My friend can't go to Target. He can't go to Great America, the grocery store or any mall anywhere. It's been a long time since I've seen him escape a restaurant without getting Instagrammed by diners at nearby tables. People mob him in the airport and tweet angrily when he doesn't stop to sign autographs because he has a flight to catch.
My friend is famous, and it sucks.
When we first met, he told me he was going to be a pro wrestler and I couldn't wait. Pro wrestlers were ballers -- they rode in limousines, wore sequined robes and married fine ladies with big hair. Most importantly, they were famous, and to a girl who grew up in a town with gravel roads and no sidewalks, fame and fortune meant instant happiness.
Five years later, he was making enough money wrestling to quit his "real job." He was still carpooling to shows with other wrestlers to save on gas money, crashing on couches and eating fast food, but he wasn't wearing a name tag or sitting in a cubicle. And that was about as much as he'd ever hoped for -- he was ecstatic.
Now, he's the recently retired seven-time World Champion, and he's one of the most isolated people I've ever known. A few weeks ago he found a young fan and his mom cramming Easter candy into the mail slot of his front door. Just before that, he walked out of his back door to throw out the trash only to be met by fans camped out in his alley for hours just to see him.
We get mad about how much of our information Facebook is selling to advertisers, and this guy has people stalking his Dumpster. But if he complains, people roll their eyes and say if they had his money, they wouldn't complain about anything. The money? I'm sure he likes it just fine, but I often wonder how much of it he would trade to be able to go to a Cubs game without it ending up on TMZ.
The nervous ninny in me lives with the constant fear that someone's going to stab him. On the rare occasion I can get him out of the house I get to witness how overbearing and creepy people are toward him. "Bodyguard!" my husband and I nag. "That's stupid," he says. "What am I going to do, drag some guy around with me forever? Why can't people just leave me alone?"
Seeing my childhood notions of fame bastardized every time we hang out, I'm secretly glad it's him and not me. I can't imagine finally being able to do anything I wanted to, financially, but not being able to do any of it in peace. Being on a flight to some far-off land and not being excited about it because there's nowhere to hide on an airplane and everyone is staring at me. Think about my friend the next time you buy anti-diarrheal medicine at Walgreens and no one tweets about it. I do.
Natalie Slater is a RedEye special contributor. She once wrote a letter to WWF Magazine demanding they put Bret Hart on the cover for her birthday. They did not.
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