by Michael Shepherd
The old-fashioned slide machine you thought that
you'd abandoned long ago
suddenly goes clickety out of nowhere, and throws up
an image you didn't particularly want
to remember. And you wonder why
it's still there, and why now, and why then?
I was cast as the visiting celeb in Midsville, when
all I wanted was to drink it all in
without being anything except
a privileged observer, fly on the wall, tourist with a visa. No dice. So
I had to do the things that go with a paid ticket which
they don't tell you with the invite -
I had to meet the local press and TV. That was
part of the deal. I felt that
the egos, maybe even careers of others
depended on my unscripted performance. Who was
this stranger in the town? Who was I, for that matter?
What part was I to play? Uncomfortable.
Was it a small town in big America,
or a big town in small America,
big-town aspirations in small-town minds?
Money lurked behind culture;
oil wells jigged in rural fields;
that was uncomfortable in itself;
I was sponsored; that seemed to be significant;
I felt I'd left one class structure for another,
the same differences, a different sameness.
We lunched at the local exec's club, I guess:
black professional staff crisp in white,
well-scrubbed smart white students
also in black and white. Silver service, impeccable;
aspiration I'd not met before in my previous laid-back world.
Then I saw her - the press.
I'd never considered the phrase, 'bandbox-fresh' - but
she could have walked straight onto the set
of Meet Me in St Louis, and her make-up girl
and costume designer would have been looking on proudly;
I guess she wrote the social column.
She interviewed me. I doubt it got printed. I had the feeling
that whatever she was looking for, I didn't have it. But what was it?
All I wanted was to love America. Just that.
Other people's everyday lives; my American Moment.
A frozen slide in the forgotten film of life; and
I'm none the wiser.