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The Shipwreck Rose: Fifteen Minutes

Wed, 10/14/2020 - 11:15

Who knew that being on television required so much nodding? Last week, a production crew from a PBS show called “Legacy List” landed on Edwards Lane to film an episode — starring my house, my family, and the contents of my attic, basement, and barn — and every scene I was in required a stretch before the cameras during which the host and I did nothing but gaze at each other, nodding thoughtfully, nodding gravely, nodding with a twinkle of amusement, nodding with tears in our eyes, all flavors and varieties of nodding except nodding while talking. (“No flapping your lips,” the director said.)

If you haven’t seen it — and, guess what? I haven’t seen it myself! I lied and said I had, but I hadn’t, because I thought watching it before filming would only make me nervous and the whole thing more awkward — “Legacy List” is about family homes and “the hidden treasures, heirlooms, and the precious memories to be found within them.”

I have also heard it described as “Antiques Roadshow” meets “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” I got mixed up in the whole crazy thing because a childhood acquaintance of mine who now lives in Richmond, Va., was on the production team that launched it.

All that nodding was for reaction shots, to be spliced into conversations. As they do. Like the cutaway to a contestant’s quivering smile when the hunk hands out a First Impression Rose to someone else on “The Bachelor,” or when the wife rolls her eyes in close-up as her husband explains how he lost the luggage on “The Amazing Race,” but — this being PBS, and the show having an American-history component — instead of swallowed tears and eyes turned ceilingward, expressions of meaningful comprehension and learning are what’s called for.

Gazing at length into the face of a television host you only just met — without, in my case, giving in to the impulse to make clownish and embarrassing faces — isn’t as easy it sounds. You try doing it without laughing!

The crew members were veterans of a variety of other reality shows, including one about the paranormal called “Ghost Adventures” and, notably, A&E’s “Hoarders.” The host in question and my new best friend, Matt Paxton, is a masterful nodder who is also — according to

— “one of the top Hoarding Clean-Up experts in the United States.” It was a relief to be reassured by a top hoarding clean-up expert that I do not fall into any category even approaching official hoarder — even though the state of my barn was a bit hair-raising, stuff-wise, before it was ministered to by the “Legacy List” team of the country’s top stuff-hauling-out experts, led by my other new bestie, Mike Kelleher.

For those of you who might conceivably find yourselves watching this episode at some point in the winter or spring of 2021, I don’t want to spoil the big pay-off scene — in which Matt sat with me at my dining-room table and revealed what amazing heirlooms had been uncovered, thick with dust, in the Rattray family’s cobwebby corners — but I will reveal that the entire crew took a firmly critical stance toward the 19th-century portrait-paintings on our walls, which were universally deemed creepy, but took what seemed to me to be an unnatural interest in a blue-enamel 20th-century bread box with brass hinges that has always struck me as cute but fairly unremarkable. (I didn’t want to be a buzzkill and mention that I’d bought the bread box on eBay as a Christmas gift for my mother, who took one look and said she didn’t want it. That kind of overshare makes for bad television. As I know because I am now an expert, you know, myself.)

I suspect I might be the only temporarily-famous-on-PBS-television subject to not have had a haircut since before Covid. I somehow ran out of time to get a mani-pedi or buy a spiffy new outfit before the three days of filming began. Que sera sera! It’s fine because I don’t actually plan to watch myself on television — and I didn’t mention this, either, to my new BFFS on the “Legacy List” crew, not even to Christian Hoagland, the cinematographer, who, it turns out, went to all the same bars in the East Village in the 1980s as I did — because watching myself on video would spoil my self-delusion that I still look like I did when I was 25.

Still, the whole thing was excellent fun and a much-needed break from the monotony and drear of the year 2020. I did feel almost tearfully grateful to the crew for their heroic efforts in giving my barn a free before-and-after makeover. I enjoyed being briefly important, as the sound man assisted me with my microphone pack and assistants offered me caffeinated beverages. The mess, hubbub, and driveway traffic also led me to exchanging wine and pumpkin bread with our new, very nice neighbors, who have bought the (much tidier) property next door and, I must say, displayed the patience of saints, smiling indulgently behind the wheel of their Mercedes S.U.V. as they navigated an obstacle course of lights, wires, camera drones, and producers talking into cellphones to California.

Despite the pandemic precautions in place — frequent temperature checks, face masks all around, and the installation of Porta-Potties on my lawn (for the majority of the crew who remained outside the house) — my foray into show business added up to more social hours than I’ve had not just all year but in maybe about three years combined. The only problem with being a television star for 15 minutes is that the moment the lamps and floodlights are switched off, you new best friends pack up their fleet of rental cars and Budget moving vans, double-quick, and hightail it out the driveway, waving cans of Red Bull as they go.

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