Co-Hosts for COTS: Seth and Whoopi and Billy better watch out

It was two weeks ago tonight that many millions of us watched Kristen Chenoweth ask movie stars on the Oscar red carpet, “Who are you wearing?” I’ve always found the phrasing of that question a little creepy – a little too “Silence of the Lambs,” if you get my drift. Then we got to watch Seth MacFarlane open his first gig as Oscar host by singing “We saw your boobs” – also creepy, but mostly because of what it says about us, not him.

I am rehashing a two-week-old news story, the 85th Academy Awards, because a week from Wednesday night, March 20, I am co-hosting a gala right here in Vermont with my great friend, Stephen Kiernan. It’s the 30th anniversary gala and fundraiser for Burlington’s Committee on Temporary Shelter at the waterfront Hilton, and I was watching MacFarlane carefully so that Kiernan and I would know how to gracefully move the evening along. You know, how to hit that perfect vibe between Billy Crystal and Michelle Obama. (Incidentally, after watching the First Lady dancing with Fallon and presenting the Oscar for Best Picture, I want our current FLOTUS to be our next POTUS.)

Here is what I took away from the night.

It will be important to remind people of the spectacularly important work that COTS does – both sheltering the homeless in our midst and preventing thousands of others from losing their homes. Between 2008 and 2012, the worst of the recent recession, COTS helped over 1,300 Vermont households – and 1,383 children – remain in their homes. There are a lot of reasons why I’m a big fan of COTS, but right there are 1,300 of them.

Another lesson from the Academy Awards? Neither Kiernan nor I should try and rock a pair of Jack Nicholson shades. Only Nicholson can get away with wearing sunglasses at night. And, along those lines, we shouldn’t ask anyone what they’re wearing – unless they’re Bjork and they’re wearing that swan. Besides, this isn’t a black tie affair. Attire is everyday business. If someone shows up dressed like Charlize Theron or Kristen Stewart, we’ll simply ask if they’re in the right spot. (On the other hand, if someone shows up with Kristen Stewart’s hair, we will also ask if she needs a comb. Bella had serious bed-head on Oscar night.)

Kiernan is an award-winning journalist whose first novel arrives this summer and the former editorial page editor of this very paper. He has the heavy lifting at the gala, because he’s giving the keynote address. I merely have to sing, “We saw your boobs.” I’m kidding, of course. We’re bringing in a children’s choir for that little ditty. I merely have to repress my inner curmudgeon and say clever things like, “Thank you all for coming. Drive home safe – and be thankful you actually have homes. Not everyone does.”

See how easy that was? Both clever and true.

Incidentally, there will be an auction with some terrific items. Among them? The chance to be a character in my 2014 novel – which is set in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom and in downtown Burlington. But, as the old New York State lottery ads reminded us, you have to be in it to win it, and to be in it you have to be at the COTS gala. So, please join Kiernan and me. It’s a great cause and I promise I won’t say anything that Seth MacFarlane did on Oscar night.

I will say things that are much, much worse.


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What: The COTS 30th Anniversary Gala

When: Wednesday, March 20. Cocktails at 5, dinner and auction at 6:30

Where: The Hilton, 60 Battery Street

How much: $130 per person

Visit or call (802) 540-3084 (ext. 207) to reserve your seat

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press. Chris’s new novel, “The Light in the Ruins,” arrives on July 9.)


Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.