If you had the choice of being famous or obscure, which would you choose? Most people don’t ever have to make that decision. We end up somewhere in the middle. Everyone at one time or another is famous, even if it’s just for 15 minutes.
Fame can arrive unexpectedly. Example: you forget your boss’s wife’s name and mistakenly call her by the name of the dolly he was diddling a few years ago. Once that little faux pas gets spread around the office you may wish you had been transferred to your company’s factory in Borneo.
Same way with obscurity. You’ve been living in Apt. 33-A ever since V-J day, and by now you assume your hallway neighbors recognize you. Until the day in the mail room when one of them sticks out her hand and says, “Hi — I’m Nellie Forbush. Are you new here?”
Everyone has an ego. We all want some sort of fame, provided it’s the good kind. It starts at an early age. “Daddy, look at the drawing I made!” It ends in old age. “By god, I dare the Gazette not to include my latest achievement in my obit!”
But then fame can flip over, real fast. “Kinkaid Roomster, mayor of Tank City, was arrested last week and charged with cursing at a pigeon in Doyle Park.” For years to come, he will be famous, known as the city’s pigeon persecutor.
In contrast, personal obscurity promises peace, quiet, anonymity.
You learn how delightful it is to take your garbage to the curb and not be afraid of paparazzi surrounding you. This doesn’t mean you’re friendless and totally ignored. Your neighbors will continue to smile and wave hello. They will regard you as trustworthy and dull. Take it from me — that’s not a bad reputation to wear around your neck.
It makes you highly qualified to be a spy for the CIA or a similar group. Of course, movie spy James Bond was the exception. He was well known to most people on earth, including Goldfinger.
You may have noticed something odd about many fame-seekers. They spend years clawing their way to the top. But when they arrive, the first thing they do is buy a gated mansion in the woods, with armed guards to keep autograph hounds and other peasants away.
The main difference between fame and obscurity is this: fame often fades, but obscurity sticks with you forever. And it’s much easier to handle than fame. If you’re a celebrity, the toast of the town, you’ll be expected to act that way. You must learn your lines, polish your smile, be on call at a moment’s notice. Your public is waiting, so you’d better show up and shine. If you fail to do so, you could quickly end up — as singer Billy Joel phrased it — put in the back in the discount rack, like another can of beans.
Or so I’ve heard. I can’t speak from experience. I’ve never been famous, even though I wanted to be, at times. However, I have met a number of big timers. I would list them here, but I can’t really remember some of their names, and the others keep dying on me.
One of the myths about fame used to go like this: You can measure your level of fame by the number of people who come to your funeral. But then some wise-guy researcher checked out the truth. He learned that the main attendance factor is the weather on the day of the funeral. Blue skies? “Let’s go say goodbye to Sammy.” Heavy rain predicted? “Sammy who? I never knew him.”