Walter Meets Maureen

A party at Jeremy’s apartment in Manhattan.

Maureen, an actress dancer in her thirties, is standing near the table laden with food, talking to Terry, an actress in her twenties, the party going on around them.

Terry: If only we were gay men, this party would be heaven.

Maureen: I come for the food. Jeremy always has the best food. A party at Jeremy’s is a night when I don’t have to cook or do the dishes or spend money going out, and he’ll insist I take lots home, so I won’t have to worry about dinner tomorrow night either. Anything else good happens here will be frosting on the cake.

Terry: (sees Jeremy going by carrying two drinks) Jeremy?

Jeremy: (stops) Yes dahling?

Terry: Any straights coming tonight?

Jeremy: (does a quick scan of the room) Vincent said he might bring one.

Maureen: Fabulous food, Jeremy. As always.

Jeremy: Take a bunch home. Please. I did my usual child of Depression-era-parents thing and made enough to feed greater Manhattan.

Maureen: If you insist.

Jeremy moves on.

Terry: (to Maureen) I’m gonna go. Long week. Running on fumes. You want to make doggy bags and share a cab?

Maureen: I think I’m gonna stay a little longer. (gives Terry a hug) I’ll call you tomorrow. I’ll bring home enough for two and you can come over for supper.

Terry: I might be too tired. Call me.

Maureen: Love you.

Terry: (going) Love you.

Maureen moves to the food table and has a shrimp skewered on a long toothpick, her eyelids fluttering with pleasure as she devours the tasty morsel.

Maureen: (taking another shrimp) You’re a genius, Jeremy. These shrimp are to die for.

Jeremy: (from across the room) Thank you, darling. Be forewarned, they’re something of an aphrodisiac.

Maureen: Please give me your recipe to add to my seduction arsenal.

Enter Vincent, an actor in his thirties, with Walter, an actor in his twenties. Jeremy greets Vincent with a big hug.

Jeremy: I thought you’d never get here. Don’t tell me you got the part.

Vincent: (triumphant) We both did. You’re looking at the two new substitute chorus members of Fiddler on the Roof.

Jeremy: Congratulations to both of you. (to Walter) Whoever you are.

Vincent: Oh sorry. Jeremy, this is my new apartment mate Walter Iverson. Walter, the inestimable Jeremy.

Walter: (shaking Jeremy’s hand) I’ve heard so much about you. All good.

Jeremy: (to Vincent) He’s darling. (to Walter) What have you heard? Spare no details.

Walter: The food at your parties is worthy of a Michelin star.

Jeremy: Just one?

Walter: You have a fabulous sense of humor.

Jeremy: Is this some kind of a joke?

Walter: You do impeccable imitations of all the great actors as if they were gay.

Jeremy: (doing a gay John Wayne) Watch your step, pilgrim.

Walter: And when all else fails, call Jeremy.

Jeremy: (to Vincent) We have been through the wars together, haven’t we, love? (hugs Vincent) Come have some food. I made enough to feed all of greater Manhattan.

Vincent: How unlike you.

Jeremy leads them to the food table where Walter and Maureen lock eyes.

Maureen: (to Walter) The skewered shrimp is mythic. Picante in the best of ways.

Walter: I love mythic picante skewered shrimp. (continues to look at her) I’m Walter. You are…?

Maureen: Maureen. Congratulations on getting the Fiddler gig.

Walter: Thank you. I’m amazed. First thing I auditioned for since I got to New York three weeks ago.

Jeremy: Wait. You’ve been here three weeks and you landed half of the best apartment on the upper west side and you got a gig in Fiddler? May I touch you?

Walter: Please. (holds out his arm for Jeremy to touch) I’m astounded. I auditioned two hundred and seventeen times during my two years in LA and got four callbacks and zero gigs. And here? Bingo. I owe the Fiddler gig to Vincent. He got me in the door.

Vincent: Yes, but you did the singing. (to Jeremy) His voice, not to mention his gloriously chiseled cheeks, remind one of the young Frank Sinatra. The casting director was close to orgasm while he was singing.

Maureen: What did you audition with?

Walter: Someone To Watch Over Me.

Jeremy: How retro. Yet refreshingly melodic.

Vincent: He could sing the phone book and you’d cream, Jeremy.

Jeremy: That’s it. I’m getting a piano. I’ll put it where the sofa is and move the sofa over here.

Walter: I’m no Frank Sinatra. Well… maybe the older Frank, but not the younger one. I think it was my dancing that sold them.

Jeremy: Stop. You dance, too?

Vincent: He’s kidding. We didn’t dance. Thank God or I’d never have gotten the gig.

Jeremy: What are we drinking?

Walter: Love a beer. (to Maureen) What are you drinking?

Maureen: I’m currently focused on the shrimp. But eventually I’ll have wine.

Jeremy: (to Vincent) Come help me get their drinks and say hello to your legions of admirers.

Vincent follows Jeremy away, leaving Walter alone with Maureen.

Walter: I thought they’d never leave.

Maureen: (pleased) So… you moved here from LA? I lived in LA for three years. I found it… psychotic.

Walter: More psychotic than Manhattan?

Maureen: I guess not more. Just… other.

Walter: How would you compare the two psychoses?

Maureen: (smitten) You’re straight, aren’t you?

Walter: I am. You?

Maureen: I am now.

Walter: What changed you?

Maureen: The way you said psychoses. (fans herself) Be still my heart. Tell me you don’t have a girlfriend.

Walter: I don’t have a girlfriend.

Maureen: I don’t either. Or a boyfriend. (thinks for a moment) Not really. I’m sort of dating a couple people, but we’ve all given each other the right to…

Walter: Fall in love with others?

Maureen: Yeah. (eats a shrimp) These are so good. You should have several.

Walter: Okay. (he eats a shrimp) Wow. They are good. Spicy skewered mythic shrimp. What could be better?

Maureen: I can think of a few things. So what do you do besides act and sing and possibly dance?

Walter: Well, I’ll probably be getting a job as a waiter somewhere swank unless the substitute chorus gig turns into something a little more lucrative. And I’m writing a play. That’s my larger aim in life. To be a playwright. You? An actor, and judging by your glorious gams I’ll guess dancer, too.

Maureen: Did you just say glorious gams?

Walter: I did.

Maureen: I thought so. Jesus. Who knew language could be so erotic?

Walter: William Carlos Williams. Among others. So… you act and dance and… what else?

Maureen: I’m actually not doing much acting these days. Lots of classes, of course, but I haven’t had a part, including summer stock, in over three years. I do still take way too many dance classes for someone not looking for work, and for my day job I’m a play evaluator for New Hope Theatre Company.

Walter: Oh. So you read plays and write encouraging rejection letters?

Maureen: Something like that. Although last year I discovered Jane Zester’s Short People Don’t Have So Far Too Fall and pushed hard to get a staged reading, and it ended up having a decent run in Trenton and may eventually work its way into the small theatre repertoire. These things do happen.

Walter: That’s thrilling.

Maureen: Are you being facetious?

Walter: No. It is thrilling. I got chills. It’s my fondest dream. To write a play that works its way into the small theater repertoire. Small theatres are the best things that ever happened to most towns in the world.

Maureen: (eats another shrimp) Um…would you like to go out with me? I think that’s how you say it? Meet for coffee? Go to a movie? Have a date? See what happens?

Walter: Yes.

Maureen: You’re not just saying that because I might one day read your play and set you on the road to international stardom, are you?

Walter: No. I’m saying that because I think you’re lovely and… yeah. You could be an accountant and I’d want to go out with you.

Maureen: My father is an accountant. Why would you have chosen that occupation, of all things?

Walter: I don’t know. There was just something about you. A subtle air of accountancy perhaps.

Maureen: Maybe it’s the way I’m silently keeping track of how many shrimp I’ve eaten. (picks up another shrimp) This will be seven. But let’s speak of other things. Let’s pretend we’re two people at a party who just met.

Walter: Okay. You go first.

Maureen: Have you seen any good movies lately?

Walter: No. Have you?

Maureen: No.

Walter: What’s your favorite color?        

Maureen: The color of your eyes. Kind of green brown. What’s yours?

Walter: The color of the blush in your cheeks. Rose?

Maureen: Good old party talk. Don’t you just love it?

Walter: I never did until tonight.

Vincent arrives with a beer for Walter and a glass of red wine for Maureen.

Vincent: (as he hands them their drinks) Do my senses deceive me or are we falling in love here?

Walter: You are not deceived.

Maureen: Speak for yourself, Walter.

Walter: You are not deceived regarding moi.

Maureen: You speak French?

Walter: Oui.

Maureen: Okay then, yes, you may speak for me.

Vincent raises his glass to make a toast.

Vincent: Here’s to my brilliant prescience in choosing Walter as my roommate.

Walter: Everything else has therefrom evolved.

Maureen: (fans herself) There you go again. Nothing like the timely use of therefrom to get a girl going.

Vincent: I knew this was gonna be a good party. We would have been here much sooner, but we had to schmooze with the Fiddler people. Such wonderful people, the Jews. And I say that as one of them.

Maureen: Are you Jewish, Walter?

Walter: On my mother’s side. So, yes. You?

Maureen: On both sides. (gazes lovingly at him) And I’m glad you didn’t get here any sooner or my gorgeous girlfriend Terry would have still been here and you wouldn’t have given me a second look.

Walter: (to Maureen) More gorgeous than you? Impossible.

Vincent: This is where you make a date to meet again in a couple days, right? Or maybe lunch tomorrow?

Walter: I hope so.

Maureen: I’d like that. So much.

Vincent: Whereas if I met a guy here and had the frisson you two have going on, we’d be going home together any minute now. Or down the hall here to the bedroom. Or maybe just here, by the hors d’oeuvres

Maureen: I used to be that way. And I always regretted it.

Walter: In my rather limited heterosexual experience, I think it’s wiser to wait for the initial endorphin rush to subside to better see who the other person actually is. You know what I mean?

Maureen: I do know what you mean, Walter. Though if you asked me to come home with you right now, it would be hard for me to say No.

Walter: I’m flattered.

Vincent: And to think I was present at the inception of this romance. Promise me if you have a boy child you’ll name him Vincent.

Walter: Lets not rush things.

Maureen: (gives Walter a look) Oh lets.

Walter: (opens his arms) Talked me into it.

Maureen and Walter embrace as Vincent looks on approvingly.


One Fell Swoop piano solo


Walter Meets Vincent

The spacious living room of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Vincent, an actor in his thirties, has lived in New York for ten years. His roommate recently moved out, and Vincent is interviewing prospective new roommates. Vincent, smartly dressed, is on the phone with a friend.

Vincent: No. Nobody yet. I just spent an hour with a guy I thought would be perfect. Stage Manager at the Quincy. (listens) Yes. Currently. (listens) I know. I was thinking the same thing. And I was just about to give him a big Yes when he says, “I know you said non-smoker, but what if I smoke outside? (listens) I couldn’t believe it. In the dead of winter he’s gonna go down three flights of stairs and out into the frozen tundra to smoke? I don’t think so. And when I said I didn’t think this would work, he gave me a nasty look and said, “You’re making a big mistake. I’m very well-connected. (listens) Swear to God. And I almost said, “Get the fuck out of here you self-important prick.” But not wanting to risk burning a potential bridge, I apologized and… (reacts to intercom buzzer) Oh sorry. The next candidate has arrived. I’ll call you later. Bye.

Vincent goes to the door and presses the intercom button.

Vincent: Apartment 3C. Is this Walter?

Walter’s Voice: Se moi.

Vincent. Moi. Take the stairs. Elevator is merely symbolic.

Vincent buzzes Walter into the building, checks his appearance in the little mirror on the wall by the door, and in response to gentle knocking, opens the door and beholds Walter, a man in his twenties, nicely dressed.

Vincent: Entre. And that’s most of my French, along with oo la la.

Walter: (enters) Wow. This place is vast. And gorgeous. The last place I looked at was so small I thought it was the anteroom to the actual apartment. But no.

Vincent: (leading him into the living room) I know of what you speak. For the two years before I got this place, I slept on a sofa in the tiny living room of a tiny one-bedroom apartment. Two people shared the tiny bedroom, and I shared the tiny living room with a man who worked a graveyard shift and slept on the sofa during the day. Kafkaesque, and not in a good way. Then I found this place, and when the manager said, “It’s yours,” I thought there must be some mistake. But it’s been seven years now and nobody’s found out yet.

Walter: I would be happy to sleep on the sofa in this living room.

Vincent: No need. But before I show you around, tell me you don’t smoke. Tobacco.

Walter: I don’t smoke tobacco.

Vincent: Pot?

Walter: Rarely.

Vincent: Alcohol?

Walter: A bit of wine now and then. The occasional beer.

Vincent: Coffee?

Walter: Yes.

Vincent: (gestures to the room) Have a seat. Coffee?

Walter: No thanks. I just had some and I’m zooming. (sits on sofa) Love these high ceilings. And the light is exquisite.

Vincent: So you’re an actor.

Walter: Yes, and I write plays. Well… I’m writing a play.

Vincent: Blessings upon you.

Walter: Thanks.

Vincent: Margot says you’re wonderful. Tell me again how you know her?

Walter: College. Her last year was my first. We were in two plays together.

Vincent: Lovers?

Walter: Yes.

Vincent: She’s so gay now. Hard to imagine. (laughs) Well, not really. She’s gorgeous and something of a mink.

Walter: And you’re an actor, too.

Vincent: Yes. I’ve even been in some plays. Can you believe it? However, currently I’m working in an antique shop and auditioning like mad as per usual. My last really good gig was two years ago when I understudied Jackson Moore in Doldrums. I got to do the show seventeen times in seven months. Mostly matinees. Awful play, but such good money. Have you auditioned for anything yet?

Walter: No. I want to get settled first and then begin my quest.

Vincent: You know I’m gay.

Walter: Now I do.

Vincent: You didn’t until I told you?

Walter: I’ve been wrong too many times, so I’ve ceased to guess.

Vincent: I’m never wrong. I have an unerring sense of gayness and straightness. You know it won’t be easy for you. Being straight in the theater here. Especially in the lower echelons.

Walter: So I’ve been told.

Vincent: Forgive me for being blunt, but how will you pay your half of the rent?

Walter: I’ve got savings that should do me for a year or so, and I’m an excellent waiter. Two years in Los Angeles. Stellar references.

Vincent: I have to tell you, Walter, I don’t want to like you. You’re a little too charming and you exude an easygoing confidence I find disarming. Yet despite that, I do like you. Have you ever lived with a gay man before?

Walter: My third year of college, which was also my last, I shared a house with three other guys, two of whom were gay.

Vincent: It doesn’t really matter, but it kind of does. I’m fairly sexually active, though I keep it in my bedroom when I bring it home, and I hope you will, too.

Walter: I will.

Vincent: Do you stay up late? Get up early? Tell me.

Walter: Unless I’m in a play or working nights at a restaurant, I’m usually kaput by 10:30, and usually up by 7:00. Go for a walk and then write for an hour or so. Hope to find a tennis partner.

Vincent: Girlfriend?

Walter: No.

Vincent: Looking?

Walter: Not actively, but… I’m always on the lookout.

Vincent: I know of what you speak. Any questions before I show you the bedroom and bath?

Walter: I don’t do well with loud music.

Vincent: Nor do I. I’m very much into musicals. Very. Vast collection. You like?

Walter: Love.

Vincent: And jazz, right? You strike me as a jazz guy.

Walter: Especially solo piano.

Vincent: Do you sing?

Walter: Smoky tenor.

Vincent: Anything else you want to ask me?

Walter: Pets?

Vincent: No. They’re actually allowed in this building, but life is too complicated right now. Don’t tell me you have a dog.

Walter: I don’t have a dog, but something about this place says Cat to me.

Vincent: Let’s live together for a few months sans cat and see if we like each other, and then we can talk about a cat.

Walter: Does that mean I can move in?

Vincent: Yes. However, if we don’t get along, you move out, not I. Agreed?

Walter: Agreed. Buy you lunch?

Vincent: What’s our budget?

Walter: Fifty bucks.

Vincent: You like Italian?

Walter: Love.

Vincent: I know just the place.


Boody Boody Ba piano solo


George Workshops A Scene

Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.

George, a retired English professor, is working on a new play. Tonight he has invited Clare, a young actress, and Boyd, a young actor, to read a scene from the play. Joan, George’s wife, an actress and psychotherapist, is on hand to add her thoughts and feelings to the revelatory process.

Boyd is standing in front of the fire, perusing his script. Clare, script in hand, is sitting on the sofa with Joan, and George is seated in an armchair.

George: So… I very much want to hear your thoughts about this scene, but before either of you tell me anything, I’d like to hear you read the scene.

Clare: Can you say a little about these two before we read?

George: I will be happy to tell you about them after your first reading, but I’m most curious to hear how you read this based solely on the lines.

Clare: Okay. (gets up and joins Boyd in front of the fire) You want us to stand close together or…

George: Whatever feels comfortable.

Clare takes a couple steps away from Boyd, after which he moves a step closer to her, after which she moves a little further away from him.

Clare: (to Boyd) This okay?

Boyd: Yeah. Fine.

George: (reading) Lisa and Walter are aspiring actors and good friends. They have both lived in Manhattan for several years and the scene begins as they arrive in Walter’s apartment after attending a play.

Lisa: (as they enter) I can’t believe we stayed for the second act.

Walter: It was dreadful.

Lisa: Why did we stay?

Walter: Well I won’t speak for you, but two people in the play are friends of mine and I didn’t feel right about walking out on them.

Lisa: Who do you know besides Carol?

Walter: Jason Lewis. The plumber.

Lisa: Speaking of dreadful. It was embarrassing how bad he was.

Walter: Fortunately, Jason is immune to embarrassment. Something to drink?

Lisa: I’d love some wine. Red, please.

Walter: Coming right up.

Lisa: (looks around) Where’s the fabulous Vincent tonight?

Walter: (getting wine for both of them) I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but quite out of the blue, the fabulous Vincent moved back to Iowa. Three days ago. (brings her wine) He got a teaching job in Des Moines. High school Drama.

Lisa: (aghast) High school Drama? Shoot me.

Walter: A chilling thought, I know, but he’s deep in debt and plans to live with his mother until he can dig his way out.

Lisa: How depressing. He’s such a good actor.

Walter: Better than anyone we saw in the play tonight.

Lisa: Hard to tell. The play was abysmal. Like a bad sitcom. Emphasis on bad.

Walter: Up for a Tony.

Lisa: You’re kidding. Where did you hear that?

Walter: New York Times.

Lisa: But it’s the worst kind of derivative drivel.

Walter: What play have you seen recently that is not derivative drivel? And don’t say Shakespeare or Shaw or Ibsen. They don’t count.

Lisa: Poor Vincent. (looks around again) So have you found a new roommate? Dreamy location. Quiet. Big rooms. I love this place.

Walter: I was gonna ask you before I put out the word. You said you wanted to find a new place.

Lisa: Me? Live here with you? Oh Walter, we’d have sex all the time and ruin everything.

Walter: We wouldn’t have to have sex all the time.

Lisa: How could we not? We like each other too much. We’ll probably have sex tonight. But not in a relationship sort of way.

Walter: Oh? In what sort of way would we have sex tonight?

Lisa: In a friends-having-sex way, because neither of us is in a relationship right now and we’re helping each other satisfy the needs of the flesh. And we love each other. As friends. But if we were roommates we’d have sex all the time because it would be so convenient, and then it would become our habit and we would be in a relationship.

Walter: What would be wrong with that?

Lisa: Nothing. If we weren’t young aspiring actors. But we are, and don’t pretend you don’t know what that means in terms of being sexually available, possibly, to people who can open the requisite doors.

Walter: Since when have you been sexually available to people who can open the requisite doors? The only people I’ve ever known you to sleep with couldn’t open anything but your refrigerator.

Lisa: Are you saying I hook up with losers?

Walter: No. I’m saying you love for love and not for gain.

Lisa: Yeah, well I’m done with that. If necessary.

Walter: I want to say I’m shocked, but I’m not. Just sad.

Lisa: I’m twenty-nine, Walter. I came here to act, not to sit in the audience. And you did, too. And since you’re no movie star’s son and I’m no movie star’s daughter, we know the routine.

Walter: I did come here to be an actor and to write plays, and everything you say is true, the difference being that I came here looking for love, too. And I met you. And if I had to choose between you and making it as an actor, I’d choose you.

Lisa: You’re such a romantic.

Walter: I can’t help it. You push all my romantic buttons.

Lisa: So let’s say you choose me and I choose you. Then what? We teach high school Drama? Rent a little house in Des Moines and have two kids and a dog? And when the kids start school, I go back to college and become a social worker like my mother, and our kids star in their high school plays and come to New York to try to make it as actors, but they don’t make it, because even though they’re every bit as talented as we are, we raised them not to sleep with people to get parts. So eventually they come home and live with us while they dig their way out of debt. Generation after generation. On and on to the end of time.

Walter: Or… you move in with me and I don’t give up being an actor, and neither do you. We’ll just be together supporting each other while we keep trying.

Lisa: And then the part of a lifetime comes along. And you have a brilliant audition. And the part is yours if you’ll just let the director fuck you. And when you come home that night, after he’s made you feel worse than you’ve ever felt, do you say to me, “Honey. Great news. I got the part. Had to let the director fuck me and I’ll have to let him keep fucking me for a while, but I got the part and now I’m on my way to the top and I’ll take you with me.”

Walter: Not I.

Lisa: And I couldn’t either if I was in a relationship with you. But if I’m not in a relationship, in order to fulfill my dream, I think I can.

Walter: That’s not my perception of you, but… if you say so.

Lisa: I’ll think of it as a rite of passage. My sacrifice to the high priests of theatre.

Walter: And if the play flops? A second rite of passage? A third? A fourth? We both know people who sleep with whoever they think they need to sleep with, and they are not happy, not pleasant, not kind. And it doesn’t even help most of them get parts.

Lisa: That’s because most of them don’t have the talent. And I do.

Walter: I know you do.

Lisa: And so do you.


Walter: More wine?

Lisa: No, I should go.

Walter: You sure? Cold and dark and dangerous out there. Warm and sweet and lovely in here.

Lisa: I’m sure.

Walter: Then take a cab. Please? My treat.

They embrace delicately.

Lisa: Thanks, Walter. You’re a peach.

The scene over, Clare resumes her seat on the sofa while Boyd remains standing by the fire.

Boyd: I don’t buy it. I’m sorry, George, but… it’s such a tired old cliché. That you have to sleep with the director or the producer to get the part. That’s not even true. Oh maybe it happens some of the time, but I mean… I haven’t lived in New York or LA, but… I just don’t believe it.

George: You think talent wins out no matter what?

Boyd: Yeah for the most part. This is just sour grapes. They aren’t making it, so they blame it on not sleeping with the right people.

George: Is that how they come across to you?

Boyd: Yeah. Couple of losers. And she’s tired of being a loser, and he’s a dweeb.

George: Clare?

Clare: I… it feels true to me. I don’t want it to be true, but that’s not really the point. I think the point is he loves her more than he wants to be a star, and she’s not there yet and may never be. It’s the moment when they come to the great divide.

Boyd: That’s bullshit. This scene has been done a million times before. And even if it is true, who cares? That’s life. Get on with it. Quit complaining.

George: I hear what you’re saying, Boyd. That you don’t think what Lisa and Walter believe is true. But do you believe they believe it? You know what I mean? Was the scene real to you even if you don’t agree with what they think?

Boyd: Oh yeah. Felt totally real. Two people jealous of other people succeeding, so they rationalize their jealousy with the usual bullshit.

Clare, visibly upset, stands up.

Clare: (to George) I’m so sorry, but I have to go. I’ll… I’ll send you some notes.

George: (gets up) Fine. Or call me. Whatever works for you.

Boyd: We’re done? Don’t you want us to read the scene again?

George: I don’t think it’s necessary. (gives each of them a check) This is a small honorarium for helping me. Thank you so much.

Boyd: (looks at the check) Wow. Thanks. I guess this makes me a professional now.

Clare: Thank you, George. (looks at Joan) Thank you, Joan.

Joan: (to Clare) Oh sweetie, could you stay a few minutes longer? I want to show you that dress I was telling you about.

Clare: The dress? Oh yeah, that dress. Sure.

George accompanies Boyd out.

George: Thanks again, Boyd.

Boyd: No problem. And thanks for the dough. Really appreciate it.

George returns to the living room.

Clare: (to George) I’m so sorry he said what he said to you.

George: It’s fine. His response was nothing new. And as he said, he’s never been an actor in New York or Los Angeles. And he did shine a bright light on the challenge of telling the truth in a way people will accept.

Clare: Did this happen to you? It feels so real to me.

George: It did. Though I don’t think I’ve quite got the scene right yet. They really do love each other, and that has to come through or the scene won’t work.

Joan: (to George) I think you should read it with Clare. And then you’ll hear what the scene needs.

George: (looks at Clare) You up for that?

Clare: (meeting his gaze) Very much.


Wake Up Thinking About You  


George Is Writing A Play

Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.

Joan and Marilyn, actresses and retired psychotherapists, are sitting on the sofa drinking wine. Joan’s husband George, a writer and retired community college English professor, and Marilyn’s husband Michael, a realtor and actor, are playing Ping Pong somewhere in the distance, the sound of their game faintly audible.

Joan: Drum roll please… (clinks glasses with Marilyn) George is writing a play.

Marilyn: I thought he was never in a million years going to write another play. Isn’t that what he proclaimed on New Year’s Eve?

Joan: He proclaims that after every play when no theatre company besides ours wants to produce it. Then time heals the wound and off he goes again.

Marilyn: Well I’m thrilled. I love his plays. If it were up to me, he’d win a MacArthur and be a national treasure. What’s the new play about?

Joan: The inadequacy of language to reveal the hidden sorrows that make us what we are.

Marilyn: Is that what he told you?

Joan: No, I came up with that a few years ago, for those awkward moments when people ask George what his plays are about and he answers by making spluttering sounds.

Marilyn: The inadequacy of language to reveal…

Joan: The hidden sorrows that make us what we are.

Marilyn: Do you think that’s true? We’re shaped by our sorrows?

Joan: Ooh I like shaped better than made. May I plagiarize you?

Marilyn: Please.

Joan: Yes, I think we’re shaped by our sorrows and our joys, though I interpret George’s spluttering sounds to mean our sorrows.

Marilyn: I’d say we’re shaped by imitating our parents and siblings, if we had any, and by the time we’re five-years-old, we’re a fait accompli.

Joan: With parents and siblings providing most of our primal joys and sorrows.

Marilyn: In my case, mostly sorrows.

Joan: I was on the phone with Tina yesterday and heard myself sounding exactly like my mother talking to me when I was Tina’s age. Gave me the chills.

Marilyn: I know the feeling.

Enter George and Michael. They claim glasses of wine from the coffee table, Michael strikes a pose by the fire, and George sits in an armchair.

Joan: Who won?

Michael: Who always wins?

George: I got lucky.

Marilyn: (to George) Joan says you’re writing a new play. Do tell?

George shrugs and makes a spluttering sound.

Michael: A new play? Are we in it?

George: Of course. You’re in all my plays.

Marilyn: I never recognize myself.

George: (to Marilyn) That’s a wonderful line. (picks up his notebook and pen and writes) I never recognize myself. Monologue to follow.

Michael: I rarely do either. Except for the accountant in Simple Math. That was me, right?

George: His manner of speaking is definitely you.

Marilyn: Who am I in Simple Math? You cast me as Louise, but she’s more Joan than I. (looks at Joan) I had so much fun playing you. Couldn’t believe how many laughs I got being you.

Michael: None of us in the cast thought the lines would play so funny, though George told us they would, and the audience roared from start to finish. Sold out the entire twenty-seven-show run. Standing Room Only. We could have run it for another month if not for the annual Neil Simon nipping at our heels. I’m campaigning to stage it again next season.

George: (to Marilyn) In answer to your question, you’re not a specific character in Simple Math, but your essence dominates the first act.

Marilyn: I was so sure that play was going to be a huge success for you. But then I think that about all your plays.

George: Yet none of them ever make it out of our little town. Except for the first one, which I wrote before I moved here and long before I knew how to write.

Michael: If only you hadn’t learned. Think where you’d be today.

George: Can’t imagine.

Joan: We can be fairly certain you wouldn’t have moved here and married me. Another big success and you’d have married a famousactress and lived on a country estate an hour by train from your piede-à-terre in Manhattan.

Michael: Where you hobnobbed with other famous writers who didn’t know how to write. Daiquiris at the Algonquin. Schmoozing on yachts at Cannes.

George: Thankfully that was not my destiny, and I moved here and married Joan and we had our marvelous children and I wrote plays for you to be in and…

Marilyn: And we’re glad you did. But surely you wanted another success. Your plays are so good.

George: Of course I wanted another success. Still do. Though I must say, the little taste I had of that other life was not… nourishing.

Michael: How not nourishing? Money. Fame. Producers and directors clambering for your next play.  

George: Clambering for another play like the first. Which is not my way. And the deeper truth is, I didn’t really click with anyone on those upper floors of the cultural pyramid. Lots of hungry ghosts, as the Buddhists would say, but no one I could relate to emotionally or creatively.

Marilyn: Which is no doubt why they couldn’t relate to your subsequent plays.

George: Seems so.

Michael: So it was you who closed those magical doors because you didn’t like the people who were holding them open for you. Created your own fate.

George: Our lives are made of the choices we make.

Joan: And by endlessly enacting two or three foundational psychodramas from our childhood.

George: That’s a good title for an evening of one-acts. (writing it down) Three Foundational Psychodramas. A theatrical pastiche.

Michael: (to Joan) So are you suggesting we are little more than the aftershocks of our childhood?

Joan: Unless we get well.

Marilyn: And we can’t get well by enacting or writing the same drama again and again. We have to break character in order to learn a new way of being.

George: To sing as only we can sing.

Michael: I don’t think I’ve ever broken character. Never had a reason to. I play myself as a husband and father. Play myself selling real estate. And when I get cast in a play, I play myself. Seems to work just fine.

Marilyn: We only intentionally break character when our old character no longer serves us.

Joan: And speaking of serving… let’s eat.


Dream of You


No I

I’ve been reading Joseph Goldstein again, his instructions for meditation, and he repeats many times there is no I. Yet I feel I am me. He says the more I meditate the less I’ll feel I am me. I hope so, though he says hoping is a hindrance to fully embracing my non-I-ness.

Buddha suggested that the concept of I, the sense of a separate self, is the source of my suffering. Our suffering. Since you and I are not separate, my suffering is yours, yours is mine. Except there is no you or me, and the you I think you are lives in New Hampshire or Ukraine, and I’m here in California. Illusion says Goldstein. And I believe him. I feel what he says is true on a gut level, my gut being an organ in my amalgam of transitory phenomena otherwise known as my body.

So here is this non-existent self wanting to meditate. I define meditation as not thinking while remaining conscious of the illusory nature of everything, in order to attain a state of greater clarity. Yet who attains clarity if there is no I? Where will the clarity reside? In the mind of the non-existent? How does that work?

The thing is, I benefit from meditating. Indeed, meditation seems to strengthen my I-ness, and reading Joseph Goldstein’s thoughtful insights regarding meditation greatly enhances my meditation practice. After a good sit, I feel less anxious and my appreciation for being alive is vastly amplified. Yet the question keeps being asked: is there anything to realize beyond there’s nothing to realize?

What I’ve decided, for my own illusory purposes, is to be okay with thinking I am a particular person. Marcia suggests that who I am, the me I think I am, is my vehicle for navigating this illusory existence. After all, Goldstein’s instructions are addressed to a you, a thinking feeling you (me) and his kind and gentle and thought-provoking way of communicating makes it possible for me to accept what he says.

And he does acknowledge I have a mind, which I find reassuring, even though he also says that depending on someone else’s reassurance is a hindrance to freeing myself from the illusion of separateness. Oh well.

So this is where we are right now in the stream of illusory phenomena.


Light Song




I am hoping to never have a smart phone. I don’t need one (as long as landlines are available) nor am I suited neurologically for such a device. I am, as my brother dubbed me long ago, a lightweight. He was referring to my profound allergy to alcohol, but the same goes for electro-techno input. My mind body spirit no like.

That said, I have a giant computer in my office and I’ve become accustomed to having good fast Internet for email and research (including tennis and soccer highlights and Penelope Cruz interviews) and every few weeks someone does call me on my telephone, usually the dentist’s office, so I need a reliable phone.

Before the advent of the Internet, you may or may not recall, the phone and postal service were our main ways of connecting with people we couldn’t reach by shouting. Not only did we somehow survive, we were happier, much happier, according to those agencies annually monitoring such things as collective happiness.

Am I suggesting the Internet and cell phones are the cause of growing unhappiness in the general population? No. Merely noting the coincidence. There’s also accelerating climate catastrophes and the cost of living outstripping income and 1% of the population gaining more and more wealth while almost everyone else has less and less. And then there’s war and over-population and starvation and the melting glaciers and the ongoing pandemic and…

pinto beans

Which is all to say, as I write this, my phone and Internet, which we have bundled (technical term) are out. Not working. And both have been spotty (technical term) for several weeks now. We get our phone and Internet through our very local Mendocino Community Network (MCN), an outfit operating under the auspices of our local school district. Gosh are they ever nice about the frequent outages. Usually the problem is with the phone lines, which MCN rents from AT&T, and usually the problem gets fixed within a few days.

Were I still a mover and shaker in the larger cultural matrix… scratch that. Had I ever been (actually and not delusionally) a mover and shaker in the larger cultural matrix, I might find such frequent outages untenable. But I have never moved or shaken much of anything except my booty, though I certainly aspired to move and shake things in that great big world on the other side of the tracks until one day…I’ll spare you the (yawn) details.

Thus, since I am not (see above paragraph), these outages are merely annoying at first, and then they free up time for thinning the arugula and schlepping firewood and meditating and writing scintillating musings such as this one, which I’m sure you’ll want to send me an email about, and I’ll get your email in a few days when the AT&T person fixes the short in my line.


I know the problem is a short because the boss of MCN, the head of the entire operation, aptly named Sage, personally took my call and ran a check on my line while I held on. I called him on Marcia’s phone, which still works. You see we have two lines, two different phone numbers, that supposedly join forces to give us something called Fusion, ostensibly a much faster Internet connection than one line would give us. They told us this when we signed up for the service. I’m not sure I believe them.

What a great guy, Sage. He explained everything to me in terms even I could understand, sort of, and now I am at peace. Sort of. Even though my phone and Internet still don’t work.

Several friends of ours, tiring of the recurring outages, have given up on our local system and opted for service from giant multi-national corporations offering better and faster and more reliable Internet along with free sports and movies and many other perks. Not I. Multinational corporations creep me out.


Interestingly, or ironically, or mysteriously, and most definitely irksomely, Marcia’s phone and her half of our fusion never go out, unless there’s a power outage in most of California due to a hellacious storm or historic wildfire, whereas my phone and my half of our fusion go spotty and shorty and, I won’t mince my words, dead several times a year even when the weather is fine.

Marcia says my half of our fusion goes spotty and shorty and dead because I get upset about the disconnections, whereas she would not, she claims, be upset if her phone and Internet went out, which is why they don’t. Go out. I have suggested to her it’s easy not to be upset when she never experiences the outages, but she insists that on some metaphysical level I am causing my own outages, whereas she simply doesn’t cause outages of things she needs.

She also can drink coffee and booze and eat gluten and dairy and feel just fine, and I can’t. So maybe she’s on to something. Maybe these outages are the result of my karma. Of course they are.

mung beans

I’m going to bring this up with Sage the next time I call him on Marcia’s phone after they fix my phone and Internet and then they go out again. I’ll say, “Sage? Do you think these recurring outages of my line could be the result of my karma?”

And I’ll bet you a dollar he says, “Unlikely, but not entirely outside the realm of possibility.” And then he’ll call AT&T.


What Comes Around piano solo by Todd


More Historical Musicals

My first piece in this series, entitled simply Historical Musicals, ranks as one of my most popular blog postings ever. By that I mean I heard from three people who said they very much enjoyed the piece. So… as I explained at the beginning of Historical Musicals, one of my hobbies is leafing through the massive one-volume Columbia Encyclopedia (I can barely lift the thing) and finding entries I think would make successful Broadway musicals now that Hamilton has made historical musicals popular again.

Here are three more excellent candidates.


[Insull, Samuel 1859-1938, American public utilities financier, b. London. He arrived in the United States in 1881 and was employed by Thomas A. Edison as a secretary. He later became prominent in the management of the Edison industrial holdings. By 1907 he overcame competing pubic utilities companies in Chicago and soon controlled the city’s transit system. After numerous mergers he expanded his operations throughout Illinois and into neighboring states. He formed (1912) a mammoth interlocking directorate that operated over 300 steam plants, 200 hydroelectric generating plants, and numerous other power plants throughout the United States. Insull’s public utilities empire, at its height worth more than $3 billion, collapsed in 1932. Insull went to Greece and later to Turkey. He was extradited (1934) to the United States, faced charges (1934-35) of using the mails to defraud investors and embezzlement, but he was acquitted.]

That little blurb is dry pith compared to the juicy Wikipedia article about Insull, which includes tantalizing info about Insull’s much younger wife, a popular Broadway ingénue named Gladys Wallis. The musical version of Insull’s life is called Let There Be Light. The show features maddeningly repetitive synth pop melodies and kicks off with Insull, a handsome British stenographer, typing his way to the top of the British secretarial pool before coming to America to take the helm as Thomas Edison’s personal secretary.

The opening song, Type Your Way To The Top, features dancers dancing on the keys of a giant typewriter, with Insull singing and dancing his way around and over other typists to reach the top of the typewriter from where he walks onto the deck of the ocean liner taking him to America.

Type Your Way To The Top is soon topped by the show’s title song Let There Be Light, a touching duet sung by Insull and Edison as they share the moment the first light bulb goes on. Their happy pas de deux, however, is quickly followed by Edison’s lament He Stabbed Me In The Back when Insull leaves Edison and goes off to conquer Chicago. The songs You Ride You Pay Me and Your Money Or Your Light chronicle Insull’s ruthless exploitation of the electrification and light-bulbing of America.

Oops Went Too Far is a comic-tragic tune and dance number about the collapse of Insull’s vast utilities empire during the Great Depression, with the fast-paced Greece and Turkey Here We Come adding a bit of levity to Insull’s flight abroad.

The show closes with the heart-breaking song sung by Insull’s gorgeous widow He Died In the Paris Subway.

He once owned all Chicago and most of the greater Midwest.

When it came to suits and ties and shoes, he always wore the best.

But nothing was ever enough for him, and eventually he went too far.

He died in the Paris subway, the former electricity czar.


[Grassman, Hermann Gunther, 1809-77, German mathematician and Sanskrit scholar, educated in Berlin. He invented a new algebra of vectors (somewhat similar to quarternions), presented in his book Die Ausehnungslehre (1844). He composed a translation of the Rig-Veda (1876-77). The linguistic law reformulated (and named for him) holds that in Indo-European bases, especially in Sanskrit and Greek, successive syllables may not begin with aspirates.]

What are aspirates, you ask? “In phonetics, aspiration is the strong burst of breath that accompanies either the release or, in the case of preaspiration, the closure of some obstruents.” As I’m sure you know, an obstruent is a fricative or plosive speech sound. Ah linguistics.

And what better title for the opening song of the hit rap musical Grassman than the bouncy Ah Linguistics sung by young Hermann to his perplexed parents.

Nobody knows what I’m talking about,

which is how I want it to be.

Linguistics is just plosive poo,

oh Mama can’t you see?

Fricative speech is my ticket

to big time fame and renown.

I’ll take those ivory towers by storm

and be the incomprehensible talk of the town.

Other hits from this mind-warping rap opera are built around Grassman’s fathering of eleven children while writing thousands of pages of unintelligible nonsense. Who could ever forget such hit songs as Advanced Tongue Roots, Conjunctive Illocutionary Acts, Deviational Affix, Hierarchical Lexical Relation, and the controversial Homophora Intensifier, with perhaps the best known lyric from the show being the oft-imitated What I didn’t know didn’t matter because matter didn’t know what mattered to not know what didn’t?


And speaking of sexually suggestive shows, how about another Hamilton? In this case, Lady Emma Hamilton.

[Hamilton, Emma, Lady 1765?-1815, mistress of the British naval hero Horatio Nelson. Born Emma Lyon, she became the mistress of Charles Greville, then of Sir William Hamilton, ambassador to Naples, whom she married (1791). She gained enormous influence with Neapolitan Queen Marie Caroline. Her intimacy with Nelson began in 1798, and after returning to England with him, she bore him a daughter, Horatia, in 1801. Although she received legacies from both her husband and Nelson, Emma died in debt and obscurity. Portraits of her were painted by many of the famous artists of her day, especially George Romney.]

Further research reveals that Emma was more than a renowned beauty. She was a brilliant woman who used her sexual appeal to rise from extreme poverty and illiteracy in England to become a charming erudite hostess occupying the heights of British and European society. Along her way, she transformed herself into a cultural icon and invented a performance art form called Attitudes, in which she posed for audiences as the subject of a classic painting. She lived the high life as long as her wealthy (much older) husband and lover were alive, but when Nelson and Hamilton died, their heirs and friends turned on Emma, and her fall from grace into poverty and drug addiction was swift and tragic.

With songs suspiciously reminiscent of hundreds of other Broadway musical songs, the long-running Lady Emma Hamilton has it all. Gorgeous young British girl uses sex to escape poverty and opens the show with the boffo torch song If You Got It, Use It.

Whilst mistress to a series of wealthy men—recounted in the tell-it-all song Knowing What They Want And Giving It To Them—famous artists paint provocative portraits of Emma to capture her awesome beauty and sex appeal, with the artist George Romney singing the beguiling rhapsody Oh What A Face and the Body That Face Is Attached To.

Emma then moves to Naples to live with soon-to-be-her-hubby Sir William Hamilton, and quickly becomes bosom buddies with Neapolitan Queen Marie Caroline, their sexy duet Daughters of Venus now a ubiquitous erotic feminist anthem. In Naples, Emma becomes renowned as the inventor of the performance form known as Attitudes, and her performing career climaxes with the way-too-sexy Hold That Pose. Thereafter, she hooks up with Horatio Nelson, their love affair summed up by Emma in the show-stopping I’ve Always Liked Men Who Sail (Especially Boats With Guns).

Upon her return to England, Emma has a beautiful daughter and lives a fabulous life until her tragic end, the final song in the show the painfully eloquent Beauty Fades.

When I was young my beauty opened every door

to fame and wealth and love galore.

But beauty fades, believe you me,

hence the word contingency.

Alas I did not save enough for all these rainy days.

And now the piper’s at the door, he’s come to get his pay.

But I am out of beauty, to spend instead of cash.

So he will take the rest of me, and soon I will be ash.


Darling piano solo by Todd



In the days of yore when I taught writing, many of the people who took my workshops and consulted with me had previously read books about writing that directed them to write for a certain amount of time every day (often quite a long time) or to produce a certain number of pages of writing every day. Or they had taken courses and been told by their teachers to write for at least an hour every day. And they all tried to fulfill those directives for some days or weeks before missing a day, and then missing another, and eventually ceasing to try. Or they found themselves forcing the words to fulfill the mandates of their gurus, and the forcing was painful and depressing, so they quit and felt like failures. 

When I told my writers that such arbitrary directives almost always fail to help writers establish a viable daily practice, and that they were among hundreds of thousands of people stymied by such misguided orders, they felt much better about having terminated the self-torture; and they wanted to know what I recommended they do to establish a writing practice.

Writing, I told them, and I mean handwriting, is a physical activity as well as a mental activity. If you have a goal of doing twenty pushups, and have never done one pushup or only ever done a few, I think you will agree you would be foolish to try to do twenty pushups on your first try. You will have a much better chance of attaining your goal by starting with one pushup and working your way up to twenty, gradually, over many weeks of practicing. Similarly with writing, if you have a goal of writing for an hour every day, you will have a much better chance of attaining that goal by starting with five minutes and working your way up from there.

Furthermore, every writer is unique. You may be someone for whom, ultimately, writing every day is not ideal. You may be a three days on, one day off kind of writer. Or you may be a half-hour in the morning, an hour in the evening writer. The idea that everyone should follow someone else’s arbitrary idea of how much and how often a person should write has proven to be hugely destructive of the creative impulse in countless people who tried to follow such ill-conceived directives.

We develop habits through repetition of behavior. Every time you do something, your neurological system makes a brain map, an actual map in your brain composed of sequences of synapse firings, and this map is literally etched in your brain. Every time you repeat a particular behavior, your brain map for that activity is strengthened. When you repeat a behavior hundreds and thousands of times, your brain map for that behavior becomes a veritable super highway of habit.

So if you wish to develop a viable writing practice, decide on a comfortable place to write, show up there every day with the intention of writing something, and stay there, uninterrupted, for an amount of time that feels reasonable to you, whether you write anything or not. I suggest you begin with fifteen minutes. You probably will write something, but if you don’t, that’s okay. Or if you write for a few minutes and nothing more wants to come out, that’s okay, too. The important thing is to show up every day for a certain amount of time with the intention of putting pen to paper and seeing what happens.

If you enjoy writing exercises, start with a writing exercise to get your writing juices flowing.

I knew one writer who began her daily writing sessions by writing a postcard. She had a little stack of postcards with stamps affixed, and after lighting a candle and asking the writing gods for inspiration, she would write her postcard. By the time she completed the postcard, her writing engine was warmed up, and off she’d go. Or not. In any case she was there. Ready.

That’s the key: every day readiness in a situation conducive to doing. If you do so every day for seven weeks and don’t get in the habit of writing for a time every day, then perhaps writing every day, at this point in your life, is not your thing. Okay.

Many aspiring writers would say to me, “I need a goal, a purpose, something to inspire me.”

I would respond: in my experience, goals and purposes emerge from the practice, not the other way around.


Pep Talk #1: a one-minute video by Todd