Last week, Neil Cavuto ogled my pectoral muscles.
On live television. On the Fox News Network. While millions of people watched. It was one of the most exciting things that has happened to me in years.
But I should probably back up.
It all began when my personal trainer e-mailed me and asked if a reporter from Fox News could call and ask me a few questions about the iPod-based training program that hed begun marketing recently and which I used when I worked out on my own. It was really taking off and they wanted a real person to talk about it.
I called back Ben, the very sweet-sounding producer whod left a message on my cell phone, answered a few questions, and was stunned when he ended the conversation with, So you sound great. Could you do the show one day next week?
Im sorry, what show?
The show I work for. Your World With Neil Cavuto. Wed be really interested in booking you as a guest.
But I thought you just wanted a quote.
No, no, no. We want someone to be on-camera.
After a moments shock, I had a sudden vision of clarity and managed to convey the following to Ben: I would not work out on TV. I would not even consider doing squats or bicep curls. And I would most definitely not wear a tank top.
He assured me Id only have to answer a few questions. And then, just as quickly, he started backpedaling. Hey, its OK. Were talking to other people. We might not even go with you.
Wait, no. Did I say something wrong?
No, its just, you shouldnt get your hopes up is all.
But what should I wear if you do decide to use me?
Well cross that bridge when we come to it. If we come to it.
I hung up the phone.
Suddenly I wanted this booking more than anything.
I should probably be upfront here: Ive been in front of a television camera before.
When I was about 6, I rode around on a carousel on an afternoon childrens show in my hometown of Houston, as the lady who hosted the programa thirtysomething woman who played a character called Kitterick and who was dressed bizarrely as a cat in a 1960s-era leotard with eyebrow-pencil whiskers painted on her facewaved at the camera. This was in the Old West era of television, long before VCRs, so there is no record of this.
But now, I had the chance to be seen by a much larger audienceand for a much longer segment.
I went away for the weekend, forgot about Ben entirely (I even ate chips with guacamole more than once), and came back to a message on Sunday night: They wanted me.
The gig was set for Wednesday at fourgig, this is how I talked now; Id booked a gig.
Ben told me where to go, what to expect; he even called the morning before the big day and did a mock interview with me on the phone, so Id feel comfortable.
Meanwhile, I was freaking out tremendously. Plus, I was feeling entirely bloatedand the camera adds 10 pounds! Should I go to the gym and take two spinning classes back to back and then sit in the steam room afterward? Should I visit the Web site of the colon-cleansing concoction that four of my friends were using at the moment and have a shipment sent to me overnight?
My stress level got even higher when Ben informed me that Id be appearing in my segment along with a very famous trainerhis wordswho turned out to be Jillian Michaels from NBCs The Biggest Loser.
I dont watch that show. But I went to her site. And she had guns and a tan and was all cut up and, frankly, I was terrified at this point. Would she mock me on live television for passing myself off as fit when I was really this puffy mess?
The night before my appearance, I went to the gym, bench pressed more weight than I ever had in my life, did what seemed like three hundred dumbbell curlsfor the guns!and ate an enormous plate of nothing for dinner.
I also practiced how to say, PumpOne is a digital, image-oriented fitness trainer that you can use on your iPod, Nano, or Treo about five thousand times.
Then I went to bed and prayed I wasnt about to be embarrassed in the worst way ever.
When I got to the Fox News Channel studios the next afternoon, a woman named Anita whisked me into hair and makeup. Next, a woman named Tina sprayed foundation all over my face and ears and neck with some mechanical device, put concealer under my eyes, dabbed gel onto my lips, and suddenlyand Im not kiddingI looked like a completely different person.
Then, before I knew it, Ben was there in the green roomI was in the green room!and he was saying, Have you met the other guest whos going to be on the show today? He nodded knowingly across the room at the older, distinguished gentleman a few feet away, while holding up a book for me and underlining the authors name on the cover with his forefinger: Elie Wiesel.
Yes, that Elie Wiesel. Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
Im sorry, WHAT?!?!?!
Elie was wearing a tasteful gray suit and holding a green felt-tip pen that he used to sign copies of his book Night, which was on the best-seller list again thanks to being a recent selection of Oprahs Book Club and which he was autographing for staffer after staffer from Fox News as they stopped by for a moment with this legend.
I was wearing a form-fitting, short-sleeved, black poly/cotton blend top from Banana Republic that sort of showed off my shoulder muscles, if the light hit them just so.
The broadcast began.
It was just Elie and me alone in the green room.
He nodded at me. I smiled at him. And he crooked his head as if to say Were both going to be interviewed on the same television program, young man. Were both anointed. My friend, come over and introduce yourself.
But I couldnt. Please. I could just imagine the conversation:
Hello, sir. My name is Garth.
My name is Elie.
Yes, of course. Youre here to talk about the Gaza Strip and the genocide in the Middle East and the tragic lack of world peace, I assume, yes?
That is correct. And what are you here to talk about?
Silence. Silence. Wait for it.
Gunshot to the temple.
When Anita escorted me into the studio 45 minutes into the broadcast, I was terrified, to say the least.
Live television. No screwups. One chance.
Oh, my God, youre in amazing shape!
This is how the shows host, Neil Cavuto, greeted me as I sat down across the desk from him on the set. I have to tell you, that has pretty much become my absolute new favorite greeting for any and every stranger.
Im gay. Im liberal. Im sure Neils politics are antithetically opposed to mine, and the irony that I was about to appear on the Fox New Channel was not lost on me in the leastId spent two days joking with my friends that my stock answer to any question about exercising was going to be Its terrific! Im in such better shape now, and so many more guys want to fellate me!
And yet, I suddenly loved Neil Cavuto.
He put me at ease. He chatted with me casually during the commercial break before we began. With his body language and his smile and the stunningly easy way he read a piece off the Teleprompter about Star Jones once we went live, he let me know this was all going to be OK.
When you watch the broadcast, I come off, shockingly, like a pro.
I speak in sound bites. Im reasonably articulate. When Jillian Michaels gets a little bitchy, I deflect her with a coy, flirty comment that elicits a Good answer! from her. Leave it to me to turn straight on national TV the minute it works to my favorand on the Fox News Channel, no less.
Ben sent me an e-mail telling me I was fantastic.
Rex, my very first boss, who was channel-surfing in a hotel room somewhere in the South, sent me an e-mail too, telling me he couldnt believe I was 41 now.
My mother called to say, in essence, she was stunned I didnt go batshit loonball on national television.
Now, if I can just figure out how to get a gig on The Best Week Ever.
Garth Wingfield is a New York Citybased playwright whose drama FLIGHT was produced off-Broadway last season. He can bench-press 155 pounds and is also really good at doing that thing where you pull the barbell off the ground and then push it up over your head and hold it there.