Recently I began a project which meant that every other day for seven weeks I would write a short play. I ended with twenty-four plays written . . . which is precisely seven times three and a half (plus one half).
Although, technically, one of the plays is really just the outline of an actual play, mostly stage direction and ideas, so you could, conceivably, call that half a play . . .
I’m gonna spend the next seven weeks or so working on a few of these. I thought, first, that I’d post a few of the highlights from the project on here.
I wrote this one at around 5:30 in the morning on September 29th. I’ve done a tiny bit of tweaking, particularly the title and one or two details in the ending. Basically, this is what Stand By Me would have been like if they’d asked me to write it.
Ol’ Death and the Hard Questions
Planets swing by in the sky. A child pops out from behind a bush and fires at one of them with a rifle. Vanishes. More planets swing by. Another child pops out from behind the same bush and fires, hits a planet, it explodes. More planets. More firing. Then eventually the planets stop. The boys begin to wade through tall grass with their rifles.
Child 1: Have you ever considered the meaning behind death?
Child 2: Mmm. I believe that dead people create a backdrop on which living people might mean something. You understand? Like a contrast. Like a history. I believe firmly that if all of the dead people didn’t exist, you and I would not either.
Child 1: No, I mean death.
Child 2: I believe that when something dies, it exhales life. Like how trees exhale oxygen, after breathing in carbon dioxide, and we breathe out carbon dioxide and inhale oxygen. So then we are dead trees, and trees are dead people.
Child 1: No, I mean Death.
Child 2: My father, who is an alcoholic, told me that death is what happens to good people. By which I believe he meant that death is the place that you go to when you live a good life and then die. By which I think he is speaking in mythological terms, and also in polysemia. Death is the act of dying – of course – but it is also a specific event which could happen after death – it is one leg of a branching path which leads out from the act of death.
Child 1: No, I mean Death, the old man at the corner store. The one who touched up Brian.
Child 2: Oh.
Scene change. The boys are seated at the base of the tree, smoke cigarettes.
Child 1: What is the meaning behind Death, the old man at the corner store who touched up Brian.
Child 2: Oh. Well, let me tell you. The meaning behind Death, who touched up Brian and owns the corner store, is a fearful thing. By which I mean, Death exists to create fear in our lives. In that way, Brian, too, exists to create fear in our lives. Without fear we could never grow into real people. And without growing into real people we would only stagnate.
A planet whizzes by overhead.
Child 2: By which line of reasoning one might assume that Death could be more of an eternal force than an actual person, and that Brian, though we believe we have always known him as a person, is more of a mythological being, a figure of speech, a non-entity. He is a literary device.
Child 1: No. I mean, what is the meaning behind Death, the old man at the corner store who touched up Brian.
Child 2: Oh. Well, let me explain. The meaning behind Death is that one must always be careful of one’s surroundings. One must never take for granted the good or bad will of any person. Then again – and I believe I speak on behalf of most of the group when I say this, or else I am more responsible than I thought for Brian’s being touched up – we must also follow our gut instincts in our judgements of others. I, for one, always had a bad feeling about old Death. I should have paid heed to that feeling, as should we all have.
Child 1: No. I mean, what is the meaning behind Death, the old man at the corner store, who touched up Brian.
Child 2: Oh.
Little pause. He has to work for this one.
Child 2: Old Death is a metaphor. In this story, he manifests maturity in us, who are otherwise depicted as children. He brings Death into light as a human force rather than a childlike fantasy, or even a theory to be propounded on by dim bulbs like my Dad. In addition, he symbolizes Death in a broader, more applicable meaning than just the ending of life – just as the Tarot card Death can signify sharp change, Death’s identity as the old man who owns the corner store and who touched up Brian makes him . . . an agent of change, and of traumatic change, and of fear. What is more fearful than change? As children growing towards maturity, change is occurring to us all of the time. Old Death creates a relationship between traumatic events, and the fear we have of them, and of death itself, and the fear we have of it. Which, we must ask ourselves, is a justifiable fear? Which is realer, death or being touched up? Which is worse? Do we, as human beings, have a right, really, to be actually afraid of either of them? Are we only children, or are we men?
Child 1: No. I mean, what is the meaning behind Death, the old man at the corner store, who touched up Brian?
Child 2: You mean, what is the meaning of that word on the sign that stands behind Death’s head at the corner store?
Child 1: Yoo-en-ga-leng.
Child 2: That’s a beer.
A bird cries out in the wilderness.
Child 1: Have you ever thought about the meaning behind sex?
Child 2: I believe very intently that sex, once we have discovered what it actually is, will mean either much more or much less than it does to us now. Perhaps differently for each of us. Perhaps both at the same time. By which I mean two things. First, ever since I was a boy I have found that I am extremely naive about all things. Standing up, for example, was once an action fraught with such meaning and intensity – as if I was joining a new race as I struggled to stand – and now is meaningless. It is something I do preternaturally, something which occurs before thought. But now I look around me, too, and see all of the things which cannot stand on two legs. And I realize that I always could stand, and that it was a part of me which I inevitably would achieve, and part of that which makes me human. Therefore, it means less and more than it once did – now that I have reached full standing maturity. Likewise, I presume that sex will either mean more, or less, or both at the same time, than it does now. Though at the moment it is only a fearful mystery, standing at the top of Bald Pate Hill, at the bottom of Screaming Gully, a silhouette in woman’s form which . . . when I look a bit closer . . . might be my own form in woman’s shape, but I can’t quite tell. And it gives me the heebie-jeebies to do that. To look closer, at that figure in the distance. And yet at the same time I just want to run down into Screaming Gully, leap up the rocks on Bald Pate Hill and grab that shadow, grab that shadow be it me or Sally and shake it – shake it – shake it –
Child 1: But what else will you do?
Child 2: I only know myself shaking it – shaking it – grabbing it by the shoulders and shaking it back and forth – and screaming in myher face and screaming –
Child 1: What are you screaming?
Child 2: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
A bird drops out of the sky.
Child 1: Have you ever thought about the meaning behind art?
Child 2: Art the class, Art the musical running at the Ho-town Arts Plaza, or Art the kid in our homeroom?
Child 1: I guess I was thinking about art the thing your Mom says she does as an artist. With all those big paintings of towers and mountains and stuff that she has standing all over your shit-filled house.
Child 2: My house is not shit-filled.
Child 1: Your house is full of shit. Not that I mind. My Mom keeps my house real clean. It’s real clean unlike yours, which is like a house on that show Hoarders, and it’s like pristine, and we all have to keep it that way which means that I don’t really have any toys, or when they’re put away I’m afraid to take ‘em out, but at your house we can play with any old garbage because there’s shit everywhere. Just take it off the ground and play with it. That’s what we do at your house because it is full of shit.
Another planet whizzes by, but alights in a tree. The first child levels his rifle on it. He fires, and the planet whizzes off.
Child 1: Shit I will never be good at this.
Child 1 takes out some chocolate and eats it messily. The tree dies. A bird falls out of the sky. The sky turns into melted chocolate, but only for a second or two.
Child 2: I guess the thing I always thought about the sky was that it’s there kinda for good. No matter how many times you fire at it, no matter how many bullets you fire into its gut, it never bleeds and it’s always gonna be pretty much the same.
Night falls immediately. The bird gets up and waddles off. Child 2 gets up and sneaks after it, with his rifle. Child 1 is left alone, which is probably exactly what he was afraid of. End of play.
I wrote this one on September 8th. It’s a little sketch for a longer play I’ve been working on for years.
FRIENDS: a RUDOLPH and STOCKYARDS short
Rudolph: I suppose it would be nice to be married.
Stockyards: Nice? Nice! It would be beautiful to be married. Simply svelt. Imagine marriage on your figure. It is the perfect thing for an old rail like you. Nice? Incomprehensible understatement! Oh, rambling deities of selling a thing short! Marriage. Look, Rudolph, friend, you never told me you were planning on marrying.
Rudolph: I’m not. No. I’m not.
Stockyards: Don’t play coy with me. What’s that gleam in your eyes? You old signboard, I can read you like a psychotherapist reads a social dysfunction [[or a ___ reads a neurological disorder]]. You try to be blank, but you flicker like a TV screen at two in the morning. What’s your deal, friend, fig, fop, faggot?
Rudolph: I’m not planning on getting married.
Stockyards: Oh, but you are.
Rudolph: I’m not.
Stockyards: You are. You are! Or you were. Or you are, and you’re afraid to tell me, your B-E-S-T bestie. You were! That’s it! Admit it, claptrap. Admit it, you were!
Rudolph: Well. Maybe for a minute.
Stockyards: And you were afraid to tell me!
Rudolph: It was only for a minute!
Stockyards: Afraid to tell me!
Rudolph: It was an instant’s cap- . . . capa- . . . cara- . . .
Stockyards: Afraid to tell me, of all people.
Rudolph: Car . . . cap? Cap?
Stockyards: Me! Afraid to tell me. Therefore . . .
Rudolph: Caranade. Carapace. Can o’ worms.
Stockyards: Afraid of me!
Rudolph: Carapace! Precipice!
Stockyards: Are you, Rudolph, are you one
Stockyards: Caprice, you muddle-brained millworm. Why do you recoil from me like that? Why did you lie to me? Rudolph! Oldest friend! Are you one of these … people … these … philosophers these these these rabbits these stains … who sees everyone – even me, even his oldest, bestest friend – as an enemy? By nature?
Rudolph: Only a moment’s caprice.
Stockyards: A moment?
Rudolph: A minute.
Stockyards: A minute! A full minute!
Rudolph: Well, maybe a half-minute . . . why? What?
Stockyards: That’s fine. That’s what they say, after all.
Rudolph: What? Friend, what do they say?
Stockyards: They say. They say. They say that it only takes a minute – a minute’s cowardice – a blank bald minute’s recoiling to create eternal patterns of friendlessness and loathing. Oh, Rudolph . . . and that it only takes a minute’s thought to steel the heart to leap into that most beatific of voids, the void of the blissfully wed!
Rudolph: Stockyards, you speak with such elequanse.
Stockyards: Excuse me –
Stockyards pulls at his collar. He coughs. Suddenly he is suffused in light, and Rudolph is outside of that light.
Stockyards: I smell a device! A theatrical device. Wherein I speak my mind. I speak into my collar. This prune. This fat-headed stump of a trunk. This dead dollar. A million years I have been married. I am the primal man. A thousand years. I am the first husband. For almost half a year I have been happily wed, and for four and a half unhappily, and not for a moment, for an instant, have I been able to rest . . . to complain . . . to commiserate with this public bench, this home for asses, more than an ass, a home for asses. But that is will is going to be changed . . .
He pounds against the light – it is as a wall.
Stockyards: Get me out of this device! Where is he? What is he saying about me? Hello? This is no kind of right. Return me to normal time. Return me – – return me! Green grass ass soil you turf you artificial tree you empty carton you wet cardboard you goddamn powerless coil you run-down battery you – you – you – broken dock you sunk ship you deathtrap you syphilis you ass-ugly you jerk you wart you weed you whore in a ass-ugly whorehouse, you dummy you trinket you kitsch you rosello you rice you mould you marsh you marsh water you smelly dislikable you wife you wife of a wife you cunt!
He runs himself out. He sits down and kicks at the edge of his light then stops. He breathes heavily. He is out of energy – he is out of shape. Stockyards’ light goes out. We hear him shriek. Rudolph is suffused in light.
Rudolph: To marry is to garner respect in this world. Yes, I want to be seen to be being married while not actually marrying. I think I would have a cake at the wedding which came with a plastic mold, a cake the physical feature of which would always be preserved in this full-size plastic mold, so that even after being eaten I could have it – – and when people came over, men and women, they would see the cake mold and think that I am truly a married man, not just any married man. A truly married man. This is in an ideal world. I am a dreamer, it is true.
Rudolph is unfit and not necessarily sloppy, but a bit past taking good care of himself while also never really having had any idea how to groom himself. Not exactly our ideal image of a dreamer.
Rudolph: A dreamer and a lover of spring . . . no desire for summer, but the promise of the buds about to bloom is my promise. I desire to be surrounded by admirers.
Five or a hundred beautiful women surround him. His light becomes brighter. They admire him. None of this is real. He is practically being raised into heaven. Then Stockyards’ voice enters.
Stockyards: Yellow car bent nail chipped cup mold on cheese – mold on mold, mold on mold – gray sky cloud cover you parade rain you lightning storm which puts out the power you power outage, you overdraft, you accordion, you sock, you hole, you spot!
Rudolph is dragged back down to Stockyards while the angels continue up towards heavan. Rudolph’s light diffuses to cover them both. Stockyards is covered in blood, but uninjured. He is in shock. He opens his mouth as if to speak, in a pantomime, and we see videorecording of an angel slaughtering him, chopping him into pieces.
Stockyards: You lead poisoning. You’ve saved my life!
They rejoice. Rudolph offers him half of a sandwich from his fridge. Stockyards looks at it and refuses – it is doubtful in freshness. There is bizarre almost Balkan music which plays. Wedding bells. End of play.
Written Sept 5:
A man alone. Except that he is surrounded by people. He is distracted by . . . what? What is our man distracted by? You tell us. Is it – – television? Is it porn? Is it? Is it a book? Is he on his computer? Maybe that’s best. Maybe he’s on his computer.
At the same time, you have a number of spirits, thin and dark and tall and wiggly, and they worship a great computer, a red and horrible one. “Oh great computer!” they cry – “Oh great one!”
In the other life – whispers one to another – I am a computer technician. Shut up, snaps the other – I don’t like to discuss the other life. I am a nurse, mutters a third, and then there is quietness. They disperse, except for the nurse and another. I am . . . says the other. He is very shy. The nurse turns and snaps at him – I am a computer technician! She is in a rage. He jumps back. She grabs his arm. I’m joining the others, she cries. They run off in that direction.
At the same time, there are some people who are standing in line for a computer. It is the computer at which they log the number of hours that they have stood at a computer. A man in a button-down shirt appears. He is at once K, from Kafka’s novel, and the Graham Chapman’s character from Brazil, and the man from Office Space. The heroism of a slim white man in white shirt and black slacks. Yes, he is also the main character from Alphaville. He staggers in and sees the line. Clearly he has not seen this before. “What is this?” he asks. “This is the line,” says another, “for the computer where you log how many hours you have spent on the computer.” He shakes his head and proceeds. This is presumably the beginning of a long series of experiences, which increase in strangeness and horror at each step.
Maybe he is on his computer. He is drinking. “You never drink alone,” he says to himself. He hates, right now. He simply hates. A spirit rises out of his bottle and inflates itself over him. He falls back in horror.
“What is that?” he asks. “Before,” says an observer, pausing the film, “at one time, the man attacked by a spirit would cry, ‘who are you’ or ‘what are you,’ because he believed in communion with spirits. The world has not changed so much, but a man now cries, ‘what is that?’ because he believes, somehow, that he is always being watched, or is at all times joined by the many many voices in his head.” The observer unpauses the track.
“Who are you?” cries the spirit, “where am I?” They slowly drift apart from one another. “What are you?” asks the man. “I am free from that bottle. A year! A year! A year imprisoned!” it cries. It clambers over to the window. It scratches at the window. It attacks the window. The man does not move to help it. “Help me!” it cries. The man does not move. “Help me open the window!” It breaks the window. It cuts itself. It screams, and loses its balance, and falls over the broken glass in the windowsill, and lies there. “What are you?” cries the man. Then, as movement ceases, more quietly, he says, “What are you?” The spirit, though free, has now died. Very definitely, it has died. The man’s hand reaches forward to the key of the computer. Very slowly. The hand slowly reaches forward. It points at a single key. Out of the corner of his eye, without knowing it, the man has been watching the screen. His hand presses the key. He suddenly becomes aware of the screen again. He becomes distracted by the computer. He uses the computer. The corpse is in the corner. Blackout.
Some time passes.
The man is not in his room. The computer is alone. The room is very dark. The computer is dark. Suddenly the computer turns on. There is light. Blackout.
Some time passes.
The man is in his room. He is drinking. He is using the computer. There is the bottle that the spirit flew out of. There is another bottle. Two of the people who were playing his computer rise up and address the audience. They announce that they will be playing the roles of the man, Stephen, and another person he is communicating with online. Other communications he is making, since he is messaging with multiple people at a time, will appear on the screen behind them. They are now referred to in this text as Steve and Friend. Steve says “The corpse is still in the window.” It is. Friend says “That’s wild. Burn it or something. Or better yet, just leave it there.” “It really is in the window.” “Yeah. Just toss it into your neighbor’s yard. Lolz.” “It’s been there all week. Don’t really know what to do.” “Doesn’t it stank?” “No. Don’t stank like nothin. What you think?” “Bout what?” “What you think it is?” “Shut the fuck up.” “No. It’s in the window. I won’t shut the fuck up.” “Shut the fuuuuuuuck up.” “I won’t shut the fuck up.” “Shuuuuuuutt the fuckkkk upppppppppahhhhhh.” “You have a spirit monster pop out of a bottle at you and then break the window trying to get out and die on the glass right in your room in the middle of the day and then you shutta the fucka uppa.” “Shuuuuuut up about it.” “I won’t shut up about it! You encounter the spirit realm in the middle of a Friday night and then learn that the spirit realm bleeds and youuuuuu shut up about it.” “Lolz.” “I’m not joking!” “Funny.” “One second.” “Shut up.” “Get on Skype.” “Shut up.” “Get on Skype.” “Shuuuut upppp.” “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you get on skype and I show you this thing and it isn’t real.” “Word.” All other communications vanish from the back screen, and we see his Skype login appear. Then Friend says, “And if it is real? Do I owe you twenty bucks?” “You owe me a hundred bucks.” “Ten.” “Seventy-five.” “Ten.” “Seventy.” “Ten.” “Sixty-five.” “A drink.” “Two drinks.” “A drink. Because this is crazy.” “Two drinks. Because you believe me now and you haven’t even seen it.” “It has to be really real and really convincing.” Stephen looks at the corpse. He stands up and looks at it. “Well?” asks Friend. Stephen has not approached the corpse yet. He looks it over. He stands next to it. He returns to the computer. Steve: “It is.” The Skype call begins. We see Stephen’s face, because the computer is facing him now. We see everything that his Skype camera sees. He brings it over to the corpse. He shows it from a distance, then gives a closeup, running along it. He points it at where the broken glass pierces it. He even dangles the computer out the window. He peels back an eyelid on the face. He lifts an arm and then drops it. He lingers. Then he returns to his bed. All solemnity dropped. We see his face. It is fairly expressionless, though his avatar (Steve) may not be. Friend: “Well shit.” Steve: “Yeah.” “Fuck ass. That’s real?” “Yeah.” “It didn’t come out of a bottle.” “Yes it did.” “Well that’s some fucking serious shit! You have a body in your room!” “I feel bad because I think I should have done something by now. What it is is I feel like I should have taken some sort of a step. I should have done something to preserve the sanctity of the body. I should have made some kind of a funeral. I should have done something with the bottle. I should have found some kind of authority on these things. There are all kinds of actions I could have taken but as it stands I’ve done nothing about it and it’s been in my window for a week. I feel badly about that.” “And it doesn’t smell bad?” “You want to help me bury it?”
Stephen is sleeping in his room. The corpse is still in the window. The computer is off. The computer turns on.
Stephen is in his room. He is alone. There is blood on his clothes. The creature is no longer in the window. There are multiple bottles on the table. He looks a little distracted. He goes over to the bottles, then looks at the window where there is still blood. There is broken glass and blood. He leaves. He returns with a rag and cleanser. He begins to clean up the blood. The computer turns on. He spins around and sees it. Stephen: I knew it! I come home and you’re always on! I turn you off but you’re on! There’s something unusual in this. There is something unsettling about your behavior. There is something monstrous about the way you turn yourself on when I am not around!” Another spirit, this one squat and fat instead of airy and thin, begins to crawl out of the computer. It is rocklike. Its big watery eyes stare him down as it births itself. It becomes bigger and bigger, and then births itself from the computer. The spirit cries, “What are you?” It dies, somehow. Blackout.
Stephen on chat with his friend.
At the same time a native American in an old movie saying, “The trees are dying. The buffalo are dying. The fields, the grass, the mountains, their spirits cry out to me. Our way of life is dying.”
He is on chat with his friend. Their avatars stand. Steve says, “I have reason to believe that my way of life is dying. The things that I love, the things that are real to me, my personal traditions – drinking, the computer, I don’t know, pornography, magazines, television – their spirits cry out to me. Their spirits are dying. My way of life is dying.” A spirit heaves itself out of Stephen. It is tall and thin like he is. It is a man in a white shirt. It staggers over to the window and throws up. It sits down in a corner. It is very ill. End of play.