Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wheel of Missed-Fortune

She used to drive me crazy that wife of mine.

It had become our routine to eat dinner and watch television while sitting on the floor at the coffee table.  And, like so many other American families, we frequently found ourselves stranded in the wasteland between the national news and prime time. In our part of the country, that meant Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

“The category is Titles,” Pat announces. The contestant spins the wheel and calls out, “Give me an ‘R.” “There is no R,” replies Pat. The next contestant spins the wheel. “Give me a C.” “There are two ‘C’s”, announces Pat. The audience applauds. Vanna turns the letters.  “The Iceman Cometh,” announces my wife.  "Who?,” was my informed reply.  It takes the contestants another five minutes to figure it out.

The next puzzle is two words comprised of about two dozen letters. The contestant spins the wheel and after three letters are displayed, “Chrono-synclastic infundibulum,” proclaims my partner with glee. “WTF! There's only three letters on the board!” I exclaim.  Another ten minutes confirms her answer.

At the end of the program, Pat and Vanna, standing arm in arm, announce that if you would like to be a contestant on the show the Wheel of Fortune motor home will be in the following areas.  Sure enough, there it is, Baja Georgia is a stop on the way. Wife has a gleam in her eye.  A month or so later she gets a phone call during dinner and starts jumping for joy.  Seems we’re headed for La La Land and the Big Wheel in the Sky!

It turned out that the Wheel of Fortune motor home did indeed visit Baja and wifemate decided to audition. She didn’t say anything about it because she was afraid she wouldn’t be selected and would be embarrassed. I could have calmed her fears for I knew that anyone who could rip through the Daily Jumble and the NY Times crosswords like she could was a shoe-in.

“So how does this work?,” I asked. “Do they send us plane tickets?”

“No,” she replied, “We have to buy our own.”

“Well, do they put us up?” I asked.

“No,” she answered, “We have to get our own rooms.”

“Well what the hell do they pay for?” I inquired.

“Nothing,” she responded. “But we get a discount at the Universal Hilton.”

Okay, two round-trip air tickets and five days at the Universal Hilton (We decided to hang for a few days to visit friends and family.)… $2,500 (in late 80’s dollars).

“Dang,” I thought, “for that kind of cash we could go to Paris. She’d better win or we’re screwed.”

The day of the show dawned bright and early. Had to be there by 9:00 am. Caught a cab for the short ride over to Universal Studios.
She was impossible to live with. PMS on steroids. The ultimate stage fright anxiety attack, although we were both on-air television veterans. By the time we got to the studio I was the most inconsiderate and worthless SOB on God's green earth.  We were off to a good start.

Fortunately, we were separated immediately upon arrival, contestants off into the nether-world, the rest of us into the studio audience where we were given instructions on proper behavior and told to keep an eye on the guy with the “applause” sign. No food, no drinks, no nothing.

After about an hour of sitting in a dark studio I decided to go in search of a cup of coffee. It turned out that the only source for such was a vending machine. I opted to go across the street to a cafĂ©. The security guard informed me that if I left the building I might not get back in. I informed him that I had a medical condition that required me to have a bottle of water at all times and pointed out that none such was made available by the studio nor any mention of lack of same in the instructions sent to us from the show’s producers and that if I had an attack and died, the responsibility would be on his shoulders. Luckily he bought the blarney and I enjoyed a badly needed cup of coffee and a bagel before returning with a bottle of water.

I got back and took my seat just as the proceedings began. The first three contestants came out, my wife not among them. It took about an hour to tape the show followed by a thirty-minute break. Next group. Wife not among them. Repeat same. Again, no wife, no food, no refreshments, no nothing. By now, it’s late in the afternoon and I’m the one with PMS on steroids.  If you've ever sat through an entire day of Wheel of Fortune, then you understand.

Finally, the last group comes out and there she is, somewhat bedraggled but giggly and chipper as ever. Dutifully, I applaud and violate the rules by hollering out, “Go Punky!” Evil-eye from floor manager. I look around like, “Who, me?” Floor manager knows he has a wise-ass on his hands.

First contestant up, wifemate! Big puzzle. Lot’s of words. She’s playing it like a pro. Milking it for all it’s worth. Her prize total is something like $18,000! Now I really am hollering and cheering. Not only that, I’ve got everyone around me hollering and cheering as well cause they’re all just about as bored and ready for some action as I am. The floor manager is pissed but he can’t figure out what to do about it. There’s safety in numbers.

Then it happened. The inexplicable. Punky got flustered and called for the same vowel twice! BUZZZZZZER!! “Sorry ‘bout that,” quipped Pat. On to the next contestant. The whole thing… visions of grandeur, new car, big screen TV, Bermuda… down the crapper. Punky was devastated. Me too.  Fortunately, she managed to recover her composure in time to rack up $2,300 in cash on the last puzzle. But still, there it loomed before her, The Big Winner… $63,000 in cash and prizes and a new car... and it wasn’t her.

When we got back to the hotel we went straight to the bar. Martinis, straight up, with a twist. After a few of those babies things looked somewhat better and we decided to go up to the rooftop restaurant and get a bite to eat.  The elevator opened and we got on, joining another person already there. It was Telly Savalas. We looked at him. He looked at us. You could see the “Oh shit” in his eyes. Trapped with two crocked tourists. After a moment I muttered, “Wheel of Fortune.” He cracked up laughing and asked, “Did you win?,” to which Punky replied, “What does it look like?” He laughed even harder, as much relieved not to be faced by two pawing autograph seekers as the humor of the situation I’m sure.

Over dinner I apologized for causing a commotion in the audience and distracting her from the game. She said, “Forget it, you could hardly hear the audience from the stage anyway.” “I just got over-excited and blew it,” she continued. “But thanks for the thought.”

At least we got an almost-free vacation out of it and for several weeks thereafter, strange packages arrived at the door. A cheap-ass vacuum cleaner, some sort of kitchen gadget, a variety of food stuffs and more I’ve since forgotten. And, of course, a story for my blog these twenty-odd-something years later.


Susan and I split up some years ago.  I suppose it was just too much to expect that a BBQ loving Florida Cracker and a charter PETA New York Jew could really pull it off.  But we gave it a good run and remained close friends.  Sadly, Susan lost a battle with cancer a few months ago, shortly after this picture was taken.  In my heart I still love her and I'm deeply saddened that I will never see her again.

Viya con Dios lover.


  1. What a wonderful story! I'm sorry about your loss. She looks beautiful in the photograph.

  2. Great story, Mr Charleston, so much fun until you got to the last few lines.
    How very good and, no doubt, healing of old wounds, to tell her story now she's gone.

    When it's over, all the stupid niggles and irritations just don't count any more and the funny memories appear.

    Glad to know you.

  3. Great story. Even the PS. What a nice tribute.

  4. This was a real roller coaster post. When you described how your wife solved the puzzles so quickly, and your reaction, I had to laugh, because that sounds just like my husband and me. Laugh? Up. Then, you described how she fumbled on the show, and down we go. Laughing with Telly, back up. Divorce, back down. Then, her death, and the ride comes to a sad ending. I'm sorry for your loss, but it's wonderful that you paid such a lovely tribute to her.

  5. Was not expecting that sudden and very sad ending. My best to you and the rest of Susan's family.

  6. Thank you all. Susan was a fascinating person. One day I'll write a post about her, it will include studying ballet at the Joffrey Ballet Co., living in Lee Strasberg's household, and a brief country music career. 'Til then...

  7. Very nice tribute. Sorry for your loss.

    And she was among the few who knew "chrono-synclastic infundibulum" (from Sirens of Titan); no wonder she could zip through the jumbles and crossword puzzles.

  8. Well, I was going to do my usual smart ass remark, and then...the last paragraph. You brought a tear to my eye, pal. It was particularly poignant because as you did, I remained good friends with my first wife after we got a divorce. She passed away a year and a half ago. It's still hard for me to believe.

    Beautiful post C.

  9. Tom... Susan was not college educated but one of the most educated people I have ever known. It's kinda funny that I was the Vonnegut fan and had given her Sirens of Titan to read a year or so before the program.

    Thanks JJ. I share your sorrow. But I really meant for this to be a happy post in spite of... well, you know.

  10. I'm sorry for your loss. It is good that you have these happy memories. Thanks for sharing. She looks beautiful in that picture.

  11. Outstanding, hilarious post! Being a "non-southern" Jew who was once married to a Texas redneck I think we could have been friends, your Susan and I. Sorry for your loss, but not at all sad that she was so exquisitely loved. Thanks for sharing, and put a yahrzeit rock on her headstone for me.


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