I got an interesting call last Friday morning.
“Scott. It’s Stacie.”
Stacie is the marketing guru at WJK Press, the company that published our book. And she sounded very serious. Like, “Your-Mom_Is-Not-Really-Your-Mom-But-Is-Instead-Is-A-Poorly-Trained-Russian-Spy” kind of serious.
“Hi Stacie! What’s up?”
Then there was this awkward silence.
I laughed out loud. In a high-pitched squeal. Like I do.
“You have GOT to be kidding!” I was at once thrilled and skeptical, wondering if she was actually talking about some cable access knock-off of the original, only with a different spelling. Perhaps Good Mornin’ Uh-Merika with Harold, Joanne and some guy they call “The Cap’n”
“No, I’m not.” She answered. “Please tell me you aren’t out of town this weekend. They want an exclusive. With the whole family.”
As she was asking that question, I was busily packing a bag for our weekend church retreat. The one the kids talk about all year long. Our family camp. With bunk beds. And bugs. In the middle of nowhere.
Sadly, my first thought was, OMG, this is huge! We have to ditch family camp!” But then, my conscience spoke to me, (in my wife’s voice) and said, What would that say about you if you write a book about growing in faith as a family, and then crush your children’s family camp dreams by cancelling so you can go on national TV and sell a book about not buying stuff?!
I addressed Stacie’s request.
“Well, actually, we leave for family camp this afternoon and it runs all weekend. I can’t cancel. We might be able to do Sunday afternoon.”
Stacie started problem solving. “I’ll contact them and see if they can push it, but they really wanted to run the piece Monday morning. I hope it won’t be a problem.”
The rest of the morning was a back-n-forth blur, with schedules and questions and locations. Finally, we settled on a 3:00 interview Sunday, at our house. The “fixer upper.” The one that is completely torn up, save for the 800 square foot basement where we now reside. All four of us. With the kid’s mattresses on the floor. And bare wall outlets with no covers. It’s a lot like a movie set. If your movie is about the Apocalypse.
So we swept the floors in hopes that the gleaming tile might somehow distract from the live electrical wires protruding from the holes in the sheetrock.
We went to our kids’ school that afternoon, intent on leaving for church camp right after Jake’s “Punt, Pass and Kick” competition on the playground. As we waited, Audrey played on the monkey bars with the other children who were watching for their siblings compete. No sooner had I struck up a conversation with another parent when she comes running up to me, slightly whimpering.
“What’s wrong, honey?”
“I hit my face on the steps of the playscape.”
She was tired from a long day, and the tears came easily. I glanced down and didn’t see anything major, so I said, “You’ll be OK” and rubbed her head.
Two minutes later, Gabby walks up and asks,
“My goodness, Audrey! What happened to you?!”
Gabby turned my daughter’s face toward me to show me the red gash on her right cheek, surrounded by an ever-growing field of purple.
“Wow! It didn’t look like that a minute ago.” I said, guiltily.
We improvised, with Gabby shoving some ice cubes into an empty snack size bag of Cheetos to create a cold pack. Audrey held it to her face while the freezing orange-ish liquid mixed with powdered cheese dribbled all over her shorts. This only added some healthy anger to her already painful face wound. Poor kid. We prayed that the black eye would fade by the time the cameras and/or child protective services arrived on Sunday.
When we got to camp, we agreed not to tell anyone about the interview. For starters, the weekend was about community and togetherness, and we didn’t need to distract people from that. And secondly, the news cycle is very fickle, and we knew we could easily be bumped to the cutting room floor should Kanye West decide to enter the 2016 presidential race.
The weekend’s activities proved to be a welcome distraction, helping us focus on what was important. The workshop went well. Audrey played in the creek. Jake got to go fishing. We had a sing along on the porch. But the highlight was the big “Tailgate Party” celebration on Saturday night.
Dance music played while people chatted. The planners of the event even created a makeshift room out of tarps and bought in a bunch of black lights to create a “Glow Zone” for the kids. I dove right in, inviting a little girl named Maddie to paint me up with neon so I could enjoy it, too.
The adorable ten-year-old made designs on my arms. She decorated my forehead. She painted on hot pink lipstick. I looked so good that I invited Gabby to participate.
“You need to go get your face painted so we can go in the “Glow Zone” together!” I prodded.
Gabby came up to me ten minutes later to show me her decorated face, adorned with polka dots, hearts and zig-zags.
She winced. “Mine burns a little,” she said.
“Really?” I countered. “Mine just feels kinda’ itchy.”
We both shrugged and went into the black lights so we could snap a picture.
As the night drew to a close, I went outside to the campfire to enjoy some quiet solitude and chat with friends and family. It was a beautiful, peaceful night. Then Gabby gingerly walked up and leaned in close.
“What’s up, babe?”
“This…” she said, looking very serious as she pointed to her arms and circled her face, “It doesn’t come off.”
She was matter of fact.
“The paint. I washed. And scrubbed. With soap. And it DOESN’T. COME. OFF.”
My jaw dropped. I stared at her. Mystified. Like some mouth breather at a monster truck rally who has just seen his beloved Big Foot toppled by Truckzilla. Because there in the glow of the firelight, just a few short hours before we were supposed to be on camera in front of over 5 million viewers, my wife and I looked like this:
Perhaps the burning and itching should have been our first clue that it was a bad idea to let a grade-schooler decorate our faces with unknown glowing chemicals the night before we were to appear on national television. There are reasons why they don’t usually put people like us on camera.
We both burst out laughing. I could hardly breathe. Snorting. Wheezing. Tears and snot were streaming down my face, yet failing to smudge the paint. Our daughter was covered in the same decor, too. Yet hardly drawing the eye away from that purple-pink gash on the side of her face.
I immediately went to the bathroom and did my best to clean up. Apparently, the itchy paint was more washable than the burn-ey kind, so my skin was relatively clean. Gabby? Not so much. This is her face after giving herself a Silkwood shower and sandpapering her cheeks with a makeup remover cloth. We’re not sure of the red spots are paint residue or simply raw flesh.
The next day, we drove home to meet the camera crew. They arrived in a van that resembled an FBI stakeout team. The neighbors were probably suspicious, but we took comfort in the fact that they were probably happy that the law enforcement surveillance was distracting people’s attention away from the giant construction dumpster in our driveway.
Jordan and Steve introduced themselves. The sound guy and the camera man. They set up lights and microphones and who-knows-what in our basement while we did our best to distract the kids.
“Today’s interview will be by speakerphone,” Steve said. “Have you ever done a speakerphone interview before?”
“Ummmm. No. We’re kinda’ new at this.”
Jordan showed Gabby how to run a microphone cable up her shirt while Steve continued.
“Matt, our producer, will be doing the interview in New York. We’ll call him on my cell phone and put it on speaker. Then we’ll just set it on the couch between the two of you.”
Jordan chimed in.
“I’ll be sitting here,” he said, settling into a chair just a few inches from the camera lens. “You guys can look at me as if I’m interviewing you, but listen to the speakerphone. You’re going to want to look at the phone, but don’t do it. Just look at me and I’ll try and do some facial expressions and gestures to make it seem more natural.”
“Oh,” Gabby responded, with a laugh. “That won’t be awkward at all.”
“And make sure to wait two seconds after the question is asked before you answer.” He added.
“And don’t just give a one word answer. Speak in complete sentences.”
Just nodding now.
He went on, “And try to rephrase the question. But don’t just repeat the words verbatim. Mix it up a little.“
Sure. Both of us just looked at each other, awaiting the inevitable suckitude to come. Excited and mortified.
“You ready?” Steve asked.
He dialed the phone, set it down between us on the couch, and the interview began. Matt’s tinny voice burst firth from our laps. Asking us a full thirty minutes worth of questions. We did our best to answer as naturally as possible. Meanwhile, Jordan’s wacky facial expressions and gestures were strangely reassuring. Anytime I would see Gabby doing her “crazy eyes” (her term, not mine) I would signal her by squeezing her shoulder, which was our previously agreed upon secret code. And if I started hogging the questions (her term, entirely accurate) she would signal me by punching me in the solar plexus while the cameras rolled.
Luckily, only one of these things happened.
After the interview, we were instructed to “just do some regular family things” so the cameras could get some additional footage.
“What sort of things?” I asked.
Steve consulted his list, which included items like playing board games, baking together, and standing together on the porch and waving to the camera.
You know. Like we do naturally. All the time.
Out of desperation, I pulled the Spirograph out the closet, which we have played exacty zero times in the past six months. We also made a snack, forbidding the kids to eat anything unhealthy on camera lest we feel the wrath of America and Michelle Obama for years to come. And we played in the cul-du-sac, finishing off with our usual “hudlled-standing-group-goodbye-wave” which we have done at our house exactly zero times in the history of porches. The entire thing was captured on camera.
In the end, they chopped out all of the beautiful stuff Gabby said about faith and God and Jesus, and left in the stuff about shopping and saving. Still, they did a really nice job on the story and we are grateful for the experience. The best part was being able to share it all with family and friends. The one who have supported us through thick and thin. Our year in Guatemala. Getting back on our feet. Moving to Nashville. Not buying stuff. And now a book.
As our fifteen minutes of fame comes to a close (which was actually only two minutes and twelve seconds), we simply want to express our gratitude for you. And we hope we did you proud.
Peace to you and yours,
Scott & Gabby
* Enjoy this post? For more, check out Scott’s book about the family’s Year Without A Purchase on Barnes & Noble or Amazon (We know… dripping with irony…but there’s always the library!). And, to see more posts like this, submit your email at the upper right to receive new blogs hot n fresh to your inbox. Or, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @sdannemiller. Cheers!