Read an Excerpt
Summer at 30,000 Feet
We were still shooting the fourth season of Tori & Dean when I noticed a woman who looked familiar on the sidelines of Liam’s swim class. Her name was Kathleen, and it turned out that back when I was on 90210 we’d been neighbors. She rented the guesthouse next door to a house in Sunset Plaza that I bought but never lived in. (Let’s just say that it’s a long story involving evil contractors, a young girl who thought that every home needed a room for the night guardsman, and a lost investment opportunity about which I’m still a little bitter.) Kathleen and I had met once or twice back in the day. She was an actor at the time. She had played a girlfriend of Jerry’s on Seinfeld—the one who liked to spend most of her time naked.
Kathleen was no longer a young actor renting a small guesthouse. She now lived with her wealthy husband in Brentwood. And I was no longer the rich young star of a hit TV show but a working mom with a big mortgage. In some ways it felt like we’d traded positions. I was drawn to Kathleen immediately. She was warm, energetic, funny—one of those people it was impossible to meet without liking. You don’t need time to warm up with Kathleen. You feel as if you know her from the start. She hugs everyone and has an infectious laugh.
As we watched our kids swim, Kathleen and I started up talking about how her family spends the summer in Malibu. Ah, Malibu. Malibu is the dream. The wealthiest of Hollywood’s wealthy love to live there or vacation there because it’s so close to the metropolis—only thirty minutes from L.A.—yet a stunningly beautiful oceanside paradise. And it’s priced accordingly. You’ve made it if you can spend the summer in Malibu.
I loved the idea of bringing my children to Malibu for the summer. I had fond memories of childhood summers spent in our family’s vacation house there. My mother still owned that house, but we wouldn’t be spending time there. My mother and I had a (notoriously) troubled relationship. We weren’t officially “not speaking,” but we also weren’t speaking. I told Kathleen that, sadly, Malibu was too rich for our blood. Then Kathleen told me about an apartment available right next to the one her family rented. I was skeptical, but it was actually reasonably priced. A place in Malibu we could kind of almost afford! I texted Dean pronto. We went out to Malibu to see the apartment the next day and signed the lease right away. We were in.
Dean and I decided that as soon as season four finished shooting, we’d take a break. We’d move the family out to Malibu for July and August. It would be a much-needed vacation, but we’d still be close enough for Liam to attend his toddler program through the summer, and for me and Dean to go to the business meetings that were already creeping into our summer schedule.
The first week in Malibu was very promising. When we’re filming Tori & Dean, there are cameras in our house all day long. We’re used to it, and we know the crew so well that they are like family, but (and this is the built-in irony of reality TV) it can never be completely normal to have cameras watching you live your life. Just getting away from home felt like an escape.
We settled into our apartment right away. It was already furnished, but I tried to make it homey. I found a wooden sign that said “Beach House” and propped it on the mantel. I placed big seashells on the coffee table. I put beachy wooden frames with pictures of the kids in the living room.
The initial thrill of Malibu didn’t last long for me. I got in the way of my own good time. I was anticipating the three business trips to the East Coast that I had coming up in July. It wasn’t a ridiculous commitment, and it was weeks away, but I have a serious, lifelong fear of flying. My full-time dread of those three trips put a stressful shadow over the first half of the summer.
The first trip was to New York to cohost the Today show with Kathie Lee. The next week I was going back to New York to do a personal appearance for Q-tips. I was to do a satellite radio tour, then appear in a store window with a makeup artist demonstrating how Q-tips are “the summer beauty rescue of choice.” Then, a week after that gig, I had to be in Tampa to promote my jewelry line on HSN. Three trips back to back, week after week after week, but I didn’t feel like I could say no to any of them. The Today show wasn’t a paying gig, but it was a huge opportunity and an honor; the Q-tips job was for money; and I’d committed to HSN to make this appearance. The only trip that was truly optional was Today, but I dream of hosting a talk show in the future, and having a tape of myself on air with Kathie would be a huge selling point. I might never have this chance again.
If I didn’t have Liam and Stella at home, I would have stayed in New York between the first two appearances, hanging out in the hotel for a week just to avoid the extra round-trip on the plane. Three plane trips might not be a big deal to some people, and it might even be exciting to others, but for me it was a nightmare.
My airplane phobia. It just doesn’t get better, no matter what I try or how often I fly. My best friend Mehran—he’s the one I call my gay husband—says it’s actually getting worse. When I moaned about doing East Coast appearances for our jewelry line, I told him I was just too busy with work, but he was on to me. He asked, “What if it were in L.A.? Would you mind doing it then?” I had to admit that flying was the sole reason I wanted to stop. Mehran said, “Your businesses are your livelihood. They include travel. If you keep on this path, you’re not going to be able to sustain your businesses.”
I saw firsthand how my father’s fear of flying limited him. He never ever went on planes. He missed traveling the world, going to family reunions, and—what would have meant the most to him—traveling with his TV shows when they went on location or were promoted to advertisers at the up-fronts in New York every year. I knew I’d taken on his phobia and I certainly didn’t want to pass it on to my kids, but I was stuck with it.
Then I happened to be talking to a psychic. (Not for my flying issues but because whenever I hear about a great psychic, I have to go. I explore new psychics the way some people try out new restaurants. If there were a Zagat that reviewed psychics, I’d keep it on my bedside table for handy access.) When this psychic looked at my cards she said, “You are light on a flight. People should want to fly with you.” I liked the sound of that. I was light. And I was pretty sure she wasn’t joining the tabloids in calling me underweight. She meant “light” like “radiant.” Or so I told myself. Anyway, after a pause she said, “You know, there’s a reason you and your father both have this fear. It is coming from somewhere else, from a past life. You should go to a past life specialist.”
Now, I’ve always known that my father’s fear came from the fact that he missed a flight on a plane that then crashed with no survivors. So I never thought our shared phobia’s origins were very mysterious. Plane crash. Plane phobia. Scared dad. Scared kid. It didn’t take a rocket shrink. Nonetheless, because I love me some other world specialists, I was immediately curious about my past lives. Maybe I was born into wealth as punishment for my behavior as an Egyptian pharaoh. Maybe I loved pugs because I’d been one. Everything would make sense if I were a gay man in one or more past lives. I said, “Sign me up!”
Disappointingly, the past life lady didn’t uncover any past life as a bomber pilot or Amelia Earhart as the root of my airplane phobia. Instead she just said, “Oh, this is because of your dad.” Yeah, tell me something I don’t know. Instead of going into my past lives, she wanted to cure my phobia through hypnosis. And as fate would have it, this was one of her specialties. I didn’t love the idea of being hypnotized. I like to be in control. But this wasn’t a creepy “look into my eyes,” pocket watch trance. She just put on a headset and started talking on a microphone, leading me on an overamplified phobia-free journey through the process of flying.
The guided meditation went something like, “You’re boarding the plane. You’re relaxed. You’re sitting in your seat. Everything’s fine. We’re taking off. It’s all good. The kid in the seat behind you is kicking your seat. No problem. The kid in the seat behind you is about to projectile vomit. No worries.”
At the end of our session, the past life specialist gave me a tape recording of the guided meditation. She told me I should listen to it as I was getting on the plane. And you know, I suspect that if I listened to that tape, it really might help. But the truth is that I didn’t listen to it. Not once. I can’t really explain why I failed to help myself. How hard could it be to listen to a simple tape before my next flight? But isn’t it part of human nature to be stuck in your own bad ways? I’d done my time in therapy, and now, I’ll admit it, I was in the market for a magic cure. And besides, listening to the tape was too complicated. Hasn’t anyone told past life specialists that nobody has cassette players anymore? Where was my hypnosis podcast? That would be the sole criticism I had to make in my Zagat review of the past life specialist. She gave “inspired” guided meditation but she had “outdated technology.”
• • •
The time came for the first trip of the summer. I made it to New York, of course, as I always did, with my typical cocktail of anxiety, tears, and abject terror. On the Today show I joined Kathie Lee for the fourth hour, during which they do lifestyle segments on scintillating topics such as whether skinny jeans are bad for your health (turns out they are bad for your vag) and good pickup lines (I told Kathie Lee if she were a fart she would’ve blown me away. Dean has nothing to worry about: my pickup lines couldn’t land me a date on an Alaskan fishing boat).
I was to cohost with Kathie Lee for three days. The first day went smoothly, but we didn’t have quite the rapport we wanted. While Kathie Lee ribbed me freely, I wasn’t entirely comfortable busting her balls. It seemed disrespectful.
After we finished the first day Kathie Lee turned to me and asked, “What are you doing for the rest of the day? What are you doing for lunch?”
I said, “I’m here with my friend Dana. I was just going to go back to the hotel and brush up on summer barbecue tips for tomorrow.”
Kathie Lee said, “I know what you’re doing. You’re coming to my house in Connecticut. My driver will take us and then he’ll bring you and Dana back.” I was taken off guard. I’m from L.A. To me Connecticut is just another tiny rectangle on the right-hand side of a United States map puzzle. Were we really going to another state? For lunch? But I had faith in Kathie Lee. We accepted the invitation with pleasure.
The driver took the three of us an hour and a half outside the city to Kathie Lee’s beautiful lakeside home in Connecticut. We came up the cobblestone driveway, and suddenly, it was the most amazing thing, it was as if we were in the south of France. It was all leafy and quiet and bucolic.
Inside the house, Kathie Lee asked, “Would you like wine? White wine?” It hadn’t occurred to us, but yes, that sounded lovely. She disappeared and returned in a flash with three glasses of perfectly chilled white wine. Then she said, “I’m going to take you outside. Do you have sunglasses?” Well, actually we’d forgotten them . . . so Kathie Lee disappeared again and emerged with sunglasses for us. She was a real hostess, guiding us pleasantly through the visit, anticipating our every desire in the nicest way.
She led us in our borrowed sunglasses out onto an upper patio. The house must have been on a peninsula: every angle seemed to offer a new idyllic vista. This patio overlooked sprawling lawns and a marina. Kathie Lee said, “This was Kevin Costner’s favorite spot.” We sipped our wine and chatted. Then, after what seemed like the exact right amount of time for patio wine sipping, Kathie Lee said, “Ready to move on?”
She led us down a few steps to another stone balcony with a different but equally spectacular view. Here, amazingly, was a table already perfectly set for us with chicken paillard over arugula salad and a wine bucket awaiting the great bottle of wine we’d started, but not a soul in sight. It was magical. I could get used to this.
As we ate the delicious lunch, Kathie Lee asked me about making Tori & Dean and what it’s like having cameras follow us all day and night. She didn’t know how I could do it. But she’d been on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee for fifteen years! She knew better than I what it was like to be in a constant spotlight. Then she explained that at a certain point she realized she had to get away from it all. She wanted her kids to have a normal life. So she left the show, moved her family to the country, and built a new life.
Even years later, when the opportunity to cohost the Today show came along, Kathie Lee wasn’t sure she would return to the spotlight. But she had an amazing lunch with future cohost Hoda Kotb, was sold on the job, and found a way to make it work. Having this place, outside the city, where she could escape the hustle-bustle of Manhattan and television, where her family already had a real life, was the only way she could do it—on her own terms. It was a real moment for me—hearing how she had gone through a struggle that I was just beginning to recognize, and hearing how she had resolved it. Our polished hostess was engaged, honest, and in the moment. And then, when the time was right, she moved us right along to dessert. Here was a woman who had it all figured out. She was enjoying herself, but she was also making conscious decisions about how to spend her time.
After we all enjoyed sorbet-filled coconuts (Kathie Lee shared a hostess secret: they were from Costco), she said, “You girls ready? My driver is waiting.” She ushered us to the car and we were spirited back to the city. It was a perfectly directed visit, so elegantly choreographed. She was extraordinarily polite and charming, the best hostess ever. I was fascinated and impressed. She was right: the home and life she made worked for her. That place did feel like a sanctuary from the other life she led in New York. You could sit there and never have a care in the world.
My life was sooo complicated. Later, from the fluffy St. Regis bed, I called Dean back in Malibu and said, “Kathie Lee has it all figured out. This is what we need to do . . .”
I totally needed that lunch to feel comfortable on the air with Kathie Lee. Now we were like girlfriends. We’d laughed together; we’d cried together; we’d joked together. Those two hours had bonded us, and the next morning back on the Today show, our rapport was awesome. I even felt comfortable enough to give her a nickname: I called her KL from then on.
• • •
When my Today show gig was over, I flew home from New York and arrived back in Malibu at 8:30 at night. I spent some time with Liam and Dean (Stella was already asleep), then went upstairs and crawled into bed. All that day Dean and I had been texting back and forth. I miss you so much. I can’t wait to see you. After Liam fell asleep, Dean joined me in bed. We cuddled, and he asked if I wanted to have sex. I was not in the mood. I was more than not in the mood. I had cohosted the Today show for three days in a row, and whenever I wasn’t in the studio I was doing my homework for the next day’s show or doing press surrounding my appearance. Flying home—I don’t know how to describe what I go through when I fly—the heart palpitations, the hyperventilating, the panic, the anxiety, the tears. It is physically exhausting. Instead of being relieved that the trip was over, I was already stressing about the next flight for Q-tips (though I was excited to say that they were the summer beauty rescue of choice).
Ordinarily if I’m not in the mood I’ll hesitate and coyly say, “I don’t know, babe . . .” and the idea trails away. But this time I was actually angry. I said, “Do you know how hard I’ve been working? I’m so tired. How about tomorrow?” He rolled over and said, “Okay.”
Yeah, well. As they say (or should say if they don’t), it even rains in Malibu, and the next morning was cloudy in our apartment. When I asked Dean what was wrong, he said, “This is the beginning of the end.” That’s Dean’s code for “Our sex life is over. You’re turning into Mary Jo. The marriage is doomed.”
I said, “I’m not your ex-wife. I’m genuinely tired. I’m exhausted.” I didn’t tell him that I was kind of upset that he hadn’t read my mind and known not to put the moves on me.
Dean said, “But we haven’t seen each other. When we first met you’d work ten-hour days filming and still want to have sex. It’s just changed.” He had a point. I did not have the exact same sex drive as I had when swept up in a brand-new relationship with no children clamoring for my attention. Was this breaking news? Attention, men of the world: having children, caring for children, loving children affects the sex drives of all women. Your hot little girlfriend will change when she’s a mother. You will be frustrated and feel rejected. She will be annoyed and feel misunderstood. The two of you will enter an indefinite period wherein the number of times per week you want to have sex is widely disparate. You will work on it. You will both have to compromise. This is a scientific, evolutionary reality. Don’t ask me for the studies to support it. Just trust me. The sooner you accept this, the better.
Of course I didn’t lecture Dean about sexual trends in parents of small children. I just reminded him, “I used to stay up late because I could sleep in. Now I don’t have that option. Last night I needed to sleep.”
“You’re more in love with the bed,” he said grumpily, and that was the end of it, but not really.
Like it or not, it was to be the summer of flying, but at least I could count on August. After the last of my trips, to HSN, I’d be able to relax in Malibu for a few weekends.
Not so fast. Upon my return from HSN, I got an envelope I’d seen a few too many times in the past. I’d been called for jury duty. Uh-oh. This was it. My time had come. I’d postponed jury duty so many times—for work, for nursing babies, for more work, for more babies—that now if I didn’t step up and do my civic duty I was at risk of being in contempt of court. I couldn’t exactly call in and say, “Hello? I’m, like, vacationing in Malibu. It’s been a tough summer because I had to cohost with Kathie Lee. You know how it is. But I have this neighbor in Malibu, Kathleen? She’s been relaxing all summer. Perhaps she could fill in for me?” No, I couldn’t say that.
So I dutifully called in to the jury line all week long, and then, on Thursday, just when I was starting to think I was off the hook, I was told to report to the courthouse the next morning at seven a.m.
I crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn to make the long commute from Malibu to downtown L.A. Dean hoisted himself up on his elbows and smiled. “Don’t worry,” he said. “They’re not going to pick you. How random and weird would that be? Having a celebrity on a jury makes no sense. Imagine if they have a trial; they’re not going to pick Harrison Ford. He’s going to sway all the jurors.”
“Do I look like Harrison Ford to you?” Dean threw a pillow at me.
“You know what I mean,” he said.
I made the long drive downtown, parked in the Disney Music Hall, and entered the courthouse. As I got into line everyone was staring at me, as if they couldn’t figure out why I was there. Had I been arrested for shoplifting? Was I filing divorce papers? Was being too thin finally declared a crime? Sorry, guys, no juicy scandal. Just regular old jury duty like the rest of you.
I overheard the woman in front of me saying that she expected to be called soon because she was in group number two. I looked down at my jury notice. I was in group eighty-four. It was like winning the lottery—in an alternate universe where you can get a bad ticket that strips life of all hope and joy.
At long last I was admitted to a large room full of fellow potential jurors. There was nothing to do but wait. As I waited I noticed that the wall was elegantly decorated with plaques commemorating celebrities who had served as jurors in the past. Only in L.A. are the courtroom walls made into another stop on the Hollywood Hall of Fame Tour. There was Camryn Manheim, Ed Asner, Weird Al, and Edward James Olmos. And there, for Dean’s and my edification, was Harrison Ford himself. So much for Dean’s theory. If Harrison Ford could be picked for a jury, then I definitely could be picked for a jury.
Then it started to dawn on me how bad that would actually be. What if I got put on a trial? In two weeks, at the beginning of September, we were supposed to start filming season five! People were depending on me! I was panicking. I looked desperately around the room. It was filling up with all sorts of people. Everyone was somber and officious. There was no way out. I was doomed.
Then I saw it. A line of computers on the wall labeled “For Juror Access.” I strolled over and glanced at the rules. Maybe this was my salvation. Was it possible that I could actually shop online while fulfilling my civic duty? A huge sign above the computers said something about not looking at porn. Did fashion count as porn? Because I happened to know that there was a sale launching at eleven a.m. on gilt.com, a members-only discount shopping website where I was a regular. If I managed to score some Moschino Cheap and Chic, this would all be worth it. Looking over my shoulder so as not to be busted for my dirty little fashion habit, I logged on. Access accepted! I was in. Jury duty be damned, Moschino was mine!
• • •
I did some damage on the website, and all the while the clerk was calling out numbers, getting closer to mine. I was nervous about checking in with the clerk. I’m always nervous in public because I feel like people are thinking, “Oh, her,” and looking to find fault with me. So I use a little voice, and I try to be really respectful and overly nice, apologizing constantly. When she finally called my number, I scurried up to the desk and whispered a timid hi to the clerk. She glanced up at me, gave me a knowing smile, and said, “I have to announce everyone’s name, but don’t worry. I’ll keep it low-profile. I’m going to change your name to Victoria Spellman.” I nervously thanked her.
As I hurried back to my seat I had instant regrets. I was already wishing I’d told her to just use my real name. Victoria Spellman? Would people think that my legal name was Victoria Spellman and that Tori Spelling was my stage name? Would they think I was trying to hide or get special treatment? I didn’t want them to think that! Shoot, should I turn around and tell the clerk not to do it? But she was already on to the next group. If I turned around, everyone would look at me and wonder what diva celebrity request I was making. I didn’t want to make a scene. If I turned around now, it would just make me stand out, which was exactly what I was trying to avoid. It was hopeless. I didn’t say anything, of course. I just slumped down in my seat, defeated.
Soon the clerk called “Group one!” She read all the names in that group, waiting for each person to say, “Here.” If someone didn’t speak up quickly or loudly enough, she called the name again. My heart was pounding. Bad enough she was going to say my fake name once; I had to be sure there was no need for her to say it twice. Under my breath, I practiced saying “here” to make sure she heard me the first time.
The first group came and went. She called the second group. Wow, they really were going by number. Wow, my ticket really did say group eighty-four. I had some time. I decided that I knew my one-word line well enough and could stop practicing my delivery of “here.” I settled in for the long wait.
The third group was called. I checked my BlackBerry. No cell service. No texting. No twittering. The fourth group was called. It seemed utterly impossible that they would ever get to eighty-four. I was doomed to spend the rest of my life trapped in the bureaucracy of this courthouse. We broke for lunch and I went to the cafeteria to get a cheeseburger. People started asking to take pictures, so as my burger cooled to room temperature I did a makeup-free photo session. Then I wolfed down my burger to hurry back and wait several more hours.
Finally, at four p.m., the clerk called, “Victoria Spellman.” I shouted, “Here!” at perfect volume. And they say I can’t act.
My group of about six people lined up. They handed us IDs with our juror numbers. I was no longer Victoria Spellman. Now I was juror number sixty-nine. Sixty-nine! Oh, come on! I looked up at the official faces around me. Was someone trying to be funny? Apparently not.
I went into the mini courtroom for my case. The plaintiff, defendant, and lawyers were all in suits, lined up in front of the judge. Ah, the memories. I hadn’t been in court since the movie Mind over Murder, where I played a clairvoyant ADA. It was just like old times, except this go-round I couldn’t read people’s minds, and I had no adorable Dean McDermott to costar with me.
We stood lined up in the courtroom as they told us about our case. Some guy had taken ideas from one electronics company to another after he’d been fired. As the clerk described the case, the lawyers kept looking at us to see our reactions. I immediately decided to play dumb blonde. Every time the clerk used a technical word, I made sure to look super confused. Data? What’s data? My consolation if they put me on the jury was that I’d successfully purchased a Moschino blazer at a radical discount that would set the perfect serious but stylish tone if I had to go to trial.
Then the clerk dropped a major bomb. She told us that this case was going to last at least three weeks. Three weeks! I gasped. They had told us that most cases only lasted a week. That was my entire vacation. We were supposed to start season five in two weeks. And what if the case ran over, which it would, I just knew it. My dumb blonde act was out the window. Now I was a visibly panicked control-freak workaholic executive producer realizing that if I was on this jury our entire season was going to be delayed, creating a massively expensive production disaster.
The clerk went on. If for some reason we felt we could not miss work for three or more weeks, we would have to show monetary hardship. She said, “We’ve cracked down on this. You have to really be able to prove that it’ll be costing you your income. Like you’d lose your house. Any questions?” She looked directly at me as if to say, “Don’t think you can get out of this just because you’re a spoiled, rich celebrity.” A few people raised their hands. Maybe one of them would have exactly the same issue and I wouldn’t have to ask my question. I looked around. I didn’t recognize any other reality TV star/producers who were worried about delaying season five. Reluctantly, I half raised my hand. “Yes, juror sixty-nine?”
I suppressed the desire to ask to have my number changed and said, “What if my employment directly affects other people?” With a steely gaze, she handed me a form and said, “You have five minutes to fill this out.” She pointed me toward the hall.
I hurried outside. I had five minutes. Should I call Oxygen, our network? My producers? My lawyer? If I was gone we wouldn’t make our air date. This wasn’t about me. All the crew had been hired; they’d passed up other jobs. Many, many people would lose significant income if I wasn’t there to launch the show. Time was running out. I scribbled that out as best I could explain it and submitted it back in the room.
A few minutes later someone came out and said, “Juror sixty-nine and juror sixty-seven, please come with me.” A man in jeans and a T-shirt and I were led into a side chamber, where we were told, “You’re officially excused.” When we went back to the courtroom the other jurors looked at us enviously. They glanced past me, assuming I had undoubtedly played some holier-than-thou celebrity card, but they turned to the other guy and said, “What did you write?”
I left the room maintaining a look of quiet respect for my fellow jurors, the judge, the great American judiciary, but the minute I got into the hall I did an air pump. Sorry, Camryn Manheim, Ed Asner, Weird Al, and Edward James Olmos. Sorry, Harrison Ford. This dumb blonde was off the hook. I had no more plane flights scheduled. I was free from jury duty. Malibu, here I come!