We were transfixed. Almost hypnotized. It was media spectacle, sure, but the serene image of a silver mushroom drifting far above the high plains, winking in the sun, was as quiet a media circus as we’ve seen in a long time. We imagined a little boy (for me it was the little boy so ubiquitously marketed as the incarnation of all our childish things), scared, maybe exhilarated, maybe passed out, and then, probably dead. We were transfixed as the camera zoomed in, then out, trying to frame this bizarre object against the Colorado foot hills: the closer the camera got, the closer we got, and the faster the object seemed to travel, gliding toward death at a menacing speed. I watched it with the sound off (to avoid the free-associative CNN patter) and I began to find it almost overwhelmingly beautiful: here was vicarious escape, speed and silence and death in the afternoon, insistent mortality wrapped in billowing silver.
This was a scene written into the background of a Don Delillo or David Foster Wallace novel, a quiet careering metaphor playing across American TV screens, in bars, bus stations, auto-shops… Of course, it was over just as it really started, and the denouement was disappointing (just as Delillo or DFW would have it): there was no limp, barely breathing child cradled in an EMT’s arms running across a field, just a bunch of burly men in wraparounds and goatees attacking an inanimate, deflating blob. The end, metaphor over.