Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 4, Part 1

If I can remember myself right, the answer was 56 games. I think that’s what Trebek said when the boy on the podium at my right buzzed in with the question, How long was Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 hitting streak?

As I already mentioned, I have big troubles with the sports categories, especially baseball. Jake, that was the name of the boy on the podium at my right, got most of the sports before me or Lily—the girl on my left. But it was the Joe DiMaggio answer that put him ahead of us once in for all. After that, I couldn’t concentrate too good, and Lily, well I don’t know what happened to her. My mind was still jumping from the accident and the more I thought that I should’ve postponed the audition, so the more distracted I was becoming under those hot lights.

When you’re watching the show on TV, you never can know how hot the lights are. So it’s basically kind of a sauna up there on stage—just so you know, in case you’re ever getting the chance to go on Jeopardy! or any quiz show, I’d imagine. Be prepared and wear something from cotton that’s letting your body breathe. Also, if you’ve just seen an accident on the freeway, it’s probably best to take your father’s advice and reschedule. Because you’re probably going to be wondering what happened to the pretty lady in the minivan. And you’re probably going to be filled with questions that have nothing to do with Joe DiMaggio. Questions like: Did the lady take her eye off the road? Was she reaching for her mobile phone? Did she run over something to make her tire blow up? I’ll probably never know what’s the real reason for the crash. But it consumed me for weeks after. I kept hearing the sound of the brakes screeching and the car flipping over.

Once, when I was a very small boy, my father was driving in the Negev. If you don’t know, this is a desert in Israel. You might have seen the word negev in the Bible because it’s used to describe the direction south. So it makes sense that the area to the south in Israel is called the Negev. It’s a very large desert, covering more than half the country—some 13,000 square kilometers, which is like 5,000 square miles. So anyway, my father was driving on a long, flat, desert road in the Negev when he sees this hitchhiker wanting a ride. In Israel, it’s very common to see soldiers hitchhiking and regular people, too. It isn’t like here in California where we were once told by a man working the cash register at some gas station never to pick any strangers up.

So my father decides he’ll give the hitchhiker a ride and quickly pulls off the road. Just as he’s turning off, a truck driver coming the other way is losing control of his vehicle and crosses over at where my father would have been if he didn’t turn off to the side. The truck zoomed through the road and crashed onto a bunch of cactuses and a kind of bus stop some few meters behind the hitchhiker. No one was injured because of this crazy moment of chance.

As Jake pulled ahead of me with the stupid Joe DiMaggio question, I couldn’t help myself from thinking about chance, and how there’s so many awful and maybe wonderful things we don’t know about because we just missed them. Why did the truck driver lose control of his vehicle at that moment exactly? He said he was trying to open a package of garanim—I don’t know what you call them in English but they are the delicious, sometimes salty seeds from the flowering sun plant. He said the garanim package split open and the seeds went all around the place and he lost control. Was the pretty lady trying to open some food package when she lost control? Was she reaching for some gum? Where was her hitchhiker to rescue her from that moment of chance?

Certainly Jake’s brain hadn’t been filled up with these questions. Certainly Jake with the braces on his teeth and the clean white Polo shirt hadn’t put the radio on afterward while driving to the Sony studio to see if the CigAlert was coming up. Certainly Jake hadn’t also been distracted by something he’d heard on the radio, not a CigAlert, but a poem. Yes, a poem that a journalist was reading written by an American soldier who’d served in Iraq. If I can remember myself right, his name was Brian Turner. Not Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, but Brian Turner, I think. You can check it over on the Internet if you really want to know his name, like I did some few weeks after the Jeopardy! audition. You can even print out part of the poem, like I did.

This is the part—the part where the soldier is wondering who will be the very last American soldier to die in Iraq—that I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about when Jake with the thick black hair growing out of a big black mole on his buzzer-arm pulled away from me for good:

Who can say where that last soldier is now, at this very moment? Kettlemen City. Turlock. Wichita. Fredricksburg. Omaha. Duluth. She may be in the truck idling beside us in traffic as we wait for the light to turn green. He may be ordering a slice of key lime pie at Denny’s, sitting at a booth with his friends after bowling all night. What name waits to be etched on a stone not yet erected in America? Somewhere out in the vast stretches of our country, somewhere out in Whitman’s America, out among the wide expanse of grasses, somewhere here among us the last soldier may lie dreaming in bed before the dawn as the sun sets over Iraq.

What will the name be? Anthony. Lynette. Fernando. Paula. Joshua. Letitia. Roger… Who will carve it in stone and who will leave flowers there as the years pass by? Who will remember this soldier and what will those memories be? Does he have brothers and sisters? Will his father sink into the grass in the backyard when he is told the news? Will his mother stare into the street with eyes gone hollow and vacant, the cars passing each day with their polished enamel reflecting the sunlight? What will the officer say when he knocks on that door?

What was filling my head instead of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak in 1941 was not who was going to be the last soldier to die in Iraq, but how eventually, maybe not in the next years or so, but eventually, the Americans will be home. And there really will be a last soldier to die in Iraq. There will be a name and there will be a memorial service and maybe she or he will become famous for being the answer to Brian Turner’s poem—yes, I think that’s the poet’s name.

But in Israel, there will never be a last soldier. My brother might be killed in the army, but everyone knows he will never be the last. When it is my turn to serve—and I will go back and serve when I am old enough—so I might be killed one day, too. But you couldn’t say I might be the last soldier to die, for the warring at home is unremitting. It’s as old as the peoples of the Middle East itself, of all religions, even Zoroastrians. If you don’t know about these peoples, who used to live in Iran, you should take from the library a good book about all world religions. Even if the information doesn’t help you on your Teen Tour audition—no, unfortunately for me there were no categories about ancient religions—I think it might help make you more knowledgeable about the politics of the Middle East, where so many religions were getting their start. It might help you understanding why there will never be a last soldier to die in Israel—a country where even Druze boys are required to serve time in the IDF.

My family has been living on the land, now called Israel, for more than 370 years. We’ve seen all kinds of wars and all kinds of governments and dictatorships. We’ve lived through Turkish rule and the British Mandate and always there has been violence in what is now called Israel. So why should it be any different for us in the future? Why should people stop killing other people for the right to live on that small piece of land? Just because the killing doesn’t add up to anything? No. Then life would be fair and the world would be a fair and peaceful place to live; and a Druze Israeli living in California in a dilapidating Winnebago who wanted so badly to be a part of the Teen Tour would get a second chance. In that world, even if Jake knew every answer in the sports categories, a boy named Fareed would still qualify. In that world, a boy named Fareed wouldn’t have seen such an awful crash on the very morning of his most important day and he wouldn’t have heard Brian Turner’s poem on the radio. And also, more importantly, a boy named Fareed would not have lost his mother to breast cancer. Because in that world, there would be a cure by now. Like it has been said by some few feminists women who were friends with my mom, and I agree: if breast cancer were a man’s disease, so of course there’d be a cure by now.

If Jake, with the braces and the hair growing from the mole that made me want to get a scissors and cut it down at least—so it wasn’t so bushy at least—lost his mother to cancer, he certainly didn’t show any signs of it during our audition. But when the game was over and all his family came up on stage to hug him and share his excitement for making it onto the Teen Tour, I didn’t see a female who was roughly the age of a mother. There was an older woman, who I was guessing was one of the grandmothers, and there was a sister who looked just like Jake, only instead of the mole being on her arm, so it was on her cheek, poor thing. And there were different ages of men and boys, but no mother. And I was sad for him a little bit. But maybe I was just sad generally speaking. Because now I would have to wait a long time before I could audition for the regular Jeopardy! because I wouldn’t be a teenager next time I could come back to America, after my army service. And I felt like I really really blew it. As we say in Israel: it was a huge bassa—a downer, as I think the expression goes in English. And I almost cried at two different times afterward.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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