The View From Away: There's famous, and then there's ...
An old friend emailed me recently to say she had found the following on an Internet search engine: “Mike Langworthy is a famous person.”
That was the entire entry. She thought it would be a great title for a performance piece. Apparently she thinks I’m with the Joffrey Ballet. I worry about my friend.
So we are all on the same page, I am not a famous person, unless we are at the point in society where any idiot with a WiFi connection and an unhealthy interest in failed 1980s comics can declare you one. If so, start stockpiling canned goods and ammo because it is truly the End Of Days. I am not even Portland famous, like the guy who runs that sausage store in Lisbon Falls who does his own cable ads.
It is a depressing fact of my life that I wasted over a decade of it seeking fame before learning that a) I never had a shot, and b) fame sucks. That is not sour grapes. That is two decades of being fame adjacent talking. Trust me. It sucks.
Why I never had a shot: To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous are not like you and me. They get famous because they want it more than everything else. Not anything else; everything else. This is not always true, but it is the way to bet.
A mid-level famous guy I worked with once told me about his days as a struggling actor/bike messenger. He said he kept going because he had to prove his father wrong. Just the way he said “had to” scared the hell of out me. I thought I had wanted it badly, but this guy’s desire was cranked up to 11. And he was only mid-level. It’s almost impossible to imagine the single-mindedness of a superstar.
Why fame sucks: People never leave you alone. Ever. I don’t like it if my wife makes eye contact with me for too long. Celebrities have to put up with people saying whatever they feel like, interrupting them whenever they feel like it, and shoving cameras in their face 24/7. They have to make some kind of peace with it, even the bad boys we love to hate.
For every YouTube video of Alec Baldwin smashing a camera there are, conservatively, a thousand times when he could have but didn’t. I once accidentally arrived at the wrap party for one of the shows I worked on at the same time as the star. I recoiled at the camera flashes like Peter Boyle’s monster in “Young Frankenstein.” She passed by gracefully, as if having a hundred jackasses taking your picture, calling your name and shouting impertinent questions was completely normal. I suppose it was, for her.
Here's how I deal with the slightest amount of attention:
I walk into the bar at Uno’s over by the mall. At the next table are four twentysomethings. One of them appears to be looking at me. I look over my shoulder. Obviously one of their friends walked in behind me. There’s nobody there, and I get caught up with the waiter, who takes my drink order and tells me appetizers are half price. Cool. Looks like I’m getting the shrimp and crab dip after all.
I look up. The same guy is looking at me again, only now he’s smiling, real familiar, like he knows me, which he doesn’t. I make the only logical assumption. Serial killer. I’m an old man alone, target of opportunity. No problem. My car is right by the door. I just have to make sure I have my keys wrapped in my fist when I leave. I bury my face in the menu. Next time I look up, there he is again, still smiling.
“How’s it goin’?” he says, nonchalant, obviously trying to catch me off guard.
I’m not falling for it. I decide to call his bluff.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
“No, but I know you. Pizza Time. I’ve seen you win the karaoke there ...” then, slowing down for added emphasis, “repeatedly.”
Immediate sensory overload as a lust for attention locks horns with a limbic desire to escape. What songs did he like the most? Omigod, I have hat hair! Stop praising me! Give me more praise!
After a half second that seemed like hours, I finally find my voice.
“Yeah, well, you know. Big fish, small pond, glad you liked it, though,” thus managing to insult both of us.
So, “Mike Langworthy is a famous person?"
Don’t think it’s really my thing.