I was on the Shitty Media Men list. A few years later, my new small town found out about it.
I’m taking out the trash and this adorable dog runs up to me. I start playing with it and this man I’ve never met runs after to collect his pet. We talk very briefly about how cute his lab is. Then he says, “You’re Richard Dreyfuss’s son right?” We’re in a small town where I grew up and I know there are a lot of people in this town who know me as that even though I’ve never met them.
I smile and say yes. We shake hands. He tells me I look just like him. I make some joke about having my hair still.
He gets close and tells me he doesn’t want to be out of line but wants to tell me something. I am still smiling awkwardly.
He tells me out of nowhere a very long and sad story about his life. His family had never loved him. His father was absent. It goes on and on. So long is this story that eventually I stop nodding out politeness and am waiting for him to explain why he is telling it to me. Eventually, the moment comes: “Anyway, I know you’ve had a lot of problems with your father too and I just wanted you to know you’re not alone.”
It is important to interject at this moment that nothing the man has told me about his life is actually applicable to mine. But he doesn’t know that. He thinks we’re simpatico. And he thinks that he is doing me a solid. He is, in his own way, being kind.
I am very aware that this man is not trying to offend me and so keep smiling and saying, “can I ask you, where did you hear all of this about me?” He shrugs and waves towards a nearby street and says “oh you know Mary, the town gossip.” I do not know Mary and have no idea who he is talking about. But I smile and nod and say “ahhh” and he walks away.
What has happened here is this: someone I do not know has told an inaccurate tale of woe to her neighbors about a celebrity she’s never met’s family that lives in this small town. She got the information through a grapevine and relayed it probably innocently. The person believed that she knew what she was talking about and in what he thought was a moment of kindness came up to me and made it clear that he and a bunch of strangers believe a bunch of inaccurate, insulting things about my family.
Now in this situation, people handle things differently. I imagine a lot of people would have corrected this dude. Made it clear he had it wrong. I didn’t think it was worth engaging with it on that level and so didn’t even bother correcting him and just politely wanted the conversation to end.
He was trying to be nice to me and revealed the source of the info, who I initially did blame. I looked up who he was talking about and spent way too much time asking my family if they knew her because if it was someone we knew then I wanted to yell at them, but of course, no one knew them. They had just heard some second-hand stuff and passed it along.
I spend every day reading terrible things about myself on the internet. That’s not unique to me. It’s just the life of anyone with lots of followers on social media. I think all in all I have a pretty good approach to it and don’t let it get to me. Which is why I was so surprised at how much I let small-town gossip get to me after moving back to my hometown last fall.
I was never going to stay too long. When I left New York, I was going to move to LA but first came to stay with my mom in Sun Valley Idaho for a few months to save money. Then I met a girl who was a townie and had lived here her whole life and we both were emotionally broken in similar ways and fell into a very rapid and insane love affair that made me decide to stay and get my own place here.
But trouble started almost immediately after signing a lease. (One, I should say, don’t do this. Don’t just sign a lease because you start dating someone. Give it some time!) She called me to tell me that some of her friends had heard about me and that I was not just a “crazy person” but a “violent guy” who had been accused of some “sex stuff.”
Now, for the record, I am a “crazy person” and have accurately been accused of that my entire life, but I have never been accused of violence or anything related to sexual abuse or harassment or whatever. But I instantly knew where those rumors came from.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Calm Down to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.