I did not anticipate that the death of Anna Nicole Smith would be such big news, the kind of "Where were you when you heard?" event that would define a generation. But so it seems to be. For the record, I heard the news from my sister, who spotted the headline on her email sign-in page and called out to me, in the next room, to fill me in. And I was surprised... for about one tenth of a second. I think mostly I was surprised to hear the name being shouted from another room, surprised that Anna Nicole Smith had done anything noteworthy enough to be related in a raised voice, just as I am surprised every time I encounter her name or her image, in an ad or a headline. I always find myself thinking, "Oh, are we still talking about her?"
Once I got over my initial shock at ANS's continued celebrity, however, I lost all interest in the topic, because: of course she died. I mean, duh. I didn't even ask, "How did it happen?" because the answer seemed so obvious. Live by the reckless and very public pursuit of fame via self-destructive acts, die by the etc. So I just thought to myself, Thank heavens we don't have to hear about her anymore, and went on about my business.
Some 90 minutes later, I was preparing my 4-year-old nephew for his swim class, in the steamy, sweaty "family changing room" adjacent to the JCC pool, and I became aware that the nannies on either side of me were discussing the sudden death of Ms. Smith, murmuring "I heard they found her in a hotel room" and "didn't her son die?" and so on through the curtains of their respective stalls. Again, I was surprised: Are we still talking about her?
20 minutes after that, I was watching the nephew in the pool ("You have to watch me the whole time, but if you need to blink you can blink," were my orders) when I noticed that none of the instructors were teaching anymore; someone had just entered the pool area with the ANS death news bulletin, and they all stopped to discuss it for a full 3 minutes. The assassination of the president would not have stopped the action any more than did this news. At this point I began to wonder if I had somehow missed the part of the story that made it worth discussing, or even thinking about, for more than one tenth of a second. Was the "found in a hotel room" part a red herring? Had she died in some completely unexpected manner? Was she, for example, hacked to death with a machete by Condoleezza Rice? Crushed by a falling meteor? That would be surprising. But no, apparently not. And while I didn't so much mind the interruption of the lessons, I did rather wish the instructors weren't shouting things like "Did she kill herself?!" and "Her son just died, too!" across the children's pool. The nephew is a little pitcher with very big ears, and I wasn't looking forward to a conversation about the death of Anna Nicole on the way home. From what I have gathered, the nephew believes death is an optional, not necessarily permanent condition; in games he makes a distinction between death (as in, "You got died and now you have to go to the hospital to get alive again") and extinction (as in, "Lions are my favorite animal, but I don't like alive lions, only dead extinct lions"). And he has told me that he is not going to "get died" at the end of his natural life; he will grow old and then return to heaven without dying, in a sort of dormition-and-assumption scheme. (He is Voltaire-like in his fondness for casual blasphemy.) So I wasn't prepared to explain things like "suicide" and "overdose."
Fortunately, he didn't seem to pick up on the conversation. But later that evening the subject came up again, this time at a book reading I attended. And again I was surprised to find people still discussing this event. I am still hopeful that after this week, I will no longer hear anything about ANS. I am also hopeful that I will never blog about her again. But I guess I shouldn't make any promises.