The sorrows of fame

When the paparazzi desert you, it's good to have real work to fall back on. It will do you a lot more good than cosmetic surgery.

Published January 31, 2007 12:04PM (EST)

Let us speak of the sorrows of fame. You are a hot young thing on a promotional tour for your book or movie or perfume and the limo brings you to the small luxury hotel and the celebrity suite where you step into the bathroom and notice a wad of snot protruding from your left nostril. It is the size of the Hope Diamond. How long has this been hanging there?

You've spent all day mingling with people ecstatic at the sight of you you you, and yet not one of them dared mention this crusty green mucus ballooning from your nasal cavity. Nor did your publicist Stephanie nor the reporters at the press opportunity. Have you been walking around all day with this excrescence sticking out of your nose?

You lie awake, hot tears on your cheek. You are friendless in this world. People fawn over you but they don't like you enough to even lean over and say, "Hey, pal, you need a hankie." The next day, en route to the airport, you notice an item in the paper:

People are talking about a certain large enchilada who stood around with a noseful of blechhh the other day as he chatted cluelessly with members of the media. They say that heavy use of cocaine can desensitize the tissues. Anyway, check it out on YouTube.

You fire Stephanie. But the video of you makes its way around the Internet, you smiling, emoting charm, and a big green thing like an emerald in your nose. And everywhere you go, little knots of hecklers are waiting for you, pointing to their left nostrils.

You issue a statement through your new publicist, Jessica, announcing that you have a rare disease that is seldom fatal but that produces mucus unexpectedly. You caught it in Africa while trying to adopt an orphan and it was exacerbated by overwork, stress and alcohol abuse. You are checking yourself into rehab at a clinic. So far, so good.

Ninety days later, you emerge into the bright sunlight, smiling, focused and in a totally different place from where you were three months ago, and happy to talk about your journey, and the press is not waiting for you. No cameras, no microphones, just a velvet rope with nobody behind it. What gives?

Your cellphone rings and it's Jessica. She's weeping. She did her best to draw a crowd for you but today was not your day, sweetheart. Other larger elephants were active in the bush and so the paparazzi swarmed them and not you. You've taken a spiritual journey and nobody cares. Nobody.

Right here is where you have a chance to learn what a great thing it is to have real work to do. When you fall off the A-list, you simply return to your work, whatever it may be, and that rescues you from insanity. Even if you have the misfortune to be born rich and not too bright, you could still be taught a useful skill. In the end, this would do you more good than cosmetic surgery.

People decry Paris Hilton but she serves a purpose. We're a big country and we have so little in common anymore. Television and pop music have splintered into hundreds of niches. There are no singers like Satchmo or Sinatra or Elvis whose voices everyone knows. The audience for even the most successful TV show is a small minority. Most famous persons in America are persons most Americans have never heard of.

But if we don't admire the same people, at least we can find people to despise. That is the role of ditzy pop stars and rich bimbos and the old tycoons with comb-overs and the home-run kings on steroids -- they are the village lunatics in our ongoing national fairy tale. We check on their comings and goings and then we turn to our work with fresh appreciation. Maybe your feuds aren't widely reported and maybe people aren't mobbing the celeb sites looking for pictures of you without underwear, but you have work and that's a consolation, just being good at accomplishing useful things.

I, for example, am good at washing dishes. I used to do it professionally and it's still satisfying. You clear away the wreckage and run a sink full of soapy water and make everything sparkly clean again, and you look around the kitchen and get a feeling that money can't buy. Keep your nose clean and make yourself useful. That's my advice.

(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)

(c) 2007 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

By Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor is the author of the Lake Wobegon novel "Liberty" (Viking) and the creator and host of the nationally syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," broadcast on more than 500 public radio stations nationwide. For more columns by Keillor, visit his column archive.

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