Having TiVo can be more of a curse than a blessing. It’s not like there’s a ton of TV shows Kendall and I watch regularly. We’ve never seen a single episode of quality shows such as “NYPD Blue,” “West Wing,” “Law and Order,” or “Judging Amy,” And yet we’re constantly running out of space on our TiVo recorder. Kendall blames me. There are certain things I can’t bring myself to delete from our list of recorded shows. I may need to frequently watch Carrie Fisher’s brilliant and bizarre interviews with her parents Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher. I’m waiting for a few hours to kill so I can catch the show where Meryl Streep got her lifetime achievement award. And please don’t make me delete the PBS series on Auschwitz—I want to view it next Friday on the 60th anniversary of the liberation. Kendall doesn't mind these lingering recordings, but she does resent my "Season Pass" for one show that's eating up a good chunk of our TiVo allotment—“Oprah.”
Now before you or our governor start calling me a “girly-man,” let me say that I don’t actually watch most episodes of Oprah Winfrey’s daily show. I have no interest in learning how to look 10 years younger in 10 days, hearing an exclusive interview with “convicted felon Tracey Gold,” going on Oprah’s Wildest Dreams Bus Tour, or learning why Scott Peterson’s sister knew he was guilty. I especially can’t stand those “Oprah’s Favorite Things” episodes when the studio audience goes into a cult-like frenzy in which they’re practically writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues because Oprah told them they'll be getting a free subscription to “O Magazine” and an iPod Shuffle. But if I didn’t tape "Oprah" I would've missed some riveting television such as the recent interview with Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley (their first joint interview)) and last Friday’s first interview ever with the governor’s wife and mother-in-law: Maria and Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
I really love these two women but oh my God—by the end of the show I felt like the worst parent on the planet, the most ungrateful son, and the most unsupportive spouse. Those Shrivers are unbelievable. Imagine growing up with the man who started the Peace Corps and Head Start and the woman who founded the Special Olympics. Everything they did was about public service. At the nightly dinner table the Shrivers talked about how to make the world a better place. Their guests would always have to answer Sargent Shriver’s favorite question: “What are you going to do to make a difference?” Compare this with the dinner discussions at my house growing up, which ranged from an detailed recounting of that day’s “I Love Lucy” rerun to a vicious fight about whether most Jews say “ketchup” or “catsup.” All around their house the Shrivers hung pictures of starving children in Africa, disabled kids, and children living in institutions so that they could discuss how their work was affecting people’s lives and brainstorm what else they could do to make an impact. Every Thursday night Eunice would plop down a piggy bank in the center of the dining room table and serve her large brood cereal for dinner so they could donate what they would have spent on food that night to the poor. Although they were richer than Midas, their lives were never about “things,” only ideas. Oh crap, what am I doing? Instead of sick and underprivileged children, my walls are covered with pictures of Mickey Rooney and Ann Rutherford. What is that teaching Leah? How tough it was to be a contract player at MGM? Maybe we can eat cereal one night and donate the money we save to the Zsa Zsa Gabor Defense Fund? We’re doomed. Is it too late to apply to be a foster child in the Shriver home?
Not that I wouldn’t crumble under the weight of some of their high ideals and expectations. Even Oprah said that when she first used to go to dinner at the Shrivers’ house she would hide in the closet when she heard Sargent questioning their guests about how they were going to change the world. On a recent visit to her parents, Maria said her father asked her what she was working on. “I’m promoting my book that was just published,” she replied. “No, that’s in the past, what are you going to do next?” Oy, Sargent, can the woman please have a few weeks to rest on her laurels? Hell, I’m still trying to rest on the laurels of my sixth grade science fair project!
Some of the Shrivers’ claims defy credulity. Maria and Eunice told Oprah that they have never, ever, had a single fight. NOT EVER! Leah and I had three fights in the hour before she went to bed tonight. Eunice then said how important it is for family members to eat dinner together every night. I agree with that but she then said, “when I was growing up, I never saw my father go out to dinner in a restaurant once in our whole life.” Um, Eunice, forgive me, but does Gloria Swanson’s dressing room count as a restaurant if the butler serves them caviar and champagne in candlelight?
Things aren’t any more laid back in the Shriver-Schwarzenegger home. Maria said that she is the disciplinarian with their kids about going to church, having good manners, and doing homework, but that Arnold is insanely strict when it comes to keeping the house clean, turning the lights off, and doing laundry. “He will call me from the capitol and ask, ‘Have they done the laundry?’” Maria told Oprah. “I go, ‘Arnold, you're running a state. Don't worry about the laundry!’” Even worse, if the kids leave clothes on the floor, Arnold will scoop up the garment and throw it into the fire. Other items he finds out of place he’ll just hide around the house and never return. One of their daughters, Christina Schwarzenegger, was in the audience and said, “If you open up a cabinet, behind pots and pans, you'll find, like, a pair of shoes or something.” I told Leah about this tonight as I was stepping over piles of shoes and clothing at the foot of her bed. “You’re lucky our fireplaces aren’t working right now,” I threatened. “Pick up this room tomorrow or these pants are going under the broiler!”
I truly do admire the Shrivers, I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m making fun of them. They are amazing Americans and represent everything good that this country is about. But maybe I’ll rescind my request to become one of their foster children, I don’t think I have it in me. Let’s face it, I can’t be a Shriver. I can’t be a Kennedy. And God knows with my body fat index and political leanings, I certainly can’t be a Schwarzenegger. Leah is doomed to a life where Andy Hardy is a more prominent figure than Kofi Annan. And our dinnertime conversations will probably not focus on famine in the Third World any time soon—that is, unless someone writes a Broadway musical about it.