Dear Friends of the Pub Quiz,
As I write this newsletter, I am struck again by the most famous lines of poetry of former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass:
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
This past weekend I was waiting for a coffee and a tea at Philz Coffee in North Berkeley. The tea was for me – it came with so much mint that we joked that the barista had drowned a small salad in my cup – while the coffee was for an old friend visiting from back east.
I lived in Berkeley for more than a year after I first moved to California, so I was not entirely surprised when a stranger greeted me by name. As I shook his hand, I scanned my mental Rolodex. This young man named Tyler might have known me from my decades of teaching at UC Davis, or from my years of hosting poetry events locally, or from the radio show. Which was it? He reminded me that years ago he regularly attended the Pub Quiz, an experience that he evidently treasured and misses very much.
I half-jokingly asked if we could pause and then relive this interaction when my friend, visiting from Rhode Island, returned from the bathroom. I wanted her to see that I’ve made friends with an admirer, and that my celebrity, such as it is, stretches all the way to the East Bay. Tyler obliged, acting out his excitement about our “trivial” reunion a second time for my friend’s benefit. I was grateful for Tyler’s performance, and for the opportunity to reconnect.
Later over dinner at Chez Panisse (my first time!), my friend told this story to her former roommate, another of my closest college friends who, thankfully, eventually moved to California from our far-flung corners of the globe (she from Micronesia, me from Washington, DC). At one point my Rhode Island friend paused in the narrative to jokingly refer to me as “A STAR,” and smiled knowingly as she traced a five-pointed star in the air.
This was an allusion to my Dad’s 1980s DC license plate, “A STAR” in capital letters, something I hadn’t thought about in years. My brother Oliver and I thought the vanity plate on my dad’s Cadillac Cimarron to be somewhat boastful, but we knew that my dad took relish in being recognized in our hometown, the nation’s capital, because of his years on TV reviewing movies for the local CBS affiliate. Today Davey Marlin-Jones’ license plate can be seen resting on the lintel in Oliver’s living room.
Now, of course celebrity itself is rather silly. As Elvis said, “The image is one thing and the human being is another.” Some of us have a bit of notoriety in our field, niche, or region; perhaps it helps us consider how we present ourselves in public or with our peers. Such distractions mean that an outsider can see patterns about our lives that we can’t often see from the inside, such as two generations of journalist-performers taking disproportionate delight in their own local celebrity.
This “Cats in the Cradle” moment for me made me miss my dad, who passed away more than a dozen years ago, and made me wish I could share my current life with him, whether it be my literary accomplishments, the weekly fun we have at the Pub Quiz, or the grandson he never got to meet. Sometimes I overhear Kate telling stories to that grandson Truman about his “Grand-Davey.” Sometimes on special occasions Truman will wear my dad’s trademark bowler hat.
While I reflected on the ways that our lives are shaped by loss, or by what Hass in that poem “Meditation on Lagunitas” calls the “endless distances” of “longing,” I knew that at least at Pub Quiz tonight I would get to introduce all of you to two of my closest college friends (both staying in Oakland with family and friends for the long weekend), and I would introduce these college buddies to the decidedly vainglorious and cheeky showman known as Your Quizmaster. Friends who had spent time with my dad, and watched him on TV, and visited my homes in DC, Boston, Berkeley, and London, would get see me perform as my dad once did.
Sadly, as I learned last night, the stars misaligned again, and these friends that I associate with a happy, stumbling time in my young adulthood will not get to join us tonight, and thus will not hear the deafening introduction to the quiz. Along with death and separation, missed opportunity is another kind of loss. As Harry Chapin would say, “When you coming home, dad? / I don’t know when / But we’ll get together then / You know we’ll have a good time then.”
Filled with inside jokes and allusions to Beatles’ songs, children’s books, blackberries, and buoys, the secret messages and allusions that were hidden in tonight’s pub quiz will not be heard by its secondary intended audience, at least not in our pub. Instead, I emailed my friends a copy of tonight’s quiz, something for them to enjoy communally before they fly back to their disparate and far-flung homes, separated by growing distance. Moving always in different directions, the three of us shall remain connected by the echoes of our shared laughter, and by fond memories of fallen stars.
In addition to topics raised above, tonight’s Pub Quiz will feature questions on the following: New England, Pixar films, the circus, olives, Mr. Rogers, reconstruction plans, famous trees, bonobos, agriculture, kleptocracy, holidays, metascores, famous poets, Toni Morrison, the magnetosphere, tempos, rampant vowels, liberty bells, the loss of the whole, potatoes, John Lennon, Hollywood favorites, protuberances, songs with names in them, people named Karen, art history, taxes, social networks, and Shakespeare.
Here are three questions from last week’s quiz:
- Newspaper Headlines. Caracas is in turmoil at this hour. Caracas is the capital of what country?
- New Jersey Cities. Starting with the letter P, what New Jersey city is one of two American cities with a greater population density than that of San Francisco?
- The Films of 2017 – Dunkirk. Dunkirk held the top spot in domestic grosses for two weekends in a row. What 2017 film most previously did the same?
P.S. Davis poet Lauren Swift will open for poet, novelist, and musician William Greene at Poetry Night on August 17th at the John Natsoulas Gallery. You are invited!