And The Winner Is

  

Idolatrous mobs await their answers, as presenters in the wings prepare to take the stage, flaunt talents in proportion to their egos, pose and posture, play to cameras, flex their tele-prompted wits before a mass of rapt humanity astronomical in its number. Insupportable in its reverence, hordes and hordes regard the Tube, as Great God Television moves to prove the scope of its Omnipotence by pronouncing whose performance in a feature film is "best." Or whose has won the most votes cast by unnamed movie connoisseurs. Their ballots, counted and kept strictly confidential by Price Waterhouse, have been opened piecemeal—in between commercials; Oscar sells. Though, sponsors' profit-share aside, there is a nobler brand of interest—as a luminary fumbles with the fateful envelope's seal. An avid groundswell of support for one among the nominees has grown not only in the public sector; peers too have their favorite... while the frozen clips of actors loom on screens above the podium... while a team of roving lenses fix on match-ups in the house... potential winners, losers squirming under unremitting scrutiny—save for him whose film-clip image has no live, in-person self. A common chord of solidarity, therefore, strums with the announcement:

 

"And the award goes to... GRAHAM DOUBLETREE, 'CARGOES OF CONSCIENCE'!"

 

CHEERS! APPLAUSE! A HUGE ovation, people standing, stomping, shouting "Bravos"! BEDLAM! And it's up to me?

 

"Accepting will be Vel Jerome."

 

I CAN'T! I mean, I HAVE to, and I WANT to, but I'll fall apart. I'll LOSE it! How, on earth, I'll even manage to get off my butt, Lord knows. Except my cue has passed already. Am I up, at least, responding? Am I standing, actually walking toward the stage? I think I am. I think I'm inching toward the worst and best and saddest, proudest moment I may ever have to flub orplease, GodSEIZE in my career. It's do or die. Succeed or make myself a laughingstock. For-EVER! What I say, and what I don't say, has to suit a ZILLION critics who'll be hanging on my every wordif I make it up these stairs. I won't. IMPOSSIBLE. Why I wore this vinyl TUBE SOCK of a gown, I CAN NOT GUESS! It's like I'm stuck in Chinese handcuffs. Christ, they're waiting! If I EVER wear another skintight skirt, may lightning strike me. This is absolutely torturous; I'm still waddling. No; I'm here! I'm at the lectern with this sweaty golden statue in my clutches, and I swear, the speech I memorized just slipped out to take a leak. On stage and clueless, not a glimmer of the lines I wrote. AMNESIA! Shit, I have to utter something. "Use it; say it from the heart, girl." Speak!

"Graham would have loved this... Well, you never know; he didn't like publicity. What he CARED about was acting. Doing good work. The rest was... noise. He'd call this 'nice noise,' since it's made by all you folks expressing thank-yous—as opposed to boos and catcalls. Nice or not, though, noise is noise. And it's distracting; WORK's the thing... But Graham would also feel, I'm sure, that one good turn deserves another, so he'd say a bunch of thank-you's right back at us: cast and crew; and you the public. You for whom ALL artists strive to hone their craft. To touch your hearts, and stir your minds. To share a humble bit of clarity. Or at least to let you know you're not alone in your confusion. Graham was trying, in his work and in his life, to tell the truth. Not simply his truth; OUR truth; yours and mine, attempting to make sense of who we are and why we're here, and how our actions make a difference. People matter; Graham believed in that. He also had ideals. Which... Well, he died pursuing his. Not like a soldier or a martyr. No heroics. He just died. You know, like people tend to do? Except he left us something... something of himself when he was striving to produce the best work possible, give a gift allowed so few that we're the grateful ones; the artists. We who live in people's present when our own has long-since faded—if our work, that is, holds true. And Graham's holds true. And you have said so, with this silly little statue, and the not so silly sentiment that bestowed it. Which was kind. And which he'd treasure, were Graham here himself, instead of back in Kenya, where we left him. Or, where he left us. His body came back here, but Graham, in spirit, stayed in Africa. Rest in peace, my friend. Kwaheri."

 

 

"Absolute silence. Oh my God, I thought, I must have REALLY blown it! I walked off in such a daze I couldn't quote a single word—aside from one that in Swahili means 'good-bye,' I think. Disaster! When I heard a second outburst of bravos I thought, no way; they're just applauding someone else; the next presenter, no doubt. Wrong, girl. They had stopped the show for Graham—despite whatever I'd just stammered—and I almost died to think he couldn't take that bow himself.

"And then they did a really class-act thing. Well, you all know; you watched. They dimmed the lights to total blackout, brought them up on Graham's two stills—the one as Barnaby next to Graham as Graham, his boyish smile so charming. And you could have heard a pin drop.

It was really very moving. Scotty; one full minute?"

"Two."

"He probably timed it, gang."

"I did."

"Another toast to Corporal Crackers!"

"Here, here!"

"Vel's not finished."

"Author! Where's the ghost who wrote that speech?"

"Sure was a doozie."

"That's the weirdest part of all; extempore."

"Come off it, Vee-Jay."

"'Cross my heart.' I sure as Hell had one prepared. But it went bye-bye, OUT the window when I saw that sea of faces. I compared it to my notes when I got home; not ONE phrase matched. The stuff I wrote, and what I blurted, were completely different animals..."

"Which was better?"

"Couldn't top the one she gave."

"I'll drink to that! Another toast to Vee-Jay's mother wit!"

"Pipe down, John."

"Kill-joy!"

"Sluggard."

"Wake the dead, you will, O'Connell."

"Well-awakened they shall be; this bubbly's marvelous! Downright decent of them; champagne in a bone yard."

"Columbarium."

"Right; whatever. Where's Graham's niche? Another toast. Let's drink to tears turned into triumphs—Graham's and ours—to one-year-later, when the pains of passage mellow and surrendered souls are 'freed,' instead of 'wrenched,' inopportunely, from our bosoms."

"Long live Doubletree!"

 

 

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