Conversation room. Appointment time.
Sky blue screen set up near the center of the room, with a stool in front of it. Huge old-fashioned camera a few feet away. Protruding from under the black hood is the bottom half of a person, presumably a photographer. A youngish man wearing a bow tie stands nearby holding the handled platform for the flash powder. I bet there are technical terms for this old stuff, but I’ve only seen pictures before, and I don’t know them.
Closer to the archway, approaching me with her hand extended, is Martha Stewart. I mean, Martha Stewart is playing the person approaching me. I extend my own hand and shake hers firmly.
She is smiling that Martha smile. “Welcome, Leo. I hope that I may still call you Leo, since we have not yet heard your new name.”
It’s one of those situations where I’m apparently supposed to be smiling, but I’m not. I’m not sure what my facial expression is like. “I’ve just heard it myself. It’s never clear how I should address you.”
“You are correct. It is never clear. Call me whatever seems right to you today.”
I think for a moment. ‘Persona-formerly-played-by-Gellar-now-played-by-Stewart’ is definitely out. “You seem like ‘Madam Hostess’ today, so I’ll go with that.”
Her smile tightens a bit. “That’s fine.” She tilts her head and raises one eyebrow. “And your new name is…?”
A very professional-hostess look of polite surprise/delight. “Bruce! How Lovely! Any particular reason that you would share? It is not required, of course.”
I am prepared for that question. “First, the Bruces we have known have challenged us, not only regarding what we believe, but also regarding how important ‘what we believe’ really is. Second, Bruce is who everyone thinks is not supposed to bring me down in the ELO song.”
“You say ‘everyone thinks.’ Is that not the lyric?”
“Not originally, but people heard it that way so insistently that Jeff Lynne even started singing it that way. Third, there is an assonance with “bruise,” and I wear my worries about belief like a bruise. And fourth…” I grin. “It’s less confusing.”
“As in the Monty Python routine.”
“Ah, I see.” I’m not sure she really does see, but she’s being all polite and solicitous. “Then I’ll begin again. Welcome, Bruce!”
I bow slightly.
She gestures at the stool in front of the screen. “Will you take a seat, so that we can capture the moment?”
“What you mean is: Will I pose now?”
The smile tightens again. “Yes.”
I sit and face the camera. The photographer is out from beneath the hood. He has white hair that stands up. I’d bet that it would stand up even if he didn’t constantly have his head under that hood. He speaks in a crackly, stereotypically “old guy” voice. “Face slightly to your left, please. Raise your head a bit and smile. And might I suggest that you hold your Bible with your right hand, near your heart?” He disappears under the hood again.
I comply with his instructions, except for the smile. Without further comment from anyone, the flash powder explodes with a comically loud POOF.
I look at Madam Hostess, still wearing her almost painfully polite smile.
“Do I only get one pose?”
Her face instantly softens into a very genuine smile.