The Co$t of Fame

 

I'll never do one of those "Do you know me?" commercials.

But as the host of a local tv talk show, I'm something of a minor league celebrity. At about the level of a utility infielder on a Class A--maybe AA--team, I'd say.

Occasionally I see 25-watts of recognition come across someone's face when I'm out for a walk, or a fellow shopper at Home Depot may come up to tell me how much he likes "Informed Sources" and stick out his hand just as I've grabbed a fistful of roofing nails from a bin. I've emceed the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, mingled at our Parks and Parkway Commission's annual "Feast with the Stars" and been the celebrity bartender on Media Night at the French Quarter saloon Molly's at the Market.

That's plenty for me. I don't think I'd want to be in the pinstripe class, with my face known by everyone who reads "People" or "Vanity Fair." I wouldn't want to spend my time posing for the kind of photos that would put me on their pages or even to be pestered for snapshots with ladies with blue hair every time I went out to one of the in spots I'd have to frequent to maintain my standing among the celebrated. I wouldn't want to be eating out and have people at the next table whispering and pointing, as my family and I did one night when we were seated next to Harry Connick Jr. and his family. And I certainly wouldn't want to be condemned to autographing ticket stubs or programs or scraps of used Kleenex or whatever else my panting fans would thrust at me.

Of course, I don't get the perks the major league celebs do: chauffeurs and limousines, and fawning maitre d's, complimentary champagne at every stop, and laugh-track-enhanced cheers for my appearances on Leno and Letterman. Things like that. Still, I get my share, minor league though they might be. From time to time I get special consideration that I would not get otherwise--a ticket to an event or extra-attentive service at the necktie counter. Or what happened today.

This morning, my 18-year-old son, Patrick, and I went to court in Hahnville, in St. Charles Parish, about 20 miles up river from New Orleans. A state trooper had stopped him a couple of weeks ago as he was driving himself and his girlfriend through the parish on I-10 after a party in Baton Rouge. The trooper's raider had clocked him at 83 miles an hour.

Why so fast? Patrick was afraid the car was running out of gas, he said, and he wanted to hurry to get to a filling station.

I don't suppose that rings true with you, does it? It didn't set the strings of the trooper's heart zinging either. The fine for speeding would be $185. And he didn't anticipate driving during that trip, or so he said, so he didn't have his license with him. That lapse would cost another $105. And God knows how much more to our automobile insurance would be.

Patrick and I got to the courthouse a few minutes before 10, the hour set on the ticket for his appearance. A good many others had chosen the last month to sin against traffic regulations in St. Charles Parish too, apparently. It took us three and half hours to get from the front door to the desk in Courtroom II where two assistant DAs were hearing confessions.

The female looked sympathetic. Maybe she would be motherly. The man was rumpled, seemed tired, and he had been working through the lunch hour.

"Pray to get the woman," I said to Patrick. A moment later the man picked up Patrick's ticket and we approached the bench.

He acknowledged Patrick and offered me his hand. "Hello," he said. "We've met. I'm Howie, Leslie Hill's husband." And while he listened to Patrick's explanation I remembered meeting him at WYES, the public television station. He was there to see "Informed Sources" one night when his wife, then a reporter for the NBC affiliate, was a panelist .

Talking to Patrick he sounded like a genial used car salesman. "I can't kill this for you, but I can reduce it. Let's see what I can do here." He waved his pencil over the ticket, wiped away the driving-without-a-license charge and started subtracting miles until he got it down to 69 m.p.h., 14 miles over the speed limit. The total cost was $110. A mile faster and the fine would have been more than $150, and we would have had stain on our insurance record.

Only $110. I could see Patrick was relieved. It would not take him long to work his way out of indenture to his mother and me. Howie and I shook hands.

"Good to see you again," I said, and I damn well meant it too.

So that's what set me thinking about my minor celebrity and my satisfaction with it. However, the thought did cross my mind that, perhaps, were I a major league, People-cover celebrity, the DA would have fixed the ticket for me.

But that was only a fleeting thought. It was gone by the time I autographed a check for the sheriff of St. Charles Parish.

 

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