The words flew from me like a man possessed; whoever this madman with the Ted Kaczynski beard and becoined dollar-store T-shirt was, he wasn't me. I don't scream, certainly not at someone I only just met.
I stood as one might wade in the ocean, looking back at the beach where the bright light casts a harsh sharpness on everyone. I bob and sway with the surf. It felt like a palpable thing, this surging emotion of hundreds of strangers corralled into the CBS studio. If just for a morning, we united in a common cause: that of unearned new wealth.
game show after all, folks. We still have to maintain some dignity, right?
When I see myself on “The Price Is Right” Thursday — accosting nearly every contestant as they are called to “come on down,” I will watch a guy with coins stuck to his shirt grasping for a handout. With enough stretch of will, I thought I might make that happen, forcing the hand of the benevolent game-show tiki gods to tip ever so slightly in my favor.
Those gods are a fickle sort, the kind that delight in watching us mere mortals hedge and bid for a car, only to let us fall by one stinking number. I thought “No, not this time. This time the mortals will win, cast onto that sacrificial stone of a nationally televised game show.”
It was my new friend's turn to take the stage. We met that Wednesday morning, both on the invite of a mutual acquaintance who procured the free passes and as a return contender for Price glory. For hours, the CBS parking lot heat baked us and perhaps addled us into a weird, lemming-like state in which our pied piper, Drew Carey, need only utter “jump” to discover how high we'd go.
In line, we met other repeat contestants. Only in L.A., we remarked, is the prospect of free cash and prizes a real possibility and a regular part of life. It bears its own subculture, this game-show joie de vivre, and for the admission of several hours on a weekday morning, you can take a swim in the emotional swells carefully crafted for a live studio audience.
The sea roiled as seats were filled. Think less Olympic swimming pool and more backyard above-ground wading pool — the camera adds 100 or so seats.
We're shown to our spot, front row, stage-left. A few rules are gone over, and the announcer stirs the waters. Before we know it, we're in the fray — a foamy froth of whistles and shouts. The names are being called, but we're in too deep — they might as well have sounded an air-raid siren for all the good it did.
On a cue card at the front of the stage I see a name, my new friend's name, and I think I whip around to tell Hadar she's picked.
I was a little swimmy-headed at that point, what with all the shouting. But I do recall the elation that of our group of four, one of us beat the odds. The more cynical side of me realized it was not going to be me up there, trying to determine the actual retail price of a can of Chicken of the Sea. But he was silenced by the crazed pack mentality that overcame us while we supported our friend in her quest toward the mythical showcase showdown.
Hadar made her way off contestants' row, which is how I found myself tearing my vocal chords to shout “ONE DOLLAR” at her while she bid on a prize. Later, she told me it was hard to pick out any one voice above the din. Probably for the best — on nearly every game I bid wrong.
I have some studying to do before I jump in again.
BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he isn't guessing the actual retail price of his groceries, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter @818NewGuy.