Jeopardy in High Heels – Gemma Halliday, Catherine Bruns

“Yoohoo! Over here, Maddie!” My mother was waving both her arms frantically in the air, as if signaling a 747 on the tarmac at LAX. Several heads in the studio audience swiveled to see who she was hailing. I gave a one finger wave back in acknowledgement, secretly hoping that gave her the signal that her heroic attempts to flag me down had been seen. No such luck. Her arms continued flapping. More heads swiveled. Dorothy Rosenblatt, my mother’s best friend, must have thought Mom wasn’t trying hard enough because she joined the party by waving a yellow scarf in the air, the same bright color as the muumuu she was wearing over her ample frame. Mrs. Rosenblatt was a part-time Venice Beach psychic whose second career was marrying and divorcing the unsuspecting men of Los Angeles. Her hair was Lucille Ball red, her jewelry as colorful as her language, and her horseradish gefilte fish burritos could put hair on your chest. Mrs. R didn’t do subtle. “Maddie!” Mrs. Rosenblatt yelled as she patted the seat next to hers. The loose flesh on her arms jiggled at a faster pace than a belly dancer, making me wish she’d invest in muumuus with sleeves.

“We’ve saved places for both you and Dana.” “Excuse me,” I said politely to a twenty-something man sporting a bleached blond Mohawk and the woman next to him who had a variety of colorful tattoos running up and down both her arms. They rose to let me pass, and as soon as I was within reach, my mother pulled me down into the seat next to hers. “Isn’t it wonderful, dear?” She gripped my hand so tightly that I lost all feeling for a second. Mom let go to adjust the blue and white T-shirt she was wearing, with Alex Trebek’s face prominently displayed in the center. There was a bubble coming out of his mouth with the words The answer is… Mom had paired the shirt with a pair of black stirrup pants and pink high-top sneakers that matched the pink eyeshadow extending from her lids all the way to her plucked eyebrows. Mom’s style was once the height of fashion but had stalled like a Volvo station wagon somewhere around 1986. “I can’t believe we’re actually here,” she said, her gaze whipping around the audience—who had thankfully stopped staring in our direction and had their attention on the sound stage in front of us where the crew were making last-minute adjustments before the show started taping. “It is exciting,” I admitted, feeling the catchy exuberance. We were on the set of the famous Jeopardy! game show that morning, taping a special Celebrity Jeopardy! Tournament to air later that evening, featuring notable names in Los Angeles.

My stepfather, Ralph, had been lucky enough to be picked to compete, and Mom, Mrs. R, and I had all scored tickets to come cheer him on. Mom’s hazel green eyes, which I had inherited, studied me carefully. “Where’s Dana? She is coming, right?” My best friend, Dana Dashel, who had recently become Mrs. Ricky Montgomery, was a working actress, and as luck would have it, she happened to be filming a TV pilot in one of the other studios on the same production lot. “She’ll be here, Mom,” I assured her. “She had an early call time, but she promised she could slip away. I know she’s been looking forward to it.” “Who hasn’t?” Mrs. Rosenblatt asked.

“It’s not every day that your best friend’s stepfather is a contestant on Jeopardy!” She spoke loudly and purposely, clearly hoping to attract the attention of others seated nearby. As if her outfit hadn’t already done that. Mom chewed on her lower lip. “I hope he’s not nervous backstage. This is so important to Ralph—err, Fernando,” she corrected herself. Although I affectionately referred to my stepfather as Faux Dad, most people knew him as Fernando, proprietor of the hair salon by the same name, which was located near the elite Rodeo Drive and catered to the rich, beautiful, and Botoxed of Beverly Hills. Over the years his customers had run the gamut from the wealthy and obscure to moderately famous to downright celebrities. He even claimed to have done a cut and color on Barbra Streisand—or Babs, as he affectionately called her—when her normal hairstylist had come down with the flu just before a big charity luncheon. Fernando had started life as Ralph Hoggington from the Midwest. But when he’d hit the glamorous West Coast, he’d quickly realized that no one in Beverly Hills would frequent an exclusive salon called Ralph’s (or Hoggington’s for that matter), so he’d reinvented himself as the European hair sculptor, Fernando.

His new persona included a fake Spanish ancestry, regular spray tans to keep the Midwestern farm boy out of his complexion, and black hair coloring to complete the exotic look. Last month, Faux Dad had been chosen out of dozens of celebrity candidates to appear on the iconic game show, and being a huge fan, he’d jumped at the chance. The fact that any winnings he amassed would be donated to a charity of his choice was the cherry on top. I crossed one brown suede boot over the other and smoothed out the olive pencil skirt that I’d worn with a sleeveless white lace blouse. “Do we know who he’s competing against yet?” I asked. Mrs. Rosenblatt stretched out her arm, which contained several plastic bracelets that formed the color of a rainbow, and pointed at the stage. “I overheard someone mention that Angela Gold’s in Contestant Row tonight. But I’m not sure who the other celebrity is.” “I just love Angela,” Mom gushed.

“Her character has already been in a coma three times. She’s so believable in the role.” Mom squeezed my hand. “I hope your stepfather can get her autograph for me.” Angela Gold played the character of Kaley Kingston on All My Husbands, a long running soap opera. Kaley was rich, ruthless, and deliciously devious. Like Dana’s pilot, All My Husbands also aired on the same network as Jeopardy!, probably a contributing factor to Angela’s addition to the show. A murmur went through our row as Dana, as promised, arrived through the side door and made her way toward us. Thanks to her last couple of movie roles, most notably as the star of the Lord of the Throne fantasy films, people were starting to recognize her in public. In fact, Mohawk Man at the end of our row asked for her autograph as she passed by.

Dana flushed and smiled as she obliged, but I knew that she was secretly loving the attention. Dana and I had been best friends since middle school, and we’d grown close enough through the years since that we were more like sisters than just friends. A former aerobics instructor, it had always been Dana’s dream to be an actress. And while it hadn’t been an overnight success for her, she’d worked hard and was finally starting to see her career take off. Much the same way my business designing women’s shoes had taken some time to grow but was now finally at a place where I could spend half the day designing, half the day with my preschool aged twins, Max and Livvie, and still have enough in my husband’s and my bank account to pay the bills. And even take an occasional day off to support the extended family, like today. Dana settled in the seat between Mrs. Rosenblatt and me, her strawberry blonde ponytail swishing back and forth. She was wearing a cropped pink shirt with designer jeans that were probably a size zero. Dana had about one percent of total body fat, and if I didn’t love her so much it would have been easy to hate her.

She tucked her purse under the chair in front of her. “I saw Alex Trebek this morning arriving on the lot. He smiled at me.” “Aren’t you the lucky one,” Mrs. Rosenblatt sighed. “I simply adore that man. I ever tell you about my third husband, Alf? Died on the living room sofa watching Jeopardy! Peaceful as could be. I didn’t even notice until Pat Sajak came on. Had Trebek not been so handsome, I mighta noticed sooner.” I blinked at her.

I had no response for that, so I turned to Dana. “How’s the pilot coming along?” I asked. Dana popped a breath mint into her mouth. “It’s going well, but geez, I’m beat. I had to be on the set at four o’clock this morning. These long days are killing me.” Dana’s pilot was an updated take on the original 1970s Charlie’s Angels series called Charlotte’s Angels. Only, with the girls in charge, these women were at least ten times tougher than Charlie’s threesome had been. Dana portrayed Charlotte Benson, a private eye with a checkered past trying to make good by cleaning up the world of bad guys. She kicked, punched, and clawed her way through every scene until she got her man.

It had to be difficult taking on six-foot, three hundred-pound guys while in skintight jeans and spiked heels, but somehow the Angels always managed. “Stand by. Testing,” a male voice boomed through the speakers above us. My mother leaned across me and nudged Dana. “Did you know that Angela Gold is in contestant row with Fernando?” Dana’s eyes widened. “Really? Who’s the other celebrity?” A man with a goatee and glasses sitting in front of us turned around to answer. “Doggy Z is the other contestant.” “Shut the front door!” Mrs. Rosenblatt yelled so loudly that everyone around us stopped talking to stare at her. “He’s my favorite rapper!” “Since when do you listen to rap?” my mother asked.

“What? It’s the music of the people.” “Your people play bingo at the Jewish Community Center,” Mom pointed out. Mrs. R waved her off. “I’m a woman of the world.” “You’re making a scene,” I mumbled as conversation was slow to resume around us. “I take that as a compliment.” Mrs. Rosenblatt smiled. “Look, the contestants are coming out.

” Mom pointed down at the sound stage. Faux Dad took his place behind the first podium, and Mom practically bounced in her seat. He was wearing a purple blazer with sparkles that looked like he’d borrowed it from Elton John. His dyed black hair was sleeked back with gel, and his skin looked slightly darker than usual, probably thanks in part to the thick stage makeup. He glanced into the audience, as if searching for us. Mom started to wave until I placed my hand over hers. “Maybe we shouldn’t distract him,” I said. She nodded. “Good point. He needs to get in the zone.

” Angela Gold appeared next and took the middle podium as several people in the audience clapped and cheered. She nodded coolly at Faux Dad. Angela was slim, tall, and graceful, with long dark hair that flowed behind her in soft waves. She was dressed in a red silk dress with matching stilettos and had a steely look in her eyes, as if she’d been in the zone for hours already. “She’s ready to do battle,” my mother said, voicing my own thoughts. “Bring it on,” Mrs. Rosenblatt declared. A slim man with pallid coloring wandered onto the set and paused, staring at Faux Dad and Angela with a confused expression on his face. He looked to be only a few inches taller than my own 5’2″, and he had on baggy beige khakis, an untucked plaid shirt, and gleaming white sneakers, which all looked oversized and sagging on his thin frame. The deep lines around his eyes said he was at least in his fifties, even if his wardrobe looked borrowed from a teenager.

His short, dirty blond hair stood on end, he was unshaven, and he looked half asleep. After a few seconds, he walked over to Trebek’s podium and stood behind it. The audience made cat calls and laughed. A woman’s voice from behind us echoed through the studio. “Yo, Dog!” Several people in the audience began barking. Dog raised a hand in salute. “They used to do that at all his concerts when he was on tour.” Mrs. Rosenblatt giggled. “Isn’t it cute?” Dana winced.

“Adorable.” The stage manager appeared as a male voice boomed through the speakers again. “Quiet in the audience during taping, please. Anyone causing a disturbance will be removed for the duration of the show.” While the stage manager tried to direct Dog to his correct podium, a tall man in a dark navy suit hurried toward them. I wasn’t sure who he was, but his hair was sparse and more salt than pepper and his face was contorted into an expression of annoyance. As soon as he reached Dog, he started speaking rapidly and gesturing with his hands in a way that did not look happy. Dog frowned, shooting a response back, before the man grabbed Dog’s arm and half dragged him to a corner. Mrs. Rosenblatt leaned forward.

“That Doggy Z has such a wicked sense of humor. Ever hear his track ‘Dog’s Gotta Wee Bone’?” Thankfully, no. In fact, I knew very little about him, other than having heard his name now and then on celebrity news channels. Usually in conjunction with some legal scandal. “Isn’t he British?” I asked, trying to remember. “Scottish,” said Goatee Guy. “He pioneered bagpipe rap.” “Bagpipe rap?” I asked. “Don’t knock it till you try it,” Mrs. R said.

“The way he blows a pipe will blow your mind.” Goatee Guy pointed at a young man sitting kitty-corner from us on the aisle end. “That’s Doggy Z’s son over there.” We all craned our necks for a look. The man was attractive, in his early twenties, and dressed in a well-tailored black suit the color of his hair. While Dog could have easily doubled for the guy panhandling outside the studio, his son looked like he’d stepped straight out of a boardroom, with broad shoulders and a square jaw. A young woman about the same age was sitting next to him. She was a pretty blonde with shoulder length hair, wearing a sleeveless pink dress that showed off her tanned skin. They had power couple written all over them. “He doesn’t look at all like his father,” Mom mused.

“Poor kid,” Mrs. R said, shaking her head as Goatee Guy turned back around in his seat. “Got none of that Dog swagger.” “Well, I for one think Dog’s lyrics are obscene,” Dana remarked. “They’re totally offensive to women.” Mrs. Rosenblatt scoffed. “Nonsense. His ‘Doin’ It Doggy Style’ is a classic.” “See what I mean?” Dana said, giving me a knowing look.

I nodded as I watched the stage manager trying to show Dog how to use his buzzer. While it had only taken him a minute to show the other contestants, Dog seemed mystified by the item. “Is that man high?” Mom asked, squinting down. “Now, that’s a little judgmental,” Mrs. R jumped in. “I think Dog just tried to lick the buzzer,” Dana pointed out. “Okay, so maybe the man takes a little toke now and then. What’s the harm? It ain’t illegal no more,” Mrs. R said, wagging a finger at me. “In fact, I even saw a commercial for his own special blend during his cooking show.

” “Cooking show?” I asked, glancing at the man who seemed to be swaying slightly on his feet. He looked more like the eating-raw-cookie-dough type than a gourmet. “In the Kitchen with Aunty Mae and the Dog,” Mrs. R informed me. “It’s on every morning just after the Today show.” “That, I have seen,” Mom piped up. “I adore Aunty Mae.” That was a name I did know. Aunty Mae was a sixty-something woman with a wide smile, a sweet Southern accent, and a down-home solution for every household problem, which she could teach the viewing public in thirty minutes or less. If Martha Stewart had a perkier Southern sister, it would be Aunty Mae.

She’d been a staple on the Cooking Network for years, and she could not seem more the opposite to the grungy looking rapper on stage right now. “That seems like an unlikely pairing,” I noted. “Oh, it is. That’s what’s so fun,” Mom said. “Aunty Mae and Dog are always fighting on the show.” Mrs. Rosenblatt grabbed Mom’s arm. “On yesterday’s episode, they were each using knives to slice up tomatoes, and I swear they were thinking about using them on each other. Dog said Mae had a ‘face like the back end of a haggis.'” “I missed that one,” Mom said, frowning.

“Stream it,” Mrs. Rosenblatt advised. “You’ll thank me for it later.” Goatee Guy turned around in his seat again. I felt we should be on a first name basis by now. “I read they got into it so badly last week that Aunty Mae stormed off the set.” “What did Dog do?” Mom asked. Goatee Guy shrugged. “Maybe he added something funny to the brownies.” Dana snorted back a laugh.

The lights in the studio audience flicked on and off, and the familiar opening musical strands of the show met my ears, followed by Johnny Gilbert’s booming voice. “This is Jeopardy!” My mother clutched my hand in excitement. “Here we go.”

.

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