Dealing with being known

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While most people will never admit, I suspect that we all would love to be famous. You know, the kind of fame that gets you the best table in a restaurant that requires common people to book two months in advance, or that causes people to stop you on the street just to be able to say that they spoke to a famous person.

Lots of people want to be that well known—until it happens.

Turns out that celebrity isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and some people just do not handle it well. We’ve all heard of the famous people who treat their fans like trash. I’m not going to name any names here because people who are rude to the very people who’ve made them famous have notoriously thin skins and are likely to sue me.

But, as bad as bad behavior to fans is, I can sort of understand them. I don’t excuse their bad behavior. Public rudeness is, in my humble opinion, never truly justified. But when you’re well known, going out in public can be a royal pain. Trust me, I know this from personal experience.

Not that I’m really famous. Certainly not Isaac Asimov or Stephen King famous, but having published over 200 books, mostly lowbrow pulp fiction, by the way, I am known in certain areas, and having been a diplomat and a senior Defense Department official, in the Washington, DC area, I’m often recognized when I’m out in public.

While being recognized and acknowledged is a heady experience—who doesn’t want to be lauded, right? But it can be a real pain at times. Here are a few examples:

I was in the metro once, waiting for my train, when a young lady came up to me and asked who I was. She didn’t know my name but recognized my face. I like being known, but find public bragging gauche, so I tried to say that she was probably mistaking me for someone else. She was not to be dissuaded, however, and insisted that I must be somebody because she never forgot a face. At that point, to avoid a scene, I asked her where she remembered seeing my face, and she said it was at a symposium she’d attended some months before and I was the keynote speaker. I do a lot of these, and sometimes have a hard time remembering, but I recalled this one and was able to engage her in conversation about it, much to her delight. I, on the other hand, was overjoyed when the train finally arrived, and it turned out not to be the one she was waiting for – I was getting on a Blue line train, and she was waiting for an Orange line one. The only thing worse than being confronted like that on the train platform is to be in the car when someone does it. That’s happened to me too on more than one occasion. I’ve never been rude, though. I just suffer it in silence.

There was only one time when I got what the kids call snarky with someone who approached me in public. That was when a person thought she recognized me and after starting the conversation she started asking me about my religion. When I told her that I was Buddhist, she looked at me down her nose and said, “So, you haven’t been saved yet?” I was stunned and before I could bite my tongue, I said, “You mean saved from people like you?” That was wrong of me, and it seemed to really hurt her feelings. She sniffed and turned away from me. There was nothing I could do but go back to working the crossword puzzle in the paper, which I’d been doing when she interrupted me. If I recall, this is the only time I was rude to someone like that. I suppose it can happen to anyone, but I felt really bad about it for several hours.

It happens about once a month, still, and I just go with it until I can think of a polite way to disengage. Easy to do on the street. I just duck into the nearest public building, saying I’m late for an appointment. It almost didn’t work one day, though, when a middle-aged woman stopped me on the street and wanted to touch my shock of snow-white hair, saying that she’d seen me on TV and wanted to see if the hair was real. What do you do in a situation like that? I decided not to make a scene, so I let her feel my hair. Try to imagine standing on a fortunately not-so-crowded street corner in Washington, DC at 9:00 am while a woman runs her hand through your hair. It was a freaky experience, but I survived. She smiled, complimented me on having a full head of hair at my age, and walked away. After I recovered my composure, I went in the opposite direction.

And, that’s how you deal with being well known. It’s either that, or you never go out in public. – NWI