What’s behind the curtain?

By Bob Buckel | Published Saturday, October 4, 2014

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My generation grew up in a world of curtains.

We had the Iron Curtain that stretched across Eastern Europe, dividing countries and people and ideologies. (Before I realized it was merely symbolic, I used to wonder how big those posts and rods must be to hold up that big ol’ heavy curtain.)

Bob Buckel

Bob Buckel

There was also a mythical Bamboo Curtain, less well-known, concealing China and other communist Asian countries from prying Westerners. That one wasn’t so much menacing as mysterious, like the dancer’s eyes peering at you above the fluttering fan.

There was a big velvet curtain across the stage at the high school, behind which scenes and actors changed and magic lurked.

There was also a curtain that hung, for no reason, across the big screen at the downtown movie theater. Did they think if they put up a curtain, we would forget that the only thing back there was a screen? I think they were just being … theatrical.

We had curtains on our windows, but they didn’t keep the sand out. And we had a shower curtain, which didn’t keep all the water in – especially if you let it hang outside the tub.

My buddy Rusty’s older brother had a curtain of beads across the door of his little room in their garage, where he’d sit in the dark with his sunglasses on, listing to Led Zeppelin, staring at his “Easy Rider” poster.

In Sunday school we learned about the curtains in the Temple, separating holy places from regular places.

On TV game shows, what was behind the curtain was endlessly intriguing, compelling people to pass on certain wealth in hope of unknown wonders.

When the Wizard of Oz warned us, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” what did we do? We immediately focused our full attention on the man behind the curtain.

And honestly, isn’t that what curtains are for? To conceal, but only temporarily, mysteriously, teasing us in advance of a dramatic reveal?

Life is a series of curtain-openings. You think you have it all figured out, then suddenly someone comes in, yells at you to wake up, and jerks back the curtain. And you realize there’s more – to a situation, a place, a person – than you had imagined. You see details, colors, nuances you never noticed before.

In this age of information, concealing anything is getting harder and harder. Ferreting out secrets is easier than ever – or is it?

We should consider the possibility that the ability to conceal has grown right alongside the ability to reveal, and we still know only what someone wants us to know – someone who controls the curtain.

That’s a big part of the allure of the news business. At times, we get to be the ones pulling on the rope, revealing to our readers what’s behind the curtain.

Sometimes it’s a ’64 Ford Falcon or a year’s supply of Stove Top Stuffing. At times it’s ugly or beautiful, profane or holy. Sometimes it’s magic, sometimes it’s just someone’s big brother, yelling at us to get lost.

But let’s pay attention.

Now and then, even today, we learn something life-changing when the curtain is pulled back.

Bob Buckel is editorial director of the Messenger.

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