Friday, August 05, 2005

The Alcoholic play

copyright 2005-2015

The Alcoholic 



CAST OF CHARACTERS

DAVID- Male

STEVE- Male

BARTENDER- Female















A Single Act Play











1

David Leto is a tall, angular man with a shock of graying hair that cannot be tamed. Drunk as he is, the elbow-patched brown blazer that he always wears this night has become an encumbrance, and so he decides to hang it atop the boar’s head mounted at the far end of Casey’s Bar, in outlying Miami. That he is able to drag a table, climb onto it and successfully drape the jacket upon the animal, then make it back down in one piece prompts a round of one-part laughter and three-parts applause from the other patrons. Loping back to his stool, he hollers for more scotch. As he waits, David rattles his keys in the palm of his sweaty left hand, an old nervous habit compounded by the alcohol. Within moments, a short, curly-haired man-in-glasses approaches.

STEVE
(claps DAVID on shoulder)
Everything okay?
(DAVID just looks at him blankly)
I was sitting there, staring up at that boar, wishing that some screw would work itself loose, and the whole thing would fall, and break into a million pieces.
(begins to pull a selection of items from his pocket..)
Do you think it died in a volleyball accident?
(a lollipop, a pen, a USB drive, a paper clip; a large napkin, which he picks up absentmindedly and inspects)


2
DAVID
I’m not sure it would shatter if it fell.

STEVE
Anyway, the jacket helped. Steve Adler. I’m a sportswriter. Just moved here from PA.

DAVID
I’m the guy in this bar who doesn’t give a damn about sports.

STEVE
Writers are the ones who traffic in stereotypes. For people in other professions, it’s probably a bad habit to get into.

DAVID
(mutters)
Isn’t it a bad habit for a writer?



3
STEVE
I don’t think anybody in Miami gives a damn about sports-- unless you’re talking women’s volleyball.

DAVID
Ah.
(BARTENDER silently delivers another drink to DAVID,
which the alcoholic dives for. He hesitates a moment,
then raises his glass in the writer’s direction)

To courage.
(within seconds, DAVID downs the drink, orders another, and starts in on a nearby bowl of peanuts)

STEVE
(makes a strangled sound of disgust at the idea of communal food; then, he motions with two of his fingers up and down the length of DAVID’s person)
What’s the deal?
(now doodling on the back of a napkin that says Hook a deal at Barnacle Bill’s!)
4
DAVID
(pounds his hand on the bar)
Let me tell you a story. It’s far more interesting your dog, or the boar’s head wearing my coat, or even women’s volleyball. See, I have these crazy dreams. One of them takes place in a future of indeterminate… of the indeterminate. There is this guy, his name is Mark, and he looks something like me. Mark came from a small town near the Keys and on his arrival in the St. Augustine bus terminal—he was here for a job interview—he met a beautiful brown-haired girl who worked in the ticket office. During her breaks, she liked to roam the platforms at the train station, cigarette, coffee in hand, guiding misdirected travelers toward their appropriate destinations. Mark’s initial encounter with her concerned a query as to the best dinner spot in town and she smiled, agreeing to accompany him. By the time they arrived at the little bistro above a bowling alley, Mark already knew he wanted to see her again. And even though Claire seemed perfect in every way, her habit of nervousness bothered him. He questioned her about it in the intervening weeks. Her apartment was unspeakably clean- practically unlived in- and she ate and spent all the time she could at work, roaming, studying the travelers. The poor sucker would realize years later that she had been looking for a particular person- not just people watching. Why had he not seen that? Eventually, following the requisite number of dates, Mark proposed and Claire eagerly accepted. This fellow stupidly thought he could gloss over the things she had not told him by putting a diamond on her finger. And in the days that led up to their wedding, the couple attended party after party. She grew more distant. On the eve of her birthday, a few weeks before they were to be wed, she told him she was very sick. She needed a new heart.
(starts to sob)


5
STEVE
(shorthand on the napkin, getting smaller and smaller with each line…)

BARTENDER
(drops fist of napkins in front of the writer)
Knock yourself out.

DAVID
They both held each other that night, all night long, until Mark got into his head this insane idea. It’s the distant future, you will remember. Mark took her to a doctor he had been reading about in The New Yorker. This man invented an artificial heart. I mean to say he created it. Mark wanted desperately to save her. All he could talk about to anyone who would listen was how her smile was better than… daylight.In the doctor’s office, Mark pelted the lab-coated academic with questions about his invention, electric impulses, the human heart itself. Mark also wanted to know what had caused her condition in the first place. And in my dream-
(leans forward on his barstool, pokes the writer in the chest)

STEVE
(interjects)
You might want to lower your voice.
(makes a mental note of the handful of other bar patrons now throwing the two men dirty looks)
6
DAVID
Let them overhear…In my dream the doctor said he knew of a way Mark could keep her alive. They would each utilize the same heart- his. Only one condition applied to the procedure. As all Mark could think of was his inability to cope without her, he agreed, although it would weaken him tremendously. Possibly kill him.

STEVE
So what happened?

BARTENDER
(passing by, rolls eyes with entire body)
Get this guy out of here.

STEVE
(shrugs, tosses his dog a look)

DAVID
(frantically tapping something against the railing)
After all his effort, after the frantic calls, the nights of research reading medical
(cont’d)
7
DAVID (cont’d)
dictionaries, after their love… She looked at him and just said, ‘Stop.’ The light had gone out of her face. She was already dead.

BARTENDER
(nudges writer)
Don’t you think it’s time to go now?

DAVID
(to BARTENDER)
What have I done here, tonight, but given the place a little ambience?

BARTENDER
(mutters)
Circus, more like.

STEVE
Let’s take a walk.

8
DAVID
(jumps backward off his stool, both he and stool teeter)
No. I want to know!

BARTENDER
Rich guys…over privileged guys…writers- life “happens” to you.

DAVID
If I’m a spectator then what the hell are you?

BARTENDER
Not with my own life! You come in here and you whine about how your father set this path down in front of you--how following it, how trying to make him happy- has basically destroyed your own prospects for happiness. Stand up for yourself. Take ownership of your own life and admit that maybe YOU made the mistake all those years ago when you didn’t have the balls to tell your father to fuck off. Maybe that’s what dad wanted. Maybe he was saying to himself if junior shows me he’s his own man now, then if he wants it, I’ll bless his wish to go join the Peace Corps and teach English in the Sudan for the next ten years. Whatever. I get it. You’ve seen the light now. Whatever. Just be grateful, instead of sitting here shitting over the fact that you wasted all this time. Some people waste their whole lives… and they never get the joke. You do.

9
(STEVE is inching slowly away from other two. At one point during the above exchange, in the midst of his backward inching, STEVE realizes that the pile of written-on napkins is still on the bar, and so he sidles quickly back--comically, as though a totally different character, as though, through his different walk, the other two will fail to recognize him)

DAVID
(smirks)
So ‘bartending’ is the end result of your having exerted careful and
thoughtful control over your life?

BARTENDER
(mocking)
I had a dream that the college offered a bartending certificate, and it pays the bills, and I deal with mostly interesting people on a nightly basis, and my boyfriend is perfectly content not to go looking for anyone else, but me.

DAVID
(just smiles sadly at this)


10
BARTENDER
(feeling bad, she quickly makes new drinks for the boys.)
I was at this lecture the other day. The professor asked us to imagine this painting… and it’s the most beautiful painting the world has ever seen. People lose themselves in it. They’re like…enraptured by it or something. Lives are lost. No more books are written. No more sermons preached. No more songs are sung. It’s just that. The end of man immortalized on a flat canvas. Would you do it-- destroy and remove this thing of supreme beauty from the world?
STEVE
(squinting, shaking head)
Are there things of lesser beauty in the world? Or things of equal beauty, though not as entrancing, for whatever reason?

DAVID
So no one can explain the hold that this thing has got over everyone--but maybe that’s because they haven’t had adequate time to reflect on it-- away from it. The world is constantly turned toward it.

STEVE
Sounds like voodoo, or something. Not beauty.


11
BARTENDER
Maybe voodoo is a good word. Still--would you do it? Remember, people are like desperate for a chance just to be near this thing.

DAVID
If-
(smirks)
When I destroy this thing, are you talking that people will still remember it? Or was it like it never existed? I mean, in our made-up world?

STEVE
But it’s a philosophical question. People having no memory makes no sense. Of course they remember.

BARTENDER
Right, I’m with you. So you take the time to destroy this painting that has cost lives-- now everyone who’s left knows you’ve taken away this superb thing. Whatever reasoning they have left, I should say. They hate you. They probably want you dead.


12
DAVID
(quietly)
Even though I finally get the joke.

BARTENDER
You’re the only one in on it.

(Next three lines, next three speakers, all at once)

STEVE
The people we start out trying to save-

DAVID
Aren’t there anymore.

BARTENDER
And still, you expect your reward.


13
STEVE
So this post-beauty world, where we’ve had massive bloodshed-- to clean up the after-effects? No thanks.

BARTENDER
(thoughtful, then, with resolve)
Lazy. Imagine if the allies had said that in WWII.

STEVE
Okay, well I may not have the energy or the optimism that I once did, but I hardly think you make a fair comparison.

DAVID
What’s fair? The painting isn’t real. Countless lives are at stake… Would you feel better if we were talking about only ONE life? Or just a handful?

STEVE
But back to before. You never said if there was other beauty in the world. Also, what’s deemed an appropriate amount of suffering? What’s the mourning time for post-art destruction? For that matter, how are you gauging “lives ruined”?

14
DAVID
(laughs-signals for more drinks)
You need to catch up.

BARTENDER
Yeah. You’re the guy who thinks about all the variables IN ADDITION TO look both ways before crossing. But I’d really like to know. See, there was a time when I would have said that the whole purpose of life is to seek beauty, and when it’s found, to worship it.

DAVID
Are you talking about the painting itself, or how people feel when they look at it?

STEVE
I don’t think you’re THAT drunk… Didn’t somebody write a book about this, once?

BARTENDER
I think every book is about this.

15
DAVID
At what point is it okay, on a personal level, to let this thing--whatever you choose to worship--overtake your other aspirations?

BARTENDER
Wait a sec. I thought I was watching two men have a philosophical discussion. Now you’re talking about setting priorities?

DAVID
I’m asking when it’s okay to overthrow them…rearrange them… whatever. You organize your life around this worldview that someone helps you set up when you’re a kid- or practically a kid. You make these decisions. Then, like we said, you wake up one day, and you’re totally different. The result of making those decisions, according to that belief, has left you… unrecognizable. Isn’t the only RIGHT thing to try and find a new way to order your world?

STEVE
Figure out how you went wrong.

DAVID
See I thought that, too. And there is a moment, for me, when I think everything went off track. But it’s because of that belief system. I FOLLOWED that belief system.
16
STEVE
Then you went wrong before that.

BARTENDER
Cause and effect. Chicken and egg. You guys aren’t letting me down.
(leans on bar to continue listening)

STEVE
Belief systems are tried and true. Tested throughout the centuries. That’s why certain ideas persist and others fall away. Proven systems can guide us when WE as fallible and/or untested human beings, need direction. Life doesn’t guarantee you anything but death. If you don’t measure your actions, and others, against some standard, where does the meaning arise from?

BARTENDER
Sanctimonious bastards in bars, apparently.

DAVID
(to STEVE)
You’re devout, then?

17
STEVE
I’m not. But I see the value in it. For me, on a day to day basis, I think religion has gifted us a non-theistic code in terms of ethics and morals. That RELIGION guided MAN in terms of civilizing-- and now, in many ways, we’ve moved past some of the more infantile aspects.

BARTENDER
God with the flowing white hair.

DAVID
Staff, sandals, white robe.

STEVE
Exactly. But the TEN COMMANDMENTS and the ideas that they birthed are the keys to any working society. Do unto others. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… And so on.

DAVID
Others have done the thinking, so we don’t have to?
(cont’d)

18
DAVID (cont’d)
(pokes STEVE in the chest)
I would argue that there’s always a point when you would overthrow your set beliefs--when it conflicts too much with perhaps a strong desire. I think that takes away from your moralistic stance-- what it really becomes is-

BARTENDER
This is acceptable, until something better comes along.

DAVID
Exactly. It’s convenience. Not…devout-ness.

BARTENDER
Where does that leave all your other decisions? It kind of invalidates them, doesn’t it?

STEVE
“Mark”-- the guy in your first story: are you talking about him? He was so blinded by Claire? Or was that you? Or me?


19
DAVID
What does it matter?

BARTENDER
I would like to know, too.

DAVID
(smiles)
I’ve got your attention, haven’t I?

BARTENDER
For the moment.

DAVID
How about another? Hair of the dog? On the house?

BARTENDER
Why not? Your wallet’s hanging from that boar’s head, isn’t it? I’ll tell you what. Say something else that impresses me, first, and you’ll get your drink.

20
STEVE
You’re the entertainment. We both are, I guess.
(puts the lollipop in his mouth)

DAVID
I guess I WAS just wondering when it’s okay to back down. How can you tell if the cost is worth the reward?

BARTENDER
Why is the sky blue?

STEVE
That’s not really a philosophical question. That’s science. Is BLUE BLUE? Is my blue, the same as your blue….?

DAVID
The only thing I could come up with-
(breathes deeply)
is when you can’t stand the alternative. When the other set of circumstances just
(cont’d)
21
DAVID (cont’d)
won’t allow you to breathe. You two must think that because I am in a story-telling mood that I know how these stories end. I don’t. I’m looking for pointers. I’m stuck in the denouement.

BARTENDER
The what?
(same time as-)

STEVE
Pulls out the one dollar words.
( to BARTENDER)
The climax has already happened. The end is rapidly approaching. The only question that remains in the readers’ eyes is ‘what will the hero do?’

BARTENDER
So you’re soliciting advice.



22
STEVE
He’s asking our opinions. And I would say that even drunk, he strikes me as pretty insightful.

BARTENDER
And I’m supposed to be the advice giver.

STEVE
Stereotype.

DAVID
(smirks)
So help me with the ending. Do you destroy the painting? How long should Mark
wait before he starts dating again?

STEVE
I think you know that I’ll never say it’s okay to throw away your moral code-- especially for something you refer to as a ‘strong desire.’


23
BARTENDER
(to STEVE)
Maybe you haven’t experienced the right things, yet.

DAVID
Am I that transparent?

STEVE
So he’s just undergone some profound life event.

BARTENDER
Either that, or he’s upset at how easily he crumbled.

STEVE
Doesn’t look upset.

BARTENDER
Looks almost… happy.


24
STEVE
Almost…relieved.

DAVID
How is it everyone’s so sure they picked the right painting to worship, anyway?

BARTENDER
Lots of people are making mistakes that they don’t advertise. Lots of people are caving in.

DAVID
How are all these churches being built, books being written?

STEVE
Penance… Don’t forget about wars being fought, people being murdered, parents getting divorced. They’re shedding one skin to don another.

DAVID
You’re the writer. The absolutist. Stories must have endings. Questions require answers.
25
BARTENDER
If there wasn’t a moral code people at least aspired to, then chaos would reign. Anarchy.

STEVE
(points)
That’s true!

DAVID
Well if 99% of respondents agree to back away from the magic painting, but only one guy doesn’t, will you agree to let guy one take the painting and go off into his isolated corner somewhere?

BARTENDER
You’re calling that one guy, the guy who refuses to break free, you’re calling HIM the strong one?

STEVE
Did 99% of people just back down on the argument that their productivity was being threatened?

26
BARTENDER
Rand, nice.

DAVID
I’m just saying that if 99 follow blindly, what good are they?

BARTENDER
(shakes her head)
No, you’re not. Before, you said that that thing just wasn’t important enough to fight for.

DAVID
I just don’t think it’s right to criticize someone for casting aside their “beliefs”-- which I’m finding, anymore, is code for “pacify others” when someone is so tested that what’s at stake is a matter of profound importance. Their own happiness, or that of someone they love.

STEVE
This is totally Randian. You’re calling me an egoist. Try to extricate emotion from your argument and deal just with reason.

27
DAVID
Who says reason is anything more than just another fallible system?

BARTENDER
Joseph Campbell.

STEVE
Joseph Campbell said that?
(same time as-)

DAVID
The myth guy?

BARTENDER
I think one of his books was the first place I remember hearing the idea that those belief systems were a key facet of our evolution. That MAN was MAN--but MAN became CIVILIZED when belief systems cohered more.

STEVE
I will say that I agree with the argument, in theory… free will. If ‘Adam’ the art
(cont’d)
28
STEVE (cont’d)
admirer wants to spend his life absorbed in a painting, then so be it. But I would go to my grave thinking he was brought up with a screwed set of priorities. I would go to my grave thinking that he didn’t really know what he could have been-- mind, body, soul, legacy, whatever.

DAVID
He had a profound appreciation of art.

BARTENDER
(scoffs)

STEVE
(looks at her, nods)
I know, right? I’m so tired of this modern mindset that, like, Montessori or whatever. We can’t give our kids boundaries because it will somehow stunt their growth as individuals. Now it isn’t PC anymore to even question someone’s choices. Live and let live. I thought the 60s were gone, but the embodiment lives on.

BARTENDER
The guy with the painting is just lazy.
(walks away from them)
29
STEVE
To stop striving is lazy, she says.

DAVID
I think she said a lot of different things. In that conversation, she was exploring, just like you and me.

STEVE
Hmm

DAVID
(changes position on stool)
What have you been writing all this time?

STEVE
Notes. A good writer always takes notes.

DAVID
Are these notes objective or subjective?


30
STEVE
Did I mention I was freelance? What do you think?

DAVID
Then I’m interested!

STEVE
(starts out reading, but after awhile, is summarizing from memory)
-A tall, angular man, with a shock of graying hair that would not be tamed.

DAVID
Like Leno.

STEVE
George McFly.
(continues)
He likes to distract people from the fact that he is sitting right in front of them. He needs company, but he is resentful of that fact. His claim of being ready to embrace life reminds this writer of his own apartment, still full, after 8 months, of unpacked boxes.

31
DAVID
I always remember seeing this photograph—but I forget where—“this is everything in the world that Ghandi owns.” Two pairs of sandals, eyeglasses, a book.

STEVE
(writing—speaks)
He aspires to seeming tritisms. How will his story end?

DAVID
Trite? I thought you were a fan of absolutism. In terms of morality, conviction, whatnot.

STEVE
What religion was Ghandi? What ideas did he teach? When did he live? Where? If all we’re talking about is a photo of a few possessions laid out on a step, then that is trite.

DAVID
It’s simple. Why cloud relevant facts with extraneous details?

32
STEVE
(writes-speaks, carefully)
Id-ee-ut.

BARTENDER
(re-enters)
Geez. This is the longest pickup scene in history.

STEVE
(puts down notes. softly--pronounces carefully)
I am out of money.
(stands next to stool, leans across bar rail)
You wouldn’t happen to sell any free cigarettes in this establishment, would you? And matches?

BARTENDER
I’ll see what I can rustle up.
(walks off)

33
DAVID
Don’t look at me. I quit smoking when it cut into my drinking time.

BARTENDER
(returns)
A gift from the noble spirit of Casey the Boar.

DAVID
(softly)
Casey…a chainsmoker?

BARTENDER
(starts to hand it to STEVE but pulls back just as he reaches for it)
In accepting this, you agree to abide by the law of cigarette karma. The next time someone asks you for one, you cannot refuse.

STEVE
(laughs)
You got it… I was just sharing some of my notes.
(continue—freestyle, ad-lib)
The writer left the cold Northeast in search of sunny adventures in F-L-A. So far, all he’s discovered about Miami in these many months is a strong desire NOT to unpack—and that Florida bars serve weak-ass alcohol.


34
BARTENDER
(bored--interrupts)
So what was Philly like, what brought you here? Lemme guess… she got the friends in the divorce?

STEVE
Act One: Little Stevie shows promise in grade school. Wears his yarmulke sharply and impresses everyone: girls to teachers to parents to rabbis. Shortly, plans are being made for his creative writing MFA and eventual college professorship.

BARTENDER
Religion. Domineering family. Stacked deck.

STEVE
Act Two: high-school and college proceed accordingly. He shocks and awes the concerned parties, by turns drinking too much and sleeping with too many bodies he cannot attach names to. Through it all, he manages a 4.0 with honors.


35
DAVID
And then…

STEVE
And then, I’m living in Philadelphia, great job as a sports-writer for a syndicate—sidelines ghost-writing and teaching at a community college. And the perfect fiancĂ©e. Until one day she breaks it off.
(glances sidelong at DAVID)
No medical problems. No infidelity. She just says it’s over, we’ve grown apart…
(makes yadda-yadda-yadda gesture with hands)
And it throws me for a loop…

BARTENDER
Sure.

DAVID
I bet.

36
STEVE
Because I don’t really care, all that much. I mean, I’m sorry to see her go, and everything, but my sorrow pretty much revolves around the fact that now I have to pay all the bills myself.

BARTENDER
Hypocrite

STEVE
How am I a hypocrite? I think I said that I make a commitment and stick to it.

BARTENDER
(eyeroll)
A man makes a commitment. And he treats her like shit. But he stands by her. That’s the important thing.

STEVE
I like to drink. I take pleasure in other people’s pain, at times, if I think it will make a good story. I enjoy sex. It doesn’t matter with whom, so long as its good. When I was 20, first starting out in the business, I had an affair with my editor’s
(cont’d)
37
STEVE (cont’d)
wife. So much for your moral absolutism. The day she came to me and said she was leaving her husband was the day I quit my job and moved on. I can’t cook. I can sing. The only thing people even remember about me is that I once helped Andy Roddick spell disseminate during a press conference. That’s my claim to fame.

DAVID
That was you? It was you! That was funny…

STEVE
It was actually kind of sad. I spent my childhood worshipping athletes. Believing they were somehow better than the rest of us. I used to watch interview shows and write down lines of dialogue because I thought it was good training. When I got into the field professionally, I saw the personas for what they were. A cap in a chair. A baseball bat slung across the shoulder. Colored wristbands that stood in for personality.

BARTENDER
Life lets everyone down. What now?



38
STEVE
I started inflating articles. Not only did I think I was improving the piece in terms of style, but I thought I made my subjects look better.

BARTENDER
(starts to laugh. DAVID puts his hand on her arm)
What-
STEVE
(pauses)
I told myself I was doing the readers a service, you know? I never made anything up out of whole cloth, but if something stupid came out of their mouth, I praised their sincerity. I never included the quote. Something mean—I talked about how they were maturing as athletes—as people. I thought that was my job—but it turns out that’s what a PR guy does. And he gets paid a lot more than I do. I thought I was supposed to make these people look like gods. That’s how I remembered all the athletes from when I was a kid. Even in a few years, though, things have changed. Kids have more access to celebrities now. Social media. Venue ticket prices are more affordable.

DAVID
Too many chances to be let down.


39
BARTENDER
Thrown down.

DAVID
And you’re setting those kids up.

STEVE
(nods)
And that is the truest explanation of how I arrived at what you think of as my ignorant absolutism. The truth is an impeachable standard that, for better or worse, it makes no sense to run away from. You can’t forget something like that. That’s my third act. Enlightenment.

BARTENDER
You catch that? How he buried the lead? It’s always about a romance gone wrong.
STEVE
(shakes head)
No. His…eyes. He just…reminds me of her. I remember that night so clearly. She came to me.
(cont’d)

40
STEVE (cont’d)
(ever so slightly, moves head from side-to-side, as if surveying the past scene)
Sitting on the floor in front of me. I remember her chin, her arms resting on my thighs.
(lightly brushes trousers above the knee)
She told me she was leaving him. And… in that second, she’s looking up at me, I felt how much she’d thought I had wanted to hear those words.
(swallows)
And I…I…I could see our first touch in her eyes.
(half-smirk, sad)
It kind of amazes me…

BARTENDAR
(whisper, loud)
What?
STEVE
(looks far away, or down)
The difference between using a body and possessing a soul, even…accidentally.
41
BARTENDAR
So you’re a writer—and you’ve never told a love story. You don’t know how.

STEVE
(at this point, he looks as close to genuine emotion as at any point during the play. Near tears.)
I’m afraid something is wrong with me…
(whispers)
If I daydream, I’m never me. I’m not better looking, I’m never more fit. I’m someone else, entirely. I don’t know what that means…

BARTENDER
I don’t think it does any of us good to ascribe profound meaning to our fantasy lives.

STEVE
What if I don’t have a kind heart? If I couldn’t feel anything in that moment, looking at her, then what does that make me?


42
DAVID
Maybe honest.

STEVE
Maybe.

BARTENDER
You sound depressed.. My father was a psychiatrist and I tend bar. Mom was a housewife. All of us, problem-solvers. But I always say to myself it’s lucky because I am the least constrained. Everyone had methods. Dad studied behavior modification for thirty years. Mom turned on Strauss and danced around the kitchen at night. If any of us kids were sad, she started talking in a sing-songy voice. Seriously, you know what? My father died of cancer two years ago and you know what he told me one day, toward the end of his illness? He was bedridden, reminiscing, even doing a rendition of ’don’t fence me in’ that Mom recorded on tape. At one point, he motions to me-
(mimics gesture with her hands)
‘Ange, screw therapists and thousand dollar bills. You’re feeling bad about something, you go to the park and people watch. For some reason, it’s only the very old and the very young that “GET” parks. And then, you go to the supermarket. Look for the old guys wearing wrinkled shirts, with facial stubble, and stooped postures. Maybe they have the wedding ring on because they couldn’t bear to take it off yet. Maybe they aren’t wearing it anymore. Whatever else you do, just smile at them and say ’hello.’ Warmly. Trust me.

43
STEVE
(Mulls this. To BARTENDER-)
He reminds me so much of her. Expectant, hopeful.

BARTENDER
‘Headed for heartbreak?’

STEVE
(Pause)
I wish it was possible to hit rewind on a relationship. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost… I don’t think there’s any way in which I believe that to be true. If it’s the simple act of loving another living thing- adopt a cat, or a grandparent! What does a romantic relationship get you but a few fleeting moments of pleasure, anywhere from a few weeks to a few years of mundaneities and somewhat pleasant memories, then a lifetime after spent recollecting the laundry lists of how they did you wrong, what a saint you were, how you gave so much more than you got.

DAVID
What about when it works? It may not happen as often as people say, but I’m quite sure it has happened!
44
STEVE
Evolution. Those people are settling into the roles evolution prescribed them. They just rationalize a twenty-first century romantic spin on it.

BARTENDER
So that makes the loners the revolutionaries? Those who refuse to be pigeon- holed? Those swathed in self-awareness? How come the loners were always jilted in the past, and refused to recover, but your so-called “army” of coupled homo erecti are, for all intents and purposes, well-adjusted, shiny/happy people. Furthermore, I don’t suppose you could be convinced of the argument that every relationship, no matter how long it lasts, either teaches you something or helps you grow.

STEVE
Teachers teach.

BARTENDER
(looking at both men)
Said the know-it-all… So your math teacher teaches you geometric proofs. Your girlfriend might “teach” you how to be more compassionate—less rigid, less judgmental. Her “hook” was not GPA-related, but you found cause to make and hold her acquaintance nonetheless. With your rhetoric, I’m sure you’re about to
(cont’d)
45
BARTENDER (cont’d)
say that the greeting card industry is the enemy of sociologists everywhere—because it has camouflaged what is natural and dressed it up as something else. Then all the cynics in the world get to stand back and laugh as misunderstandings and hijinx ensue. But you’re just as guilty of flawed and formulaic thinking as those whom you rail against. What had you said, before? “Relationships” are nothing but the lust of a few weeks, afterward, evolution takes hold. The people who stay together are drones. You’ve had relationships that ended badly. We all have. More importantly, we’ve all had relationships that ENDED. Just because something ceases to exist, that doesn’t mean it never should have started. From age one, we’re taught to think in terms of fairy tale, once upon a time, the end. Neat little hooks, and clean plots, and obvious endings where the hero gets the girl and the good guy always wins. That’s not life. It’s wishful thinking. And when we step away from the rhetoric in order to see that, yes, life looks more messy, we’re not as prone to being shocked and surprised—or worse—when it lets us down. A relationship ends. That doesn’t make IT or YOU a failure. It just makes it a situation that has outlived its time. Something we learn from and move on from. There’s no real need to hit rewind, as you said. Just hit pause, for a minute or two, and then go on from there.

DAVID
(shakes head subtly, defiantly)
That dream I was telling you about… that dream I keep having… The girl, Claire…whatever… sometimes, she’s just sitting on the green shag rug, on the floor, legs crossed, in our bathroom. Sometimes in the kitchen. Sometimes in the
(cont’d)
46
DAVID (cont’d)
bedroom. I ask her what she’s doing, and she looks up at me and says “Saying goodbye.” And it’s a dream, you know, so I don’t ask her where she’s going or why she needs to say goodbye to our house. I just sit down next to her and she starts listing all the things that’ve happened in that room. Things I’ve forgotten, things I wanted to forget, things I know never happened. She says the rooms keep whispering to her at night and that’s why she can never sleep.
(long pause, voice lowers to a loud whisper)
Did I remember being hung over, stuck to the bathroom tile, the night we met? How she held a damp cloth to my forehead? How, later, the cat used to zip around the bathroom—he loved hiding in the shower stall.

STEVE
(uncomfortable with DAVID’S increased emotionality)
In my house, the walls didn’t talk, but the doors sure slammed!
(smiles widely-- looks from DAVID to BARTENDER)

BARTENDER
(to DAVID)
What do you—what does Mark do in the dream?


47
DAVID
(tapping a gold wedding band on the bar rail)
Shares in the memories as best he can. He doesn’t really remember. Then, she starts to talk not just about the first night, about the sight of me hanging over the toilet.
(laughs)
Why in god’s name I got a second date out of her, I’ll never know. But it’s more.
(he makes hand motions, as though to speed the scene replaying in his mind)
She’s talking about how I sound. Vomiting. Slurred speech. She said I kept exhaling loudly, even when I finally fell asleep. Later, rain rattling the windowpane. The cat zooming, sliding across the tile, later still. Electric toothbrushes. Persistent sink drip. How, standing at the sink, brushing your teeth, with the bathroom door open, a downstairs television program even at a low volume still sounds like a stranger having a conversation in the house. She related all these sounds. Like a laundry list or something.

BARTENDER
A soundtrack. What happened then?

DAVID
I watched her leave.
48
(uncomfortable extended silence as DAVID continues tapping, Steve looks perplexed, and the BARTENDER wipes down the bar, whilst gazing at the other “patrons” in the audience.)

STEVE
(an inappropriate, awkward transition)
So give me something real here, something I can take hold of. Are you crazy, drunk, dramatic, what?

BARTENDAR
(mutters-to DAVID)
You should write!

DAVID
What are you looking for from me? I thought we were just talking.

STEVE
My job is to discern motivation. What’s yours? You lost your great love. But I’m trying to figure out if you’re married to her and she’s just changed, or if she’s out there somewhere, and you’re looking for the blessing of two strangers in a bar, as you set out to leave your wife.
49
DAVID
(smiles sadly)
I was 26 when I met Rita in a bar a lot like this. We both loved music. She sang and I played what I thought was a pretty good guitar. We joked about starting a band. I was… flailing.
(eyes red)
My father had only days before chosen to tell me that I would soon become the president of one of his companies. He bought and sold these business with nothing names like International FastTrade and Global Financial Pursuits. But he told me he wanted to start holding onto some investments, so he was giving me a profitable import-export business.
(laughs)
My life was about to become all about toothpicks… On paper, Rita looked like my total opposite. She was housing projects, had friends that dealt drugs. People made their own choices, she would say. It’s important to take responsibility. Right or wrong, she would say. She moved into my house, the very first night. It started as some sort of gag. She was staying for a few days, looking for a place in a better neighborhood. And… she just never left. For the most part, I protected her from my family. My friends slowly started to accept her. At night, sometimes, we would go to these karaoke places and sing together. We always went somewhere no one knew us, and we never went back to the same place twice.
(staring past both his companions, into nothing)
Our band idea stayed a dream, and I sold toothpicks during the day while I thought she was taking classes at a community college.
50
STEVE
What happened?

DAVID
When she told me she was pregnant, I was actually relieved. I finally thought she would marry me. I planned this elaborate proposal at a big party on her birthday, which was February. Now, I’m talking ten years ago.
(long pause, looks at watch)
In twelve hours and twenty-three minutes, Jennifer and I are supposed to renew our vows on a beach in Santa Monica. Three-hundred and fifty of our closest friends are probably dreading tomorrow, as we speak.

BARTENDER
What about the baby?

DAVID
Rita miscarried in the second trimester. We were asleep in our bed. You wake up in this pool of blood and you don’t know what happened. She swears to me she felt nothing during the night, but now she’s just screaming and crying call 911, call 911, call 911.

51
STEVE
(stands, arms hanging at sides, staring at DAVID)

DAVID
(swallows)
After we got home from the hospital, she told me she needed to be alone. I don’t know if I was stupid, or blind, or what, but I left her alone, somehow thinking things would be all right. I’m still sort of looking at her and just seeing all this blood, too, so I’m okay with giving her space. That’s it. A half day passes and I see her the next morning at the breakfast table. She’s waiting for me. She tells me how she’d started using again, about a month before. Five months pregnant. I hear this, and I’m hearing, like, that she wanted to abort the baby. Something. I just started yelling. I can’t even tell you now what happened. She… she had a reason. Something happened. Her mother called her out of the blue about something and Rita just couldn’t take it, she said. I don’t remember. I don’t know. But we were together all the time and what I know now is that she felt her stronger option was to kill herself or the baby, maybe herself and the baby, rather than talk to me. But that day in the kitchen… I can’t… I just remember feeling like my heart was beating so furiously that I thought it would smash through my chest. She sat there the whole time, listening.

BARTENDER
What happened?

52
DAVID
When I was too tired to yell anymore, she got her things and left.

STEVE
Good.
(nods)
I can’t believe you’re regretting this.

DAVID
I guess I didn’t for a long time. Or maybe I pretended not to. She’s become something else over the years--I’ve chosen to think of her as she was at her worst possible moment. It made it easier to sell myself out.
(rubs eyes for a long time)
And now--now it’s my fault, the way our lives have all gone.

STEVE
(mocking)
I have crazy dreams, too. One of them is about this old-timer who drives the really old-timers around town on the senior citizen bus. The wild adventures he
(cont’d)
53
has taking people to their chiropodist or hair-dresser, or dropping them at the three-million dollar homes of their children who can’t be bothered to pick them up. Another is about this half-delusional guy who leaves his group home everyday to go and teach at a university on the other end of the county. When he gets on that bus, he becomes another person.

DAVID
Buses are like a recurring theme.

STEVE
(agitation--growing)
I may write about inconceivable situations. I may have weird ideas, but the bus driver and the university professor and all my other leads are making the most of their situations. Following a human propensity to maximize self-benefit. A return to self equals a return to everyone else.

DAVID
As one man improves, so does the lot of us all?

STEVE
(raises voice)
An example meant to encourage. To give hope. As all great art does.
54
BARTENDER
You just said it was inconceivable.

STEVE
(gesticulates fast)
Can you blame me, with the world the way it is?!

DAVID
Is anyone happy, in these stories? Are you at least happy? Look at me. I was weak for ten years I did what other people wanted. Why did I care what they thought? They were all unhappy too.
(stands)

STEVE
(hits DAVID heavily on the shoulder)
You’re here for her. Are you serious? Another question. Are you serious?

DAVID
I don’t know what’s happened to her. I sure as hell don’t know what happened to
(cont’d)
55
DAVID (cont’d)
me. I am going to her, though
(Pause)
What should I say? I’ll tell her about the nightmares I keep having... Beg her to forgive me.
(DAVID is gathering momentum to leave. STEVE takes him by the shoulders)

STEVE
You cannot be serious.

DAVID
It’s almost like… at the end of the day, all that really matters is--
(deep breath)
choosing a comfortable place to stand.

STEVE
(shakes head. Lightly pushes DAVID backwards)
You can’t!

56
DAVID
(unfazed. Shakes it off.)
I… I already have, Steve. You and I… we’ve just been sitting here arguing about the wording on the invitation.

STEVE
(yelling)
This is crazy!
(DAVID brushes past STEVE roughly, fast, in the direction of the door. STEVE bites lip--sits down again.)

BARTENDER
It would be, for you.

STEVE
Anyone.

DAVID
Why don’t you-
(cont’d)
57
DAVID (cont’d)
live?
(joyous, tearful)
Pros and cons. Black and white. Right or wrong morality. It’s ‘once upon a time’ and ‘the end’, that everybody remembers. But all that matters is what happens in the space between.
(walks to where his coat is still hanging from the boar’s head. Within a few seconds, he is able to catch a sleeve and pull it down. Subsequently, he pays his bar bill. Then, without another word or look to either, he EXITS.)

STEVE
(exhales loudly, stares after).

BARTENDER
(starts wiping down the bar rail. Softly, then -)
That’s it, everybody. You know the drill. Like the song says. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

FADE TO BLACK