COLUMBUS—It’s a rainy night in Georgia. I have an interview on the local evening news. This is a monumental occasion. My mother called to make sure I was wearing clean underwear.
The last time I was in Columbus, I was in college. I was wearing clean underwear then, too. I was an adult student, traveling with a bunch of eighteen-year-old music students on a school trip. That weekend, I saw some of the world’s most accomplished pianists perform in concert. And it was great.
I was a different person back then. Back then, I had this ridiculous idea that I was going to be a pianist one day.
I wish someone would’ve told me life doesn’t happen how you plan, no matter what kind of underpants you wear.
Anyway, being on the news is a big deal. I have only been on the news twice before.
The first time, I was helping judge a barbecue competition. Me and my friend Buck were interviewed on a local channel. There were cameras with blinking lights, teleprompters, cameramen giving hand signals, and a makeup lady kept powdering my face and saying, “I’ve never seen so much oil on one godforsaken forehead.” And the interview basically went like this:
“So, tell us about the upcoming event, Sean.”
“Sean, what can people expect at this event?”
“Back to you, Terry.”
The other time I was on the news was when my cousin accidentally stole a luxury sedan. His elderly father-in-law had forgotten that he’d agreed to let us borrow his Buick for a road trip. He reported the car as stolen.
We got pulled over in Tennessee. After much confusion with local law enforcement officials, we all had a good laugh about it. And I can say one thing about the upstanding penal system in Tennessee, they serve delicious hamburger steaks.
But getting back to Columbus. Tonight’s news interview is about the one-man show I’m about to do. Which only proves how desperate modern media is for material.
The reporter, Mya, and I are in my dressing room, standing before a camera. Mya goes to great pains to get me positioned. She is constantly telling me to “step forward,” “slide to the left,” “slide to the right,” “Cha-Cha real smooth.”
Then, Mya touches her earpiece and says, “We’re on in five…”
Suddenly. A bright light from the camera. It blinds me. We are not talking about a tiny pinlight. We’re talking about a combat aircraft landing signal aimed at my face.
Mya says, “We’re here with Sean Dietrich. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Sean.”
And I choke. I clear my throat. I blink at the light. This is what is known in the entertainment industry as dead air.
“Uhhhh…” I remark.
And while I stammer, Mya just smiles at the camera until the muscles in her neck are poking out and a single bead of sweat rolls down her temple.
“Uhhhh…” I add.
After the interview, I get my picture taken with Mya. We pose for a selfie. Mya informs me that I am not a good selfie-picture-taker. To take a proper selfie you have to hold your cellphone camera at a high angle. If you hold the camera too low, everyone in the photograph comes out looking like overweight members of the Lollipop Guild.
After selfies, someone knocks on the door and says, “It’s showtime.”
Mya tells me to break a leg. I suspect she truly means it.
For several years I have been doing my one-man show with only a guitar. Usually, I play a song, tell a story, play another song, etc. That’s pretty much it. Then, I say goodnight, whereupon audience members go to the ticket booth and demand a refund.
But tonight, here at the amphitheater, I found a grand piano backstage before the show. On a whim, I asked the sound guy if he’d let me play the thing for the performance. He said sure. He rolled it center stage and locked the wheels in place.
For the show I end up playing several songs which I have not played in many years. And I tell the story of how once upon a time I took a bus to Columbus, Georgia, to watch concert pianists play. And I am sort of taken by the irony of this moment. I almost feel foolish about it.
When I finish the show, my hands are hurting because they are out of shape. We go back to our hotel room, I collapse on the bed. I turn on the television. The news is on.
There I am. A big dork on TV. My hair is in need of cutting. My beard needs a trim. I look like a starvation victim on diuretics in the harsh glow of the camera lights. My wife and I count how many times I say “Uhhhhh….”
I turn off the television. I stare out my hotel room at the lights of Columbus. And I think about how much life has changed me. It’s softened me in some places, toughened me in others. I have spent three quarters of my life being lost and confused. The other quarter was spent horsing around. I look horrible on television. And I am not a great pianist.
But, by God, I am wearing clean underwear.
And that has to count for something.