The night started fair enough.
I picked up a new knit cap at the local market for $3 dollars and a tub of strawberry Hagen Daz for $6. As I walked out the door the man gave me a sideways glance. I wondered what he thought of me as I tried on my new hat but forgot about it by the time I hit my car and slid the key into the lock.
I’m an impulse buyer.
I didn’t have a plain grey knit cap. Standing there waiting for my turn to pay, I suddenly realized I needed one desperately. So I reached down, plucked it off the vine, and threw it on the 12-pack of soda.
I like buying cheap beanies at the liquor store because you can have that new hat thrill for less than the price of a hot dog.
But when I got home there was a man with an awful mustache on TV and he was quizzing folks to see if they were smarter than a 5th grader. The contestant kept laughing like a goof and hedging each answer with the statement that it’s been a long time since she studied such and such.
There were kids sitting at school desks grinning nervously under the bright lights, and the set looked like the inside of an alien spacecraft. It stopped me in my tracks so that the front door wasn’t even closed yet and my mouth was agape in shock and the wind was knocked out of me.
Three minutes later I was still standing in the same spot and had forgotten all about the new hat on my head.
There was something horribly perverse and degrading about the images I saw inside that little box. In a sense; more horrifying and indicting of America than an Abu Ghraib pyramid.
“Oh, Jesus Christ! What the fux does a 5th grader know?” I yelled at the box. My wife shushed me and told me I was ruining the show. “The show is ruining you,” I told her but she wisely ignored me and turned up the volume.
I went up to the loft to escape the horribleness coming from my television set. The night had a dagger in its shoulder but it was still staggering.
I thought I could save it.
Times like these I foolishly turn to the computer and look for some forensic proof that there is still hope for this country; there is still a chance to revive this cultural abyss, this societal sinkhole; there is still time wake up the American Idol fixated voting masses. I head online to seek the inspiration I need, a sign that I am not alone in my college-educated ennui, my passive-aggressive superiority, and my cultural elitism.
I check out indie rock videos in other-words.
Downstairs I could hear the man with the bristly stache cracking jokes about being stupider than the bottom of a log and I heard a studio full of people laughing. My stomach knotted up with such snobbish disdain I thought it was an ulcer.
I ignored the TV and tried to focus on the next topic to my blog but my brain was backed up like the 405 at rush hour. The fucking idea that America tunes in by the millions to watch grown adults being quizzed against a bunch of prepubescent punks and princesses caused a traffic jam up in my circuit board.
I cracked the window to see if some fresh air might open me up but the stench of a skunk came flying in through the window instead.
“Shit! A skunk.”
“What? You smell one?” My wife asked.
“Yeah,” I mumbled worn and defeated.
I thought to myself that a skunk was the only animal that people spot almost entirely by smell. You never say ‘I smell a squirrel.’ I wanted to make a joke of it but one never came and I closed the window instead and lit a candle.
Downstairs I heard my wife switch the channel to The Real World and I heard that crazy girl Brook complaining about something and I wasn’t sure if The Real World was an improvement over Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.
I wasn’t quite sure there was a difference.
My morbid curiosity led me to the show’s website where I tried the trivia game for a laugh. The first question was true or false: A bat is a mammal. I thought that it was too obvious to be a trick, that you were supposed to be confused into putting true, so I said false; but it was true.
I think I even knew that.
My pride was mortally wounded.
So there you have it!
First question off the bat and I’m already stupider than a 5th grader. Because that’s what the game is basically about — you’re supposed to be smarter than a 5th grader — we want to see if you’re dumber.
The virtual 5th grader that was my opponent had got it right.
I clicked out of there to save myself more wasted time and embarrassment and scoured the tubes for something to write about. A muse. An enemy. Something. Everybody was chattering. Everybody was arguing. The Internet cackled with information and discussion. But I wasn’t in the mood for it tonight.
It all seemed like so much of the same old shit.
Sometimes you just can’t win.