EAST HADDAM, CONN. — The looming catastrophe I am about to dissect in vivid, heart-wrenching detail doesn't rise to the level of nuclear North Korea, wars of whimsy, or $3 per gallon gasoline. But make no mistake, it's here, it's real, and it's getting worse. I'm fervently hoping that you'll add this national malaise to your list of things to wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat about.
Almost every summer for the past quarter-century, my family and I have vacationed on a small island just off the coast of Massachusetts. Our sunny retreat shall remain nameless because it needs publicity like Karl Rove needs another special prosecutor.
The problem is this: Our idyllic isle is awash in minor celebrities.
You know what I'm talking about:
• One-hit wonders
• "Survivors" who were voted off the island, early on
• Sagging soap "stars"
• American Idol runners-up
• Under secretaries of State for sub-Saharan rumormongering
• Runaway brides
I'm telling you, it's driving me nuts.
I have no issue with bona fide certifiable celebrities, your former US presidents and first ladies beaching it with two dour-looking guys in suits, serious sitcom actors, filmmakers who attend every New York Knickerbockers home basketball game, octogenarian network news magazine correspondents, even the odd cabinet member.
These people are imprinted on our minds. They're almost like family. We feel we can go up to them while they're having an intimate meal at an overpriced fish-fry eatery and start belting out, "I've seen fire and I've seen rain."
In short, we know who they are, or at least we can figure it out before our vacation is over. "Hey, honey, there goes old what's-his-name from that show about the crabby doctor who's supposed to be funny - jeepers, he must be late for his extreme makeover."
No problem there. But with this new lot of famous wannabes, you know the face, or perhaps the upper torso, you know they're somebody you've seen sometime somewhere, maybe on TV or blogging away on the Internet. But to save your life, you can't conjure up the name, much less the media context. By now you might as well cancel that two-hour deep-tissue reflexology massage. Until you identify this has-been or never-was, your vacation is on hold, if not totally ruined.
And the worst part is this: say you get lucky and have a eureka moment. "Hey, sweetie, that was Corey Clark at Captain Ahab's last week!" (Corey is the fallen Idol who claimed he had a close relationship with an actual celebrity, Paula Abdul.) Your mind is finally at peace, and you think it's going to be clear sailing until your ferry leaves for the mainland.
Then you turn around and who walks into your peripheral vision but the couple from "Fear Factor" - or was it the "Amazing Race"? You remember, they got divorced while they were lost in a Kansas corn maze and he wouldn't ask the farmer for directions. But you're not sure of anything at this point. Suddenly Pilates is completely out of the question.
So what's the solution?
This great nation needs a Lesser Celebrity Registry, maybe even a whole new Department of Homeland Vacation Security. These annoying semianonymous people shouldn't be allowed to roam willy-nilly, inducing troubling déjà vuand spoiling my well-earned holiday.
With the ballooning deficit, government action is unlikely, you say. Well, how about name tags? Is that too much to ask?
• David Holahan, who works in museum marketing, is currently vacationing on Marth ... er ... somewhere off the coast of Massachusetts.