The Question

She had asked him a simple question.

Simple, yet the result of his flippant answer had resulted in the television host sitting through several years of weekly, one-hour appointments with a psychologist.

- -

He had chosen to meet the magazine columnist at one of those franchised cafe’s in West Nashville at 10am that rainy Tuesday in February. As was his habit, he arrived fifteen minutes early to get a table by the window. He always liked to watch the traffic and imagine where the cars and trucks were headed. That, and the sound of tires on wet pavement was calming and made him less anxious. Meeting people always made him anxious.

A rush of cool air behind him signaled either a customer leaving or entering. He hoped it was her. “I’m already over this interview,” he said to himself as he blew the steam away from the hot, black coffee that had just been derived to his table.

“Michael?”

Her western New York accent shook him from his momentary, self-imposed exile from the world.

“Yeah…um, Terri, right?”

He extended a hand, but she took a step forward and threw her arms around him. “I’m a hugger,” she said, her smile evident in her voice. He’d learned that at the very beginning of his radio career, all those years ago: “smile when you talk to your listeners” he had been told.

“Would you like a coffee…or anything?

“No, thank you…it makes me pee.”

“You don’t want anything?”

“I’m good thanks. I’d just like to get to our interview.” Although the smile in her voice hadn’t left her, there was now an added business tone. The hug had disarmed him—which was probably what had made her interviews in Time magazine so good. “Smiling assassin” he thought to himself.

“What would you like to know?" He took a very deep breath after asking the question.

Her eyes met his and locked in as she smiled and paused briefly. “MIchael, first of all, I love your show. It’’s a half-hour of tv that I never miss.”

The word “never” was disconcerting to him. She had emphasized it a little too much for his liking. He thought to himself that she had used “never” when she really meant “usually.”

Terri continued setting up the question. “You started your career in radio, and transitioned to television. More recently, you’ve started blogging…”

He thought the word “blogging” was a funny word—or, at least, it seemed funny when he said it.

“Thank you—-and yes, I have.

His tv show was unique in a world of soundbite media. His guests were from all walks of life—music, film, theatre, politics (although the interviews were never political)—and the show simply consisted of a 30-minute conversation with his guests. If the guests were musical, the interviews also included a live, acoustic performance or two.

“How do you get ready for these interviews? I mean, they’re so casual but they’re so deep…”

Michael didn't think much of the question at the time, and the answer just rolled out of his mouth. “Thanks, but I don’t do any prep for them.”

Her eyes opened wide.

He spoke as if her eyes had asked a question. “No prep. I rarely know much about my guests before I talk to them. It helps me discover things at the same time the people who watch my show do. You see, interesting is important to me—and it seems like it’s also important to those who tune in to watch my show.. In most cases, I know a little bit about my guests but I like to dig a little and discover their passions, what makes them interesting. For example, let’s use Pete Townshend from The Who.”

He could hear her pen on her notepad, now louder than the sound of tires on the wet pavement outside.

“I met Pete in a park in the middle of England, about ten years ago. We were both there to support a Border Collie rescue organization called Wiccawey’s—they do excellent work, by the way. When we sat down for the interview ahead of his show with The Who, here in Nashville, I knew that Border Collies were going to be the start of the interview. And it worked. Sure, I could do research about The Who, his solo music, his writing…but what could I possibly ask him abut any of those things that hasn’t been asked and answered hundreds—if not thousands—of times over the years? So we talked about one of his passions…and that unlocked a great interview.”

“But your interviews seem like you planned them. And so do your blogs.”

“Yeah….I don’t plan the blogs either. Just like I have no idea what I’m going to ask my guests in an interview, I have no idea what I’m going to write about until I write the first word.”

“So you have no plan? None?

There it was. The question.

Michael took a lot longer to answer “the question.”

“Ummm….”

“No. I’ve never really planned anything in my life. Things just sort of happen.”

- -

Two weeks later, when all of the press created to promote the interview in Time hit the media, Michael thought about the question and his resulting answer. It worried him.

No matter what, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been manipulated for all those years. Manipulated? But by whom? And why?

Michael’s success was obvious, but was it truly his? How could it be his, when he had no plan, no mission, no clue as to what would happen next?

His anxiety had reached a peak that day, as he sat at his computer. In front of him, on the screen, was a directory of psychologists in Nashville. He reached over to his cell phone, that sat on the left side of his desk, and dialed a number.

“Hello? Yeah, I’d like to make an appointment with Doctor Irving.”

Cameron Wallace