Thursday, December 16, 2010

An Open Letter to Oprah

December 16, 2010

Dear Ms. Winfrey:

Please send me $695,000, tax free.  I realize that's pretty blunt, but I figure you don't have time to wade through a lot of starstruck ass-kissing to get to the point.  Who does?  Not me.  So, like the busy women we are, let's dispense with mindless flattery.

You possess three things that I admire very much:  A big heart, a global platform for doing good, and more money than Scrooge McDuck.  You touch millions of people every day; you entertain, you educate, you help, you give.  And the more you do, the more people want you to do.  I get all that; I'm a mom.  You think it's a challenge to manage your empire?  Try managing mine.  Launching your own television network might be as difficult as getting a precocious 11-year-old to school on time, but you only have to do it once.

Like you, Ms. Winfrey, I'm blessed with a pretty good life.  I have a husband who loves me, a roof over my head, a job, a wonderful family, and great friends.  What I don't have is $695,000.  Not even close.  But I wish I did, because there are things I could do with that money.  There are people I could help that even you, with your worldwide Oprah reach, haven't touched.  Because they don't stand out as causes or victims.  They're not desperate; they just struggle, as most of us struggle sometimes.  All they've got going for them is that I care about them, and I have the unmitigated gall to ask you for money.

I don't have to tell you that you're a wealthy woman.  I mean, damn.  You have riches that literally are beyond my comprehension.  If you turned your net worth into a stack of dollar bills, they would stretch...I have no idea how far.  See? Beyond my comprehension.  But I do know that 695,000 of them could do a lot of good, and you probably wouldn't even miss them.  For all I know, you may keep stacks of dollar bills lying around to prop open windows or keep the kitchen table from wobbling.  Do me a favor; hire a handyman to fix those things and send the money to me. 

Here's what I'd do with it:

Send my sister's kids to college.  My big sis is my hero:  She runs marathons, she fosters rescued animals, and she's raising four incredible kids on her own (and without child support from her ex).  These kids are beautiful inside and out, smart, talented, and they all have the potential to do great things.  I know my sister can't afford college tuition times four, even with grants and scholarships, and neither can I.  It physically hurts me to not be able to whip out a checkbook and say, "Go find a school that deserves you, and I'll cover it."  I would earmark two hundred thousand dollars for that special privilege.

Set up a private counseling practice.  My best friend in the whole world is a licensed counselor in Massachusetts.  She's a damn fine practitioner, and I know this because she's been helping me through my life crises ever since we were in high school.  After working for a public agency for a number of years, she wants to open her own office.  I can't think of anything more exciting or scary than hanging out your shingle, and I'm pretty sure she can't either.  Jen is quite simply one of the finest people I know, and her family is my family.  I have no idea what it takes to cover rent, utilities, insurance, taxes, etc. for an endeavor like this, but I hope $100,000 would give her enough security to pursue her dream.

Support the SPCA.  I wish there were no need for a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  But our domesticated animals can't advocate for themselves, and they are at the mercy of we who domesticated them.  Abandoned, abused, and unwanted dogs and cats are a public health issue, a drain on local resources, and a reflection on our level of compassion for all living things.  The Dallas SPCA does a heroic job (we adopted our strange and wonderful dog Wally there), but there is a chronic lack of time, money, and space to save all the animals in need of loving homes.  With your help, Oprah (may I call you Oprah?), I would sponsor pet habitats so that more dogs and cats have a shot at adoption.  The sponsorships would be given in the name of my husband's Aunt Sharon, who is a huge champion of animal rescue.  I'd give an equal amount to Sharon herself, to help her feed and care for her own large brood of adopted pets.  I think $50,000 would cover it.

Buy food.  A million dollars would buy a lot of Baskin-Robbins Peanut Butter & Chocolate ice cream, but I'm not talking about feeding my face.  As tight as money gets sometimes, my family has never missed a meal.  Not everyone is so fortunate.  People always seem to make donations to food pantries during the holidays, which is admirable but doesn't help people who are hungry in July.  I can't feed the world, but I can make a weekly donation to the North Texas Food Bank for a year.  Fifty-two thousand dollars will buy a lot of milk, bread, and goldfish crackers for families in need.

Finally make a pledge to PBS.  I feel as if I've been ripping off public television for decades.  It probably deserves a million bucks for "Sesame Street" and "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross" alone.  How many Saturday-night dates with my future Beloved Spouse ended with us watching "Doctor Who" on Channel 13?  (That's geek romance personified, right there.)  So much amazing, free entertainment from these fine folks, and all they ask is that you watch them beg for money a couple of times a year.  Yet in my entire life I've never made a pledge.  Not even to snag a lousy tote bag.  Well, it's payback time.  Ten thousand dollars to my local PBS station - and they can even keep the "Legends of Doo-Wop" DVD.

Give a bonus to every employee at my kid's school.  Teachers, office staff, cleaning crew, aides...every one of them deserves a huge thank-you for shepherding my rotten child and her annoying friends through the last five-plus years.  Seriously, these kids are a double-handful of irritation, and the fact that they're all growing up into amazing young men and women is due in large part to the dedicated professionals who have to spend every school day chasing after them.  And an Applebee's gift card just isn't enough.  I think the staff numbers about 40, but I'll round it up to 50 in case I missed someone and call it a cool $250,000 to divide among them.

Buy courtside season tickets to the Dallas Mavericks.  And give most of them away.  Not all of them, mind you - I know I've sounded pretty altruistic so far, Oprah, but I'm only human, and I love the Mavs.  Who doesn't want courtside seats?  But for once I'd like to see them occupied by someone other than social climbers who only go to games to see themselves on the Jumbotron.  So I'll take my family, and let them take their friends, and make them available to kids who have been in the hospital, or caregivers who never get an evening to enjoy themselves, or local fundraisers that need something for a silent auction.  Because love of basketball knows no economic bounds.  Looks like $28,000 would secure four tickets for the remainder of this season.

Fix my roof.  I know I said I have a roof over my head.  I do, and I'm grateful.  But it's 20 years old and not looking so good.  I'd feel a lot better knowing that the next Texas hailstorm wasn't going to give us a skylight where we didn't ask for one.  So I respectfully add $5,000 to the tally to keep my loved ones dry and warm.

So in conclusion, Ms. Winfrey, I would be proud and pleased to accept your gift of $695,000 to be spent as outlined above. I would prefer a cashier's check, but will be happy to take a personal check with proper ID.  I feel my request, while audacious, is reasonable and well thought-out.  And it's not as if I'm asking you for a cool million.  I'll take what I need, and not a penny more.  Please convey my best regards to Steadman and Gayle.  Thank you for your time.

P.S.  If I can get a good deal on the roof, I may splurge on some peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.  Hope that's OK.

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