It's like something out of a dream. You're in front of a crowd, and a man resembling a used car salesman has stuck a mic in your face. His arm is around you. His face is an inch from yours. And there's something he urgently needs to know.
"What is Buffalo's longest street?"
Everyone is looking at you.
"The looooooongest street. Think about it!"
Your head is spinning. Main Street's long, isn't it? But it's a straight line, which would make it shorter than a curvy street. Same with Clinton or Broadway. There was that time your car was dying on Niagara Street and as you put-put-putted along, Niagara Street seemed awfully long, but then again --
"Think, think, THINK! Ooooh, this is a big one!"
You hear shouts of "Elmwood!" and "Delaware!" Delaware has the S curves, which might add distance. You take a breath.
"Delaware Avenue," you say.
The grip on your shoulders tightens. "Oh, no, I'm sorry. It is NOT Delaware! It's Bailey Avenue!
"Oooh, you'd never know it, but Bailey is the longest street in Buffalo!" The music kicks in. The guy asking the questions breaks into a wild shimmy.
Gong! That's life when you're a victim -- er, choice from the crowd -- of Dennis George, Buffalo's quiz master.
Some people might know him as Bud Murray, which is the name he went by a few years ago. But he parted ways with his former partners, and decided to take his stage name from his real name, which is Dennis George Lalka. Aside from the name change, there's nothing split about Lalka's personality. He focuses on one love: trivia.
Lalka, 55, finds trivia everywhere: in his wife's Ladies' Home Journal, on road maps, on TV.
Then, flanked by "the lovely Susannah" (his wife, Sue), and their sound man, Doug, - who coordinates all the thumps, gongs, dog barks and TV themes his show uses - he dishes out his knowledge to the crowds.
One Saturday night finds Lalka at McGruder's, a Depew tavern, grilling a bowling banquet held by a league called the Jet Set.
He has two teams up front. Their friends crowd around round tables with pitchers of beer. Everyone is free to yell out answers.
"What game show had the most episodes?"
"JEOPARDY!" shouts one Jet Setter, pounding the table.
Lalka flings his arm around his victim's neck. "Make up your mind!" he says. "Ooooh, there's a lot riding on this!"
"Hollywood Squares," guesses the guy in the hot seat. "HOLLYWOOD SQUARES IS CORRECT!" Lalka roars.
Rapid-fire, he works without notes or flash cards. One bowler, Lisa Reiter, can't help laughing at him.
"He's incredible," she says. "I think he's got an encyclopedia in his head. I think he inserts a disc."
Lalka insists that he merely loves obvious things, things few folks stop to think about.
He's always looking around, studying, absorbing. His home is his castle. "I've got thousands of games and books," he says.
Food minutiae are a specialty. "I love to cook," Lalka declares.
"I'm Polish. Cabbage, pierogi, I make them. I make a killer lazy pierogi, with noodles, sauerkraut, bacon - ooh, secret ingredients I can't even talk about! I make a killer liver. A lot of people don't make liver. But it's high in cholesterol. You can't eat it a lot."
He stops to take a breath. "Health and wellness is big, too," he adds. "We do a lot of health and wellness shows."
Incredibly, Lalka's wife - a down-to-earth woman who works in the cafeteria at Frontier Middle School - says he used to be shy. She and her husband, who have three kids and two grandkids, were sweethearts since childhood, when they lived around the corner from each other in Hamburg.
"He was very quiet," she says.
Asked how he evolved from shrinking violet to monster motormouth, she just shrugs, amused and slightly bewildered. However his personality came about, though, it sure draws people in.
"I saw him out once, and I thought he was so funny," says Michelle Krantz, who booked Lalka for the bowling banquet. "He's so outgoing."
Such praise doesn't surprise the quizmaster's wife. "It's not the board. It's not the prizes," observes the Lovely Susannah. "It's him."
In the middle of a question about which city has the most bowling alleys, Lalka motions to Krantz for water.
It's a busy weekend, with two gigs: the Jet Set banquet, and a Singles Mingle at the Grand Island Holiday Inn. The two jobs, he confesses, are somewhat different.
"I have to work a little harder here," he says as he prepares to take the stage at the Singles Mingle. "They're here to meet someone. They're not really here to see me."
He sizes up the crowd. "Oh, this Battle of the Sexes is going to be a beauty."
And it is, as Lalka assembles a team of guys and a team of girls and asks them gender-unfriendly questions.
"How many lugs on a wheel?" he asks the girls. (Answer: five.) The guys get: "What's the correct finger to put on makeup?" (The ring finger, because it applies the least pressure.)
Classic hits are next. "Name this tune," Lalka commands, beginning "My Sweet Lord." "I LOVE THESE SINGLES MINGLES!" he yells, drowning out George Harrison's guitar.
This crowd is quieter than the bowlers. Slowly, though, the ice melts. Lalka, on stage, doesn't let up for one minute.
"Mother's Day was introduced in 1910. What flower is synonymous with Mother's Day? THINK IT OVER!" he bellows, as the sound system kicks in with "Let's Get Physical."
The heat is on. Lalka unbuttons his jacket. "When I unbutton my coat, I get serious!" he yells.
One young woman, Vicki Hellman, joins a team on stage and later seems mildly surprised at herself.
"Usually I'm kind of a shy person," she says. "But I thought he was so funny."
Lalka loves nothing more than to get a good game going.
In January, he quit his longtime day job so he could play trivia full time. His life is a giddy round of corporate shows and charity galas, and he's negotiating with an agent in Las Vegas, where he has done some work in the past.
"That's where I'm at right now," he says in a rare quiet moment. "Having fun. Booking shows. I'm 55 years old. I am ready to do this. I'm getting older by the minute," he says, squirming.
He's always anticipating the next gig. Coming up are an appearance at the Summit Park Mall at 1 p.m. next Saturday and a three-day engagement at Kidsfest at Hamburg's International Agri-Center May 20-22.
"Wait till you. . . . It's unbelievable!" Lalka bursts out.
"I might wear the red suit. I might go Hawaiian. I might go the business-suit route. You never know."