On Being Almost Famous And Feeling Like Otis » VSB

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On Being Almost Famous And Feeling Like Otis

This past Saturday in Washington, DC, was the Library of Congress National Book Festival. It was a jolly good time where lots of authors got to talk about their books, the subjects of their books, and answer questions about the subjects of their books. I took my daughter so there was no going to see Al Roker for me. Nope, we headed straight for the kiddie halls. I got the opportunity to hear kids ask questions like, “how do you draw a nose” followed up by, “um…um….how do you….DRAW A NOSE?!”

Sophisticated as the audience was, I found myself a bit envious of the author who did a painstakingly brilliant job of answering all of the kids questions after doing a live reading of her book about bringing an alligator to show-and-tell, which, let’s be real, you absolutely should not. If you’re a Detroit playa and you want to bring some ‘gators to show-and-tell, that’s fine. Just no LIVE alligators. The little girl who brought the alligator (in the story, this is fiction folks) to school, Magnolia, she totally had to go to the principal’s office. Just know, you are not going to bring an alligator to school and not have to go to the principal’s office.

Do y’all remember the 90s? That era when folks were wearing overalls but with one strap hanging? I got sent to the principal’s office for that. I was forced to wear my overalls as Kentucky intended them. I was not happy that day. In fact, I was not a happy camper. I’ve always found that to be a funny phrase. Like haha funny. Happy campers.


Back to the alligator and the principal’s office. You got it? Cool. Let’s move on.

So after I sat through a few of these talks with super sophisticated inquisitors, my daughter was ready to be out. Apparently, the less than academic questions were killing her too and she was ready to do what we came there for: buy her stuff. So we went to purchase a few books, one being the wayward alligator tale (that’s a pun). On our way out of the purchasing section we had to pass by the lines and lines of people waiting to get their newly purchased books signed by the authors. My daughter? She ain’t care. But while walking past the line for one of the books we purchased, I noticed the line was small so I suggested she get it signed. She hit me with the hee, but I drove and was paying for lunch so she was kind of stuck, ya know.

Anyway, we got into our line which had about seven people in it. Since we had time to kill and Samuel Jackson was nowhere present, I started surveying the floor when something caught my eye. There was a line next to ours with an author waiting to sign books, except there was nobody looking to get their book signed. At all. I was in that line for maybe 30 minutes and nary a soul stepped a toe into her waters. Meanwhile, Buzz Aldrin’s line was so long it might have stretched to the moon.

That’s another pun. Because Buzz.

That has to be a sobering moment. This author, clearly somebody of note who has written a book and then been invited to both speak AND sign books at this book festival, also had to do that thing where you sit there and pretend to not be bothered by the general lack of interest. Basically, she’s known to the people that are in the no, but a virtual unknown to everybody else.

She kept making jokes (probably about the fact that nobody was in her line) with the staff. But it’s a weird space to occupy: always the bridesmaid, never the bride. You’re at the party and are somebody, but not the person anybody cares to see. Except you’re put on display for people to see that nobody came to see you. She might as well be Otis. I felt bad for her. I had no idea what her book was but if I knew, I’d have gone to purchase it (in another dimension where the line to purchase books didn’t take 20 minutes and span a few hundred people) and had her sign it. But that would also be patronizing. I mean, she knows nobody was coming to see her. I imagine she was just waiting for the time to expire on her autograph session. Which is also sucky because you know pretty soon into a signing if anybody is coming to see you (Otis). Which means you know pretty early on that nobody is coming. But on the offchance that that one person IS looking forward to see you, you have to stay.

Being almost famous has to suck.

This reminded of my freshman year at Morehouse College back in the year of our Lord, nineteen hundred and ninety-seven. In this year, one Tracey Lee of “The Theme (It’s Party Time)” fame was poppin’. To think of him as famous today is almost laughable, but in 1997, having a song on radio and a video was a thing. Well, back then, often famous rappers and singers would venture to college campuses and record labels would set up signings and showcases, etc. This particular day, Tracey Lee was accompanied by a then unknown, Chico DeBarge. Literally, NOBODY knew who he was that day. In fact, even the DeBarge name, which was of course made famous by the group DeBarge, and moreso by the success of El, had most of us shaking our heads. Chico? Who the hell is Chico DeBarge. Apparently he’d been in jail and got out and started singing.

So as this long line of students, myself included – bite me – , stood there waiting to get some random label-provided picture signed by Tracey Lee, nary a soul got into Chico’s line except for this one girl who felt so bad for him that she got something signed. I even remember what he had on that day. He was rocking a University of Michigan Chris Webber home jersey and some bright yellow pants. I remember that so vividly because I stood in line so long waiting for Tracey Lee and staring at this lonely light-skinned brother that his outfit was emblazoned onto my mind, like that gum commercial from Inside Out. I felt bad for him that day. Who knew that he’d end up dropping one of the best albums of the year later and for a few years, be a name worthy of note.

Point is, it has to suck sitting up there and nobody knows who you are, or worse, knows who you are but doesn’t care as you watch other people and wonder what they’re doing so different as legions of people willingly stand in wait JUST to get a piece of paper signed by them.

For that author, getting that call to be a featured speaker was probably a great win. You get to come speak about your work and the Washington Post and Library of Congress provide the space for people to show up. I didn’t sit in on her talk, but I also wonder if anybody went to that either. I’m sure she’s doing just fine. Hell, she’s a published author, something we’ve done here but have wanted to do on a legit, get invited to speak about it stage. But I can’t imagine sitting there staring at blank empty space as everybody else can see that nobody cares.

I guess that’s what its like to be Otis.

On a personal side, it reminds of an occasion that I’m guessing happens to lots of (almost) famous bloggers. See, people who spend time blogging and reading blogs tend to think that the rest of the world does too. It’s very humbling when you find out that they in fact, don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to people with, “this is Panama from verysmartbrothas.com!!!!!!” with this tone of “look at this famous guy here!” and the receiving party is like, “who? Never heard of you. But I’ll check out your little site” as if I just interrupted them from banging their head against a wall.

And I’m famous in 3 countries plus Guam.

Again, the folks that know you, know you very well, but the rest of the world is “ugh…nice watch.” Now, I don’t think I’d ever be that author, because anywhere I go is usually at my own creation so I’m stacking the deck plus the Black webisphere is pretty small. Also, the number of participants is usually small enough where you kind of have to talk to me if I’m there because you’re only there because some other person occupying similar space to me is there. So folks may not becoming to see me specifically, but my name is not Otis, so watch what you say.

I guess the point here is this: if you see me at a book signing, you better come get a book signed.


Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly (and gorgeous) for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. He refuses to eat cocaine chicken. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future. You can hit him on his hitter at panamadjackson@gmail.com.

  • PhlyyPhree

    Eh. It’s one of those things that people use as a character building plot point when they’re telling their story on Unsung.
    I wonder what’s worse, showing up and having NOOOOOONE recognize you or showing up and having people listen to your work and immediately dismiss it off of the sampling they heard.
    I remember in 03 (04?) before College Dropout dropped and Kanye came to my homecoming and performed during the fashion show and got booed. Of course NOW I’m sure he doesn’t care, but back then I remember thinking that it was his test to find out if he REALLY wanted to keep rapping or if he wanted to let a group of college kids (albeit, elite, blackly excellent college kids) determine his fate.

    I hate it for that author, but maybe she’ll take that experience as motivation and write (harder/better/faster/stronger) on her next book.

    • PK

      “…elite,blackly excellent…” man i wish i attended Howard.

  • Brass Tacks

    “Do y’all remember the 90s? That era when folks were wearing overalls but with one strap hanging?”

    I did that same move with the one pant leg rolled up (’cause LL taught me). I received two days in ISS because of it. But because my Tommy Hilfiger swag was so A-1 back then, I embraced it as the price that comes with being great.

    That being said, you wont have the Otis problem. I mean, for one you said it yourself you stack the deck. So, at least there’s some cushion before jumping out the window. Secondly, you’ve un(intentionally) trolled waaay too many people not to have a line full of people waiting to get at you. Whether its with pens or pitchforks…well, I guess we’ll find out in a future post..

    • panamajackson

      I’m mad that my stacked deck includes people who hate me too. Funny perspective. I appreciate that.

      • Brass Tacks

        Don’t be bro! It comes with the territory

        Dark knight feelin’, die and be a hero
        Or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.

  • CrayolaGirl

    I wonder if that author sat there the entire time. At some point, I would have packed it up and went sight seeing.

    I hate almost famous attention seeking people. In the 90s, I was on a flight from ATL to Baltimore. Dru Hill was on it. Sisqo and Big Dude started scatting in baggage claim. *roll eyes so hard*. Im thinking, hey we know who you are, we just don’t give a f uck.

    I ignored them just like I did Soul 4 Real when they would randomly come and sit in HU’s big cafe.

    Ugh, go’on now with your famous not famous a$$es.

    • TeeChantel

      Yeah. I remember a few years ago I came off a flight from ATL to Newark, NJ. I was waiting for my boyfriend at the time to pick me up, and Waka Flocka was standing next to me, waiting for his driver. Some dude recognized him and asked for his autograph. But he kept looking over at me like… ‘you’re a female you’re supposed to look at me. Don’t you know who I am?’ Nah. I ignored him until his driver came to pick him up. IDC IDC

      • Val

        Some celebs are definitely easier to ignore than others. Lol And I bet it’s fun to ignore the ones who expect to be noticed.

        • MzzPeaches

          I was on a flight from N.O. back to Atl and Lil Boosie (pre-Angola) was seated a few seats ahead of me. After we landed and the fasten seat belt sign went off, I jumped up and headed towards the front. His “bodyguard” jumps up and is like, “No Autographs”.

          I roll my eyes and tell him “I’m trying to grab my bag from the overhead in the front and go to the bathroom.”

        • TeeChantel

          Waka is definitely the one. I would have been impressed it it was Deb instead.I like her more than Waka.

    • panamajackson

      On my old blog, I wrote an entire post about the time I took a flight with Dem Franchize Boyz and they kept singing their songs…the WHOLE time. It was hilarious and sad at the same time.

      • CrayolaGirl

        The saddest of the sads.

    • JennyJazzhands

      This reminds me of when I was at the Grambling/PV game and basketball wives had just came out. Shaunie O’Neal and Evelyn lozada came by on a golf cart waving at people. I was standing on the sidelines by the mascot when the announcer got on the mic and said they were in the building. It sounded like the entire stadium collectively said, “So!”.

      • MysteryMeat


  • Andie

    I remember that day Chico was there sooo vividly. I remember what I was wearing!! I knew who he was. I was very proud of that. People still remind me of how much I annoyed them that day by my excessive mentioning of his name. I was soooo excited to see him! My sister’s older writer friends were in town to write about it for Vibe or Essence or Honey or whoever. And I felt sooooo cooollllll Cause I knew older cool writers!!! And they let me be around them. Awwwww. Great memories. I love you MIchael!

    • panamajackson

      That was my first time ever standing in line to meet a celeb.

      I also remember meeting Talib Kweli at Lower Manly in Spelman b/c he misspelled my name. I still have that picture and it still annoys me.

      • Andie


  • I definitely wore my overalls with both straps strapped. I was such a geek.

    • PhlyyPhree

      my mom wouldn’t let me wear overalls. Strapped, unstrapped, legs up or down. It was skorts and FILA’s for your girl. It’s a wonder I even had friends in school. Smh

      • Oh my gosh… skorts :(

        Thank goodness there was no social media back then to document my complete lack of clues.

      • Boo Radley

        Man. The one and only time I’ve ever cried over clothing was due to my mother’s refusal to pay $60 for this white K-Swiss tennis skort. I’m still mad.

    • brothaskeeper

      I never rocked overalls as a teen in the 90s….am I still Black?

      • Probably still black. Just not the cool kind.

        • brothaskeeper

          *hangs head*

  • Val

    “Except you’re put on display for people to see that nobody came to see you.”

    This reminds me of when there is some hotshot prospective pro-athlete that’s supposed to be the number 1 or 2 pick and they sit them right out front only to have them not even be drafted until day 2. Embarrassing.

    • CrayolaGirl

      Am I wrong for laughing at this?

      • Val

        Lol. No. It’s kind of funny. Especially if the athlete is really arrogant.

        • Kozy

          i’m sure Geno Smith disagrees.

    • Brass Tacks


  • Dana Naildiva Bowman

    “I’ll check out your little site…”
    Was that someone from Detroit? Because we live to tell folks that ANY accomplishment they’ve had is “little”.
    “Yeah, I’m going to her little wedding.”
    “I saw your little car. It’s aight.”
    “Oh, you got your little Masters degree?”

    I could go on.

    • kimest3e

      Yeah, we will shade you in the D.
      “Oh that’s a cute little ring”
      “That’s a nice little house”. Just shady.LOL

  • Roz Cat

    Author sounds like she doesn’t know how to self-promote. Could a drummed up a crowd from her alumni association, her sorority connects, with church announcements, a Twitter bomb session. Whatever. Unfortunately self-promotion is a required skill for anybody in the creative biz these days. Too much noise out there. Writers need to take a cue from the mix-tape droppers…or Tyler Perry. If you’re not hyping your own stuff, then no one is going to be in your line.

  • lol I feel you. You just gotta play it off like you were trying to bring it back.

  • *steps up to the mic* ahem….at the risk of losing my Blipster card….what does ‘Otis’ mean?

    • Londa

      You’ve got to watch the Temptations movie (about the R&B group from back in the day…not the Tyler Perry movie) to get the reference in its fullest context. Basically, it means, you’re cool and all that, but no one is here to see you. They’re here to see me.
      Also, it could be, “You’re a member of the group. I’m the star of the group.” See: Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child. Or Diana Ross and the Supremes. Or Michael and all of the other Jacksons except for Janet.
      To put it more simplistically, basically, the speaker of said line is throwing shade at your game or lack thereof.

    • Simmie Davis

      There is a line in the movie about the singing group The Temptations . David Ruffin is doing his usual megalomania thing. When Otis offers a suggestion about how the group should be. David yells “ain’t nobody coming to see you, Otis!” Lots of folk remember the sting, and the humor, of that line.

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