Recently, my mind has turned to thoughts of fame. Not the thought of becoming famous but about who is considered--or what it now takes to be--"famous." Such musings are the direct result of my little celebrity run-in yesterday, when while walking to my office in the West Village I saw David Byrne--DAVID BYRNE!--ride past me on his bicycle (minus, as some have inquired, his big white suit).
Naturally, being the citizen of such a cosmopolitan destination as Manhattan, I was able to maintain a respectable level of composure. So after a few double-takes--and briefly contemplating doing a quick pivot and chasing after the bicycle like some sad, starving dog in desperate need of attention or scraps--I skipped (well, more a manly "caper") to my destination, deliriously overjoyed in the knowledge that I had caught a fleeting glimpse of one of my favorite artists.
In all honesty, it was a very important moment for me. In fact, I have not had such a transcendental celebrity sighting since several years ago when while walking I felt a hand rest on my shoulder and a commanding yet remarkably genial voice state, "Excuse me, son, but can you tell me what time it is?"
At first I had no idea who was speaking, mostly because I tend to walk with a downward gaze (not simply because I'm a New Yorker but because I'm shy by nature). While I was at first surprised to hear someone refer to me as "son," my immediate response was to dig out my cell phone for the time. Then I heard the same strong yet sonorous voice say, "Oh, son, there's no need to go to any trouble." But I quickly took out my phone, flipped it open, looked up to show the gentleman the time...
And found myself gazing straight up at the face of Morgan Freeman.
Now, I have had my fair share of run-ins with "stars." I almost stepped on Joan Rivers' dog outside of Barney's. I stepped on Ed Koch's foot in a movie theater. I walked right smack into Paul Schaeffer on Madison Avenue (like I mentioned earlier, I tend not to look where I’m going). Sigourney Weaver even once asked me for the time in Central Park (Note to celebrity-watchers: Always have a timepiece handy...and never underestimate what inadvertent full-body contact can accomplish).
But Morgan Freeman is not another "celebrity." Morgan Freeman is not just another "star." Having Morgan Freeman ask you for the time is like being in Ancient Greece and having Zeus ask you to pass the grappa. Morgan Freeman is not supposed to walk among us. Morgan Freeman is not supposed to have a need for the mortal concept of "time." And yet there he was on a street corner in Manhattan, in T-shirt and baseball cap, proving both distinguished yet down to earth, baronial yet affable, imposing yet, well, really, really nice. Plus, he touched me on the shoulder, which more or less means I'll never get cancer on the left side of my body.
Anyway, back to the notion of "fame." "Fame"--a wholly intangible quality that eludes most of us even when one consistently and crassly flogs their "humor" on blogs and in comic strips--is a transitory attribute at best. While some individuals like the aforementioned Messrs. Byrne and Freeman will be recalled with great admiration long after they pass on, most "famous people" will go from "household name" to "mortgage defaulter" within a matter on months. That's because we have become a society where the most accessible and meteoric paths to fame is apparently being an Italian-American without a shred of self-awareness, as we all have witnessed through such programming as Jersey Shore, Frank the Entertainer, The Housewives of New Jersey, Jersey Couture, Jerseylicious and the no doubt upcoming Dagos in Wifebeaters Eating Funnel Cake at The Feast of San Gennaro while Yelling How Those Fuckin' Mets Fuckin' Broke Their Fuckin' Hearts Again. (Ed. Note: The author of this blog post is Italian and more than a bit miffed at some of his "paisans.")
Clearly we have become a culture that rewards people devoid of pride or shame or even the slightest ability to manage their own small lives by making those very people larger than life itself. Not only is this patently offensive from a societal point-of-view, but it's also remarkably dismissive of all those individuals blessed with true skill only to see their 15 minutes of fame indeed last no more than a quarter of an hour. Of course, I'm referring to all those former "celebrities," those scrappy contestants of Battle of the Network Stars who made us laugh, made us cry or simply made us change the channel. Where are they? What are they up to? What were their names again? In my quest to truly learn what it means to be "famous"--as well as the inevitable consequences of "fame"--I uncovered the following. Enjoy.
Erin Moran (Happy Days)
Writes an online column for eBay collectors titled "Joanie Loves Tchotchkes"
Wilford Brimley (Cocoon)
Still sitting at kitchen table touting the beneficial qualities of Quaker Oatmeal to viewers, despite the absence of any cameras or television crew.
Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man)
Trouble seeing out of both eyes. Bursitis in right arm. Legs could use a little toning.
Mr. Ed (Mr. Ed)
Stuffed with straw.
Joyce Dewitt (Three's Company)
Still not dead.