So, a few weeks ago, I got the most surprising call. "Hey, this is Brian!" an overly-enthusiastic L.A.-accented voice informed me, in tones that crowed "I'm your new best friend!" Brian, it turned out, was a TV producer for a major network, and he had a proposal for me.
"We're doing a reality show, and we're looking for an animal communicator in New York, and your name kept coming up," he said. Not sure where this was leading, I asked him to explain. "Have you ever seen 'The Apprentice'?" he asked. Choking back a mocking chuckle, I informed him I haven't. I have a hatred of all things Donald Trump - long-winded expanation omitted - and find the whole premise of the show and behaviour of most "fame-whore" reality show contestants appalling. I did tell him I know the general gist, though.
"Well, this show is kind of like that," said Brian, "except, instead of business people trying to impress Donald Trump, we'll have people who want to be fashion designers trying to get a job with Tommy Hilfiger."
Here my mind was completely boggled. What on Earth could this program have to do with me, I wondered. But Brian was ready to explain that.
"See, the contestants will have to do certain tasks in order to compete," he elucidated. "Like, they'll have to live with a rap star for a few days and design his wardrobe, for example. And they'll have to paint a mural, and stuff like that. But what we thought would be really fun - and where you come in - is that they'd have to live with a dog for a few days and design an outfit for the dog." He paused, almost as if in triumph at his brilliance. "And you can tell us what the dog thinks of it!"
I was truly speechless. I think I laughed for a full minute. "Would it all be for the same dog," I finally asked, "or for different ones?" He explained that it would be different animals. I tried to remain serious, and point out to him that the reactions the dogs would have would depend on their individual personalities, of course, but I kept finding myself laughing, incredulous. "I have to say, Brian, this is one of the most unusual calls I've ever gotten."
I finally informed him that I have a sense of humour, but I'd have to think about it over the holidays and call him back. I never did, however. The idea just seemed so weird, and so potentially damaging, not just to my personal reputation, but to the perception of animal communication in general, which a lot of people already don't take seriously. Perhaps it's just me and my anti-fashionista outlook, but it just seemed frivolous. And, despite some of my friends encouraging me to take the job, insisting that all publicity is good publicity and that I might get both some money and new clients out of it, I had to wonder what kind of effect it would have on my business. Do I really want the kind of people who watch fashion related reality shows calling me up out of curiosity, leaving me serious or prank calls wondering if Fido or Muffy should wear the plaid jacket or the cashmere sweater today? And do I really want to try to do serious translations on-camera with a group of people whose choice of careers I find a bit shallow, especially when I clearly am not a sylphlike, societally-approved fashion plate, myself? I think not.
I probably should have called back Brian to decline, but I just felt so strange about it. I suppose I was afraid that he'd convince me to do it, out of curiosity, the possibility of my business expanding or getting some payment or perks, and my tendency to second-guess myself: "Am I really refusing out of feeling uncomfortable with this and not feeling it fits me, or is it just because I'm being chicken? Should I be 'seizing life by the horns', as it were, just to try out new and unexpected experiences, even if I have the sneaking suspicion that my contributions could be manipulated in a harmful or undignified way? A bunch of my friends are telling me I should do it..." Et cetera. So, I avoided the situation and blocked it out of my mind a bit, basically out of feeling overwhelmed and weirded out. Plus, I told myself, my friends were probably being encouraging more out of wanting to live vicariously through my experience and see someone they know on a reality show than based on measured, professional judgment. Not that I blame them - I might feel the same way in the reverse situation - but only I can evaluate if I think such a move will be beneficial to my profession and, of course, personally, to me.
But, it turns out that Fame hasn't given up on me yet. This week I got called to do an interview with a pleasant-sounding reporter who does slice-of-New-York-life columns for The London Times. While perhaps also a bit frivolous, this seems more my speed, being a print treatment and one in which my actual practice will be evaluated, not some made-up-for-television situation. And, upon reading some of this gentleman's columns, I found them to be mostly interesting and harmless - brief, and unlikely to be an exposé or opinion piece on the tabloid level. Plus, I'm far less likely to get every Tom, Dick and Harry who owns a TV set calling me, or over-exposure, as I'm sure the Sunday online version of the London Times has a far smaller audience, and even those people who read the column probably won't contact me unless they're serious, living across the pond as they do. Long-distance calls to America are unlikely to run rampant on the base of one article, but I can always use it in my materials as a reference, in the future. It just seems more dignified, somehow, and way more handle-able.
Of course, I may be wrong. We shall see. My interview is tonight, as the gentleman from the press accompanies me on an appointment with a kind and enthusiastic long-standing client of mine. Wish me luck, and keep your eye on the papers.