My Fifteen Minutes Was Someone Else’s Lifetime

What was I doing on prime-time television? Not much good, that’s for sure. I had been an expert witness in the nation’s highest profile child custody case ever: then, before and since. So, I guess you could say the producers of many news shows were looking for some words of wisdom on this very important question of where a little girl would live out her life. But you would be wrong. They were looking for sound bites. And, as my grandmother would say, expert witnesses probably aren’t worth the powder to blow them to hell, anyway.

I will say this: My intentions were good. I believed that if you took a happy toddler out of the only home she had known for two years and put her with people who were strangers to her you would, in some way, shape or form cause her irreparable damage. I could only speculate on how this damage would manifest itself but that was my story, and even under duress on the stand, I was sticking to it. Still do. A lot of good it did.
And then, a couple years later, when there was a similar custody case but with the added thrill of America versus the Cubans they came after me again. For my expertise.

And so, for a brief period of my professional life there were camera crews in my office, a camera crew tracked me down on vacation in Arizona and I did the whole Big Apple green room thing. It was not fun. It was, in fact, frankly miserable.

First of all, do you know what time you have to get up to be on television at eight o’clock in the morning?  Five o’clock. And that right there takes all the fun out of the nice free hotel room. The front desk called and said my limousine was there so I went down and stepped right into this really very luxurious vehicle. Talking to the driver is stupid because they’re 15 feet ahead of you with their back turned but I did ask some dumb question about whether the show was filmed in the same place as the David Letterman Show and he said, no, this was at Rockefeller Center and that was on the other network, CBS, anyway. We went a few more blocks before it occurred to me that I thought I was going to be on CBS and when I said this he stopped, turned around and asked, "Dr. Feinman?" Um, no, that would not be me. It ended up the CBS limo was busy taking NBC’s morning show expert to the CBS studios and vice versa. That required a few phone calls and some swearing on the driver’s part to get straight. It wasn’t MY fault; he said, "Good Morning" and held the door so I got in.

Then, I had to buy a suit and, as you know, I’m shopping challenged and cheap so dropping down 700.00 for an Eileen Fisher business suit I would never wear again was a bite. To add insult to injury they have some kind of wardrobe Nazi who comes into the green room and pokes and pulls on your clothing like you’re a manniken wearing clothes from Kiwanis. This fierce woman-I’m sure her name was Helga- kept frowning and sighing and finally, with a grimace she said, "Ya, Vell, it vill do." It will do??? This is more money than I spend in a year on clothing! (Well, it was back then.) I asked her what if it wouldn’t do and she informed me that they had a whole room full of suits they can dress you up in if need be. Great. I should’ve just come in my pajamas.

The only fun part was this: Remember Martin Short as the wedding coordinator in Father of the Bride? Picture him, all fussy and hyper with the dreadful Hungarian accent. Okay- that guy was the makeup man for CBS This Morning. Exactly him. So at six in the morning this charming fellow is diving and swooping around me, screeching,
"Ah, dahling! looka does eyes! does green eyes! I lubba does eyes! An looka dis hair?
Where did you getta dis hair??? I LUBBA dis hair! I don gotta do nudting, not nudting to dis hair! Whatta I do?? It’s so short, dis hair! I lubba dis hair! Ya wanna see my socks??
Don you just lubba dees socks? My sweetie gotta me dees socks in Rome last week.He’s gotta da taste I tell you! I lubba dees socks!" and so on. For at least fifteen minutes, non stop. He was truly a laugh riot.

However. I do not wear makeup. I have not spent fifteen minutes putting on makeup in my entire life so the amount of makeup that Fritz put on me that morning was more than a lifetime dose. The lipstick alone stuck my lips together so that every time I went to say something I had to unsmack my lips. That right there should have been the cue to keep my damn mouth shut.

As I was standing at the curtain, just as they broke for a commercial to seat me and start the segment I felt hands down my skirt. My 350.00 skirt. Hands down inside my skirt. I jumped and this perfectly agreeable fellow said, "oh don’t mind me. I’m just running your mic." And then he put his hands down my silk blouse.

The thing you don’t really realize about those shows from home is that Paula Zahn (history) and Harry Smith have every word they utter written out. In this case, every question. In giant capital letters on big boards. Did anyone write out my answers? No, they did not. Did anyone tell me the questions beforehand? No, they did not. Did I know that there would be guys jumping around flashing blinding lights in my face and doing count downs on their fingers and making frantic timeout gestures with their hands the entire time I was trying to speak with my mouth stuck shut and my skin sliding off my face from the weight of makeup? I did not.

Unlike this post, that situation was serious and painful. Many intelligent and thoughtful people were sought out for their expertise on a case that eventually made it to the Supreme Court of the United States. But, as with so many things, in the end it wasn’t about what I thought or most people thought it should be about. And, you know, for every expert who is convinced of something based on their experience and training you can find another who is equally convinced in the other direction; at the very least you can always find an expert who is willing to say the opposite is true. I don’t want to revisit that case again. I just want to say, about those fifteen minutes? They’re usually not all they’re cracked up to be.

13 responses to “My Fifteen Minutes Was Someone Else’s Lifetime

  1. Ok, I have to ask even though you maybe don’t want to say. Would this be Baby M?

  2. Mary- it’s public record so I don’t mind saying. It was the Baby Jessica case.

  3. Why is is that the thing I’ll remember most about this piece is the mic guy trying to cop a feel? I must be evil.

  4. Do we get screen shots? Transcripts? Something! I cant believe I missed all the excitement.

  5. Ugh…. I cannot imagine how frustrating that would be, especially in a case like Baby Jessica (or those twin girls who were ripped from their mother’s arms last year…I can’t even watch that stuff).

    Although I’m sure that, and your CBS Morning Show experience, were awful they sure do make for a good blog read. Maybe we can look at all of our life experiences that way now…good and bad. 😉

  6. Vicki , you managed to make a sad case sound funny anyway. I’m with you on the makeup and $700 suits!

    I know Hoss is mad at me; he didn’t comment on my blog today or send an email – and he does that nearly EVERY day! I’ll have to sweet talk him, I guess…………

  7. Oh my word. Well, you know my response to this since I grilled you via instant messenger the whole time I was reading about it!!!

    Ugh, how awful.

  8. Oy! Well, it was certainly a memorable experience and, yo!, you have *expertise.*

    As always, I am both impressed and touched by the lengths you will go to help someone in need.

  9. Fascinating.

    Makes me wanna hear more… maybe some day. 🙂

  10. What a story, Vicki! And, you’re right about the sound bites. I left the world of journalism when it started to feel somewhat dishonest. I had learned how to take quotations out of context to prove a point–even if it wasn’t the point the speaker necessarily wanted to make (of course, this was excellent training for fiction writing).

  11. For whatever it’s worth I broke one of my Andy Warhol collectible Campbell’s Soup coffee mugs yesterday. It was rolling around on the van floor when I had to break hard. An old Amazon Tea bottle came flying up from the backseat and took out the mug with big rear end collision. It took me slightly less than fifteen minutes to clean up the mess, but my set will be forever devalued by the removal of this single cup. It’s part whole versus piece aggregate philosophy, when you take something out of context the value of everything related to that thing has to change, because the whole is and is more than the sum of the constituants.

  12. Oh God, Vick. I remember the Baby Jessica case all too well. Molly was two years old and we were home with a raging bout of conjunctivitis (both of us in blind misery, eye goop everywhere) and out of the crusty slits in my eyes I saw the coverage of little Jessica being taken away, sobbing. Of course I began to cry, Moll was asking me “Why you ca-wy-ing Mommy?” which made me cry more then she started to cry and I called her Dad to come home, for Chrissakes, come home! He did, the conjunctivitis went away, but I’ll never ever forget that day.

    Woman, you’ve got ovaries of steel, handling God Awful stuff like this. I am more in awe of you than ever.

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