My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 3: Wha’ hoppen?

October 16, 2019

(c) 2019, By Fran Fried

Note: This is the third and final part of my tale of my wild Jeopardy! trip, coming on the second anniversary of my appearance’s air date (Oct. 20, 2017). If I wrote a screenplay about this, it would’ve been turned down because no one would believe it. I still don’t, either, and I lived it. But with the exception of 10 minutes of exquisite torture, it was a good experience. And it’s a good way to finish my book, whenever that will be. For Part 1, go here. For Part 2, click here.

Thursday morning, August 3rd, 2017

Yeah, things turned kinda upside down (snap) like that.

A text from Paola, my bestie, back in Connecticut, on my phone as I awoke. I had talked to her the night before and I told her about my musical earworms that morning. So she wanted to send me some inspirational music to absorb. It was Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s wonderful ukulele version of “Over the Rainbow.” That was a Big Sweetie thing for her to do. Then again, she’s always been a Big Sweetie. I was ready. Mentally, at least, I was ready. And the knee that caused me great pain the morning before wasn’t bothering me as I walked to the shower. And I wore the fancy top she bought me at Macy’s, so she was coming along for the ride.

Adan, the waiter in the hotel lobby restaurant, was ready for the nervous visitor from the East Coast with coffee, and this time I didn’t miss the coffeepot. I was a little more relaxed than the day before as I ate my omelet, though still a little anxious. Not in a nervous way, but in a stored-up-energy way. Anyway, the day started inauspiciously for one young woman in a wheelchair, who couldn’t make it aboard the bus; she had broken her foot badly days before and was in a walking cast, but couldn’t put any pressure on it, and after a couple of futile attempts to climb the three steps into the van, she and her husband hailed a cab to follow us.

The second day, this was old hat. Manny Abell, Emily Wilson and I sat on the couch, small-talking and waiting our turns for makeup, as all the newbies sat at the table and went through the paperwork and the spiels from the contestant crew and all the jitters we experienced the day before. It was like one of those war movies where the grizzled, weary veterans arrive in camp and watch an eager new batch of recruits fall in. Minus the actual battle and blood and guts, of course. But yeah, I did relax a bit more. For the moment.

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My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 2: Finally here, and two forces of nature

October 14, 2019

(c) 2019, By Fran Fried

NOTE: Coming up on the second anniversary of the airing of my wild Jeopardy! trip (Oct. 17), it’s time to let this loose – the second of a three-part tale about the adventure of a lifetime. At some point, some of this will be incorporated into my albatross of a book. For Part 1, go here.

From the Jeopardy! home page the week my show aired. All dressed up on Day 1 but not called.


July 31st, 2017.

A bit of luck wouldn’t hurt. Being deliberately vague, I put up a post on the Book of Faces on this day before takeoff for Los Angeles and my Jeopardy! trip:

Hi kids. Pardon the cryptic nature of this. (This will all be revealed in time! Honest!) But I think I could use a little insurance mojo right now.

I’m gonna be laying low the rest of the week. Heading off to one of those adventure-of-a lifetime things. At the very least, it’ll be something fun to tell someone else’s grandkids one day. At the most, it’ll be a life-changer.

Paola [my bestie] and other friends keep saying “You’ve got this.” And I remember all those times over the years that Miss Cheryl [a very cool and beautiful friend from New York who has shown me much kindness at my low points] wrote me, at my lowest, “You’ve got this.” But more importantly, I’ve been telling myself “You’ve got this.” I’ve been relearning all the things I learned about myself through the transition.

Anyway, thanks for all your kindnesses. You’re all coming with me. I’ll hopefully be able to tell you about it this fall. I’ve got this.

And the good mojo poured in from all corners: over 300 likes and nearly as many comments of encouragement. It never hurts. Some figured it out and asked me on the down-low if it was Jeopardy! Even if I felt a little extra pressure to do better – to win at least a couple of games. As I said, I brought my friends and family and transpeople in general along for the ride, not to mention, I guess, my hometown. I also brought along my father in spirit; I wish he could’ve seen this. Maybe he did, except he was probably on the light years-long waiting list at the moment to get time on the course with Arnie Palmer, and in the meantime, playing a nice, leisurely round of 18,000 with my Uncle Gene and their golfing buddies …

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My Jeopardy! Adventure, Part 1: Well, how did I get here?

October 12, 2019
Shot August 3rd, 2017; aired Oct. 17th.

(c) 2019,

By Fran Fried

Note: I thought I’d have written this a long time ago. But a lot of things – not the least of which was a long-lost mojo – conspired to keep me from this. However, as the second anniversary of my airdate is upon me, it’s time. Maybe some of this will be part of the book I’m slowly writing. Actually, it will.

August 3rd, 2017

Am I really standing here in this spot, in this place? It certainly feels like an out-of-body experience.

I’m standing on a hydraulic-powered riser in Studio 10 of the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. It’s every bit as vast in real life as it appears on the small screen. A ceiling out of the line of my sight; you could probably fit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree inside. A game board across the studio floor that, if it’s not 20 feet high, it’s awfully close. The lighting is warmer in tone, dimmer than I would’ve imagined; LED has done away with excess heat and glare.

I’m standing in position 3, at the podium on the far right. Next to me: Carlos Nobleza Posas, an actor from Salt Lake City. On the opposite end, our returning champion, Manny Abell, a Navy lieutenant living in Lacey, Washington, blindingly resplendent in his dress whites. This is the second show that they’ll shoot this Thursday; the show is shot every other Wednesday and Thursday, five episodes daily – a week’s worth of games. The stage manager has finished with our run-throughs – getting the lighting right, doing sound checks on each of the contestants – and we’ve been offered water, in mini duckpin-like plastic bottles, numbers marked on masking tape to correspond to our stage positions.

I take a deep breath and feel this strange mixture of anticipation, adrenaline, anxiety … and calm. It’s the calm-before-the-storm variety – the instant between reaching the top of the rollercoaster and plummeting down the track; the pin-drop silence right before teams leave the locker rooms and run out to the roar of the crowd.

The heavy lifting has been done. The osmosis of a lifetime of learning; years of studying and taking tests; the 13 years of going to auditions; the nearly 10 years since I came to a humongous epiphany one January night while sitting on a bed in Fresno; the eight years of unemployment and underemployment, of layoffs and diminished paychecks and hundreds of résumés sent out without the decency and courtesy of even a “You suck” in return … and I’m finally here in spite of it all, or maybe because of it all.

My friends in California and Connecticut, the ones who had my back and welcomed my 2.0 self during and after my transition with open arms when I took the bold leap to come out in 2008-2009 … my family – especially Mom, back home in the house where I grew up and where I wound up after my second layoff out West, my father watching from wherever they watch it in the afterlife … every transgender person who had longed to appear on the platinum standard of game shows, or who had longed to even just publicly express who they really are … I was representing a lot of people up on that stage … And I was gonna bring them all with me when I won.

The stage manager broke up the tranquility: “Okay, places, everyone! 10 … 9 … 8 … ”      

Well, strap in …

The familiar theme music swells up, much louder and bolder than on a living-room TV. The fancy new 3D graphics of images, white like classic statues, swirling around the screen amidst a background of orange, pink and purple … and the bold, clear voice of the nonagenarian announcer, Johnny Gilbert …

“THIS! isssssssss … Jeopardy!

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No need to come out on this day …

October 11, 2019

A quick peek out of the rabbit hole for what I understand is National Coming Out Day:

No need for me to come out. I’ve been out full-time 11 years. I’m 58, spiritually 32, look early 40s, my left knee says 70. I’m a trans female who had my epiphany in the dark, sitting on the edge of my bed in Fresno, my former home-in-exile, one winter night in 2008. I’ve always liked girls, which I guess makes me in theory a lipstick lesbian. (Which means I’d need a significant other with bi tendencies, not to mention high intelligence and sweetness and a great sense of style.) The job world has considered me too old to deserve to make a decent living since I was first laid off at 47. I’ve been a DJ on an online radio station for 6 1/2 years, and hosted a show at a well-liked nonprofit FM station for 13 years. I’ve forgotten more music than most people have known. My favorite band since the mid-’80s has been The Fleshtones, though Brian Wilson, The Beatles, NRBQ and the Ramones have been in a pantheon unto themselves. I’m a recovering ex-journalist who had been, at one point or another, a sportswriter, a music writer, an entertainment editor, a features editor, a sports editor and a copy editor. I’ve met and/or interviewed so many famous people you’d swear I was a starfucker if I told you. I’m a total shoe whore and I know how to accessorize. I’m a collector who has several huge accidental collections (much of it in storage): records/CDs, album promo posters, Hot Wheels, and I guess shoes. I read a lot of online stories and wish I had more time to plow into books the way I once did. I lost on “Jeopardy!” in one of the weirdest ways possible, reinforcing my belief that the more I know, the less I know.

I’m kind to people unless they show their colors otherwise. Then I’m on them like flies on sherbet. By the standards of pre-Reagan, pre-adulthood, my politics are moderate to liberal; by today’s (lack of) standards, I’m extremely liberal. I’m compassionate to everyone except myself. I’m anxious and have often dealt with it by decades of overeating, which has made me fat and undesirable and loathe myself all the more. I spend way too much time alone. I have generally found much more support and love and much less judgmentalism from non-transpeople than transpeople, which befuddles and upsets the fuck out of me. That said, I once helped guide a school district that was revising its student handbook to be trans-inclusive, and I’ve spoken to groups, mostly college classes, about the gender thang, though no one seems to want to buy what I’m selling these days. I’m grateful for a lot of people and things. One of these days I’ll finish my book, and of late have recovered some of my years of lost mojo and have been working on it slowly. Maybe too slowly.

Anyway, back to my rabbit hole.

One more revolution

June 4, 2018

My father used to say “It’s just another day.” Then again, he said that about most occasions: birthdays, Father’s Days, Christmases …

This year, my birthday is probably gonna feel like another day, mainly because it’s on a Monday – today – and it’s supposed to be a dreary one here in Connecticut.

Also, in the past year or two, I’ve become a little self-conscious about my age (57, like Heinz, only without the high fructose corn syrup shit) because, well, it just sounds old. Even though I’m spiritually around 30. (Maybe it’s the residual of nine years of the unemployment/underemployment grind, where my age was definitely a factor with a lot of the hundreds of résumés I sent in vain. Age discrimination – the one form of prejudice you’d have a hell of a time proving in court.)

Over the past year, I realized that, one way or another, I don’t have that many revolutions around the sun left. To that effect, I have but one simple goal in the coming 365: to make it to 58.

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Now, for ten years (3,653-plus days of gender-traveling) …

March 7, 2018

Note: I had every intention of having this up in time for the actual anniversary, but it’s been a crazy month or nearly two (???). Hence, my road to hell is well-paved now, but I have a good excuse! Really! Better late than never …

January 9, 2018.

At the Eric Ambel-Joe Flood Sunday Buzz matinee, Cafe Nine, 5-21-17

May 21, 2017, Cafe Nine, New Haven. At the Cygnus Radio Sunday Buzz show with Eric Ambel and Joe Flood. Happiness, a tinge of sadness and some touches of resilience. (Tom Hearn photo)

I’m not gonna rehash too much, as I wrote a rather long piece on the fifth anniversary of the Feast of My Epiphany – the night when the years of suppressing my gender identity exploded in my face with a simple, blindsiding question from my inner voice: “Can you do this?”

But this made it 10 years since that crucial night – 1/9/2008, 7 p.m. PST, sitting on the bed after work out in Fresno, where I lived at the time.

It’s been one hell of a ride since then … and it’s not over. After all, 1) People don’t live in vacuums; and 2) If you ain’t learnin’, you ain’t livin’. And I’ve certainly not been in a vacuum, and my gender trip is still a learning experience, for me as much as anyone.

But I can tell you it’s one of the most difficult, yet wisest, decisions I’ve ever made – to confront this after all those decades, take it head-on, and (hopefully) become a much better person for it.

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The first interview I’ve given (Thanks, Monika)

September 19, 2017

The Facebook friend request came early this summer. It was from a transwoman in Poland named Monika Kowalska. She told me she had a blog called The Heroines of My Life, she had seen the online “Transgender Today” piece I wrote in The New York Times two years ago, and she asked if she could interview me.

Naturally, I checked out the blog before I said yes. What I found shocked me. In four years-plus, she has done a fantastic job of shining spotlights on our worlds. interviewed over 400 transwomen from many corners of the globe, famous and unknown, across the age, experience and ethnicity spectra.

And I can’t believe the company in which she’s included me: Kate Bornstein, former Army Col. Sheri Sorkowski (the highest-ranked out-trans American military veteran), Caroline Cossey (aka Tula, the first trans Bond girl), Kristin Beck (ex-Navy SEAL and bestselling author), Carla (Lewis) Combs (an Army veteran and trans activist whose defiant meme went viral after Trump’s military ban), Alexandra Billings (the first trans actress to play a woman on TV), Jennifer Leitham (renowned jazz bassist), Calpernia Addams (actress), Dana Beyer (well-known trans activist), Annie Wallace (UK soap opera star and the first trans actress to earn a BAFTA nomination), MJ Rodriguez (TV and film actress), Erin Swenson (the first-known mainstream Protestant minister to come out and keep her position), Deirdre McCloskey (economist, historian and trans activist), Riki Wilchins (noted activist), Pauline Park (longtime NYC trans/human rights activist), Michelle Diamond (the first trans Australian rules football goal umpire), Karine Solene Espineira (noted French trans activist), KarenAdell Scot (Yosemite High science teacher and trans advocate), Mina Caputo (singer for Life of Agony), Nancy Nangeroni (longtime trans activist from Boston), Donna Rose (educator and activist), and Eden Lane (the only known U.S. trans broadcast journalist).

Not worthy! Not worthy!

Anyway, life happens, and some of the narrative changed in the course of writing the interview, and there was the back-and-forth of (ahem) trans-continental emailing corrections and revisions. (The story has even changed since it was posted; I moved to another position at the company where I work part-time.)

But it’s the most I’ve ever talked about my life in print – a pretty solid overview of who I am and where I am at the moment (don’t ask me about the future; I have no clue right now, and everything’s wide-open). And here it is – the finished piece. I’m interview No. 426.

One good turn deserves another. And I recommend you turn to Monika’s blog and check out some of the other women she’s interviewed through the years.  And thanks again, Monika, for all you do.

 

Miss Sharon Jones (One Night Only)

May 28, 2017

Part of Sharon Jones’ encore of “Get Up and Get Out,” College Street Music Hall, New Haven, 5/27/16. From YouTube.

I thought of this yesterday with the news of Gregg Allman’s death; I free-associated to this version of “Midnight Rider.” And, coincidentally, it was year ago yesterday I saw maybe the most emotionally wrenching show I’ll ever see.

5/27/16, Friday of Memorial weekend, four days after my father’s funeral, after he died of cancer. Finally (!!!) got to see Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, at College Street in New Haven (with my bestie, Paola, who turned me on to them many years ago). Sharon had obviously lost some weight in her second battle with cancer, but she looked fab in that sequined dress.

But I could see her constantly talking with Bosco between songs, and the look of distress, occasionally anger, on her face and in her body language as the show went on. The cancer acting up, maybe? Well, I got the answer about two-thirds of the way through, when she had to take herself off the stage, slightly hunched over in pain. The band and her singers carried on, and I figured that she wouldn’t be coming back.

But about 10 minutes later, there she was, walking slowly back to the stage. She sang “This Land Is Your Land”; most of the way through the song, after breaking into some dancing, she took herself over to the riser to sit for the rest of the song, not missing a beat. Then, after another break, a full-lunged encore of “Get Up and Get Out” and “Retreat!” A huge fuck-you to the disease that eventually got the upper hand on her.

She didn’t have to come out again for the end of the set, let alone an encore. For this night at least, she had gotten the better of her cancer. And while she didn’t intend it this way, she had given us a great gift — herself, in a way most artists never have to, sharing with us whatever she could while she still had breath.

I walked away shaken.

Like my father, who was tough as you’d expect from a child of the Depression — he was on his feet until four days before he died — I had been optimistic that Sharon would conquer her cancer again. After this show, not so much. I knew it would be my first and last Sharon Jones show. It didn’t make the news go down any easier the night of Nov. 18.

I still choke up as often as not when I hear one of her songs. It might be on one of my mixdiscs. It might be the night of May 4, in honor of Sharon’s first birthday without Sharon, when The Dap-Kings sat in with Stephen Colbert’s house band. Or a segue from “Midnight Rider” to another. Today, it’s not so much eyes welling up as it is a heavy sigh.

Thanks, Obama – to a point, anyway (riding the calm before the shitstorm)

January 19, 2017

the-calm-before-the-storm

Today, my social-media universe is a little bit quieter than usual. I’m guessing it’s just most of us riding out the calm before the shitstorm that officially hits us at noon tomorrow. (That would be Jan. 20.) Every bit of corruption and ignorance and stupidity and heartlessness that has been brewing beneath the surface of our country’s veneer of decency and fairness is set to officially explode in our face. If I don’t end up on the streets and/or dead between now and the end of this administration, it’ll be a miracle. And that’s not hyperbole or drama, as you’ll read.

So today, I pause and reflect on the man who has led the country the last eight years. The most important president in my lifetime. Barack Obama 2009 and Barack Obama 2017 have been the bookends of the most turbulent time of my life – some ways certainly for better, some ways most definitely for worse.

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Okay, it’s the new year — game on.

January 3, 2017

we_can_do_it

I’ve refrained from commenting much on the Looking Glass, Bizarro World shitstorm that has gripped our country the past two months because I wanted to step back, take a deep breath and see where some of the chips would land … and whether, miracle of miracles, the Electoral College would function the way Alexander Hamilton planned it.

Well, silly me.

I went to bed about 2 in the morning of Nov. 9 — a half-hour before the Associated Press called the race for the orange menace. On the hour drive to work a few hours later, I was kinda distraught, and when I walked into the office, my boss asked me, “Are you alright?” “Nothing different than a lot of other people this morning,” I choked out as I sat and fired up the desktop and buried myself in my daily tasks.

But by noontime, the emotional snow and ice had melted, replaced by a scorching sun. By mid-afternoon, the feelings of depression were replaced by a quiet rage.

I mean, it wasn’t over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor — the election wasn’t an end, it was a beginning. And I realized quickly enough that you can’t fight from the fetal position.

This is a fight for the soul of America. Maybe the world.

And now that the bad actors have (predictably) tipped their hands — we pretty much know what we’re up against — it’s time to face this and deal.

And I’m ready for a fight. And now that the holidays are over, the real fun begins later today (Jan. 3), when Congress reconvenes.

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