Family Snapshots
by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
© 1998 by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 707-824-4307 or E-mail.
Actors appear, speaking to us as different people, one after the other.
WOMAN: Family. I don’t know if I really have a family. My parents, they’re in Ohio, and my brothers I see at Christmas, and we love each other, but we don’t really have that much in common. Couple boyfriends, one actually, the other’s kind of in the fridge, maybe warm up for a snack. I’m in a women’s group— that’s kind of a family. My church— I’m actually religious, would you believe it, I’m a card-carrying Methodist, but I don’t know if I’d call that Family. And my Ex. I see him sometimes for stuff, but that is definitely not family. And. . . My daughter. Well that’s crazy. Sure, she’s my family. But I was thinking of family in terms of who takes care of you. I’m her family, but— Maybe she does take care of me. Maybe she’s my family.
MAN: (as child) My family is Mama. And Grandpa and Grandma, they live in Ohio, and my other Grandma Lettie, she’s sick. And my daddy lives in Baltimore and sees me sometimes. And my cousins are Johnny and Suzanne and my babysitter is Trish, and my friends, they’re my family too, Kim and Robert and . . .
WOMAN: Just me and my husband, until Christmas and then they all converge, he’s one of five kids and they all breed like rabbits, and my two sisters, and their kids, and my dad, cousins and boyfriends and girlfriends and babies, it’s something else. And then Christmas is over, and it’s just us.
MAN: I guess you could say Dave is my family. We’re very close. I’m taking care of him now.
WOMAN: Well figure it out. There’s me, and my significant other is Michael, and his other significant other is Carol, and her other significant other is Autumn, and his other significant other is Talon. We’ve all got our own rooms. Just your typical suburban family.
MAN: We should define what’s meant by “family.”
Reading from books:
WOMAN: A family is a couple living together for the purpose of procreation in a union sanctioned by God and Pennsylvania.
MAN: A family is a group connected by common propensities.
WOMAN: A family is at least one person living together. But not necessarily under the same roof.
Freeze. Shift.
So what defines a family? What defines your family? Is it your blood relationship? The legal structure? Feelings? That deep financial intimacy that binds you together? Or maybe . . .
MAN: I saw this dad on the street, at the intersection, with his little girl.
Shift into scene.
DAD: Ok now, before we cross. Here. Look. Ok, can you read that?
CHILD: “Walk.”
DAD: Great. Ok, now wait just a second, till it changes, and you can try that. You ready? Ok?
CHILD: “Don’t Walk.”
DAD: That’s great. Wow. You’re a reader! That’s terrific. And ok, now when it says that, then you don’t walk. It says Walk and you walk, and Don’t Walk, and then you stay here and let the cars go. Ok? That’s great. Ok, let’s cross now. Hold onto my hand.
CHILD: Daddy—
DAD: Huh?
CHILD: It says Don’t Walk.
DAD: Right, fine, that’s true, but I mean right now we’re in a hurry now, it’s ok if you’re with Daddy and you hold onto my hand. . .
I mean it’s not something you ought to do, but we’re ok, there aren’t any cars coming, but you shouldn’t ordinarily cross, I mean, although people do, even when they’re not sposed to, and that’s called jaywalking, but I’m not saying to do that, but right now we need to or else we’re gonna be late, and we want to tell Mommy how well you’re learning to read. . .
Shift. Sudden burst of simultaneous talk, confused responses from Child.
MAN: Ok, cross now. No, stay. Ok, go. No. Stop. Hurry. Wait. Go. Don’t just stand there. Do what I tell you. Obey the law.
CHILD: I read ok. But I don’t understand the words.
Freeze. Shift.
Two middle-aged people, in midst of quarrel.
WOMAN: Well didn’t you hear me?
MAN: I was asleep!
WOMAN: I was yelling my head off. I like to died up there!
MAN: You should of waked me up. I’da got the cat out of the attic.
WOMAN: Well you were asleep!
MAN: That’s what I’m saying!
WOMAN: Well I didn’t know. The cat’s up in the attic and I get the ladder, and heave myself up there, only it’s the short ladder, and I can’t get back down. I was there for three hours, damn it!
MAN: I was asleep!
WOMAN: I yelled and screamed— Didn’t you see the note?
MAN: I didn’t know what it meant.
WOMAN: It said, “I’m in the attic. I can’t get out.” What else would it mean?
MAN: It’s on the cat’s collar.
WOMAN: I figured you’d see the cat, so I put the note on its collar and threw it down outa the attic.
MAN: Well yeh, I saw it. The damn thing climbed onto my face, woke me up—
WOMAN: I just about died up there!
MAN: Well I was asleep!
To us:
How I’m sposed to hear her if I’m asleep. She’s telling me, “You look tired, take a nap.” Then “Whatta you doin’ asleep?” You can’t win.
WOMAN: (to us) So the cat wakes him up, he reads “I’m in the attic,” and he says, “Well now you’re out,” and throws the cat down and goes back to sleep. Nobody will ever believe that one.
Freeze. Shift.
Table, two chairs. Couple stands in romantic tableau. After a moment, they come alive, sit, enraptured.
MAN: Terrific meal.
WOMAN: For a terrific couple.
MAN: Happy anniversary, Honey.
WOMAN: The first of many.
MAN: Many happy returns.
WOMAN: Oh speaking of returns, you want to take a look at the bills?
MAN: This is our anniversary, Honey—
WOMAN: There’s a final notice.
MAN: Yeh, but—
WOMAN: I’ll put them on the desk.
Pause. Hold hands. Smile.
MAN: So many things have happened in one year. So many adjustments—
WOMAN: Adjusting, learning to give and take—
MAN: Take charge of our lives, face up to those problems and solve them.
WOMAN: And now that we’ve solved them, it should really be nice.
MAN: Yeh, because it has been kind of rough, you know—
WOMAN: Well sure, it’s hard to grow. We’ve grown personally.
MAN: We have. Like our quarrels have grown. I mean they’ve matured.
WOMAN: Our anger, we’ve learned how to deal with it. That magazine article—
MAN: “Have Fun with Your Rage.”
WOMAN: And you know, when we have kids, I am never going to be angry with them. It’s just not necessary. If you love them and raise them the right way, they’ll never cause you problems.
MAN: Not many couples could say on their first anniversary that they had solved all their significant problems.
WOMAN: But it’s true.
MAN: I think we’re way ahead of most couples. Maybe five years ahead of most.
WOMAN: Happy anniversary, Honey.
They lean across table, kiss. Turn front, speaking to audience.
WOMAN: Our marriage, well it’s hard to talk about, because it really has been this incredible experience—
MAN: Incredible but believable. I mean we’re more than just married. We’re good friends.
WOMAN: Friends. Of course we’re more than friends. It’s so stimulating, so empowering. I have been empowered to do so much. New furniture. New carpeting. New recipes—
MAN: We have so many tastes in common. Even colors. The brighter end of the chartreuse scale is not often found—
WOMAN: It’s not often found so early in a marriage.
MAN: Really incredible.
They giggle, turn to one another, holding hands.
WOMAN: Honey, before it gets too late and we get involved in something else. . .
They giggle.
Could you take out the garbage?
MAN: Huh?
WOMAN: Could you take out the garbage? It’s kind of piled up.
MAN: Honey . . . You’re gonna laugh.
WOMAN: What?
MAN: The garbage. I just can’t . . . cope with the garbage.
WOMAN: Oh. Well, as long as it’s out before breakfast.
MAN: No, I don’t mean garbage now. I mean garbage always. Garbage forever.
WOMAN: But we agreed. Garbage is your province. Are we making too much garbage? Is that it?
MAN: No, it’s not a recycling question, a question of less garbage or better garbage. It’s just the fact of garbage.
WOMAN: Well it’s a human fact. We all generate refuse. If you put two people together—
MAN: That’s it. That’s it. This is our product. Our love, our sensitivity, our relationship results in this horrible accumulation. I know it’s a petty little thing—
WOMAN: It’s not petty. There are three sacks of it. Honey, this is our anniversary. I would like it to be a garbage-free anniversary.
MAN: And how can we really, truly say Happy Anniversary when there is this external manifestation of our relationship bulging across the kitchen at us?
WOMAN: I don’t understand.
MAN: Take out the garbage. Please. You take out the garbage.
WOMAN: Well. I could take out the garbage—
MAN: Yes.
WOMAN: But I think there’s something more basic here.
MAN: Honey—
WOMAN: Why do you want to give me the garbage when you hate it so much?
MAN: I’m not giving it—-
WOMAN: I just don’t like the idea of having it thrust into my hands.
MAN: I’m not thrusting.
WOMAN: You are thrusting.
MAN: What are these masculine images? I’m not thrusting, I’m trying to . . . share it with you!
Grasping her hand, fervently.
You’ve never given yourself permission to take out the garbage before, and I want that experience for you!
WOMAN: Well. . .thank. . .you. . .
Silence. They turn front, speak to audience, confused.
WOMAN: Well it is a dilemma, of course, not that it can’t be worked out, I have a great concern for the garbage, just as much as he does, because it seems to have this place of importance in our lives—
MAN: Yeh, it serves as a kind of focal point for a lot of things, and if we could just focus on the focal point, things might come into better . . . focus.
WOMAN: Because in terms of sharing responsibility, he has a tendency to give it all to me. And we thought perhaps we should work this out the way we work things out, that he would state what he feels and I would state what I feel. Which we did. I stated that the garbage needs taking out.
MAN: And I agreed. But I stated that I had a very negative response to her tone of voice in her stating her statement.
WOMAN: So I tried a better tone of voice in which to state the needs of the garbage, in order to strike a better balance between his needs and those of the garbage. I tried a plain old “Take out the garbage.”
MAN: That’s very blunt.
WOMAN: Ok. “Honey, I wonder if I might ask you to expel the garbage?”
MAN: It rings false.
WOMAN: Ok. “Sweetheart, dearest, I know you don’t like to, because there’s a lot on your mind such as solving the nation’s problems and also paying the bills, but I really don’t know where to put any more garbage. Should I pile it in the bathroom, or put it in the bed as a helpful hint, or serve it again for dinner, or maybe we could sleep in the garage and use the house for the garbage but could you please take it out?”
MAN: I hate attempts at humor.
WOMAN: “Oh, look at this! It’s the garbage! We could have such fun with this! But I need a big strong man to do it! And everyone will look out their window and say, ‘Look at that big strong man going down those stairs! Doesn’t he take good care of her garbage!’”
MAN: She really misses the whole point.
Uh, not to take away from our anniversary—
MAN: No, because it really is a very very happy anniversary, really—
WOMAN: Really . . . really . . . incredible. . .
They turn to one another. After a moment they start to laugh.
MAN: Oh boy . . . I don’t know how we got into all this—
WOMAN: Neither do I—
MAN: I mean I don’t think it’s really a problem, it’s just a new aspect of our relationship—
WOMAN: Though it is an aspect that’s beginning to pile up.
He stops laughing.
MAN: Look, I’m not trying to shove it under the rug—
WOMAN: No way, no way. Let’s put it out in the middle of the rug. Some people have potted plants, we’ll have canned fungus. The mold will just match the color scheme.
Silence. She waits.
Now you go on and say something.
MAN: (barely audible) No.
WOMAN: Don’t repress it.
MAN: I have to repress it.
WOMAN: You don’t have to repress it.
MAN: You’re making me repress it.
WOMAN: I just said it: “Don’t repress it, don’t repress it.”
MAN: But your attitude is “Repress it, repress it.”
WOMAN: All right then, repress it. Only repress it better!
MAN: Now look, we both know that this has to come out some way, and not destructively of course, but constructively so it brings us closer together—
Wow. I feel better.
WOMAN: You do?
MAN: Yes I feel good. Do you feel good?
MAN: We have a better understanding.
WOMAN: Can I react to that?
MAN: I don’t need a reaction.
Phone rings.
MAN: Telephone.
She answers. Total change of tone.
WOMAN: Hello? Oh Linda, hi! . . . Oh nothing. Just celebrating our anniversary. Talking things over, making plans. . .
MAN: Tell her about the house.
WOMAN: We looked at a new house. Oh it’s incredible! Big lawn, carpets, completely solar. . . George wants to say Happy Anniversary.
MAN: (taking phone) Hi. . .Yep, made it through the first. One down. Fifty more to go.
They laugh joyously.
Oh yeh. Incredible. Everything is incredible. Ok. Thanks for calling. Appreciate it. Bye.
He hangs up. Silence.
WOMAN: Nice of them to call.
MAN: We called them on theirs.
Long silence. Shift.
MAN: When do you want to see the lawyer?
WOMAN; I’ll call Monday.
MAN: You use ours. I’ll find a new one.
WOMAN: Everything should be fifty-fifty.
MAN: Even the garbage.
WOMAN: It’s good we can be mature about things.
MAN: Make a rational judgment before we get . . . too involved.
WOMAN: You want me to pack you something?
MAN: No, I’ll stop by tomorrow.
WOMAN: You know, I think we still are way, way ahead. A lot of couples, it takes, oh, six, seven years before they split. We’ve saved all those years.
MAN: I wonder what would happen if one of us . . . sort of. . .
WOMAN: Gave in? Compromised?
MAN: Probably . . . set a bad precedent.
MAN: (rising) Well, happy—
WOMAN: Yes, happy. . .
They start to shake hands. Look at one another.
WOMAN: Incredible.
Freeze. Sound and shift.
Woman speaks to us. Perhaps, in front of her, a doll representing her child self.
WOMAN: The first time I knew my parents loved me— I was very tiny. We were going somewhere, in the car. I was in the back seat, and my brother shut the door, but it didn’t latch. . .
And my dad started the car, and started off, and my mom said, “We’ve got a surprise.” And that’s when I leaned on the door and fell out.
I don’t remember landing, or pain, just the car rolling off down the street and me thinking, “What’s the surprise? My brothers are gonna get the surprise!”
And the car stopped, and both doors flew open, like beetle wings, and these two frantic angels came sailing towards me. And I was so happy. . .
And then course I thought I guess I’m supposed to cry. So I did. I don’t remember what was the surprise.
Collage of parent voices.
MAN: It’s ok.
WOMAN: Now this is gonna hurt a little while I clean it.
MAN: It was just an accident, it wasn’t your fault.
WOMAN: Poor baby. I was so scared.
Back to the grown woman:
Life. Maybe life. Life was one hell of a big surprise.
Breakfast table.
CHILD: Momma?
MOM: Finish your cereal.
CHILD: I did. Can I go out?
MOM: It’s wet.
CHILD: That’s ok.
MOM: Why don’t you watch cartoons?
CHILD: They’re dumb.
MOM: You might catch cold.
CHILD: Please.
MOM: No.
CHILD: Please.
MOM: Why don’t you wait a little bit?
CHILD: Please.
MOM: Well it’s wet. You’ll get wet and then you’ll catch cold and then you’ll be very sorry.
CHILD: I wanta play in the mud. I can’t play in the mud if there’s not any mud.
MOM: Well. . .
CHILD: Please!
MOM: Well all right. For a little while. You can play in the mud. And it’s fine to play in the mud as long as you remember what you have to do—
CHILD: Yeh Momma—
MOM: That you have to be careful and remember that Momma works hard to keep you looking your best and be healthy and happy and wants you to go out and have a good time with your friends—
CHILD: Yeh Momma—
MOM: But you have to remember that Momma would be upset if she found you playing in the mud and you hadn’t remembered and forgot—
CHILD: Yeh Momma—
MOM: —That it’s ok to play in the mud as long as you keep clean.
MOM: Don’t I have to take care of my kid? I got work to do. Instant clean, sure! Look like trash, people treat you like trash.
MAN: (simultaneously) She’s overprotective. She lets that kid run wild. Tied to her apron strings. Some people just shouldn’t have kids.
Shift. To us:
MOM: I’d like to be one of those so-and-so’s on the detergent commercials. They’ve always got the answers.
Freeze. Shift.
Farm family eating supper.
CHILD: Mommy?
WOMAN: Finish your peas.
MAN: Don’t chase’em around the plate.
CHILD: Mommy?
WOMAN: What?
CHILD: Why is Grandpa in the chicken house?
WOMAN: He’s not in the chicken house. Finish your food.
CHILD: Why is he?
WOMAN: It’s not a chicken house. It used to be a chicken house when he had the farm, but we fixed it up and it’s just like any other house.
CHILD: He thinks it’s a chicken house.
MAN: Dad? You talking bout Dad?
WOMAN: Well Grandpa thinks funny things. Old people get like that. That’s one of the tragedies of life. It’s a one-room house. We scrubbed it out, painted it, we take his meals out to him. It’s not a chicken house.
MAN: He wouldn’t live in the farm house.
WOMAN: We said you want to live here, you can’t mess all over, you gotta follow the rules. It was his choice. He coulda followed the rules.
CHILD: Can he come in to supper?
WOMAN: No. Eat your food. It’s not a chicken house. We do a lot better for him than most people do for their parents. I work all day, then cook meals, I don’t have time to clean up his mess.
MAN: I used to sit right there, he’d haul off and knock me cross the room.
Shift. Man and Woman alone.
WOMAN: Your own father.
MAN: It’s not a chicken house.
WOMAN: What are people gonna think? Your own father.
MAN: I treat him a lot better than he treated me. It’s not a chicken house.
WOMAN: It is if you think it is and you’re living there.
Shift. Family:
CHILD: Will you live out there some day?
WOMAN: When?
CHILD: When I’m big?
May I be excused?
Freeze. Shift.
Woman sits at desk, talking on the phone as she shuffles papers.
WOMAN: Yes, well I’m sorry, Mrs. Bennett, but we do have state guidelines. If your son hasn’t attended classes for the last eight months then I really doubt he’s ready to graduate. . . No, Mrs. Bennett. Our guidelines require that ninth graders be reading at least at the sixth grade level and our seniors at least at the third.
A student appears.
Come in. Just a minute. (on phone) Then I suggest you call the principal and tell him what you think of me.
Hangs up.
What can I do for you?
Reflex: Woman stands, Student kneels, covers head with schoolbooks.
STUDENT: Miss Henderson sent me.
WOMAN: Oh. (checking file folder) Leonard.
STUDENT: Lennie.
WOMAN: Have a seat.
She sits. He sits opposite.
Now let’s see. Leonard, you were here once before. Mr. Bilsing—
STUDENT: Mr. Bilsing doesn’t like me.
WOMAN: “Disturbing the class.”
STUDENT: He got real snotty and yelled at me, and he said that disturbed the class.
WOMAN: Well, now it’s Miss Henderson.
Phone rings.
Excuse me. (answering) No, I can’t take a call now, Phyllis, I’ve got a student. Who is it, a parent? That’s ridiculous. There is no drug problem at this school. His daughter should have absolutely no problem getting any drug she wants.
Hangs up.
What can I do for you?
Reflex: She stands, he kneels.
STUDENT: Miss Henderson sent me.
WOMAN: Oh, Leonard.
LEONARD: Lennie.
WOMAN: Have a seat.
They sit.
Now what is this? It says you were arguing with a teacher in a loud, abusive tone of voice.
STUDENT: She was arguing with me.
WOMAN: About a poem.
STUDENT: We had to write a poem. It said, “Write a poem based on a past experience in your life with deep emotional content using the rhyme scheme A-B-A-B.”
STUDENT: So I wrote the stupid poem. And she gave me an F.
WOMAN: Well, Leonard, perhaps if you’d read the instructions more carefully—
STUDENT: So I ask her, “Why did I get an F, because it all rhymes, I mean.” And she says, “Leonard, I cannot pass you on this because you obviously did not write the poem.”
WOMAN: Well, that’s a very serious accusation—
STUDENT: She says, “You are a C student and this is an A poem. And I know you copied it because I remember reading it somewhere.” And I said, “But I did, I did write it, and I didn’t even go to work last weekend, and I had a lot of trouble trying to rhyme some of the words, like ‘dalmatian.’”
WOMAN: Dalmatian?
STUDENT: We had a dalmatian.
STUDENT: My mom and dad broke up, they had this big fight about who got the dog, and finally my dad says, “I’ll take the dog, you can have the kid.” Dog was a Dalmatian.
Phone rings.
WOMAN: Excuse me. (answering) Phyllis, I said no calls. A what? A bomb threat? They want the principal. I am the Assistant Principal, as you know. I handle discipline, counseling, attendance, food service and absurdity. The principal handles fire drills. Bomb threats come under fire drills.
Hangs up.
What is it?
Reflex: She stands, Leonard kneels.
STUDENT: I’m Leonard-have-a-seat.
WOMAN: Oh yes. Have a seat.
They sit.
Leonard, my concern with you in this office is that you were arguing with the teacher. Now if your interest is poetry-
STUDENT: I don’t know that stuff. Last thing was on haiku. I got a C on that one.
WOMAN: Then you can find a time when she could sit down with you and tell you everything you want to know about poetry. She is a very good teacher, she can help you write good poems, and it’s a good way of expressing yourself. Screaming at people is not a good way of expressing yourself.
Phone rings.
Hello! Yes! No! No! Yes! Yes! No! Ok! Bye!
Hangs up. Reflex: She starts to stand, halts, sits. Silence.
Now Leonard. I’m sure that Miss Henderson has read a great many poems, and she would certainly be qualified—
STUDENT: And she said it was good. I wrote a good poem.
WOMAN: Leonard, you know it is possible that at one time you yourself read this poem before—
STUDENT: I don’t read poems!
WOMAN: And then you forgot it, and when you were writing, it re-emerged from your subconscious.
WOMAN: It was in your subconscious.
STUDENT: No, but we’re Catholic.
WOMAN: I mean you didn’t realize it, but the poem had already been written, so in a sense you were correct and Miss Henderson was also correct—
STUDENT: When my dad left, he took the Dalmatian. Two days later he came back, and I thought he was coming home, but he came back for the Alpo.
WOMAN: I don’t care about the Alpo.
STUDENT: It’s in the poem. Does everybody’s dad come back for the Alpo?
WOMAN: All right, but your test scores are below average in Verbal Synthesis. Not that we’re trying to classify you—
STUDENT: You are classifying me! Isn’t it classifying me if I never wrote a poem before and now I write one and you classify that I can’t?
WOMAN: We don’t classify you for the sake of classifying you. We classify you so that we have more time to devote to your best interests.
STUDENT: My best interests is that I wrote it. I wrote it. I WROTE IT, I WROTE IT, I WROTE IT!
Mrs. Leonard stands, Leonard kneels.
I really did.
Slowly, they sit again. Woman speaks distractedly.
WOMAN: Leonard, the issue is not the poem. The issue is cooperation. The poem is not for the sake of the poem. The poem is to give you experience in cooperation . . . fulfilling assignments . . . following directions . . .
STUDENT: (uncertainly) You got a problem?
WOMAN: Does any of this . . . make any sense?
WOMAN: (after a pause, motionless) When I first came to work here, there was a bell that rang at ten-thirty. Now that wasn’t for classes to change. Nothing happened at ten-thirty, except that the bell rang. So I asked, “Why does that bell ring at ten-thirty?” And I was told that it was the ten-thirty bell. And that we had always had a ten-thirty bell. And that it was not my position to question the ten-thirty bell. It took me some time to get used to the fact that we had a ten-thirty bell, I used to get very upset every morning about ten twenty-five. But I came to see at last that it did have a function. It brought us together. It rang, and we all knew we were part of something that nobody understood, nobody knew the purpose, nobody could possibly change, but we were ALL IN IT TOGETHER. Do you follow me? I understand your problem, I sympathize—
STUDENT: Then will you tell Miss Henderson to give me a grade? Cause I wrote it, and she says it’s good—
Phone rings.
STUDENT: I don’t need an A. Just anything.
WOMAN: (changed tone) Oh honey, hi. What are you doing out of bed? If you’re sick, you stay in bed, otherwise you go to school. I told you not to call unless it’s an emergency. What’s wrong? . . .I don’t know if there’s peanut butter. You’re nine years old, you can look. Honey, I’m busy . . . What? The mailman came? Is there a letter? Massachusetts? Can you read it? What do they say?
Silence. Drained.
How many applicants? Rats. No, Mommy thought she had a chance. Oh, we’ll stay here another year. You get back in bed. Love you. (laughing) Ok. Bye.
Hangs up.
My little boy said, “My orange juice tastes angry.” A child’s view of the world is something very precious.
Abruptly, Leonard leaves. Woman picks up the phone.
Phyllis, will you take my calls? I need a potty break.
Freeze. Shift.
Man and Woman sorting boxes in the attic.
KEN: What’s that box?
MARTI: Oh God, do we have to go through all this? That’s the Christmas wrappings.
KEN: There’s four boxes of it.
MARTI: Kenny, I got through the funeral, and we’ve been doing this all day, and my plane leaves in three hours. I don’t know if I’m up for this right now.
KEN: You wanta leave it for me?
MARTI: No, I guess not. Eight hours to sort through forty years.
KEN: God, every year— “No, that paper, you keep that.” “Open it careful so you don’t rip the paper.”
MARTI: “Keep those bows! Those bows cost money!”
KEN: And then come around next year to wrapping presents— “Here, I bought some new wrappings, package of bows—”
MARTI: “Don’t use that rumpled old stuff. This is Christmas.”
KEN: So do we toss it? Or keep it?
MARTI: Are you kidding?
KEN: Well what’s wrong with wrapping new Christmasses in old Christmasses? That’s what people do.
Shift. To themselves, reading:
MARTI: To Kenny from Mom and Dad.
KEN: To my beloved wife.
MARTI: To Marti and Kenny from your old grandpa.
KEN: To Birdbrain from your brother.
MARTI: To Kenny from your loving Mom.
KEN: Ok, so I’ll take the wrappings, we’ll split the bows. What’s the matter?
MARTI: Nothing.
Pause, then a sudden outburst.
Kenny, I’m very appreciative that you made the arrangements. You loved her, you took care of her the last eight years, and that was heroic. It was. Just remember I was at home with her while you were out to Cub Scouts, and Boy Scouts, and basketball, and run-ins with the cops, and all the crap you put her through. I put up with more abuse and tears and venom than you will ever know, so I think the score is even. I do.
KEN: I thought that stuff was past. I guess you faked it through the funeral.
MARTI: Right. I faked it.
KEN: You’re saying you didn’t love her.
MARTI: Right. I did not love my mother vicious and falling-down drunk. But I always got dinner on the table. Oh, did you run across a little ceramic— I made her a— No, she would have thrown it out.
KEN: I’m sorry.
MARTI: So am I.
Pause. She laughs.
Remember when she stabbed Dad in the leg? You were at Scouts, and she started throwing dishes and he said that cost too much and he hit her, and she had the paring knife and stabbed him in the leg. They went to the hospital and told’em he was opening a beer can with it and it slipped. And you and me had a fight over who was gonna clean it all up.
Shift. To themselves:
KEN: How do you get blood out of a carpet?
MARTI: Is Sally’s mom and dad like this? Is Jennifer’s?
KEN: It’s sposed to be your turn.
MARTI: I did the dishes. You do the blood.
To each other.
KEN: I don’t remember that.
MARTI: Well, I survived. There were nice Christmases.
KEN: So what about the wrappings?
Freeze. Shift.
MAN: You met him, didn’t you? Dave?
WOMAN: Just briefly, I think, was it Baltimore?
MAN: Yeh, at that time we were just seeing each other, then about two years ago, Groundhog’s Day, in fact— Was that after you moved?
MAN: Yeh—We really made a commitment. And great. And like three months later—
WOMAN: Did he already know he had it then?
MAN: I think so. He wasn’t always totally honest. In fact he was kinda hard to take. And hen he’d surprise you.
You remember when I called, and you said come over to supper, so I did, and then Jodie went off to bed—
WOMAN: And you were just getting up to go, I got the call about my dad.
MAN: He had a stroke or something—
WOMAN: And I said, “Just hold me.” And you did. Of course I remember.
MAN: And you know Dave was really jealous, I mean like paranoid sometimes, and so I came home late, and he said, "Where were you? And so I told him. And I told him we’d hugged, and you talked about your dad, and it was totally innocent, and same time it was, God, one of the most intimate times I’ve ever had with any human being. It was suddenly being family.
WOMAN: It was.
MAN: And he just said, “I love you.”
And I took care of him, and the last five months . . . was very difficult. He didn’t have insurance and of course mine didn’t cover, but I paid quite a lot. And then he went to intensive care, and— They wouldn’t let me be with him. “Only his immediate family.” I washed him and cleaned him and nursed him for months and—
WOMAN: What about his mom and dad? Wouldn’t they help?
MAN: He would not allow me to ask them. He didn’t want to be a burden to his family.
WOMAN: His family.
MAN: God, Sally. . . What does it take to be family?
Shift. Voices:
VOICES: The question is, to give all relationships the status of the family unit, will that undermine the strength of the family unit? Where does the family derive its strength? What the hell is the family unit? What does it take to be family?
Shift. To each other:
MAN: More coffee?
WOMAN: Want to split a piece of that cheesecake?
A man enters, carrying a plate of food. He speaks to us.
DAVIS: I started out very liberal. I answer my phone. My friends all monitor with their machines, but I did believe in being human. I’m in the minority.
He sits at dining table. Says grace to himself. In another area, the First Telemarketer picks up a phone, punches button. Davis’s phone rings.
FIRST: Hi, is this Randall Davies?
DAVIS: Davis.
FIRST: Mr. Davis, how you doing?
DAVIS: Fine.
FIRST: Mr. Davis, this is Kim from the Market Theatre. I’m calling because I notice your subscriptions are about to run out, and we’d like to have you renew them.
DAVIS: Well no, thanks, I don’t think I will.
FIRST: For marketing reasons could I inquire why?
DAVIS: Well, my wife was very involved in the arts—
FIRST: Great—
DAVIS: But I’m not interested myself—
FIRST: Well perhaps I could speak—
DAVIS: And she passed away a few months ago.
FIRST: Oh. I’m so sorry. I mean—
DAVIS: It’s not your fault, Kim. I get this every single day.
FIRST: No, I mean it’s these lists, it’s all computerized and— This is the third time— I think all their damn subscribers are dead. Oh I’m sorry, oh God, I mean— God, I hate selling things!
DAVIS: You sound like my daughter. Are you in college?
FIRST: No, I’m out of college, I’m just trying to— It’s not really what I want to—
DAVIS: You have a degree in something?
FIRST: I got married before I got out of college.
DAVIS: Oh, you’re married.
FIRST: I was.
FIRST: I’m sorry. My supervisor’s looking at me funny. Two minutes to a call.
DAVIS: That’s ok. Bye.
FIRST: I’m sorry.
Hangs up.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Davis goes back to his meal. Second punches button. Phone rings. He answers.
DAVIS: Hello?
SECOND: Hi, Mr. Davison. This is Kathi from Country Fresh Farm. I wanted to let you know we have some representatives in your area this month. What we are is an all natural farm based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and operated by Amish. Have you ever heard of us?
DAVIS: Well no, actually—
SECOND: Am I catching you at a bad time?
DAVIS: Well, a lot of people eat dinner at dinnertime.
SECOND: I’m sorry. But actually it’s kind of appropriate, because everyone’s greatest concern is our health, and we here at Country Fresh Farm raise our meat completely organic. You may not know that most of the meat you eat is not pure but is loaded with steroids, antibiotics, sodium, preservatives, pesticides, artificial growth hormones—
DAVIS: Kathi— Actually my name is Davis, and right now I’m about to sit down to my steroids and pesticides, I’ve kinda been looking forward to’em.
SECOND: Well— What? The other thing is that we deliver this meat right to your home every month, which you might consider how convenient this would be for your wife—
DAVIS: Kathi—
Third Telemarketer punches button.
I have another call. Could I put you on hold?
DAVIS: Hello?
THIRD: Dave! How are you!
DAVIS: Ok. Who’s this?
THIRD: This is Fritz. How you doing tonight?
DAVIS: Eating my dinner.
THIRD: Great. Dave, I’m a representative of the Quadramatic Adjustable Bed Company. Can you hear me ok?
DAVIS: I’ve got another call—
THIRD: We got a postcard from you inquiring about our quality adjustable beds?
DAVIS: Oh, my wife sent that in, I think, she saw the ad, wondered what the price was—
THIRD: We don’t talk price. For several reasons. First, our Quadramatic Adjustable Beds are cheaper than any quality flat bed, so if you need a bed to sleep on you’re gonna pay the price. And second, we have many models, so what we would like to do is we would like to come to your home, sit down with you and your wife and discuss the features. For example the warming system which is great for your lower back. Do you have any lower back pain, Dave?
DAVIS: Not in the back.
THIRD: How bout your wife?
DAVIS: She’s peaceful.
THIRD: Great. So what we would like—
DAVIS: My wife is deceased.
THIRD: Sorry to hear that. We have many excellent single beds.
Davis punches button, disconnecting him.
I almost had him.
DAVIS: Kathi, sorry. Look, I don’t think—
SECOND: I realize it’s a bad time to call you, but our product, you can’t buy it any way unless we call you, and it’s a very important health concern— What I was going to ask, Mr. Davis, is how much meat do you eat a month?
DAVIS: Not a whole lot right now.
SECOND: Well it’s a very affordable program. We ship out every month in vacuum sealed bags, and it comes with a freezer, for free—
DAVIS: A freezer?
SECOND: A big freezer. We can sit down with you and—
DAVIS: So what, you’re selling freezers?
SECOND: No, the freezer comes with the plan. The freezer is free. What we are selling is meat that is entirely organic, and raised by the Amish—
DAVIS: But the cost of the freezer is figured in, right?
SECOND: Well, we here at Country Fresh Farm are mainly concerned with the health aspects—
DAVIS: Kathi, listen, you’re a nice girl. Be honest with me. You’re selling meat and you’re selling freezers.
SECOND: The freezer is free.
DAVIS: Think. It’s not free. The price is included. Think.
SECOND: We’re not supposed to.
DAVIS: Where is this farm in Lancaster County? I know Lancaster very well. Could you tell me where you’re located?
SECOND: Uh. . . in the Amish area.
DAVIS: And are you using an Amish telephone?
SECOND: I’m not sure. I could find out—
DAVIS: Kathi. You sound like a nice person. Please tell your supervisor that not everyone you call is a driveling idiot. Goodbye.
He hangs up. She sits, very tense.
SECOND: I hate these people. I hate them. I hate them. I hate them.
Davis goes back to table. Is about to sit. Halts, watching the phone. Nothing. Sits. It rings. He answers.
THIRD: Dave, Fritz again from Quadramatic. I wanted to call because I was thinking, maybe it’s a good time to change beds, get rid of all those unpleasant memories.
DAVIS: Goodbye!
Davis hangs up.
The bastard hung up.
Immediately another call. Davis answers.
DAVIS: Hello, this is Mr. Davis.
FOURTH: Mr. Davids, this is Tiffany. I’m calling you from Sunny Valley Memorial. (as if reading from a script) Now that you are starting your new life with your lovely bride, we would like to help you look into the future. How are you today?
DAVIS: Look, you have the wrong information. We’re not starting—
FOURTH: Many people don’t like to think into the future, but your wife will want you to start preparing for the unexpected, and at Sunny Valley—
DAVIS: Ok, you’re selling funeral plots, and what I’m saying is, my wife is in fact deceased and is buried and so you can correct your records to reflect this—
FOURTH: You sure about that?
DAVIS: Miss. I don’t like to be impolite, but I have been on the phone to salespeople all night, my dinner wasn’t much to start out with because I’m a lousy cook, but now it’s stone cold, and so is my wife. Now one person tonight is going to listen to me, and that person is you. Now I held her hand as she died. I held her hand and kissed her. I shared her last breath and she is gone! From the face of the earth! She is not coming back to be buried in your cemetery!
FOURTH: Do you have a plot yourself?
He slams down the receiver. Sits, staring at his food.
Center, two Telemarketers, on break, come to the vending machine.
THIRD: You just lost your quarter. Hey, you work for Richards, don’t you? How is it there?
FIRST: I keep calling dead people.
THIRD: That’s the percentages.
FIRST: Oh, we’ve got this great incentive. They fire two people every week. If you’re one of the last two on the board, in terms of sales, you’re gone.
THIRD: Hey, lighten up. You’re paid to sell stuff. It’s a job. I got a kid and a ex-wife to feed. So I do it.
FIRST: Well I don’t think I should get off every shift hating the people I talk to.
THIRD: Then do something else. Be a movie star. Look, I’m just saying for your own good. Just accept the fact that they hate you. Nothing personal.
FIRST: It’s so divided. It’s us against them. Get somebody on the phone, and maybe he just wants to talk. There are so many people that just want to talk.
THIRD: So talk. On your own time. Go home, open up the phone book, dial the phone and say, “Hi, I’m not selling nothing, I’m just a nice person. Would you like to talk?”
FIRST: That’s not the point.
THIRD: I mean I assume you’re desperate or you wouldn’t be doing this, right? We moved and my kid says, “I don’t like our new house,” he says, “Jimmy’s got a nice house.” And his mom tells him, “Why don’t you draw a nice picture of our house?” Kid says, “I’ll draw Jimmy’s house.”
FIRST: So how do you feel at the end of the day?
THIRD: Crappy. That’s how you’re sposed to feel.
FIRST: If there was a lottery, and everybody bought a ticket, and everybody won? Wouldn’t that be something?
They return to their stations. Suddenly, all Telemarketers are calling simultaneously. His phone rings, he hangs it up, but it continues ringing as they talk simultaneously, ad lib.
A new Telemarketer appears. Davis answers.
DAVIS: Hello!
FIFTH: Mr. Mavis?
DAVIS: Davis!
FIFTH: Are you the man of the house?
FIFTH: Do you know there are ten million crimes committed every week?
DAVIS: Great!
FIFTH: Do you feel safe in your home?
FIFTH: Mr. Mavis, we’re offering a special price on thirty issues of Guns & Ammo Magazine, would you be interested?
DAVIS: Guns & Ammo.
FIFTH: Guns & Ammo!
DAVIS: Guns & Ammo! Yes!
Freeze. Shift.
Man hammering nails.
GIRL: Daddy?
MAN: Hi hon.
GIRL: When can I learn that?
MAN: I’ll tell you what, hon. I’m busy right now, but when I have time I’ll teach you how to hammer nails and the whole thing, cause it’s important you learn how to do things.
GIRL: When can I?
MAN: Well right now I gotta fix these cabinets— Ok, tell you what. You can hammer this nail for me, ok? Then I gotta work.
Ok, take the hammer. Ok. Now hold the nail like this. Up like that. Now kinda tap on it. Good. Ok—
She drops the hammer.
GIRL: I dropped it.
MAN: Well that’s a start. Now I gotta work.
GIRL: When can I learn it?
MAN: When there’s time.
GIRL: When?
MAN: Not now.
Hammer. Shift. Girl is older.
GIRL: When?
MAN: Not now.
Hammer. Shift. Girl is a young woman.
MAN: Not now.
Hammer. Shift. Girl is a mature woman.
WOMAN: When?
MAN: Not now.
VOICES: She’s a little clumsy. She’s challenged on eye-hand coordination. She’s smart but she gives up on things. She’s a klutz.
Shift. Elderly woman:
OLD WOMAN: My father tried to show me how to do stuff. But I never had the aptitude. I can’t hammer a nail.
HOST: This was a snapshot brought to you by the next generation, who says. . .
GIRL: Can I try?
Freeze. Shift.
Phone rings.
SAM: Sam’s Pizza.
GIRL: (on phone) Is this the Crisis Line?
SAM: This is Sam’s Pizza.
GIRL: I was calling the Crisis Line.
SAM: We’re bout to lock up.
GIRL: I need to talk.
SAM: You want a pizza?
GIRL: I’m sorry, I thought I was calling the Crisis Line. You know the number for the Crisis Line?
SAM: No.
GIRL: Oh my God—
SAM: So whatta you got? A crisis?
GIRL: I don’t know. I can’t think. I had a big fight with my dad—
SAM: Hey, is this a joke?
GIRL: Please talk to me!
SAM: Hey, you ain’t gonna commit suicide or something, are you? Cause I don’t know how to tell people not to jump off the bridge or something. I didn’t go to college.
GIRL: My dad drinks a lot and—
SAM: Look, everybody’s got problems. The best thing is you work it out. My kids are good kids, they grow up, they help me, now they’re married, they’re doing fine. It all works out.
GIRL: I don’t think it will.
SAM: Look, this is Sam’s Pizza. I’d talk to you, but they got people for that. I’m not qualified to talk to people. I could get sued.
GIRL: And sometimes he comes in and— I try not to— And last night he said if I wouldn’t he’d go to my little sister. . .
SAM: Talk to your mother. Talk to your aunts and uncles. That’s what a family’s for. Don’t talk to me.
GIRL: Please!
SAM: (off) Hold on, I’m on the phone!
Shift. To herself:
GIRL: (inner) Please.
SAM: (off) No, it’s two extra large, pepperoni. No, no anchovies.
GIRL: Please talk to me. Please. My birthday’s on Saturday.
SAM: Pepperoni. No damn anchovies! (to phone) Hey, ok, look, I’m sorry, so talk, I’ll try to—
Dial tone.
WOMAN: Who is it?
SAM: Wrong number.
I tried.
Freeze. Shift.
Two old ladies lug heavy bags and packages into the Burger King.
MAG: There.
MOO: Where?
MAG: By the wall.
They sit. Business of arranging packages, putting them on table, then removing, restacking.
MOO: Maybe we better move.
MAG: How come?
MOO: I don’t know if they allow you to sit. Maybe they set you where they want you.
MAG: It’s a Burger King. You sit where you want.
MOO: Some places they make you sit where nobody sees. If they think you downgrade the clientele.
MAG: They don’t have clientele. It’s a Burger King.
They adjust.
I didn’t mean to make you mad.
MOO: I wasn’t mad.
MAG: You got pretty mad.
MOO: I don’t get mad. I got high blood pressure, so sometimes I turn red.
MAG: You called me names.
MOO: What names?
MAG: You called me a F-A-R-T.
MOO: I was just stating a fact.
They adjust.
MAG: We better order.
MOO: I’ll order. I’m gonna pay for it.
MAG: No you’re not.
MOO: I am. What do we do?
MAG: We decide what we want, then we go on up to the counter.
MOO: If we’re both up there, somebody’s gonna come sit here. The government’s bringing in all these refugees.
MAG: Then you go up and order, and then come back, and then I’ll go up and order. Then we both pay for our own.
MOO: Not if I say so.
MAG: You think you’ll spend a buck and get on my good side.
MOO: You don’t have a good side.
MAG: I don’t get stuff like this from my other friends.
MOO: You don’t have any other friends.
MAG: I value the freedom.
I’m going to have a hot dog.
MOO: If they have it.
MAG: They have to have a hot dog. They have all kinds of things. They’re competing for customers. They’ll sell you whatever your heart desires. They’ll sell you a burger on a stick. They’ll sell you a toasted cat. They got thousands of people, night and day, that’s devoted totally to figuring out what you want.
MOO: They have no idea.
MAG: Well I want a hot dog.
MOO: Then you better go get it.
MAG: I wasn’t trying to make you mad. I was trying to offer sympathy. I was trying to do some good in the world. I read an article, “What My Retarded Sister Taught Me About Life.” Made me wish my sister was retarded.
MOO: You better shut up on the subject.
MAG: I’m not saying a word. How do you feel?
MOO: Well if you wanta know. I feel like death warmed over.
MAG: Well check the menu.
MOO stares at her.
I was telling a joke.
MOO: Some patriot said to George Washington or something? “I regret that I have one life.” That’s how I feel.
MAG: They don’t believe in Washington or Lincoln any more.
MOO: No, it’s just the hope. Just not having the hope.
MAG: That he might show up some time?
MOO: Not any more.
MAG: We better order. They’ll call the cops on us. Come in with police dogs. I’m hungry.
MOO: I have to see what’s on the coupons.
MAG: I don’t need a coupon.
MOO: We’ve got’em, we better use’em.
MAG: I don’t have any.
MOO: I got these two-for-ones. If you don’t use it, I can’t use it. It takes two.
MAG: This not a two-for-one.
MOO: No, this is. But this, ok, you can get a cheeseburger, and if you get a cheeseburger, then you get fries and a medium coke.
MAG: I don’t want that.
MOO: Well there’s that. Or you can get cole slaw if you get the bacon double cheeseburger. And that comes with soup.
MAG: I’d rather have soup.
MOO: That’s what you get.
MAG: I don’t want the bacon.
MOO: You have to have the bacon. If that’s the deal. They have it worked out so they make a profit and they give you a good deal. You both have to play the game. If you want something else, then don’t complain if you get it.
MAG: Why can’t I have what I want?
MOO: Cause we got the coupons for this.
MAG: I’m paying for my own.
MOO: I don’t want you to pay for your own. I want to treat you.
MAG: It’s no treat if it’s not something I want.
MOO: It’s a treat when I say it is!
MAG: You’re nuts! You’re just trying to start something cause you feel sorry for yourself. You should be ashamed. You’re not alone. You got friends. They brought over their cat. You’re in the hospital you got a ton of flowers. I come to visit there’s no place to sit, I felt like a weed. There’s no reason for you to act like that. You didn’t care nothing about him when he was alive. You hadn’t seen him for eighteen years, you told me, and he treated you like dirt before. You done all right without him, didn’t you? So now you’ll do all right without him some more. Look at all the stuff you bought.
MOO: I’m hungry.
MAG: So am I.
MOO: Shut up and let’s eat. What else they got here?
MAG: Well they got the Fun-Pak. A hamburger and fries and a coke. It comes in a funny box.
MOO: That’s for little kids.
MAG: I think you can have it if you want.
MOO: They don’t call it a Fun-Pak if they think old ladies will buy it.
MAG: Old ladies can have fun.
MOO: Name one.
MAG: We have to go up and order. Or we sit here and starve.
MOO: Millions do. Ethiopia. Sit there and starve.
MAG: They don’t sit in a Burger King.
MOO: You having a good time?
MAG: Yes. Are you?
You are and you just don’t know it.
MOO: I have to see what I bought.
MAG: Don’t you know?
MOO: Nothing I need.
MAG: You’re just full of sunshine.
MOO: What really hurts. . . What hurts is I never saw him get old. He was always young, and I knew he had his women, and that hurt, but I knew we’d get old together. And then he takes off, and I threw all his stuff in the trash, every damn thing. But stuff keeps turning up. Old shirt stuffed down in the paint cans. Ashtray from Yellowstone. Junk mail for eighteen years. And then a letter. “Hello, I’m your ex-husband’s daughter. He’s dead. Best wishes.” It hurts to get the damn comfort. It hurts that there’s nothing left to want. I wake up early morning, it’s too early to get up, there’s nothing to do, but you can’t crawl back into your dream. I cart all this trash, and all I got to sit and talk is an old blubbery fart like you.
MAG thinks, makes a fart sound.
MAG: I said I was sorry for you.
MOO: Yes you did.
MAG: Well I’m not.
MOO: Ok.
MAG: That make you feel better?
MOO: No.
MAG: At least you got me.
MOO: Ok.
MAG: Didn’t want to make you mad.
MOO: No.
MAG: There’s a time for everything. Time for laughing and time for crying—
MOO: They say so—
MAG: Time for shopping and time for staying home—
MOO: That’s right—
MAG: Time for eating lunch.
MOO: I’m not very hungry.
MAG: No.
MOO: It’s not so easy to figure the ins and outs. There used to be waitresses once.
MAG: That was another time.
MOO: That was a better time.
MAG: It seems like, now.
MOO: It didn’t then.
MAG: You never had him. You just had a coupon that said you did. Told you the terms of the deal.
MOO: You had to have the burger when all you wanted was soup.
MAG: He was some burger.
MOO: Raw.
They laugh quietly, take hands.
We better head for the bus.
MAG: Don’t you want nothing to eat?
MOO: I’ll fix some coffee.
MAG: You said you were starving.
MOO: Well I thought you were gonna eat.
MAG: Not if you don’t.
MOO: It’s too complicated. I think my feet are better now.
MAG: I’m ready when you are.
MOO: We still have to pay.
MAG: We’ll pay for our own.
MOO: It’s my treat.
MAG: I said no.
MOO: Like it or not.
MAG: I said no!
We never ate.
MOO: So we don’t have to pay.
MAG: We already paid.
They get up, arrange packages. MAG helps MOO load up. They stand a moment, hands out, balancing one another. MOO turns back to table. MAG starts out, halts.
MOO: I’m gonna take some sugar.