He was famous once.
And perhaps he was famous still. He was one of the breakout stars of a certain martial arts movie franchise that had spawned way too many sequels and had long outlived its novelty value. If you Googled his name you’d still come up with plenty of references, his fame living on in the digital arena long after his star power had come into question in the real world.
And yes, he’d been all over the news that morning … in the newspapers, on the TV, on the radio, on the minds of all the Gen X and Boomer hosts who remembered him fondly from that martial arts franchise.
And yet, in a way, his fame hung onto him like a modern-day version of Miss Havisham’s wedding dress – a once-magnificent outfit past its used-by date, former glories hanging to it like tattered rags.
He’d set up his shingle alongside the other stars of pop culture gathered at Albuquerque Comic Con.
For a few bucks he’d sign a photo for you, scrawling his John Hancock over a glossy image of him striking a karate pose.
Beside him were other stars of pop culture: a thespian best known for playing elves; a starlet from a sci-fi franchise; others I didn’t recognise. There was big money to be made on the pop-culture signature circuit. A few hundred of those signatures would more than cover the cost of the 20-hour trip to Australia. Particularly with the current conversion rate to pounds.
I joined the queue for the sci-fi star. It was a busy queue, full of fanboys and girls, some wearing fake vampire teeth, others boasting Spock ears, some weirdos even dressed normally. But as I advanced, I couldn’t help but glance over at our hero’s queue.
Perhaps “queue” is the wrong word: it was actually a void. No one appeared to be lining up for his signature.
He’d come halfway across the world to be humiliated.
His publicist laughed, just like a guy in a nightclub trying to pick up women by pretending to be having a great time.
Maybe he laughed, too. I can’t remember.
For a second our eyes met. Was he dying inside? Was that smile real … or merely brave? Was I just imagining it all?
He ran a hand through his long blond hair and glanced back to his queue. It was still empty.
Perhaps my five-minute moment was an unrepresentative sample of his popularity that day. Perhaps his people came later and in great numbers. Perhaps there still was a place for that thing he did. Perhaps this just wasn’t his scene.
And yet, the queue remained bare.
Like one of the characters from Auden’s poem Musee Des Beaux Arts, watching Icarus fall from the sky, I turned away “quite leisurely from the disaster”.
I was now at the booth of the sci-fi star.
I handed over my money, received my signed photo, walked away and never looked back.
I never received that man’s autograph … but he might very well have signed my soul.
Pictured … The Fall Of Icarus by Pieter Bruegel.
My ebook military thriller The Spartan is out now on Amazon.