They gathered on the shifting sands, away from the bright lights and the big stars. Kith and kin caught on the question of kaput, the winds cutting across their chiseled jaws, freezing limber pecs and refrigerating halter tops housing surgical implants. It was an ineluctable assault on the California senses. Fifty degrees was just too damn cold. They were concerned. Perplexed. Unable to offer answers. Ensnared by the greatest enigma to face humanity since Poe whipped up his “Gold Bug” code or those planes disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. But who really cared about these trivialities? There were more pressing concerns than the mysteries and achivements of the human race.
Their friend was behaving strangely.
No longer the virginal vixen they had worshipped. No longer the adorable fuck-me starlet coveted by Bob Dole. No longer the gal who might have slept with Justin Timberlake. Or not. But possibly a John Wayne Gacy in the making. A troubled soul.
Their friend had been spotted slamming shots. More than a few times. Oh, she was of drinking age. Of that, there could be no doubt. But because she was accustomed to staggering demands, because she was rich beyond the dreams of that amateurish carapace she had thrown off long ago when she crossed those Ts on a contract signed in blood, her employees were afraid to tell her that she had a sizable problem. But was it the steady lucrative paychecks or genuine commiseration? Was their friend naive enough to believe that she could buy the sympathies of an entourage or was it a classic case of amoritizing pathos to ensure popularity? Had she been told that all along?
Whatever the case, they kept the hard line. No problems. Nothing to report. Shot while trying to escape. But then their friend had been whisked out of the Palm Casino, vaguely cognizant, succored by white man’s burden. But, no, their friend had not imbibed beyond the pale.
Thoreau would have marveled over this denial of excess. If anything, the deceitful impressions slung by well-paid publicists would have sent him into a sudden apoplexy. Their friend could no longer be characterized as modest, as virtuous, as inherently good. Now she was a victim of her own restless problems. Of course, unlike most of the public, there was an image to perpetuate and a deep-seeded unhappiness to conceal. And if she had behaved like that without the platinum records, the limos and the Braques on the wall she never looked at, she would have been 86ed from any self-respecting dive, declared a high maintenance case among an inconsequential neighborhood, possibly left alone to inflict herself with a harder narcotic she couldn’t afford. A daily habit in the hundreds.
So when their friend sauntered down a Vegas “30 Minutes or Less” nave with all the sanctity of a microwaved Swanson TV dinner, tying the knot with a childhood friend, acknowledging the true ceremonial import with a garter over blue jeans, and when their friend cancelled the deal 55 hours later, it reflected something else that the newspapers hadn’t considered. She could marry on a whim and then throw it away. She could drink to excess and emerge with a momentarily crippling hangover. She could do almost anything and then forget it ever happened. Except one thing. A pivotal facet not long ago.
A recording contract. A Faustian deal she had to fulfill. The only commitment she had. Don’t point to the men who had perfected the art of harvesting profit over litigious decades. The star, as always, was the culpable one. Even a star young, dumb, and full of come who didn’t know any better.
And they concluded that if their friend fell asunder, or was trampled by her own coping mechanisms (harmful behavior which they encouraged), there would be another friend to grope and laud, to salivate for a time until this friend too became forgotten or the paychecks dried up. Fame was an airtight science, a neverending cycle. And the public would never stop making rash conclusions based on the few things they could espy through the tiny observational sliver.
[1/23/06 UPDATE: The original link above does not look, but it linked to a frivolous FOX News article with the headline, “Loved Ones Worry About Britney.” The article is no longer available. It is as if FOX News’s coveted resources were devoted to other things in January 2004.]