When I was in second grade, my mom took a day off work and drove me up to Culver City to try out for a game show. Child’s Play. This was an event (the part about her taking the day off).
For those not paying attention back in 1983, here’s the premise of the show. Producers gave children ranging from six to nine years old a word and filmed them trying to provide its definition. Adults then guessed what word the kids were slathering with adorably saccharine kid logic. A live studio audience in early 80’s finery provided the requisite response scale to register the cuteness.
Anyone who knew me at eight understands why my getting on the show seemed like a good bet. I mean, I read the dictionary for fun when I was six and was a clown. If ever there was television show tailored to my skill set, this was it (or maybe Beat the Geeks).
Of course I didn’t get on the show. Of course, hindsight says that was a good thing.
I remember two things most clearly about the audition. First, there was a lag between when I arrived and when they pulled a group in to screen test us. The whole time we waited, the other kids practiced various facial expressions over and over, the adults with them judging their performances with what I thought was unusual harshness. I remember one girl pouting and flipping her hair about a dozen times, each repetition met with her mother shaking her head and telling her to try again.
Meanwhile, I was reading Stephen King.
And then we got called into the room, where I experienced the verbal equivalent of being elbowed in the throat repeatedly by the thirstiest group of never-gonnabes I’ve ever been around. Hair flip girl literally leaned in front of me to intercept a word the producer sent my direction.
Finally, the guy said Let’s let Mike have a turn and lobbed three words at me. I sent the correct definitions back like Serena Williams coming to the net and that was that. On the way out of the room, the producer shook my hand and said, “Sorry kid, but you’re too right. We need a little more creative space in your answers.”
I remember feeling like I’d let Mom down when I told her what happened, but she just shook her head and responded like she always did.
“That’s just stupid. I’d rather have a son who gets it right than one who gets on camera pretending to be wrong.”
She took me to lunch and the rest of the day was one of the rare ones we got to spend just the two of us.