The call from the Today Show came as I was buying a used car in a New Hampshire neighborhood thick with tattoo parlors and fireworks outlets. I had just left the seller’s house – where an overweight pitt bull sniffed my legs as I was getting into my car – when Melanie, a lovely producer from Kathie Lee & Hoda’s show, called my cell phone. Could I appear on their Friday morning show to talk about an essay I’d written for Ladies’ Home Journal called “The Politeness Project?”
“Sure. I’d love to be on The Today Show,” I said, gunning my used Honda onto Route 1 by Wal-Mart.
TV producers don’t kid around when they want to get someone on a set. Within hours, I had my travel arrangements, and the next day I arrived in New York City to find a car and driver waiting to whisk me off to a hotel. (Truthfully, I suspect that having a hotel room alone is enough of a lure for any working mom to say yes to pretty much anything.)
The next morning, I met Julie Bain, LHJ’s health editor, in the Green Room. This meant traipsing past the flags and fans in Rockefeller Center and being escorted into the room by a series of security guards. Yes, I felt like Sandra Bullock!
The Green Room is surprisingly functional. It didn’t feel all that different from the teacher’s lounge of my son’s elementary school, where I always volunteered to put together the newsletter. But the next room was much more fun: Julie and I were escorted into a long, brightly lit room with a row of chairs staffed by makeup artists and hair stylists with the tools of their trade strewn about the counters. Everyone is made up and blown out at once, kind of like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her cohorts arrive at the Emerald City and get combed out and shined up to see the Wizard.
Travis, the lovely man in a pink v-neck sweater who did my face (which took a lot longer to do than Julie’s, I might add, since she’s a New Yorker who already knows how to use makeup ), eased my nerves by chatting about his mom in Atlanta, where he has a house. He also suggested that I might want to invest in eye cream if I didn’t want to look, well, quite so much like a tired working mom. Meanwhile, behind me, Kathie Lee was just hanging out in sweats, chatting with various people who kept stopping by, until she was ready to be zipped into her floral dress for the set.
Julie and I returned our transformed selves (me, blinking hard because it felt like I had a pound of makeup on each eye) to the Green Room. Then yet another handler led us onto the Today Show set, where Kathie Lee and Hoda were interviewing adorable Aussie Alex O’Loughlin, the male lead in Jennifer Lopez’s new movie, The Back-Up Plan. Alex’s fans were waving banners through the window behind him, but he kept his cool even as Kathie Lee asked him what he was looking for in a woman, and he admitted he could be interested in anyone from 18 to 60, which caused every single woman on set (and there were a lot of us, crammed in there with technicians wielding cameras and microphones and lots and lots of cords to trip on) to swoon a little.
Finally, it was our turn. Julie and I clambered over the cords and took our seats next to the stars. Who, it turns out, are actually warm, lovely women. The topic was how to disarm with charm, based on my essay, but those two need no lessons in that: Kathie Lee and Hoda have the ability to make everyone, even a working mom from northern Massachusetts, feel like they belong right where they are, and isn’t that the point of politeness?
At one point, Kathie Lee even reached over to adjust the collar of my sweater during a commercial break. It really did feel like chatting with girlfriends, despite the teleprompters and cameras and, oh yes, those bright lights, and the thought that everyone could see us on TV and judge: Are we old/fat/thin/wearing the right shoes? (I had on a quickly-purchased $20 pair of heels and $14.99 slacks from Marshall’s. I tried not to think about how much Kathie Lee and Hoda spent on clothes.)
And then it was over. I went home that afternoon. A car, courtesy of The Today Show, collected me from the hotel. This time, I slid into the back seat almost as if I belonged in a long black car with a driver at my disposal. Maybe I could get used to this life.
Then, as the driver and I chatted, I heard about how his father, still living in Haiti, was trapped and nearly died when his home collapsed on him during the earthquake.
“I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Me, too,” the driver said. Then he shrugged a little. “But that’s life, is it not? It is one way this minute, and another way the next.”
That, I thought, was the truest thing anyone had said to me all day.
(See the Today Show segment here):