Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame. This is a quote supposedly coming from Andy Warhol, although I think I heard once, somewhere, that it is actually a misquote. In any case, it makes its point.
Kip Kinkle, for instance, was really no one until he showed up at high school, shot some fellow students, then went home and shot his parents. Everyone knew Kip for a short while. After that, he went to a mental institution and kind of faded away.
Tiny Tim had his moment also. Not the Tiny Tim known from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but the one who performed on a mandolin, singing Tip-Toe Through the Tulips in a girlish voice on the Merv Griffin Show and the Mike Douglas Show.
Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. They had their fifteen minutes.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono once co-hosted the Mike Douglas Show.
Later on, the man who killed John Lennon got his fifteen minutes of fame too.
I remember the feeling I had when my first book was published, a feeling of having been extracted from the drab soup of life and held above the bowl, suddenly particular, a bit of substance. For a moment (fifteen minutes or so) I was no longer just part of the broth, but a particular ingredient, something specific. I enjoyed a short period of self definition.
What am I? Who am I?
I am the husband of my first wife. I am the father of my son.
I am the husband of my second wife, the father of three stepchildren who never talk to me again after their mother and I divorce.
I am the man who lives in apartment 44 and has a dog. I am the guy who prefers to sit at the south end of the bar, the guy who shows up at Starbucks every morning with his laptop, looking like he just drooled out of a pasta machine.
Before I know it, I am the husband of my third wife, father of a fourth stepchild. I have a Labrador.
And then along comes multiple sclerosis. Now this is something different, something fairly original. Not everyone has MS, just like not everyone has a million dollars and a Mercedes. There are only 400,000 or so people in American who have MS, give or take (people continue to be born, people continue to die).
Once again, I find myself identified, defined. I am the only one I know personally who has MS. Some may have a mansion, some may have a lofty title, some may have appeared in a movie. I have MS. I am different, unusual, deserving of sympathy, deserving of special attention. I can park in the wheelchair spot. I can sit at the “special” table at Starbucks, reserved for the disabled, without feeling like a sociopath or a criminal. I get to carry a cane without having to feel pretentious.
Because I have MS, I get to take a shot every week that makes me feel like I have the flu.
I get to forget where I’m going, and forget, when I get there, why I am there.
I get to be chosen last for important duties, things that really need to be done.
I get to know upon a morning here and there how it feels to have been run over by a truck without having actually to walk to the highway and throw myself into traffic.
I get to walk around like a drunk, and if stopped by a cop I get to laugh in his face even as he pulls out his breathalyzer.
I get to look forward to progressive secondary MS and paralysis in my limbs and other unpleasant complications.
Well … perhaps this fifteen minutes of fame is not all its cracked up to be after all.