Sunday morning I awoke filled with dread. Usually I would plunge headlong into a day of rest—the only part of the Bible I follow religiously. In the undeclared Sleep Wars—as in “I get by on five hours”; “Oh, yeah, I only need four”—I raised the white flag long ago, admitting to clocking eight whenever possible. On a typical Sunday, I generally do nothing more strenuous than work the New York Times crossword, roast a chicken, and watch Jennifer Garner kickbox some bad guy on Alias. If I were to write a self-help book, I would call it Doing Nothing: The Eighth Habit of Moderately Effective People.
But this Sunday, an invitation I’d accepted months ago came due, so instead of tucking into a second cup of coffee and a carrot muffin, I was on a train from D.C. to Baltimore, where, later that day, I would lead a discussion on Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious at the Maryland Film Festival. (I kept trying to remember what—other than the line “You’re protected by the enormity of your stupidity,” said to Nazi Mama’s boy Alexander Sebastian [Claude Rains] by his mother—I liked so much about the film.) Yes, OK, the appearance was for a good cause. Yes, I’d said no twice before. And yes, my good friends Christy Macy and Taylor Branch live in Baltimore. Still, a modicum of self-knowledge usually makes me say no to such things because, in addition to my tendency to do nothing whenever possible, I also have terrible stage fright. Put me in a TV studio and I’m calm, convinced no one’s watching me. Put me in an auditorium, and the guy nodding off in the third row (not a contender in the Sleep Wars, he) is the one who inevitably catches my eye, making it impossible for me to maintain the pleasant fiction that I’m not boring viewers, who in reality are probably switching to Animal Planet when I appear onscreen.
At least I was ready to pose for some grip-and-grin photos. On Thursday, I’d uncharacteristically taken time away from what I currently love doing—renovating my house—in order to renovate myself, which I generally leave to the last possible minute. When I have people over for dinner, I concentrate so intensely on the meal that I don’t take a shower until the doorbell rings. In fact, it’s not unusual for me to spend the evening dressed in whatever clothes are at hand, my hair sopping wet. But since tomorrow I’m beginning the promotional tour for my book—Don Imus, Diane Sawyer, Bill O’Reilly, Tim Russert, Chris Matthews—I tore myself away from tearing up ratty carpet long enough to get a haircut. For efficiency, I go to a place in my office building (named, optimistically, Serendipity), and as I was walking out my door, my colleagues at Time, Jay Carney and John Dickerson, who cover the White House when not giving fashion advice, reminded me that there is such a thing as too many highlights, an apt warning given that I was thinking major overhaul. I mean, what brunette wants to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer?
After my appointment, I jumped out of the chair, hair still wet (as usual), and sped over to the rubble that I call my new-old house. I needed to tell O’Neal Page, my good-natured, ingenious contractor—he moves from one journalist’s house to another, kept fully booked by word of mouth—exactly how we could squeeze a washer/dryer into the kitchen by removing the stove, knocking out a wall … well, you don’t really want to know. Suffice it to say that my daughter, Courtney, now has a large Thermador oven sitting in the middle of her dining room like a piece of found art. (We didn’t think to ask whether it could be properly vented before moving it to her kitchen as a way of accommodating a stacked Whirlpool in mine.) Over the weekend, she found herself in the used appliance business. I’m writing an ad for eBay as soon as I finish this.
Anyway, this morning I got through the first interview of the day where hair doesn’t count. What I love about Don Imus is that he didn’t even pretend to have read my book. I wish he had, of course, but it’s part of his charm, maybe his only charm, that he is genuinely, authentically, himself. On ABC’s Good Morning America, where hair is critical, my own didn’t matter as I was practically blown off the air by the tornado in Kansas City. About all Diane had time to plug was my mother’s meatloaf recipe, loved by John McCain and other members of the Senate—just one gift, among many, my mother gave to me. (Her secret ingredient? Pureed peas.)