Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms.

They say we all get fifteen minutes of fame, but that’s surely not true. Some of us never experience the consummate weirdness of sudden fame. Others, for better or worse, get far more than the allotted fifteen minutes.

I’ve had a few moments of fame, if we can agree that fame is a relative term. One was fun, if silly. The other was not fun at all.


One overcast March afternoon I caught a four-pound carp in the creek that ran near our home in Ames. In Iowa any stream small enough to be called a “crick” is small indeed. Squaw Creek is ankle-deep, with a few holes where the water is knee-deep. I spent hundreds of hours fishing the creek. Mostly we caught chubs and shiners the size many anglers use for bait.

Then came the magic afternoon I caught the carp. In fact, I caught two mighty fish that day. My trophy carp (if that is not an oxymoron) made me famous. That was six decades ago. In all that time I’m not sure I’ve ever matched that accomplishment. Kids in Ames—even kids who had never met me—knew my name, for I was “the kid who caught The Fish.”

I have also tasted the other kind of fame.

In 1966 I was walking in the West Bank, near the University of Minnesota, at the corner of Cedar and Riverside. It was a dodgy neighborhood in those days. The stoplight turned red just when I wanted to cross Riverside. At that moment three young men stumbled out of a local bar that catered to a rough clientele. They were in a foul mood, out of money but determined to get even drunker than they already were. The first thing they saw was me.


“Hey,” one of them snarled, “do you think you’re tough?” I mumbled something about not being tough. One of them came up behind me and delivered a roundhouse blow to my right ear. I saw stars. The drunks debated who would “get to finish this guy off.” I talked them back into the bar by offering to buy a round of drinks. When they tilted their glasses to drink, I sprinted to safety.

The next day I nursed a sore ear and reflected on my vulnerability. I spent a lot of time in that area, which meant I could run into trouble again. By coincidence, my local grocery store had just put up a display card selling tear gas canisters. These were brass cylinders about four inches long, with a plunger knob on the end. If you got in trouble, the display said, you could snap that plunger and POOF! disappear in a cloud of gas. No need for guns, knives or spilled blood. Any time I was threatened I could escape with the aid of modern chemistry.

The next day was a Monday, a day I had to be at my office. During our lunch break I described my mugging to associates in the freshman adviser office in Johnston Hall. Of course they wanted to see the tear gas device, so I passed it around. The last guy to examine it returned it to my desk.

Moments later there was an explosion. The office instantly filled with tear gas. The cylinder must have rolled off my desk, landing on its plunger. All the advisers dove for the floor. Those were days of student protest, and everyone’s first assumption was that our office had been bombed. I ran into my office to grab the textbooks I’d need, inhaling enough tear gas in the process to render me speechless for two days. A hand-written note on our office door said, “220 Johnston Closed On Account of Tear Gas.” That little brass canister held enough to flood the whole second floor with tear gas. The senior administrators of the College of Liberal Arts wept as they worked that afternoon.

There was a party for College of Liberal Arts workers several weeks later. At that party someone introduced me to E. W. Ziebarth, the dean of the whole college. Dean Ziebarth was a remote, godlike figure who looked exactly like the actor David Niven. He had elegant manners, although none of the workers was bold enough to speak to him. Shaking my hand, the dean looked confused for a moment, trying to place me. Then he smiled, “Oh, yes! The Tear Gas Kid!”

Have you ever done anything to win fifteen minutes of fame?

62 thoughts on “Fifteen Minutes of Fame”

  1. Perhaps the most memorable was my 15 minutes+ of fame on NPR – which came about because I was part of the great swaths of people who were laid off in 2008-2009 and I was brave enough to submit a form to The Story (with Dick Gordon) saying I had made friends during that time with a group of women and we had created our own little support group (calling ourselves “The Dung Sisters”…because well, we were certainly feeling poop-y and we were in a Dunn Brothers at the time…so change a couple letters and there you are). Whacky to be interviewed by a disembodied voice while you stare into the MPR news room. But – there we were, my friend Linda and I, talking about what it was like then to be out looking for work (I had, days before the interview, gotten an offer for a job) – laying bare the people who would step back like I had “lay off germs” that they might catch when I told them I was without a job, putting off expenses like new glasses because it was that or groceries. So yeah, famous for being part of the great mass of “people affected by the bad economy.” Yay?

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Like Anna, I am known for things that aren’t all that uplifting. I am known as the one you bring your elderly parents to see when you suspect they have dementia . I also have been accosted by people in Walmart or in the grocery store and shouted at for taking their children away. The latter accusation s quite unfair , as County Social Services takes children away, but I get the blame.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My uncle, who worked for Child Protection, I think also was likely also at the receiving end more than once of the “you took my kid away” shouting – and, as I recall, was accused of kidnapping by the parent of a child that he had taken into protective service. Truly yours is a thankless job.


      1. My story failed to mention the really strange fact about my escape. That fall I was dirt-poor. I maintained a balance of about $5 in my checking account. But by a strange stroke of fate, the night I was mugged I had four dollars, cash, in my pocket. I spent pretty much all of it on the beer, then scooted when they had glasses in their hands and couldn’t chase me.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. That bar on the corner of Cedar and Riverside, Steve, out of which you were mugged, was likely the Excuse Club. By 1969, when I lived on the other end of the block, more or less above Savran’s bookstore, the Excuse Club was closed and boarded. My roommate and friends in neighboring apartments would climb up on the roof and down to that end of the block. There was a small penthouse on the roof(still is), already disused, and a trapdoor whereby one could climb down into the defunct tavern. Climb down we did, and as I remember, salvaged a couple of chairs, a coatrack and, peculiarly, a metal rack of urine specimen bottles. There was much to be scavanged in those days.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks for the historical info, Bill. I tried to look up the name of the club on the internet, but found no mention of it. The Excuse Club sounds about right to me. The Seven Corners area was in transition in the mid-1960s, going from a slightly tough working class area to a student area. That gang of thugs picked on me because I was an obvious symbol of changes that were dispossessing them.

      I was walking from the Scholar to another folk music coffeehouse, one that didn’t last long. It was called The Broken Drum. You know . . . it was the broken drum because “you can’t beat it!”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No but one of the other guys, a graduate student, in the four apartment cluster actually had an all-black outfit for late night forays. He came up with the most amazing stuff! It was all very Robert Wagnerish.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. my moment of fame was in high school when a couple of friends and i had a slow saturday afternnon on a july summer day. scott bill russel and i were simply waling around looking for something to do and one of the guys suggested we go shooting down by the river. scott had a 22 rifle and bill a pistol so we grabbed em and headed down to the river and scott and bill kept their eyes peeled for squirrels or gophers or a moving target to get into the equation. no such luck. we stood on the river bank in a spot where the river flowed by slow and stead 15 or 20 feet below. a couple 2×4’s floated by
    first scott fired a couple of shots and then bill. one hit the board the others hit the water and we turned back to the lazy afternoon and were getting ready to head back when a police car came rolling down the river road and a couple of police officers got out with guns drawn.
    now we were regulars at the river an had visited hundreds and hunders of times, fishing for carp with cigarette butts and corn, swinging on the rope swing out over the deep spot just wandering around along the river bank was a good thing to do, it wa sthat or eating fries at dairy queen and the river offered more options on what ot do when there was nothing to do. we had never seen a police officer down there before. there was a road to get to the bottom form the road 1/2 a mile away but on this day they were not in a mood to say howdy they were all business. they saw our guns and were surprised that we werent hiding them when they approached. scott and bill knew it was ok to carry 22’s on this side of the river and the stuff we were doing was not against the law. yeah but shooting a lady is one cop said.
    our jaws dropped and we realized we were being accused of a serious crime. the police put the four of s in the squad car and took us off to the little city jail in savage minnesota where they called ur folks at 3 in the afternoon on a wednesday in july and told them we were accused of shooting a lady in the dump across the river and that we were found with guns in our possession and no other suspects were found so we were likely the culprits.and wold be gong to trial as such.
    turns out the lady was at the dump emptying out her pickup truck and trailer with her husband when a small caliber bullet came through the back of her neck and knocked her front teeth out. wow, how lucky if you are going to get hit. she was ok but the insurance companies wanted to settle to get it over with. we went to court and waited in the hall for the lawyers to jockey for position only to be told after 8 hours of deliberation that the settlement had been reached and a payment to cover her medical expenses had been agreed to. that didnt make the newspapers like th news of 4 bloomington youth being charged did but that was our day in court. it made me think i would become a lawyer and fix the system that would be so blind but that only lasted a little while. i soon realized the poison atmosphere in the world of the law wold make me a=very unhappy camper and chose to go a different direction.
    my next 15 minute moment is just around the corner.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Wow, what a story tim! I did a lot of dubious stuff as a teen but never (so far as I know) had a real brush with the law. The cops used to chase us a lot, but never caught us, back when we were shooting pigeons in the railway underpass by downtown Ames. I say “shooting” but need to mention we were using homemade blowguns. Even so, the cops were on us.

      One thing that occurs to me, looking back on it, is that even good kids do dumb things at that age. The world used to have more room for kids who experimented a bit. Now people live closer together and there are sure a lot of laws you can break.

      Good luck with the next moment of fame. I hope it is more fun than the first one.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. it was the only time anyone ever suggested guns as a form of recreation, i remember thinking it was a bit odd but we had nothing going on so might as well was the thought. it was not ok to shoot shotguns on our side of the river, we had to cross the river to hunt ducks or pheasants (bloomington was the end of civilazation at that time. across the river was the boondocks.
        my dad grew up in 40’s fargo and they would go hunting after high school with the gns in the back of a car in the school parking lot. just head out to the corn fields or the roadside runoffs with a trip to the goose and duck migration paths on the weekends. it was a way of life.
        i had other runins we need not go into here…


  5. I enjoyed the news yesterday that a woman in Iowa got caught voting for Trump twice. Terry Rote got fifteen minutes of fame for that.

    Back in the 1890s two desperadoes from the Wild West broke out of prison together. But they hated each other. While on the run, they had a fight that ended up in a duel. They stood back-to-back. They were to walk five paces, turn and shoot. On the third pace one of the escapees turned and shot the other in the back. He later explained that his partner in crime was an unreliable guy who obviously was going to turn and shoot him on the count of four.

    Terry Rote thinks the same way. She voted the second time, she explained, because she knew the Hillary Clinton machine was going to flip her first vote, so she took a responsible precautionary measure!

    Liked by 4 people

  6. I eschew notoriety, but in a couple of instances my anonymity has faltered: I was mentioned—somewhat obliquely— in one of Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogs. At the time, I had a little side business designing and manufacturing rubber stamps. This was in the late ’70s and the rubber stamp revival had just begun. I was designing sheep-themed rubber stamps for an Oakland-based fiber arts supply company called Straw Into Gold. A lot of the stamps were circular, with a cartoony sheep in the center and surrounded by a punny motto, like “Accept No Sheep Imitations”. Whole Earth Catalog mentioned Straw Into Gold and included an image of one of my stamps.
    My other exposure in the press was about 1990. I had another little side business, this time producing photo-realistic prop fruit for professional photographers. This was before Photoshop made obtaining actual fruit or convincing substitutes unnecessary. If a photographer needed a particular fruit— cherries, for instance—they could sometimes have them shipped from the antipodes, but sometimes they were simply unavailable. The whole photo shoot hinged on obtaining the fruit.
    Anyway, the professional photographer’s trade magazine Photo District News got wind of my little business and interviewed me for a full-page article with photograph.

    Liked by 6 people

  7. i had a fun couple of days a few years back. i was selling roof rakes that i had brought in for menards and fleet farm and others and wet heavy snow storm hit the north east in february or march, i had heard it was coming so i put a 25 dollar ad in to move me to the front page of ebay and the people who heard it was coming started ordering immeadiatley. i had 2 styles in 4 sizes each 12′ 16/ 20/ and 24′ with extra poles and or heads available for order as well. i had a fung little cash register bell hooked p to my phone form the ebay store (still do) ad it rings each time an order comes in. you would think a little ding like that would drive you nuts but not when it means sales after sales after sales. music to my ears. in the midst of it i was ringing every 2 or 3 seconds all day long. we had the ups truck coming out every cople of hours for the next fistful of days. our challenge was labeling all the stuff

    ebay had a thing at the time showing the top selling items of the day and we were the #1,2 3 4 6&8 best selling items on ebay all at the same time.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Should have posted on the last blog.
      I cannot do much to preserve my few old brain synapses, as I have explained before. Now add to it that because of my psoriasis I have trouble reading. To hold my head at the right angle to see the keyboard is hard on my neck. In the last 11 weeks I have driven to a medical place for me 15 times: dr. appts., PT, imaging of various kinds, shots in my back, and lab tests. Next week I learn about what will be done about my neck.
      I have driven Sandy 8 times. Last night she had a TIA at 12:30, and she has weird ones, and she did not sleep until 8. She had a TIA a week ago but is not aware of it.


  8. I was on television once when YA was about 2. I was asked because I was a single parent of an adopted daughter from China. It wasn’t very memorable; Toddler wasn’t too interested in staying on the little set so I was distracted and the bit was so short that there really wasn’t anything much to do but nod when asked a question. It was a live broadcast so I never even got to see it. So my 15 minutes was really only about 10 minutes and not a very exciting 10 minutes at that!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. By my 13th birthday I had been on television 13 times. I mention that, not to brag, but to point out how low the bar for getting on television was in our town in the early 1950s. Ames was home to WOI TV, a television station formed in the earliest days of TV. They would put ANYTHING on in those days! I had the lead role in a play run by the public schools summer program staff, a play called The Three R’s of Safety. My role was the judge who sentenced the scissors that cut a child and the hot stove that burned a child. Those were condescending, preachy times, and so it wasn’t surprising that I (the judge) kept discovering that children had been exercising no concern for safety, so the scissors and stove got off scot free! The play was dreadful, but adults approved of its smug and moralistic tone so our play was broadcast three summers in a row.

      Stations like that were housed in various universities. Their programming was called “educational TV,” and it could not have been more boring or amateurish. The U of MN had its own station back in the “educational TV” days. It became KTCA, then TPT. A huge burden for such stations in the 1960s was making it clear to listeners that they were PUBLIC television stations, not (god forbid) education TV stations.

      There was a parallel movement in radio. In the 1960s the U of MN had a dreadfully boring education radio station. One of its employees was Garrison Keillor. One of the fictional characters Garrison created back then was based on a man named something like Gus Hardt who did horticulture broadcasts. Gus was incredibly boring, with a flat delivery that Garrison easily imitated. I think he named the radio character Harley Peters, and his show was “Sex Tips.” The humor behind the sketches was the tension between the racy topic and Harley Peters’ flat, mechanical commentary. I wonder if any of that stuff is on tape somewhere now.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. oh i forgot about my ditty on whatever television channel there was over by 494 and crosstown years ago,. the gy went to school with our kids and sold the tv channel to nbc for 50 million dollars.
      i was asked to go on to be an expert on weed whacker trimmer blade i was seilling at the time. i went in and got the hot sweats. i was laughing because i couldnt believe it was happening. and laughing made it happen more. they wold ask me a qestion and i was melting down and my response was “correct” with my hands clasped behind my back wringing out the nervous energy the term “correct” came mechanically out of my mouth 5 or 6 more times and i was done. my wife was the only person i told i wold be on and she had some fun for a while bt even she felt bad for me,it is out of character for me to freeze up but it is history. i choked and we didnt have tofigure out how to spend all the money that my promotion stimulated.
      did anyone see the show where the lady sold her mop on qvc? ok movie it brought back nightmare rushes of how uncomfortable i was
      as a tv pitchman

      Liked by 2 people

        1. shady oak off 212 east into office/warehouse land (the gold triangle) i think it is washington ave right there. it was sold to nbc to become their version of qvc. i’ll come up with it but it will take a day or two. lots of earrings and candles.


  9. Just little things:
    – I was going to be the lead in the class play in 3rd Grade, but got pink eye or something and my understudy had to go on.
    – I was know in the sorority as the one who had lit her turban-towel on fire when lighting a cigarette (yes, I smoked in college)
    – when teaching kdgn. at St. Anne’s of the Sunset, I wore the first “midi” dress in an age of mini skirts, and was known as a Be-different.
    – in Husband’s family I’m known as the upbeat one.
    – last year when I was on Tapestry Folkdance Center’s board of directors, my picture was up on the wall with other Board members’…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. I like to joke that I am famous in a small subset of the under-13 crowd in SW Minneapolis, having taught Bravo music lessons for several years running at Daughter’s elementary school…

        Liked by 2 people

        1. We had a Grade 1 teacher named Ella Mae Apple. Miss Apple. What a great name! She married Mr Josendahl in her later years but taught until retirement age.


  10. Yesterday WESSEW put up a blog because he does not have access to posting on Trail Baboon. I do not either since I changed my identity. I think someone should put it up for him and explain to Dale about it. It is a nice post. Right near the end yesterday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. did you have to give up your former identity? i think i have tow bt ran into challenges when i would go back and forth so i stopped and retired my alter ego

      ill look at wessews post, i feel like i abandoned him


  11. Nice post, Steve, but I got nothin’.

    Oh, wait…

    Upcoming moment of fame: In August, I entered a photo contest, one where there will be a book published of the “winning” shots. I entered the contest more as an exercise in choosing photos to submit, knowing that I would not get a photo in the book. Well, I was wrong: one of my photos will be in the book. I feel extremely surprised and amazed that out of nearly 15,000 entries, one of my photos was chosen.

    Liked by 6 people

        1. Thanks, tim. I wasn’t going to mention it until I at least knew which photo it is, but with the blog topic today, I decided I might as well say it now.

          Liked by 1 person

  12. A man who needs 15 minutes of infamy: my former d-i-l needed a vehicle 6 months ago. She wanted something larger to be able haul things. Her uncle in Ohio said he would find a good SUV for her at a good deal. She flew out and drove it home to CA. Saturday she took it in for a trade-in for a better mileage car. They told her it had no value because the repairs were higher than its value and had been that way when she bought it. Transmission was so bad she had to quit driving it now. Is there a usedcarsaleman hall of shame?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Fame is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. I’ve had plenty of “local” moments of 15 minutes of fame, but nothing on a state, national, or world scale, which is how I define the phrase: Becoming a household name to an entire state or country or god forbid the world. Hope to never have that most dubious of honors. The local fame, yeah, okay, if it’s for Big Brothers Big Sisters or another good reason. I’ll take the money often associated with fame, but you can sell my share of fame to the highest bidder and donate that chunk of change to BBBS too. :0(

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Only vaguely related, the Natalie Imbruglia song ‘Intuition’ there is the lyric “she wants her fifteen minutes of fame, but twenty would be nice.”
    Personally, I don’t agree.


  15. Trying to catch up with the Babooners…I seem to lag behind these days. Fifteen minutes of fame? When I took over trying to save my father’s retail store from the “boys” who had taken over and were running it into the ground…front page Duluth NewsTrib, local paper plus local cat7 television interview. We failed to save it and it went into liquidation a few months later.

    But a more pleasant fifteen minutes (more or less) is when Dale and Jim Ed were broadcasting the Morning Show from my desk in the Duluth office…and I was home listening while getting ready for work. I think Jim Ed did an on-air inventory of what was on and under it.

    Liked by 1 person

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