August 18, 2005
First Person - Death by Oprah
Oprah Winfrey is doing a show about "Ethnic Men Who Reject Their Own Women." I am invited as an expert witness because I speak and write about the ugly stereotypes Jewish men have created about their wives and mothers.
You've all heard the jokes: the nagging wives, the frenzied mothers and, worst of all, the Jewish American Princesses. I am not amused by stories about JAPs who are spoiled and whiny and can't cook and hate sex. I mean, no fair. I love sex -- well, at least I did until I got Tivo. And I can cook very well, thank you; I just prefer not to. So what if I'd be willing to pay extra for a house without a kitchen?
Anyway, courtesy of Oprah, I now get to speak out on behalf of maligned Jewish women. And, courtesy of Oprah, I'm going in style. Her staff flies me to Chicago, first-class.
This turns out to be a big mistake -- though I suppose I should resist blaming Oprah.
You see, I've got this problem with food. If someone else is paying, and I can have whatever I want, I just lose all control. It's like there's this tape in my brain that keeps playing over and over from my immigrant mother: "Finish your plate! Little children in Europe are starving!"
My friend Sandra's mom had her own version: "Eat whatever you want -- and the rest put in your mouth!"
So I'm on the plane, and the chirpy stewardess says, "Hi there! For your hors d'oeuvres, would you care for smoked salmon, caviar or paté?"
And what do I say? "Yes!"
I follow that with a stuffed Cornish game hen and a hot fudge sundae. Oy!
I wobble off the plane and a limo whisks me to my luxurious hotel just in time for dinner. Oprah Winfrey is trying to kill me -- or is this an initiation rite or a test of some sort? Or maybe it's like a drinking game where the winner is the last one to fall under the table. Didn't Oprah have an eating disorder at one point? She ought to know better.
I don't feel so good. All my body really wants is a nice cup of chamomile tea, but I tell my body to mind its own business. I sit down for a five-course dinner with beef Stroganoff. (I don't usually eat red meat, but it's the most expensive thing on the menu.) My body is angry with me. But the starving little children in Europe must be so happy!
Hours later, I am seriously unwell. I can't sleep. What am I going to say on the show tomorrow? How can I convince people that Jewish women deserve respect? As I toss and turn, I indulge a favorite fantasy about a Jewish woman president. She would trim the budget by asking everyone to "Please bring a dish to the Inaugural Ball." She would exchange guns for violins, and shut down prisons because they attract a "criminal element." She would practice tough love, and demand social activism with the motto, You live here, too: I expect you to help with the housework!
I finally fall into fitful sleep, and at 5:30 a.m. I get a wake-up call. I'm sicker than ever, but unfortunately breakfast arrives. I force down eggs Benedict and a stack of buttermilk pancakes. Hey, it's paid for. At 6:30 a.m., the limo arrives to take me, sick and nauseous, to the studio.
I'm ushered into the Green Room (how appropriate) with other guests, and introduce myself to another woman.
Me: "Hi, I'm Annie Korzen."
Her: "How do you do, my name is Dr. Judith Cohen."
Her mother named her "Doctor?" I think not.
There's also a Chasidic rabbi: "Hello Rabbi, I'm Annie Kor...."
He pulls away like I've got leprosy: "Excuse me! But the only woman I am allowed to touch is the mother of my 24 children."
We enter the studio. Lights, camera, action!
The first speaker is a single Jewish professional man: "I never date Jewish women. They look alike, they think alike, the only thing they're interested in is the size of your wallet!"
It's my turn; I want to bury this jerk with cutting wit and irresistible charm. But, it seems, clumps of Stroganoff in Benedict sauce are clogging my esophagus. I think I'm running a fever, and I am about to represent Jewish women by vomiting in front of 22 million people. With wit and charm in digestive cardiac arrest, pure animal venom takes over: "Same to you and double!"
The day after the show airs, I hear my son talking to one of his friends on the phone: "No way, that wasn't my mother. I mean, not my real mother. Duh, you didn't know I was adopted?"
My husband makes a feeble attempt to console me: "Don't worry about it. Who watches Oprah anyway?" Yeah, right.
I guess the old saying is true, "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
For information about Korzin's Aug. 13 show at Steinway Hall, see calendar
Annie Korzen is a writer and actress best known for her recurring role as Doris Klompus on "Seinfeld," and her humorous essays on NPR's, "Morning Edition."