I met a man the other day who used to know somebody famous. I don’t really remember who it was, I think a jazz musician or a senator or a scientist or something. It was a long time ago, and the famous guy is dead, but apparently this man knew him very well.
Being the friend of someone famous is not quite the same thing as being famous yourself, but not everybody can be famous. Being famous takes talent, for one thing, and hard work for another. Not to mention luck. So in some ways, it’s better to just be the friend of somebody famous. Easier, anyhow.
I don’t know anybody famous myself, although when I was very young, I saw Hubert Humphrey at a shopping center. Or maybe it was Richard Nixon. A lot of people were there to see him, and Humphrey, or Nixon, worked the crowd, smiling and shaking hands with both of his own, protected by bodyguards, propelled by his handlers, rushing past us to make the next crowd at the next shopping center. I didn’t actually get to shake either of his hands, but I was only separated from him by a fat lady with a fox stole and another lady who smelled like garlic so it was a really close thing.
This man I met, though, he really knew his famous friend. They must have drunk beer together, and played cards and went fishing. They’d laugh at people who didn’t know anybody famous I bet, nudge each other in the ribs and point and smirk because one of them was famous and the other guy was his friend.
It has to be easy to pick up women when you’re friends with someone famous. Sure, he gets the best ones, but there would always be leftovers for you. So they’d go out and they’d dance the Lindy, or the Watusi (I’m not exactly clear on when this was all going on), and the famous guy would say, kind of in a whisper out of the corner of his mouth, “I’ll take that one, and that one, and the one over there.” And, even if the other guy had his eye on the one over there, he’d say, “Sure, no problem,” and take what was left. Because you probably don’t argue with your famous friend. I mean, if there’s always women lined up for him, there’s also other guys, too, just waiting to swoop in and be his friend and then where would you be?
Or maybe there weren’t any women. Maybe they weren’t just friends. I don’t know, of course, and I don’t even have any reason to speculate. But maybe.
Eventually, the man who used to know somebody famous had to come back to reality, to the rest of us. It happened when the famous guy died. There must have been one last chance for the man to be almost famous. There would have been lots of other famous people at the funeral, and the famous guy’s friend probably sat near them, maybe even talked to them. Maybe the other famous people said, Sorry about your friend, and clasped his hands the way you do when you’re trying to be sympathetic, or they squeezed his shoulder. Maybe a movie actress or somebody hugged him. He probably stood up at the front of the church and told them all what a wonderful person the famous guy was, how much fun he was, but with a serious side that not many people got to see. Or maybe it was the other way around, how serious he was about his music, or his politics, or his science, but with a fun side that not many people got to see.
I wonder, though. Even while he was supposed to be mourning, was he looking over the crowd, trying to find someone else famous he could be friends with?
Because he must have realized that the good times were packed inside the casket with his friend, to be carted off to the cemetery and shoved into a hole in the ground and covered up with dirt. He must have wondered if he would still be able to pick up women, without somebody famous to attract them. Who he was going to snicker with about the poor people who weren’t famous, or who didn’t have a famous friend. My god, now people like that would snicker at him!
But all the famous people probably had friends already, and besides, how do you apply for the position? You can’t just go up to somebody famous and ask if you can be their friend. I suppose you could worm your way into somebody’s life, kind of sneak up on them, “accidentally” run into them where they do their dry cleaning or have their dog groomed or get their hair cut. You’d probably pretend not to see them the first couple of time. Then you’d smile at them, like you do with a regular person you keep seeing every time you go someplace. Eventually, you’d say a couple of words to them and so on. Probably the best way is to act like it doesn’t matter that they’re famous, like you don’t even know who they are. And before you know it, you’re having a cup of coffee, or maybe he invites you over for a barbeque. But probably it just happens. Or it doesn’t.
So, with his friend dead, the man had to be like the rest of us. Not famous, not even close to someone famous. Just a person. It had to be hard on him. For the rest of his life.
He lives in the nursing home where my wife works. I went in to pick her up to give her a ride home, and she told me he used to know… somebody. I’m sorry, I just don’t remember who it was. I don’t think it was a baseball player. Maybe hockey. I don’t really follow hockey. He could have been a writer, I mean, who remembers writers?
Anyway, my wife had a few things to do before she could leave, so I sat next to the man and introduced myself. I like to talk to the residents at the home. They’re so happy when you do that they almost seem alive. It makes you feel like you’ve done a good deed and they’re so grateful, kind of like you would feel if somebody famous noticed you.
But not this guy. Because he really did know somebody famous, and he knew I wasn’t. I was the kind of guy he and his famous friend used to nod and poke and wink about. So he just sat there and stared at nothing, perhaps remembering the old days, back when he was right next door to being somebody, back when he used to know somebody who used to be famous.