He wasn’t always the man who swallows light bulbs. He did at one time have an act. Like many others, it amounted to filling in blanks: an adjective noun of noun and adjective noun, it verbed across the noun when the noun was adverb, but when it fell, it fell like a load of bricks. One night, when they just weren’t with him, he yielded to a terrible inspiration and began to become known to his audiences more for what he did when all else failed than for what he did when the act was going right. He later described it as wanting to be authentic, but that’s nonsense. Rather than risk being nothing, he became the man who swallows light bulbs. Fans who had once reveled in his inventiveness at illuminating the secrets of the human heart now demanded only that light bulbs be swallowed. What’s more, what’s worse, once he internalized it, he saw light bulbs everywhere. He rightly interpreted what was fog and what was frosted glass, but every situation took the shape of a bulb in his telling, and in his telling, scenes were either bright or black. It was an illusion, of course. Nobody can swallow light bulbs every night and keep working as hard as he did, do you think? I bought him a drink one night and got him talking about his career. At first he denied having one, but as he verbed his nouns a story adverbially took shape. Dim at first, the image gradually brightened until above our heads an idea formed, the same idea, its shape familiar to everyone who knew his work. I saw what I thought was a satisfied smile cross his lips. And then, before he put it down, he took a bite of his glass.

Copyright © July 09, 2007 David Hodges