Stars

 

Alissa Grosso

 
"Wow!" said Bobby Bernito the only patient in the nurse's office. "You're famous, Mrs. Sparkinson."

President McConnaghey had passed the fifteen minute law, making Warhol's prediction a ratified rule. This was Brett Staedtler, Connie Sparkinson, Lloyd Gnu, and Jose Diaz hour. Fifteen minutes past, so a short bio on Connie Sparkinson, Oklahoma resident, mother of four, school nurse, popped up on everyone's computer screens, interrupted all television and radio broadcasts, and momentarily stopped classes at all institutions of learning including the one where Connie was employed.

That afternoon as Connie picked up her daughter Beatrice from band practice, she was still beaming. All the other parents beeped and waved at her. She was famous.

The selection was completely random, which meant no one knew when they were going to become famous, until that week, when the list was released by Washington. The newspapers always ran a list of the week's selections on Monday, first and last names with city and state, then there was the special pullout section that appeared in all the dailies, with the photos and bios of each day's stars.

"Mommy, we got to see you on T.V. today," said Beatrice. "Everyone thinks it's so cool that my mom became famous."

"It's just for fifteen minutes," said Connie. "It doesn't really make a difference."

That was a lie. She had been riding high on her fifteen minutes all day. It felt really good. All she kept thinking about were all the people who had seen her and read about her. All these people that she didn't even know had been thinking about her, had known that she was East Oklahoma Hula Hoop Champion two years in a row, that her favorite color was aquamarine, that she preferred to drink milk out of a ceramic coffee mug. Of course, she had known that her fifteen minutes were coming from the beginning of the week, but she didn't really know what to expect until her fifteen minutes arrived, and her computer screen had faded to a picture of her and her bio. Since then, she had felt so jangly with energy.

The law said that everyone had the right to become famous, and no one was allowed to become famous more than once. There were always exceptions. For instance, sometimes people died before they got to become famous. This happened a lot to the older folks who had already lived most of their lives without the Warhol Doctrine. Law of averages said they were more likely to die than become famous. Then, of course, there were all sorts of other deaths like motor vehicle accidents, murder, and household accidents, that allowed people to die before their name had been pulled.

The law had a special provision for this. Anyone who died before they got to be famous would be memorialized in a special public shrine that had been built in Nevada. Their death, obituary and funeral would be covered by all the news outlets. As for double dippers into the fame pool, this happened. Since the selection was completely random, people who had already become famous through their own accord were occasionally drawn. Last Tuesday at 9:45 it was Jenna Pear, the pop singer. This could work the other way, too. Sometimes people would be selected, and then, after they became famous would become famous again by breaking into Hollywood, or having a hit song, or whatever. There were statistics on this. People who had already become famous were three times more likely to become old fashioned celebrities.

It was four-thirty and the radio interrupted the broadcast of an old Conway Twitty song to announce that Donald Silverman, part-time court stenographer and amateur photographer from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania had just become famous.

"Do you think Daddy saw you become famous?" asked Beatrice.

"Of course he did," said Connie, thinking of how proud Jim must have been when every computer screen in his office displayed the face of his wife.

They drove down their street, past all the houses where their neighbors would spend their dinner table conversations this evening talking about their own famous, Connie Sparkinson. They drove past the old, decrepit eyesore, where Frank Fielding lived. The nutcase was outside as they drove past, a welding mask pulled over his face and a blowtorch in his hand as he soldered some of the wires leading into his old rundown house.

* * *

Frank Fielding lifted the welder's mask and looked at his handiwork. It looked all right. Maybe it would actually work. Only four months ago, he had taken apart his computer and rewired it in an attempt to stop the government from bombarding him with their stupid fame reports. It had worked, but unfortunately he had dislodged a chip that sent a signal to the FBI's central offices. Two days later a group of FBI agents and technicians were on his doorstep.

"It has come to our attention that you illegally altered your computer, Mr. Fielding," said the scariest looking agent, six four with bristly crew cut hair, and dark sunglasses that obscured half his face.

"It's my computer," replied Frank. "I don't understand how it could be illegal to alter my own computer!"

"Are you familiar with the Warhol Doctrine, Mr. Fielding?"

"Familiar with it? I am only reminded of that ridiculous law every fifteen minutes."

"Then you understand that every U.S. citizen has the right to fifteen minutes of fame and that your illegal modification of your computer potentially deprives people of their God-given right."

They had fixed his computer for him and put a lock on it so that he could not make any more modifications. Frank, though, had other ideas. If he could cut off the fame reports at the source, then maybe he could rid his life of all effects of the Warhol Doctrine. Something had to be done. His writing career would never get off the ground if he couldn't even type for fifteen minutes without an interruption. Just today he had had a perfectly good burst of creativity interrupted when the woman down the street became famous. How, he wondered could her life be greatly improved by her newfound fame?

* * *

"Mommy, what's he doing?" asked Beatrice.

Connie watched as Frank lowered the mask and began to tinker some more with the wires, sparks shot up like fireworks around his face.

"I don't know, honey. Just don't stare. It's not polite."

Frank Fielding had made the news not long ago for getting into some trouble with the FBI. According to the report he was some sort of militant fame-hater. It didn't make her happy to know that there were whackjobs like that living in her own neighborhood.

Connie had spent a lot of time this morning fixing her hair and putting on makeup, something she ordinarily wouldn't do. She had also worn a new pink sweater and some of her prettiest jewelry. When she got home, she went straight back upstairs to fuss some more with her hair and touch up her makeup. Normally, she would plan out what she was going to cook for dinner in the morning. She hadn't done that today. Instead, she decided that the whole family would go out to dinner to celebrate her fifteen minutes. After all, this was her big day, the one she had been waiting for her entire life. When she was done prettying herself, she told all the kids to get started on their homework.

"We're going out tonight to celebrate," said Connie. "I want everyone to have their homework done by the time your father gets home." This turned out to be an unnecessary request. All the kids were done by six-thirty at which time Allison Chase, undergraduate student at Temple University and part time grocery store cashier got her fifteen minutes. Jim still was not home. The phone rang, and Connie who had been standing anxiously next to it, grabbed it.

"Hi, honey, it's me," said Jim. "Something came up. I'm going to be a bit late."

"I can't believe they're keeping you late tonight of all nights. You would think they would let you go early."

"Yeah, well. These things happen. Why don't you and the kids go ahead and eat dinner without me, I'll nuke it when I get home."

"I thought we would all go out to dinner tonight."

"Oh," said Jim, sounding impossibly far away. "What time is it now? Six-thirty? I'll try to be there in a half hour or so."

The uncertainty in his voice made Connie think it would be more like an hour. She sat down with the kids in front of the television and watched four more people become famous. Jim was still not home.

"Mommy, I'm hungry," said Beatrice.

"Me, too," said Davey her youngest.

"Look, your father should be home any minute," said Connie. "Then we'll go out."

She was hungry, too. Why did Jim have to pick tonight of all nights to be a good employee? Wasn't he as excited as she was about becoming famous? Didn't he want to share this celebration with her and the kids? She could feel her hair drooping and her make-up sagging.

 

Since the passage of the Warhol Doctrine, companies had had to deal with a decrease in productivity. Fame reports were broadcast between eight a.m. and eleven p.m. A distraction occurring every fifteen minutes slowed down productivity. Companies combated this with a bigger emphasis on computer and machine labor and less reliance on people this coupled with lowered expectations meant that everything still ran more or less smoothly.

There were companies who had gotten smart and tried to work around the law, scheduling their workday from eleven p.m. to seven a.m. to avoid the fame reports, and maintain a consistent level of productivity. There were problems with this business model. Most people didn't want to work through the night, especially when they knew if they worked during the day they would be expected to do a lot less work as a result of the fame reports.

Recruiters for overnight companies targeted fame-hater organizations and paid well with an attractive benefits plan. They managed to attract enough employees to operate. Then there was the matter of the special fees. When the government saw businesses trying to outwit the Warhol doctrine they made some modifications, and businesses that operated during off hours were required to pay a fee to the state and local governments. With all the money that the off-hours companies ended up paying their employees and in fines, it turned out to be more profitable to maintain a day time operation.

 

At ten after seven the doorbell rang. Must be Jim, thought Connie, but even as she ran to the door, she wondered why he wouldn't have just come in through the garage like he normally did. Maybe he had left the car running, so that they could all hop in, and head out to dinner. The first thing she saw when she opened the door was an unfamiliar white sports car in the driveway. The second thing she saw was a wild-eyed woman with long messy looking hair.

"You!" shouted the woman pushing her way past a startled Connie into the house. "You get everything, don't you? You get the house and the kids and the remodeled kitchen, and now, you get to be famous!"

The kids all came away from the t.v. to watch this much more exciting drama. Benjy had moved beside his mother, trying his best to look like a man, and not a scrawny sixteen year old.

"I'm sorry," said Connie. "I don't understand." She wondered if she should just dash to the phone and dial nine-one-one.

"Don't understand? Of course, you don't understand, Connie Sparkinson, the famous Connie Sparkinson. Why would you understand? You're living in a fantasy world."

"I am?" said Connie perplexed.

She might have gone for the phone right then, but was distracted when she saw Jim's car racing down the street. He made the turn into the driveway at too great a speed. Tires squealed as the car fishtailed, taking out a few of the newly planted bushes.

The irate woman turned to look at the car. Something in her seemed to have deflated, because suddenly her wild eyes turned downcast. She took a look around at Connie, the kids, the house, then turned around and started to walk back towards the door. Jim sprinted from the car and nearly ran right into her.

"Connie!" he shouted. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to find out like this. I was going to tell you. I swear. I was just waiting for the proper time."

"What?" said Connie.

She looked from the woman to Jim, and something clicked in her head. Jim had been cheating on her with this woman. It was amazing how epiphanies seemed to just spring up out of nowhere. One second, she had been happily married, the next second her husband was a filthy adulterer. It made sense, though, all the late nights he had been working lately, all those times she had picked up the phone only to have the person on the other end hang up, the movie ticket stub she had found in a pair of his pants.

"Connie, I," Jim paused. He was looking at the woman, then back at Connie. "What did this woman say to you? I can explain everything."

"This woman?" shouted the woman. "This woman?"

"Jim," said Connie as calmly as she could. "No more lies, ok? I know."

"Oh," said Jim.

That's when Connie noticed a white van driving too fast down the street.

"Who's that?" she asked.

"Channel Seven news," said Benjy. "Maybe that Fielding did something crazy again."

But they weren't going to Fielding's. They were coming to the Sparkinson's. The woman turned around and looked out the door. A reporter with a microphone marched across the lawn with a cameraman following close behind.

"What's going on?" asked Jim, but the reporter was already walking up the front steps.

The reporter walked up to the front door, looked around, and with a big smile on her face said, "Great, everyone's here."

The cameraman had positioned himself at the bottom of the porch steps, and flipped on a light. The reporter turned around to face him, and began her report.

"Good evening this is Louise Habit reporting to you live from the Sparkinson residence, home of Connie Sparkinson who became famous today at 11:15 a.m. Things have a funny way of working out because Connie is about to become famous all over again. Thanks to her husband's alleged philandering ways, Connie is getting a second shot at celebrity. It seems that Jim Sparkinson's lover, jealous of his wife, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Warhol Doctrine is unconstitutional, and that only those people who are actually deserving of fame should receive it."

As the reporter spoke, Connie watched as the woman began running her hands through her messy hair and adjusting her clothes so that they looked a little neater. Jim also began to preen, removing lint from the sleeves of his jacket and tightening his tie. Connie, though, no longer cared what she looked like. She couldn't believe that the marital infidelities of her husband that she had only learned of three minutes ago were suddenly being broadcast on television.

The reporter continued, "The lawsuit is of interest because it comes at a pivotal time, when the Warhol Doctrine has come under fire from many parties. Could a jealous lover's lawsuit bring down one of the most popular laws of our time? Let's go inside and talk with the members of this love triangle."

I can't believe this is happening, thought Connie.

When the reporter and cameraman entered the house, the woman placed herself directly in front of the lens. "What can you tell us about the lawsuit you've filed?" asked the reporter holding out the microphone.

The woman grabbed hold of the microphone, and said, "My name is Carmella Dowd. I am a resident of Springfield, Oklahoma, but I was born and raised in Arlington, Texas. My favorite color is blue. I enjoy skiing and listening to contemporary jazz. I currently work as a financial analyst. When I was twelve, I received an honorable mention in the state science fair. My sign is Capricorn. My favorite food is fried scallops, and--"

"Ms. Dowd," said the reporter wrestling back the microphone. "Perhaps, you could tell us a bit about the lawsuit you have filed."

"Right. Well, basically, I think that only people who really deserve to be famous should become famous. I mean, I've wanted to be famous my whole life, and I've never been selected, and people like Connie Sparkinson become famous instead. I mean look at her, she has everything, why should she get to become famous?"

"So, what you are saying is that the Warhol Doctrine should be merit-based as opposed to randomly selected," said the reporter.

"Umm. Yeah, merit-based," said Carmella. "I mean I've got merit, don't I? Why can't I become famous?"

Carmella had broken down, then. Big fat tears rolled down her face while sobs distorted her voice as she repeated the question, "Why can't I become famous?" several times.

The reporter jabbed the microphone in Jim and Connie's faces, looking for their response to the situation which amounted to a bunch of Ums and Aahs. The reporter then moved on to the four Sparkinson children who seemed almost as stupefied as their parents, except for thirteen year-old Rachel.

"I think it's really cool that my mom got to become famous today," said Rachel. "I think it's cool that she's becoming famous again and that we get to become famous, too. Hi everyone, at Matthew McConnaghey Junior High School. Oh, and everyone else watching, my name is Rachel Sparkinson. I am thirteen. When I grow up, I want to be an elementary school teacher. My hobbies are ballet and soccer, but I want to take up softball in the spring. My favorite color is purple. I want to get married in a garden, and have my honeymoon in Hawaii. I want to have three kids, two girls and a boy. I can sing really well. Once I caught seventeen M&Ms in a row in my mouth."

* * *

For the first time in a long time, Frank Fielding actually relished the opportunity to sit down and watch some television. He had cooked himself a Super Appetite T.V. dinner and sat down to enjoy a program on monster trucks and deranged wild animals without the fifteen minute interruptions of the fame reports.

"The world can be an ugly place," said a deep-voiced, overly dramatic spokesman as Frank pulled the plastic film off his meal and popped open a can of beer. "But it can by a REALLY ugly place when monster trucks meet," dramatic drum roll, "deranged wild animals! Tonight you'll see what happens when--"

Suddenly the image of a giant four by four truck with a grizzly bear standing on the hood disappeared to be replaced by a television news studio desk.

"We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this special report," said the newscaster.

"This better be good," said Frank.

Instead he found himself looking at the reporter standing on the Sparkinson's front stoop. In a fit of anger Frank hurled his beer can at the television, splattering beer everywhere. He got up and ran to the front door where he looked and saw the news van parked down the street.

"You have no right!" he bellowed. "You have no right to subject me to this madness!"

* * *

"Well, goodnight everyone," said the reporter as the cameraman began packing up the equipment. "You were all very cooperative." The two began to walk back across the lawn to the van.

"Wait!" shouted Carmella running after them. "Wait, I've got more to say."

A few seconds later, Rachel bounded out the door after her.

"Rachel, get back here!" shouted Connie, but her daughter was in good shape and had no problem racing past Carmella to the news van.

"Do you think you can take some film of me in my new dress?" asked Rachel of the reporter and cameraman. "It's blue, and it accentuates my eyes. It looks really good."

"Jim, go out there and get your daughter," instructed Connie. The rest of the kids were standing in the doorway watching. She kept thinking that all she wanted was to crawl into bed and wish this day into non-existence.

"Hang on," said Jim. "I've got to fix my hair. Do you think I should change my tie?"

"What?" shouted Connie, but Jim refused to even turn away from the mirror.

Fine. She would go out there herself, much as she didn't want to face that Carmella woman. She pushed up her sleeves, and marched out the front door and across the lawn. She could see Rachel and Carmella jostling with each other to get the attention of the reporter who seemed quite content to ignore both of them. They were both begging and Rachel was still going on about the blue dress. Connie could feel eyes burning into her back. They were all watching her, possibly even Jim too.

"Rachel, go back inside right now," said Connie with her best I-am-so-upset-I-don't-even-want-to-raise-my-voice, mother voice. Even this was not enough to stop Rachel from the ridiculous scene she was making. To her horror, Connie noticed that the reporter had unpacked the gear, and had the camera up and rolling again.

"Mrs. Sparkinson," said the reporter, "did you come out here to let Ms. Dowd know how upset you are?"

"No," said Connie.

The rolling camera had Carmella and Rachel fighting feverishly to get in front of the lens. Seeing no other alternative, Connie grabbed Rachel, enveloping her in a bear hug from behind. She held her tight and began to physically drag her towards the lawn. It was not easy.

She was kicking and screaming, and she was a strong, athletic girl. The worst thing was that the camera was on them the whole time. Connie had succeeded in dragging Rachel halfway across the lawn to the house. That was when she saw Frank Fielding running down the street. He was carrying something and looked more crazy than ever.

The sight surprised Connie, and too late she realized she had let her hold on Rachel slacken. Rachel broke free and sprinted back towards the camera. At the same time, Fielding had reached the van and swung whatever he had in his arms connecting with a headlight. The sound of smashing glass was loud enough to have porch lights up and down the street turning on, as curious neighbors peeked out to see what was going on.

Connie was not sure what exactly was going on. Apparently Frank Fielding had finally gone off the deep end. She looked towards Rachel who was now dangerously close to the man. She was up and sprinting back towards the van, her motherly instincts paid no attention to the fact that she was nearly completely winded. Jim had also run across the lawn to the van.

In confusion the cameraman spun around, not sure who he should be filming. Television audiences watching on the live feed grew dizzy as they saw Fielding's face, then Carmella, then Rachel, then Jim, then Connie, then Fielding again.

"This is not news!" shouted Fielding. His words were slow and deliberate.

"I just want to say, " said Carmella trying to follow the swinging camera lens, "that none of this ever would have happened if the government awarded fame based on merit and not at random."

Fielding raised his weapon above his head, and Connie noticed with horror that it was an ax. Rachel was only inches away from him. Connie made a grab for the hem of Rachel's shirt.

"Jim, do something!" she shouted. She looked over to see Jim with a hand on Carmella's shoulder coaxing her away from the van, Fielding, and the endless chaos. Connie didn't have time to be indignant. Fielding had the ax ready to strike, and Rachel seemed to be standing right in its path.

"What I want to say," said Fielding. "Is that none of this would have ever happened if the government didn't believe it was their duty to make people famous!"

With that he brought the ax down with tremendous force. Connie tried to yank Rachel away, but instead the two of them toppled to the ground. Connie did the best she could to shelter Rachel with her body. She heard a loud crunch and looked up.

Fielding's ax was wedged into the center of the camera. The camera itself made a hissing noise as its life expired. The cameraman and the reporter stared at it in horror.

"Now leave," said Fielding. "Show's over."

To her relief, Connie found that Fielding was right. The news camera had been successfully destroyed. A calm befell the confused group. No more did Carmella and Rachel feel the need fight each other for a piece of fame. The reporter with no story and no one to tell it to, seemed quite lost. She opened the door of the van and climbed inside.

The cameraman put the butchered machine with Fielding's ax still sticking out of it into the back of the van. He went around the side and stepped in. A still deranged looking Fielding stepped out of the way as the van started up, and less one headlight made its way down the street. Connie checked Rachel for injuries and finding her more or less unscathed helped her up and started to walk her back across the lawn. She stopped halfway.

"I'll meet you inside," said Connie, then she turned around and walked back to where Fielding was still standing on the side of the street. "I just wanted to say thank you."

"It won't change anything," said Fielding sullenly.

"It did for me," said Connie.

Connie returned to the house. A newscaster was in the middle of announcing a special report, but Connie turned off the T.V. before he could finish his sentence. The kids protested.

"Show's over," said Connie.

* * *

There were new rules in the Sparkinson household after that. Television watching had been reduced to two hours per day, and talking about fame reports or the desire to be famous was strictly prohibited. Jim decided it would be best for him to move out while he and Connie worked out the details of their divorce. He called her several times a day with requests for her to join he and Carmella on different talk shows. The story, unfortunately, had gone national. Connie refused all his offers.

Soon after that Connie's car sported one of the new "Fame Sucks" bumper stickers which were appearing on more cars with each passing day. It had taken a double dose of fame for her to realize how much she liked her life, and so she was not willing to sacrifice it for the elusive and overrated thing known as fame.

* * *

Frank Fielding sat in front of his de-Warholized computer. His "Fame Sucks" bumper stickers were selling at a phenomenal rate. Everyone wanted one. Even that woman down the street had one.

The T.V. station had charged him for the damages to the van and the camera, but they had decided not to press charges. He was making so much money from the sale of the bumper stickers that the cost of the damages seemed like pocket change.

The bumper sticker, which Fielding liked to think of as his first published work, had given him the incentive to begin work on a new book. Fielding had begun to write a book called, "How to De-Warholize Your Home." He was positive it would be a bestseller. He spent idle moments dreaming about the success of the book, and found himself imagining the fame and glory it would bring him.

 
 
 
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Author Bio

Alissa Grosso is a writer of science fiction, speculative fiction, and a lot of other really neat stuff. In addition to short fiction she also writes novels and screenplays.

Her influences and heroes include Connie Willis, Jack Vance, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Ayn Rand, and P.J. O'Rourke. Her style, however, is uniquely her own.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Rutgers University, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is currently exploring options for graduate studies.

Alissa is the contributing editor for Suite 101's Writing Science Fiction page. She says she is proud to be a member of the Critters Online Workshop, and thanks all the wonderful critters who have helped her immeasurably with her short fiction. Her fiction has appeared previously in EWG Presents and Writer's Hood.

Visit Alissa's website at
http://www.dreamwater.com/alissagrosso

 


 

 
 
 

"Stars" Copyright © 2001 Alissa Grosso. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.
 
This page last updated 7-14-01.

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