Friday, January 14, 2011

Ted Williams Rides the Old Grey Goose

I just love the story of Ted Williams.  Everyone - everyone - knows what happened:  a homeless man with an amazing voice was "discovered" on the side of the road in Columbus, Ohio by a local reporter.  The video of their encounter went viral, and literally overnight Ted Williams became a media darling, his services sought after by TV, radio, sports teams, and anyone looking for a fresh new coattail to ride.

I don't love everything about the story.  Not the part where Ted Williams battled homelessness and addiction for years, losing his family and his livelihood in the process.  Or the way that every detail and dirty little secret of his life is now being put under a microscope as if he were a professional celebrity who asked for this sudden fame.  Or the public interventions being staged for him by TV sharpies for the sake of entertainment and ratings.

I don't love any of those things.  In fact, I find them sad and not a little repugnant.  What I do love about this story is that Ted Williams reportedly was drinking a botle of Grey Goose vodka a night prior to entering rehab earlier this week. 

"Despite his adamant claims of sobriety, he has been drinking daily."  That's the Dr. Phil-supplied sound bite  that is popping up all over the media.  I'm going to issue my own sound bite here:  Duh.  Maybe Ted Williams was sober and fell off the wagon after every single news outlet in the country descended on him at once.  Maybe he lied about being sober in the first place.  Yes, perhaps a homeless alcoholic told a lie.  It's an outrage.  I can't believe we gave this man a second chance and a free haircut. 

Let's think like grown-ups for a minute.  Until last week, Ted Williams was living on panhandler money.  I don't know what the going rates are for panhandling in Columbus, Ohio, but there's a reason the homeless don't have opera houses and hospital wings named after them.  If Ted Williams was drinking all along, or at any point during his years on the streets, what do you think he was buying?  I'm going to say less Crown Royal and more Mad Dog 20/20.  Just a guess.

But now he's been anointed by popular culture.  Everyone wants to be his pal, his employer, his Facebook friend.  He's being showered with attention - and swag.  Ted Williams doesn't have to pay for his clothes, his meals, his airfare to Hollywood.  If the man wants to drink - either because he's buckling under the pressure or just because he can't go a day without it - there are a dozen people lined up to buy the next round.  And if you haven't even had a mailing address in however many years, and suddenly people are begging you to order anything you want on their tab, are you going to say, "Bring me a bottle of your finest Boone's Farm, my good man"?

I would order a large bottle of Grey Goose vodka.  Or maybe Stoli.  Just like Ted Williams did.

If I could presume to know Mr. Williams' mind at this moment, I would say that he is well aware of the great opportunity he's been given to change his life.  He knows he can run with it, or he can blow it.  I'll bet he also knows that, given his personal history, not blowing it is far from a sure bet.  And for the time being every difficult and intensely personal decision he makes is on public display, with an audience of millions dissecting it nearly instantaneously.  His life has become "American Idol," back when it had better judges.    

Ted Williams' benefactors will forgive his tribulations for as long as they keep the story moving forward.  After that, in the time-honored tradition of the fame machine, he's on his own.  Grey Goose has worked so far; it surely won't work much longer.  But the next move belongs to one person and one person only:  Ted Williams.  And he is neither a puppet nor an angel.  I wish him the very best.  I admire his taste in vodka.  I hope he can practice abstinence (or at least moderation) long enough to take advantage of the opportunities that lie before him. 

Cheers, Mr. Williams.  Enjoy the ride.

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