What could the survey possibly say to make itself heard above the shrieks from eight airborne passengers? I was one of the eight. I was shrieking for the stewardess to produce some paregoric, the better to soothe and silence the noises issuing from a 4-year-old, shrieks of joy, distress and discovery that had begun in Houston and threatened not to end till L.A. Mentally, I was trying to judge the relative merits of sitting in front of this child as opposed to a shoe bomber.
Actually, my family's troubles began in Houston, where we missed a connecting flight and my oldest daughter, using her most reasonable voice, had threatened the airline representative with water boarding. After a march of 17.4 miles on bloody stumps to the next gate, we were greeted by -- the very same representative!
"Are you together?" she demanded, nodding at my daughter.
"No hablo ingls" was my usual courageous reply.
So here we were, 15 minutes after the beef-and-cheese and 35 minutes before our descent into LAX. There are at least 37 people lining the narrowest aisle ever, and my two daughters are angrily disputing whether or not it is socially disgusting to have a son in the Cub Scouts. In other words, a family feud.
And why not? We -- two daughters, son, son-in-law and me -- are being flown to rooms in the Burbank Hilton, where we will luxuriate for three days, pausing only to play a televised game show called The Family Feud. Last summer, my youngest daughter, Tara, called to urge me to audition with the family at the Treasure Chest Casino. Thinking to atone for my largely absentee parentage, I said OK, and now I'm headed for Burbank. "Don't be nervous," I repeatedly urge my teammates. "This has nothing to do with intelligence."
I kept reminding myself of this.
"Be still and know that I am God," is the injunction, one consistently disobeyed in these times of MP3 and Bose Wave music systems. We are now being ordered to disobey it further.
"Don't forget to jump around like crazy when you're out there," a producer instructs all the families backstage. "Remember: we paid good money to get you all out here."
So we try to give them their money's worth. At the close of each show, we gather around the master of ceremonies center stage and jump around while he bids the audience farewell and the credits roll. Somehow he delights in my dance skills and keeps calling me front and center. It's one thing to be celebrated for your dancing when it is surprisingly good. It's another thing to be celebrated when it is not.
All segments are filmed on weekends, so if you win, you get a five-minute break, then film again.
During this break, the MC changes sport jackets. But not the players. Oh my, no. So, if you see us on television on the first game, then the second and the third etc., on each and every night you will see us flaunting the exact same garments. The thought tumbled through my cranium: "Out there, people are watching and thinking, 'Those poor people from New Orleans. They must have lost everything but the clothes on their backs during the hurricane.'"
Backstage, producers urged us to play, not pass, if the option was ours. In our first game, the option was never ours, yet we won the game by "stealing" every point. My highly developed sense of larceny loves this.
You can be as scornful as I about the worth of quiz shows, but that doesn't mean you enjoy lacking all answers. To a question about where I would expect to find a "whole lotta shakin' goin' on," I reply, "At a malt shop." The MC gets a laugh by saying my answers are "Americana," which must mean imbecilic.
Here's another. The query is about where you would take a cheap date, and I get plenty of laughs -- and no points -- by saying, "roller skating." I never roller-skated in my life; it would have been as stunningly successful as most of my dates.
Yet, as a team, we are successful. My son-in-law, Gus Mackey, wins one game for us with a tie-breaking answer and Tara, her sister Stephanie and her brother Mike know enough of what the Survey Says that we win five times. It's all filmed on one day, in front of the same audience. Where do they get these people?
Best of all, we delight in one another again and again. I don't know if you can see that delight on television, but it's there all right.
Saturday night. The Family Triumphant has to have at least one Hollywood moment, so here we go. Hollywood Boulevard, up and down in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the one with all the star-prints on the sidewalk. Thousands of gawkers, searchlights sweeping the skies, stretch Hummers and not a bona fide movie idol in sight.
But there are plenty of replicas. People costumed like Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis. Here's one garbed like some space alien, and my son throws his arm over the alien shoulder and they pose together for his sister's camera. Then the alien politely asks for five bucks.
My son is miffed. He must have figured the local Chamber of Commerce provided these people for visiting cameras. He chats with the alien while digging out the five bucks and discovers the alien is from Slidell.
Now my son is truly miffed. He figures that for five bucks American, he is due for more exotica than Slidell.
The flight home seeming nothing so much as driving down Toledano Street at 70 mph, and then the rest of it, the scorecard of Missions Flown, come tumbling back into the brain: wailing infants, air pockets, diarrheic passengers, surly attendants, etc., all coalescing into a huge question.
What do people say is the No. 1 reason they hate to fly?