[This was my first The Man story published in August 2012 as a stand alone piece. I wrote it in one sitting in response to a policing blow-up in the ArmitageWorld blogverse. Sadly, the policing still goes on today, although in other media.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.]
In the plate glass window, the man watched the reflection of three girls, young women actually, arguing across the road. His own image reflected there revealed a fit, bearded, middle-aged man, dressed in black from his sunglasses to his boots, sipping black coffee and munching brioche in front of a Pret A Manger. From their furtive glances and head tilts, he knew they recognized him. He really wasn’t into the whole celebrity thing and had half a mind to get up and continue on his way. But his new PR people had warned he had better get used to it, especially once the film hit the theatres. So here he sat, watching a curious drama unfolding.
The shortest girl spoke sharply and turned as if to cross the street towards him. The tall, bossy one shot out a hand to stop her, while the middle looked on helplessly. Bossy wagged a finger in clear admonishment. The man frowned. A bit full of herself, wasn’t she? Bossy appeared to be making points as she ticked off finger after finger. Shorty’s face drooped a bit further with each one. The man’s brow furrowed as he pondered what the problem could be. Maybe they didn’t want to intrude on him eating. He stood, pushing the last bite into his mouth. Placing a hand casually in his pocket and still sipping the coffee, he turned slightly towards the girls.
Shorty’s head dipped a bit as her shoulders sank in defeat. The man didn’t like Bossy one bit. Look over here, Shorty, he thought. He turned fully towards them and smiled in open invitation. Shorty and Middle noticed and stood, rooted to the spot, while Bossy kept lording it over them. Oh hell. He had to cross the road and pass them anyway. He would be extra sweet to Shorty just to show Bossy. Tossing the cup in a bin, he caught the green light and crossed. He could see Shorty and Middle tracking his every step. He rehearsed what he might say as he strode closer. Good morning, ladies? Nice to see the sun today, ladies? What the fuck is going on here, ladies? But before he could get within hailing distance, Bossy whirled around and spotted him. The three of them turned and fled into the park entrance. The man stopped at the entrance in disbelief, watching their retreating backs. They ran away! He knew he was tall, but he didn’t think he was scary. He rubbed the back of his neck. Well, there was no telling what went on people’s minds. He shook his head, chuckled and went on his way.
The man walked in the mist, the collar of his jacket turned up against the unusual summer chill. He’d been a bit glum since the last project ended. He knew this was to be expected; he’d been gone a long time, the longest in his career. The next project did not begin for a few weeks, so he felt caught in a limbo of sorts. Reasoning that he simply needed to get re-acclimated, he had taken to walking around the city. He kept his head down and avoided eye contact, hoping nobody would recognize him. Since his return, practically nobody had, except for those girls near the park, the ones who ran away. Down Under, nobody knew him, so he blended in easily. Here, at least one or two fans approached him weekly for an autograph or picture. But for the past month, nobody at all had come near him, not on the Tube, on the buses, in the parks, or even here, in Leicester Square. He relished his new-found anonymity; it would disappear soon enough in a few months. But if he were honest, a tiny, eg0-driven part him worried that he might have been forgotten. He smirked; ah, the insecurity of actors. As if to prove the point, he lifted his head, squared his shoulders and sought to make eye contact as he walked through the square. He’d darkened the hair again and shaved the beard. This should be easy. He thought he’d caught a few glances, but their gazes slid from his and back to their own worlds. A tired-looking woman approaching in a sodden-looking Burberry looked his way and did a double take, her eyes widening in recognition. An instant later, he chided himself. Feel better now? Remember, *you* started this. He readied a charming smile. She stared for a few seconds before suddenly averting her gaze and striding by quickly.
The man stopped in his tracks and glanced over his shoulder to make sure she hadn’t simply lost her nerve. Nope, still walking. Hearing a gasp, he glanced at two young women standing by a theatre door with bored-looking boy. They stared and whispered, clearly recognizing him, but none approached. He took a deep breath and walked on. He felt glum again.
The man’s head throbbed. On the agent’s desk in front of him sat a pile of scripts covered in post-it notes. In his hand, he held a sheaf of paper detailing recommendations in close, cramped writing. He had asked for the stack to be delivered to his house. Then he had asked for his fan mail. That’s when the headache started. There was no mail. Well, there were the usual requests from autograph seekers, but no long missives, no gifts, not even complaints – none of the stuff that had kept him connected to his fans for years. He, the agent and the marketing strategist stared silently at the stylish sweater, mangled in the post, sent for his birthday as the fandom’s communal gift. They thought his profile might require some upgrading. He was unable to follow the marketing strategist after that.
The man poked at the dry cake with his fork. He glanced over at his lunch mate, an outgoing, gregarious, affable bloke with a high forehead and a wave of reddish blonde hair. This guy was a hot property, touted as the Next Big Thing, who was beating him in entertainment polls. They were eating in the most chic, but not appetizing, restaurant in the city, a place to be seen, according to his strategist. Their lunch date was discreetly broadcast to arrange a casual meet and greet with photographers and fans. The bloke had already chatted up the staff and half the restaurant, all of whom seemed to adore him. His date pushed aside his own dessert shrugged and smiled wryly. Showtime, he sighed.
They rode in silence. The photo and fan op had occurred without a hitch. The man felt ridiculous relief as a handful of fans waited for him to approach. He found himself trying to chat longer, but they seemed content to collect their autographs demurely and pictures and eager to leave quickly. Meanwhile, the other bloke’s fans swarmed him; everybody chatted and laughed as if it were a small, impromptu party. The man decided to wait in the car. It had taken awhile for the thing to be over. The man thanked the bloke for taking him home. The bloke waved away the thanks, saying any time. As the man turned towards his house, the bloke rolled down his window. Hey, I’m really sorry about your fandom, he said.
The man stared at the monitor, willing himself not to move again. He’d gotten up ten times and gulped two glasses of wine. His fans had all “defected?” Well, yes, he had been away, engrossed in that long project he couldn’t talk about, but he’d sent a Christmas message, and a birthday message, and some other message, he was sure. He jumped up, sloshing the glass of wine. So those fickle bitches left me? After all these years? For the latest, youngest hot totty? He wallowed in self-pity for a moment before chiding himself. That’s the ebb and flow of things, fans come and go. There was bound to be some attrition while I was away. No matter what the bloke said, he still had people who liked his work. Resolute, he sat, set the glass down none too gently, tapped at the keyboard. He would visit his fan sites. Years ago, he had sworn he wouldn’t, to avoid getting his feelings hurt and being swayed by opinion, but he had to know. He had to see for himself.
Thirty minutes later, he sat back. The three main fan sites still existed, all following his career and updating with the latest releases. He checked the membership rolls at the bottom. Yes, they seemed troublesomely low, but they all didn’t defect, so there, red-haired bloke. The participants in general forums chatted about his work, interviews and public appearances, all in glowing praise. They chatted about themselves, a lot about themselves. There was nothing remotely critical. It was very pleasant and wonderful and well, uninteresting. When did that happen? He gulped more wine. Clearly these sites would tell him nothing. Time to google himself.
He typed in his name, leaned forward eagerly and scanned the page. Blogs! Yes, he’d heard about blogs and actually read a few theatre ones himself. The bloggers were an independent, unpredictable lot. They would tell him what he needed to know. He eyed the top listed ones; his name appeared in the titles. With another swallow of wine, he hesitated, then clicked. 404 page not found. What? He clicked the next link. 404 page not found. The blog was gone? He clicked a different blog link. 404 page not found. He scrolled through several Google pages, clicking on blogs about him. 404 page not found. He checked links on blogs not focused on him, but frequently mentioning him. 404 page not found. He checked tumblr links. 404 page not found.
An hour later, he sat back. All the blogs and tumblrs concerning him had disappeared. Sometime over the summer, they had all vanished. His fan forums were decimated. What happened? The only bit of information he found was a farewell post remaining on a defunct tumblr: I will not abide by The Rules. I will create a new account elsewhere. If you know me, you’ll know where to look. Rules? What rules? His fandom had no set rules. He returned to the main fan sites, searching for rules. He found something on etiquette, but nothing to cause an exodus. Finally his eye stopped on a section: members only. Of course! Rummaging through the desk drawer, he found the secret name and password he had used to join the site years ago. He’d chickened out and never used it, allowing that his fans should have privacy. But he would use it now.
Entering the logon, he clicked. There they were — The Rules — in large bold type. Due to the defection of old fans and expected influx of new ones, in order to promote proper respect for our actor, a reorganization of this fandom is necessary. Compliance with the following rules is necessary for membership. He groaned as he scanned the lines: 2. Our actor is a busy man. Approach him only at approved public events designated as publicity for his work. At these events, interact with him briefly, politely and respectfully, and leave as soon as possible. But what if I have time to stay and chat? the man thought. Don’t chase them away! 4. Our actor is a shy, private person. He has stated in interviews that he does not care to give autographs in the street. So if you see him out and about, leave him strictly alone. He moaned. That’s not what I meant! Now they’re running away from me. 6. Real Person Fiction in any form or access level is forbidden. Since it involves the person of our actor, character fiction in any form or access level is also forbidden. Such works are potentially distressing to our actor, his family, and friends, and thus disrespectful. He pistoned back in his chair. When in the hell did he say this? His eyes fell to the last line: 10. These rules are non-negotiable and will be strictly enforced. Violators will be brought before a tribunal of their peers for the enforcement of appropriate penalties, up to and including exclusion from the fandom.
His mind reeled, confusion and wine overtaking him. His head sank slowly to the desk. What’s happened to my fandom? he thought.