March 11th, 2003

My Day with Salman Rushdie, Part 1

The Royal Shakespeare Company and Salman Rusdhie are in Ann Arbor under the auspices of the UMS to present the American premiere of the play Midnight's Children.

This afternoon I attended a round-table discussion at Rackham Auditorium that I thought Salman Rushdie would be a part of. The table was not round, nor was Rushdie a part of the discussion. Instead he was sitting in the audience a couple rows ahead of me.

I kept thinking it would be really easy to shoot him from where I was sitting. The new Ayatollah ought to cough up a couple bucks for a make-good on an old fatwa, right?

I felt out of place. The vast majority of other attendees were women over 70. A few still had their husbands kicking around.

Something smelled familiar. A particularly large older woman sat down a few seats to my right. The smell hit me: church.

It smelled like church. All these years I mistakenly thought the magi's gift of Christmas frankincense lingered throughout the year, but really it was all the old ladies and their goddamned perfume.

Eminent professor Ralph Williams utterly wasted the first 25 minutes (and, since it was at U of M, it started 10 minutes late to begin with) introducing the 12 panelists by reading verbatim the photocopied pamphlets that everyone in the audience had already read twice.

Each panelist then had 3 minutes to speak before the panel took questions from the audience.

One of the panelists said that he considers post-colonial English literature to be "the empire writing back," telling England that their culture has been absorbed and modified and forever changed. I like that. The Empire Writes Back.

For the most part, though, I was thinking: I should have stayed at work.