In the mid 1970s, Steve Mills, a young juggler from New Jersey, was creating quite a stir nationwide in the juggling community with his amazing skill set, even eclipsing seasoned long-time professionals. People were waiting for him in California at his first appearance at a national juggling convention.
I met Steve in 1975 at a free juggling workshop in the financial district of Manhattan. When I began to manufacture equipment for juggling, Steve became one of my very first customers, and his use of my products and introduction to working professionals was instrumental in my early success. He came to the city to street perform as well as for the weekly workshop. I got to know him personally and, as a Village resident, helped familiarize him with good spots for street performing, such as Father Demo Square and Washington Square Park.
One day, about that time, I received a letter that really stood out and which I still remember and often quote. It was a hand written order from a young boy in San Diego, California. He described the juggling clubs he wanted made with the size, weight, color and decoration scheme. But his real desire was made quite clear in one short sentence: "I want clubs just like Steve Mills." Anyone familiar with idol worship can make the correct translation - "I want to be like Steve Mills." Or perhaps more correctly "I want to be Steve Mills."
I saw the same phenomenon close at hand in the 1980s, when an employee of mine began to frequent all the hottest clubs in the city. She was a social butterfly with a serious case of celebrity worship syndrome. Because of her extensive networking, I was able to get into these clubs, all notorious for their difficult admission practices. It was through her that I also met Keith Haring, with whom we licensed his imaging for a new product line.
There are many analyses of the psychological mechanisms operating in the fascination and obsession with celebrities. We chase them, examine them, dissect them. We do it for inspiration, to fill a void or for entertainment. Medical research has found that the desire to follow the leader and become like them is programmed into our DNA. In some however, this can become an unhealthy obsession. One aspect I saw with my friend, was a belief that somehow, merely associating with celebrities would have their greatness or achievements rub off on them.
Of course this is illusion and delusion, because no amount of contact with super celebrities will bring you closer to their world or give you what they have. Skills, achievements and fame cannot be transferred like electronic data, transfused like fluids via IV or absorbed through osmosis. I think I need to print a T-shirt (and wear it myself) that says: Please Rub Off On Me, Just Like Steve Mills :)
Photo Note: This is a capture at Spring and Crosby streets of celebrity chef Mario Batali with his signature red hair and orange Crocs (see Very Resilient here). He is the owner of Babbo (see here and here), involved in other restaurants and food establishments such as Eataly and has had TV shows on cooking and food. Within seconds of my sighting, another photographer with a pro camera and massive lens asked to take a closeup, to which, he happily obliged. A perfect set for Mario, bathed in a sea of oranges :)