Wait For It… a blog by Andy Ross

Ingemar Johnasson

Posted on May 16, 2011

Trivial Pursuit

It’s been awhile since I’ve shared a true story about myself on this blog. I spend a lot of time as a storyteller around the city, including at the show I curate called Real Characters. So, I thought I’d include one here. We’ll see how it works in prose instead of performance. I hope you like it:

My family teases each other constantly. Bordering on torture. If someone misspeaks or embarrasses themselves, that misstep plants itself as a recurring leitmotif across all following conversations. There is a game to it, and fortunately, we're all good sports and generous laughers, even when we're the butt of the joke.

On one particular family vacation, when I was about twelve, my mother accidentally called our lunch destination Ruddfuckers. She immediately self-corrected, but to this day, every Fuddrucker’s, every Chili’s, every T.G.I.Friday’s or Bennigan’s or Applebee’s, every Ruby Tuesday’s or Bubba Gump Shrimp we drive past---it’s a Ruddfuckers.

That same night on that same vacation saw our final family game of Trivial Pursuit.

Every spring break until I was eighteen, my family---me, my older sister, my mom, my dad---would drive 1,000+ miles from Wisconsin to Kiawah Island, South Carolina. My parents chose Kiawah because our family friend/my pediatrician had given us a deal on his time share.

Kiawah is essentially clusters of condos built along a series of golf courses. None of us golfed, so instead we strapped four bikes to the roof of the minivan and packed as many paperbacks as we could carry.

We’d hole up inside a peach-colored condo with white wicker furniture and bleached white shells everywhere---shells on the dressers, on the windowsills, shells inside glass table lamps, shells glued to the picture frames that held painting of… starfish. Do starfish count as shells? How ‘bout sand dollars? Because, there were sand dollars everywhere, too.

My folks saved up their Dick Francis and John LaCarre; my sister read teen romances; and I read horrible fantasy novels filled with puns. We could have read at home, but we didn’t. That’s the point. We were a latchkey household, and all the rental fees and hours of driving were our only way of assuring quiet time together as a family.

Every night we played Trivial Pursuit in two teams---my dad versus the rest of us. We’d get back from eating at various chicken fingers purveyors and pull up the rattan furniture to the glass dining room table. We’d move aside the shell-motif centerpiece to make room for the board game, and my dad would destroy us.

He was the perfect age for the original Trivial Pursuit. It's questions skewed towards European monarchies and classic literature and Watergate. Things like D'Artagnan's horse's name were always on the tip of my dad's tongue, so to him Trivial Pursuit was a piece of cake. Six pieces, technically.

The rest of us liked the categories with questions about M*A*S*H.

Even accounting for the pop culture cards, we still lost by huge margins. Question after question, we would miss on easy ones, because we were frustrated and therefore trying too hard.

Dad, on the other hand, would pause and think through an answer. “Let’s see, who TKO'd Floyd Patterson for the 1959 World Heavyweight Championship? I guess, Sonny Listen---no wait, that was ’62. Patterson had won the belt back in ’60 from… Swedish boxer Ingemar Johansson. That’s my answer.”

That is the correct answer, by the way.

Which would just enrage my mom. My mother is a very smart woman---intelligent, well-educated. But, she’s also a non-linear thinker. (My wife says that my mom's stories are like listening to Abraham Simpson---she starts at the middle, gets to the beginning, and stumbles back to the middle.) Mom would get tripped up following the questions, and she’d make careless mistakes.

"What young actress had her breakout role in Mystic Pizza? Oh, she was in that movie with the guy who had the rumors about the gerbil. With the Porshe and the 'lights would be good here' line. Who was in that with him? Jason Alexander! That's our answer: Jason Alexander."

Finally, my dad had five pie pieces, cruising toward the win, and it’s our turn. Things have gotten desperate.

“What mammal lives at the highest altitude?” he asks.

My sister answers quickly, “Mountain goat.”

To which, my mom screams, “WAIT!! Let’s think this through... Is a goat a mammal?”

That was it; she was done for. Because of that one outburst, anytime---make that every time---over the last nineteen years the conversation stumbles across the word “goat” someone will yell out, “WAIT!!! IS A GOAT A MAMMAL?!!”

Petting zoos are rough on my mom.

There were more vacations, more paperbacks, but we never played Trivial Pursuit again. Eventually, my sister moved down to Texas and started a family. And, a couple of months after my wife and I moved to New York, my dad passed away. It was sudden and hard on everyone. Death is blunt and stupid.

We didn’t really joke with each other after that. I mean, there was some gallows humor here and there, but not much teasing, because we each assumed the others were fragile. Probably rightly so. It created a distance there that wasn’t about geography.

A few more months passed. Then, one morning, my mom sent my sister and me an email. It was a link to the New York Times obituary for Swedish boxer and former heavyweight champion Ingemar Johansson. The subject line of her email read, “Is a goat a mammal?”

We’ve been better since then.


Thanksgiving Story

Posted on November 25, 2010

Tonight, after a long Thanksgiving with my relatives, I'm full of turkey and passive-aggressive tension. Both are tiring. So, instead of my usual bit of wordy, pedantic nonsense, I thought I'd share a true story. It's about my parents' first Thanksgiving:

My father and mother started dating while she was in grad school and he was working at the phone company to save up for law school.

The first time my grandparents met him, it was at his black-satin-sheeted bachelor pad. (He had picked up some European flair while serving in Italy in the navy.) I guess it wasn't the best first impression. Especially because my grandfather was an imposing figure--the head of surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.

So, my dad was trying very hard to make a better second impression when my mom dragged him to Thanksgiving in Cleveland that year.

He bought a couple of roasted chickens in preparation for the trip, and he practiced carving them until he had it down to a science. When the big day arrived, he graciously offered to carve the turkey.

Swip, swip, swip. He honed the knife against the sharpening steel, and with a grand flourish, he sliced into the turkey. White meat, dark meat--it was as effortless and beautiful as a magician fanning a deck of cards. The turkey simply unfolded before the family at the table.

With a cocky grin, my dad looked up at his future father-in-law and said, "Well, Doctor, how's that for a handsome bit of surgery?"

"Nice job, hot shot," replied my grandfather. "Now let's see you put it back together."

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.


My Worst Day

Posted on November 3, 2010

I’ll never forget my worst day.

I was walking down a gravel road. Just taking a stroll and enjoying the pleasant summer weather. The sky was clear, and there were birds singing.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I stepped down onto a pile of melted gummy bears. Right there in the middle of the gravel road. How did gummy bears get there? Did somebody drop them? Kids playing a prank? I had no idea. All I knew was that my sneakers were suddenly gunked up with sticky, gooey candy.

Can you imagine it? Picture it. Colorful, melted gummy bears sticking in between the tracks of my sneakers. Are you picturing it? Awful, right?

And, very quickly that candy was mixing with bits of gravel and sand. I tried to scrape it off on the grass, but then clumps of grass and dirt got all mixed in. I tried pushing it off with the end of a stick, but the stick kept breaking. It was horrible. The frustration of it all kept building and building.

Suddenly, I was getting hot, and I was sweating. I went to take off my shoes, but I realized I couldn't walk barefoot on gravel all the way back to the cabin. I remember thinking, I can’t imagine how this day can get any worse.

Just as I thought that, an adult male moose came out of the woods and kicked me directly in the testicles.

It was my worst day ever.


“Busted” at The Moth

Posted on August 5, 2010



Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In honor of the Real Characters storytelling show I'm putting up tonight (and every first Thursday of the month) at Ochi's Lounge, here's an audio clip of one of my Moth StorySLAM performances.

Unlike almost everything else on this blog, this story is completely true. Still funny, though. Don't worry; I wouldn't subject you to one of my sad stories. That's what I pay my therapist for.

The theme for the night was "Busted," and I'm grateful to fellow storyteller Luke Davin for recording it from the back.


Greatest Bedtime Story Ever

Posted on June 25, 2010

Bedtime Stories

The following is the greatest bedtime story ever told, guaranteed to put even the most finicky child to sleep. I heard it from my mother, and she heard it from her grandfather. My great-grandfather learned it from a wizened old man in Morocco who claimed to be the official storyteller for the Alaouite Dynasty of sultans. He just might have been. He certainly told the best bedtime story I or anyone else has ever heard.

Here it goes:

Once upon a time, there was a young man walking through the desert. As the sun set behind him, the man saw a campfire in the distance. “Who could this be so far out in the desert?” thought the young … man, who was … getting … closer to … the … zzzzz zzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzz zzz zzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzzz zzzz

zzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzz *snort* Wait, what? What happened? What time is it?

8 a.m.!? Dammit, I’m late for jury duty! Why’d you guys let me sleep so long? I gotta go. I’ll tell you the rest of the story later. Actually, it’s pretty great. The guy goes to the campsite, and he sees a camel, who… zzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzz zzzzzzzzz zzzz …