Hump day. Up and at’em for work. And, let’s see…there was something else I was supposed to do today, right?
Yeah, right. Truth be told, I had slept about as well Tuesday night as I had the night before. Which is to say, I was now considerably behind my quota for rest over the past couple of days. The good news, at least, was that it was a light day at work, which made it a whole lot easier to make sure that my late afternoon would be clear. And so it was; I was home by noon and able to take care of some paperwork while waiting for 3 PM to roll around.
As the clock began closing in on 3, I did one last look-through to make sure everything was in place once again. I shut off my cell phone and pager, laid out my scratch paper and pencils as usual, and looked at the clock. 3:00. Okay…let’s do this.
I called the 888 number as I had Monday evening, and was relieved to hear Fred on the line getting ready to walk me through the preliminaries. Once I was logged in, the game began. It was similar to Round 1, as I have noted before, except that 1) you played five questions instead of three, and 2) you were not automatically kicked out of the game for a wrong answer. There was a good reason for this: The draw for the ten contestants to go to the show was made from among those who got all five answers correct. If, however, fewer than ten people nailed all five, they would draw from those who got four right to round out the lineup.
Anyhow. The first question – “arrange these four words to form the title of a Britney Spears song” – got off to an ominous start, when the first word to place in order might have been “maybe”. Or was it “baby”? In either case, the other three words – “one”, “more”, and “time”, in some random order – were sufficiently workable for me to put them all in the correct order. Fortunately, my instinct led me to put “baby”/”maybe” at the beginning rather than the end, inasmuch as I had never heard of the song before this. Of the other four questions, three were easy, while the fourth – four movies in order of release – forced me to use some guesswork. Again, fortune smiled on me; after completing the game (and turning my cell phone and pager back on, of course), I went to check on my guess, found out that I was correct…and I let out a sigh of relief.
Five for five.
Now came the hardest part…waiting for the call to come through. The rules stated that calls would be placed to the selected contestants no later than 8 PM (7 Central, of course) following the second-round game – a theoretical wait of four hours. In practice, however, the lucky contestants were generally called very soon after the conclusion of the game; conventional wisdom pretty much held that if you were not called back within an hour, you were probably out of luck. And so, to pass time until my fate became clear, I logged on to the Millionaire message board. The time passed…no call. And then, a little while later, came a post that I had not planned on seeing under any flight of my imagination
The word came down – from what source, I do not know – saying that they were holding the game open beyond the usual fifteen minutes. It was immediately clear to me that this was likely due to the screw-up with the phone number that was given out on Monday; if I was given the wrong number, it was now apparent that I was far from the only one so affected. And there was no word initially on how long the window would be extended…so there I was, going twenty different kinds of bat-crazy, waiting…waiting… Finally, at some point, another post went up saying that the game would be kept open for three hours – taking it to 6 PM here – but that all qualifiers would still be notified by 7 Central. By now, I was pretty close to ripping my own spleen out with my bare hands, by way of my throat. Donna came home, and I told her right up front that if I was acting even stranger than usual, here was why. And Donna – who throughout the past couple of days was clearly operating under the impression that I was delusional at best – broke into a sort of bemused grin…the kind that pretty much said “see, I told you so”. By quarter after 6, there was still no call, and Donna headed out to take the kids to their catechism classes and run a few errands. And so the house went back to that stillness that was lacking only crickets…absolutely, utterly silent.
And now it was 6:30, and looking pretty much like game over. I went back downstairs to the computer and began to compose an e-mail to everybody who had indicated a willingness to be my phone-a-friend, thanking them for their kindness, but letting them know that it wasn’t going to happen.
And then, at 6:35, it happened. The ring was so completely unexpected – especially in the dead silence – that every neuron on my body seized up for an instant. I recovered quickly, though, and carefully picked up the phone to answer. (Yes, “carefully”; the rules stated that they would make just one attempt at The Call, and if for any reason they could not reach you – busy signal, no answer, dropped call, “he’s not here”, or whatever…too bad, so sad.)
Voice: “Hello, is this Mike?”
Me: “Yes, it is!”
Voice: “Hi, Mike…this is Traci from ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’…”
Me: “Jskdjg asdgkbkui kbsw ibsdvbbe…”
Okay…maybe I wasn’t quite that incoherent. But it was pretty darn close, I tell you. Once I had gathered my wits, the first thing I did was to ask if I could call her back on a landline, as I did not want to risk dropping the call and blowing the whole thing. No problem, she said…and she told me not to worry; once they had established contact and identified you, you were in. So I called her back, making use of the clearer connection, and we went through all of the eligibility and legal disclaimers, along with countless other tidbits that I should know about and prepare for. One of the things that she asked of me was if I could come up with some entertaining stories about myself between now and my arrival in New York, so that Regis and I might have something to talk about. Just in case, y’know. Hmm. Just as well that I started working on my phone-a-friend list a couple of days ago…
Anyhow…she gave me her contact number again and told me to call if I had any questions or concerns. With that done, I went upstairs and got to work on some dishes. A few minutes later – it was after 7 by then – Donna returned from her errands. I figured that there was only one way to break the news to her…so I got my mope on as she walked up the steps, turned my back toward the doorway, and assumed an excessively Eeyoresque pose.
“Well?” she asked; the tone of her voice told me that she was expecting nothing other than the less-desirable and most-likely outcome. I had not yet turned to face her; as I slowly turned around, I let out a little bit of a sigh, gave her the smile normally associated with winning the Sportsmanship Trophy, and then said in an appropriately soft voice…
“We’re going to New York.”
The look of disbelief on her face: Priceless. After a minute or so of basic questions, she offered that it might not be a bad idea to ask her mother if she could come out to watch the kids. A good idea, that one – our oldest was then twelve years old – so she went to the phone and called Mom with the good news and the request. No problem there. Next, I called my parents. I told my Dad “I just wanted to give you a heads-up…I’m going to be on TV”. He sounded mildly interested, perhaps expecting some face time for me on the 10:00 news. And then I informed him that I was going to be on Millionaire.
“OHHhhh…” (pronounced as in “whoa”)… It was the one and only time in my life that I had ever heard him use a “you are kidding me” tone of voice…or, for that matter, that I had ever put him at a loss for words that did not imply some Imminent Disciplinary Action. And Mom was suitably excited in her relatively even-keel manner…so I guess that they were properly impressed with the kid. A few more calls to my sibs and a few close friends, and then it was time to sit down and decompress.
And that night, I slept like a bear in a cave.