In the days of the pop stardom draft, your fifteen minutes of fame are mandatory. There will be no notification by mail or Instant Messenger. The paparazzi will simply sprout like the first crop of spring, trampling the lawn and displacing garden gnomes. The animated corpse of Ed McMahon will hand you a cartoon check worth the cardboard it’s printed on, and the weight of effervescence will hit you in the forehead like a pebble in the hands of a paste-eating third-grade bully. Smile for the cameras, lest their microphones transform into switchblades, quick as sound bites. Give them something worth rememberingthe lullaby your mother sang to you in the crib, set against the rhythm of the cereal beat box; The bit of Plath you memorized in high school, with a little soft shoe thrown in. Replicate yourself like language, changing color with each inflection. Do not offer the reporters coffee. They’ll be gone before its brewed.
Mary-Louise intends to dance across the fluorescent-lit aisles of every Wal-Mart Supercenter in Georgia. It’s a goal that’s brewed longer than truck stop coffee, since that fateful day at age 15 the cameras caught her stealing lipstick at K-Mart. In that instant, she realized that this was a blue light Made for Closed-Caption TV special, and this was her moment to shine.
“Because this is America,” she thought, “and you ain’t worth nothing if you ain’t on TV.”
She curled her lip and began to quivercarefully starting with chattering teeth then building quickly until her knees were wobbly. She fell to the floor of the stage, her face soaked with tears. Not a dry eye in the place, and even the lemon-bitter manager was moved. She got off with a warning. A star was born.
Soon, she found herself performing awkward ballet to the Celine Dion tune crooned through tinny speakers, remaining motionless when a sales assistant is paged, or a special is announced. One night, she recited Orsinio’s “If music be the food of love, play on” speech in the pet supplies department. Another night, she sang “Amazing Grace” at full volume, the stunned applause of K-Mart shoppers ringing against dilapidated shelves.
The explosion of Wal-Mart cemented the deal, her impromptu performances moved to shinier stages. It was like playing Rockefeller Center, with those clean floors and cameras everywhere, broadcasting to only God and the District Manager knows whom.
She can’t repress a smile each time she sees the lens on the corner of her vision, because it’s in these moments she knows this is America, and in America, someone’s always watching.
The spotlight doesn’t care just what it shines on.
This street is a cinema. The neighbors watch each other when they’re shoveling snow, the sinuous pull of muscle and frigid bone captured in a dozen picturesque screenplays. The Technicolor transformation of pale hands to blue, of cheeks turning pinker in the icy air, is recorded daily. The eye is the world’s most perfect camera, pulling light from the sky with only water and fleshcrystal-clear imaging, better and faster than digital. The unfettered human eye should make Spielberg weep with shame.
This movie is nothing avant gardecondensed water is relocated from the street to the curb, from the curb to edge of the lawn, a blanket transformed into a wall. It’s only water, and they are only flesh, and this is the most magnificent alchemy imagined. Where the snow once fell, there is now only a kitchen chair to mark the space, and the critics’ opinions are largely left unvoiced.
Catherine watches Desperate Housewives with an attention she otherwise reserves for chopping celery. She complains that women in their forties don’t look like that, although her hair, too, falls gently on her shoulders like snow and her smile flashes like the sun off airplanes. Margaret karaokes Whitney Houston songs in a bar in San Clemente, California-just close enough to Hollywood to feel its radiation, just far enough away to not step into the sun. Andy has been slamming the same three poems in a Chicago bar since 1989, and Manuel has voted his co-workers off the island fifteen times in his head this week, mumbling the words, “You’re fired,” when he’s certain no one is listening.
When the days of the pop stardom draft come round, they will be prepared. There will be no education or commitment or work, just that meteoric rise to fame, the inevitable fall, and the feel of a heat on their fingers that burns like a sun, before it’s extinguished. The A&E special will be a commercial, their dreams hawking peanuts on the edge of stranger’s sleep.
If all the world’s a stage, and all it’s people merely players, then tell me: who is in the audience, and who will clap when the curtain falls?
Victor D. Infante is the editor of The November 3rd Club, an online literary journal of political writing. His work has appeared in Blue Satellite, The American Journalism Review, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry, and others. By profession, he’s an editor at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in Massachusetts and a regular contributor to OC Weekly in California. He respectfully declines to believe he is doomed.
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