Monthly Archives: May 2009

Mr. D and the Jeopardy! Experience, Part I

It has been at least six months, and I have yet to write about it…until now.

Most of my friends, and some acquaintances, already know this, but for two glorious days, October 10, 2008 and October 13, 2008, Mr. D was the Jeopardy! champion.  Yes, it is spelled with the exclamation point–it’s trademarked that way.

All this time, either out of self-pity at my loss or because there’s just not enough time in the day, I have yet to summon the energy to discuss my experience.  Today, the Neighborhood will finally feature this account–but there’s a warning.  My travelogues tend to meander more than the Mississippi delta.  You may need to slow down some to get the gist of it.  You’ve been warned.

It all began in June, when I received an unlikely e-mail.  The February before, I had set aside my block of time, like so many brainiacs across this country, to take the Jeopardy! online test.  It was 50 questions long, and not necessarily easy.  In fact, I thought I didn’t do that well.  Last year’s test was much easier, and I wasn’t called.  This is why I was surprised to see an e-mail saying I was called to an audition in New York for the show. 

I went into a hotel lobby in Manhattan where a room of about 40 people were filling out forms, reading through dictionaries (I didn’t make that up, someone actually lugged a Websters along), or generally pacing around nervously.  As we sat down in a large room, the casting team introduced themselves with big Hollywood smiles and big Hollywood energy, rattling off information lightning fast so even the dictionary lady had to stop writing.  This was something I had to get used to.  Hollywood folks are all about energy, making sure that perkiness and spunk were at their peak.  It took all my fortitude to not throttle them with the buzzer cords. 

After a rapid-fire review of rules, procedures, and legal minutia, we sat down to another test, issued through an LCD projector onto a wall.  We were given 8 seconds for each question, which was a lot in the beginning, but not so towards the end.  I can tell you I didn’t get every question right, but it was a good shot.  The guy next to me was cursing under his breath towards the end.  Dictionary lady was probably hyperventilating.

The final step was the simulated game and review.  Groups of three were brought before the casting folks, made to play a short simulated game, and then answer questions based on the questionnaires we filled out.  At this point, I knew what they wanted.  Almost everyone there was smart, otherwise they wouldn’t be there.  What they wanted was the Hollywood energy, a movie star smile, and a go get-em Bob Eubanks style will a little aw-shucks rolled in.  In short, it was time for the bullshit, and I’m a Rembrandt at it.   As my name was called, we stood before the judges and answered random questions.  One lady was limp and lifeless.  The other person kept fumbling with the buzzer.  I answered each question as if I was Flash Gordon…”Who is Richard III?” (Cue the roguish smile and Errol Flynn pose).

The casting crew were dazzled at my cornucopia of bovine excrement.  I never lied once in front of them, but my delivery was straight out of central casting: direct, forceful and with a smile.  It also helped that I taught history in the Bronx–few Jeopardy! contestants have any form of “street cred.”  I got quite a few oohs and aahs from the other auditioners.  In a room full of upper-middle class white and Asian folks, I was practically a Crip. 

As we were sent home, we were all told that we were potential contestants, and that we would be in the contestant pool for one year.  At that point, I was never expecting to get on the show.  The whole process was fine, the people were nice enough–although the dictionary lady still lingers in my mind–and I felt that I did my very best.  If I got on the show, great.  If not, well there’s always next time.

Within three weeks, I get a phone call.  The person on the phone was from Sony Pictures.  I knew exactly what it was.

It took some time for the guy to tell me though.  He verified some of my personal info and then we reviewed anyone I knew on Jeopardy (my buddy Matt, and he didn’t do so well).  Finally, he said it: I was scheduled for an airdate of the week of Oct 6-10, which meant I was taping August 20 in their Culver City studio.  That’s the Los Angeles area, for those who don’t know.  The date couldn’t come fast enough.

Next time, Part II will cover the Los Angeles experience, and my taping experience.  You’ll also see an actual photo of Mr. D as shown on national television.  Stay tuned.

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Spoofing History: Michael Cera as Alexander Hamilton

This may be Michael Cera‘s greatest role!  From College Humor, the Drunk History series features reenactments of history as told by a lush in a drunken stupor.  This one is particularly funny in that the said lush asks for a bucket midway through.  Best of all, Cera portrays one of my favorite founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton.  Enjoy.

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Thanks to the Neighborhood! Re: 5/07

I’d like to extend a big thanks to those of you who responded to my post about my little cousin “once-removed” – thanks Blighter for clearing up that linguistic quandary, although I’m too close to the little guy to ever call him “removed” from anything.

My sis, PhDini, who’s been a rock when it comes to these matters of the cranium, came through again.  I’d like to thank her friend Claire, my buddy Matt and his cousin Sara for providing useful information we can definitely use.  I’ll definitely pass your insights along.  Any and all articles or info that can be found on speech deficiency is certainly helpful.

Finally, Blighter reminded me of a great man of science that also had early problems in speech–Albert Einstein.  Like Einstein, my little cousin is no dummy, so it’s good to see that he’s not alone in this.  Much thanks to you, sir.

I’m still open to other suggestions, thoughts, ideas about this situation, so this will still be an open request.  Just wanted to thank everybody for pitching in for my little guy.  Thanks.

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Spoofing History: MadTV and African-American History

Who wouldn’t want Flavor Flav as their history teacher!   One of the few instances when MadTV is actually funny.  Enjoy.

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Spoofing History: BBC Spoof of Simon Schama

Like many history buffs, I’m a sucker for documentaries.  I may even be the only idiot to actually purchase them for my own video collection.  That’s why I had a riot listening to Jon Culshaw of the BBC comedy show “Dead Ringers.”  In this clip, he spoofs professor Simon Schama as he does his “A History of Britain” series based on his three books.  I was a fan of the series, but I can see through the spoof what I couldn’t before: how documentaries can often over-simplify something very complex, or even make connections that simply do not exist.

Either way, for those familiar with Schama’s work, this is too funny.  Enjoy. NOTE: The BBC is not allowing this video to be embedded.   You can click on the video to see it on another screen.

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Mr. D Needs Your Help, AGAIN! – Calling all Special Education Teachers, Social workers, school psychologists, etc.

Even though I’ve been in the education racket for a while now, the beast that is special education still baffles me.  Just thinking about the process makes me want to slit my wrists with an overdue IEP.

Today’s post is more personal in nature than usual, and I could use the help of anyone in the Special Ed. field.  My cousin has a young son who is turning three, and he’s as cute as can be.  He’s also a precocious lad, getting his little mitts on anything with bells, whistles and especially buttons–that boy is a beast with a remote. 

Well, my cousin (the kid’s mom) was concerned that this kid was not that verbal at this point.  She has the child in speech therapy under a program for kids until age 3, and the boy is progressing.  He mimicks words said by others, although his articulation isn’t quite there yet (then again, he’s only two, but we’ll talk about that later).  At a dinner, the boy’s mom asked me about how to research schools that could cater to his needs, and also about what services the child is entitled to receive.   I replied that it would be difficult to know what he needs until an evaluation is conducted.  We discussed forms and things and left it at that.

Yet I still had questions that needed to be resolved–this is where you come in.  First of all, the boy’s speech therapist says it may be difficult to place him in support programs in his area (Nassau County, Long Island, New York) because he does not suffer a cognitive disorder, simply a speech deficiency.  Is this necessarily true?  I agree that my little cousin (he technically isn’t a nephew, is he?) has no problems with cognition or understanding.  Yet I’m not sure if simply having a problem with speech is an impediment.

My second question concerns the Individualized Education Plan, the infamous IEP.  Although I have a general gist of how the IEP writing process works, in terms of evaluation, diagnosis, conferencing, etc., I’m a little in the dark about the parental rights and responsibilities regarding the IEP.  What rights do parents have with creating, revising, and especially access to the IEP if the child is going to another school?

Lastly, and this may be a dig at my cousin, how verbal should a child be approaching age 3?  Is there a benchmark that should be reached?  In short, is my cousin paranoid or batshit insane for subjecting her child to therapy intervention in the first place?  I ask this because in my years in the classroom, I’ve seen children who were never verbal for years suddenly open up at age 7, 8 or even 10 or 11.  Then again, I’ve also seen kids who are just never verbal, for various reasons.  It would be good to know if a benchmark or an assessment exists to see if his speech is “at level” or not.

I’m a big believer in the individual development of children.  Everybody grows and learns at different rates.  This is why I have these concerns about my little dude.  Any help with this from my educator friends in the Neighborhood would be much appreciated. 

And here’s a sweetener: all who help out will get tickets to a Jonas Brothers concert, or a link on this blog and a subsequent mention in a post, whatever’s available.  How’s that for free pubicity 🙂


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Poetry from the Front: How I survived Poem in your Pocket day

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) the author of the "Poem in My Pocket"

Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) the author of the "Poem in My Pocket"

Like a restaurant flailing its death throes before the final bankruptcy hearing, education often uses gimmicks to attract attention. 

The greatest gimmick of all, in my opinion, is the “phony holiday.”  So that schools can find excuses to paper their hallways in swathes of bad drawings and even worse writings, districts often create “holidays” in order to establish a theme for instruction.

Whether or not these holidays existed before, I do not know.  I’ll leave it to the Neighborhood to help with feedback on this. What I do know is that these holidays do not exist outside school walls.

Two “phony holidays” have taken hold in my school.  The first is the “100th day of school,” a time to celebrate a milestone that is not even the midpoint of the school year–that would be about the 91st or 92nd day.   Kindergarteners spelling 100 with painted macaroni.  Second graders making number sentences that have 100 as the answer.  Fifth graders writing essays about why the 100th day of school still sucks and summer couldn’t come fast enough.  Me wishing the whole thing would just go up in a ball of flames 100 feet high.

Then comes a particular day that fills me with loathing.  “Poem in Your Pocket” day was developed by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs in 2002 to culminate April as National Poetry Month.  Designed to promote poetry as a means of expression, it involves students randomly selecting poems they like, sticking them in their pocket, and reading them on demand. 

My principal eats this up: he makes a big show of  reading his poem over the loudspeaker.  It’s usually some sappy drivel about achieving your dreams, overcoming adversity, whatever.  Nevermind that the school goes upside down over this nonsense.  He actually stops students in the hallway, demanding that they produce some rhyme from their clothing.  I’m still waiting for the wiseass who decides to read him something about a gentleman from Nantucket or Venus.

I don’t hate poetry.  Poems are a powerful window into the subconscious, and provide the best summaries of emotion in troubling times.  This whipping out of poems nonsense, though, has to stop.  Few things are accomplished well with a gun to your head.  It was a good thing that my grandmother’s memorial service pre-empted this year’s “holiday.” 

Usually, when I populate my pocket–under duress–I carry along a long, convoluted selection from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman.  Walt always spoke to me, though not to everyone.  The principal stops me at about the 15th line, wondering whether I picked the poem to share about Whitman or to make him look ignorant.   This year, if I was at school, I’d pick World War I poetry.  Wartime doggerel is among my favorite poetry–it’s raw, immediate, timely, and often so to-the-point that it upsets anyone else who hears it. 

I’ll leave you with my selection this year: “Hero” by the British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

‘Jack fell as he’d have wished,’ the Mother said,

And folded up the letter that she’d read.

‘The Colonel writes so nicely.’ Something broke

In the tired voice that quavered to a choke.

She half looked up. ‘We mothers are so proud

Of our dead soldiers.’ Then her face was bowed.


Quietly the Brother Officer went out.

He’d told the poor old dear some gallant lies

That she would nourish all her days, no doubt.

For while he coughed and mumbled, her weak eyes

Had shone with gentle triumph, brimmed with joy,

Because he’d been so brave, her glorious boy.


He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine,

Had panicked down the trench that night the mine

Went up at Wicked Corner; how he’d tried

To get sent home, and how, at last, he died,

Blown to small bits. And no one seemed to care

Except that lonely woman with white hair.

I read this once with a fifth grade class.  We talked about it for weeks–and we never needed some damn phony holiday to understand.


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