A rumor, a rumor, a big juicy rumor circulated in Baltimore this week.
Matt Damon - yes, Matt Damon, that cutie-pie math whiz, that king of the poker table, that master assassin, that grinning Harvard sap - was heading to Charm City. He'd be here just for a moment and then he'd be gone with a snap.
That rumor was short on details (they often are) but according to our Sources, and these are Sources who know, he's filming in D.C. but hoped to see our monument aglow.
Of course, that's what he'd do! Who wouldn't, after all? We grabbed a notebook and out into the night we went.
"Why would Matt Damon come to the lighting in Baltimore?" asked Gretchen Scheidler with a scowl as she scurried up Centre Street with a pal. The bookish young women found this concept hard to imagine - if not patently absurd.
What do they know, poor things. We saw Matt Damon last year at the opening of Stuck on You. He said he liked Baltimore. He had a great time here out with his crew.
So we pressed on. Inside the square, the scene is as cozy as can be. With quaint little vendors selling soups and warm tea.
We wander around from one stall to the next. Did anyone see him at the Du Claw Brewing Co.? At the Downtown Partnership? With the first-aid trucks? Was he in line for free coffee from Starbucks? The answer is not what we hoped for.
Here is a 10-foot Santa balanced on stilts in a red fuzzy suit (he bends down twice as far just to pass out his loot.) Has he seen Matt Damon? From his perch up aloft? "Ho, ho, ho" is all he could say as he shook he head no.
Oh, how silly of us! Why would a movie star loiter with the masses? He's in the Engineers Club with those fancy lasses who gulp down red wine from glittering glasses. Their holiday windows look warm and inviting. Indeed this must be a good place for a sighting!
And chatting inside, in a sparkling red sweater, Nancy Mahoney listens to our question. (Her friend scrunches his face like this all is just baloney.) Yet, Nancy smiles brightly. I've heard this rumor too, she says. I heard it just standing outside.
Outside we go! Hot on the trail! But there are people, so many people, milling about. It's hard to get left, it's hard to get right. We ask Remington Stone and his friend Alastair Smith. They haven't seen Damon, and don't care a whiff.
We find ourselves pressed up against a red building close to the monument. Politicians are talking; we can't hear what they say. "Where is Todd Heap?" yells a man in the audience. (He didn't know Damon was in the fray!)
We're stuck behind a generator and can't see a thing. And then we count all together, lights explode from the monument and the soot tumbles into the night. People hold up their cell phones, they clap with delight.
With sulfur in the air, and smoke in our lungs, we know that the chance to see Damon is nearly done. The rumor, it seems, is ephemeral as air. The crowds are dispersing, and as far as we can tell, Matt Damon was never there.
But, heaven knows, he should have been - with the lights and the action. The seven thousand others left with great satisfaction.