The Learning Annex (purveyors of "Stop Dreaming & Start Writing") is offering an event called "An Evening With Amber Frey," and no, it's not a one-on-one thing with a happy ending.
When you really think about it, an evening is a hell of a lot of time to fill. Sure, there was that thing of being "the other woman" in the Scott Peterson murder trial, but how the hell is she going to fill an entire evening? I hope it ends with tap dancing. Not just regular tap dancing, but big, full-on, Sammy Davis Jr. windmill tap dancing. Or maybe close-up magic. ("Was your card the three of diamonds?") Or perhaps, as in The Vagina Monologues, she'll sit on a stool dressed in black, telling little vignettes separated by theatrical blackouts.
Here's the twist, though: The evening with Amber Frey is toted as a self-help seminar. Seriously. In this one evening, you can learn "How to Change Stumbling Blocks Into Stepping Stones." Well fuck me with the festering stump of a crusty sailor with scurvy -- who knew!
Yes, if you attend, you will learn to:
Transform adversity into opportunity.
Change direction and set new goals.
Have faith and courage in yourself.
All this for $20! And taught by -- Amber Frey!!
One problem: Every time I've seen Amber Frey on television -- on Dateline, say -- she's never really had anything to say. Not to mention that she always looks god-awfully, pee-in-your-pants nervous and uncomfortable. The video editors always blow her up in the frame, creating a tight, grainy shot that's supposed to make it seem as if she's saying something really significant. But she never is.
Don't get me wrong; I'm all for cashing in on a minor flash of fame. After all, Amber Frey is the William Hung of women-who-boned-guys-who-killed-their-wives. And hell, I'd pay top dollar if the Runaway Bride were teaching a course on how to toss a Russian kettleball.
Our country loves our pop-culture celebrities. We Americans love people who are on the happy TV. We Americans want to touch them and be near them and look at them with our eyes. It's like the emperor's new clothes; we Americans want to stare, hanging on their every word as if they were Buddhist monks teaching revelations on one-handed clapping. And I'm nothing if not American.
"Two more days until Amber Frey's coming! Two more days until Amber Frey's coming!" I find myself chanting two days before Amber Frey is coming.
Day turns to night, then back to day again. Finally I call to register for "An Evening With Amber Frey."
"Are you the guy who writes the Infiltrator column?" asks the Learning Annex representative after I give my credit card information over the phone.
"Absolutely not!" I reply. Fuck me; that's two columns in a row where I've been outed. (Mental note to self: Obtain credit card with different name.) I explain that I'm merely a guy who's fascinated by Amber Frey. "NOW LET'S GET ME SIGNED UP!"
I'm walking toward the Pan Pacific hotel in downtown San Francisco, and I'm wearing a tie. The reason? To impress my Amber. Yes, I've decided to pose as a rabid Amber Frey fan. She's got small-town Fresno values. And most of all, as everyone knows, she puts out on the first date!
I have no idea what the crowd will be like. What is Amber Frey's demographic? Will there be 300 people or 3,000?! Going to the hotel's second floor, I ask the older woman checking off registered names, "Has 'An Evening With Amber Frey' started yet?"
"No, but it's just about to," she replies.
"Do you know what she's wearing?" I ask, licking my dry lips.
She doesn't. Instead, she hands me a bullet-pointed sheet -- some sort of an outline, it seems -- and a notecard.
"You can jot down a few questions you have for her."
I make a dreamy look.
"I'd kill to go out with her," I say.
Inside, what I expected to be a large hall, perhaps with Inside the Actors Studio moderator James Lipton onstage, is instead rows of chairs inside a conference room, all facing toward a single lectern. (Amber's lectern!) Five minutes before the event commences, already more than 12 people have assembled.
At this point, the very white crowd consists of a row of desperate housewives, a middle-aged guy who brought his elderly mom (who has a cane), and a few scattered, lone men who look like they solve crimes in their spare time and post the results on their Web sites.
"She is gorgeous," exclaims one of two large women; she has just been handed, by her friend, a set of glamour photographs of a small dog, and is commenting as if the dog were a child. (I'm pretty sure the dog is wearing a sweater.)
"She got so excited about going downstairs yesterday," the other large woman elaborates. Then, in a major subject-change, she asks, "What's the other big discount store besides Ross?"
"Marshalls!" her friend answers.
Two elderly women from Alameda, who definitely emit the smell of old people, take seats right beside me.
"I just wanted to see her!" says the one closest to me -- let's call her Ethel -- mentioning that she's seen Amber Frey on TV. Ergo, now, she must see her in person.
"I heard she's single," I reply, with a guttural moan.
Ethel picks up the "How to Change Stumbling Blocks Into Stepping Stones" bullet-pointed sheet. She gives a long, confused look, and then makes a sour face.