Saturday, July 12, 2008

My 15 minutes on ‘Montel’ with a ghost dog

An era is coming to an end. After 17 years, "The Montel Williams show" is not going to be renewed.
As it happens, that’s one of the few daytime talk shows that I regularly watch. There’s a nice mix of self-help, entertainment and a bare minimum of "who’s your daddy" DNA testing.
It never crossed my mind that I’d ever be a guest on the show. I don’t have any cautionary tales to tell about stalkers or Internet predators. My children’s paternity has never been in question. But then, as John Lennon said, "Life’s what happens when you’re busy making other plans."
In February 2004, our elderly black Pomeranian, Yofi (that’s Hebrew for "beautiful") died of congestive heart failure. By the time she died, her eyes were clouded by cataracts and her muzzle had turned white.
About two weeks after she died, I was taking digital pictures of some Ferragamo shoes to sell on eBay. I sat them on the seat of a wooden chair and snapped some pictures. When I uploaded them to my computer, there was a curious blur in one of the images. Looking through the back slats of the chair was what appeared to be Yofi.
I showed it to my family and they thought it looked like Yofi, too. The most striking thing about the image was that Yofi’s eyes were clear and her muzzle was black, much like when she was a young dog. I e-mailed the picture out to some friends and then forgot about it.
One morning the following September, I walked into work and one of my employees said, "Teressa, what does Montel Williams want with you?"
There was a message to call a producer of his syndicated talk show.
Turns out, someone who had received my e-mailed pictures of Yofi had sent the images to the "Montel" show, where they have a weekly episode featuring psychic Sylvia Browne. The producer asked if I’d like to appear on the show and have Sylvia give her impressions of the picture. I was initially reluctant, but their offer to let me bring a companion clinched the deal.
They flew me and my daughter, Rachel, then 10 years old, to New York. We were picked up by a limo at the airport and put up at a charming art deco-style hotel, The Edison, near Times Square.
The usual plan would have been to fly us home on Friday after the taping. I asked if they could schedule the return flight for Sunday since my mother-in-law lives on Long Island and it would be a shame to be so close and not spend some time with her. Not only did they do that, they even hired a car and driver to make the two-hour drive out to the Hamptons and then deliver us to the airport on Sunday.
The taping itself was a blast. I was taken to hair and makeup and then to the Green Room to wait with the other guests. There was a creepy young man who’d taken some pictures of an old house in West Virginia and felt the "orbs" of light in the pictures might be long-dead ancestors trying to contact him. I thought it looked like the price you pay for using a cheap throwaway camera with a crummy flash. But, hey, I was there with dead dog pictures, so who was I to judge?
There was a woman from Minnesota who thought a guardian angel had helped her following an auto accident. It was her second appearance on the show, so these sorts of things must happen to her frequently. There was a sad woman who was searching for answers about who killed her brother.
I can’t start to tell how kind the producers were. They put us all at ease and explained what would happen, how Montel would introduce us, we’d tell our story and then Sylvia would give her impressions of our experiences.
We were wired with microphones and seated on couches throughout the audience. I was going to be the last one interviewed, so I had the most time to worry. Before the taping, Montel answered audience questions. Many of them were about his health, since he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a few years before. He looked in great shape and talked about his grueling workout that helps him stay strong.
Browne was introduced and floated in swathed in pink silk and pounds of gold jewelry. She was earthy and funny and seemed to be having a wonderful time. She took audience questions, mostly about love lives and job searches. She assured folks that they’d find the love of their lives (two years seemed to be the favored time frame) or a dream job (six months or less).
Finally my turn came. Montel introduced me and I assumed what my daughter calls my "deer in the headlights" look and gave a quick rundown of the Yofi picture. Sylvia assured me that this was indeed our Yofi in spirit form, that dogs and cats have souls and are waiting for us in the afterlife. Then she announced that she’d just written a book about animal spirits and proceeded to promote the book. My 15 minutes of fame took about two minutes.
The show aired in February 2005, coincidentally on the anniversary of Yofi’s death. It is shown again from time to time, so I sometimes have people say, "I saw you on TV last week!" They’re usually too kind to mention how petrified I looked or how pronounced my accent was. Usually.
Was that really Yofi reaching out from the hereafter to let me know she’d arrived safe and sound? Or is that kid from West Virginia not the only one who can’t use a flash properly?
Either way, we have Yofi to thank for an experience of a lifetime. It’s especially precious since the "Montel" show soon will be no more. I wonder if Sylvia Browne saw that one coming?
(Originally published in the Gainesville Times march 6, 2008.)

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