Thursday, October 21, 1999

Who's buying what Martha Stewart sells?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What were you doing while Martha Stewart was becoming a billionaire? Myself, I was making fun of gourds. In fact, I was talking about throwing them away. Something Martha would never do.

        The Queen Mother of All Things Domestic took herself to Wall Street Tuesday to witness the beginning of trading in her newly-issued stock on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock was offered at $18 a share and then — probably while she was tatting slipcovers for the seats in her private jet — zoomed to $35.

Out of my gourd
        I do not begrudge Martha even one penny of the $1.2 billion she now has. Anybody who can make a birdhouse out of gourds has my total admiration. As I explained to the Clermont County Homemakers, gathered at Batavia First Presbyterian Church, I threw those warty-looking things away in my misspent youth.

        One of the ladies said politely that years ago her family used a gourd to dip water out of the well. I told her that years ago my father's garden produced enough for a dipper for every man, woman and child in Ohio. We put a couple in the Thanksgiving centerpiece, hid as many as we could in the back seats of visitors' cars and threw the rest away.

        We didn't know what else to do. Instructions on the seed packets warned that you shouldn't eat them, that they are entirely decorative. In my opinion, it would be a desperate decor that would be improved by the addition of a gourd.

        But that was before Martha.

        Martha can take a bunch of pine cones and a glue gun and build a condominium. She raises her own free-range chickens. She roasts her own chestnuts. She makes her own Easter-egg dye from beets. She made K mart a fashionable place.

        We have made her famous and wealthy for dispensing two kinds of advice. She tells us how to do things that everybody already does. And she tell us how to do things that nobody will ever do.

        In the first category, for instance, is a recent article she wrote about cleaning up your garage. “Use hooks of various sizes to hang large tools such as rakes and brooms.” And in another, “The one guiding principle in planning a buffet menu is that the food be easy to eat since guests will be balancing plates on their laps.”

        In the second category are the aforementioned gourd birdhouses and advice that “old radiators make eye-catching markers at the end of garden beds.” There is nothing more satisfying than listening to her advice on where to place an oyster fork or making bamboo edging for your garden. I could watch her all day.

        But I just never do any of these things.

The fantastic Martha
        When Jerry Oppenheimer wrote about Martha Stewart in his nasty tell-all, Just Desserts, he claimed people either love her or hate her. How, I ask, could you hate a woman who can make a refrigerator out of old bottle caps?

        And doesn't everybody know that this is all a huge fantasy. Nobody can run a multimillion-dollar company and do all this stuff on her own. We're not meant to be able to be Martha. It is quite enough to admire Martha. Or, better yet, to buy Martha.

        A Canadian woman has set up a Martha Stewart Disease Web site. Donna Lypchuk, a Toronto playwright, suggests symptoms include braiding the grass in your front yard. Worse, “every chunk of cheese on your cheese tray comes with a toothpick and a little flag upon which is clearly labeled the cheese's country of origin.”

        There was no such silliness at the meeting of the Clermont County Homemakers, most of whom could sew and cook rings around Martha. They displayed some beautiful quilts and handmade centerpieces, and you could buy a barbecue sandwich, cole slaw, potato chips and a piece of pie for $3. Real food. Real people. Some real hard work.

        Martha's fantasy was moving towards $35 a share.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, National Public Radio's Morning Edition and Insight Communications' Northern Kentucky Magazine.