You may not recognize my name, but you would my face.
Look closely, you will see I am almost everywhere, somewhere in the background: chewing on the scenery, nailing my lines, a blank canvas with little or no context to draw upon — just a face in the crowd, an asterisk in the credits.
Why I have never had the opportunity to become a star, never got the big break, we may never know. Not when I’ve only been told that I was too good at what I do, or that I was too short or too heavy, but rarely too light.
Or, that in the end, I lacked a certain quality: a refinement; a willingness perhaps to play the game the way it is supposed to be played; a lack of schooling, to be sure, still a distinctiveness that causes unease to those with top billing. Every day my role shrinks in size, but for some my presence doubles.
I’m part of the troupe, yet in exile. I’m not sure I care. I can do my job better while blending in, for it is easier to ambush in the dark. Without worries of paparazzi rushing me to my death, I can afford to sup without interruption.
I’m a studio musician in an age without liner notes. An anonymous voice-over artist. I’m a newspaper delivery boy, but one that delivers it to your door quietly.
I’m your bar-back, your ticket taker, your valet. I’m your bus driver, your street sweeper, your teller.
I turn out your rug while throwing your room in disarray, in hopes that you might see things in a different light.
Often, you do not see me, but I see you.
I saw you set fire to both yourself and a movement that rose up from your ashes and toppled decades-old authoritative regimes like a game of dominoes with freedom as its prize.
I saw columns of faceless women show what was behind their masks: strength, courage and power.
I saw you break a beer bottle in Berlin, the city of broken glass.
I saw you short my change in Prague, said nothing because you must have needed it more. I saw you walking on broken foot on broken cobblestone to nowhere in particular, and now laugh. I saw you at the concert holding a video recorder so as not to miss a moment, while perhaps never being in it.
I saw you club a protester in a wheelchair on a Barcelona square.
Back home, I saw you shoot my master as he still held my leash. I saw you rally around a fallen man in such a way that it inspires me to want to be remembered as profoundly.
I saw your movement wobble as you shook off 40 years of sleep. I saw you put down your degree and hold up a sign raging against the dying light of the American Dream. My ears still hear your bullhorn reverberating from a distance.
I saw you turn on the lights in your studio. I saw you hang them even. I saw you put down your baby girl to pick up your guitar and strum the dead strings for her, bringing both to life.
I saw you take the stage and turn it up in order to play the way you play. I played along with you when I could.
I saw you aim high and miss only slightly. Try, try again, despite the price you had to pay. I saw you rise again, undaunted.
I saw you chugging scotch in the middle of the night as if it was water, in order to fall back asleep, wailing all the while.
I saw you take your singular voice away, robbing us of the promise made. I saw, again, the myriad of faces that had gone the same way before you.
I saw you write a piece lamenting 1 percent of the population owning 40 percent of America’s wealth a week before Wall Street was occupied. I saw, too, that you didn’t trademark that shit and, as a result, are not yet rich.
I saw you, each of you, winning a race you weren’t fit to win, and had to chuckle when you stumbled, relieved as I was. I saw a few others sit out the race altogether, my relief equal to the amount of entertainment I was robbed of.
I saw you try to mend fences, heal a troubled nation wounded before you really held the gun, with the snake oil called bi-partisanship. I saw you switch gears somewhat and just in time. Or just too late. I see it is too early to tell.
I saw you sitting at a bus stop outside of Walgreens. I saw you sitting in a movie theatre, popcorn in hand instead of a notebook. I will see you again.
I saw you at the bar one too many times, and thus joined you, again for one too many. I saw myself enjoy every minute.
I saw you sitting in my passenger seat. I wanted to take a picture, but didn’t have a camera.
I saw you smoking in the upstairs bar while writing in your secret notebook, poem cycles you won’t allow anyone to ever read.
I saw you take something that wasn’t yours to take. I see now, as you do, that you can’t put it back. I see you, and I raise you.
I saw you, finally, walk through the door after work, your golden locks flowing to your hunched shoulders, grit on your beautiful face as it is writ in your bountiful soul. My job remains its own reward:
I saw you, I saw you, I saw you.
CONTACT MARK FLANIGAN: firstname.lastname@example.org