For much of my life I believed pesto had to be made with basil.
When I lived in Sacramento, I grew a small patch of basil that produced massive quantities of basil. I would harvest all but a few nascent leaves, and within a few weeks the plants would be gigantic again. I also grew lots of fabulous garlic and almonds. I gave pesto parties. People would come and help de-stem the basil, avail themselves of my Cuisinart, my garlic, my almonds, and go home with big bowls of pesto made however they wished to make their batch.
Upon my arrival in Mendocino seventeen years
ago, I planned to continue growing basil and garlic, though I knew almonds were
not to be grown here. To my chagrin, basil did not grow here in the fantastical
way it grew in Sacramento. Indeed, it was not warm enough to grow much basil
outside of a greenhouse, and the local slugs and bugs were attracted to young
basil plants as cats are drawn to catnip.
I had a few years of modest success growing
basil, but not enough to make more than small batch or two every summer, and I eventually
resorted to buying basil from vendors at the farmers market who came to
Mendocino from warmer climes. Indeed, I made less and less pesto until one day
I was gazing at one of our two gigantic parsley plants and said to Marcia,
“What can we possibly do with all this parsley?”
Not long thereafter, Marcia sent me a link to a
cooking web site. I clicked on the link and was taken to a Parsley Pesto
recipe. To my delight, the recipe was close kin to my basil pesto recipe,
except instead of basil leaves, the recipe called for parsley.
Thus began my parsley pesto career. True, parsley pesto does not taste like basil pesto, yet we find it delicious. We also sometimes make chard pesto, which is also good, though I prefer parsley pesto to chard pesto. And now and then I’ll buy basil and make el classico. But for tonight… parsley pesto!
My last blog entry was a re-posting of a piece entitled Children from ten years ago. Much to my delight, a few readers let me know they very much enjoyed the oldie, so I thought I’d re-post another one from the days of yore. Haircuts is from four years ago, posted six months before the pandemic arrived. Much has changed in our lives since then, but at least one thing in my life hasn’t changed: my hair continues to grow and Marcia continues to cut it.
“You are responsible, forever, for what
you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Today, the first of April, Easter,
2018, no kidding, Marcia is giving me a haircut. The weather has turned
warmish, finally, the Japanese maples are leafing out, the huckleberries have
set prodigious quantities of blossoms for the second year in a row and the
bumblebees are loudly pollinating those blossoms, the hummingbirds are zooming
around looking for flowers and love, the mouth of Big River is teaming with harbor
seals, and life she is on the upswing.
I only brush my hair when I happen
to look in a mirror, which is not often. Thus my hair is frequently in a state
of disarray, and when my hair is long I resemble a gray-haired Bozo the Clown.
In the 1960s and 70s I wanted to grow my hair long enough to have a ponytail,
but even when I went without a cut for four
years, my hair only got about five-inches-long all around and thereafter the
tips grew brittle and broke off. Nowadays I enjoy a little extra fur during the
winter, and when spring has sprung, Marcia tames the tangle.
When I was a boy, my mother would
take me to a barbershop every six months and a not-very-friendly man would cut off
most of my hair. They called this a crew cut, though it might have been called
a shaved head. I hated getting haircuts, but after a day or so of my ears
feeling cold, I forgot about my hair, not being one who looked in mirrors.
While in a Bozo-the-Clown phase, as
I have been for some months now, my hair elicits comments from people I know
and from people I don’t know. Interestingly, nearly all these comments are
complimentary, in a roundabout way. For instance, a woman coming out of the
grocery store a few days ago startled at the sight of me and said, “Whoa. Great
hair.” Subtext: You actually scared me a
little, but I appreciate the wildness.
post office, a woman with hair even more topsy-turvy than mine, grinned at my coiffure
and said, “Way to go.”
recently underwent a radical change in her hair style, her first major style
shift since several years before we got together eleven years ago. The Marcia I
married had long blonde hair that fell nearly to her waist. Indeed, she was
renowned in Mendocino as the principal cellist of Symphony of the Redwoods with
gorgeous long blonde hair, and as the cellist in the Mendocino Music Festival orchestra
with gorgeous long blonde hair. Thus when she got most of her hair cut off last
year, dozens of people came up to me at the first orchestral concert of the
music festival and said one of two things. “Marcia cut her hair!” or “Where is
answers were, “Yes, she did,” and “She is there with short hair.”
haircuts, by contrast, do not prompt widespread alarm in the community. In
fact, only a few people will notice that I’ve gotten the haircut I am about to
get because I am not locally renowned for my hair or anything else. If I were
to start wearing a suit and tie every day, some people in town would notice my
wardrobe change and wonder why I no longer wore Giants sweatshirts. However, to
elicit multiple comments about my hair I would have to dye my mop pink, and I think
pink hair would make me look weird. Weirder.
lived in Berkeley, I got a haircut every six months. I would walk to Solano
Avenue where, guided by chance and intuition, I would choose one of the several
hair cut joints staffed by Asian women who spoke little or no English. I would
enter the joint, wait for someone to gesture at an empty barber’s chair, and say
politely, “May I please have my hair cut short on the sides and leave some on
top.” And then I would surrender to the gods of haircuts.
occasion, a young woman began cutting my hair and after a few minutes stopped to
confer with another young woman who then took over cutting my hair. After a
moment, this second woman stopped cutting my hair and called over an older
woman who studied my hair for a moment, smiled at me and said, “You hair no lie
down. Only go up when cut short. No can brush down.”
said. “Is okay. Cut short on sides, leave some on top.”
And then to put them at ease, I told my favorite hair-cutting joke. “You know the difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut?”
women looked at me with obvious concern and said many things to each other in what
I think was Chinese, but may have been Vietnamese.
“Two weeks,” I said, and when it was clear they didn’t understand the joke, I tried to explain why the joke was funny, which is never a good idea, and then I told the joke again, which caused the older women to nod emphatically and say, “Yes, okay. You come back two weeks. Sure. We cut some man hair every week.”
deed is done. Marcia worked uncharacteristically fast today, snipping and
fluffing and snipping, and she seemed to enjoy the process this time, which has
not always been the case.
feel lighter and more intelligent. I don’t know why getting a haircut sharpens
the mind, but it does for me. Perhaps we receive vital information from the
collective consciousness through our hair, and by removing the old brittle hair
tips, my reception of useful data has improved. Let’s hope so.
the hair that was previously attached to my head, and once I get the fire going
in the woodstove this evening I will burn those detached locks in a ritualistic
pagan Easter Passover rebirth ceremony, no kidding, to bid farewell to old
fears and erroneous assumptions that have been holding me back from optimal
appreciation of this moment.
Having recently posted the nine scenes composing George Is Writing A Play, I am now immersed in making a new album of songs and getting ready to bring out my new book of stories Why You Are Here and other stories. I was thinking about writing about the album-making process, and I may, but this morning I woke up wondering what I posted on my blog ten years ago.
So I resorted to the trusty archives at the bottom of my blog page (over 700 postings to choose from!), clicked on May 2012, and up came Children. What fun it was to read this again. I thought you might enjoy it, too. So here it is.
“I would suspect that the hardest thing for you to accept is your own beauty. Your own worth. Your own dignity. Your own royal pedigree. Your priestly identity as one who blesses and is blessed in return. Your own calling to learn to love and allow yourself to be loved to the utmost.” Alan Jones
I was in Corners a few days ago, perusing the
bananas, when a little girl, four-years-old, came right up to me and said,
“What?” I replied, never having seen her
“I made up a special song.” She nodded to
affirm this. “Do you want to hear it?”
“Of course,” I said, delighted by her. “Who
And without a moment’s hesitation she began to
sing about how beautiful the day was and how happy she was and how much she
loved her mother and having chocolate milk. The melody was something of a
hybrid, Mary Had A Little Lamb meets Oh What A Beautiful Morning, and the
tune changed key several times throughout her rendition. In short: a
masterpiece. Oh, and she danced as she sang, a subtle shimmying hula.
“That was fabulous,” I declared, applauding. “I
“Do you want to hear another one?” she asked,
frowning quizzically, as if she couldn’t quite believe my reaction.
“Sure,” I said, nodding enthusiastically. “Who
So she launched into another song with a melody
not unlike the first, this one about her favorite foods: fruit, chocolate, ice
cream, pizza, popcorn, and spaghetti, with each verse ending in “minestrone
soup.” Another masterwork.
I applauded again and said, “Thank you so much.
You made my day.”
“I would sing another one,” she said, shrugging
apologetically, “but we have to go.”
“There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions.” Bill Evans
“When I was
two-years-old,” said my grandmother Goody, her voice ringing with passion, “my
mother had another baby, and a few days later the baby died in her crib and my
mother screamed at me, ‘Did you touch
the baby?’ That’s the very first thing I remember about my life.” She reflected
for a moment. “I think that’s why I always feel responsible for anything that
ever goes wrong.”
anything that goes wrong in your life?” I asked, adjusting the volume on my
life, your life, anybody’s life.” She laughed her musical laugh. “I’m
responsible for everything bad that happens to anyone. It’s all my fault.”
born in 1900 in the Jewish ghetto of Detroit, her father a cantor with a golden
voice who made a few pennies preparing boys for bar mitzvah, while Goody’s mother was the primary breadwinner by
keeping a little grocery store above which Goody and her two brothers and
parents lived. When Goody was six-years-old, her performances at
school—singing, dancing, and acting—caught the eye of a wealthy Jewish matron
who felt Goody possessed talent worth cultivating, and this matron offered to
pay for Goody to have the best singing, dancing, and acting lessons Detroit had
to offer. Alas, Goody’s parents, orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe, believed
the theater world was the Devil’s playground and so they rejected the generous
“I might have been a star,” said Goody, aiming her words at the tape recorder. “I could sing like a bird and dance like Isadora what’s-her-name, but what I loved most was acting, turning myself into people who did all the things I was forbidden to do.”
“The creation of something new is not
accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner
necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” Carl Jung
I lived in Berkeley, I earned a small portion of my income as a babysitter. My
favorite babysitting job was a three-hour stint, two afternoons a week,
overseeing three little boys playing in my neighbor’s backyard. The boys were
five-years-old and they had a fort, a small wooden platform four-feet off the
ground accessible by a wooden ladder. The railing around the platform was tall
and sturdy enough to keep the boys from accidentally falling off, though the
boys sometimes climbed over the
railing and jumped to the ground.
these boys had a fort and were possessed of fine imaginations, I had very
little work to do except watch from a distance, intervene on rare occasions
when their sword play became too emphatic, and serve them snacks around four
o’clock to tide them over until supper. Sometimes they would tire of their
games and come ask me to tell them a story, but usually they played happily
without me for the entire three hours. Their fort was variously a spaceship,
submarine, tree house, castle, armored attack vehicle, clubhouse, and pirate
ship. Their bamboo sticks were variously swords, spears, guns, lasers,
propulsion devices, magic wands, and fishing poles. The boys were usually
united in combat against some imagined foe, though now and then they would war
against each other. And what struck me as most interesting was that in all
their games they imagined themselves to be men, not boys, but men they hoped to
become—strong and daring and resourceful.
those little boys play, I would often recall the large wooden platform in the
far corner of my childhood backyard, a makeshift deck ten-feet long and
six-feet wide piled with old hand-hewn redwood grape stakes. This platform
served as the stage for much of my play with one particular friend, Colin, when
we were six and seven and eight-years old, Colin being much more inclined to
partake of character-driven dramas than those carnage-driven dramas preferred
by my other friends.
Colin and I pretended our platform was a raft floating down a mighty river, and we imagined ourselves to be fugitives, heroic outlaws, with much of our discourse the recounting of harrowing tales of how we came to be fugitives. In this way, we spent many summer hours inventing plots and autobiographies, excellent practice for what would become the main literary focus of my life: writing fiction.
“Nothing has a stronger influence
psychologically on children than the unlived life of the parent.” Carl Jung
Here is a very short story, a chapter from my novel of stories Under the Table Books, about children and memory and imagination. (I had the great pleasure of reading this book aloud to make an almost thirteen-hour-long audio book, which is available from Audible and Apple Books, and I’m delighted to say that readers love it. Copies of the actual three-dimensional book are rare, but gettable from used booksellers.
The Big Green
People have always told me I’m weird. But who isn’t a little weird? You know what I mean?
Grade, I would stand barefoot by a tree at the far end of the playground and I
could feel stories coming into my feet and traveling up my legs and through my
heart and out my mouth into the air. At first, the other kids laughed at me,
but I had to do it. Every recess I
would run to the tree and pull off my shoes and start babbling.
I didn’t have a single friend when I started telling the stories, but one day this boy sat down nearby and listened for a few minutes. Then he got up and ran away and came back with four other kids, and pretty soon they got up and ran away and came back with more kids, and I just kept telling about the children lost in a mysterious forest called the Big Green. Pretty soon there were dozens of kids sitting around me and when the bell rang none of them would budge until I said The End.
Well, from then on I had lots of friends and my teacher invited me to tell stories to the class while she took little naps and pretty soon I was going to other classes and telling them stories, too, until finally I was named the official story teller of the school and I was interviewed and photographed for the school paper. And then there was an article about me in the local newspaper, which is when my mother and father found out about what I was doing.
I’ll never forget that night—the day before my seventh birthday. My father came home from his office and my mother showed him the article in the paper about me and he became furious. “What are all these stories about?” he wanted to know.
I told him they were mostly about lost children and he said, “You’ve never been lost. That’s lying.”
“They’re just stories,” I said, trying to defend myself. “They like us to make up stories.”
“Who likes you to?”
“Why didn’t you tell us about this?” He glared at my mother. “Did you know about this?”
“Heavens no,” she said, cringing. “He doesn’t tell me anything.”
“So now all our friends are gonna see this
“We’ve had five calls already.”
“Sonofabitch,” said my father, clenching his fists. “That does it. No more story telling. You hear me? No more.”
“But nothing. You quit telling stories or you’ll be in big trouble.”
So I stopped. It wasn’t easy, but I did it. I lost most of my friends and I got beat up by some older kids who tried to force me to tell them stories, but I’d been in big trouble with my father before and it wasn’t something I would risk again until I was seventeen and left home for good.
Now here’s the amazing part. I didn’t remember any of this until last year when I went to a psychic astrologer to celebrate turning forty-seven. The first thing she said to me was, “Your great gift emerged when you were six, but something happened and you were forced to squelch it.”
“Gift?” I said, remembering only my profound
loneliness. “What kind of gift?”
“You were psychic. And judging from your chart, such a gift would have been unacceptable in your family. Even dangerous for you.”
“I don’t remember,” I said, straining for any sort of memory from my early years.
“Then you turned to the physical. Sports?”
“All I did,” I said, remembering the endless baseball—the safe simplicity of bat meeting ball, a boy drifting back in left field to catch another towering drive, never wanting the day to end.
“I work at a preschool. I’m a teacher’s aide.”
Then it hit me, the way I keep the kids
entertained between four and six waiting for their mommies to pick them up. I
stand barefoot by a tree at the far end of the playground and tell them stories
about the children lost in the Big Green. And though the children in my stories
are definitely lost, they are not alone. They have each other, and so never
lose hope of finding their way home.
Joan and George’s living room. A fire burning in the hearth.
72, and Marilyn, 75, actresses and retired psychotherapists, are sitting on the
sofa with scripts in hand. Joan’s husband George, 74, a playwright and retired
English professor, and Marilyn’s husband Michael, 76, a realtor and actor, are seated
in armchairs, also with scripts in hand. They are reading the last scene of
George’s new play The Odyssey of Walter Iverson.
stage directions) The living room in the home of Walter, 47, and his wife
Sasha, 45. They are entertaining their good friends Anna, 55, and Fred, 62.
Sasha and Anna and Fred are in the living room enjoying after-dinner wine by
the fire, while Walter is down the hall in the children’s bedroom telling
Steven, 7, and Elizabeth, 5, a bedtime story.
Fred) I’m always amazed at how cooperative your kids are about going to
bed. With our kids, every night was a battle royale to get them to brush their
teeth and get in bed. They were wild things compared to your kids. What’s your
Anna) Well for one thing, they don’t let their kids watch television and
have sugar before going to bed, which we did. Silly us.
Sasha) And they love the bedtime
stories Walter tells them. They often go to bed before their bedtimes just to get him started telling stories.
Anna: Lucky children.
Fred: I was never good at making up stories. I
read Dr. Seuss to our kids until I thought I’d go insane, but I’ve never been very
good at making things up.
Sasha: The hero and heroine of Walter’s bedtime
stories, coincidentally, have our children’s names, but they are not, Steven and Elizabeth insist, our
children. But really they are.
Fred: And what do they do in these stories?
Sasha: Well they have sidekicks. A very tall boy
named Doofus who loves pizza more than anything, a fast-talking, wise-cracking
girl named Mimi, and a robot named J97 who makes terrible puns. The five of
them go on treasure hunts and fly their spaceship to other planets and build
amusement park rides in their backyard. Things like that. With lots of trips to
the pizza parlor.
Anna: No wonder they want to go to bed.
stage directions) Walter enters and sits in an armchair.
Fred: Aesop returns.
Walter) What have I missed?
Anna: We were just hearing about the stories you tell your kids.
Fred: What was the plot tonight?
Walter: Lately we’ve been building a multi-story tree house with lots of interior decorating going on. The four chairs in the living room are small trampolines, and the amazing futuristic kitchen is presided over by two robots, one with a British accent, that’s J97, and one with a French accent named N65. The kids did most of the telling tonight so there wasn’t much plot, but the décor was to die for.
Anna: Speaking of décor, what do you think of the set for your new play?
Walter: I love it. Brad and Phyllis have outdone
themselves. Worthy of Broadway.
Fred: I only wish you were playing the lead, Walter. I know you want to focus on directing, but you really are Felix.
Walter: Felix is twenty years younger than I am. I think Jason’s gonna be fine in the role once we get through another forty or so run-throughs. And Amy and Teresa are marvelous. I’m very pleased with how things are going.
Fred: Is it true?
Walter: Is what true?
Fred: Everything that happens in the play. Did all that really happen to you?
this) It really did. Only the names and titles of plays have been changed
to protect the innocent.
Anna: There’s so much happiness in the beginning, and then so much sorrow. So much love and camaraderie, and then so much deceit and cruelty.
Sasha: And then happiness again at the end.
Walter: The roller coaster of life.
Fred: Seems so unfair. Not only to you, but to the world. To be deprived of your marvelous plays.
Walter: Not unfair. Just the way things unfolded, if one thinks of life as an unfolding, which I do. And look where I ended up. In this lovely place with Sasha and our children, and with you, our marvelous friends. With our theater company of zealous players, speaking of love and camaraderie.
Anna: Even so, I don’t think I could have survived your heartbreak.
Walter: Oh I didn’t survive. I died and had to be reborn so I could carry on. Just as you and Sasha and Fred have been reborn many times in this lifetime.
her glass) Here’s to rebirth.
stage directions) Fred and Anna and Walter raise their glasses, too, as the
lights fade to darkness. The End.
Joan, Marilyn, and Michael put down their scripts and sit in silence for a long
Marilyn: It’s a marvelous play, George. Your best
Michael: I agree. Made me cry, and I almost never
George: Not too schmaltzy an ending?
Joan: No. Not at all. Besides schmaltz is good
for the heart.
Michael: And is it true? Did all that really happen to you, George?
George: Not to me. To someone I used to be. A
long time ago.
Marilyn: Now be honest. If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
A stage and the first row of seats in a small theater in a small town on the coast of Oregon. The unseen seats are filled with people auditioning for William Saroyan’s play The Time of Your Life.
men and two women are sitting in that first row of seats, each with a script in
hand. The men are Fred, 50, and Brad, 60. The women are Anna, 44, and Sasha, 34.
Anna and Fred are married, and Anna is directing the play. Fred, Sasha, and
Brad are on the casting committee.
a middle-aged woman, walks onto the stage and faces the foursome.
Anna: Hi Phyllis.
Phyllis: Hi Anna. Hi everybody. Before I read, I
just want to say I think The Time of Your
Life is a fine play, though terribly dated. But as good as it is, I know I speak
for several people who think it’s crazy for us to do a play with a jillion male
characters and almost no female
characters when we have many fine women actors and barely enough men in the entire
town, let alone male actors, to fill the cast.
Anna: We’re reworking the play so several of the
characters can be female.
Brad: Are we allowed to do that? Isn’t that copyright
infringement or something?
Fred: Not at all. In Shakespeare’s time, men
Brad: Maybe so. But this is not Shakespeare’s
time. By about four hundred years.
Sasha: The good news is, with surprisingly few
dialogue tweaks, several of the male characters play just fine as women.
her eyes) Now you tell us. I’m reading one of Kitty’s speeches.
Brad: You’re a little old for Kitty.
Anna: Brad. Would you please
let me conduct the auditions? You’re here to listen, not talk. Okay?
Brad: Just trying to help.
Anna: (to Phyllis) You are not
too old for Kitty. We’re re-imagining the play entirely.
Fred: Saroyan would approve,
I’m sure. He was that kind of guy.
Brad: How do you know what
kind of guy Saroyan was?
Sasha: Brad, I’m gonna kill
Brad: Okay, I’ll shut up.
Anna: Go ahead, Phyllis.
Phyllis: (puts on her reading glasses and reads from a script) I wanted to be an actress and have a young doctor come to the theater and see me and fall in love with me and send me flowers. I wouldn’t know who it was, and then one day I’d see him in the street and fall in love with him. I wouldn’t know he was the one who was in love with me. I’d think about him all the time. I’d dream about him. I’d dream of being near him the rest of my life. I’d dream of having children that looked like him. I wouldn’t be an actress all the time. Only until I found him and fell in love with him. After that we’d take a train and go to beautiful cities and see the wonderful people everywhere and give money to the poor and whenever people were sick he’d go to them and make them well again. (she takes off her glasses) Thanks.
Brad: She’s right. This play is terribly dated. And not very well written, if you ask me.
No one asked you, Brad.
Anna: We’re also going to be modernizing the
text. Thank you, Phyllis. That was wonderful.
a man in his fifties, comes onto the stage as Phyllis exits.
Anna: Hello Simon. What are you going to read for
Simon: Didn’t we just doThe Time of Your Life?
Like two years ago?
Anna: We did it eleven years ago when we had a sudden and unprecedented surplus of
men. Since then we’ve gotten dozens of requests to put it on again, so finally
we are, despite the current shortage of male actors. Hence the re-imagining and
the modernizing of the text.
Simon: Let me tell you something. This play is
not only dated, it’s embarrassingly sexist, and I say that as a card-carrying sexist.
Even I’m embarrassed by how sexist it
Anna: We’re addressing that in the re-imagining.
What are you reading for us?
Simon: Why do I need to read? You’ve heard me read
a million times.
Fred: Come on, Simon. Everybody has to audition if
they want to be in the play. Those are the rules.
Simon: Fine. (sarcastically)
To be or not to be, that is the
question? Whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous
fortune or that this too too too too solid
flesh would melt thaw and resolve itself into a dew. Or into a much ado? Who
knows for whom the bell tolls? It tolls for thee. And probably me. And that’s
our show. Thanks for coming.
bows and leaves the stage.
Brad: Nothing like a good old Shakespeare
Fred: I think you mean pastiche.
a middle-aged woman, walks to the center of the stage.
Anna: Hi Abi.
Abigail: Hi. I’m thrilled to hear you’re
re-sexing this play. If ever a play needed re-sexing, this one does. If you
need any help with that, let me know.
Anna: I will. What are you reading for us?
Abigail: I’m gonna do part of a monologue from my
new one-human show Revolt of the Pronouns.
Brad: How timely. Pronouns are all the rage these
at Brad) I’m warning you.
mimes zippering his mouth.
a pose) Love is only a problem when contextualized as something definable,
tangible, bankable, spendable. When someone says, “I need love,” they’re confusing an abstraction with what’s real.
Companionship, sex, touch, flossing your teeth. These are real. We need real
things. We don’t need indefinable concepts. Consider the expression I’m in love. Suggesting love is some
sort of container to get into. A swimming pool? A box? And where is this
swimming pool or box? Consider the expression All you need is love. The car won’t start. All it needs is love?
No. It needs gas. Unless it’s an electric car, and then it needs electricity.
Love is a feeling. Let’s leave it at that. (bows)
Thank you. I’ll be premiering Revolt of
the Pronouns two weeks from today at the Unitarian. Hope to see you all there.
Brad: Wouldn’t miss it for anything.
Anna: Thank you, Abi. That was terrific.
a man in his late thirties, walks onto the stage.
from audition list) Walter Iverson. (smiles
at Walter) Welcome to the Coast Players Theatre.
Walter: Thank you.
Fred: Ever been in a play before?
Walter: Yes. In high school and college and some summer
Brad: Uh oh. Are you a professional?
Walter: Was. I’m the new English teacher at the
Welcome to town.
Walter: Thank you.
Anna: What are you going to read for us, Walter?
Walter: I’m doing one of McCarthy’s speeches, but
I would be happy to have any part in this play.
Brad: Who’s McCarthy?
Walter: A character in The Time of Your Life. The play you’re doing.
Brad: Oh that
Sasha: Brad. Nip it.
Walter) You need a script?
Walter: No. I’ve memorized the lines.
Brad: Uh oh. Sounds like a professional.
Anna: Would you stop saying that?
a moment to collect himself) I’m a
longshoreman. And an idealist. I’m a man with too much brawn to be an
intellectual, exclusively. I married a small, sensitive, cultured woman so my
kids would be sissies instead of suckers. A strong man with any sensibility has
no choice in this world but to be a heel, or a worker. I haven’t the heart to be a heel, so I’m a
worker. I’ve got a son in high school who’s already thinking of being a writer.
(pauses briefly for what would be lines
from other characters) They all wanted to be writers. Every maniac in the
world that ever brought about the murder of people through war started out in
an attic or a basement writing poetry. It stank. So they got even by becoming
important heels. And it’s still going on. Right now on Telegraph Hill is some
punk who is trying to be Shakespeare. Ten years from now he’ll be a senator. Or
a communist. (comes out of character)
Wow. That was fabulous. Gave me goose bumps.
I think he might be too good for us. He’ll make everybody else look like an amateur.
We are amateurs. What’s wrong with
Would you two stop?
You’ll definitely get a part, Walter. We’ll call you when we finish casting.
(leaving the stage) Thank you.
Let’s take a break. (stands up and turns
to address the unseen audience) We’re gonna take a fifteen minute break and
finish up after.
(stands up) There’s coffee and
cookies in the lobby. Help yourself.
Sasha catches up with Walter.
You were great.
I’m Sasha. I’m an actor, too. Actress. Actor.
Nice to meet you.
How long have you been in town?
You and your wife?
No. I’m single.
Oh. So am I. Well… I have a daughter. She’s eighteen. Going to college next
year. Wants to be an actor. I wonder why. She’s been to every show I’ve ever been
in since she was a baby. (embarrassed) I’m
making a fool of myself, aren’t I?
Not at all. And may I say you don’t look old enough to have an eighteen-year-old
I was sixteen when she was born. That makes me thirty-four. How old are you?
Oh. I… um… if you’d like somebody to show you the local sights, you know,
acquaint you with the area, I’d be happy to.
Will you be in the play, Sasha?
Probably. I’m in all the plays. If I want to be in them. Here I mean. Not
A local star. So you’ll get one of the leads.
So will you. You’re the best actor we’ve had around here in a long time.
Walter: What do you do when you’re not acting and being a mother?
I’m a psychotherapist. (laughs)
Wouldn’t have guessed that, would you? The way I’m throwing myself at you. But
I am. A psychotherapist.
I should get your number. I’m prone to depression.
(taken aback) Really? I wouldn’t have
thought that about you.
Oh I’m not depressed now. But I have my moments, and sometimes those moments
stretch into days and weeks.
Oh I’m like that, too. Life is depressing sometimes. But not right now. (looks into his eyes) Right now life is very exciting. For me anyway.
For me, too. I’d love for you to show me around.
Oh good. I’ll give you my number. My home phone. Not my psychotherapist number.
Where did you live before you moved here?
New York. Manhattan.
How long did you live there?
Did you love it?
I did love it. And then one day I didn’t love it anymore.
What changed for you?
It’s a very long story, Sasha. But the short version is, I got my heart broken
one too many times.
I know the feeling.
Shall we go mingle with the others and get some coffee and cookies?
I made the cookies. Oatmeal raisin. They’re fantastic. Alas, the coffee won’t
be any good. But fear not, I will soon acquaint you with all the best coffee
places up and down the coast, including my house. Where we could have coffee
some time. And cookies. Or pie. I bake. It’s one of my manias. Not that I have lots of manias, but baking is definitely
one of them.
Wonderful. Are you free tomorrow?
Yes. (thinks) Well… not until after
five. Do you like Mexican food?
Can I take you out? For dinner? Tomorrow night?
That would be wonderful.
Great. I’ll get something to write my number down. And yours, too. For me. And
mine for you.
I have just the thing.
He gets a little notebook and pen out
of his pocket.
Walter:Ever seen one of these before? (hands them to her) They’re fast
replacing smart phones.
(feigning astonishment) I’ve heard of
them, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one. (writes her number and hands him the notebook) Are you really prone
Adams, eighty-three, a legendary actress, is dining with Arthur Fields, a very
successful actor in his late thirties. They have just been seated. Their
waiter, Walter, an actor playwright in his thirties, comes to take their order.
Walter: Good evening Tess. How are you?
Tess: I’m fine, Walter. This is Arthur Fields, as
I’m sure you know. Arthur, this is Walter, the best waiter I’ve ever had, and
as you know I’ve had many excellent waiters.
Arthur: Pleased to meet you. (frowns) I know you, don’t I? Did you work at another restaurant in
Manhattan before this one?
Walter: No, I’ve only worked here. Ten years now.
I think you know me from my play. Funny
You Should Mention It.
Arthur: Oh my God. The play that made me. You’re
Walter Iverson. Now I see you. How great to see you again. And thank you from
the bottom of my heart for writing your marvelous play. Changed my life beyond
my wildest imaginings, and in the best of ways.
Walter: I had longer hair back then and no
glasses and no mustache.
remember, and I also remember you said very little during rehearsals, though
whenever you did say something, it
was spot on. I had no idea you were a waiter. I had you living in France,
writing your next masterpiece.
Walter: Thank you for having me there. Sounds
wrote Funny You Should Mention It,
Walter? Why didn’t you tell me?
Walter: Never came up.
Tess) I’m not exaggerating when I say his play made me. (to Walter) That was your first play,
wasn’t it? Surely you’ve written others.
Walter: Several. In fact, I thought you’d been
sent the two I wrote especially for you. Or so my agent told me.
Arthur: Never got them. I’ve been in LA and
London most of the last seven years. A few weeks into the run of your play
everything just exploded for me, and things haven’t calmed down since.
Walter: Well deserved.
Arthur: Thank you. I would love to read the plays you wrote for me, and any others you’ve got.
Walter: I could ask my agent to try again, though
that didn’t seem to work the first time.
Arthur: Who’s your agent?
Walter: Natalie James.
Arthur: Ah. Well let’s not worry about her until
I read your plays and want to option them. Can you bring them by our apartment?
I’ll give you the address and my phone number and we’ll hook up.
Tess: I’d love to see your plays, too, Walter.
Any parts for me?
Walter: I always write parts for you.
Tess: Then do bring me copies when I come next
Walter: I will. And now to the business at hand. We
have two fabulous specials tonight.
Tess: Oh just do as you always do. You know what
I like. I’m giving Arthur supper, so do as you always do.
Arthur) I’ll be bringing red wine. Will that be satisfactory for you?
Arthur: Whatever Tess says.
I shall return.
Arthur: That man is a genius. Did you ever get to
see Funny You Should Mention It?
Tess: Three times. Best thing I’d seen in years
and years, and there’s been nothing as good since, except maybe Mavis Appleton’s
Hamlet which was great fun, though
certainly nothing new. I wonder why Walter’s agent didn’t send you his plays.
Arthur: God I hope he’s not on somebody’s shit
Tess: I hope not, too. He’s the sweetest person.
returns with a bottle of red wine, which he opens and pours for both of them to
her taste) Splendid.
his taste) Fantastic. I’ll want to get a case of that.
their glasses) I shall write down the particulars for you.
Arthur: Thank you. (drinks) So whet my appetite, Walter. What are the plays you wrote
for me about?
Walter: The first one, which I finished about a
year after you starred in my play, is called Café Epiphany. It’s about an Episcopal minister who loses his faith,
and in the depths of despair decides to open a coffee house in a forsaken
neighborhood. This precipitates a gathering of oddballs, romance ensues, and our
hero’s faith is reborn.
Arthur: Sounds fantastic. Can you bring it by
Walter: As early as you say.
Tess: What about the other one?
Walter: The other one is called Lover of Love. It’s a comedy of sorts, but
serious, too. About a happily married couple. Or so it seems until the husband
– the part I wrote for you, Arthur – discovers his wife has two lovers, a man and a woman who are as
unaware of each other and the
husband, as the husband was unaware of them. Without telling his wife’s lovers
who he is, the husband manages to meet both of them, and eventually the four
convene for a roller coaster second act with a surprising denouement.
Arthur: I can’t wait to read them. Ellen and I
have been hunting for years to find a good new play to do together.
Walter: I have three others I think you’d like,
Arthur: Bring us all your plays. Please.
at Walter) And to think for all this time I never knew what you did besides
wait on me.
The lights dim to darkness.
lights come back up on the spacious living room of a two-bedroom Manhattan
apartment. Larry, an actor in his thirties, is sitting on the sofa, gazing into
his laptop computer. The apartment door opens and Walter enters, home from his
(looks up from his computer) You look exultant. Did you meet someone
marvelous? Get a call back?
Walter: No. (hangs
his coat by the door) But I waited on Tess Adams as I do every Thursday,
and her guest tonight was none other than Arthur Fields.
Larry: Oh my God, I love him. He’s so hot, and
he’s in absolutely everything these
days. And he’s married to Ellen
Coleman who is beyond anything. Do
you think he’s gay?
a kettle on for tea) I gave up guessing long ago, Larry. Wrong too many
times. Vincent would know at a glance, but not I.
Larry: Speaking of Vincent, he called from Des
Moines about a half-hour ago, desperate to speak to you. Says he aches for
Manhattan. Poor dear. Stuck in the hinterlands.
in an armchair) I’ll call him in a little while. How was the show tonight?
Larry: Brutal as ever. There’s a reason all the
other dancers are in their early twenties
and not in their mid-thirties like yours
truly. Two hours of hip-hop anymore is about ninety minutes too many for me. I
have to do the play twenty-seven more times, and then I must take a break or I may never walk again.
Walter: Maybe you should stop now. You don’t want
to injure yourself.
Larry: I can’t break the contract. I must stay in good with the casting
director. She loves that I’m older. I
know I can get through twenty-seven more shows. I have to. And then I’ll pray the next time she wants me, there’s much more singing and much less dancing.
gets up to make tea.
Walter: Want some tea?
up) No, I’m gonna crash. See you in the morning.
Walter: Sleep well.
Larry: Oh I will. Like the dead.
exits and Walter carries the phone to the dining room table where he sets down
his mug of tea and dials Vincent’s number. Vincent is Walter’s former apartment
mate, an actor who lived in New York for seventeen years before moving to Iowa
to teach high school Drama.
Walter: Vincent. Walter. (listens) What’s going on? (listens)
Good old Diary of Anne Frank. A high
school favorite. (listens) Oh don’t
worry about that. Please, Vincent. You’ll pay me back some day. I’m fine. Take
your time. (listens) I mean it,
Vincent. I’m fine. Please don’t worry about the money. All in good time. (listens) You’re welcome. (listens) Well… no. Not dating anyone. Almost
done with the second draft of Little
Giant Changes. Thank you for your notes. They were very helpful. Oh and
you’ll like this. Tonight I waited on Tess Adams, and her guest was none other
than Arthur Fields. (listens) Yes. Gorgeous
as ever. And guess what? He never got my plays. Proclaimed to Tess that Funny You Should Mention It made his
career. (listens) Yes. And he wants
to read Café Epiphany and Lover of Love and all the others, too. (listens) No, I’m gonna hand deliver
them. Either Natalie never sent them or Arthur’s agent didn’t pass them on to
him. (listens) Who knows? (listens) I’m trying not to be paranoid,
but the longer I’m in this business, the harder it is not to think something is
very rotten in Denmark, AKA Manhattan. (listens)
That’s a lovely thought, me being on the faculty in Des Moines with you, but if
I give up here I’m moving to the left coast. (listens) No, not LA again. (listens)
I don’t know. A small town where I can be in plays and experience this thing
I’ve heard about called quiet. (laughs)
I love you, too. Sleep well.
The lights fade to darkness.
When the lights come up again, we are in the office of Walter’s agent, Natalie James. Natalie, a woman in her fifties, is sitting at her desk, Walter sitting across from her.
Natalie: I’m glad you called, Walter, because I’ve
been meaning to have you come in and sign documents to formally terminate our
Why do you want to terminate our agreement?
Natalie: It’s been seven years since you had a new play produced, and though Funny You Should Mention It still gets a few small productions every year, we just think it’s time to clear some space. Any future residuals from your play will go directly to you, and we will no longer take twenty per cent.
Walter: And the seven subsequent plays I gave you
to shop for me?
Natalie: We will have nothing further to do with
those plays. All rights reverting to you. We have a box for you at the front
desk with all the copies we had on hand.
Walter: May I ask when you stopped shopping them?
Natalie: I’m not sure what you mean.
Walter: How long ago did you stop sending my
plays to actors and directors and producers and theatre companies?
something) Oh maybe a year ago. Two years? Not sure.
Walter: Why didn’t you tell me then?
Natalie: Well… because it wasn’t that I didn’t want to show them, there just wasn’t any
interest in you.
Walter: And the plays I wrote for Arthur Fields?
Did you ever send them to his agent as you said you would?
Natalie: That was eons ago, Walter. I’m sure I did.
Walter: Well… so be it. Bring forth the
Natalie: Denise will take care of you at the
front desk. I’m just swamped. Good luck.
Walter walks out of Natalie’s office as the lights fade to darkness.
the lights come up, Arthur Fields ushers Walter into a swank living room.
Arthur: Sorry about the mess. We just got back
from LA and we’re leaving for London in three days. Something to drink?
Arthur: Coming right up. (calls) Max? You there?
a middle-aged British fellow, emerges from the kitchen.
Max: Yes, Arthur.
Arthur: Max, this is Walter Iverson. He wrote Funny You Should Mention It, the play
that lifted me out of poverty and anonymity so I could hire you to take care of
Walter) Very pleased to meet you. I saw the off West End production of your
play at the Guinness and laughed until I cried. Brilliant.
Walter: Thank you. I went over for rehearsals to
help translate the American English into British English, and I had a great
time. Should have stayed over there.
Max: I went twice because I laughed so hard the
first time, I missed half the lines. I’m surprised it didn’t jump to a bigger
theatre and run for years. (to Arthur)
What may I get for you?
Arthur: Coffee and something to nibble on,
Max: Right away.
Coleman, Arthur’s wife, a beauty in her thirties, enters from the hallway.
the room to shake Walter’s hand) I’m Ellen.
Walter: A pleasure to meet you. I’m an ardent
Ellen: As we are of your plays. They’re magnificent.
Arthur: They really are, Walter. We’ve been
reading the scenes together every day for the last week, though we’re supposed
to be learning our lines for the movie we’re making in England. Your lines,
trust me, are immeasurably better.
Walter: I’m thrilled you like the plays.
Arthur: We love them. All of them. And especially
the ones you wrote for me.
Ellen: Please. Sit down.
sits on the sofa. Max enters with a tray bearing three coffee mugs and a plate
of cookies, which he sets on the coffee table.
beside Walter) Thanks Max.
exits. Ellen hands a mug to Walter, a mug to Arthur, and takes the last mug for
Walter: I appreciate your taking the time to see
me, and I’m ecstatic you love the plays.
Arthur: I wish I could say we were going to
produce them, which we would love to do, but we can’t because… (looks at Ellen) there’s a problem.
Walter: I thought there might be, given my recent
dismissal by my agent, though what the problem is I can’t imagine.
Ellen: Your agent just ended things with you?
Walter: A few days ago.
Ellen: I wonder why she waited so long?
Walter: What do you mean?
Arthur: Walter, I hate to be the one to tell you
this, but according to everyone we’ve spoken to… and we talked to several very well-connected
people, you’ve been persona non grata in the biz for at least five years now.
No one knows why, but apparently you are toxic.
Walter: Toxic. As in poisonous?
Arthur: As in not to be associated with.
shock) For the last five years?
Ellen: I’m so sorry, Walter. It’s sickening, but…
it’s what happens sometimes. We know several other people this has happened to,
though none of them had written seven plays we’d love to produce, but… we can’t.
dawning) Oh my God.
Ellen: Remembering something?
Walter: Five years ago I was cast in a leading
role in Martin Veld’s new play, Never
Arthur: Huge hit. Soon to be a movie. Which part?
Walter: Milton. The bartender. My big break as an
actor. And three days before opening night, I was fired. No explanation given. I
was wrecked for months. And when I climbed out of my depression, I called Susan
Volk… you know Susan. She produced Funny
You Should Mention It. And she said she’d call me right back, but she never
did. And when I called her again the next day, her secretary took my number,
but I never heard from her. And Desmond Jones, who I thought was my great
friend after he was in my play with you, he wouldn’t talk to me either. I
thought it was because he’d become too big a star to associate with little me,
but maybe not.
Arthur: He’s one of the people we called.
Walter: What did he say?
Arthur: He said he was told by his agent to have
nothing to do with you or he would regret it.
Walter: But why? All I’ve ever done is write
plays and audition for parts and… (muses)
No wonder except for a summer stock gig in Maine, there’s been nothing for five
years. Nothing. And I didn’t do anything wrong. I know I didn’t.
Ellen: I’m sure you didn’t, Walter, but it just
takes one person in a position of
power to turn against you, and you can be knocked out of the running forever.
Walter: Someone who doesn’t even know me? Why would they do something
Arthur: The people we spoke to have no idea why
you were blacklisted. And they looked into it for us because we love these
plays and wanted to know if there was any
way we could make things right again for you, but that’s apparently not
Walter: So I’ve been blacklisted for no reason
except… I’m me?
Arthur: Maybe someone was offended by your play.
Or maybe someone was enemies with someone who was involved in the production of
your play, and when the play was a success, they took revenge on you. Or maybe someone resents you for succeeding
with your play without paying your dues. You did come out of nowhere, and the entrenched
ones hate that, especially if you didn’t use the opportunity of your success to
make nice with those above you.
Ellen: Or maybe an ex-lover became lovers with
one of these people and convinced them to punish you for jilting her.
Walter: I’ve never jilted anyone.
Ellen: Or so you think.
Walter: Who are
these people who have so much power? Don’t you
have power? You’re two of the most famous actors in the world.
Ellen: We are tiny fish in this sea of sharks.
Arthur: Bit actors in the larger play.
Ellen: And the person or people who did this to
you live on the highest floors of the castle. So far above us we will never
know who most of them are. And the few we do know, we are oh socareful never to offend them.
Arthur: Else they will do to us what they did to
Walter: I don’t want to believe this is true, though
if it is, everything that’s happened to me in the last five years makes perfectly
horrible sense. So let’s say it is
true. That no one will read my plays or give me a part. Any advice as I’m about
to turn thirty-five?
Arthur: Get out of town. And that includes LA and
London. Find a good place to live, write your plays, and some years from now
try again when the dust has settled and your enemies may have forgotten why
they hated you.
takes a last sip of coffee and stands up.
Walter: I hope I haven’t compromised you by coming
up) If anyone asks, we’ll say we were celebrating the eight-year anniversary
of the production of your marvelous play that made me. For which I will be forever
Walter: As I will be forever grateful knowing you
loved what I wrote for you, and that my plays were worthy of a larger audience
despite the intercession of the evil ones.
Ellen: Your plays are more than worthy. They’re works
of genius. And it breaks our hearts we can’t bring them to the world.
The spacious living room and kitchen of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Walter, an actor and writer in his early thirties, is sitting at the kitchen table writing a play. He comes to a stopping point, sets down his pen, and gets up to put a kettle on for tea. The apartment door opens. Vincent, Walter’s apartment mate, enters. Vincent is an actor in his late thirties.
Vincent: Mail call. Forgot my reading glasses and
I’m useless at the shop with out them. (hands
several pieces of mail to Walter) All for you. As usual.
his reading glasses off the kitchen counter) How’s the writing going?
Walter: Good. (looks
through the mail, stops at one of the letters) Oh my God. This looks like a
check rather than a bill. From the Waxman Theatre in Milwaukee.
his hands) Let us pray.
the letter and extracting a check) Eight hundred and seventeen dollars and
forty-two cents. My little play that keeps on giving.
Walter: Magic money. (frowns at another letter) What’s this?
opens the envelope, extracts a single-page note, carries the note to the table,
and sits down to read.
Vincent: Fan mail from some flounder?
Vincent: What is it?
out the note to Vincent) Can’t be true.
reads the note and grimaces.
Vincent: This is just some crackpot who got hold
of your address and thought he’d have some fun fucking with you.
Walter: Why would he do that?
Vincent: Who knows? The world is full of these
Walter: Would you read it to me? My vision
blurred when I looked at it.
Vincent: Walter, listen to me. This is just some
whacko, jealous of your success. Just let it go.
Walter: Did he sign it?
Vincent: Yes. Thomas. No last name.
at envelope) No return address.
Vincent: Of course not. He doesn’t want to
correspond. He wants to harass you. They’re called trolls, and they’re to be
ignored at all costs.
Walter: Please read it to me.
reading) Your girlfriend Maureen is unfaithful to you. Thomas. (shakes his head) Nonsense.
Walter: That should be illegal.
Vincent: It is. And if you get another one from him, we’ll go to the police. (sets the note on the table) I have to get back to the shop. You okay?
Walter: A bit rattled. I’ll survive.
Vincent: I wouldn’t even mention this to Maureen
if I were you.
Walter: That will be difficult because she’ll be
here any minute.
Vincent: Oh God, Walter. This is exactly what
these psychos want. To fuck up your life. Just burn the stupid thing.
Walter: I probably will. Thanks. Walk safely.
Vincent: We gonna go out tonight and celebrate
the massive residuals?
Walter: Thai food, at least.
Vincent: That’s the spirit. (goes out) Ciao.
picks up the note and reads it again.
Walter: Just what I didn’t need.
goes into the kitchen and restarts the kettle for tea. He’s getting out a
couple mugs when the door opens. Maureen, a lovely woman in her thirties,
enters with a bag of groceries.
Maureen: Hi Sweetheart.
Maureen: I brought fish tacos for lunch. I’m
Walter: Not starving, but definitely esurient.
sets the bag down and they embrace and kiss.
Maureen: Make love after lunch?
Walter: What a nice idea. Except… I’m a little preoccupied with something that just came in the mail.
What is it?
Walter: I think it’s just a crank note, but it
upset me, so…
Maureen: May I see it?
to the table to get the note) Came in the same mail with a little check for
the Milwaukee production of Funny You
Should Mention It.
Maureen: Well that’s good news.
takes the note from him, reads it, closes her eyes, and sighs in exasperation.
Maureen: I’m so sorry about this, Walter. This is
a guy I had a little fling with before you and I got together, and he’s been
bothering me ever since. (opens her eyes)
I’m so sorry he resorted to this.
Walter: Thomas who?
Maureen: No one you know.
Walter: He’s been bothering you for four years and you never told me about
Maureen: Not four years. More like two.
Walter: Two? But we’ve been together for four years. I gave you a key to this
apartment four years ago when we vowed eternal love? Remember? After
splendiferous sex? We had a kind of ersatz wedding ceremony?
Maureen: Of course I remember. We dated for two years, and been exclusive for two.
down at the kitchen table) Forgive me, but… you’re Maureen, right? Maureen
Silverstein. And I’m Walter Iverson. Is that your understanding of things?
and sits down near him) Sweetheart, it took me a little longer than you to fully
commit. That’s all.
Walter: What are you talking about? We lay in my
bed, four years ago, and vowed to be each other’s one and only. And we repeated
that ritual hundreds of times. Starting four years ago. Now you’re telling me
you slept with other people for the ensuing two
other people. Ever so briefly. A three-day fling with this idiot Thomas while
you were in London and… (hesitates) a
little something with Francis.
Walter: Francis Hoffman? He who directed the
staged reading of Funny You Should
Mention It and then directed the Onyx Theatre production? Otherwise known
as the world premiere of my play that ran for a hundred and seventy-three
glorious nights? That Francis?
Walter: Was your little something with him before
or after he directed my play?
Maureen: Before. Months before.
Walter: Did he read my play because you slept
Walter: How could you not have told me about this?
Maureen: It happened,
Walter. A long time ago. It’s not happening now. I’m only sleeping with you
now. Francis and Thomas are ancient history. And so what if Francis did read your play because he and I had
a little fling? He didn’t love your
play because of that. He loved it because it’s a great play. And you’re a great
playwright. And you and I love each other. Madly. And everything is fine now,
despite this hideous attempt by Thomas to ruin our happiness two years after
Walter: I’m feeling a bit lightheaded. Maybe we
Maureen: Good idea. (jumps up and goes to get the tacos) I should have told you, Sweetheart,
but they were so not important to me.
Or to us. (puts tacos on plates) You
want something to drink?
Walter: Not important to us. What does that mean?
the food to the table) They were momentary little meaningless flings. (goes to fetch water for them) Little
nothings at the tail end of my days as a single person.
returns with glasses of water, sits down, and begins eating.
to eat) Little nothings at the tail end of your days as a single person. The
two-year tail end?
Maureen: Long ago.
Walter: The difficulty I’m having with your
explanation is that I’ve been living with the belief that we were monogamously
committed to each other for the last four
years, and now you’re telling me that though I was monogamously committed to you,
you were not so committed to me until two
years ago, and my success, such as it is, is very likely the result of your not being monogamously committed to me.
And though I don’t want to over-dramatize things, everything I believed we were
to each other seems not to be the case. Seems, in fact, to be a charade.
her mouthful) I understand why you feel that way, Sweetheart. But our
relationship is not a charade. It’s a beautiful and very real thing. And I’m
deeply committed to you. (gazes at him)
This is just a misunderstanding. That’s all.
Walter: What am I misunderstanding?
Maureen: You think I cheated on you, and I
didn’t. The misunderstanding is that you thought I was completely committed to you before I actually was. But now I am and
have been for two years. So this seemingly new
information is really very old news and has nothing to do with us now.
Walter: Then why does it feel like it has everything to do with now? Which is to say, I don’t
know how I’ll ever be able to believe you or trust you again. (gazes at her) And I hope you know that
my reaction to all this new old information has nothing to do with you having sex
with them, and everything to do with you
lying to me. You deceived me, Maureen. For two years.
Maureen: I never lied to you. I just didn’t tell
you because it happened long before we were a full-blown couple, and because it
was part of my process of getting to the point where I was ready to fully commit to you.
Walter: So you’re asking me to re-imagine two
years of my life and two years of our relationship, in a way I find highly
unpleasant, and then forget all about it? I can tell you right now I’m not
capable of that.
Maureen: So what are you saying? I was supposed
to be celibate before we got together?
Walter: Please don’t resort to that. Of course I
knew you were sexually active up to the minute we became sexually active
together, and you knew the same about me. And I was happy to know you were a
sex loving person. Sex is good. But after we started banging, if I may use that
quaint expression, you made innumerable declarations, as did I, of only wanting to sleep with each other and
nobody else. Did I mistake your hyperbole for truth because my hyperbole was the truth? Or were your declarations, if you’ll pardon my
French, balderdash? I mean… how can I ever again believe anything you tell me?
Maureen: I don’t know.
Walter: Just imagine if out of the blue you
learned that I deceived you for the first two years of our relationship. Could
you ever trust me again? And was it
just the first two years? Why would Thomas write now? Is it maybe because you’ve
had a few more little nothings more recently than two years ago? Have you?
gets up, gets her purse, extracts her keys, removes Walter’s apartment key from
the chain, and puts the key on the kitchen counter.
to the door) Regardless of what you think of me now, I love you and admire
you. And I always will.
Maureen goes out the door and closes it gently. Walter sits without moving for a long time. Now, in a state of shock, he eats a fish taco.
The spacious living room and kitchen of a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Walter, an actor and playwright in his late twenties, is lying on the sofa under a comforter, staring at the ceiling. Walter has lived in New York for two years and has been ill for several weeks.
building entrance intercom buzzes. Walter remains lying on the sofa. The buzzer
sounds again. With a great effort Walter gets up, feels dizzy, and sits down.
The buzzer sounds a third time, and with a supreme effort, Walter goes to the
door and clicks on the intercom.
Walter: Who is it?
Maureen: It’s me.
Walter: Oh hi.
buzzes her in, opens the door a crack, and returns to the sofa. A few moments
later, Maureen, Walter’s girlfriend, an actress dancer in her thirties, arrives
with two bulging grocery bags. She sets them on the kitchen counter, hangs up her
coat, and closes the door. Now she puts a kettle on for tea and starts putting
away the groceries.
Maureen: How are you feeling today, Sweetheart?
Walter: Same. Weak. Tired. Every time I start to
fall asleep, I start coughing. Forgot your key?
Maureen: No. It’s somewhere in my purse. I just
didn’t have a free hand to look for it, and I forgot it was hard for you to get
Walter: Not a problem.
Maureen: I made you some fabulous chicken soup.
Lots of garlic to cure what ails you.
Walter: Would that it were so simple.
gets a quart jar of chicken soup out of a grocery bag, pours the soup into a
pan, and sets the pan on the stove. Now she comes to Walter, feels his
forehead, sits beside him, and holds his hand.
Maureen: Sweetheart, don’t you think maybe you
should see the doctor again?
Walter: Why? The genius said there was nothing
wrong with me, when there obviously is.
Maureen: That was three weeks ago. You’re not
eating. You’re not sleeping. This is crazy. I want to make an appointment for
goes to check on the soup.
Maureen: I heard from Francis today. He wants to share
some notes with you before the reading. In case you want to make any changes.
He said he’d be happy to come here to work with you.
Walter: I don’t have the strength to talk to him.
Walter. You can talk to him for a little while. This is your play. Your dream
come true. Are you that depressed?
at her) I’m ill. I can barely stand up.
herself) Can you sit up to have some soup?
effort, he sits up as she brings him a bowl of soup on a tray.
Maureen: I’ll get you a piece of bread.
Walter: I’m sorry, Maureen. Sorry I snapped at
you. (bows his head and weeps) Sorry
I’m so fucked up.
Maureen: You’re not fucked up. (brings him the bread) You’re just
having a hard time.
at her) Why did this have to happen now? It’s like a bad dream.
beside him) Why do you think it
had to happen now?
Walter: What do you mean?
Maureen: You asked the question. Why did this
have to happen now?
Walter: I have no idea.
Maureen: You’ve been lying here for six weeks and
you have no idea?
Walter: What are you talking about? I’m ill.
That’s why I’m lying here. That wasn’t the question. The question was why did I
have to get sick when I’m about to have a staged reading of my play?
Maureen: You don’t think there’s a connection?
Walter: What are you saying? That I’m faking
Maureen: You’re obviously not faking, and I would
never accuse you of that. I’m saying that until you got the news Francis wanted
to direct a reading of your play, you were strong as an ox and we were making
love every day. And a week later you wake up weak as a kitten, and now six
weeks have gone by and you’re wasting away, though the doctor said he couldn’t
find anything wrong with you. So I’m suggesting maybe there’s a connection
between your illness and your success with your play, and maybe you need to
take a look at that.
Walter: And how would you suggest I do that?
Maureen: Go to a psychotherapist.
Walter: With what money?
Maureen: I’ll lend you the money. When you can
work again, you can pay me back. Or not. I don’t care. I want you to get some
door opens and Vincent and Leo enter. Vincent is Walter’s apartment mate, an
actor in his thirties. Leo is Vincent’s pal, an actor and massage therapist in
No sex in the living room, kiddies. You know the rules.
Maureen: Fear not, Vincent. This is just soup
Vincent: Smells divine. How’s our patient?
waits for Walter to answer.
Walter: About the same.
Vincent: Did you forget Leo’s giving you a massage
today? My treat.
Walter: I don’t think I can do that today.
Vincent: You don’t have to do anything. You just lie there and Leo does the rest.
Leo: If you don’t want a massage today, I’m happy
to give you one another time.
Walter: Okay. Another time.
up) I don’t think you want to get better, Walter. You should see yourself.
The way you spurn any kind of help.
Walter: Here we go again. You do think I’m making this up, don’t you?
Maureen: I think this has everything to do with
your play and nothing to do with your body, except your body is expressing how
you feel about having success with your play. And the reason you don’t want me
or Leo or anyone to soothe you is because you’re doing this to punish yourself.
Walter: Why would I do that? This is what I’ve
Leo: I know this is none of my business, but if
you’d like I could facilitate an investigation of what’s going on with you,
Walter: What do you mean?
sits in an armchair near the sofa.
Leo: I was a psychotherapist before I became a massage therapist, and if you’re up for it, we could do a session of questions and answers and see what we find.
Walter: Now? I can barely sit up.
Vincent: Then lie down.
Walter: Why are you doing this to me?
Leo: Who are you speaking to?
Walter: All of you.
Leo: I’m doing this to help you.
So am I.
down) The time has come, my friend, to surrender to your angels.
looks at all of them and surrenders to their good intentions.
Walter: Okay. (puts
the soup tray on the coffee table) Lets have a session.
Leo: Good. Wonderful. How old are you, Walter?
Leo: Your illness befell you seven weeks ago?
Leo: What are your symptoms?
Walter: Exhaustion. Extreme weakness. A cough that
disallows sleep. Zero appetite. Depression.
Leo: And prior to your depression, how was your
Walter: Very well. (looks at Maureen) Wonderful partner. (looks at Vincent) Great housemate and friend. Good job. Some luck
getting acting work. And Francis Hoffman is going to direct a staged reading of
my play at New Hope.
Leo: How do you feel about having a renowned
director stage a reading of your play?
no enthusiasm) Good. Great.
Leo: You don’t sound particularly excited about
it. Or happy.
Walter: I’m ill.
Leo: I understand. So… what is the title of your
You Should Mention It.
Leo: Good title. What’s it about?
Walter: It’s about the year in my life when I
found out I was Jewish. When I was thirteen.
Leo: You didn’t know you were Jewish until you
were thirteen? Why was that?
Walter: My mother was Jewish, and when she was a
little girl during the Depression her parents changed their last name from
Borenstein to Bailey to deal with the ferocious anti-Semitism of the time. My
mother was twice stoned by other children when they found out she was Jewish.
Literally stoned. In Los Angeles of all places. Which terror coincided with her
parents insisting she deny her Jewishness for her safety and success in the
world, and so… denying her Jewishness became her habit. She married a non-Jew,
my father, and it wasn’t until I spent the summer with my Jewish grandparents
in Los Angeles when I was thirteen that I found out I was Jewish.
Leo: The Baileys? I thought you said they didn’t
want people to know they were Jewish. So how did you find out?
Walter: By the late 1950s they’d decided it was
safe to come out, though they kept their non-Jewish last name. My mother, on
the other hand, never felt it was safe to let anyone know she was Jewish.
Leo: How sad. And what do your parents think of
you being an actor and a playwright in this theatre world that is so very
Walter: They’re not happy about it.
Leo: Can you elaborate on that?
Walter: I think from my mother’s point of view,
she’s afraid… I don’t know… consciously or unconsciously, that people will find
out I’m Jewish, which will lead to people finding out she is Jewish. And my father thinks being an actor and a writer is phony.
Leo: He said that to you?
Walter: Many times.
Leo: That being an actor and a writer is
Leo: He said this to you recently?
Walter: I don’t speak to my parents very often,
but when I do, my father never fails to let me know what he thinks of my career
choice. His favorite expression is that I’m pissing my life away in the company
of crackpots and losers and criminals. And my mother, in so many words, echoes
him, though, ironically, she aspired to be an actor before marrying my father.
Vincent: Quite the neurotic soup.
Leo: Indeed. (to
Walter) Yet you defied them.
Leo: Must have been difficult. Must be difficult.
Leo: What does your father do for a living?
Walter: He’s a doctor. A pediatrician.
Vincent: How’s that for irony?
Leo: Knows everything? Or thinks he does?
Walter: Oh. You’ve met my father?
Leo: Know the type. Was he abusive to you?
a long hesitation) Yes.
Leo: Did he abuse you for wanting to be an actor
and a writer?
Walter: Yes, and for many other things, too.
Leo: What other things?
Walter: Oh… he didn’t ever like me to… doesn’t
ever want me to… (can’t find the word)
Maureen: Outshine him.
Walter: That’s actually a very accurate way of
putting it. He’s a profound narcissist.
Leo: Likes to be the center of attention.
Walter: Always. And if I or my siblings or my
mother ever became the focus of attention when he was present, he was not happy,
and often violently not happy.
Leo: So let’s see what we’ve got so far. You’re
not supposed to let anyone know you’re Jewish. You’re not supposed to be an
actor or a playwright, and most especially not a successful one. As far as your
parents are concerned.
his head) Yes.
Leo: Yet here you are in New York succeeding with
your play, which is all about being Jewish. Sounds like you’re breaking all the taboos, Walter. And doing so in
a big way. A big successful public
way. No wonder you’re having such a difficult time.
raises his head and gazes in astonishment at Leo and Maureen and Vincent.
Walter: I’m trying to kill myself rather than
defy my parents. To die before I can tell the world the truth.
Leo: You were
doing that. Or part of you was. But now that you know the reason you’ve been
ill, you can get well. And to expedite that, we need to get the energy of those
people out of your body and out of your psyche so you can proceed with your
life unencumbered by their psychoses. I don’t think neuroses is a strong enough word for what they implanted in you.
weeps. Leo goes to sit beside Walter and allows him to cry for a time before
firmly taking hold of Walter’s shoulders.
Tell your father to get out of your body.
Walter: Get out of my body.
Leo: Shout it. “Get out of my body, Dad. Get out!
Get out of my body, Dad. Get out! Get out!
Walter: Get out of my body, Dad. Get out! Get
Leo: Now with all your might. (releasing him). Shout him out of you.
Get out of my body. Get out, get out, get out!
Leo: Now tell your mother to get out.
up, shouting) Get out of me, Mom. Get out. I’m Jewish. So sue me. I’m
Jewish and I’m a writer and an actor. And I’m proud of it. I love being an
actor! I love who I am. So fuck you! Fuck you, Dad. Get out of me.
Leo: Keep going, Walter. Keep going.
We could be here for a very long time.
Leo: I’ve got all day.
Maureen: Me, too. Go for it, Sweetheart.
up) Get out of him, you fuckers. Get out of him!
Get out of me! Get out of me! And stay out!
falls. Walter trembles with emotion, his killing depression vanquished.
Leo: (stands up) Well done, my friend. (embraces Walter) Well done.
Walter) We will do this every day until you’re completely well.
Walter: I already feel better. (embraces Maureen) Thank you so much.
Maureen: I need to do what you just did. My
mother is too much with me. Way too
Leo: And now… I’m starving. Exorcisms always make
Vincent: You like Thai food? We are one block
away from a most excellent Thai restaurant.
Walter: My treat.
Leo: I love Thai. Red curry prawns, please.
Vincent: I shall call in our order. (going to the kitchen phone) There’s
beer in the fridge, Leo. Help yourself.
to the fridge) Anybody else want a beer?