Performance Anxiety

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“I have no idea what your book is about. I don’t understand it. It makes no sense to me.”

As my QVC host was telling me this, I heard the director through my wire:

“…four, three, two, one, you’re on….”

And then the host flashed a broad Pepsodent smile and said “Now, tell me about your book! I love it!”

I stared at the camera.

I looked at the monitor.

They told me to wear a pastel colored chef’s coat, so I did. I looked like the broad side of a barn that had been dipped in Pepto Bismal.

“Tell me about these gorgeous dishes that our kitchens made—“ They were on a slant board in front of me, tilted up towards the camera.

I couldn’t see them.

I’m five foot one. My host was six foot eight. I was supposed to have a riser, but they gave it to an Amazonian Swedish woman selling press-on nails over on the next set.

“What about the pork butt?” the host asked.

“What about the pork butt?,” I answered.

“Do I detect a hint of pineapple?” he asked, coyly.

“I certainly hope not,” I answered.

I stared at the camera.

My host stared at the camera.

A minute or so later, while he was droning on about buying his meat in the same place he buys his tires and his wife’s lingerie, I started to shift my weight back and forth, from one foot to the other.

I was teetering like a weeble.

Nobody called in except for my cousin Bob, masquerading as a woman from Mississippi.

I walked into the green room when it was over, and found Joan Rivers mumbling about how some people should just stick to NPR.

My cell phone rang in the parking lot, and it was my aunt, who, once she got me, didn’t know what to say. One of my best friends called from Chicago and said that my coat looked pretty, but that I seemed warm.

I was reminded of that scene in Broadcast News, when Aaron Altman gets his big break as a stand-in news anchor, and he starts to sweat so badly that they have to blow dry his armpits in between segments. He declares the evening not a complete loss: at least he dropped some weight.

I’m a food journalist. I’m not a performer. I spend my days wondering how people like Jacques Pepin and Jamie Oliver don’t slice off their digits on national television while they’re boning out quail. When I think of performance, I think of overcooking the lamb, or steaming the lobster until it takes on the consistency of a kneaded eraser, or undercooking the chicken and only realizing it when my 92 year old mother in law yells over from the dinner table “it’s delicious, but is chicken supposed to be rare?”

When I think about performance, I don’t think of myself on QVC, wearing a pink chef’s coat, being prompted by a man who hasn’t read my book to talk about food that I’m too short to see because he’s given my riser to another female guest who is as tall as a dry cleaning delivery van, all while Joan Rivers watches on from the green room.

That’s not performance.

That’s performance art.

photo credit: istockphoto

About The Author

Elissa Altman is the founder of the blog PoorMansFeast.com, and is a longtime contributor to The Huffington Post.

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