I don’t know any celebrities. I told my sister Sarah what our topic is this week, and that everyone else in the world either knows or has met interesting celebrities, or has meaningful thoughts related to the topic of celebrity, while I have nothing. She laughed.
Now my sister does know, meet and deal with celebrities of all sorts, including Hollywood A-listers, rock stars, billionaires, politicians, and even royalty in the running of her famous organic farm. But I don’t know them. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin never walked into my shop. Bill Clinton didn’t eat one of my peaches out of hand at Chez Panisse. Well, I know Al, my sister said. Sure, but Al, her business partner and ex-husband, doesn’t count, no matter how many times he’s been referred to as a celebrity farmer. I mean, come on. Seriously?
What about Alice Waters, Sarah asked. Okay. I have met Alice Waters. So that’s one. But she’s a foodie celebrity. That doesn’t count.
Sarah arches an eyebrow at me. And what about all those NYT bestselling authors I know?
Well, there aren’t that many of those. They're professional relationships. Except for the ones who are friends, and they don’t count.
She snorts. Just because I know someone that doesn’t disqualify them as a celebrity.
Actually, yes, it does. Because I possess the Celebrity Nullification Factor.
My sister forgot about that. She shouldn’t have. I got it from our mother.
Here’s how it works: I am five years old. I am wildly jealous that Darilyn from across the street has pretend high heels. This catapults her to the pinnacle of neighborhood super-stardom. I beg my mother for high heels like Darilyn’s.
What do you want those for, my mother asks with disgust. They’re cheap. They’ll break in two minutes. You’ll just fall in them.
The shoes are beautiful. They sparkle. They are crystalline plastic flecked with pink and purple. I will take good care of them. They will never break. I will never fall. I want to be a star like Darilyn.
Why? My mother demands. If I get them for you, your sisters will want them. They’re too little, but they’ll cry and scream and probably take yours and ruin them. Do I want to suffer that horrible fate? Wouldn’t I rather go to the zoo?
Well, now that Mom mentions it, yes, I would. Watching the giraffes eat peanuts with their long purple tongues is tempting. And my siblings can’t ruin that. Mom knows when to press. It’s up to you, she says.
It also works like this: I am nine years old and have been exiled to a stinking tropical island in the Western Pacific. We don’t get any good TV. We get The Rosary Hour. All of us Protestant kids learn the Hail Mary by heart. But we do get Tiger Beat magazine at the PX. We brought our Monkees records from the States with us. We LOVE the Monkees! But the Monkees will never play a concert on Guam. The only famous person who visits Guam that year is President Nixon. I did see him drive by in the motorcade. He was more wrinkled than in pictures. WE WANT THE MONKEES!
My mother argues that the Monkees are just regular people. They aren’t that special. Yes, they’re cute. Lots of people are cute. Look at all the cute people we know! If we want live entertainment, we’ll go see my friend Blanche’s mother’s Polynesian Dance Troupe. Music! Dancing! Fire! Yes, the Monkees are famous. That doesn’t mean anything. They could just as easily be famous the way Charles Manson is famous. Fame doesn’t make anyone a good person. If we focus on being good people and being good friends, we’ll be happier than we would be if we went to a Monkees concert. Just you wait, she said. You’ll see.
Or it works like this: My grandparents—my DAD’S parents--went to Hawaii to visit my aunt while my uncle was stationed there, and they went to all these special places and they got to meet DON HO and JACK LORD. This is all they talk about for the two years after we got back from Guam (where the only famous person we saw was our creepy president). I love the story about how Don Ho kissed my grandma on the cheek. My grandma loves this story. Her eyes crinkle up every time she tells it. She glows when she tells how her daughter set it up, how she was bold enough to approach a celebrity because she knew it would make her mother happy.
Later, my mother and her sisters express deep horror at the prospect of having been singled out at a club or concert or whatever it was. It would be so embarrassing. Plus, those poor celebrities, never able to have a moment’s peace. How would we like it if strangers were constantly barraging us with requests for photos and autographs? Or kisses! Yuck. Leave them alone, for heaven’s sake. It’s only decent.
After the steady application of these lessons over a period of many years, I gradually made the Celebrity Nullification Factor my own. There is no celebrity too lofty to make me stare. Not that I would recognize one anyway, being so busy minding my own virtuous business. Any of you celebrities out there who feel the need to feel like regular folks (there’s such a glut of that), just swing by my place. If I know you, you can’t possibly be a celebrity.