On trivial forms of humiliation

It is Monday night at about 9pm, in the youth hostel lounge. The room is nearly full, perhaps eleven or twelve other people scattered around the chairs and sofas, all sitting quietly and reading to themselves or tending to the handhelds in their palms. E and I sit on a squashy, rust-coloured couch beside which she has set up the Trivial Pursuit board.

Into the silence E’s voice rings out, as though on a stage: “What do nictitating women do to men?”

Me: “Huh? I don’t… what?

E: “They WINK at them.”

I hate this game. I freeze up, fumbling and exposed. Even the ones I do know, I forget when I’m under pressure. Every item of information in my brain evaporates into a self-conscious blank. I stare into the air, brows furrowed in mock concentration, pretending to be thinking hard: it’s just on the tip of my very intelligent tongue, the answer itself or a very reasonable guess. Really.

E: “What was the nickname of Dillinger Gang member George Nelson?”

Me: ”Um…. um…..”

Yeah, maybe I should know this… was there a film?…

E: “It was Babyface.”

Me: “Uh-huh. Ok.”

Should I have known that?

E: “Why would someone be called Babyface?”

Me: “I don’t know. Just do the next question.”

E: “Did his face look like a baby?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

E: “Even when he was grown up?”

Me: “Just do the next question.”

What’s worst about this experience is that twelve other adults are sitting silently in this room, listening to every word we’re saying and witnessing this train wreck of my general knowledge. They’re like a jury who will determine whether or not I am a moron. I can try to defend myself but the truth will out.

E: “This one’s for a pie piece.”

Me: “Ok.”

E: “Oh no, that’s too hard. Hang on. Right, you should know this one.”


E: “What is the third letter of the Greek alphabet?”

Oh right, nice one. No, wait… oh shit…

Me: “…um… Alpha, Beta… um…”

The woman across from us smiles at me sympathetically. The clutch of old men in the corner rustle their newspapers impatiently.

Me: “Um… it ‘s not Delta, so which one… um….”

E: “It’s Gamma.”

Fine. It’s Gamma. I knew that. I KNEW THAT.

E: “What is the first commandment?”

Me: “Oh….”

The mood of the room is shifting.

E: “Mum! You went to church when you were little, you should know this!!”

Me: “I know!!! I just can’t think of things when it’s in this game…”


Me: “I DON’T KNOW!!!”

This is like being in the town square, in the stocks. Someone is going to start pelting rotten fruit at me. I don’t even know the first commandment!

E: “What is forty percent of forty?”

Me: “What? That’s not trivia! That’s MATH!!”

E: “Well that’s what it says. It’s in science and nature. What is forty percent of forty?”

Me: “Ok, just give me one second. And stop looking at me. I can do this one, you just… you divide forty… and… hang on….”

Honestly, it’s not that I can’t do this. It’s that there is a room of people sitting and listening to it, every little bit of it, as I dig myself deeper and deeper and deeper into this hole.

E: “If you are a pugilist, what are you?”

The entire room is now drenched with my shame.

Me: “You know what, I’m getting tired, could we maybe stop here?  Hey, look at all your pie pieces! You did really well, E. You’re good at that game. Ok kiddo, time to go and get our jammies on.”

E: “I can’t believe you don’t know what the first commandment is. Can I tell Nana you don’t know that?”

Me: “You can tell everyone.”

As we walk past the hillwalking club, the bossy matriarch glances up at me smirking, and I understand: everyone already knows.