Three hours early. My central memory of appearing on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” is they asked that I show up three hours prior to taping, just so I’d be there, ready when they needed me.
I did not feel as if I had reached the media pinnacle, or ascended the cultural Everest, or anything like that. Yes, I had written a book — a reflection on failure — but this was the mid-1990s, before Oprah’s book club, and I viewed her more as a slightly classier version of Geraldo Rivera.
I went through two metal detectors — one airport-type, one wanding, and was shown to a Green Room that, unlike most, actually was green. They had a big pile of those greasy generic muffins wrapped in cellophane, and I mused that, were I the richest woman in the Western Hemisphere, I’d offer my guests a better quality of baked goods.
There was paperwork — I was given a disclaimer that, as far as I could tell, gave Oprah the copyright to my book and forbade me from ever uttering her name or describing my experiences on the show. I crossed out the most onerous passages before signing, and as I had guessed, none of the harried producers noticed the changes.
Eventually I was ushered into the great lady’s presence. She was holding a wireless microphone in her right hand, and stuck out her left. I puzzled over this before sticking out my left hand, and we shook opposite the regular fashion.
“Wrong hand,” Oprah said coldly. I pointed at the mike. She put it in her left hand, and we shook again.
The program was on “Second Chances” and involved viewers who had suffered various disappointments — a botched wedding, a missed graduation — having those life events re-staged by the magic of Oprah. When they cut to me, I earnestly contradicted the premise of the show, saying that failures shouldn’t be seen as shameful events to be forgotten or redone, but as an inevitable part of life, something to be proud of, as proud as you are of your successes.
It didn’t go over well.
Afterward, Oprah worked her way out of the room, through an adoring audience, some of whom pressed little notes into her hand — names of sick relatives in need of healing, I assumed.
In the years to follow, I sometimes wished I had been more fawning to Oprah, more bouncy — maybe I could have become some sort of Semitic Dr. Phil, dispensing my trite wisdom and easy platitudes. Though I did not wish too much.
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