Missteps Toward The American Dream
We waited in a long winding line full of people, deeply focused on filling out little slips of paper. We were told that our “applications” would be picked at random for a chance to come up on stage and “audition” for the real Wheel of Fortune show by participating in a “simulated” Wheel of Fortune show.
The auditions were in a huge multicolored tent. As we walked inside, the skinny tan woman in front of my mom turned to introduce herself. “Penny Rutablagovivichington. Realtor for HouseMax! I can sell anything! Here, take my card, if you ever have to sell a house!”
“What did she say her name was?” I asked my mom, overhearing part of the conversation.” Penny something? Penny Rutabaga?”
We sat down behind Penny and I focused my eyes on the stage in front of me. There were cutouts of Pat Sayjack and Vanna White and a souped-up dry-erase board with sparkly letters.
“Hi there,” the woman sitting to my right turned, squinting her eyes and wrinkling her nose. She wore a purple sweatshirt with ironed-on picture of kittens, and in her lap was a book called 101 Puzzles and Brain Teasers. “I always bring one of these everywhere I go,” she told me, touching her crispy hair-sprayed curls. “It’s always good to have something to do while you’re waiting. Plus, it gets you in the mindset!”
“I think this is our lucky day,” my mom said, nudging my arm. “Come on…American dream. Just think, ‘American Dream’”
“I’m gonna buy a huge Winnebago if I win,” the woman to my right continued, having a conversation with me that I wasn’t participating in. “like a 50 foot one. We just got back from a trip across the country, and whew! Was it fun!”
“I bet,” I said.
Penny kept turning her head from side to side.” I hope they start this soon! I have just got to leave by 3:00!”
Then, the elevator music died down and there was silence in the tent. Winnebago lady braced herself, leaning expectantly towards the stage.
Seconds later, the unmistakable Wheel of Fortune theme song started playing and a wave of fervor overtook the crowd.
“Yay!” Winnebago lady shrieked.
“Wooo!” The crowd screamed and clapped.
“Come on, you have to cheer!” my mom reminded me.
“Yeah! Wooo!” I tried. A man in a gray suit and red tie danced onto the stage. The cheering got louder. Then a woman in a sparkly green dress stepped on after him in spiky heels.
“Hello folks! I’m Ben Marks and this is Allison Whiting and we’re standing in for Pat and Vanna. Whatta ya say we play some WHEEL OF FORTUNE?!” The cheering became deafening and the theme song started again. Ben started calling numbers.
“Okay, pay attention,” my mom reminded me. Right.
20 numbers were called and the potential contestants were told to introduce themselves, including their occupation and something interesting or unusual.
“My name is Alex and I wait tables. I like outdoor activities like biking and running and I took a trip to Europe last year to spend time with my family.”
“I’m Sarah, and I just moved here from California with my husband and daughter and we like to ski and spend time together as a family.”
“I’m John. I’m a banker and I like to play golf and spend time with my family and I LOVE to watch Wheel of Fortune!”
A small mouse-like woman stepped up to the microphone. “My name is Holly Walton. I’m a home-maker and I have two children. I love Wheel of Fortune, of course, and also spending time with my family, and I like to write complaint letters.”
“Oh, wow, Holly. And what kind of complaint letters do you write?”
“Oh, you know,” she continued. “When you buy a toaster that doesn’t heat up, or a bedspread that doesn’t quite fit, you write a letter and tell the company what’s wrong,”
“and then…I get free stuff!” She said, as if delivering the punch line.
“What kind of free stuff?”
“Well, I get free shampoo, free appliances, one time I even got a free dryer!”
“Wow! Well Holly, welcome to Wheel of Fortune!” Ben said. Holly took her place among the other recruits.
Five rounds passed. “Why didn’t I get that?” Mom said, whenever someone solved the puzzle. “We should have shown more energy. Then they would have called us!”
“All right folks, we’re going to do ONE MORE ROUND!”
“All right, this is it,” mom sighed.
“Right,” I nudged her. “American Dream, Mom.”
“80982,” Penny Rutabaga stood up. “That’s me!” she kicked up her running shoes, bouncing to the stage.
“Oh my God,” Mom breathed. “I can’t believe she got up there!” Penny approached the microphone with zeal.
“Hi! I’m Penny!”
“Hi, Penny! What’s that on your shirt?”
“Well, I ran a race for Breast Cancer this morning. I love
to run,” she added. “I’m a realtor for ReMax. I love my job.”
“And what do you do in your spare time?”
“Well, I don’t have a lot of spare time right now,” she smiled, “Because the real estate market is SO HOT!” Penny grinned. “…but when I do have some time, I bake risqué cakes!”
“Wow! Risque cakes! Thank you Penny!” Ben gestured her towards the rest of the contestants. “All right. Here’s your puzzle. The category is… Children’s Stories. Let’s play… WHEEL OF FORTUNE!”
It was Penny’s turn after three contestants had guessed three letters.
“I’d like to solve the puzzle, Ben,” Penny said confidently. There were a couple of gasps.
“Wow! All right, Penny…”
“What? How can she know what that is?” My mom said, dumb-founded.
“The Big Bad Wolf,” Penny announced.
“That is correct!”
The audience around us erupted into applause, but every one of us was a little bit spiteful.
“She is SO getting on the show,” mom said, despairingly.
“Penny, you won this round! Congratulations!”
“Thank you SO much, Ben!” Penny chirped.
“Penny, let me ask you, how in the world did you get the answer so fast?” Penny smiled knowingly.
“Well, I’ll tell you Ben,” she started. I pictured Penny practicing her Wheel of Fortune big winner acceptance speech in front of a mirror with a hairbrush. “When my kids were growing up, they used to tell me, ‘Mom, you should be on Wheel of Fortune!”
“Ah, I see. So it was destiny!”
“Yeah!” Penny giggled. “I’m glad it worked out this way too, because I have a house to go sell!”
“Well, we won’t hold you up any longer!” The other contestants shifted from foot to foot behind Ben, knowing that their chances for fame and glory were over.
As the room started to clear out, slowly, Ben reminded the crowd not to worry, because they still might be called
back in six months, perhaps for the special Mother-Daughter show.
“Well, it wasn’t our day,” mom sighed.
We filed out of the tent with the Winnebago woman and all the other disappointed ones who had cheered at Y.M.C.A. and Ben Marks’ bad jokes.
I’d acted like the whole thing was a big joke, but deep down, I wanted to hear my number called as much as the next person.
Is that the real American Dream? To have a big wad of money fall in your lap for no reason? And to feel like you deserve it? I’d thought of most of the people here as desperate and bizarre, until I suddenly realized that I was one of them.
Sometimes people like Penny Rutabaga have all the luck.
“But wasn’t she ridiculous?” my mom glanced over her shoulder at me, and we both giggled. Softly, at first, but then I caught up to her and did my best Penny impression, saying “The market is SO HOT right now!” Soon we were nearly falling down in the parking lot laughing. We were making a scene, but we didn’t care.
“Well, hey, maybe we’ll get on the Mother-Daughter show,” my mom said, between guffaws.
“Oh. Yeah. Totally. We’re there,” I said.
Wheel of Fortune
Pat Sajak – Sajak Says… (read his crazy political rants. you’ll never watch the wheel the same way again!)