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Fish Sticks, Velveeta Cheese, and Me: The Tale of a TV Debut

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Feeling almost famous on the
JetBlue to New York, I reread my entire book—<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>What’s Up America? A Foreigner’s Guide to
Understanding Americans
frontward and
backward. I squeezed every word into my head in the five hours that the airline
makes you sit down even when you’re to appear on the <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Fox and Friends
morning show.


When I landed in New York at about
midnight, I took a shuttle bus to my hotel, where I checked into the simplest
of rooms, but not (at $115) with the simplest of prices (Fox News didn’t pay
for my flight or hotel). I had a whole day to recover from jet lag before my
appearance on the show.


The next morning, I hurried to get
dressed so I could go see where the Fox studio was. While I was hunting it
down, the Fox producer called to discuss details. “You made it to New York,
then?” she asked, sounding a bit surprised. Then she told me three Fox hosts
would ask me a few questions about my book on the air, and she asked me if I
could buy some props for the show.


“Bring meatloaf, Velveeta cheese,
cheese in a can, fortune cookies, and fish sticks to the studio tomorrow,” she
told me. “One of the questions will be about American food.” “Sure, “ I said.
Then I realized I had promised her fish sticks and cheese in a can in midtown
Manhattan where I’d seen lots of delis but no big supermarkets.


Finding Fish Sticks


The people at my hotel gave me an
address for a grocery store that turned out to be a construction site. So with my
frostbitten nose dripping in 20-degree air, I roamed Manhattan for three hours.
All I found was a Whole Foods on 24th Street and Seventh Avenue. I bought thin
slices of gourmet turkey meatloaf for $10. Whole Foods carries authentic Swiss
cheeses, but not the cheese you spray on crackers like hairspray on a head.
They have fresh wild salmon from the Atlantic Ocean, but no frozen fish sticks.


I kept walking, looking, and
chilling my bones. I asked four people on the street if they knew of a grocery
store. They all said no. Then a woman walked past me carrying an ironing board
under her arm. Maybe she would know. “Do you know of a place that would carry
Velveeta cheese and fish sticks and packaged stuff like that?”


“Um-hm,” she said, nodding.
“Gristedes is what you’re looking for. Follow me.”


I nearly held her hand like a
daughter who had been lost for hours in a Wal-Mart and had just been found
among the blouse racks. At the corner of Eighth Avenue and 26th Street, we
arrived at Gristedes. I told the kind woman thank you, thank you again, and
then one more thank you.


Now, Gristedes was a just a plain
old grocery store. It wasn’t ashamed of stocking fish sticks, Velveeta cheese,
and spray cheese in the can. Twenty dollars lighter, and toting two yellow grocery
bags of processed food, I came out, smiling.


Show Time


The next morning was the morning.
The Fox News station was sending a car to pick me up. In the elevator to the
lobby, I sniffed the unrefrigerated food I was carrying. Then the Fox car
rolled up and I got in. Riding along in that sleek black sedan, all dressed
up—well, I was feeling that feeling again, of being almost famous.


As soon as I arrived at the
studio, a young Fox assistant met me in the lobby. She brought me to the Green
Room, a room big enough to hold a loveseat with a tad of space left over. A
makeup-and-hair woman peeked out of another closet-sized room. She looked me in
the eye and pointed to her stool. A no-nonsense type. I sat down. She puffed up
my hair and glossed up my lips. Just as she was crossing me off her list, the
Fox assistant started waving her hand toward the studio next to the Green Room.


“You’re on!” she said, and looked
at me with a smirk. “Take your shopping bags with you.” So I walked into the
dark studio where somebody snapped a microphone to my waist and another one to
my lapel and told me to begin counting down: 10, 9, 8 . . .


I was counting, and I was walking,
and I was worrying—about tripping on the steps of the raised platform,
about the bags of smelly food that I was still carrying, 6, 5, 4 . . .


Then two prop guys finally grabbed
my Gristedes bags out of my hands . . . and on the count of 3, I sat down in
the studio chair.


Three TV hosts were sitting next
to me and staring at me. “I’m sorry we didn’t introduce ourselves, I’m . . .
I’m . . . . I’m . . . .” saying their names in split seconds.


Still counting . . . 2 . . . 1 . .
. then I heard someone shout, <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>“You’re on!!!”


BAAM! “Why are people are so
overweight yet on diets?” I began to answer but after one sentence, BAAM! “What
is American food?” I started to answer, BAAM! While I was explaining American
habits, the hosts were dropping sound bites about food and showing overweight
people on the screen. “Why are there so many rules?” BAAM! BAAM! The hosts were
asking and answering my questions— not waiting for my answers.


Then it was all over. The cover of
my book had been flashed twice, but my Web site address never appeared.


The Flash of Fame


I had barely stepped out of the
studio when the Fox assistant shooed me downstairs. I got into the same smooth
car that had dropped me off 15 minutes earlier, but this time it didn’t feel so
sleek, and I didn’t feel even half as famous.


On the ride back to the hotel, I
bent the driver’s ear out of shape with moaning. I moaned about how publicity
for my book turned into a five-minute segment on dieting, how the hosts asked
me about food and not the other 19 topics in my book, and how I’m an expert on
U.S. culture, and not nutrition.


When the poor driver finally stopped
in front of my hotel, he forced a have-a-nice-day smile as I signed the
receipt, and then he took off.


Standing on the curb, watching the
car disappear, I suddenly realized the importance of routine mailings, phone
calls, and follow-ups. The blinding flash of TV lights can never substitute for
the sweat of building publicity one step at a time.


Diane Asitimbay is the
author of What’s Up
America? A Foreigner’s Guide to Understanding Americans
. She can
be reached at contact@culturelinkpress.com.



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