If you plan to confess your sins on Oprah's show, be prepared to demonstrate the right stuff


Today I would like to explain how I became a career criminal. Basically, it was Oprah's fault.

It started when I was on a book tour, which is when you fly all over the place promoting your book, living out of a carry-on suitcase, wearing the same clothes week after week, until you reach the point where they refuse to let you on any more airplanes because your B.O. vapors keep setting off the smoke alarms.

So on Day 6, or possibly 74, of the tour, the publisher called to tell me that the Oprah show had called to ask if I wanted to be on. Of course I said yes. Oprah is, by far, the most powerful force in the book industry; when she endorses a book, millions of loyal viewers rush right out and buy it. If Oprah were to mention that she's reading the factory repair manual for the 1957 model Hotpoint toaster, it would immediately become the No. 1 best seller in the world.

So virtually all authors -- and I include Herman Melville in this statement -- will do virtually anything to get on Oprah. We are total sluts about this. If the Oprah people decided to do a show on the topic "Authors With Fruit in Their Ears," you'd tune in to Oprah and see top literary figures such as Norman Mailer and Joyce Carol Oates sitting there with bananas jutting out of both sides of their heads, going, "What? What?"

So I was more than willing to go on the show. The problem was that the topic of my book, which is computers, had nothing to do with the topic of the show I was going to be on, which was "Things We Do in Secret." As the producer explained to me, the idea for the show was that people would confess to bad things they had done, such as borrowing something and never returning it. The producer wanted to know if I was willing to confess to something; the clear implication was that if I wasn't, I ,, might not be on the show.

So I said heck, yes, sure, you bet, I would be thrilled to confess to something. I would have claimed full responsibility for the Kennedy assassination, if necessary.

The crime I finally came up with, however, was hotel theft. The specific incident occurred some years ago when I was staying in a luxury Hyatt hotel. There was a little plastic sign in the bathroom that said: "Our towels are 100 percent cotton. Should you wish to purchase a set, they are available in the gift store. Should you prefer the set in your bathroom, a $75 charge will automatically be added to your bill."

This was Hyatt's polite way of saying, "If you steal our towels, we'll charge you 75 bucks."

So I stole the sign.

Really. I kept it in my guest bathroom for a couple of years, to amuse guests. When I told the Oprah producer about this, she decided it was perfect, but there was a problem: She said it was "essential" that I bring the sign to the show, so I could deposit it, on the air, in a big "give-back" crate, where they'd be collecting all the stuff that people had stolen.

Unfortunately, I was in St. Louis on a book tour, and the sign was back in my guest bathroom in Miami.

So I called my fiancee, Michelle, and asked her to send the sign, via Federal Express, to the Oprah show in Chicago. But with only one day to go, I was desperately afraid that the sign wouldn't get there on time, and at the last minute they'd cancel my appearance and put on some diet-book author, who had confessed to the O. J. slayings, and my big chance would be gone forever.

I spent several anxious hours sitting in my St. Louis hotel room, fretting about this. And then, suddenly, a thought struck me: The hotel was a Hyatt. So I looked around, and sure enough, there was a little plastic sign, very similar to the one I'd stolen. It was actually a "no-smoking" sign, but I figured that the TV viewers would never know the difference.

So I stole it.

So at this point, I had stolen a second hotel sign, plus I was planning to lie on the air, all so I could get on an Oprah show that was supposed to be about confessing your sins.

As it turned out, when I got to Chicago, the first sign had arrived, and I was able to deposit it in the give-back crate. Also I had a nice chat with Oprah, who is -- and this is my honest, candid assessment, in no way influenced by any hope that she will have me back on her show -- the most perfect human being in world history.

So everything worked out for the best, except I still have a stolen no-smoking sign from the Hyatt. My concern is that the Hotel Theft Police will brand me as a repeat offender and throw me into Hotel Prison, where there's nothing to eat but pillow chocolates, and you never get any sleep because every 10 minutes somebody knocks on your cell door and yells, "Housekeeping!"

Actually, that sounds a lot like a book tour.

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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