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In a jam, Martha still puts up preserves

June 27, 2003|AL MARTINEZ

Even in the throes of the legal distress that could send her to prison for 30 years, the unsinkable Martha Stewart has the dedication to duty to ask, "When was the last time you made a batch of jam?"

She is able to pose the question in the June issue of her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, even though she's up to her loose-knit, powder-blue seaman's sweater in lawyers, reporters, image advisors and federal prosecutors.

Her essay appears on Page 6 of the magazine, along with a picture of Stewart pushing a wheelbarrow filled with flowers, a little dog trotting at her side. You who buy the magazine regularly no doubt look at it and think, how could that sweet little home-oriented, rose-snipping woman do anything illegal?

I look at it and think, I wonder how she'd look pumped up, bald and covered with tattoos?

But before we get into all that, I have to express admiration for anyone who can ask a question about jam while being in such a jam herself. The essay continues: "Our story on apricots (Page 130) is especially provocative, and I really hope it persuades you to find some of this season's freshest apricots and to cook up a few jars of jam to enjoy with your morning toast."

If I were Martha Stewart facing a long prison term and $2 million in fines, I sure as shootin' wouldn't be thinking of whipping up a batch of apricot jam -- unless, of course, I was using it as part of an escape plan. A wall-busting apricot jam bomb, perhaps. Or a miniature file slipped into the jam jar.

Stewart is charged in a criminal indictment with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators who were looking into a possible insider trading crime. She is also charged in a separate civil suit with the insider trading count that started the whole thing in the first place.

Not bad for America's No. 1 Doily Knitter.

I bought her magazine while standing in line with my wife, the observant Cinelli, who spotted it and said I should read it and learn how to pot geraniums or bake rhubarb pies. "That's the way Martha Stewart began," she said, "and today her rhubarb-pie empire is worth almost $300 million. You've never made a dime drinking martinis."

"Her rhubarb pie won't count for beans if she's in a federal slammer," I said. "She's going to have to get used to gruel and that stuff on a shingle we used to get for breakfast in the Marines. It was gray."

I began making jokes about Stewart in prison and laughing in that derisive manner men employ while mocking a powerful woman in trouble, when I suddenly felt laser burns on the back of my neck.

I turned to see two women in another line staring at me with murder in their eyes. Clearly, they were not happy with my monologue on Stewart. Their stares were so filled with animosity, they actually created a heat of their own that seared into my skin. It was the Ma Barker Look of women with guns and a willingness to use them.

Since I am not a stand-up comic and have no desire to die while doing shtick, I said aloud, "Of course, Martha is innocent until proven guilty, and meanwhile I believe I'll try some of her delicious poached shrimp for dinner and maybe one of those bright and flowery hummingbird cakes for dessert and possibly ... "

"You're safe," Cinelli said, interrupting. "The Feminist Brigade is gone."

As I flipped through the magazine later, I decided that it wasn't feminists who were supporting the Queen of Apricot Jam, but average homemakers who envision themselves as little women battling men who would destroy summery bedspreads and light, bright wicker furniture; men who have never experienced the joy of tatting and who wouldn't understand the Uttanasana position of stretch exercising unless it involved a drink before and a cigarette afterward.

I think that housewives see Martha Stewart as a kind of giant of their gender, able to create an empire in a male world while maintaining her femininity. In other words, she ducks into a phone booth, she strips off her apron and her simple flowered housedress and out strolls this slinky blond in a tight black floor-length gown slit up both sides to her waist.

She waves a hand with nails polished in a dazzling red shade of Erotic Shock, and the men drop like flies. Then she steps over their pathetic bodies on her way to the kitchen, where she whips up a batch of margarita cheesecake freezes and makes love to a Greek god while fashioning thimbles out of peanut shells.

What a woman.


Al Martinez's column appears on Mondays and Fridays. He's at

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