PORTLAND, ORE. — Does the mere fact of being well known confer special privileges upon someone like me? I don't think so, but every public figure reaches his or her own comfort level in the realm of perceived social status.
One of my favorite anecdotes about this subject is found in a massive three-volume autobiography penned by science-fiction master Isaac Asimov. Once, while running for a taxi, he grabbed the door handle and then realized a competing hand was doing the same thing. The other man looked at him and said, "Why, it's Dr. Asimov." And the good doctor replied, "Yes, it is, and surely you won't take the taxi away from me." Then, according to Asimov, the man released the handle "as though it were red hot. It was a shame to pull rank like that, but I needed the taxi."
I doubt that I'll achieve the same level of self-assurance. How can I pull rank on anybody when my primary role models for daily living are Willie and Joe, the World War II cartoon GIs?
Some people, however, believe my name and reputation are not totally worthless and are, in a small way, commodities with real monetary value. Back in the 1990s, I wrote two collections of humorous short stories that were put out by a small press in Connecticut and then faded into obscurity. But my publisher has doggedly kept them in print, and they are still sold online by Amazon.com. Not long ago, I noticed that signed copies were being offered as "collectibles" for $2 to $3 above the cover price. So my autograph is roughly equivalent to the cost of a good milkshake. I find the comparison highly appropriate.
The market for collectibles is definitely lucrative. The New York Yankees dismissed a player earlier this season after he allegedly took a bat and glove from another player's locker and sold them for several thousand dollars. I briefly toyed with the idea of standing on a street corner at rush hour and hawking my signature to passing pedestrians, but an economist friend warned against it. "The current demand is too low," he explained. "You'd just be driving down the value of each existing autograph, like Argentina inflating its currency."
Since I can't control the forces at work in this situation, I keep marching and hope for the best, like Willie and Joe. On the front lines of the real world, I anticipate being a buck private forever. If anyone ever decides to pull rank on me when I'm hailing a cab, I will certainly step aside. But any sense of humiliation won't last long.
Thanks to the World Wide Web, I now know exactly how to bring my feelings of self-worth back up to their fair market value: I'll head for the nearest soda fountain and treat myself to a big chocolate milkshake.