Sunday, December 13, 2054

Chapter Fifteen

Thursday night, after we finished taping Letterman, Tom Selleck asked me if I wanted to join him and his wife for dinner. So the three of us hopped into a cab and went down to the East Village for Indian food. I'm sure people recognized Tom, but no-one bothered us. New Yorkers go out of their way to be nonchalant about celebrities. I was on a huge high from the show and had to keep reminding myself that it wouldn't air for another few hours, yet. None of these people had witnessed my genius yet. After dinner, I caught a cab to LaGuardia for the shuttle back to Washington. Tom and I traded phone numbers and email addresses, promising to keep in touch. I could get used to this.

On Friday morning, Rachel called to announce she'd be bringing a small group of friends to my place that night for a barbecue to celebrate my triumph. My job was to make sure the grill was ready....she'd bring the groceries.

True to her word, at 6:00, she was on my doorstep with seven people in tow. Ronald was her date; a guy she'd met recently while doing research in the Musical Antiquities section at the National Archive. He had stringy gray hair and a dull, self-important expression on his face. Not surprising he'd be found in the antiquities section. I can't say I was very impressed by him but Rachel seemed to be enjoying his company, so I withheld judgment.

The other guests included Ted Banks and Artie Howe, both district managers for Harkness automotive. Rachel, acting on some knowledge no-one else was privy to (including Ted and Artie), had maneuvered them together three years ago, and they'd been together ever since. Rounding out the group were Alicia Greneaux (a friend of both Rachel's and mine dating back to elementary school) and her husband Jordan, and surprise, surprise, a woman by the name of Zelda Kellerman. Zelda was in her late 30's, about 5'8" tall with her dark hair cut in a severe pageboy. Her piercing blue eyes suggested the hair color might be artificial. She was also the date I hadn't known I had.

Rachel has tossed so many women in my path over the last 10 years, that I'm no longer the least bit surprised when it happens. She gave me a brief period to mourn the demise of my marriage to Denise and then started a campaign of military precision to locate the 2nd Mrs. Harkness.

She shows up at family holiday dinners with perfect strangers for me to meet. She gives me single tickets to her symphony performances and when I show up, invariably there's a single woman in the next seat who I'm expected to woo with perfect dispatch. We once rented a ski cabin in Vermont for the weekend. Rachel was with some guy she was seeing at the time and I thought I was solo. When we got there, I was introduced to Teri. Teri and I hit it off right away, which was a good thing, considering the cabin only had two bedrooms. We actually dated for two or three months. Rachel's not only determined, she's persistent as hell if she thinks the situation warrants it. Obviously, I'm a lost cause, so persistence is Rachel's only option.

So, at any rate, I took Zelda in stride and decided to make the most of the situation. Truth be told, Rachel has rarely stuck me with someone I wouldn't have chosen to date on my own. I've dated a lot since the divorce, and usually a relationship of some sort, forms for a while. I've remained friends with a fair number of the women I've dated. Its just that if I have one phobia, it's the fear that I'll end up married to another woman like Denise. I'm always convinced that if I'm so attracted to a woman, I must be blind to some fatal flaw she's hiding...just like Denise.

Hey, phobias are supposed to be irrational.

So, at any rate, a few hours later, we were all sitting around, too stuffed and lazy to begin clearing away the carnage of our feast. The galvanized tub had a few lonely bottles of Bass Ale still bobbing in the icy water. (Ronald stuck with the bottle of '94 merlot he'd brought). We'd consumed an impressive pile of rib-eyes that Artie had picked up from Dean & Deluca. A huge salad, some roasted potatoes, cole-slaw, and a 15 lb. watermelon had disappeared, as well.

The evening had been a rousing success, what with everyone fawning over me about my Letterman triumph. Rachel was a lot more impressed by my new buddy, Tom Selleck, but she's family, so its allowed.

I was just getting up enough energy to offer to make coffee when my doorbell rang. I asked Rachel to make the coffee while I went to answer the door. If we were at her place, I would have had to beg her to make real coffee; the kind with caffeine and no nutty, vanilla, kahlua or any other heathen flavoring. At my place, I was safe. I don't keep any other kind in the house, and Rachel's finally heeded the prohibition against bringing it in with her.

I was amazed to open the door and find Jackson Duffield on my front porch. He'd been kind of a hero to me for years. I loved that he had kept his show local for all these years and I loved even more, that he managed to scoop the networks on a regular basis. I invited him in.

"One more for coffee", I hollered to Rachel as we made our way through the house to the back patio.

I was just finishing introducing Duffield to the other guests as Rachel came out with the coffee. We all sat down. "I apologize for intruding on your dinner, but I wanted to talk to you about being on my show this Sunday," Duffield said.

I asked, "Do you always show up at a guy's house to invite him"?

"In the old days, in person, on my hands and knees was the only way I could get anyone to appear," he laughed. "In your case, Mr. Letterman suggested this might be the most successful approach with you. I spoke to him this morning".

My guests were suitably impressed.

"I know you've had a lot of shows trying to bag you, but give me a minute to make my case," he continued. "I saw you on the show last night, and I have to tell you, I was impressed. You showed a great deal of poise and there were some little flashes of common sense...which isn't that common. What I've got in mind is to put you on for the last fifteen minutes of the show. It'll be you, me, R.A. McKiernan from The Post, and Elaine Cummings who writes for The Nation and we just talk. I get the conversation started and we just go from there. I think you might make a great counterpoint to the usual crowd.

"I'll admit I'm flattered," I said, "but Nightline was just covering an event, and Letterman was a follow-up joke. Why should anyone care what I think about anything"?

He looked at me as if trying to decide which cards to play, then said, "Paul, I'll be honest with you; there's definitely part of this idea that's pure gimmick; I like ratings as much as anyone. Having said that let me ask you a couple of questions".

"O.K.," I said.

"Do you have a view on the death penalty"?

"I lean toward being for it but with some serious reservations".

"Don't tell me your opinion, please, just whether or not you have one. Do you have an opinion on term limits"?

"Yes, definitely", I said.

He went on to ask me about five or six other topics and I did indeed have a firm view on each of them. Then he said, "It's my guess that you could speak intelligently about each issue I've just mentioned. It's also my guess that you may have a unique take on them; something original to add to the conversation. I think it will make for some interesting television and I'd like to try it. Are you game"?

"What do you think, Rachel"?

"It's your decision, Paul," she said.

Zelda piped up, "Oh, do it Paul. You'll be fantastic".

This girl's alright, I thought. Just the answer I wanted to hear.

I accepted, of course. Both the invite and Zelda's offer to make breakfast in the morning.

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