My Approach/Avoidance Problem With Being the Center of Attention

Spot Light

Andy Warhol once made a famous statement about the fact that everyone will get their 15 minutes of fame…sooner or later.  But will we really?  You may think that every time I post a successful blog, I get my 15 minutes.  Well, partly true and partly not.  I’ve always thought it would be cool to be famous.  To have people point to you as you’re enjoying a private dinner in a restaurant and you hear them say: “I think that’s him” would be kind of nice.  It’s happened to me several times, but the other person will usually correct the pointer and say: “No, that’s not him…George Clooney is in Tunisia making a movie.”

So, I began to think about what one needs to have a bit of time…center stage…in the spotlight so clear.  It didn’t take me long to realize that all I really needed was a spotlight.  Then I could attach it to something, clear some chairs away, and have all the time I wanted in my own personal “limelight.”

I went to B & H Electronics store in Manhattan one day this past week.  I wanted to get a very important VHS converted to a quality DVD.  On my way out of the store, which is located only a block or two from Madison Square Garden, I spotted the spotlights.  I walked around and stared in amazement.  If I wanted to light an entire soundstage on a New York City set, this would be the place to go shopping.  I looked at all the tubing, stands, racks, lenses and filters…then I saw it!  Here, in front of me, was the spotlight of my dreams.  The only thing that stood between me and having that light in my home, was my credit card.  I looked at the price tag: $875.50 + tax.

I walked out of the store empty-handed.  Not because I didn’t think my time in the bright light was worth that price…I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to get it on the train back to Albany where we had parked the car.

And then I looked closer into my psyche.  Did I really want to be the center of attention?  You need to understand that I am a very shy and insecure person.  Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “He’s so clever and open about everything…he’s a real “front-man.”  Well, that just isn’t the case.

I’m a shy kind of guy.

~~~

This evening (it’s November 22), I was attending a benefit dinner at the China House at Hanover Square in lower Manhattan.  I happened to be seated next to a lovely young woman, named Melissa.  I actually met her a number of times in the past years.  She works in the same office at Mt. Sinai Hospital where my wife was an administrator.  The first time I met Melissa, I thought the hospital had violated the child-labor laws…she looked about 16 years old.  I would joke with her about whether her teacher knew she was missing classes.  That was a few years ago.  Now, she looks about 17.  In face, she’s a woman in her twenties with two children.

But she always makes it known that she reads and likes my posts.

Now, here, I thought, is someone who deserves her 15 minutes of fame.  Yes, I would present her with an award.  A small medal or statue for being my most ardent fan in New York City.

[I ask you, do you ever seek out your favorite blogger and take the time to thank him or her for how important they are to you?  I mean, every few days, I bare my very soul to you all…I open my heart and share my thoughts and obsessions, ideas and stories.  It takes me days to recover from the mental exhaustion of giving you my ALL.]

But, alas, I leaving NYC to return home in the morning.  I will not get the chance to go back to B & H to buy the spotlight.  I won’t have the opportunity to present Melissa with her award.  Everything will go on as usual.

I guess the real issue is what did Andy Warhol mean by fame?  How many people have to like you to make you famous?  (I’ve thought about this for many years and I came up with the number of 7,686 people.)

In the end, someone pays attention to another person and makes them feel loved and appreciated…then fame really isn’t an issue.

Make someone happy and tell them that they are a superstar to you.  Tell them that they are more important than Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift to you.

 

I Was a Teenage Blogger

DepressedTeen

 

The road to perdition is paved with little things.

My own dark and tragic personal story begins with little pieces of paper.  Not small bits the size of confetti that are thrown out of windows on lower Broadway during “ticker-tape” parades.  No, larger slips white or yellow ripped from notebooks, steno pads and the backsides of shopping lists…once the items are ticked off.  I have even been desperate enough to use flattened toilet paper tubes.  These are hard to use unless you have a dark pen because penciled words are difficult to read on cheap cardboard.

Besides, they don’t use ticker tape machines on Wall Street anymore, haven’t for decades.  They just use baskets of shredded documents that probably contain incriminating evidence of fraud and widespread corruption.  Once, that is used up, say during a parade of returning astronauts from Mars or the unlikely event the Mets ever win the World Series, they probably have a warehouse full of illegal aliens, working for a fraction of the minimum wage, punching out thousands of chads from discarded voter registration forms or racing forms from Hialeah.

What was this insatiable need of mine to possess these small scraps of paper?  In a word…words.  I have this uncontrollable urge to write down my every thought, however mundane, goofy or obscene.  I started by keeping these notes in used large mailing envelopes from places like the Publishers Clearing House or the IRS.  Anything would do.  Old letter envelopes, the contents of which I would toss away, only to get to the blank, whiteness of the backside.  Soon, I had shoe boxes full of these bits of my writing.  When I wrote something really interesting (which, to me, was everything), I would stash the papers under my mattress.  I did this while most boys my age were using that sacred place to hide copies of Playboy or, better yet, National Geographic (the Holy Grail, of which is the much coveted October, 1953 issue with the article “The Native Women of Tongatapu Island”).

This accumulation of my thoughts and ideas began to grow to uncontrollable dimensions.  I was running out of hiding places.

That was when it occurred to me that these gems of wisdom were really not for my eyes only.  No, the world needed to see them.  So, I began to paste these scraps onto the walls of men’s rooms and construction site walls and car repair shops.  When the mechanic was bent over to check my parents oil level, I would attach one or two of my paragraphs to the wall behind the quarts of Quaker State motor oil, close to the STP cans and the Valvoline.  Someone would read them.

I was even bold enough to sign my first name because I was proud of these short articles.

But, it didn’t stop there.  As I grew into an older teenager, I began to tell stories and not just relate my thoughts.  I was actually writing fiction, like Dickens or, later, William F. Buckley.

My fame grew.  I would walk past a bus stop and there would be small groups of people reading one of my written pieces, but that was never enough.  I had to have more.  More attention.  More glory.  More places to paste my posts.

I was getting desperate.  Only the people of the mid-sized city in the mid-west where I lived knew anything about me or the things I felt the urge to share.  Once I was nearly arrested for hanging around the soccer field of an all-female private school and opening my trench coat showing my posts super-glued to my hoodie.  This was during goalie tryouts.

Then, the techno-miracle happened.  The Internet was invented.  K-Marts began carrying personal computers.  The need to own them began to spread like swine-flu virus throughout the world.  I purchased, at no small cost, an IBM desktop.  Social networking companies began to flourish.  I set up an account with AOL and was able to send out my writings to the dozens of friends.  My network grew and soon I had several million followers.  But I was always struggling to comprehend the language of the IBM.  They were calling it a “PC”.

Then, faster than you can say Steve Jobs, an alternate universe opened up for me.  I dropped my PC faster than a high-end prostitute would do once she found out you could only afford to buy her a Miller Lite.  I bought an apple, chewed things over in my mind a few minutes, and ordered a MacIntosh.  Now I was cooking with real olive oil.

Those who understand these things and control them, began calling the posts that people were sending out, “blogs”, which I felt was odd indeed.  The very sound of the term conjured up images of “black” and “fog” or “smog”.  Dark imagery for sure.

But still, I could never get enough.  Sending photographs became possible on something some kid started called Facebook.  I began posting pictures of flower pots and kittens but felt that was going to go out of style before I could grab an audience.  I backed away from dogs and cats in creepy sleeping positions on plastic sofas and started writing more.  (I had a moment of self-doubt when, after I posted a blog that I considered a profound meditation on the eternal struggle of human inequality,  I only got 17 “likes”.  A day later, some woman from Toledo posted a photo of her potted petunia and got 1,355 “likes”.)

That self-doubt began to take over my life.  Was anyone reading my stuff?  My Twitter followers remained at a constant number of 32 for months.  I got desperate and began a long slide down to the gutter, literally.

I pawned my iMac and took a cheap room over the Hi Ho Motel along state route 47 outside of Dayton.  The motel was just across the street from Ron Stokowski’s Girlie Galore Gentlemen’s Club.  The flashing red neon sign below the owner’s name read: HOME OF THE ORIGINAL POLE DANCERS!

Friends, the few I had, would stop by to see if I needed anything.  The kitchen trash was filled with empty bottles of Night Train Express and cheap tequila.  On the little night stand next to my bed was a half-empty fifth of Jim Beam and a crumpled pack of Chesterfield’s.

I had hit rock bottom.  The only lower place for me was the first floor.  That would be the motel lobby.  Outside the lobby was the street…the street of broken dreams…the street of red lights, cheap wine and even cheaper women.  I didn’t have enough money in my pocket to afford a shot of penicillin at the local clinic.

It was raining hard the night I began to think of the railroad trestle about a mile out-of-town.  I put my trench coat on, ready for the short final walk to last stop junction…when Pinkie walked into my room.  I called her Pinkie because she wore hot pink nail polish on the nine fingers of her hands.  The hue matched her lips and eyeshadow (and her hair and tattoo and 6 inch stilettos).

“Look at you,” she said, glancing around.  “Where’s your laptop?”

I pointed to the little table with the steno pad and BIC pen.

“Hey, big guy, Mr. Steinbeck…I’m talkin’ to you.  This ain’t the way its supposed to end.  Not for a guy with talent like you got.”

I stared at her two-inch lashes.

She poured a hefty hit of Jim Beam into a plastic tumbler with a Betty Boop logo on the side, in full color.

“Take this and get a grip.”

I put the mouthful away in one swallow.

“Now, get out there.  Get back into it, big guy.  You can do it.  You got the stuff.  I was down there too, once.  Lower than low. But look at me now.  I’m a regular dancer again.  That’s cause I got the stuff, just like you got the stuff”.

I began to wonder what stuff she was talking about, but I got her drift.  She was right.  I was too young to consider myself a failure…there would be plenty of time for that when I reached my sixties.

It had stopped raining.  There was a heavy fog, like a blanket, covering the suburbs of Dayton.  I stopped under a street lamp with my trench coat draped over my shoulder.  I took off my fedora and waved at Pinkie, who was standing on the balcony of the place I once called home.

I went back to the pawn shop.  The iMac was gone!  So, I took what they had.  I walked out with a Dell.  Life doesn’t get any meaner.  Soon, I was staying in a Ramada in Bayonne, but staring at an empty computer screen.

Maybe I had wasted my youth, my good ideas, my so-called talent too soon.  Too soon and too fast.  They say you were born with only so many blogs in your heart.  My heart was empty.

I walked into the church basement with my head held high.  When my turn came, I calmly walked to the music stand that was being used as a podium.

“Hi, everyone.  My name is Patrick and I’m a blogger.”