My schadenfreude must be slipping. I mean I'm usually as ready as the next guy to savor others' troubles, but I'm missing something in the Martha-as-chum frenzy.
Let's just say, I'm not among the bazillions who relish watching Martha Stewart squirm over charges that she profited from insider trading.
The scoop that's had Martha-haters in orgiastic thrall is that Martha sold shares worth $227,000 in ImClone stock the day before the government denied the biotech company's request to market their miracle cancer drug.
Martha claims she had a long-standing arrangement to sell her interest any time the stock dipped below a certain level. Well, it could have been a coincidence that the agreed-upon dip occurred precisely one day before the plummet.
Whatever the case, things don't look good for Martha, though it's hard to believe that this business-savvy billionairess would jeopardize her empire over a mere $227,000. That anyone so smart would do anything so stupid is the best argument for her defense.
Meanwhile, what's far more compelling than Martha's, ahem, possible greed or the future of her empire is America's bloodlust for this woman. Why, certain male members of my household are among those who want to watch this woman suffer.
It won't be enough for Martha to be indicted, prosecuted, found guilty and thrown in the slammer. No, people who hate Martha want to see her in verdigris shackles, tethered with hand-braided hemp to an axe-hewn mesquite stake on a rolled lawn overlooking Buttercup Lane, or Chestnut Hill, or wherever she lives with all those little speed-snorting elves.
Why such hatred? Because she's not very nice? Because she's an ambitious, impatient control freak? Who cares? I don't care if Martha Stewart leaves spooky messages on nursing home answering machines and tells little kiddies the endings to fairy tales. I need her stuff.
As for schadenfreude, sure, I wouldn't mind if Martha had a bad hair day or showed up for a TV cooking show with a prom-night complexion rebellion. One can enjoy small imperfections among the perfect. I wouldn't even mind seeing a little unsightly weight gain. A pair of wrinkled, ill-fitting orange prison pajamas wouldn't begin to prime my tear ducts.
But do I really want her tastefully earth-toned industry to collapse over a little insider trading? No. I think I speak for all obsessive-compulsives when I say we need Martha Stewart.
We may not need her English Garden Border Fork, specifically, but psychologically, we need her as Moe needed Curly, as Ricky needed Lucy, and Ralph needed Alice. Or vice versa. It's a love-hate thing, which may or may not be a good thing, but it is what it is.
We are, in other words, co-dependents. We -Leona Helmsley's tax-paying, non-button-making Little People -are Martha's enablers. We have made her rich, made her famous, made her a larger-than-life celebrity. Willingly, we have bought her fabulous neutral linen totes, her oversized beach bags, her eggshell paints, her beige garden hoses.
Obligingly, we have trekked to Kmart for those lidded glass jars to organize our pastas and dried beans, knowing full well that bugs will eat the beans before we ever get around to soaking them. Or that if we do soak them, they'll sprout into salads before we manage to combine them with homemade marrow-in soup stock frozen in small quantities (ice trays are perfect) for future sick-days.
See what I mean? I'm consummately addicted to Martha Stewart -her beach accessories, her garden implements, her suitcase-packing tips -the way others are addicted to Geraldo, Seinfeld or Ashleigh Banfield. Gotta hate her, but gotta have her.
What Martha provides, in addition to those handy cake-stenciling kits, is a foil for our own self-contempt. We may be lousy homemakers, we tell ourselves, but things could be a whole lot worse. We tell our husbands: "We could be Martha Stewart!" whereupon they fall to their knees and kiss our little goddess feet.
Rather than flagellate ourselves for not knowing how to make our own truffle boxes, we just hate Martha, which
is a good thing.
Only Martha knows for sure whether she's a lying, profiteering inside trader. I, for one, hope she will be "exonerated of all this ridiculousness," as she put it on a recent appearance on "The Early Show." Love her or hate her, we need Martha Stewart. Where else, pray tell, do you propose to find sheep shears and taupe garden clogs?