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July 14th, 2004 KELLY CLARKE | Night Avenger
 

Trivial Pursuits

The sponge: plant or animal?

     
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"And now a tough question ladies and gents," bellows the tuxedo-clad man standing in the middle of Wilf's Restaurant and Piano Bar, the glorified waiting room of Portland's Union Station. "Is a sponge a plant...or an animal?"

A brooding, youngish-looking man shoots the cuffs of his beat-up black army jacket. He knows the answer. The porcelain-faced lady seated at the club's sunken bar, waiting on a train to Las Vegas, doesn't. She downs the last of her martini and scribbles out her 50-50 gamble on a tiny pad of paper. As Golden Earring's "Radar Love" peels the wallpaper from the lavishly decorated space's walls, the trivia man strides across the room and swings a cordless microphone toward a woman who is wearing a nonplussed smirk. "Plant or animal," he demands.

And for one brief moment, the whole train station squeals to a standstill....

To be honest, in the hierarchy of bar events, trivia is about as low as a club can go. Local dives like Beulahland and organizers like BarFly crank up the ironic charm of answering informational flotsam and jetsam, but more often than not, a trivia night is an attempt to relieve the monotony of an otherwise unremarkable place.

But Wilf's, a destination where the red velvet wingback chairs (mounted on slick wheels) are the only things not frozen in 1962, is an exception. Most nights the quiet bar hosts local jazz musicians, but Wednesdays the baby grand slumps unused in the corner while Mr. Bill's Traveling Trivia Show, hosted by the indefatigable Bill Klein of Newport, takes over.

As Mr. Bill rattles off questions about Buck Rogers, the Great Lakes and the validity of Devo's status as a one-hit wonder, the bar's tired travelers and committed guzzlers actually start enjoying themselves. A wild cheer erupts from the collegiate "Team Green-Eyed Monsters" when they correctly determine Michigan's postal abbreviation--drowning out Ricky Martin's "She Bangs." A clever pair called "Team Bobbsey Twins" take home a prize haul including a Food Services of America calculator, six "Mr. Bill" bucks, and a Cutty Sark T-shirt and wristband.

Mr. Bill's questions are GED-easy. His music is embarrassingly Top 40. But being a winner, even if it's just in a trivial capacity, is its own desperate intoxicant. Where else is "getting the answer right" ever so simple?

"Plant or animal," Mr. Bill asks his teams one more time. Come on guys, you know this one. Don't you?


Mr. Bill's Traveling Trivia Show returns to Wilf's Restaurant and Piano Bar, 800 NW 6th Ave., 223-0070. 7 pm Wednesday, June 21. All ages.

Catch Mr. Bill's tomorrow at Mickey Finn's Brew Pub, 4336 SE Woodstock Blvd., 788-1587. 7 pm Thursdays.All ages.

 
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