After watching the Academy Awards Ceremony the other night, I was thinking about what a mixed blessing it must be to be a celebrity.
The adulation and fame do wonders for the ego and yet, once obtained, is often accompanied by the fear that it can slip away in an instant.
It is great to be recognized everywhere you go until it isn’t. Until you find you can’t go to the store or the movies or a restaurant without the hassle of looking the part and being graded on everything from your menu choice to your tip. And the slightest unpleasant encounter or conversation will be caught on camera by some of the most obnoxious people in the world.
Celebrity also means if you or your family screw up, even get a parking ticket, everyone in the world will know about it.
Even the events that are meant to be supreme ego gratifiers can be difficult. Think about the Oscars. Most of the nominated will be losers and all the participants will be graded on what they wear, who did their hair and who they are with. Cameras will zero in at the worst possible moments, and if you screw up the pronunciation of a name like John Travolta did, the embarrassment will richochet around the world several times.
The other tough thing about being a celebrity is that even after your time is past, it remains a part of you. It is like a ticking time bomb waiting for any misstep to light up the information highway with the news. You may not be of interest on a daily basis, but the public is always there to grade you when necessary.
As you age, you can be sure that your epitaph has already been written by hundreds of blogs and journals, and is ready to be published or updated based on what the day brings.
It is hard to age well as a celebrity. This is why many try to fade into anonymity in later years. For some, however, fame is too addictive and they try to cling to the spotlight even when the glare is too harsh. You only have to look at the embarrassing efforts of Kim Novak at this year’s Oscars to see what can happen. A once beautiful woman reduced herself to a train wreck through the misuse of plastic surgery. Her moment back on the stage was one of those events where it was painful to watch but too hard to look away.
All of this is preface to an encounter I had recently on a plane trip. I sat across the aisle from an individual who had once been a familiar face to almost everyone in America. He was now a confused old man, traveling alone and, seemingly, adrift in the world. He was a gentle soul whose celebrity did not allow him to be just another traveler, but instead emphasized the distance he had travelled in life.
I wrote the poem Landing (copyright 2014 Glenn K. Currie) about that encounter.
The old man’s coffee cup leaked unnoticed,
Wetting his pants as he waited to board.
Someone helped him tighten the lid,
But a trail of drops continued to mark his passage.
He had misplaced his ticket,
And sat in the wrong seat
Until a flight attendant checked the roster.
He wore dirty white boots that zipped in front,
And white latex gloves over swollen hands.
As passengers passed through business class
They smiled and he smiled back,
Sometimes complimenting a sweater or hat.
The comments seemed more a habit;
An obligation rather than an observation.
In the three hour flight he neither read nor ate.
He got up once to abuse a bathroom
That did not accommodate his size or age.
Everyone on the plane knew who he was,
But his fame now seemed a burden.
Cell phones lit up in baggage claims,
Detailing an old man’s struggles to fly.
Copyright 2014 Glenn K. Currie