Salad Days

Martha Stewart is a self-made woman, and now she has to eat her own cooking.

"I want to focus on my salad, because that's why I'm here." --Martha Stewart on "The Early Show," June 25, in response to questions about insider stock trading.

Go on and slap me, but I'm finding Martha's SEC problem the most purely enjoyable national news, hands down, since the Enron scandal broke. And such a welcome relief from Onion-esque midsummer stories like "Pesky houseflies found to carry dangerous disease organisms" and "Soccer field-sized asteroid flies close to Earth" (both A2, Star, Friday, June 21. If you've never read The Onion, "America's Finest News Source," you should:

And, no, I don't love the story because the rules are different for girls, plus she's a female CEO with money, power and a private jet from which to make incriminating phone calls so I envy and hate her. (Right, and everyone's being so mean to Kenneth Lay just because he's a white male.) No, the pleasure I take in her difficulties is personal. I'm delighted just because she's Martha Stewart.

Stewart is not some random greedy businesswoman of indisputable genius, she's--hel-lo?--a media personality, and she's strained every nerve to be one for apparently her whole adult life, while sleeping (why, like Thomas Edison!) only four hours a night.

She got herself on TV. That means she's fair game--like politicians, actors and people who swallow bugs on reality shows. People who work at being famous have to take their lumps, be they male, female, of Polish descent, divorced and estranged from their children, way heavier than they used to be, or whatever.

Which is certainly not to say that women can't be absolutely vile to one another, or that a clique of seventh-grade girls in full cry isn't the meanest thing on Earth, or that women don't face unfair disadvantages in many areas of endeavor. (In others, however, like certain precincts of academia, having two X chromosones has been a huge and unfair advantage for years, not that you'll ever hear any of the women who've benefited admit it.) But none of this is pertinent to (sob!) Martha's predicament. Or to our glee.

Basically, she set herself up. Did we ask this woman to show us how to live? Did we beg to be allowed to look inside her gracious home(s), to watch her decorate cookies and hem duvets and cultivate 12 varieties of scented geranium, chatting and crinkling the corners of her eyes from under that chunky blonde thatch the whole time? Had we been wondering if there was somebody out there from the Hamptons who could show us how to make puff pastry in a house next to Steven Spielberg's? No. One day, she was just there, doing it, everywhere we looked.

I do not, by the way, object to the revival of respect for domestic work and domestic arts that--in theory--she's spearheaded. I cook dinner every night and I quilt, for cripes sake. What creeps me out is the way she engulfs every possible aspect of homemaking.

She's hit the mother lode doing it--a drift of domestic nostalgia and fantasy so deep and wide that naming her company "Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia" wasn't even that outrageous. Her primary mining tool has, of course, been herself, or, rather, her public persona. (Nicole Hollander, in the "Sylvia" comic strip, used to skewer her perfectly as "The Woman Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You.")

So now she has not-so-beautifully revealed that, although a multi-millionaire, she'll break the rules for a payout in the low six figures. (There's a lesson here to all us regular schleps who take long naps and all too rarely carve wintermelons into Sung-dynasty-style soup tureens: The first rule of getting rich and staying rich is to care very, very much about money. There are no nickels and dimes in Martha's world, no matter how many bazillions she's got-there's only money, and she's got her eye on it.)

See-if you were her, you still wouldn't be her.

So, what am I trying to say here? It's swimming up from the depths of my memory, rather like a prize koi in a delicately landscaped water garden laden with blooming waterlilies and perhaps some cress around the edges ... ah, there it is:

Honey, if you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.