Friday, November 13, 2009
Making It Right with Oprah
Sarah Palin finally said yes to Oprah. Every time Oprah is in the news, which is nearly everyday, I suffer a cringe of shame and regret. Why? -- you might rightfully ask if you cared one whit about my regrets. A badly ended affair? An unpaid loan? A business deal gone south? No. I'm afraid much worse than any of that. To get this monkey off my back once and for all I will confess to you here and now that I once said no to Oprah. I shall give you a moment to collect yourself.
It was the spring of 1996. I had been on a three week publicity tour for my book The Free Fall of Webster Cummings followed by a two week roving television shoot for the PBS series Travels on America's Historic Trails. I was exhausted and homesick. My 11-year-old son and my fiance -- now my wife -- back in Alaska were on my mind constantly. I promised them the minute I got home we'd load up the boat and head across to the wild side of Kachemak Bay for a few days of being just us. There had been delays and schedule changes and they seemed dubious. I promised them I would not mess it up again.
The day I arrived home I went immediately to the garage and started getting gear together. God it was good to be home. The phone rang and a very nice producer from Oprah informed me in a congratulatory tone that Oprah wanted me on her show. I had a fishing pole in one hand the phone in the other. Oprah was a kingmaker even then. My book wasn't doing so well and certainly needed the juice. I let too much time pass, but finally asked, "When?"
"The day after tomorrow!"
"Here in Chicago. We'll pay all your travel expenses and have a flight booked for you in the morning."
It didn't seem like such a hard decision to make at the time. I'd promised my family. I was exhausted. I could taste the bay from where I stood.
"Is there another day we could do it?"
"No." She said, without ambivalence.
"Now or never?" says I.
I heard later that no one says no to Oprah. And if you do you are dead to her. Or at least dead to her show. I don't know if that's the least bit true. I do know that book sold fewer copies than any of my titles before or since. It was remaindered only a couple years later without even appearing in soft cover. I still have about twenty cases of them in my basement.
So every time I hear her name my Oprah Shame Spiral begins to churn. Like today. And I work through it the same way I always do -- I remember three wonderful spring days across the bay with my family. Sure, there were plenty of those at many other times and only one Oprah, but that one needed to happen. More than Oprah did. That's true even now as I sit here actually in Chicago on my way west to see that same son. He's now 24 and I get as homesick for him now as I ever did.
We're going to have dinner tonight and I'll have to ask him if he remembers that one trip to the cabin. I'll bet he remembers it more than Oprah remembers me saying no to her. Ain't that right, O?