a realist fantasy in two acts
by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
(played by six actors)
Kenneth Leonard: 33. Investment broker.
Lillian Hubbard: 34. Sales assistant in brokerage firm.
Charlie Pedretti. 38. High school teacher. Jazz musician.
Henry Hinckle: 45. Dance instructor.
Mel O’Dell: 50ish. Attorney.
Maggie Thatcher: 50ish. Assistant District Attorney.
Box Office Attendant, Sam’s Pizza, TV Interviewers, Lunatic
Farmer Brown, Miss Dolly Small, Jury Foreman
Nurse, Doctors, CNN
Felons, Painters, Jury, Pig, Phone Sex, Roofers
The play is structured to be performed by four men and two women as follows:
Kenneth and Lillian are not doubled.
Charlie doubles as Judge, an Interviewer, two Witnesses, and Reporter.
Henry doubles as Bailiff, Interviewer, and chief Doctor.
Mel O’Dell doubles as Interviewer, Doctor, Sam’s Pizza and Stipson.
Maggie Thatcher doubles as Box Office, Lunatic, Interviewer and Nurse.
Other incidental voices are done live or recorded, as appropriate.

Philadelphia, or someplace like that. Now, or very soon.

A minimal, multi-location unit set designed for rapid transformations:
Office in an investment brokerage. Restaurant. TV screen. Automobile.
Lillian’s apartment. Dance studio. Courthouse hallway. Courtroom. Men’s room. Furnace room. Hospital death chamber.
The Mark Taper workshop effectively used castered set props, rolled into various formations: four chairs, three tables, judge’s podium, courtroom door, wheeled toilet, hospital bed and screen.
The Philadelphia production used two standing microphones at the downstage corners for most of the character monologs to the audience.

Sound and music are essential to create the “mind” of the production. A production tape of music and sound, composed by Elizabeth Fuller for the Philadelphia staging, is available from The Independent Eye.
Development was assisted by a Media Arts Fellowship from Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and a National Endowment for the Arts Playwriting Fellowship.
The first version was developed with the assistance of improvisations by ensemble members of Seattle’s New City Theatre, followed by a reading at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Mark Taper Forum presented a workshop production in its New Works Festival, directed by Peter Brosius.
The play was first produced by The Independent Eye at the Shubin Theatre, Philadelphia. It was also produced as a public radio serial, first broadcast on WMUH, Allentown, PA.
© by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production rights, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Act I
The Condor Will Be Almost Free
Office. Ken on phone: “No, we’re not going to see much growth in that...” Lillian: “He’s on another line, could you hold? Hello, Stipson Associates. Yes, Mr. Leonard is on several lines right now, could he return your call? Hello, Stipson. Associates...”
In foreground, Kenneth speaks to us:
KENNETH: This is an atypical story. Of course my perspective is skewed, in that I was involved. As hero or fool, according to whichever headline. Neither being a comfortable role for a fairly successful, conventional investment broker to fill. There’s not a controversial necktie on my rack. But there’s no way to gauge the hazards when you take that first step of becoming a. . .
His voice fragments, echoes and rebounds with the word:
Tapdancer! . . .
VOICE: Episode One: The Condor Will Be Almost Free.
Kenneth sits at his desk, phone to his ear, Charlie in a chair, both laughing.
KENNETH: Ok. The only second baseman to steal two bases in each of two games in each of two World Series. (to phone) I’ll hold.
CHARLIE: Don’t tell me. I know it. I know it. I know it. I don’t know it. Hell, eight years I spent in college, mastering baseball trivia.
KENNETH: College is the low point of the learning curve. You bottom out, and then—
CHARLIE: Then suddenly get ready to graduate and you think, holy moley, I’m a dummy. Sheer terror, then that survival instinct kicks in and you go to grad school.
KENNETH: Or follow the dotted line and—
CHARLIE: Conservative ties—
KENNETH: Conservative neckties, which mask your ignorance till you rise high enough to have no need of knowing anything. (to phone) Why don’t I ring back? Ok, I’ll hold.
CHARLIE: Ken, I know you’re busy, but hell, I’m entitled. It’s four years—
KENNETH: While I’m waiting for one of those two a.m. “Hello-o-o-o Kenneth” calls.
CHARLIE: Last time, hell—
KENNETH: Last time you didn’t sound so good—
CHARLIE: Divorces suck, baby—
KENNETH: You look good, though. (to phone) Lillian, switch Line Four to Jerry. Thanks.
CHARLIE: I’m great. Yeh. Wendy, she’s in Connecticut now, thousand miles from Chicago, so we get along fine. With the kids, so that’s why I come through, spring break, so I drove East, see the kids, then I thought, hell, why not surprise you—
KENNETH: You did.
Halt. He looks up, brushes shoulder.
Was that plaster or something? Something fell?
To phone:
I’m on Three, Lillian, ask him to hold. And I’m on hold. Gridlock.
CHARLIE: No, but you’re the only cat I stay in touch with, you know, from college? Cause you still think I’m a genius. Course I am a genius. I’m just hibernating.
KENNETH: (on phone) No, offering five for five. Intell, that’s very promising. Ok.
CHARLIE: Hey, you’re busy as hell. Can I get the hell out of here?
KENNETH: No! Yes! Listen, dinner, ok? You like Jamaican food? Sweet potato pie? Don’t react, just try it. Six thirty.
Lillian appears, puts folder on his desk. He pushes button.
Lillian, my eleven o’clock— (realizing she’s there) Lillian, my eleven o’clock, that has to move. Tell Henry I’ll call him, tell him I’m practicing. I really am.
CHARLIE: (to Lillian) I’m Charlie.
KENNETH: Oh. Sorry. This is Charlie—
CHARLIE: Charlie Pedretti. Hi. (rattling on) Cause I was in college with Kenneth, actually I was older, I was the R.A. in his dorm, which is kinda hard to believe, but I kinda set a campus record for staying in grad school, and I’d put together bands, and they all fell apart, and then I got married, so I kinda, you know, lived off my wife, and then she got pregnant, so then I went to summer school, got certified, very definitely certified, and a job teaching high school, and then she got a divorce—
Nice to meet you.
KENNETH: Oh, and would you call Tiffany, I can’t make it for dinner, I mean tell her I’m wallowing in guilt and— (seeing her look) Right, not Tiffany. Maryanne. I’m sorry to ask you to make personal calls but I’m chicken, ok?
No comment. She goes out.
CHARLIE: Man, you got a sex life going.
KENNETH: I think there’s some sex involved. I forget. I’ll check my pulse. Ok! The category is “Victims.” The name of the catcher that Maury Wills stole the most bases off in his record-breaking season?
CHARLIE: Me, man. It was definitely me.
KENNETH: (on phone) Mr. Galter, hi. What I can do is send you a Forbes article on the whole divestiture question. It makes the case that with toxic waste, divestiture may actually harm the cause it’s designed to help— and could you hold? (pushing button) Oh hell, how did you get through? Henry, look, I’m going to have to cancel again— (to Charlie) this is tacky. (to phone) Henry, I know it’s tacky, but I’ve got an old college friend here, he’s a genuine artist, like you, a jazz musician, and I haven’t said a word to him, and tapdancing must sometimes yield to the march of capitalism—
CHARLIE: Tapdancing?
KENNETH: I’m a tapdancer, (to phone) I’ll call you back, Henry.
Hangs up.
Poor Henry. Right, I’m a tapdancer. I’m trying to be a tapdancer. I think this is going to be a big plus in my life. I have this problem when I get involved with someone of the opposing sex, they start having problems with their eyes. They can’t see me. I blend into walls.
CHARLIE: You’re not as dull as you used to be.
KENNETH: Well, but competition is tougher: people have VCR’s. No, I was drumming my fingers in meetings. So some joker gave me a gift certificate for six tapdance lessons. And I accepted the challenge. Frankly, I thought it might be a way to meet girls. And I did. Two eight-year-olds.
Henry appears. Kenneth walks into flashback in dance studio.
HENRY: And again. Toe-heel, fuh-lap, fuh-lap, shuffle, ball change— This is remarkable, Mr. Leonard. Could we have a toe-toe-toe? (He does.) Thank you. Now a heel-heel-heel. (He does.) The Nazi version. Less vehement, please?
KENNETH: Henry, I don’t know if this is the right time for this—
HENRY: Oh try me.
KENNETH: This is the last of my six-lesson package—
HENRY: Yes! Oh God! Thank you!
KENNETH: And I would really like to continue.
HENRY: (after a moment) Would you. So be it. Basic combination!
Back into scene. Tapping gives way to finger-drumming. Kenneth scribbles a note, hands it to Charlie.
KENNETH: Six-thirty, 22nd and Locust, Ruth’s Jamaican Cafe. Ruth is highly spiced, you can’t miss her.
CHARLIE: Kenneth, be warned. Where I arrive, things fall apart. The center does not hold. Who’s that damn second baseman?
KENNETH: That’s your homework.
CHARLIE: I’m gonna seduce your secretary, man. What’s her name?
KENNETH: Lillian. (on phone) Mr. Galter, yes. No, I don’t have a—
CHARLIE: (going out) Oh Lillian!
KENNETH: (on phone) Mr. Galter, my personal opinions don’t enter into my advice, so I’m suggesting in terms of the ethics, whatever, I’d look at the quality of the investment, and it’s up to your trustees to decide what they want to do, as far as manning the barricades. Ok?
Hangs up. At phone, vehemently:
Just buy the stock, Mr. Galter! Just make money!
Phone beeps. Fade. Music. Lillian speaks to us.
LILLIAN: Lillian Hubbard. Now into year number two at Stipson Associates. After a succession of marvelous, fulfilling, fast-track advancements, it was such relief to find a lowly job I could turn off at five p.m. Ken Leonard’s secretary. Sales assistant, they call us. He’s an ok guy, he’s very . . . ok. Though I don’t especially enjoy calling his girlfriends to break date s, which means he doesn’t keep girlfriends long. And the usual excuse is business, though it may have something to do with the fact that he regards himself, perhaps correctly, as a very boring guy.
Fade. Charlie and Ken riding in the back seat of a cab.
CHARLIE: Why don’t you have a car, man?
KENNETH: I have a car. I put it in storage. I don’t like mobility.
CHARLIE: You’ll love this group. The guy that plays bass, he’s from Chicago. Does a solo with his teeth.
KENNETH: You like the food?
CHARLIE: Fried banana pizza. Educational.
KENNETH: Adventurous! Come on, you’re an artist of the cutting edge.
CHARLIE: Cutting-edge artists eat Froot Loops. I gotta ask you something—
KENNETH: God, I envy you.
CHARLIE: Listen. I need some advice. I got an inheritance. I got like a bundle, and I don’t know anything about investments, and—
KENNETH: Charlie. Listen. I don’t give advice to friends, for the same reason surgeons don’t do heart transplants at parties. I’ll tell you some people to talk to. Come on, entertain me. Be crazy.
CHARLIE: (imitating a TV clown) “Hi Kenny!” Look. Seriously. I had a rich uncle. No shit, a rich uncle! He left me $80,000. Now I could invest it, right? Help on the child support? Or. . .
CHARLIE: Or I could quit my goddamn nauseating job, which I hate—
KENNETH: You said you loved your job—
CHARLIE: I do. Great job. Too great. Making a living, dying. I’ll be there forever, man. High school, my God! Wasn’t I supposed to be a genius or something? Twenty years old, jazz concerto commissioned by the Milwaukee Symphony. Half the audience split, I mean that’s genius!
Pause. Quiet, scared:
So if I quit teaching, I could have a year, maybe two, see if I could really make it with the music.
KENNETH: Well I say go for it.
CHARLIE: Cause what I could do, I’m on spring break, I got a whole week, I know a couple guys around here, I might look’em up, jam a little maybe, see how it feels. I mean I can’t do that in Chicago, I mean that’s high school, man, that’s “Scuse me, Mr. Pedretti!”
CHARLIE: I’m gonna stay a week.
CHARLIE: Midtown Motel. Great.
KENNETH: (looking out the window) Damn.
KENNETH: That billboard. Look at that. “AMERICA IS BURGERLAND.” That kind of thing— That offends me.
CHARLIE: (singing) “This land is your land, this land is Burgerland—”
KENNETH: I don’t know why— I’ve never felt— I mean I’m not an idealist. I’m fundamentally motivated by money and success. But within that framework, I mean, do you use the system, or do you just trash it?
CHARLIE: I bitch at it. I wanta get co-opted by the system, I mean really sell out, so then I not only bitch at it, but also bitch about getting co-opted, and then also pay the rent. The best of both worlds.
KENNETH: What I wish I could do. . . Somebody ought to come down here some night, with some spray paint and a ladder, and do something about that billboard.
CHARLIE: And you’re the cat said GO FOR IT.
CHARLIE: Tell me GO FOR IT. So when did you ever GO FOR IT? What about your secretary?
KENNETH: Lillian?
KENNETH: Don’t be gross.
CHARLIE: So gimme her phone number.
KENNETH: I don’t have it. Or I can’t give it out. One of those.
CHARLIE: Oh, we’ve uncovered a secret longing here.
KENNETH: I don’t date subordinates. I have strict guidelines.
CHARLIE: And this is the guy telling me, me, GO FOR IT. Let me explain it, Ken. You’re not a Ken. You’re a Kenneth. You’ll always be a Kenneth. I pride myself on being Charlie. But deep down, there’s these secret fears that I might be a Charles. Concerto for Keyboards and Traffic by Charlie Pedretti. Ole Charlie WENT FOR IT, yeh. I had three bands, they all fell apart. I ain’t played in two years, man, all I do, my daughters I see maybe once a year, I send’em funny little ding-braaang-wawa tapes whenever I get drunk enough to sit all night and do it. And you’re telling me GO FOR IT? Tap-dancing, whatever, it’s no salvation, Kenneth. Just go to the doctor so he can make you get old.
KENNETH: (to cabbie) Would you let me out here? (to Charlie) I have to make a phone call.
CHARLIE: I’m sorry, I’m all fucked up—
KENNETH: You hit a nerve.
CHARLIE: No, hey, I’m doing a deconstruction here—
KENNETH: Listen, it’s fine. Let me out here. Right here. Give me a call.
Cab pulls over. Kenneth gets out, pays.
CHARLIE: You’d love this group, man. Hey, insulting you is what our friendship’s all about.
KENNETH: No problem. Really. Call me.
CHARLIE: Hey. I will. Hey! It was Red Schoendienst, wasn’t it? Cardinals?
KENNETH: You’ll never know!
CHARLIE: Jackie Robinson. Lou Boudreau. Billy Martin. Gustav Mahler. Hopalong Cassidy—
Car pulls away. Phone booth on busy street. Touch-tone. Lillian answers.
KENNETH: Lillian? This is Kenneth. Ken. Kenneth. Listen, I’m sorry to call you at home, but are you busy right now? I need to talk about something. Business-related.
LILLIAN: I was paying bills or something. Throwing bottles at the wall.
KENNETH: I really need to see you. Listen, could I meet you someplace? Is there a bar around there?
LILLIAN: I couldn’t deal with a bar right now.
KENNETH: Personal problems?
No response.
Listen, do you have a car?
LILLIAN: I don’t want to lose my parking place.
KENNETH: How about a doorway?
LILLIAN: Not much. Upscale warehouses. There’s a—
Beep. Static. Another phone voice: “Pinnacle Roofing. I’d say your flashing is shot.”
Beep. Another voice: “Hi, I’m Chelsie. $4.99 the first minute—”
LILLIAN: Well. There’s an experimental theatre down the street. They’re doing something loud.
KENNETH: I’ll meet you there. We can talk in the lobby.
LILLIAN: This is Kenneth Leonard? The Kenneth Leonard? Investment broker? Normal person? Ok. It’s the NUT House, New Underground Theatre, 15th and South.
KENNETH: I’m there.
LILLIAN: So you are.
Fade. Scroungy lobby. Woman sells tickets at table. A few people mill about. A harried director checks reservation list, goes out. Lillian waits. Kenneth enters.
KENNETH: Hi there.
KENNETH: I really appreciate it.
BOX OFFICE: Show’s gonna start.
KENNETH: What’s the show?
BOX OFFICE: It’s a deconstruction of the income tax form.
KENNETH: I keep hearing this term. Here. We don’t want to see the show, but I’ll give you the money and get nothing for it, ok? That’s appropriate to the subject.
He pays. Box Office counts money. Kenneth motions Lillian to sit. Silence.
KENNETH: I just really needed to talk.
LILLIAN: Might start by saying something.
Ensemble howl in background, then gavel.
BOX OFFICE: They started.
KENNETH: Well to be perfectly frank, what I was thinking was that we might go out to a bar, have some drinks, and then I’d get up enough courage to ask to come back to your apartment and spend the night.
LILLIAN: Oh. That was the business-related matter?
KENNETH: It’s related. It’s totally counter to my business practice.
BOX OFFICE: (mumbling) That really is sexist. I mean yike.
LILLIAN: Well, the problems with that are— First, I would never, ever, no way date someone at my place of employment, much less my supervisor. (Kenneth nods.) Second, I’m already seeing someone. (He nods.) Third, frankly, you’re very nice but you’re kind of boring.
KENNETH: Even this?
LILLIAN: No. True. I can’t call this boring. Unforgivable, maybe. Not boring.
Screams. An actor in Judge’s gown, head swathed in bandages, comes hurtling out. Collects himself. Hurtles back in.
Are they ok in there?
BOX OFFICE: They’re doing Schedule A.
KENNETH: I know this is uncharacteristic. I’m getting very strange impulses—
LILLIAN: You are indeed.
KENNETH: The tapdance lessons, and then— (looking up) I keep thinking plaster’s falling. Then my college friend, we were going to listen to music, and he started to question my lifestyle, and he mentioned you, and suddenly I got very horny. So to speak.
BOX OFFICE: I get that crap all the time.
Barbershop harmonies in background: “No exemptions, no deductions, no returns. . .” Music. Kenneth speaks as if trying to understand what he’s feeling:
KENNETH: This feature on NPR. It was about the California Condor. We almost killed all the condors, there were about twenty left. So they captured them all, every one, to get the broadest possible gene pool, and they managed to breed them in captivity.
So now there are more condors, and they’re gradually returning them to the wild. This enormous, sweeping bird, bigger than eagles, and he’ll be free.
But they wind up with “Of course, his habitat will never be outside the shadow of man. So this means that now the condor will be almost free.”
Almost free.
LILLIAN: Almost free.
KENNETH: You know I’m taking tapdance.
LILLIAN: I do therapy for your instructor. I call to cancel, he works through his rejection trauma
KENNETH: Could I show you something?
LILLIAN: In public?
He stands, prepares, hums, does a very stumbly tapdance. Ends with flourish. Lillian laughs in spite of herself.
That’s awful.
KENNETH: I love it. I just do.
BOX OFFICE: I was in a musical once.
Offstage chant: “Under penalty of perjury...”
LILLIAN: You want a drink? There’s nothing around here. I’m two blocks. Strictly for a drink. Talk. So on.
KENNETH: It’s. . . If we could just kinda . . . jump ahead about three hours and find out what happens. . .
Ensemble chant: “Death and taxes! Death and taxes!” Three actors appear, in surgical masks and gowns, wielding hypodermics.
ENSEMBLE: Death! Death! Death!
Blackout. Lillian’s apartment. Jazz. They are sitting on the floor, with wine glasses. Both are pleasantly drunk.
KENNETH: But the thing about the Crash of ‘29 was it didn’t cause the Depression, but it was the body blow to a very soft economy. The Fed actually encouraged margin speculation financed by the major banks— Is this boring?
LILLIAN: (giggling) Yes!
KENNETH: What’s very interesting is what happened next.
LILLIAN: What’s happening next?
KENNETH: The Fed’s philosophy was that total disaster was just a necessary corrective. The Secretary of the Treasury said that the thing was to “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate.” And they did.
LILLIAN: More wine?
KENNETH: There’s a rhythm to it.
LILLIAN: Rhythm. . . This is. . . a very unusual scene for me.
KENNETH: The person you’re involved with, is that a problem here, I mean, if I’m here—
LILLIAN: No, she always calls first.
Well this was the other problem, I guess. But since I ignored the others, I mean, is that a problem?
KENNETH: Ah no, I. . .
LILLIAN: It’s what I’m doing right now. I’m not religious about it, I mean it’s not like macrobiotics. I don’t know if I’m Gay, but I’m very . . . Entertained.
KENNETH: Well, no, I guess the question is what role exactly do I, or would I potentially play, in your lifestyle?
LILLIAN: Lifestyle. You started out just plain horny. Why don’t you ride the Dow Jones? Fluctuate.
KENNETH: I never thought of the Dow Jones as a role model. Fluctuate.
LILLIAN: Fluc-tu-ate.
Their lips are very close. Fade.
Morning news. Kenneth knocks on bathroom door.
KENNETH: Lillian?
LILLIAN: (in bathroom) Better hurry, it’s a quarter of.
KENNETH: Lillian?
Door opens.
LILLIAN: Who’d you expect?
KENNETH: What are we going to do?
LILLIAN: Well why don’t you call me, and we’ll figure out what we haven’t already done.
KENNETH: I mean in regard to the office. I’ve had very strict guidelines—
LILLIAN: So have I—
KENNETH: —Not to have a relationship with subordinates, I mean not in the sense of you being a subordinate, but what the hell do we do? So to speak.
LILLIAN: Zip me up. And then why don’t we just go to work and be nice to each other and bitch and kvetch the way we always do?
KENNETH: Please understand that I’m sailing very strange waters.
LILLIAN: It’s the tapdancing.
KENNETH: How about supper tonight?
LILLIAN: I’m gonna be late. Just close it, it’ll lock. I said call me.
KENNETH: I’m calling.
LILLIAN: I’m late.
KENNETH: Lillian?
LILLIAN: Kenneth?
KENNETH: This is . . . just terrific.
She hugs him, hurries out. Music. He speaks to us:
What exactly is signified by drumming your fingers? Total boredom? Some seismic disturbance brewing inside? March 24th, 25th: I met this crazy friend. I perpetrated performance art. I violated my guidelines.
He presses numbers. Phone beeps.
KENNETH: Hi. Dinner tonight?
LILLIAN: Kenneth? No, I’m sorry. I have plans.
KENNETH: How about tomorrow?
LILLIAN: I don’t know yet. Give me a call. Bye.
Hangs up. Beeps. She answers.
LILLIAN: Oh hi. Listen, this is a bad time, can I call you back?
Hangs up. Beeps. She answers.
LILLIAN: I said I’d call you.
Hangs up. Beeps. Phone rings. Kenneth answers.
KENNETH: Ken Leonard.
LILLIAN: This is Lillian. Returning your call.
KENNETH: That was three days ago.
LILLIAN: I’m in demand.
KENNETH: It’s not the easiest thing sitting three days waiting for a call from the outer office.
LILLIAN: I guess that’s why you don’t date subordinates.
KENNETH: Well how about Jamaican food?
LILLIAN: Mango casserole. Sure.
KENNETH: Six o’clock. Great. Lillian. . . This is kind of crazy. Do you have any spray paint?
LILLIAN: Spray paint?
KENNETH: I’ll pick some up.
LILLIAN: My God, what are we planning here?
They hang up. Tap studio. Music. Kenneth clogs away.
HENRY: And again, one two three, fuh-lap, fuh-lap!
He watches Kenneth’s stomping feet. At last, unable to stand it, he pounces on a foot and makes it stop.
No, no! You’re not killing large frogs, you’re dancing! One two three, one two three— You’re horrible. What are you doing to me? Float. Float, lightly. Float. Float. . .
KENNETH: (to us) And I bought four spray cans of black high-gloss enamel. These were days of decision, when I rarely regretted my resolve to become a. . .
Music. Fade.
Soft Things to Eat
Office sounds. Kenneth on phone: “Well no, the market may be experiencing a slight correction, maybe a reaction to the weather.” Lillian: “He’s on another line, could you hold? Thank you. Hello, Stipson Associates. Yes, Mr. Leonard is in a meeting, could I have him return your call? Hello, Stipson Associates. He’s at lunch right now. May I take a message?”
In foreground, Kenneth speaks to us:
KENNETH: I started to keep a diary. March 4th I started tap-dance lessons, as a joke. March 9th, the market hit a downturn, and I had the startling realization that I didn’t find that terribly interesting. March 25th, I signed for more lessons.
HENRY: Absolutely not. You have absolutely no talent.
KENNETH: My life had hit an upturn. Charlie, Lillian, things were happening so fast. Though it still wasn’t clear to me why an experienced broker would make the low-yield high-risk investment of becoming a. . .
His voice fragments, echoes and rebounds with the word:
VOICE: Episode Two: “Soft Things to Eat.”
Office. Kenneth on hold, reviewing a stack of memos. Looks up a moment, as if something fell from the ceiling. Charlie appears.
CHARLIE: “If its name’s Charlie, you know it’s good.”
KENNETH: Charlie, I didn’t expect you. I did expect you. No time for lunch. I’ll order out.
CHARLIE: Pizza. Big news, baby. Hey, look, I still feel bad I insulted you. I was bullshitting, man, cause I’m so scared of taking the plunge. Hey, listen: The pitcher who walked fifteen Washington Senators in 1951?
KENNETH: Nobody, jerk. It never happened.
CHARLIE: Harry Truman! “Yoiks that man is clever, that Charlie fella!”
KENNETH: (on phone) Jean? What’s the market in Deltacom?
CHARLIE: Ken, I worry about you, baby. “What’s the market in Deltacom?” Be warned: I knew a guy, he got a tattoo and he just couldn’t stop.
KENNETH: Charlie, I’m kinda busy—
CHARLIE: Whatta you care about this crap?
KENNETH: I make my living from it, jerk.
CHARLIE: You doing ok?
KENNETH: Matter of fact I make an obscene amount of money.
CHARLIE: But why does the stock market exist? To produce fat cats. Give’em the means to acquire large bellies.
KENNETH: What are you— (to phone) And how are you quoting Nesbitts? (to Charlie) It exists, if you really want to know, as a proven means to promote capital accumulation needed to finance enterprises.
CHARLIE: Fast food chains.
KENNETH: (to phone) That’s firm? Ten, ten and a half? Ten by five? Ok, we’re offering five at ten and an eighth. (to Charlie) Factories that make pants to cover your bare ass. (to phone) No. Not you. I’m in a meeting. (to Charlie) I sell you a stock, I’m selling you a piece of this country. The people own this country.
CHARLIE: The people? Me? I’m the people, man. The people own the fingernails. The rest is five little bald guys driving big chrome-plated wives.
KENNETH: That’s . . . a great exaggeration. (on another line) For Stanco, ok, we can trade twenty-four and a quarter, twenty-four and a half, subject. Charlie—
CHARLIE: No, but I got big news—
KENNETH: Ok, Sam’s Pizza. Pepperoni? (punching his touchtone) Lillian?
CHARLIE: Lillian!
LILLIAN: (on intercom) I said I have a lunch date. Order your own pizza.
KENNETH: No, she’s at lunch.
CHARLIE: Do we detect some nervous tension here?
KENNETH: Ok. Look, you just have this very dim notion how the system works, so you condemn it. Your body has many quirks: Its bones break. It lusts after women who say “I have a lunch date”—
KENNETH: So what? That’s the body you’ve got. This economic system has great genius, and often it’s full of crap. Like you. So what? You may dislike breathing all the time, but see what happens if you stop.
CHARLIE: You’re cute when you’re mad. So listen to me—
KENNETH: You want a pizza?
CHARLIE: I wanta talk to you! Listen! I’m going through a lot of changes, man.
CHARLIE: I’m starting to identify with the ozone layer.
KENNETH: (to phone) Jean, take my calls till Lillian gets back? (to Charlie) So talk.
CHARLIE: So what’s happening, is— Cause it’s not fun and games any more, I mean, it’s somebody’s idea of real life. Ken, listen! Like . . . I’m gonna stay around. Couple weeks, see if my head fits the ambiance. So what I did, I—
CHARLIE: So what I did is, I called my high school and said I was my brother, and Charlie got hit by a bus, but I was ok, so I’m in a coma, but I’m coming back, but I need a week to recover. So I’m taking the plunge. Woo! So it’s a—
KENNETH: That’s kinda— No, that’s great.
CHARLIE: It’s a big plunge, baby, but I’m gonna do it. Stay around a couple weeks, set up a little studio, really get into the music. And I can help you out too, cause you need advice, this thing with your secretary—
KENNETH: How the hell did you—?
CHARLIE: Well I mean, life is changes, no? Pizza. And women. And changes.
KENNETH: (dialing) Ok. Sam’s? Oh God, Charlie, this is so new for me—
An elderly Italian voice erupts on speaker phone. They stop, focus on phone.
SAM: Hi, you’ve reached Sam’s Pizza. Thanks for calling. If you know the department you wanna reach, punch it now. For menu selection, press One. For party orders, press Two. To get a pizza, press Three.
Kenneth presses. Series of beeps.
KENNETH: Maybe she’s just a figment of my imagination. I’m sitting here imagining something bizarre and wonderful, and she’s it. Maybe I—
SAM: Hi, this is Sam’s delivery service. Thanks for calling. For city deliveries, press One. For suburban, press Two. To talk to Sam or Mrs. Giacomozzi, press— What the fu— Three.
Kenneth presses. Series of beeps.
KENNETH: Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe my alarm did not ring at 7:05 and this is the consequence—
SAM: Hi, this is Sam’s Pizza. We’re closed for renovation. Wanna leave a message, wait for the beep.
Charlie grabs receiver.
CHARLIE: Ken Leonard says Technology Sucks!
Hangs up. Pause.
Like, I’m your spokesman.
Beeps. Radio: “The Dow Jones rebounded sharply today on the news of a fall in the news of a fall in the news of a fall in the—”
Fade to jazz. Kenneth and Lillian sit in a restaurant. Kenneth looks up at the ceiling, perplexed, then falls again into thought. Long pause.
LILLIAN: Hello, I’m Lillian Hubbard, I just happened to be sitting at this table by myself and I noticed you across from me. Do you speak English?
KENNETH: I was preoccupied.
LILLIAN: Should I belch or something, just to let you know I care?
KENNETH: Do we have much of a future together?
LILLIAN: Don’t you make your living by predictions?
KENNETH: Well but with stocks you win either way. If things are going hell, you sell short.
LILLIAN: Meaning sell something you really don’t have. Is that the right metaphor?
KENNETH: You sell short in anticipation of a fall in the price of the stock, so then if it falls, then you buy at the lower price and provide the stock to the buyer who’s bought at the higher price.
LILLIAN: So they’re left holding the bag.
KENNETH: No! Boy, I’m getting basted today. We’ve got a soap opera situation here. How do we handle it?
LILLIAN: Keep watching. If we see ourselves having dinner or making love, then we must be still doing it.
KENNETH: You know this is very— The NASDAQ quotes on the screen: I can pick a stock, set a limit, high or low, when the trading hits that limit, it beeps. A precise statement of status, and it beeps. You have not beeped.
LILLIAN: Gee, I thought I was on the noisy side. Kenneth, I mean actual relationships don’t go up or down by eighths of a point.
KENNETH: Points are a mutually understood convention. When aspects of relationships don’t correspond conventionally—
LILLIAN: Meaning my girlfriend?
KENNETH: (to Charlie, inside his head) Talk to me, Charlie. You’re an expert on love. You’re divorced.
CHARLIE: (in another area) I’m busy, man. I got enough problems dealing with me. It’s a great strain having somebody as abnormal as I am in my life. Why can’t I get a trial separation?
KENNETH: Lillian, honestly, it’s not a question of being possessive— But I want to get some sense, sometime, of what’s in my portfolio.
LILLIAN: For this relationship, well, I’d suggest we issue about 250,000 shares of 400,000 authorized. Save the rest for a rainy day.
KENNETH: That’s better than half.
LILLIAN: Although maybe I’m a figment of your imagination. I do actually answer the phone, but all the rest is wishful thinking. (exasperated) Come on, Kenneth! When I start hearing about index options and tender offers and vertical spreads as applied to our relationship, frankly I think Forget It! Sorry, no, I will not beep. Kenneth, we do this a day at a time. A relationship, there is no bottom line or balance sheet— It’s exactly as if you put on your tap shoes and you walked up in front of that band and did your basic combination—
KENNETH: Spontaneously—
LILLIAN: Spontaneously, uninvited—
KENNETH: With brazen disregard of propriety.
LILLIAN: That’s what I mean. It’s not on the computer, Ken. There’s no bottom line, there’s just—
Sees him taking tap shoes out of his briefcase, putting them on.
What are you doing?
KENNETH: What if I did?
LILLIAN: What’s that?
KENNETH: My tap shoes.
LILLIAN: You’re nuts. You’re absolutely going nuts. I don’t need this in my life. I’d walk out.
KENNETH: Not if you’re a figment.
He gets up, clutching his briefcase. Indicates action as he speaks.
LILLIAN: Oh . . . my . . . God!
KENNETH: It was unbelievable. I went straight up, there’s a little dance floor in front of the band. And I bowed. And then I—
Maybe I dreamed it. Imagine I’m dreaming that I’m getting up here, nobody really sees me, I don’t see myself until I’m directly up in front of the piano player, who has one pierced nostril, with feathers.
Have to imagine this. Imagine this nerdy guy getting up, this guy where getting up in front of people brings back seventh grade oral reports. I can’t believe it, I can only imagine it.
He dances. First a short burst, then into an earnest, determined stumble. Audience reacts, confused. Another burst. Audience boos, then an extended, stumbly routine: laughter, then applause. Tapping and audience reactions continue under.
What saved it, I think, is I’d picked up my briefcase. How many dancers carry a briefcase? The manager came up to toss me out . . . and wound up hiring me.
CHARLIE: He what?
LILLIAN: He what?
HENRY: He what?
KENNETH: It’s true. I do two minutes in each of three sets on Tuesday nights. I get fifty dollars.
HENRY: My first student to become a star. I’m speechless.
TV interviewers converge into tableau. Kenneth tries to reply.
FIRST: Our special guest today is—
THIRD: On Artline Today—
FOURTH: He’s a new face! He’s a hit! He’s a new local cult sensation! He’s the Tapdancing Stockbroker—
SECOND: Would you trust your money with this man?
FIRST: I guess the first question I would have is—
SECOND: What’s the statement here? What are we challenged to face?
THIRD: Is this metaphoric?
FOURTH: Larry’s Supper Club. So what’s next? Are we talking New York? Are we talking a series?
THIRD: Would you describe this as Post-Modern?
FIRST: I’m curious, might a vegetarian enjoy tapdancing more than a carnivore perhaps?
SECOND: How do you justify this rip-off of the Black Cultural Experience?
THIRD: Any interest in erotic performance?
FOURTH: Now is this like everyone in the world is famous for fifteen minutes, I mean is this where it starts? Am I right?
FIRST: All that jiggling: tell us about your internal organs.
THIRD: I wonder are you ever approached by singles, maybe couples, who may be drawn into your energies?
SECOND: How do you respond to the person who says: Homelessness! Hunger! Drugs! Pollution! Tapdancing???
FOURTH: Tuesday nights, Larry’s Supper Club! Remember, you saw him here!
FIRST: Tomorrow: Armageddon. Just a fad, or something more lasting?
Music. Kenneth practices a step.
KENNETH: What a trip. Next week I forgot my briefcase. It wasn’t funny without the briefcase. I had to borrow one.
Word spread, people came down to have a laugh. It wasn’t that big a deal. But for me. . .
You think you know who you are. You were born with a name that’s very easy to pronounce. Then suddenly your life becomes so strange, like exiting the freeway onto a freeway, which leads to a freeway. Tapdancing, Charlie, Lillian, local celebrity, which led to taking the bus every Tuesday night past that billboard. . .
VOICES: (singing) “Amer-i-caaa Is Bur-ger-laaaand. . .”
He dials phone. Static.
VOICE: Hi, I’m Chelsie. $4.99 the first minute, $2.99 for every minute you give it to me—
He raps receiver. Ring.
KENNETH: I need you to come over. A little later, maybe ten or eleven—
LILLIAN: Kenneth. . . Ken, we’ve been seeing a lot of each other, it’s been wonderful— It is wonderful, but could I just have a little space to cool out?
KENNETH: I need a ride.
KENNETH: I need you to drive me. To the warehouse district. I take the bus through there, but it doesn’t run past midnight.
LILLIAN: Warehouse district. Midnight.
KENNETH: I know it seems bizarre, but if I tell you now then that might make you legally liable and I’d rather avoid any problem. For which reason I doubt I could take a cab.
LILLIAN: Well that explains it all. I’m sorry. I do have other parts of my life that have been put on hold for the last two weeks, so I have plans tonight, and I’m not entirely ready to burn all my bridges—
KENNETH: I can’t explain it, it’s not dangerous, but I can’t tell you what it is, because there might be repercussions, and then some day I will tell you what I did. Aren’t you curious?
LILLIAN: Why don’t I just say no? Do you realize that your little show biz career is causing a bit of comment at Stipson Associates, and maybe—
KENNETH: I’m making money. I’m setting records in the options market. Lillian, I’ve always been terrified of the options market—
LILLIAN: Ok. Ok, I hope you appreciate I have to make a phone call and break a date by telling a flat, tacky lie and risk a very important and open and totally honest relationship in which I don’t dare tell her the truth! I hope you’re not going to get anything gooey on my car.
They hang up. Music. Charlie in limbo, with earphones, playing on a miniature keyboard.
CHARLIE: “America Is Burgerland.” Kenneth, they’re stating a fact. Columbus didn’t discover America for gold and spices. He wanted soft things to eat. Stuff you could chew very easily. They didn’t have that where he came from, behind the Iron Curtain. I’m making a study of this. George Washington had cardboard dentures. Now it’s an American tradition. Our teeth have changed. You don’t really need teeth any more. Not that many. Not all at once. I don’t mean food has to be bland, it just has to know its place. No granules. No corners. Soft.
Kenneth and Lillian are in the car, Kenneth staring through a six-foot aluminum ladder he props in front of him.
LILLIAN: What’s in the bag?
KENNETH: If I told you what’s in the bag then you’d know.
LILLIAN: You know I don’t find terrorists extremely attractive. This is all factories here.
KENNETH: They’re not factories. The economy is booming. They’re closed down.
Pull over here.
Car pulls over. He unlatches seat belt, opens car door.
Lock your doors. I’ll be right down around the corner. Let me get the stepladder.
She waits, fuming, as he narrates.
The actual criminal act was an anticlimax, really. I took this little plastic shopping bag with four spray cans, and a stepladder. Middle of a city without people, sodium vapor lighting nothing, lighting bricks. Round the corner. . . To the billboard.
He moves away from the car, stops.
VOICES: (singing) Amer-i-caaa Is Bur-ger-laaaand. . .
KENNETH: This huge grinning hairy face, kind of a farmer type, in the orgasmic throes of digestion. This is not my image of America. I fold out my stepladder, take my spray can, climb the ladder—
The scale: you get this sudden rush of empathy with a bug— And very broadly circle the great grinning, burger-eating farmer’s mouth, line through the circle, and the headline, NO IT’S NOT.
For all that trouble it wasn’t a real zinger, but that’s what I did. And then I thought, Well someone did pay for this, and I feel the concept of human freedom is linked with private property, so I should be answerable. So I sprayed my name and address.
He returns to the car, gets in.
I’m back.
LILLIAN: Did you do it Your Way?
KENNETH: I’ll tell you about it some day.
LILLIAN: Can’t wait.
She starts the car, then explodes.
Kenneth, I don’t need any more surprises in my life! I still to this day don’t know what possessed me to start something with you— Or why, here you are, a successful, nice-looking, very straight guy, what’s the matter that by now you haven’t been married two or three times? And I know the answer—
KENNETH: I haven’t found the right—
LILLIAN: “I haven’t found the right schizophrenic.” You want this stable, secure existence, and you want big surprises. Same here, love, we’re two of a kind. But I have had the big surprises. I’ve been stomped by big surprises.
KENNETH: Bad relationships?
LILLIAN: Spare us the snapshots. They still hurt, Kenneth, ok? And the fast lane, yeh man, shall I reveal the fact that your lowly sales assistant concealed on her resume that she has an M.B.A.? And my other involvement, it’s— It’s none of your damn business, it’s— It’s like a VW camper van. It chugs along, it’s square, trusty, very comforting, and it gets me there. As for you, I fondly imagined— Can’t you hear what I’m saying, you jerk?
KENNETH: You’re telling me to get lost?
LILLIAN: No! Yes! No! Both!
She starts driving. After a moment:
KENNETH: Look over there. That billboard. What somebody did to that.
LILLIAN: Incredible. What jerk would come all the way down here?
KENNETH: A guy who took action.
LILLIAN: Ahhh. . . No. I don’t want you to get lost. I want you to go soak your head. But don’t get lost. Kenneth?
LILLIAN: Is this the last big surprise?
Fade. Office. Phone calls. Beeps.
KENNETH: Nothing happened for three weeks.
CHARLIE: (in limbo, playing his keyboard) Ken, you have been upstaged by civil tumult. Don’t you read the papers? Thursday night, man, the cops won a major victory in the War on Drugs.
Tac squad raided this very notorious crack house, but they go to the wrong address. The family inside is terrified by large beefy guys crashing through their door, and they call the police.
Who get into a fire fight with the other police, which ruptures a gas line—
Which starts a fire, which spreads, which levels two city blocks, which does indeed eliminate drug trafficking in the neighborhood.
KENNETH: So it wasn’t until the third week—
Tap studio. Henry on the phone:
HENRY: You’re going to court? What are you doing in court? A likely story. Well give them some bail or whatever they do down there. You’ve missed two weeks of lessons, and that’s about the max before your abilities take a down-turn, and it’s not easy to slide lower than rock-bottom. Tell them to stop that. I can vouch for the fact that you’re perfectly reliable. You’re not an artist, you have no talent, they can trust you completely.
KENNETH: (to us) It was totally out of character. I thought it might do some good, make people think. But it’s no big deal. I’ll pay a fine. I’ll get a little flak. I’ll take Lillian out to celebrate. I’ve had a little excitement, a little fame, that’s my fifteen minutes, now it’s somebody else’s turn.
Tapping. Music. Fade.
Buchanan Lives
Office. Kenneth on phone. Attorney sits in chair opposite.
KENNETH: Well no, the market may be experiencing a slight correction, maybe a Depression. Who knows, Tom? I’d still go for a thousand Tyko at ten and an eighth. Should I do that? Ok.
Hangs up. To Attorney:
Well, here you have an accused misdemeaniac. Is that the word? What do you call somebody who crosses that fine line between today and tomorrow before the clock does? Where the predictable Dr. Jekyll has been implacably displaced by the. . .
His voice fragments, echoes and rebounds with the word:
ATTORNEY: (confused by the effect) I’m not really sure.
VOICE: Episode Three: “Buchanan Lives.”
KENNETH: Ok, well you know the gist of it—
KENNETH: Frankly I didn’t see the need for an attorney, but it comes up on Friday and Mr. Stipson felt it was in the firm’s best interest for me to be represented, and I think you’d done some tax things for Jeffrey—
KENNETH: And they felt it might be better to have someone from corporate law so it wouldn’t appear to be quite as criminal—
ATTORNEY: Very wise.
KENNETH: (to phone) Lillian, take my calls please. And if Charlie comes in, tell him I’m very busy and this isn’t a good time, maybe tomorrow, next week, next month would be much much better, so—
Charlie enters, salutes.
KENNETH: —Send him right in.
CHARLIE: Oh hey, you’re busy— I’ll wait out there—
KENNETH: No, don’t wander around out there—
CHARLIE: No man, I don’t fit in with the fat cats. (to Attorney) Nothing personal.
KENNETH: No, this is my lawyer. Mel—
KENNETH: Odell. (to Attorney) Charlie’s an old college friend. He’s a musician. Visiting. Frequently.
CHARLIE: “Brought to you by the people who put Pride back in peanut butter.”
Charlie pulls up a chair, sits.
Lessee, report: I called Variety for you, USA Today, definitely interested—
KENNETH: Charlie, will you stop doing this! I don’t want publicity! The interviews, I looked like an idiot. I thought you were setting up your studio, it’s been three weeks—
CHARLIE: I bought a Kurzweil K250.
CHARLIE: I need a patchcord.
KENNETH: Well get a patchcord.
CHARLIE: I will, man, but you come first. See, this is making history— No, dig, Mel— The point is, history isn’t just all past. Next year they’re predicting a whole shitload of history.
ATTORNEY: Ok, let’s see, so you’re a stockbroker—
KENNETH: Investment broker, I handle many kinds of investments—
CHARLIE: Cause like, Mel, didn’t you just love President Buchanan? Total mediocrity. We’re revving up to the Civil War, Buchanan just sits on his ass and says, “Well gee, let’s study this thing here.” I love Buchanan.
ATTORNEY: And you are accused of a misdemeanor. Defacing a billboard.
CHARLIE: He’s guilty as hell.
KENNETH: And I intend to plead guilty.
ATTORNEY: And no previous record?
KENNETH: No, this is my one and only. We all deserve one little protest in our lives, and then put up with the rest.
ATTORNEY: Well, Ken, if I can call you Ken — call me Mel — this looks pretty cut and dried. Friday? Friday I seem to be ok. If not, I’ll send one of my guys.
CHARLIE: Don’t sell yourself short, man. This can be very big.
CHARLIE: Didn’t you see him on the news? This is front page. Tapdancing Stockbrokering Spraycan Terrorist.
KENNETH: It’s no big deal. I do this silly tap-dance thing on Tuesday nights, so I had some interviews—
CHARLIE: I set’em up—
KENNETH: Charlie set’em up. So when this happened, it was news for a day or so. I got some flak here at the office, but. . . All I want is to plead guilty and pay a fine. No big deal.
ATTORNEY: Well let me think about it.
KENNETH: What’s to think?
ATTORNEY: Kick it around, feel it out. Hey, you’re a musician, huh? Whatta you play?
CHARLIE: Keyboards, bird whistles, mouth parts. Whatever makes jazz.
ATTORNEY: Native American music?
ATTORNEY: Indians. Black Elk. Geronimo.
CHARLIE: No man, they don’t play jazz.
ATTORNEY: Ok Ken — mind if I call you Ken? — Mel — Friday it is, and we’ll put our heads together on this. Ciao.
He goes out.
CHARLIE: All you really need, baby, is the wrong man in the wrong place. I mean it’s widely rumored, I’m told it’s a known fact in Washington, that Buchanan Lives.
Civil War sounds. Music. Traffic.
KENNETH: It would be safe to say that we’re seeing a lot of volatility here.
I’ve always been kind of fond of multiple realities. In fact the juggling of reality, the tightrope of Predictable Risk, the promotion of capital accumulation whose tangible existence is a pattern of electrons — that’s my job.
But in my personal life, up till now, sure, I like surprises, but cute little surprises, like parakeets, nothing big. And Lillian, well, I don’t know if I’d call it love. It’s more a very intense focus on this person. We really are very mismatched socks. They’ve sorted out the matching pairs, and we’re what’s left. Which I guess makes a perfect match. She looks at me.
If it wasn’t all so silly. If I have my day in court, there should be a certain stature to it. If I fall down the rabbit hole, I mean what’s down there? I mean basically what am I doing in the county courthouse? I mean. . .
What if I forgot the way out?
Lillian and Kenneth in the hallway of the courthouse.
LILLIAN: Don’t hurry. We’re on time.
KENNETH: Ten a.m. Courtroom B?
LILLIAN: It’s ten of ten.
KENNETH: Lillian, thanks for— You know I’ve never actually been in a courtroom. Have you?
LILLIAN: One divorce. Yes in fact I bled to death in a courtroom. By the way, am I here as your sales assistant or very confused friend? Since we’re on company time.
KENNETH: I’m not neglecting the job. Last month I made record earnings for a recession cycle— What do you mean “very confused friend”? Don’t we have a relationship? We seem to be setting new records.
LILLIAN: Frankly, Kenneth. . . Yes. It’s extremely . . . great.
KENNETH: I’ve felt a lot of energy—
LILLIAN: And I’ve taken satisfaction in that energy transfer. But what if this is the good part of the dream, and then the person next to you snores, and suddenly you’re dreaming chainsaws?
He embraces her.
Ken, stay calm. We’re on government property.
KENNETH: Would I be mistaken to say that we’ve had strong movement of the key indicators?
LILLIAN: Don’t start with me, Ken. I don’t want my rallies charted or my peaks predicted. Not right now.
KENNETH: How about a baseball analogy?
LILLIAN: Strike four. (urgently) Ken, we don’t have more surprises here, do we? I signed on for a simple, uninvolved affair with a pleasant, cute, very straight investment broker, and the fact that you were very straight gave it all a certain spice. So it takes some adjusting that I’m not the most bizarre person in the room.
KENNETH: I love you.
She breaks down, sobbing.
LILLIAN: This isn’t a good time for me, Ken. It’s none of your business—
KENNETH: Your friend?—
LILLIAN: I don’t talk about personal problems with persons who aren’t the problem.
KENNETH: You don’t have to—
LILLIAN: All right! She works for an insurance company. She got promoted. Transferred to Des Moines. Des Moines! I said, “Hey no way! I’m not moving to Des Moines!” “Right. I don’t want you to.” Good thing we see eye to eye.
A stab of pain, then she blows her nose, starts to collect herself.
I thought I’d got off the treadmill. The machine grinds, the pistons chug, the ratchets ratchet, and suddenly, without knowing why, Des Moines becomes a factor in your life. “Send that gal to Des Moines. Who gives a damn what her name is, or if somebody likes to whisper it.”
Deep breath.
Well. Let’s go satisfy Justice.
Charlie rushes in, hugs Kenneth.
CHARLIE: I’m with you, baby. I brought a camera. I’ll be up front.
He kisses Lillian, goes in. They start to follow. Woman, very withdrawn, approaches.
WOMAN: Hey. . .
WOMAN: Scuse me, were you on the news? Could I have your autograph?
LILLIAN: Excuse us—
WOMAN: Is she from television too?
KENNETH: Actually we’re big stars. I’m Ken Leonard. I’m very big in sports, movies, franchise food.
WOMAN: No you’re not. You wouldn’t tell me if you were. They wear disguises. People like me, I’m nothing, I don’t exist, I just—
Trembling with rage:
I get so pissed. Nothing works. My fucking boyfriend, he got this .44 Smith & Wesson. See? (showing pistol) And I blew his fucking head off. And I get arrested, dragged down here. But the fucking computer screws up, and they throw out the case. I miss three days of work, and I’m not even on the news.
She waves pistol, distracted. Kenneth and Lillian freeze.
KENNETH: Uh, miss—
WOMAN: I’m gonna wait for some celebrity. Shoot his balls off. Boom. That’ll get me on TV.
Woman wanders off. Long pause.
KENNETH: Was that real?
LILLIAN: It was real, or it was Charlie.
KENNETH: Should we do something?
LILLIAN: Change the channel.
Attorney appears.
ATTORNEY: Hi guys. Here we are. (shaking hands with Lillian) Mel Odell. Think of “mellow.” Ok now. Be warned. The judicial system is in some distress. No money. The corporate guys, they put all their money in advertising, that’s fine, but what’s advertising without law enforcement? Push people to want this stuff, want it so much they scream, want something, anything, hell, you’d better put some money into waste management. Human byproducts of the economic system, right? Course I get in trouble talking this way, but what the hell, huh? If you can’t have your own ideas, what can you have? Ideas never hurt anybody. Ideas are a hoot. Let’s do it.
Attorney goes in. Both look up at the ceiling, brush their heads.
LILLIAN: Did you feel something crumble?
KENNETH: I think it’s the infrastructure.
LILLIAN: Ken, seriously. Are you still normal?
KENNETH: No. I’m very sweet.
“Abandon all hope—”
LILLIAN: “Ye who enter here.”
They embrace, then turn, go into the courtroom.
Suddenly, they are in chaos. Gavel. Screams. Pig grunts. Judge sits at the bench, rapping gavel.
Are we in the right place?
KENNETH: Courtroom B.
LILLIAN: Look out for the pig!
Sudden freeze. Kenneth speaks to us.
KENNETH: The scene before us did not inspire confidence. A dissatisfied felon had released a pig in the courtroom, and people were being beaten severely.
BAILIFF: Remain seated! Sit down! Order in the court!
JUDGE: Please, people! Would the police please not beat the people who are sitting down?
BAILIFF: Sit down. Now sit. (tumult subsiding) Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! Sit! (when all are quiet:) All rise. County Court of Philadelphia County, Honorable Willard Burger presiding. First case.
JUDGE: Now if anyone has any more pigs, you can just forget it. Cause I could keep you all standing up if that’s what you want. Is that what you want? Ok, act like it. Siddown.
All sit.
Now you criminals listen here. The new county board has pledged to CLEAN UP CRIME. So they got painters coming in. They’re gonna paint the courthouse. See how you like that. Now we have a clogged calendar, so if any of you want to plead guilty, that’ll save the taxpayers money so they can buy TVs for you to steal. That was a joke if anybody noticed.
BAILIFF: Silence! Case number 4033, Enriquez. Driving the wrong way on a wrong-way street.
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, we see no reason to press charges. Her husband killed her last week.
JUDGE: Dismissed.
BAILIFF: 4034. Sanchez.
VOICE: Why all the Spanish names, man? Bigots!
Mild tumult, dying.
JUDGE: Now hey! Now all you Puerto Ricans and Afro-Americans, I have something to say.
BAILIFF: Spics and spades, listen up! Spics and spades!
JUDGE: Now this is an unprejudiced court. I don’t look at the color of your skin. I look at your suit and tie.
BAILIFF: 4035. Kenneth Leonard.
Kenneth rises.
KENNETH: Here, Your Honor.
JUDGE: Now see, he’s wearing a suit and tie. Looks good. Are you represented by counsel?
ATTORNEY: He is, Your Honor.
KENNETH: I’d like to plead guilty, Your Honor.
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, based on this man’s charges we ask that he be held without bail.
JUDGE: We have an indictment here?
BAILIFF: Charges against Kenneth Leonard, charges now being read. Charged with vandalism in defacing a billboard, property of Classic Displays Inc., in violation of Section 406.A.3 of the county criminal code.
BAILIFF: Charged with criminal trespass. Charged with failure to report the crime, charged with confusing a police officer—
KENNETH: Excuse me, sir, could I— Mel?—
BAILIFF: Charged with breaking and entering on the premises of 233 East 14th—
KENNETH: That’s my office.
BAILIFF: Charges of jaywalking, conspiracy, disorderly conduct, extortion, racketeering, grand theft, arson, prostitution, mail fraud, sodomy, charges of 2nd degree assault, murder, and the aggravated battery of a water meter reader. It goes on.
LILLIAN: Kenneth, you promised no surprises.
KENNETH: Hey, is this a gag? Is this my birthday?
Photo flash.
VOICE: People are dying! You hear me? Kids! Women! They’re dying!
Tumult erupts. Five seconds. Tumult stops.
BAILIFF: Order in the court!
JUDGE: Those painters better be getting here.
KENNETH: Your Honor— (to Attorney) Mel, do you want to talk here? (to Judge) Your Honor, the charge I came here for is the billboard charge. These other charges weren’t part of the arraignment— (to Attorney) Say something!
ATTORNEY: I’m thinking.
JUDGE: Well these are pretty serious charges. Don’t you think you probably did some of this stuff?
KENNETH: It’s a computer malfunction.
JUDGE: Bailiff? What kind of computer we got?
JUDGE: Prosecutor?
PROSECUTOR: IBM I believe, Your Honor.
JUDGE: Well that’s a pretty big company, Mr. Leonard. You think they make mistakes? That’s billions of dollars talking there.
BAILIFF: Nintendo.
BAILIFF: We have a Nintendo. Budget cuts. It was donated. Your Honor, I think we do have a problem here. These charges are for crimes committed all on the same day. Three hundred parking citations, then some sort of delicatessen menu.
JUDGE: Well this doesn’t make any sense, does it? Where would he find the time? That’s computers for you. Can’t live with’em, can’t live without’em.
KENNETH: Great. Although I did deface the billboard, I’m happy to pay a fine if that’s—
JUDGE: Don’t speak out of turn. There are lots of less fortunate criminals who wish they had a nice lawyer like yours, so be thankful.
BAILIFF: You should entertain a motion.
JUDGE: I should entertain a motion for dismissal.
KENNETH: (to Attorney) Great. Go ahead. Mel?
ATTORNEY: Let me handle this. It’s all procedural. My client wishes to plead Not Guilty, Your Honor. We request a trial by jury.
KENNETH: No, hey— Mel?—
Clatter, doors opening, muffled voices.
BAILIFF: Attention. The painters are here. The trial will move to Courtroom C.
JUDGE: Ten minute recess.
KENNETH: Your Honor, couldn’t we finish this off? I have an appointment—
JUDGE: I have to go to the bathroom. I have a spastic bladder that responds whenever I say “Recess.”
Kenneth and Lillian move into corridor.
LILLIAN: Kenneth, do you find this a little avant garde? I’m having trouble with this.
Reporter approaches, Charlie following.
REPORTER: Mr. Leonard?
CHARLIE: Look who I gotcha, man: Action News!
REPORTER: I’m from Action News Command Center. Could you say a few words? (on mike) Ken, this is tough to answer— It’s always the tough questions that are the hardest— But with all the world crises, the economy, the movie rating system, what else—
KENNETH: The sky falling—
REPORTER: The sky falling— What do you represent?
No response. Off mike:
We’ll edit this. Could you say something confrontational? We’d like to play up One Man Against the System.
KENNETH: I’m not against the System. I’m plugged into the System.
REPORTER: Listen, are you telling me how to do my job? I’ve been doing this twelve years. Come on, something like “You gotta do what you gotta do,” something like that.
KENNETH: Ok. “Well, when nature calls. . .”
REPORTER: Got it. Great.
Reporter goes.
CHARLIE: Great! Ken, hey, this is scary stuff. This ain’t fun and games. I mean, this is real. I mean, this is history. Buchanan, right?
Attorney approaches.
ATTORNEY: Hi guys. Great. We need to kick this around, I’ve got some ideas—
KENNETH: Look, Mel, what is this? Can we settle this?
ATTORNEY: Kenny, I think we have a real opportunity—
KENNETH: So look, just send the bill to my office—
ATTORNEY: This can be very very big.
ATTORNEY: Kenny. One way to go, I could move for dismissal, on the grounds that it’s nuts—
KENNETH: Great idea!
ATTORNEY: But this is much bigger. This can be a platform all the way to the Supreme Court.
LILLIAN: Platform?
ATTORNEY: Follow me now. Kenny, ok, I’m in corporate law, I do very well, but I do have some principles. Do you ever think about the Native Americans? What those people have suffered. They’re people, Ken. Corporate law gives me a real perspective. I was involved in two cases regarding Native Americans. We sued two reservations to enforce contracts for mineral rights. And we won. We wasted’em. That’s what I mean. Major corporations are destroying the heritage of America.
KENNETH: It was you doing it.
KENNETH: Why didn’t you just not do it?
ATTORNEY: Well I’m a lawyer. Ken, this is it. All we need is a platform. It’s terrific.
KENNETH: I defaced a billboard. My life is on hold. I want to get back to having normal problems— taxes, parking tickets, allergies. Things you start to feel nostalgic for.
ATTORNEY: I know you don’t mean it, Kenny.
LILLIAN: He means it. He’s a total square.
KENNETH: So could you please enter a motion for dismissal? I’d like to get back to my love story. That’s a lot more interesting. I think we should all be able to choose what movie our life resembles. Isn’t that what freedom means?
ATTORNEY: You’re making a big mistake, Kenny. I have to tell you.
KENNETH: Fine. Great. Let’s do it. Where do we go? Across the street?
Bailiff and Judge emerge from courtroom, cross the stage, off. Traffic. Squealing brakes. Screams. Thump. All focus front.
BAILIFF: It’s the judge.
LILLIAN: I think it’s the judge.
ATTORNEY: Chalk up one judge.
Charlie takes a flash snapshot, rushes out.
KENNETH: Lillian, cancel my appointments.
Music. To us:
Very deep down, most of us have the gut feeling that things will be ok. We’re Americans. We have hospitals with CAT scans, scrapbooks full of snapshots of Christmas trees. So if the world seems ready to self-destruct, if the sky indeed is falling, then I must be dreaming. The earthquake rumbles, the rubble dumps, and nobody speaks any language you understand— but you know it’s a dream.
Gavel. The Judge, a bandaged zombie, sits propped upright. Bailiff operates the Judge’s hand to gavel. Lillian and Kenneth at one side, Prosecutor and Attorney at the other, all facing front.
BAILIFF: Honorable Willard Burger comatose but presiding. People vs. Kenneth Leonard.
Judge grunts. Weak rap of gavel.
People vs. Kenneth Leonard, multiple indictments.
ATTORNEY: Your Honor, my client has directed me to move for dismissal of all charges.
BAILIFF: Denied.
ATTORNEY: Your Honor—
BAILIFF: Denied. We’re not here to coddle criminals. It’s gotta stop. Right now. That’s what the Judge says.
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, we intend to prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.
ATTORNEY: Terrific. Terrific. This is big.
BAILIFF: Counsel, how does your client plead?
ATTORNEY: Not guilty, Your Honor.
KENNETH: Not even conscious.
ATTORNEY: This is going to be very very big.
Kenneth and Lillian look at each other. Bailiff takes the gavel from the Judge’s hand, raps three times. Blackout.
Act II
Statistical Analysis of Unlikely Events
Courtroom. Bailiff raps gavel. Kenneth, embracing Lillian, speaks to us:
KENNETH: I’m starting to depend on my diary to convince me that yesterday really happened.
CHARLIE: (running in, hugging him) Fabulous. A guy from the Fox network wants to make you into a Saturday morning cartoon.
VOICE: Episode Four: “Statistical Analysis of Unlikely Events.”
KENNETH: In thinking back, sure, I can accept the fact that my troubles may be rooted in the system of which I am a well-paid component. In reference to my lawyer, I know that madmen are made, not born, and that clowns don’t just grow on trees.
But it was hard to focus on deeper meanings. In the midst of total chaos, how I could think of— What I suddenly felt was: I love Lillian. I do. Even her silence when I say “Don’t we have a relationship?” Silence. But silence, repeated, sets up a heartbeat.
BAILIFF: Judge needs a recess.
Pig squeal. Gunshot. Splat.
If anyone releases another pig, I will order the use of chemicals.
Lillian pulls away from Kenneth.
LILLIAN: Ken, this isn’t fun and games. I’m going to call Mr. Stipson and get the firm’s lawyers down here.
KENNETH: I don’t want to involve the firm.
LILLIAN: You are their top-grossing broker. You are valuable to them. And to me.
KENNETH: In my capacity as your supervisor—
LILLIAN: My capacity as your lover supersedes your capacity as my supervisor. I have a stake in this also.
KENNETH: Lillian—
LILLIAN: I have a stake in this, Ken. There’s a slow, very disgruntled earthquake starting to get its act together. I don’t enjoy being trapped in someone else’s nightmare, but since I am, let’s wake up— It’s ok. I have my own change.
She goes out, as Attorney enters.
KENNETH: Mel, you’re my attorney, after all. Can’t you do something here? Should I really have a judge who was hit by a truck and can only grunt? And a bailiff who has appointed himself official translator? Is this a healthy institution?
ATTORNEY: We need some coffee.
Pats him on the shoulder, goes out. Kenneth looks around, lost. Prosecutor approaches. Awkward pause.
PROSECUTOR: Mr. Leonard?
PROSECUTOR: Hi. Maggie Thatcher. County Attorney. That’s my real name, hate it frankly. Really sorry about this. I’m on your side. One hundred percent.
PROSECUTOR: Nothing personal. I really admire you. I wish to hell I didn’t have to screw your ass to the wall.
KENNETH: Look, what is going on here? Aren’t you the Prosecutor?
PROSECUTOR: Sure. Twelve years in the criminal justice system. Twelve glorious years! Processing crime. Nobody’s here to prevent it, even punish it. We process it. Why rehabilitate? That’s like picking stuff out of your garbage can and putting it back in the fridge.
KENNETH: I’m not understanding something. I thought if you’re going to prosecute major crimes you have to have, like, victims. The parking tickets I don’t mind, but the murder and rape, those might look bad on my resume.
PROSECUTOR: Nothing personal, Mr. Leonard, but you’re dead meat. Tell you why. Curious?
KENNETH: Emphatically.
PROSECUTOR: I crucify a thousand black kids, nobody bats an eye. One white, photogenic stockbroker, outrageous accusations, I convict him and we’ll have headlines for weeks. The Market crashes, the Dow Jones shits in its pants, it’s their own fingers in the meat grinder. “Oh we better look into this.” The constructive use of Terror.
KENNETH: You’re crazy.
PROSECUTOR: Yes. Yes. Right. We’re all crazy. We don’t use logic here. No, we do. We use lumps of logic. Falling out of the ceiling.
KENNETH: You have to convince a jury.
PROSECUTOR: Well I could build a circumstantial case, your whereabouts at 11:42 confirmed by a parking citation in the vicinity of maybe twelve thousand victims — we’ve got yard sales on victims. I could do that. But why bother? I’ll do it the old-fashioned way. We sell two hundred million people total bullshit, what’s another twelve?
KENNETH: The Judge—
PROSECUTOR: He’s brain-dead. The Bailiff’s in charge now. When they chose up sides, they chose him last, and he’s been stewing ever since.
KENNETH: Appeals—
PROSECUTOR: They’re tightening the parameters. Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, who frankly gives a damn? We want our criminals deep-fat-fried.
KENNETH: Plea bargain—
PROSECUTOR: No way. You’re my inspiration. My catalyst. You’ve shown me what it means to risk. Take the plunge. Go for it. I’m going for it, Mr. Leonard. That big red handle marked Self-Destruct.
KENNETH: You’re crazy!
PROSECUTOR: (joyfully) Yes! Yes!
Gavel. Prosecutor and Attorney take their places.
KENNETH: Jury selection. Twelve individuals who will make major career decisions on your behalf. A short little ferret lady. A fat man with a necktie depicting dogs and ducks. Four or five people who have a hard time keeping their faces in focus.
And a math professor, this high, silly laugh, who describes his research as Statistical Analysis of Unlikely Events. What’s the probability of something that doesn’t occur often enough to calculate its probability? Probability of something that never happens? Or the utterly impossible that in fact just happened?
The Judge, near death, strains to speak, only grunts.
BAILIFF: Mr. Leonard? There seems to be a sound of tapping and drumming. Please refrain from tapping and drumming. This isn’t fun and games. No smoking—
KENNETH: I don’t smoke—
BAILIFF: No sandals or tank tops, mister. Wear a necktie—
KENNETH: I do wear a tie—
BAILIFF: This country is about haircuts. Display the flag, work for a living—
BAILIFF: Or else just die. Hell of a lot of people who should just die. (to audience) You know who you are. Prosecution!
PROSECUTOR: Members of the jury. We will prove that the defendant, Kenneth Leonard, did perpetrate the defacement of a commercial billboard. That he has been indicted for numerous felonies: computer error, yes, but a pattern emerges. We will offer no relevant evidence. Facts limit freedom.
BAILIFF: Defense?
ATTORNEY: Your Honor, this isn’t a simple case of vandalism. We’re talking capital crimes. We’re talking a system that was responsible for the destruction of the Native American, exploitation of the wilderness, many, many issues— We will prove, ladies and gentlemen, yes, that Kenneth Leonard is guilty—
KENNETH: Don’t say that!
ATTORNEY: As are we all. We expect a conviction—
ATTORNEY: We welcome a conviction. We say Go For It.
KENNETH: I can’t wait.
Photo flash.
CHARLIE: Bases loaded, Ken!
KENNETH: Charlie—
BAILIFF: Order! This is a court of law!
KENNETH: He was joking—
BAILIFF: Jokes! You want jokes? Fun and games? Fine, it’s your trial, we’ll give you fun and games. Prosecutor, present your witnesses. When the music starts you walk around. When it stops, sit in the witness box.
Music. Bailiff beats time. Everyone walks in a circle. Halt.
PROSECUTOR: Miss Dolly Small.
KENNETH: Oh my God.
BAILIFF: Raise your right hand.
KENNETH: (to us) Miss Dolly Small, my first grade teacher. The same bleached hair, encrustations of rings, bosoms that arrive at the witness box a step ahead of her.
PROSECUTOR: Miss Small. You were acquainted with the defendant.
SMALL: Yes. I have a prepared statement. “Kenneth Leonard. He was a good boy. Good hygiene habits. He brought his grandma’s dentures to Show-and-Tell.”
PROSECUTOR: What other things did Kenneth Leonard bring to Show-and-Tell?
SMALL: Well he brought all the hair from when he had a haircut.
PROSECUTOR: Teeth and hair. Did you have any reason to believe that the defendant might grow up to commit a felony?
SMALL: Well he colored outside the lines.
Attorney rises, on the attack.
ATTORNEY: Miss Small, in your first grade curriculum, is there any mention made of the four centuries of genocide against the Native Americans?
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, I object.
BAILIFF: Overruled. Sustained. Whatever.
ATTORNEY: No further questions, Your Honor.
BAILIFF: Next witness. Prop up the Judge.
Music. All walk.
KENNETH: Mel? Shouldn’t you yell “Objection!” or something?
ATTORNEY: Kenny, there are millions of people starving, six oil wells a day being sunk in virgin wilderness, two hundred species a week wiped out by the economic system for which you are directly responsible, and you object to Musical Chairs?
Gavel. Halt.
PROSECUTOR: Farmer Brown to the stand.
BAILIFF: Farmer Brown is on the stand.
PROSECUTOR: Please state your name?
BROWN: Farmer Brown.
PROSECUTOR: You are Farmer Brown, who is depicted in the Burgerland promotional campaign?
BROWN: Shore am.
PROSECUTOR: Farmer Brown, what was your reaction when you saw your defaced face?
BROWN: Well sir, I was hurt. The pigs have been not the same. They know something’s up. It’s a blow to the family farm. And it’s damaged my career as a billboard.
PROSECUTOR: If America is not Burgerland then what is it?
BROWN: If it ain’t Burgerland, then it ain’t worth spit.
ATTORNEY: (vehemently) Mr. Brown, isn’t it a fact that the crops of America are planted among the bones of the Native American, that your plow has violated the great Mother Earth?
BROWN: Well, that might could be. We’re none of us perfect.
Music. All walk.
KENNETH: Mel, this is not in accord with established courtroom procedure.
ATTORNEY: Kenneth, it’s a lot different from what you see on television.
Gavel. Halt.
BAILIFF: Next witness, Mr. Henry Hinckle.
PROSECUTOR: We’ve subpoenaed this witness as a hostile witness, Your Honor.
BAILIFF: So noted. Do you swear?
HENRY: Constantly.
HENRY: Are you practicing?
PROSECUTOR: Mr. Hinckle, you are the proprietor of Henry’s Dance College, offering classes in ballet, jazz, tap, baton twirling, dramatics, and astrology, is that correct?
HENRY: The astrology pays the bills.
PROSECUTOR: And you’ve given Mr. Leonard tapdance lessons. How would you characterize his work?
HENRY: Artistically unforgiveable, but charming.
PROSECUTOR: Mr. Hinckle, you opened your studio six years ago. Where were you before that?
HENRY: I was in New York.
PROSECUTOR: For what purpose?
HENRY: If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere, New York, New York, tada tada.
PROSECUTOR: Is it not a fact, Mr. Hinckle, that you returned precisely because you could not make it? That in five years of auditioning for chorus roles you achieved only a venereal infection?
HENRY: I was studying.
PROSECUTOR: That your mother worked a double shift so you could flutter your way to stardom?
HENRY: Why are you asking this?
PROSECUTOR: That your resume claims professional roles which in fact you played in high school.
KENNETH: What’s the point?
HENRY: Please stop this right now!
BAILIFF: Proceed.
PROSECUTOR: Henry. Is it a fact that you returned home, moved in with your mother, and taught dance classes because you couldn’t get a real job? Is that a fact?
HENRY: (enraged, near tears) I have standards, and standards get you in trouble, people expect you to have no standards and they hate to be disappointed.
For many reasons, very personal, I felt it was not in my best interests to remain in New York and Make It, and therefore I returned. I opened my studio, which I find very fulfilling, very— (breaking down) I don’t have to put up with this—
Kenneth I can say categorically is incapable of any crime, he has no talent at all, I have told him this repeatedly, day in and day out, left messages on his machine. But he has found in tap-dancing an exhilarating manifestation of inner spirit, and I respect that, I do, and if the defense attorney was doing his job, he might ask “Who is on trial here?”
You people are mean! You’re mean! You’re just very mean!
He rises, sobbing. Gathers himself.
My America isn’t Burgerland. It would be . . . pasta primavera!
Stumbles off.
KENNETH: What was that for? What did that accomplish? There are established procedures. Aren’t there? Didn’t there used to be?
PROSECUTOR: Your Honor, the County rests.
Music. Clatter.
At that moment, the doors opened for the painters again, more now, like Japanese investors flapping their wallets. We had to move.
Court shifts. Charlie appears, watching it happen.
CHARLIE: Amazing. Pure jazz. Here goes the jury, reporters, cops carrying the Judge, a lady with a shopping cart full of cans. Courtroom G, but the locks are all changed. Nobody’s got a key. They call the custodian, he comes with a big ring of keys, but all to another building. Cause this is security precautions, they give janitors keys to buildings they don’t work in, so they lock all the doors one by one, they can’t get’em open again. Hey, I’m lost—
He wanders off.
KENNETH: And so at last, with great metaphorical ambiguity, my trial, my one and only definitive trial, was moved to the men’s room.
Flush. Lillian enters, startles. Kenneth rushes to her.
LILLIAN: Am I in the right place?
KENNETH: Nobody is.
BAILIFF: The Judge has to use the facilities. Ladies please close your eyes. Men can watch.
ATTORNEY: Terrific. I wanted to catch you guys before we start up again—
LILLIAN: (to Kenneth) Are you hungry?
KENNETH: Starved.
LILLIAN: All I could find was cornflakes.
As they speak, they stuff their mouths with cornflakes.
ATTORNEY: Because I’m not sure Ken appreciates the strategy here. Basically, the strategy is: plead innocent, go for a conviction.
LILLIAN: Go for—
ATTORNEY: Groundwork for an appeal. This is pure First Amendment. We drag it out, it stays in the news. Six months, a year, two years. This can be very very big. For us all.
ATTORNEY: We’re getting mad here because we’re getting scared. Now here’s the strategy—
LILLIAN: Ken, I called Mr. Stipson. He’s agreed to send the firm’s lawyers. They all know the Judge, it’ll take five minutes.
ATTORNEY: This surprises me.
KENNETH: Thank God for sales assistants!
LILLIAN: The catch is. . . The catch is you have to stop this stuff. Mr. Stipson doesn’t like the publicity. He wants you back. As a broker. Not a hoofer.
KENNETH: My sales have increased.
LILLIAN: He sees long-term impact on investor confidence. Come on, eat.
KENNETH: God, I love your fingers.
ATTORNEY: Hey guys! Chief Crazy Horse. A great American strategist. I look at this, and I see strategy.
KENNETH: Is that what you want me to do? Give it up?
LILLIAN: Yes. Absolutely. No question. Now.
KENNETH: You’re ambivalent. Kiss me.
LILLIAN: I’m eating cornflakes!
ATTORNEY: I have to say something here.
ATTORNEY: Well I know when I’m not wanted.
KENNETH: (to Lillian) Just tell me to quit, tell me to do what Mr. Stipson asks, and I’ll do it.
LILLIAN: Quit. Give it up. Stop dancing. Get out of this mess. Eat your cornflakes.
ATTORNEY: You’re a symbol of hope, and you’re telling millions of people—
KENNETH: I don’t believe you.
ATTORNEY: You’re telling them go to hell.
LILLIAN: Kenneth, I don’t want more surprises. I want—
ATTORNEY: You want to play your little love story—
LILLIAN: I just want a little love story. Please, Kenneth, be normal.
KENNETH: See, my feeling is you didn’t succumb to a casual pass from your boss nor a wild crazy guy, but—
ATTORNEY: So I’m gone, buster—
KENNETH: But you carried on affairs with both of these guys, which was me. So how do you drop the one and stay stuck to the other?
ATTORNEY: (vehemently) You think you have a chance in hell? Nothing is real here. We live in a little sit-com, and the people who live well are those who help us believe that little sit-com. You could do that, Ken, you could be very big. Very very big. But you don’t want to. You just want to be Kenneth. So you’ll just be Kenneth. Ok, buster: see what happens to Kenneth.
He storms out. Kenneth and Lillian embrace. Music.
KENNETH: Lillian—
LILLIAN: I know. Ken— Ken, I’m stuck. I hadn’t planned on severe cardiac distress. I’d started with younger guys, rebounded to older men, and then I thought maybe the trouble is men, and I tried a less familiar mattress and, well, basically I have very bad luck with anything breathing. And then you: Kenneth and Ken. My God—
KENNETH: We went to the beach, I was five or six, parents rented this cabin on the beach, and I collected shells, wonderful curlicue shells. Screw baseball, I had my shells.
And I went to pick up a shell, and it scurried away. This beautiful shell with a hermit crab. It didn’t belong there, this damned little spidery thing, it wasn’t even paying rent. This terrible sense that on a clean sandy beach, this gorgeous architectural wonder, perfect for knickknack shelves — possessed by a sleazy little anarchist that just didn’t belong.
I brought home all my other shells, and I put them on my shelf, and eventually . . . I threw them away. Cause I very badly missed that hermit crab. Every soul should have one. Even mine.
Munching cornflakes:
You want some Pepsi on these?
BAILIFF: You can open your eyes. He’s done.
KENNETH: Your Honor—
BAILIFF: Speak through your lawyer.
KENNETH: My lawyer just resigned. I’d like to ask that charges be dismissed.
BAILIFF: On what grounds?
KENNETH: On the grounds that the prosecution presented no evidence.
BAILIFF: Those are very serious allegations. You claim this Court has allowed a case that has no basis in fact.
KENNETH: I’m saying—
BAILIFF: That this Court has violated fundamental procedures, and you have made these charges within hearing of the jury, and I find you in contempt.
KENNETH: Could the Judge speak for himself?
BAILIFF: He’s doing you a favor just breathing.
KENNETH: I need a lawyer.
Charlie enters, stops, confused.
BAILIFF: You need a lawyer. Fine. There’s one. You! You’re a lawyer.
CHARLIE: I need to go to the can.
BAILIFF: Get up here! You’re a lawyer.
KENNETH: That’s Charlie. Charlie isn’t a lawyer. He’s a musician. He teaches high school.
BAILIFF: So what? I’m not a judge, I’m the bailiff.
KENNETH: I have a right to a lawyer.
BAILIFF: Where does the Constitution define a lawyer? The Judge goes by the Constitution.
CHARLIE: Ken. It’s ok. It’s great. You need me, I’ll do it. It’ll be a kick. We’ll do a jazz defense.
LILLIAN: Kenneth, Mr. Stipson’s lawyers will be here—
CHARLIE: Fight fire with fire, man. For a nut case, you need a nut. Freak’em out. 1944, Steve Biras, Cleveland Indians, went two-for-two in his first and only day in the majors. Greatest one-day hero. I owe you, man, you changed my whole life.
KENNETH: You’re serious.
CHARLIE: You’re important to me, man.
KENNETH: I don’t want to be important. I want to be extremely insignificant at this point in time.
CHARLIE: This is the ultimate trip.
LILLIAN: He doesn’t want the ultimate trip. He wants a ride home.
BAILIFF: Defense ready?
CHARLIE: Am I ready, Ken? Am I in the on-deck circle? Designated home run artiste?
KENNETH: What do I do, Lillian? Take Stipson’s offer, or go with Babe Ruth?
CHARLIE: What’s the answer?
Long pause.
KENNETH: Tune in next week.
Tap studio. Music.
HENRY: Kenneth, you know it wasn’t my idea to testify, I was subpoenaed, as you know. Mine is not a talent for self-promotion.
But I do feel I have something to offer. Don’t you? Where to put your toe, where to shuffle, and that’s at least a start toward civilization.
Kenneth, it has been a great honor to have you as a student, a pleasure and a privilege. Your fire is a drizzly ember, as was mine. But preserve it. Please. Oh please.
Tapping. Music. Fade.
What Is Freedom?
Basement sounds. Trash, garbage cans. Fluorescent light. Bailiff is high on a stepladder, with gavel. Cop stands below. Others sit on boxes. Gavel.
BAILIFF: County regrets the inconvenience. Plumbing blew up in the men’s room, so now we’re here. Counsel for the defense, present your case.
CHARLIE: Sure. Jury trial in a furnace room. Very kinky. You got anything to drink?
KENNETH: Charlie—
CHARLIE: Anyway. Hi. I’m Charlie. Your friendly undertaker. Or actually— This is . . . kinda new trip for me, but you get on the train that’s in the station, I says.
LILLIAN: Kenneth, please accept the concept that this is real!
KENNETH: Charlie—
CHARLIE: This is a test. No, I read this on a wall: “Your life is a test. It is only a test.” I didn’t make that up. I just quoted. There’s a lot of humorous people loose out there.
KENNETH: Charlie—
CHARLIE: Now that kinda square, conformist-looking guy there looks like he’s just sitting there shaking, whereas he is in actual fact a—
VOICE: Episode Five: “What Is Freedom?”
KENNETH: (to us) I made my decision. I could have received the very best legal counsel, in return for an agreement to end my tap-dance career— not really a career, more something like a wart that you come to know and love. But instead I chose to be represented by my friend Charlie—
CHARLIE: Here we go loop-de-looooo. . .
KENNETH: Whose head seemed to fit the ambiance. Lillian is speechless.
BAILIFF: Counsel, proceed.
CHARLIE: Studs and studresses of the jury—
BAILIFF: Hold it. We have to have a commercial.
KENNETH: A what?
BAILIFF: Who do you think pays for this? The taxpayers don’t want crooks, they want people shot, so why should they pay for trials? Ok. “Come on down to Morton’s for our annual storewide clearance. All furniture 50% off. Balloons for the kids.” Proceed.
CHARLIE: Kenny the Leonard to the stand, cause who should know bettah than he!
Kenneth sits on the witness stand: a garbage can.
Hi there.
BAILIFF: Simple yes or no.
CHARLIE: See, what I’m looking for here— God I love you, man— Right, sure, you don’t want headlines, ok, cause that’s not you, but — I never done this before— I know what I’m saying, I’m saying— What I’m asking my friend here is, Kenneth, Ken, which third baseman led the Majors in accumulated career parking tickets? Gotcha!
BAILIFF: Yes or no.
CHARLIE: See, no, hey, Yes and No is dichotomy, black and white, “I’m cool and you’re an asshole,” but it’s really a unity, right? What they talk about All Is One, He Is Me and I Am He, that stuff. I’m not screwing around here, man, cause I mean we’re in a furnace room, I mean this is real— Cause they talk about in college this Aristotelian “It’s either Is or It Isn’t,” two plus two, and all we got is the equals sign sitting there with the lid up. But I’m saying Yes embraces No, Frog and Toad Are Friends, kids’ book, you ever read that? Did I lose you?
LILLIAN: Oh God, Kenneth, get him out of here!
BAILIFF: Proceed.
CHARLIE: Like, you wake up and the day, it’s not only going, it’s already been. Try to think, and your mind’s riddled with microwaves. I mean we’re all baked potatoes and we just don’t know it.
And my kids, I don’t see my kids, they all had a great first piano lesson, and the second one they quit and they gonna wind up doing their wash in a laundromat. Whole thing with my wife, she looked so tired. You say “You look nice today,” she sighs, and she married me for me, and I try to be me, and she says “Who the hell are you?”
So this guy, he starts to tap-dance, and this creates a— something— rhythm— Rhythm, right?
KENNETH: Could I say something?
BAILIFF: Yes or no.
CHARLIE: We’re saying unfold yourselves. Untangle the string, unzip every critical zipper. My point is—
BAILIFF: Shut up. Don’t bother the Judge. Can’t you see he’s dying?
CHARLIE: My point is—
BAILIFF: Two-minute recess.
Kenneth turns to Lillian. Charlie approaches.
CHARLIE: So how am I doing?
KENNETH: Charlie—
LILLIAN: You stink. You really stink. What do you think, you’re a new comedy series?
CHARLIE: Be honest.
KENNETH: Charlie—
LILLIAN: Ken, I want to keep this on a mature level. Please help me do this.
KENNETH: I can’t believe those fingers.
LILLIAN: You’re not helping. You have to have a lawyer. You have to ask Mr. Stipson to step in on this. I’m not a factor.
KENNETH: You are—
LILLIAN: I’m not a factor. I’m taking off. It’s better for us both.
CHARLIE: I’m just trying to help—
LILLIAN: I’m taking off. I’ve had three calls from Des Moines. I think I’m going there.
KENNETH: Lillian—
LILLIAN: I’m not helping. I’m really not helping this love story.
CHARLIE: You mean a lot to me, Ken—
LILLIAN: So I’m out of this as a factor. You don’t have to maintain some crazy image for the sake of me. I don’t believe love means being strapped together into the same catastrophe. Love—
CHARLIE: Ken, hey, I’m just trying to put a human face on it—
LILLIAN: So I’m out of this. For your own good. For my own good. And I’m getting exactly what I want. Security, pleasure, and a very quiet life with no surprises till they make that final diagnosis.
CHARLIE: I love you both.
LILLIAN: No surprises. No sharp corners. No ambivalence. No spray paint.
KENNETH: You’re leaving for my own good? This doesn’t compute. We finish this, and then we sit down and consider the assets and liabilities, because the assets far outweigh—
LILLIAN: The sky is falling, jerk! Get an umbrella!
KENNETH: You’re my umbrella!
LILLIAN: No. I bruise. I look very bad with bruises. Black and blue are not good colors for me.
BAILIFF: Attention!
LILLIAN: (losing control) Will you shut up? You’re nuts. You appoint this guy, he’s not a lawyer, he’s a frazzled crackpot. This is totally crazy—
Commotion. She shouts louder as Cop moves in. Sudden freeze. Lillian, to us:
The first time in my life I totally lost it. The domino theory. One nut triggers two hundred million nuts. They dragged me out of the courtroom. They held onto Kenneth. I thought it looked like Charlie was taking off his clothes. Then somebody gave me a shot, and I was one more passive citizen lost in happy dreams.
She is rolled away on a castered chair. Kenneth repeats helplessly, “Lillian... Lillian...” Charlie starts to remove his shirt. Gavel.
BAILIFF: I want to ask Counsel one thing. Why have you taken off your shirt?
CHARLIE: I wanta stand here naked. As a statement. As one naked human being.
BAILIFF: Get rid of this guy.
KENNETH: He’s my lawyer.
BAILIFF: He’s not a lawyer. He’s a nut.
Gavel. Commotion. Charlie is rolled away. “I’m sorry, man... I’m so damn sorry...” During this:
“We want to urge everyone who’s thinking about financing a new car to talk to the folks down at First Federal, with a plan for every pocketbook. First Federal, the American way to get a bundle.”
Prosecutor, you’re on.
PROSECUTOR: Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult case.
To what extent is actual evidence, the nuts and bolts, vital to conviction? My first answer would be “Well we’re in a court of law.”
But can we settle for easy answers? Don’t we need fresh ideas? That in some cases, guilt is not a requirement for conviction. Is that wrong for a free society? Or is it the very thing that makes our society free?
What is Freedom? I say, and maybe I’m sentimental about this, that’s ok, call me what you want, I say freedom is. . .
Background chorus: “This Land Is Your Land.”
A lawn in front of your house. A parking place for both your cars.
Looking down the highway, there’s a McDonald’s there, and a Burger King, and I can decide if I want the McDonald’s or Burger King, and nobody’s going to make that choice for me.
A school where your kid gets that extra edge over the other kids, cause you know he deserves it.
Freedom is playing the Lottery, and nobody says you don’t have a chance. You have that chance. You have hope. You have all the hope in the world, a lifetime supply.
That’s why we’re here. You know in your gut there’s something very wrong. You just know it, I don’t have to tell you. Is this just a trivial case? Computer glitch? You can believe that. Or you can choose not to believe it. That’s what freedom means: believe what you want to believe.
So just think a moment. . .
Dead silence.
About the ozone layer.
Think about your health insurance and how long you’ll keep it.
Those people who can’t even speak English, and they want your job. People with skin so dark you can’t see if they’re even there, and they want equal rights. Can you deal with equal rights? What happens to that edge that you, and your kids, you’ve worked so hard to deserve? That extra edge.
The Haves and the Have Nots. Are you a Have? Maybe today, what about tomorrow? To them that have, it will be given, and from them that have not, it will all be taken away. That’s in the Bible, and the Bible means exactly what it says.
So listen to your heart. Isn’t it time somebody did something, anything? Isn’t any action better than doing nothing? Isn’t it time for me to think about Me? To send a signal? To say “THIS IS A NEW DAY IN THE WORLD! INCLUDE ME IN!”
Then, my friends, you’ll vote to convict. Cause it’ll feel so good.
Applause. Cheers. Prosecutor goes berserk.
Stop! You idiots! You fell for that? You believe that drivel? Those words don’t mean anything! Don’t you get it? I’m trying to sound ridiculous! You’re supposed to laugh at me! You’re supposed to get sick! I’m feeding you garbage! I’m spitting in your face! I’m fucking your brains! Oh God, I’m sorry. . .
Gavel. Commotion. Prosecutor is rolled out: “I’m sorry... I’m sorry... I am so damn sorry...” During this:
BAILIFF: “If you’re having trouble with your roofs and drain spouts, call Reifsnyder’s Roofs and Drainspouts for a free estimate. For over thirty years, Reifsnyder’s is roofs and drainspouts.”
A terrible, gurgling cry.
VOICE: Was that the Judge?
ANOTHER: Where’s the Judge?
The cry comes again. Cop lifts the lid of a garbage can, look in.
COP: It’s the Judge.
Judge rises from the can, clutching upward: the Living Dead. Collapses. Kenneth speaks to us:
KENNETH: The Judge was stuffed in a thirty gallon can. Insane. Bleeding profusely. And the worst thing was, nobody remembered his birthday.
JUDGE: Nobooooo. . .
KENNETH: He was six years old, and his mama gave him a party, and everybody came and had a great time, but he didn’t win Pin the Tail on the Donkey, somebody else did, when he should have, because it was his birthday. And they found him under his bed.
BAILIFF: Out with the Judge.
Gavel. Commotion. Judge is dragged out, howling. Gavel. Silence.
BAILIFF: Jury, have you reached a verdict?
FOREMAN: Well sir, this doesn’t make much sense. We find the defendant Not Guilty.
BAILIFF: Wrong. Guess again.
FOREMAN: Well sir—
BAILIFF: I’m not Sir! You can call me Your Honor! I can be Your Honor! I’ve done all the work here for thirty years, now damn it I’m gonna be Your Honor! Out with the Jury!
Burst of machine gun fire. Screams. Gavel. During this:
“If you’re having trouble with roofs and drainspouts, call Reifsnyder’s”— We did that one already!
Gavel, repeated. The tumult subsides. Bailiff consults documents. Sense of isolation.
All right, hold on. We forgot the Defense. Summation. CNN says two minutes max. Cue Camera Two.
KENNETH: Lillian. . .
For the first time since Lillian disappeared, Kenneth looks around, realizes she’s really gone. Screams, full out:
BAILIFF: No one by that name here. Make it snappy. Stand him up.
He looks around, confused. Lights up on Lillian. She dials phone. Kenneth tries to pull himself together.
LILLIAN: (on phone) Hi there. How you doing?. . . Did you take the apartment? The one with the cat hair? (laughing) Well you want me to come to the Lonesome Prairie? . . . So do I. A lot. Well I think maybe I definitely will. I mean I will. You want me to? Ok. I will. Except. . .
KENNETH: Do I stand here? Does the camera get me here?
LILLIAN: (on phone) Hold on, let me turn off the TV. Or no— No, it’s something crazy—
Lillian watches in spite of herself.
KENNETH: I’ll say how it happened. Ok? I was drumming my fingers in meetings. In the post office line. Waiting for the tollbooth. “Come on guys.”
LILLIAN: (on phone) Beth, I told you about Kenneth. I made a clean break. It’s— You go through a door which, yes, you saw it said Do Not Enter, and you’re in this Bugs Bunny cartoon. It’s not a sex contest. That’s six of one and five and a half of the other, and none of us are big home run hitters. But it’s a very clean break. . .
Tries to control herself, suddenly sobs. Watches him, as if watching TV.
I talk a lot better to either one of you about the other than. . . Wait. . .
KENNETH: But there’s another side. It’s jumping onto a rhythm. You’re a kid you see the stars dancing. They are, if you’re out you can see in a very black sky you can see the twinkle, Orion, the Great Bear, the Baby Bear, in tap shoes. So by pure accident, I learned to dance. And yes, it was compulsive. I found myself wiggling my toes in the midst of . . . making love, so to speak. I was glad nobody noticed.
LILLIAN: I noticed. (on phone) Ok, maybe it’s he needs me, and I’m a total jerk for walking out, which I am— I know! I know! Run away from a career, a husband, I ran away from you, now from him— Talk about fluctuation, I am the original junk bond. It’s too crazy—
KENNETH: And one day in public, it hit a kind of chord. So I did the first and only illegal thing I ever did in my life. I thought it was funny. And I figured I’d take the consequences. But I guess I imagined. . .
LILLIAN: (on phone) Beth, what the hell am I supposed to do? I don’t mean that. I really miss you. I’m coming on Friday. I am. Definite. Yes. Ok. Bye.
She hangs up. Music.
KENNETH: I imagined this fantasy scene, where’d I’d make a speech, and we’d open our ears to what’s funny, start laughing—
And we’d all be clapping, singing, I’d start in dancing, a carnival starts, the cops dance into the street and there’s this great parade of life and love and the joy of being alive, we’re all sweaty and laughing our heads off because it’s the first time we really know it’s real, and. . .
I guess that’s it. I think we need our little tiny ecstasies.
Lillian takes a moment, then punches number in phone.
LILLIAN: Hi. Lillian Hubbard. I just called about a ticket to Des Moines?
Long pause. She sobs.
Would you please cancel that?
Hangs up. Lights fade on Lillian. Gavel. Kenneth faces the Bailiff, alone.
BAILIFF: Order in the court. Well.
Now let’s look at this. You defaced a billboard. And we know the rest is a bunch of crap. Somebody threw that in to make us look nuts. We’re not nuts. We’re doing a job.
BAILIFF: Very tough job. Thankless. Guilty of vandalism, third degree misdemeanor. Other charges dismissed.
KENNETH: (overwhelmed with relief) Wow. Oh my God. That’s it? Is that all? I thought I was gonna— Wow. Terrific. Thank you. Do I pay a fine or something?
BAILIFF: Rise for sentence.
Bailiff opens a heavy law book.
BAILIFF: Now we have on the statute books here, a law, which is A44, Section 406.A.3 of the county criminal code, which states that vandalism, a misdemeanor, is punishable by minimum penalty of $50 fine or two days in jail. Now the thing about this law, by virtue of the fact that our county commissioners are less than geniuses, is that while it specifies a minimum penalty, it specifies no maximum. So it appears to allow whatever maximum sentence is appropriate.
KENNETH: I don’t think that would be quite what—
BAILIFF: So it’s my prerogative, as I see it, to sentence you to death by lethal injection. You have an early appointment. They can fit you in tomorrow, ten a.m.
BAILIFF: Plus a tetanus booster.
KENNETH: This is all a joke, right?
BAILIFF: Good way to look at it.
KENNETH: Appeal. How do I appeal?
BAILIFF: You won’t have time. Tell you what. Forget the appeal. Just die. People are sick of dragging this stuff through the courts and who pays for it, the taxpayer. The judge, all the cops, refreshments, cameramen, the makeup people, insurance, the jury, we have to pay union scale.
KENNETH: You’re telling me they’re actors?
BAILIFF: Who isn’t? What century do you think this is? Stiporama has bought the movie rights. You’re a good role, they might get Jim Carrey.
KENNETH: I’m not a movie. I don’t want Jim Carrey.
BAILIFF: Should have thought of that sooner.
KENNETH: Wait. Who? Who bought the movie rights?
Burst of static. Voice on loudspeaker:
STIPSON: You got it, Ken. Mr. Stipson here.
You know we have a big stake in you. Movie, mini-series, novelization, tee-shirts, action figures, cookbook. Have to diversify these days.
The brokerage, I mean that’s where my heart is, but competition means expansion. It’s not the family farm any more, Ken. Stipson Broadcasting, Stipson Consolidated, Universal Stipstyles, Stipco, Stiptex, Stipimatic, Stipitel. The sky’s falling, Ken, and the guy who survives is the guy who has lots of umbrellas.
So we wish you luck. I know you want to pursue other interests. And if you are, for any reason, trying to carry a flag, give us a call. We’ve copyrighted the flags. Both sides.
KENNETH: I’m ready to wake up any time now. It’s time I’d better wake up.
Tries to shake himself awake. Stands frozen. Tap studio. Music.
HENRY: (on phone) Kenneth’s machine, hello. You missed your lesson. Yes, I know you’re sentenced to death. That’s no excuse. We’re all going to die.
I have a very close friend. Quite young. No talents, but a beautiful smile. There should be jobs for people with beautiful smiles, walking around offices where you never see a friendly face. But he still smiles, Kenneth, at rare moments, but he does.
So I hope you’re practicing, and if you’re not, at least keep drumming your fingers. We can’t let the rhythm die, Kenneth. There are so few of us left.
Music. Fade.
Still Dancing
Office sounds. Broker’s voice on phone: “No, Ken Leonard isn’t here. This is Stan Hansen. No, Ken left to pursue other interests. I’m handling his accounts, could I help you?”
Segue to hospital sounds, ominous oscillations. Kenneth is strapped into a hospital bed, tilted at a 60-degree angle.
KENNETH: In fact I left my position as investment broker not precisely to pursue other interests, but to be executed by lethal injection.
VOICE: Last episode: “Still Dancing.”
Nurse enters.
NURSE: Quarter till ten! Are we all ready? Look here! You have a letter! Express mail! Isn’t that something! Just under the deadline.
KENNETH: (opening it) Charlie.
NURSE: He’s gone back to Omaha.
NURSE: He grew up in Omaha. He sounds like a nice person.
CHARLIE: (in limbo) Hi Kenneth. Well I’m in Omaha. Cause sometimes good comes out of bad. I let you down, and that’s bad. But the good is I’ve consolidated my head. . .
NURSE: Ten till ten.
CHARLIE: When I finally had to take charge in the furnace room of life, then what I’m saying, I screwed up but I grewed up.
NURSE: Nine minutes—
CHARLIE: So I’m teaching junior high, starting in the fall, and I think that’s who I am. Being in Omaha, where even if I am a total genius nobody’s going to notice, so there’s nothing to prove. I set up my studio, Ken, and I bought the right patchcord. Cause it’s not what you know or who you know, it’s what you don’t know, and there I’m way ahead. I’ll send you a tape.
KENNETH: Nurse? Are we scheduled at ten?
NURSE: Scheduled?
KENNETH: For the execution.
Echoes: “Execution? What execution?”
NURSE: Execution? You’re here to have your wisdom teeth removed. They’re long overdue.
KENNETH: There are armed guards outside. Why is the bed tilted up? Why are there TV cameras?
NURSE: Lots of people would be really excited to be on TV.
NURSE: Yesiree.
KENNETH: Are you actually a nurse, or are you one of the hit squad?
NURSE: I’m a nurse. I always wanted to be a nurse. A registered nurse, an RN, is registered, but a practical nurse is very practical.
KENNETH: Does everybody here talk strange?
NURSE: Yes, very.
KENNETH: Could I see the doctor, the hangman, whoever’s in charge?
NURSE: Well aren’t we bossy all of a sudden. You must still have your gall bladder. I’ve been in this business long enough I can tell who’s got a bladder. There’s nothing ritzy about having a bladder. You’re not going to be Miss America if people think you’ve got a bladder. Five till ten.
KENNETH: Could I have a newspaper?
NURSE: We only get the sport section. That gives you a 50-50 chance of being happy.
KENNETH: Visitors. Can I have visitors?
NURSE: Well it’s restricted because of the war?
KENNETH: War? What war?
NURSE: Oh, just one of those wars.
KENNETH: You look like someone.
NURSE: No. No I don’t. Never did. Never will.
She goes out. He gets his hands free, reaches for phone, punches number.
VOICE: Hi, I’m Chelsie. $4.99 the first minute—
He hangs up. Tries another.
ANOTHER: The number you have reached—
Hangs up.  Doctors appear. Murmurs, liturgies in various languages, computer beeps. Kenneth continues punching numbers on the phone. Faint voice of Lillian calling to him.
DOCTOR: Are we ready?
KENNETH: Ready for what?
DOCTOR: Whatever’s on the work order.
REPORTER: Cameraman? Little more key light.
KENNETH: I’d like a second opinion.
DOCTOR: Well in my opinion it’s wisdom teeth. If you want to open the floodgates, fine.
REPORTER: Mr. Leonard, I’m from CNN. How does it feel?
KENNETH: What about the war? Why don’t you report that?
REPORTER: The ratings are down.
KENNETH: I don’t believe this is happening.
DOCTOR: Wisdom teeth will surprise you. Now we have to run a few tests. Pump stuff in, see if it’s fatal. Green stuff in the tube, cyanide base with a little menthol. Now keep in mind this may not be happening. But the old clock is telling us it’s time.
KENNETH: Lillian?—
DOCTOR: If it’s not wisdom teeth, it could be cholesterol.
ANOTHER: Very mild form of melanoma.
ANOTHER: Carburetor. Oil in the carburetor.
DOCTOR: Gutters and drainspouts. That’s why it seeps.
ANOTHER: I before E except after C.
KENNETH: I want a love scene. Now. No justification, no motivation. I want Lillian. Now!
Blackout. Cries. Lights. Alone, Lillian and Kenneth are in bed. He touches her. She turns to him, eyes closed.
LILLIAN: Nightmares.
KENNETH: Open your eyes.
LILLIAN: Am I in a love scene?
KENNETH: You’re here.
LILLIAN: They dragged me out—
KENNETH: Open your eyes.
She does. They kiss.
LILLIAN: I was dreaming, some godawful— what? I’m very edgy.
KENNETH: Scratch my back.
LILLIAN: Ken. I’m very very edgy.
KENNETH: We’re supposed to be. We’re in a love scene. It’s a miracle.
LILLIAN: Miracle. Am I the only one that’s getting ready to scream? I don’t like dates where I have to scream by myself. There’s something falling in on us, Ken. Be serious.
KENNETH: Nothing serious happens to educated people. Not in America. We can be trusted to create our own disasters.
LILLIAN: Ken, stop it, damn— You danced, and it jiggled something loose.
KENNETH: Be serious?
LILLIAN: Be serious.
KENNETH: I’m scared to death.
KENNETH: I feel bare naked.
LILLIAN: (looking under the sheet) We are. We both are.
KENNETH: Too many surprises.
LILLIAN: Don’t ditch the surprises. I lied. I want surprises. I want regularly scheduled surprises. You put high stakes on that table, so you roll, by God you roll. I swear, Kenneth, if you reach for that conservative tie, I’ll make one fast bare-assed dash for the exit.
KENNETH: I didn’t know the stakes were real. When Reality intrudes, Reality is not a nice doggie. Reality bites.
LILLIAN: Then feed it, kick it, throw it a bone, whatever. This is all new territory for me too, Ken, and if you’re utterly terrified, then we have a lot in common.
KENNETH: The hero has limited options. He’s snagged his best pants on the question marks. I can’t pick up a sword and slay the dragon. The dragon owns the hardware. The dragon is in state-of-the-art quadraphonic. All the hero can do at this point in time is to love you. Ride the market bareback. Improvise. Reinvest. Fluctuate.
LILLIAN: Is this our love scene?
LILLIAN: Then please play it straight.
KENNETH: Bottom line.
LILLIAN: Ken, I’m here. Are you here? Are we here? Together?
LILLIAN: Scratch my back.
KENNETH: I really love your tailbone. Nobody ever mentions tailbones.
They embrace, laughing. Echoes. Monstrous cuckoo clock chimes the hour. Doctor appears from behind the bed.
DOCTOR: Scuse me. One problem.
DOCTOR: It’s ten o’clock.
LILLIAN: What the hell—
CNN: Try that again. Take Two!
LILLIAN: What the hell!!!
CNN: Got it. Great.
Blackout. Scream. Static. Lights up. Lillian has disappeared. Doctors surround bed.
KENNETH: Lillian. . .
DOCTOR: Sorry. We’re standing room only. She can catch it on cable.
CNN: Mr. Leonard, how do you feel?
KENNETH: I’m shaking uncontrollably.
DOCTOR: Perfectly normal. Crank him up. They want a better profile. I think it’s time.
ANOTHER: For what?
DOCTOR: Extraction. They’re way way way down there. Very tight.
CNN: As you can see, Mr. Leonard’s teeth are chattering.
DOCTOR: We have to hook you up now.
KENNETH: This is not happening!
DOCTOR: You may be right.
KENNETH: What I did was take a spray can—
DOCTOR: That’s it for the ozone layer. It doesn’t take much, does it?
ANOTHER: We’ve got some religious types outside. Would you like to be blessed or confessed or saved?
KENNETH: Lillian!!!
Music. Everything freezes. Lillian appears in limbo.
LILLIAN: Ken, I love you, I do, my God, but maybe I’m just a figment. You’re just imagining me saying this. But please imagine. Please. IMAGINE!
KENNETH: Charlie!
Charlie appears.
CHARLIE: Tuning in from Omaha-ha-ha. Pleased to report that the band of Jefferson Junior High is hitting half the notes. We’re batting five hundred. There is hope. BELIEVE IT!
DOCTOR: Ready with the sound effects?
Henry appears.
HENRY: You’re not practicing. You spend more time practicing excuses than combinations.
HENRY: Don’t call for help. Just PRACTICE.
KENNETH: Right! Shoes! Are my shoes under the bed? Nurse, I want to die with my tap shoes on!
Music. Doctors converge.
DOCTOR: Ready on the button?
OTHERS: Ready!
Kenneth’s feet, shaking, begin to tap, spasmodically, then in a simple, catchy rhythm. To us:
KENNETH: It was pretty simple. I was shaking so hard, my feet started beating a rhythm on the footboard. The dance of death. It’s a tap-dance.
Doctors begin to snap their fingers, then twitch in rhythm. He stops. They prepare again. He starts again. Doctors pick up the rhythm, beginning to dance.
DOCTOR: Come on now, heck, I mean, we’ve got a job to do here now, guys.
Tapping builds. They are dancing uncontrollably.
Stop doing that! We have to have steady hands!
KENNETH: This kinda funny, catchy routine I’d never practiced, it just came out, pure inspiration and terror.
He goes into a new routine. Doctors clap their hands and twitch.
DOCTOR: Let’s do this thing now! It’s not party time! Carry out the procedure!
KENNETH: They couldn’t shake the rhythm. A squad of doctors started up toward the bed, and then went into a square dance.
They do.
And cameras were on, we’re going out all over the country, calls flooding the switchboard, nothing like it since Lawrence Welk.
DOCTOR: He’s wearing down.
KENNETH: Six hours. I was exhausted. They were very determined, but they couldn’t resist that rhythm.
Full-scale production number: all hoof to a climactic tableau. The nation cheers. Blackout.
New music. Kenneth is still in his bed, but the room has added elements of a small investment office. A bank of phones: Kenneth speaks on one line, another on hold. Nurse enters.
NURSE: Mr. Leonard? HBO contracts. They need signatures.
KENNETH: Thanks. (to phone) No, Sidney, I wouldn’t move on that, unless you really hate having money. Oh, pretty good, thanks. Well it was touch-and-go for about a week. But then with budget cuts, the hit squad went on part-time. So I just do three sets a day, five days a week, great exercise— So Sidney, if we can get Intellco at nine and three-eighths— She’s fine, thanks. Right, she negotiated the series for HBO, got us out from under Stipson, and that gave us enough capital to start our own little desktop investment firm. Ok, will do. Thanks.
Hangs up. Lillian enters. Kenneth takes out a beanbag, tosses it in his hand—a juggling exercise.
LILLIAN: Ok, report. The lawyers have filed about everything they can. Habeas corpus, corpus delecti, lawsuits, liens, certiorari, gas receipts, so we wait—
KENNETH: But my HBO contract stipulates that I stay condemned until the ratings go down. Will you marry me?
LILLIAN: No. What on earth are you doing?
KENNETH: Learning to juggle.
LILLIAN: (answering phone) Hubbard-Leonard Associates. One moment.
Doctors appear in formation.
VOICE: Stand by.
KENNETH: Mr. Galter, hi. Oh, not bad. Yes, well it’s a big step, I mean we’re small but we’re acquiring some of my old clients, and— Excuse me.
Music. Doctors attack. Kenneth does a tap routine. They are routed, dancing off uncontrollably. Back to phone:
Yeh, well sometimes the doctors get very close to the buttons, but then start dancing and it’s one more day. At night it’s past prime time, so we’re ok. (to Lillian) Will you marry me?
LILLIAN: No. Want a pizza?
KENNETH: Burger. (to phone) Mr. Galter, as regards your board’s concerns. I passed on the question to Lillian, you know I’m more the statistics guy, but she’s great at research, and the scoop is, yes, that company has major problems as regards toxic waste. But on the other hand— Excuse me.
Music. Doctors attack. Kenneth does tap routine. They disperse. Back to phone:
On the other hand, that company is under pressure from institutional stockholders to clean up. So you might consider acquiring a block of stock as a means of bringing some pressure to bear. I’ll send the report. Let me know.
He hangs up. Tries to juggle two beanbags.
I’m not very good at this.
LILLIAN: You’re awful.
KENNETH: But it’s a start. If I can juggle three phones at once, I can make it with beanbags. Can you imagine? Dancing, juggling, and promoting capital accumulation. Who knows where it leads?
LILLIAN: Rush up the stairs, and if we’re lucky, the treads form under our feet.
KENNETH: I want you to marry me.
LILLIAN: No. Never. No can do. Not in the cards. No dice. Nohow. No way. Nosireebob.
Kenneth continues to practice, as Charlie appears at synthesizer.
CHARLIE: Hello, Kenneth. Thanks for the letter, but I won’t be able to be best man, because if this is the best man you can find, you have a serious problem. Actually my musical prodigies are playing Saturday, I gotta be there. But best wishes for a whole shitload of history. Cheers, baby. An I’m still gonna seduce your secretary. Just waiting. . .
Hey, Ken. Hey listen. You gotta know this. I did three new songs. You believe it? Your ex-genius, bullshitting buddy . . . did three new songs. Happy endings suck, I mean, but beginnings— Yeh!
New music theme. Tap studio.
HENRY: Kenneth, what can I say? You’re an inspiration to my students. Practice. I used to tell them to practice, practice, and they just chew their gum.
But now there’s a whole new attitude. Call it hope. Call it sheer terror. It’s wonderful. They are practicing. They are progressing. We are moving into a new era where the student dance recital is training for survival.
Kenneth, my fulfillment. Float. Float gently. Float. . .
Tapping. Music.
KENNETH: (to us) So, yes, well. The appeals are going on. We’re managing not badly. It’s kind of compulsive routine, so some of the fun is gone, but the intensity stays. Burgerland tee-shirts are very popular, and I’ve become a kind of commodity myself, like pork belly futures. So I’m not sure what I accomplished.
But I mean. . . dancing. . . juggling. . . Many option strategies. . . Straddle, strangle, variable hedging, the strip, which is two puts and a call, or the strap, which is two calls and a put, call ratio backspread, put ratio backspread, long butterfly, short butterfly. . . Those are stock market terms. . . Many strategies. . .
Lillian hands him a third beanbag. He prepares. Makes one perfect juggle.
KENNETH: I guess we’re still here.
Tapping. Music. Black.