Thursday, November 30, 2006

Return To Shmendrik

A taste of honey is worse than none at all.
- William Robinson, Jr.

Power corrupts and absolute power will corrupt the hell out of you.

Or so they say.

The very nature of power and success makes those who have one or the other of them reluctant to relinquish them. Sometimes, however, holding onto success can mean turning its owner into a caricature of what made them successful. The original innovation evaporates and leaves an empty shell, the impetus to create replaced by the fear of failure, the fear that you’ll end up being nobody again and back at the nine-to-five.

How terribly frightened we are of that.

Frightened of not having a name that everyone remembers, frightened of being the schmuck that had to answer to a boss they were smarter than, frightened of having to leave “the life,” like Henry Hill at the end of Goodfellas:

"I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook."

And who wants to do that? Especially in America, where we’re taught to measure our self-worth in publicity and money.

The danger of success, of course, is that it can easily breed mediocrity.

Afraid to mess with whatever it is that got us where we are, we quash the urge to be original and repeat the formula. And why not? The rewards are too great and it took so long to get there.

And if it’s easier to be successful by doing less than by working harder, who can argue with that?

So we end up living in a predigested, repetitious environment, filled with movie sequels and copycat TV shows and and the dull leading the tired.

After all, we know what the alternative is.

We’d have to live the rest of our lives like a schnook.

I had an experience once that taught me something of the power of fame.

I was set to interview a famous writer/director once and the publicist asked me if I wouldn’t mind doing it someplace other than the usual hotel environment. So I found a small eatery that was near the bookstore where he’d be signing that day and waited for him to arrive.

It was just before lunch so things were pretty quiet. When he showed up, we nearly had the place to ourselves. As we talked, though, the restaurant began to fill up until, by the time we’d finished, there were few tables to be had.

I stayed behind after he’d left, just relaxing and finishing my tea, when I noticed that one of the waitresses was staring at me. Not casually, either. She was looking at me like I was Brad Pitt.

Do I have to tell you that this doesn’t happen often?

Finally, she comes over and, still eyeing me approvingly, asks me if that person who was at the table was who she thought it was. I affirmed that it was. She wanted to know because she wanted to give him a head shot in case he’d want to use her in a film. I let her know that he’d be just down the street for the next few hours if she wanted to meet him and she stood in thought for a moment, seeming to weigh her options.

For a moment, though, I had experienced what it was like to be a celebrity, even though I had just been the guy who’d been sitting with one. And if just having close proximity to one was enough to be aphrodisiacal, what must it be like to be one?

So it’s easy to see why one isn’t easily tempted to rock the boat after having achieved this state of grace. Those who do often find themselves having to downscale their ambitions and, worse yet, their own self-respect.

And yet, there are enough cautionary tales about lives that have been ruined by success, careers that could have been more than they were had their stewards possessed the courage to take more chances than they did, rather than sitting on their…laurels.

Perhaps at those dizzying heights, it would be difficult to hear a warning, if, indeed, anyone bothered to offer one. Or perhaps we’d be loathe to contemplate it in the midst of our celebrating.

On that summer’s day, giddy with our own invulnerability, would we have listened to the spectre in our midst if we’d known what was to come?

Next: Headache Hotel


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