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The Idle American
Mustering our 15 Seconds of Fame
Wednesday, August 20, 2014 • Posted August 21, 2014

WHAT WITH BACK-TO-SCHOOL bedlam now at full bore, some of us smile at the growing “getting-ready” game plans. In my day, we needed only bits of parchment with one side unused and perhaps a new quill or two—if we could catch a goose.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that far back; Big Chief tablets, inkwells/pen staffs and art gum erasers were big items, though.

Ringing in many ears are teachers’ endless admonitions–thundered in September and wheezed in May. They yammered on the same topic daily: “Look it up in the “dik’-shun-ARY!” (Heavy on the “ARY!”) One teacher, tired of my academic missteps, said I might as well “stick the quill back in the goose.”

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Teachers waste their time with yesteryear research suggestions. Even kindergarteners can Google now.

That’s one thing I have in common with youngsters. I, too, Google, fascinated by its “main roads” and its beckoning rabbit trails along the way. I am drawn to the latter, often winding up smack-dab in the middle of Mr. McGregor’s garden. I feel my ears growing and nose twitching–foggy about my location and why I’m there–but eager to sample a lone carrot, with an inch of orange greatness showing above ground.

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Such was the case when I “researched” Andy Warhol’s “15 seconds of fame.” Turns out, the expression’s origin goes all the way back to Shakespeare’s quill in 1594, something about “nine days’ wonder.” (One source traced it to Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well.)

Initially, I had in mind current application, as in “flash in the pan,” “one-hit wonder” and other short-lived events of “Roman candle” duration.

Soon, such notable occurrences in our speeding world may be shortened to “1.5 seconds of fame,” or maybe even milliseconds.

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I’m in awe of folks whose spotlights linger. A college classmate and friend of almost 60 years still reigns as “yo-yo champion of the world.” Bunny Martin won the title in Toronto, Canada, at age 16. Five hundred contestants gathered in 1951 for the last bona fide world competition. Bunny won the trophy, and now– 63+ years later—still is “defending champion” and still spinning with the best of ‘em!

Ethelyn Smith—89 and always of youthful spirit–remembers “klutzy” growing-up years when her athleticism was always in question. “I did nothing right in sports,” she maintains. “I was always the last one chosen, blamed for losses and responded to the nickname of ‘egghead’.”

At about age 50, she took her only golf swing, coaxed to the tee by preacher hubby Robert and deacons on a “par three” course. She swung mightily; the ball bounced onto the green and into the cup.

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“That was it,” she said. “I put the clubs away forever. But, when anyone asks if I play golf, I smile broadly, saying, “The last time I played, I made a hole in one.”

Spotlights can glow, ever fresh in our minds, and perhaps only there. If we can find the switch, who cares if we turn it on?

Ethelyn’s recollection of her “one-stroke career” stirs me to imagine the faint sparks of spotlights during a 40-year higher education career.

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I’m sure some of my “distinctions” are obscure at best, but spotlights can glow beyond the 15 seconds, even beyond 15 years.

Perhaps I’m the only collegiate CEO who has given away 27 tons of popcorn, taken students aloft on parasails, officiated basketball games, spoken to more than 5,800 audiences (many of them assembled involuntarily) and bowled a single-game league score of 276 to set a new record for the bowling center.

In 1963, as a substitute member of the Sul Ross State University faculty bowling team, I opened with eight consecutive strikes. Bowlers on the other seven lanes stopped, their mouths agape, to watch. OK, Skyline Lanes were then new, with wet paint signs still in place. And, the record was short-lived in this, my only league game there. I feigned illness the rest of the evening, not daring to offer proof that I was really a 140 bowler. I’ve followed Ethelyn’s lead, referring for 51 years to my musty score. I also can recite the alphabet backwards in four seconds, but not nearly as fast forward.

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Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Twitter: @donnewbury

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