Wheel of (Mis)Fortune [Single White Nerd]
St. Patrick’s Day is this week. Luck of the Irish and all that. Bah. I’m not Irish, never have been. But let’s talk about the luck part because I used to be lucky. It was like my parents captured a Leprechaun and forced him to anoint my baby head with lucky charms. I walked on lucky clouds and belched up luck from the depths of my lucky belly. But that was all before Los Angeles. Before The Wheel of Fortune spun me into luckless oblivion.
When I say that I used to be lucky, I mean it. I grew up with great parents, unleaky roof over my head. I got a scholarship to a good school mostly because they misread my test results. I got into a good college and then lucked into a graduate school program in Chicago and, on the very first day, met the girl of my dreams. She was like a mix of Princess Jasmine and Pocahontas. But smarter and less animated. We fell in love. The future held nothing but amazing possibilities.
One afternoon my lady love and I got drunk — because that’s what you do in grad school — and, on lark, went to audition for Wheel of Fortune when they swung through town to select regional contestants. Out of what seemed like the entire city of Chicago, I was among the few people they picked to appear on the show in Los Angeles. Pure luck, of course. Also the alcohol probably made me loud. Game shows like loud.
Anyway–this was huge. It could literally change my life. I’d pay off my student debt, buy a car, an engagement ring. This was too big to leave to luck alone. I practiced. I bought the Wheel of Fortune handheld game and watched back episodes. By the time I was to fly to Los Angeles, I think I was one of the world’s foremost experts on Wheel of Fortune.
My girlfriend drove me to the airport. We kissed goodbye. I got on the plane, slept. And the second I set foot in Los Angeles, and this was years before I moved here, it all started to go wrong. Just little things at first. My bags got lost. My hotel reservation was misplaced. The morning of the taping, I spilled coffee on my shirt. No big deal. I chalked it up to nerves.
At the studio we played a practice game. They make you play a practice game so you can get used to spinning the surprisingly heavy Wheel and get experience using a Gameshow Voice, defined as a Very Loud Voice. I sailed through the practice game, rocked the board. My luck seemed to be intact and, combined with my months of practice, made me an unstoppable wheel spinning, puzzle solving force. One of the producers even came up to me and said he’d never seen anyone do so well on the practice game. I said something cocky back like “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
I had no idea how right I was.
The taping started. I spun the Wheel. I spun that sucker hard, really put my back into it. It went around once, twice, and came to stop on $1,000. The highest amount you can get in round 1. I bellied up to the bar and bellowed: T!
My voice carried across the soundstage to Vanna. She looked expectantly at the board, waiting, as I was, for at least three Ts to light up. T is one of the most common letters in the English language. I could not have chosen better. We waited.
No lights. Pat Sajak arranged his face into an expressing denoting sympathy. He said something. I don’t know what. All of a sudden, I felt off. Shaky. I could feel sweat breaking out on my head. My heart pounded. I felt unsure. I felt unlucky.
I could detail the rest of the game for you. I’ve watched it on tape many times. I’ve watched the petite woman standing next to me spin $300 and guess ‘Q.’ I’ve watched my face register shock as multiple Qs light up on the game board. I’ve watched myself spin, guess letters, and come up empty time and time again. And I’ve watched the following exchange:
Pat Sajak: How many letters did you get, Mike?
Me: None, Pat.
Pat Sajak: Well, bad luck this time. On the upside, it’s really hard to get absolutely no letters.
Me: There is that.
On national television. I returned home to Chicago with a consolation prize: a massive train set valued at $400 for which I had to pay $100 in taxes. Not only could I not pay off my student loans or buy a car, I was now in more debt. At least I still had my dream girl.
Except that I didn’t. We broke up.
I thought my luck might return when I got back to Chicago. No. It stayed away. Bad luck pursued me–my car was stolen, the rental car got towed, I lost a large check. Occurrence after occurrence reaffirmed my suspicion that I was on my own. Now when I belched, luck gas didn’t come out. Just foul smelling leftover taco. Gross.
Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles. At some level, I hoped I’d set foot again in the city and some guy would come running up with a neatly wrapped package. “Mr. Kass,” he’d say, “you lost this here a few years ago. It’s your luck. So sorry for the inconvenience.” But, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, someone egged my new car. True story.
I’d just about resigned myself to a luckless life when something strange happened. I played a Wheel of Fortune slot machine in Vegas. I’ve been doing this every time I see a slot machine for the past 11 years. I always lose. But this time, I won. I won hundreds of dollars. Then I won at blackjack. Then I met a girl and we totally made out.
I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m starting to feel the luck starting to come back a little. So: If anyone out there in nerdland knows Pat, Vanna or anyone associated with Wheel of Fortune, please tell them that Michael Kass wants a rematch. And he feels lucky.
Thanks and Happy St. Patty’s Day!