The Cult of Martha

Fall has arrived even though my local temperature feels like August. Even so, I love the season, which is marked by my first batch of French onion soup to be eaten after an evening at the annual Sacred Heart carnival where the wine is pricey, the rides are terrifying, and the bingo cards are so old that they could’ve belonged St. Thomas Aquinas himself.

A rather nice display of pumpkins somewhere in New England where the weather is not as hot in October as in California.

A rather nice display of pumpkins somewhere in New England where the weather is not as hot in October as in California.

In spite of the heat, I still love getting the pumpkins and wondering what I’m going to be for Halloween. It’s one of my favorite holidays, and one of my sources has tended to be Martha Stewart. Before her daytime show with the live audience went off the air, Gary and I attended one fall-themed taping. We knew we were going to be in New York for a few days, and a few months earlier, I checked into getting tickets.

We’d been to The David Letterman Show on a previous trip. I only won the tickets because Gary did all the talking during the interview. Yes, there was an interview. We’d taken the red-eye and got into Manhattan around breakfast time, and since we were staying in Midtown, Gary thought we should see about tickets, as we had some time to kill before we could check in to our hotel.

Gary was a big Letterman fan. I liked him, but I hadn’t seen many episodes for the past 20 years. To give more people an opportunity to see Letterman’s show, you can’t get tickets for a certain interval of time. Gary had been recently, so I had to be the ticket applicant. After running my ID, I was pulled aside to answer questions, which I assume proved whether or not I’d watched the show and would make a more engaged audience member. Gary had warned me about this and had given me some things to say in case I was asked. As it turned out, he had coached me very well.

I was asked about a reoccurring theme and a favorite moment. I named something, and then I was asked to elaborate. Oh, brother! Gary jumped in and said, “Didn’t you say that your favorite segment was when they…” I was then able to say, “Yes! I loved that! It was hilarious!” He helped me on two more questions and then we were released. I highly doubted that I’d made the cut, but my phone rang a while later when I was standing next to Gary at St. Patrick’s as he lit a candle. The bells were ringing for midday mass when my phone rang. When I realized who it was, I fled from the church so that I could hear the instructions about lining up.

I had a great time at Letterman, so when there was a possibility of attending another TV show, I investigated. To see Martha Stewart, you did not show up on the day of the show and expect to get in. No, you had to apply online and submit several preferred dates. I had to answer some other questions and provide identification, but the standout task on the application was that I had to write an essay. If I had to describe the essay’s requirements, I’d have to say that it was sort of a loyalty oath.

I wish I had a copy of the essay to share, but time has passed and I can only remember the highlights. I recall writing about my cooking and gardening skills, and explaining that without Martha, I would never have attempted a challenging croquembouche nor would I have known the correct Connecticut supplier for my tropical brugmansia. While these two things were true, I really laid it on.

A couple of weeks later, I was notified that we had two non-transferable tickets and needed to wear something bright as “Martha likes her audience to be colorful and stand out.” I thought how wonderful it would be to have a show where people clamored for tickets, and then you got to tell them how to dress. In a world where it seems going casual looks like giving up, I had a passing thought that I wanted my own show.

Our date with Martha Stewart finally arrived. It was a rainy morning and Gary had a toothache, which would soon require a root canal. That didn’t matter; you don’t cancel on Martha. We arrived outside the studios where about 30 women were standing in line. As we emerged from the cab, Gary said, “Great, we’re the only two guys. It’s all women.” I was quick to point out that there was one guy; the one in knee-high rain boots holding a clipboard in the same way that Marcia Brady held her notebooks on The Brady Bunch. “He works here.” So he did.

We took our places at the end of the line, and that’s when it got weird. Submitting an essay, packing a bright yellow shirt into my luggage to please Martha in spite of it making me look jaundiced, and forcing Gary to chew some aspirin for a few hours were not extraordinary when you consider what came next.

“Are you from Manhattan?” asked the Pennsylvanian mother of three who had left the comfort of her turn-of-the-century farmhouse very early with her friend and neighbor.

“No, we’re just visiting,” I said while Gary pretended to look around.

“Where are you from?” she wanted to know. If you say Los Angeles, you can come off as pretentious, but I suspected if I’d said “California” she would’ve persisted. Then my reticence would have seemed like I’d been working toward a dramatic reveal, which would seem even more pretentious.

“Los Angeles,” I said as if I’d uttered Boise, Fargo, or Topeka.

“LOS ANGELES?” she asked in a rather loud voice. “You came ALL THE WAY FROM LOS ANGELES to see MARTHA?!?” People were beginning to stare. The truth of the matter was that we’d been to Canada and Boston before New York. We hadn’t gone east just for New York, and seeing Martha was a small percentage of our time, but I could see the pleading in her eyes for us to be as devoted to this culinary cult leader as she was.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Just to see Martha.” She looked at her friend and they nodded. We were true devotees, and maybe even greater than they for we had traveled the furthest distance to be in the Presence.”

We finished our conversation, which the women behind us had overheard. They were eager to speak with us two weary travelers as if we’d just tied up our camels after weeks of journeying on an Ottoman trade route. They had the zeal of a couple of ancient foodies who wanted know about our cumin and coriander.

“All the way from Los Angeles! Don’t you just LOVE Martha?” asked the woman from the Hudson Valley who had come into the city to stay over with a sorority sister who loved Martha’s decorating ideas for New Year’s Eve parties.

“Yes, I do. I really do.”

“What do you like best?” Even though the ticket application had not asked me my favorite thing about Martha as Letterman’s staff had done, I suspected that Martha wouldn’t be above planting spies in the queue in order to test our loyalty.

“I love her ideas for fall. I LOVE Halloween, and of course Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite!” I gushed and Gary rolled his eyes with his hand on his sore jaw. Ms. Westchester gushed a little more and said something about the weddings issue of the magazine and how she had been throwing baby showers for the past few years. My eyes had glazed over, and then we saw a cab pull up with men to attend the taping.

“See? There are other guys who like Martha,” I said. It wasn’t until the line started moving that I realized they were executives of the company Martha was going to promote on the show that day.

After we were held in an anteroom where we were lectured about proper studio behavior and encouraged by a comedian to scream and cheer and get generally more excited about butternut squash pizza than I normally would, we were told that we would be entering the actual studio in just a few more minutes. If we needed the restroom, go now because anything short of collapsing from an aneurism wouldn’t get us out of our seats once the cameras started rolling.

The set of The Martha Stewart Show prior to the morning's taping.

The set of The Martha Stewart Show prior to the morning’s taping.

I was already tired of the screaming and yelling, and I couldn’t help thinking that Martha, in her quiet approach to everything, probably loathed the noise even though she probably liked knowing she was loved if love can be measured in decibels. The natives were restless, and good manners were starting to be tested. Two late arrivals outside had moved through the room, and as we reached the studio doors, they jumped the line. They got the last two seats on the lower level in the section that gets on TV the most when the show returns from commercial breaks.

Gary and I, therefore, ended up in the high seats in the back corner of the stage-right portion of the studio. It is never in the camera’s range, proven by our viewing when we got home a few days later. Our only consolation was that the company being promoted that day was a specialist in household cleaning tools. “And every member of the studio audience will be receiving a mop with a reusable pad!” The audience started screaming like Beyonce had just announced another pregnancy.

I wasn’t cheering. There were no cameras on me, and all I could think about was having to get that thing on the plane.

© 2014 by Patrick Brown

4 thoughts on “The Cult of Martha

  1. You left me wanting more. That’s good, don’t you think? I was sorry the story ended. I know for a fact there is a lot more to the story. Oh well, maybe another time. In the meantime, eat some onion soup for me!

    Like

  2. Halloween is one of my favorite times, too. Maybe it’s the beauty of Fall, especially after a long, warm summer. If you want to do a follow-up to “Martha”, I for one would love for you to share her decorating ideas for Autumn. We may live in CA, but we can pretend and dream about a New England Fall! Even a Chicago Mid-West one will do….

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