head shaking muttering about base of knowledge and memorization of facts and an homage to his third grade homeroom teacher.

Now there is one thing that I do and do rather well if I might say so, and that is to have on hand at any time a list of pointless and somewhat useless trivia questions. Covering a wide range of subjects, they are the sort of things that everyone should know, but all too often don’t. At least, in my opinion they should know. I’ve drilled my children relentlessly throughout the years on state capitals, for example. At any given moment, say, in the middle of a quiet dinner, I might snap heads to attention with an abrupt “What’s the capital of Montana? Quick now, Montana!”

The kids have learned. Should they ever get pulled over while on a cross country drive through Nevada, I can be assured that they will at least know not to insult the state trooper by insinuating that the capital of his great state is Reno. Or, God forbid, Las Vegas.

Back at the shop, Stu and I were in full cry. “First man on the moon? What did he say when he stepped on the surface? Second man? What was the name of the capsule? The area where they landed? Who flew the command module in orbit while Armstrong and Aldrin were down there playing around on the moon?”

I got Stu on that last one. I mean, doesn’t everyone know Michael Collins was the pilot? These things are important. At least they seem to be when one is over 40 and impatient with what one discerns to be a rapidly degenerating amount of brain matter amongst the youth of this country. Or possibly it’s just the opportunity to show off.

The impromptu Jeopardy game raged all afternoon. The shop was filled with trivia, with questions about Phoenician monetary units and South American geography and Interstate Highway numbering systems. Stu avoided challenging me on the state capital category but stumped me pretty darn well on Polish Generals in the Napoleanic Wars. Which happens to be one of his specialties.

All the way home in the truck we continued. “Who introduced the Edsel, and in what year? Size of engine in the first Corvette? City in California with the worlds second largest Navy base? A British word for billiards?”

Having satisfied ourselves that we were indeed masters of the obscure factoid, it was not surprising that we should share our vast knowledge with the rest of the world. Or at least, the world according to the Watering Hole.

We disembarked at the Hole and strode to our regular stools in a hail of greetings. Happy greetings to be sure, it is not unlike the old “Cheers” TV series, where Norm would get the collective and hearty “Norm!” upon entering. Indeed, the young barmaid on duty yesterday even commented on the similarity.

“Why, this place is just like that old TV show about the bar! Remember that? What was it called, Cheers?”

And immediately, Stu and I went to work.

“Sure it was called Cheers, but what was the name of the first owner? The assistant bartender? What city was it based in? What sort of work did Norm do? Cliff? Which way did the front door of the place swing, right or left?”

Most of the assorted late afternoon crowd were old-timers like us, and did very well. But poor Amy the barmaid was struggling. Stu popped the original July 20 question on her and she bombed miserably. “July 20? 1969? I wasn’t even born yet! How am I supposed to know a date like that?”

Stu, with bulging eyes, was nearing apoplexy. “Whaddya mean how am I suppose to know that? Why, that’s like questioning the significance of July 4, 1776! It’s a date everybody should know! It’s our history, for crying out loud!”

Amy shrugged. “So what’s the story about 1776? What happened then?”

Stu slumped forward, jaw dropping open in shock. “You really don’t know?” His voice barely a whisper.

She giggled nervously. “I don’t know this history stuff. Ask me anything about science or math, I was good at that in school. The rest of it was just, you know, like memorizing a buncha junk.”

And before Stu could get going really well I jumped into it. “Okay, science. What’s the chemical symbol for helium?”

“Um . . .let’s see. H-e, right?”

“Right, very good. How about the square root of 64?” I was taking it easy on her. And in the meantime, Stu was interrogating the schoolteacher with a running series of questions about Himalayan mountain names.

Even so, she had to think for a minute, coached vigorously and with many motions of hands from the male regulars, who consider Amy to be the finest bartender ever to grace the Watering Hole.

“Uh. . .is it eight?” With more giggles.

“Yes, that’s it. Name of the theorem used to establish a triangular square when laying out a concrete foundation on a house?” I figured I’d given it away with the triangle clue.

But Amy was stumped. Stumped badly. “I don’t need to know this stuff!,” she cried. “What is it with you guys and the trivia questions today?”

I grinned. “Okay, here’s one for you. Another math one. Guy walks in here and drinks 8 beers at Happy Hour prices. How much is his tab?”

Quick as a cat, she had it. “Too easy. $15.20, strictly not including tip.”

At which point Stu slammed his empty beer on the counter. With a great roar, he asked “I got a trivia question for ye! How long till I get a refill over here?!”

Not too very awfully long, as it turned out.

And it takes very little to entertain, here in the world of the Outfoxed workday.

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