These essays are excerpted from Fame: The Hijacking of Reality by Justine Bateman, out now from Akashic Books.
So here I am, I’m in it. Sixteen, I’m 16 when it starts, and I’m in it, in the Fame. Didn’t see it coming, just in it. People smiling at me. Happy to see me. SO HAPPY to see me. Like a baby or a toddler. Me. Being looked at as if I am the long-awaited child of a couple who thought they couldn’t conceive. Looked at as if I can do no wrong. Everything I do, looked at by others with big, glassy eyes, smiles that cannot be drawn down with any of my actions. Applauded for basic tasks, even. Like a toddler dressing herself, feeding herself, walking, running, scribbling shit on a piece of paper with a crayon and up on the refrigerator with PRIDE. Everybody loving you. You, celebrity. You, newly famous person. Everybody loves you. Is proud to throw their arms round you and call you “pal.” People who would make a show of snubbing you are now claiming your friendship, hat in hand. Or unconsciously so, like an old coat-check ticket to retrieve a long-ignored coat in the back of the closet there by the maitre d’.
“YES, that one. The one I refused when you mentioned it to me weeks ago. NOW, I’ll take it. And I’ll wear it now, because it’s CHANGED.”
Yeah, you get those. You get those. You get it all. It will get worse. When you’re in a bar and some guy, drunk, wants you, wants to be with you, takes the “control” road and tries to rip you a new one for smoking. Your regular habit, the one you’ve had since you were 17 in high school, trying it out, getting used to it. Anyway, now, for years, a regular thing, not a change from who you were. But this guy, this guy is on the “control” road of getting at you and says, “Ew, I didn’t know Mallory smoked.” Trying to be controlling. Like you’ve disgusted him; he had such high hopes for you, thought so well of you. You had that! You had this guy thinking so highly of you! There it was and there it goes. You just fucked up. You disappointed him, drove him away, this approval, affection that was so freely yours. You blew it.
Yeah. It will get worse, but for now, oh man, the attention is kind of weird, kind of exciting, kind of feels like an accomplishment, acknowledgment for your work. That’s what it is, right? OK. Maybe there’s some formula here, a correlation. Success = Fame = accomplishment. Just correlation or causation? Whatever, correlation, they’re related. You learn this. You’re 16. Seems right. They keep rising, your ratings and your Fame. They keep going up, both of them, together.
Jesus, there was this one woman at this party. Whenever someone came up … Look, I had found this great way to end a conversation with a fan, someone in public. Someone who was going on and on and hey, they’re just excited, I get it, but going on with no signs of stopping. How do you get yourself out of there? Where there’s no one to pull you away or you’ve committed the first sin of being famous, which is that you have stopped moving. You’re supposed to never, ever stop moving through a crowd. But, let’s say you have stopped, weren’t paying attention, and someone has captured you, like a wild animal. Captured you and now is talking to you and is amazed that they are talking to you, to this sheath of Fame. They can’t even really see you. OK, talking to this sheath you’re in, and how do you get out of their grasp? I had this way, this foolproof way of getting gone.
“It’s nice to have met you” and maybe a handshake. “It’s nice to have met you,” so I’m putting the whole encounter in the past tense. See how I did that? Pretty clever. Worked like a charm. For years. The fan knew the encounter was over, just followed the past tense I’d presented, smiled, and moved on. Worked great. I was really, really pleased with myself that I had finally, finally come up with at least a portion of a blanket way to deal with people approaching me. I even passed that along to other famous people.
“Hey! I’ve discovered a method! Something that … a KEY, even, to escaping these situations!” So proud of myself; worked like a charm.
So, I’m at this party recently, a few months ago, Christmastime. At this party, I’m there as a guest, OK? Not “my people,” but there as a guest, so be nice, be polite, be conversational, be generous. Be nice. This woman, DRUNK. This woman comes up to me.
“You’re Justine Bateman. You’re that girl.” And so on. It went on and on. I don’t remember exactly what she said, I blocked it out. Then, me, wanting to get out of this, wanting to get back to the interesting conversation I’d been having with these two other people before this woman abruptly cut in.
I say, “Well, it’s nice to have met you.”
Oh shit. The look on her face. The look on her face, as if some demon had just put her on like a glove and was now, for the first time, was now going to fucking punish me for having used this method for getting rid of people, for getting rid of ALL those people, in the past. Now this demon with this drunk-woman-glove on was going to let me fucking have it.
“Oh. You’re a rude one, aren’t you?”
Whoa. I was shocked. Shit. My foolproof, patented-almost, end-of-the-conversation trick was grabbed and refused. Snatched and turned onto a dagger held in this glove. The look on her face, the venom.
Me, shit. Me, “I just want to get back to this conversation. It was nice to have talked to you … ”
Her, saying something else, something more, wanting to fight, and me, trying to keep it calm, trying to be the nice guest-of-someone-else-at-this-party. Yeah, if it had been another setting, another party, me as not-a-guest-of-someone-else, I would have tried a non–AT&T customer service response. I would have told her to fuck off. But I was a guest. I was a guest … It was a great method while it lasted.
Copyright 2018 by Justine Bateman, used with permission of Akashic Books.
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