One of the few instances when Britney Spears is not the right answer

About a week and a half ago I got an email from a producer at CNN asking if I’d like to participate in a round table discussion in New York City about Time Magazine’s person of the year. But of course, I said, as who in their right mind would refuse a free trip to what many consider to be the world’s most exciting city, the place where anything is possible, or at least mostly possible, as long as you are willing to tip well. They were going to fly me out, hook me up with a nice hotel, and then fly me back whenever I was done having fun in the city. But the catch was that I would have to open my mouth and pretend like I have any business whatsoever giving an opinion on something like this. Because let’s be serious here, if you have ever read a word of this website you might have the impression that I think Access Hollywood is serious journalism. And you’d be very correct.

I told a few friends before I left what I was doing, and invariably their responses were the same: CNN HAS LOST ITS MIND. And I agreed. I did several Google searches on Heather Armstrong to see if there was an intelligent and articulate political blogger whom they may have gotten me confused with, but all I could find was a lovely real estate agent in Arizona who has my name. I thought about calling her up and asking if she had an opinion on this, on who had the most influence on the media in this country over the last year, and if she said anything other than Britney Spears I would steal her answer and claim it as my own. If she said Britney Spears? Then I would invite her over for dinner.

The thing about 2006, though, is that there really isn’t a clear and fast answer to this question. Everyone I asked had a hard time coming up with even one candidate, so I figured that the odds of something totally outrageous coming out of my mouth were very slim. Ah, but do I ever underestimate my own stupidity, and instead of concentrating on the “who” part of the answer I should have maybe studied up on how to talk in coherent sentences. And this is why I like to hide behind the computer, because here I can go back and re-read a thought I have written down and fix it so that it doesn’t say, “The change that we’re going toward into for that and everything,” a sentence I said out loud on Friday morning while staring directly into a camera.

Before I go any further, I should probably talk about how intimidated I felt by the city of New York itself, a feeling that was totally unexpected. I have been to New York three times in the past, and I can see exactly why it is a perfect place to live out your dreams if you’re an ambitious, single 20-something who has life by the balls. There are so many people living there, a literal ocean of humans, and the simplest task requires so much maneuvering. Because of this I think people who live there have learned how to channel an incredible amount of energy and maintain that output at a level much higher than your average human being. It’s like, if you can survive a day in New York City, you’re well on your way to conquering the world.

But I am no longer a single 22-year-old whose only major responsibility in life is making sure that I pay the rent on time, and even though I was alone on this trip I could not turn off the parent inside me. And I was completely overwhelmed with the idea that people have children in that city, that they have to push strollers on those sidewalks and down the stairs to the subway, that they have to carry those children up and down four flights every time they leave the apartment. The intricacies of day-to-day life with children in that city must feel like an hourly marathon, a race that does not ever end. I have never been more aware of the luxury it is to be able to get into my car and drive to the grocery store, or of the fact that I am a total pussy.

I have also never felt so suburban and quaint, especially when I shook the hand of Soledad O’Brien who moderated the discussion. That woman walked into the studio, and I kid you not, there was a glowing aura around her body, and it was filled with dancing leprechauns and fairies. She was exquisite in every conceivable way, perfect hair and make-up and wardrobe, and when she greeted everyone and made small talk I got the sense that her brain was wired to a digital encyclopedia of everything that has ever happened on Earth, because she spoke with authority on every topic. I know that what I am about to say is going to give my mother a heart attack, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up the other-worldliness of Soledad: that woman does not take shits. No way.

So there I am, Gap sweater and khakis that I bought on clearance, and shoes I got two-for-one at Mervyns, and even though my hair and make-up had been crafted by a professional, I felt like a five foot eleven inch thumb. It did not help that the other people who had been invited to the discussion were all male political bloggers, one of whom is currently working on his Ph.D. at Harvard. Where did I go to college? An institution whose administration was so offended by the nudity contained in some of Rodin’s finest sculptures that they stuck The Kiss in a dark basement and refused to allow their students to see it. You could say that my education was robust.

Ultimately the hour-long discussion was not all that painful, although there were several moments when I could feel my heart beating in my throat because I thought Soledad was going to turn to me and ask what I thought about the suggestion that Kim Jong Il be person of the year. Ummmmmmm… He’s a bad man! Very bad! With much badness! My instinct would have been to frown like a very sad circus clown and boo. And maybe hiss. And then sink to the floor and crawl under my chair.

Who did I say? Well, technically it was a discussion about many people, and one of my answers was apparently so awful that Soledad looked right at me and said, “What?! Do you really think that?” And I defended myself pretty well, although my insides were screaming like a pig whose head has just been severed from its body. I will tell you that I did not say Britney Spears, although her name was brought up by someone else and that was the only time you could see fire under my ass. I even interrupted the conversation at that point to say, “I’ve got dibs!”

The 5-8 minute package will run as part of a larger program toward the end of the year. Once I know exactly when it will air I’ll pass along that info. In the meantime, I’d love to know who you would have chosen, and why. And what you would have worn.