Meaningful exchange 

By rights I should have been there to see Susan Lucci win that goddamn Emmy. I love the soap awards more than the actual soaps. Everyone cries while winning an award for crying; they make Roberto Benigni look like Christopher Walken. Of course the year I don't watch is a moment in television history equal to the interview with Charles Manson where he sees video of his "girls" today and says only, "Man, she got old."

I watched "All My Children" not because of, but in spite of, Lucci. Her tedious presence was one of the reasons I am now clean of the soap habit. As Erica Kane, Lucci is supposed to be "feisty" and "sizzling." In fact, Erica has only three modes:

• Fits of indignation, just a smidge more predictable than the rotation of the earth. Erica is cattier than any four gay men you know. She doesn't realize how boring it is, either.

• Crocodile tears so implausible kids at Target give a better performance when told a Jar Jar Binks spin pop is not in their immediate future, and ...

• Siren. This one is the worst. Erica has to be 50 years old. Yet we are subject to her vamping, vixenizing and acting the snotty coquette exactly as she has since girlhood, always at some lovestruck goop whom she transfixes about as believably as a Catskills hypnotist. Maybe it's the writers' fault for letting Erica grow at about the rate of a bonsai tree. For years she was a perfectly interesting bimbo. She has become what Margaret Atwood calls a "bimbag." I haven't been more embarrassed for an actor since watching Elvis sing "Queen Wahini's Papaya" in "Paradise Hawaiian Style." Believe me, you'd rather remember him dead.

Judgment daze

Erica is an institution, but so is school cafeteria food. So how come she won? Who was the competition? Keanu Reeves and a sock puppet? What did the sock puppet do to piss off the judges? If she didn't win for 19 years, it's not unfair to assume that, bless her, she just isn't the best actress in the world. And since she hasn't changed in years, why now?

"Judges have reasons that reason knows not of," said Pascal. Actually he used the words "the heart," but it works about judges. I mean, I'm still wondering how come Toto got a Grammy. When it comes to Lucci, maybe they really thought this year she hit her stride. Or maybe they just thought it was about time. Like it was time to say, "Gosh, Susan, you're great, you deserve this."

And maybe at the moment they really even meant it. Why not? You know how that happens? The same way you say, when someone is moving, "If you need any help, let me know," with doe eyes that would make Bambi look like a carny, knowing full well that the "let me know" didn't mean "I'll help you." If a thing sounds like it should be true, it's amazing how easy it is to say it with clear bright eyes and as though it actually were true.

Not to begrudge Lucci's win. Give her the Emmy. Give her two, they're small. Give her the Oscar, the Pulitzer and the title Mr. Orlando Leather, for all I care. There's no harm in an empty gesture. "You look good," you tell someone, because you can. "You just need some sleep," you tell your crackpot friend when nothing short of a brain transplant will help. "Life is what you make it," chirps Donny Osmond's autobiography, he of early success and secure family. I'd love to hear him tell Yugoslav refugees: "When life hands you genocide, make lemonade!"

Coming up empty

See, when giving lip service you may bite accidentally. Have you ever told someone, "You look good today," and had them say, "What, I look like shit normally?" Or the ever-popular "It's up to you" -- meaning your attitude dictates your reality. It's supposed to be empowering but it translates to "nothing sucks but the way you think."

I served up a real klunker in this column after the death of Diana, something like, "Life is short; do the things you have to do." Sounds good, right? A real fortune cookie. You might croak tonight and you want to die understood. But if you actually mean something, your whole life will reek of it -- why stink up the end with emotional potpourri that's not really you? The deathbed confession is worth about as much as the mid-sex "I love you."

Empty gestures are social fertilizer: helpful, but spread too thick they can be smelled for miles. They become noxious and overwrought like, I dunno, a bad soap opera. But it's an ironic world. If you're insincere enough for long enough you're likely to be rewarded. And you'll really deserve it. You're just the best.

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