Action News
a play by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
Table of a radio studio. The characters sit on swivel chairs behind the table facing us and never leave their seats.
The original production featured an enormous cut-out poster of a smiling, waving Harold & Rosalie directly behind the real characters.
An elaborate sound score is a requisite. A demo CD of the original production is available for reference and partial use, but a producer would need to create much of it anew, as it involves the voices of the actors.
with the curtain-raiser
Burlington Lunch
A lunch counter. In the original prduction, the setting consisted of a large flat monochromatic painting of a lunch counter, with three real stools and a chair in front of it. This allowed it to be set directly in front of the Action News set and removed at intermission.
© 1987 Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Burlington Lunch
Single fluorescent light overhead, low. Chair, center. Behind, cardboard boxes stacked high against a wall. Right, stack of cardboard boxes. Left, another stack. Other boxes scattered. Blackout.
Lights up. EDNA, a woman in her early sixties, plain, wearing plain cloth coat with fur collar. Carries purse. Holds key with chain of keys. Speaks front, as if to single person.
EDNA: Well all this stuff now. The auction’s on Thursday, they’re selling it all. We’re closed for business but I can make some coffee. Counter fittings, grill, frigerator, the booths, stools, tables. Sign out there, says Burlington Lunch.
Jukebox, that’s not for sale. That goes out tomorrow, but all the other stuff, that’s for Thursday. There’s gonna be some furniture, I got stuff at home, I’m bringing that, armchair, I just bought it last year at Katelman’s, I never set in it much, I never set down. Some old guy offered me thirty-five bucks, I can’t sell it for that. Old tightwad.
Oh there’s a lot come through to look. But they don’t care about the stuff. They come to take a look at me. Ain’t it the truth. They come cruising in here like I was an accident on the freeway. Wanta see me cause I got my name in the papers. That’s the way people are. I hope they sell this stuff. Burlington Lunch.
No, I got rid of some furniture after my second husband died. Oh I loved my first husband, we had a son and daughter, my son’s in California, and my daughter she’s here and there, couldn’t never keep up wtih her, she was always running through the house, running into doors. But he died, and so course you think you gotta have a man. And my second husband, he was in the civil service, he was a sonofabitch. I married this old fart, he didn’t do nothing but lay down on my sofa every night, he wore the springs out on my sofa. Brand new furniture, completely paid for. And he died. Died on my sofa, I had to get rid of it. He didn’t mess on it or anything, but just the idea. You don’t wanta think of him laying there. Yeh, the curtains too.
So I had to keep busy, so I saw in the paper the Burlington Lunch. They used to have the bus station here, so it’s the Burlington Lunch. And I had my pension, and I always wanted to run a lunch counter. Lotta regulars, the guys came over from Markels and the Ford place, mechanics and the salesmen, people from over’t the stockyards. We’d kid around, lotta laughs. And I can understand how they felt, you know, here you known Edna for a couple years, she’ll kid around, lotta laughs, and then this happens, they think it’s a joke. But it’s no joke. I guess I shut’em up.
No joke. I don’t know what my life’d be like. You always wonder, is it coming back? I gave my address, I thought it might come back, but I dunno if they’d have the right maps. There’s some that never use maps but they always get where they’re going. Should I put some coffee on?
She moves to another place, touches a box.
Oh I couldn’t put up with the joking, carrying on. Young Rollie, the mechanic, he was nice, he always had a hello, but. . . Salesmen was the worst. They’d try to act cute. Come in and order pancakes. Pancakes for lunch. Smart, see.
Now these stools are new. I just put those in last year. They spin around good. I wouldn’t mind keeping one. Sit there and spin around.
I shoulda kept my mouth shut. But I told people what happened, it got in the newspapers. They sent somebody out, said, “Well was it men from Mars?” Men from Mars. They thought I was joking, they thought I was drunk, they thought I was crazy. Look at you and grin. But I was walking back from the Seven Eleven, you’re not crazy when you’re walking back from the Seven Eleven, I had to go up there for some half-and-half and I can’t stand that damned creamer, so I had to go up to the Seven Eleven and I was walking back and there it was.
There it was. Those dumb movies, all that science fiction stuff, but you can’t describe it. Describe what it’s like being born, nobody ever done that. Everybody’s done it, but nobody’s ever described it. There it was. What’s the word? My nephew uses all those words, there’s a word for it, what’s the word?
Now that jukebox, they just put that in here, this company, it goes out tomorrow, it’s not for sale. I can’t stand that damned thing. They all sound like they got the piles.
I shoulda kept my mouth shut. Nobody believes it. You know if some movie star said it, you know why then they’d believe it. Or a politician. You gotta be a politician or a movie star or else you gotta be drunk. Hell, I could lie. I learned how to lie, I been taught by experts. But try to tell’em the truth, it’s not on the menu. You know they offered me $5,000 from the National Enquirer. But they never called back, cause later I found out they’d got some other guy who claimed the Russians was from another planet. And this other guy, he killed his cat cause he said it’s the Antichrist. That’s the stuff they print.
She moves to chair, fingers the back, then sits.
But there it was. Like you weren’t over here and you weren’t over there, you were just being there. And I walked up in there, they gave me these pancakes. Sorta like pancakes. Cornmeal pancakes. I ate a whole pile of’em. I was hungry. I was gonna get some ice cream at the Seven Eleven, but it’s fulla this artificial stuff, and I ate all these pancakes and I put a couple in my pocketbook, case I got hungry. They were just pancakes. And I talked, I just started talking. And they were there, they were just being there, they didn’t ask any questions, I just started talking. Seemed like what I was there for. Start in talking, talking and talking, so much that wants to come out, and there they were, listening, there they were. I didn’t know I had stuff to say, I didn’t know I had stuff like that. I talk to the cat sometimes, and there’s Rollie, mechanic, he’s kinda nice but. . . I can’t describe it. They didn’t say nothing. Just listen. Just echoes. Just like I was asking my questions, my own questions, to myself, and I never asked questions. . .to myself before. It hurt. It hurt just terrible. It hurt so much, I never been in such pain, such terrible pain, just cut into my head, and it wasn’t something they’re doing. It was something in me, cut into my head, stuck into my eyes, and I cried and I cried and I cried. . . And I never felt so good before. Never felt so good.
Cause I never lied. Not to them. First time I never lied. Even my first husband. We’d sit there and say “Well how are you” and we’d say “Fine.” But even him. There was one time we went out camping, fishing, with some other couples, and we almost went in. . .naked swimming. We almost went in naked swimming. We joked about it. We never did it. Even him, I couldn’t come out and say it. You gotta wait for the man to say it. Sit around wait, if he takes a notion to say it, and then he never says it. But them, they never took me up in there and said, “What’s your husband’s name?” They didn’t care if I was married to a hog. They just called me Edna. “Edna.” I could hear it a thousand times, in the echoes.
Silence. She fixes the catch on her purse, chuckles.
I go on, don’t I? Well take your time. It’s all gotta go.
Closes purse, looks through keys.
And all I had left was these coupla pancakes. And somebody come out from the paper, somebody told’em, and he looked at the pancakes, he sent one to the lab. It finally come back, it was all dried up like a turd, I threw it away. And the lab said it’s cornmeal. Wrote that in the paper. So what? Why shouldn’t it be cornmeal? Why shouldn’t they have cornmeal, wherever they come from? Maybe they stopped at the Seven Eleven.
I saw this little kid shooting off this rocket, little toy rocket. I thought what if I go over and talk to him. He’s just a little kid, seven, eight years old. I wonder what he’d thought. He’d thought I was some crazy old woman, some crazy old granny, gonna give him an apple with razor blades. I called my son. I didn’t tell him nothing.
And people coming in here, get snotty, and I told’em where to go. And they did. I lost all the business. People couldn’t trust you to fix’em ham and eggs. Said I couldn’t take a joke. Damn right. All my life I took a joke. They thought I was a fake, cause I tried to put it in words. Words and lies and figures and make it balance out and sell it to somebody like a goddamn used car and swear up and down it’s gonna run. But I. . . transcended. Is that the word? Transcended. That’s the word, my nephew uses all those words, transcended. . . Oh they heard every word.
She gets up, walks to stack of boxes at one side. Silence.
Oh people laughed, yeh. But it wasn’t that. That was just rain on the roof. But once it happened, I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t wipe the counter. I couldn’t turn the eggs on the grill. I couldn’t make the change. I kept thinking back there. Being there.
But the auction’s on Thursday, you come on Thursday, there’s a lotta good stuff. There’ll be some furniture, all my furniture too. Get what’s left. You have no idea.
I never even told my son. I’m gonna get on the bus. Friday. Get on the bus, it’s the Trailways now. And I’ll ride till I get off. Somewhere out West. And then I’ll walk. And maybe they’ll see me. Maybe they’ll pick me up. Never can tell. Pick me up again. Go out in the country, out where it’s clear. I’ll start walking down the road. And the road gets smaller, and rougher, and then it forks off, and it’s nothing but dirt. And the dirt road’s just a track, two tracks and horse manure. And there’s no road then, just going across the fields till there it is. There it is. and that’s where it is. “Edna.” And the Burlington Lunch, tear it down, put up a Pizza Hut, and you never remember Edna, that old bat, what’s her name, Edna? Maybe Rollie, he’s kinda nice, he might remember, but. . . They just call me Edna. “Edna.” Hear it a thousand times, in the echoes.
Fade to black.
Action News
Facing audience directly, a cluttered table in broadcast studio. Front contains speakers, fake dials, designed by a publicity man as a giant radio. Twenty-five years of accumulated garbage and functional debris.
Directly behind, a larger-than-lifesize advertising cutout of a broadcast team, Harold and Rosalie, waving at us. Their faces, actually rear-projection screens, appear to be part of the photo layout. Cutout trimmed with tiny decorative lights.
Pre-show collage of old radio shows: Arthur Godfrey, Don MacNeil, etc.
Lights fade to black. Clock ticks.
Sound of door opening, shutting; chairs being moved; people sitting; voices, muffled; switches switched.
Calibration tone. Second tone, dissonant. Short beeps, then silence.
Clock continues. Wind, distant. Muffled voices in curt dialogue.
Something metallic falls, clanging. Wind continues. Woman’s voice, very quiet, sobbing. Chair scrapes back.
Sustained tone. Recorded voice: “Thirty.” Tone. Dimly, figures are seen sitting up straight behind table. Ticking. “Ten.”
Amplified indraw of breath. Silence.
HAROLD: (off mike) Shape up.
Intro theme. Backlight on figures, sharp. Taped voice.
VOICE: Hello Y Country at the top of the hour and every hour and it’s Harold and Rosalie with news, views, reviews, interviews and nothing to lose on the HAROLD AND ROSALIE SHOW on FM 105, WHYO and you know WHY. . .
Music sustains.
Lights up sharp on Harold and Rosalie at mikes. Amplified throughout. As they speak, they shuffle log sheets, tape cartridges, and other properties by habit. Natural, intimate tone.
HAROLD: Special day, Rosalie.
ROSALIE: Sure is, Harold.
HAROLD: One in a million.
ROSALIE: A huge selection.
HAROLD: Hot dog.
ROSALIE: Here comes a joke.
HAROLD: Look out.
HAROLD: A listener writes, “I was driving into Newark, New Jersey, not long ago, and I looked out the window, and I said, ‘How did all this HAPPEN?’”
Honks a goose horn, punches button: laughtrack. Then music theme.
ROSALIE: So welcome again to the HAROLD AND ROSALIE SHOW, with yours truly—
HAROLD: And yours truly—
ROSALIE: On FM 105, WHYO and you know WHY
HAROLD: O why o why!
ROSALIE: And we’ll be here for an hour with some chatter, some news, weather, traffic, Harold’s very special brand of nonsense—
HAROLD: The rustle of silk taffeta—
ROSALIE: And this is a special day, I’m tickled, Harold, because by special invitation we’re going out of our metropolitan area for the very first time and being transmitted by satellite to listeners around the world—
HAROLD: Bonjour, meine Damen und Herren—
ROSALIE: Buenos dias—
HAROLD: Sputnik, tovaritch—
ROSALIE: Ravioli, fettuccine—
HAROLD: Toyota, kamikaze—
BOTH: Coca-cola!
Vibrations. Foreign voices, fading.
HAROLD: Getting some leakage from abroad.
ROSALIE: What a thrill.
HAROLD: Rosalie, the Defense Department has satellite photographs of every radio on this planet.
ROSALIE: There’s no escape.
HAROLD: Wir sind die gut Amerikaners.
ROSALIE: Defense de fumer.
HAROLD: Defense de fromage.
ROSALIE: Defense de penser.
BOTH: Shalom!
Goose horn. Cartridge: cash theme.
ROSALIE: And stay tuned for our new edition of “CASH IN A FLASH” with the question of the day, “WHO IS MISTER WEDNESDAY?”
HAROLD: I think I know.
ROSALIE: And as Harold said, it’s a very, very special day. We’ll have our Thought for the Day, Traffic Report, Nostalgia Time, Stock Market Report, and our special guest Maxine Leonard sharing thoughts on Losing Weight at Christmas—
HAROLD: Maxine couldn’t make it today, Rosalie, so our special guest will be Dr. Maxwell Leonard, sharing thoughts on Pornography in the Public Schools—
ROSALIE: But Dr. Leonard died today, sorry bout that, Harold, so our special guest is Sister Mary Madonna Leonard sharing thoughts on Caring for your Fish, but Harold—
HAROLD: Right, the sister couldn’t make it, so we’re up the creek, and you know which one.
ROSALIE: But it’s kinda nice, you know, because it’s a chance to go back through the years, and we’ll pull out some of those golden moments that all our new listeners might have missed—
HAROLD: How could they dare?
ROSALIE: But first the news at the top of the hour—
HAROLD: Freshness enhanced by preservatives.
Cartridge: teletype. News copy is fed them by a mechanical device, sheets appearing upward through slot in desk.
In the Middle East the stalemate continues, as new villages are added to the toll. A spokesman reports that a cloud hung over negotiations today, and a pillar of fire by night.
ROSALIE: More lights off around the country as picket lines stay in place, but the President says, “Don’t worry, it won’t be long,” and planes are flying in total darkness.
HAROLD: A New Mexico death cult is waiting on top of a mountain. It’s any day now, they say, and they’re taking off their clothes.
ROSALIE: Police in Baltimore report dead silence for the space of half an hour. Blamed on a faulty valve.
HAROLD: Here’s one. That twelve-year-old who shot his father admitted he planned the deed since the age of two. Prosecutors request crucifixion.
ROSALIE: In Europe, a demonstration broke out in East Berlin after a sitdown strike by workers at a gasworks. Suppressed with minor leakage. And the new teenage fad? It’s walking backwards.
HAROLD: Kids, do you know where your parents are tonight? And Rosalie, Mrs. James Robertson of Tyler, Texas, was plagued with strong odor. She kept checking her shoe. But you know what she did?
ROSALIE: (shuffling papers) She looked for the log sheet. . .
HAROLD: It gets to where the odor is. And Tyler’s a nice place to live again.
ROSALIE: (strangled) OH CHRIST!
Silence. Rosalie curls down on desk.
Harold honks goose horn, punches cash theme.
HAROLD: And that says again it’s time for CASH IN A FLASH, with the question of the hour—
HAROLD: Monsieur Mercredi.
ROSALIE: Herr Mittwoch.
HAROLD: Every clue adds another pile in the jackpot, and it’s waiting for you.
ROSALIE: Five months now. Here’s the clue.
HAROLD: My pen is bare.
ROSALIE: “Let’s hope we don’t hear him say, ‘We goofed.’”
HAROLD: Ho ho. Let’s hope.
ROSALIE: So if you’ve got the answer, then give us a call, 393-WHYO, and try for the jackpot.
HAROLD: Big pile in the pot.
ROSALIE: Phone’s not ringing, Harold.
HAROLD: Call her and make her happy.
ROSALIE: You don’t have to be right. We want to know you’re out there.
HAROLD: Are you out there?
ROSALIE: Sure they are.
HAROLD: Better be.
ROSALIE: Whole wide world.
HAROLD: If you can’t hear us, then listen.
ROSALIE: It’s not enough to sit there. (strangled) IT’S NOT ENOUGH!
HAROLD: Six past the hour.
Silence. He makes comic noise.
Rosalie’s right. It’s not enough. You said there was something special.
ROSALIE: Special.
HAROLD: My birthday.
Chipmunk chorus: Happy Birthday.
But seriously.
ROSALIE: Three guesses.
HAROLD: We’re having a baby.
ROSALIE: Maybe you are.
HAROLD: We balanced the budget.
ROSALIE: Dreamer.
HAROLD: We’re twenty-five years on the air.
ROSALIE: How’d you ever guess?
HAROLD: Took me twenty-five years.
Chorus of groans and boos.
ROSALIE: Well that’s it. Our twenty-fifth anniversary broadcast.
HAROLD: Twenty-five years.
ROSALIE: Six thousand two hundred and fifty shows.
HAROLD: That many tries to get it right. So that’s why they’re sending us out by satellite. Our congressman pulled some strings.
ROSALIE: If we stink in Pittsburgh, we’ll sparkle in Paris.
HAROLD: If it wasn’t us it might be a missile. Be thankful.
ROSALIE: (sheet appearing) Here’s that bulletin: new riots in Europe.
HAROLD: Are you out there, Europe?
ROSALIE: Herro China!
HAROLD: Wer ist Herr Mittwoch?
ROSALIE: Twenty-five years.
HAROLD: Special day.
ROSALIE: And there’s something else, Harold.
HAROLD: We’re having another baby.
ROSALIE: Stop about the babies.
HAROLD: Well don’t lay an egg!
ROSALIE: Stop it!
Stifled cry. Harold honks horn.
HAROLD: Here’s Doug with the traffic report.
Button for live feed. Traffic. As tape plays, Rosalie recovers.
VOICE: Rosalie, traffic on the bypass is neck and neck because of a jackknifed trailer blocking efforts to rescue the hostages. Bypass to the Parkway is eighteen minutes, Parkway to the tunnel twenty-five. There’s a crash on the main artery, five people homeless and they may have a transplant. Visibility normal to zero. We’re losing altitude. Traffic on the loop is heavy Twenty-fifth to Seventy-second thirty-five minutes, Seventy-second to the airport twenty-nine, and the Syrians have cut the main link, the rotor’s caught in dense smog, we’re losing altitude, into a residential area, twenty minutes and falling, falling now, we’re bottoming out, that’s all from traffic central, it looks like a playground—
Extended crash. Screams.
HAROLD: Thanks, Doug.
ROSALIE: Is he for real?
Duck call by Harold. Teletype. Sheets appear.
Sliding down to eight past the hour. Bulletin in from Germany. Those demonstrations are spreading, with strikes at other factories in East Germany and several unverified border incidents.
HAROLD: We’re with you, Deutschland.
ROSALIE: Wir sind alle Berliners.
HAROLD: Give us a call. We’re here.
Rumble. Distant foreign voices.
Well ok. Rosalie, I give up. You brought it up. You said there was something else. What else is special?
ROSALIE: We’re giving up the ghost.
HAROLD: The ghost?
ROSALIE: This is our last broadcast. After twenty-five years, this is it.
HAROLD: Well, so long, folks!
Razzberry. Applause. Silence.
Ten past the hour.
You mean seriously, we’re off the air? We’re cancelled? We’re zipped? We’re out on our assets?
ROSALIE: Wir sind kaput.
Razzberry. Applause. Silence.
HAROLD: Well why don’t you tell us, Rosalie, just why we’re going off the air?
ROSALIE: It’s a long story.
HAROLD: I was afraid of that.
ROSALIE: Here’s what they say. “Dear Harold and Rosalie: This happy occasion of your twenty-fifth anniversary gives us pause for thought. We don’t have the answers. You can’t depend on the answers. Even with a computer, it depends on the way it rounds, if it rounds you up or rounds you down. You multiply by zero, you multiply, you multiply and there’s nothing there. It’s rounded you down to zero, and regretfully we must concur. Best wishes.”
You get it?
HAROLD: Ah, Pittsburgh’s nothing, Rosalie, we got the whole world out there. You speakee dee Englees? You understandem me talk big stuff?
Comic sound into mike.
How’s the weather out there? It’s raining in the station.
Dead air. Rosalie sobs.
Rosalie’s ticklish. You know, researchers have found a link between sex, drugs, and alcohol. They go together.
Sobbing. Harold hugs her.
That’s the first time you laughed at one of my jokes.
Here’s the stock market report.
As tape continues, Rosalie recovers.
VOICE: Harold, on the New York Exchange, it’s PP & T down an eighth, R & B up one and seven-eighths, Packard unchanged, DT down an eighth, G & G up one and seven-eighths, Ma Bell unchanged. On the American, it’s PP & T down an eighth, R & B up one and seven-eighths, Packard unchanged, DT down an eighth, G & G up one and seven-eighths, Ma Bell unchanged. And Harold, on the London Exchange, it’s the same old story, Brussels, Zurich, the price of a Bulova watch has fallen to an all-time low because of uncertainty about the future. And at Harry & Edna’s 13th Avenue Bar & Grill it’s even money on Run for Your Life in the fifth.
Laughtrack. Sudden cutoff.
HAROLD: No, Rosalie’s right. It’s twenty-five years today, and just as we raise our voices for all the world to hear, we go silent. Isn’t that an irony? The irony of radio.
ROSALIE: Action radio.
HAROLD: On FM 105 and you know WHY
HAROLD TAPED: (looping to crescendo) —05 and you know WHY-05 and you know WHY-05 and you know WHY-05 and you know—
Crescendo, then sudden halt. A voice, part human, part synthesized, cuts like a knife:
Echo, dying. Silence.
HAROLD: Hello, Carlos. That’s our sound engineer, Carlos. He’s been trying to keep us off the air for years.
ROSALIE: Just kidding.
HAROLD: No, we kid a lot about Carlos. Carlos is all ours. Carlos is what holds it all together. Carlos has his fingers on all our buttons. Carlos is eternal. He’s a real—
Mouths word. Beep.
That’s a sign of the times. Twenty-five years ago, I couldn’t say—
—on the air. Times have changed, now I can say—
And what has it got us?
ROSALIE: Carlos.
HAROLD: Thirteen past the hour, and here’s the traffic update.
Thanks, Doug.
ROSALIE: That’s cute.
HAROLD: You wonder about that? Is that real or is it a tape? Are we really plugged in? And what about outside? Maybe it’s all electrons. You ever thought about that?
ROSALIE: I thought about that.
HAROLD: And the electronic connection. Carlos, that’s our connection. Our circuit to reality. Do we know if the voices go out? You ever thought?
ROSALIE: I thought.
HAROLD: It’s our audience that makes it real. We can’t complain. We’re going out at the height of our popularity. Worldwide. Me Tarzan, you Jane.
ROSALIE: I thought.
HAROLD: If in fact we’re going out. Sure we could go outside the studio and ask the first wino “Who do you listen to?” Have you thought what he might say?
HAROLD: Birds.
Hits gong. Desperate shuffle through stack of cartridges. At last finds something to use.
Nostalgia Time.
HAROLD: —Doubt about it! It’s a lotta years, Rosalie. And it’s always fun to go back through those years, like cleaning your fingernails, all those wet doggy smells in the basement—
ROSALIE: Harold! (quietly) Please.
HAROLD: If you insist. Here’s one from way back, so strap on your waterwings and let’s take a trip down the pipes. Shelf Three. Reel Two. Side One. “Just Married.”
HAROLD: Remember?
Wind. Tape plays: a produced comedy tape, with music, filtered voices, sound effects and active laugh track.
As it plays, they try to avoid listening, but gradually become involved, at first cringing at its absurdity, then warming to it, and at last cracking up with laughter.
ROSALIE TAPED: One night in The winter of ‘57, a young couple, just married, were driving down the freeway, struggling with all those many questions.
HAROLD TAPED: Are we out of gas?
ROSALIE TAPED: They were out of gas. They pulled to the side. The freeway here was through a desolate slum, miles and miles of burned-out tenements, a miserable savage slum inhabited by . . . slum-dwellers!
HAROLD TAPED: Scuse me, we’re out of gas and—
ROSALIE TAPED: Go way, paleface!
Door slam. Screams. Gunshots.
What were they to do? No service station, no phone, no way to get a signal back to the fort before daybreak would reveal their position to the lurking natives. They heard coyotes howl.
Burst of country yodeling.
HAROLD TAPED: Look! Smoke signals!
ROSALIE TAPED: Only one light was on: the outer door of a small concrete building, the communications center of a struggling broadcast facility. For this was 1957, and the great cities of the Plains were only a dream. They opened the door.
Creaking door.
A lone announcer was slumped over the controls, his back bristling with arrows, and a scribbled note under his head—
HAROLD TAPED: “Tell Ma and Pa I love’em, and look after the pigs.”
ROSALIE TAPED: Nothing else. They began calling for help, pressing buttons—
Electronic beeps.
Sending out their message—
HAROLD TAPED: Into the void. And at last, desperate, they joined hands, and by the powers invested in their jaws, they spoke straight from the heart. . .
BOTH TAPED: Hi. We’re Harold and Rosalie. We love each other. And we’re lost. Can we. . . come into your home?
Surge of music.
HAROLD TAPED: And the response was tremendous.
ROSALIE TAPED: The phones began ringing. They’d touched a chord. Millions tuned in before the night was out, and their marriage went to the top of the charts in the number seven market in the country. The beginning of a legend.
Cannons. Laughter. Sudden static. Cut to Voice. They press buttons to stop it.
VOICE: Neither witty entertainment or anything deeper, it’s just an hour spent with two of the most unlikeable people you’re likely to meet, a mishmash of pretentious inflated style, a real embarrassment, but not of riches—
HAROLD: Hit it!
Sharp electronic screech. Distant pain, prolonged.
You try that again you bastard!
Are we on?
Distant laugh, echoing.
Well you know what they say: There’s quick money in yoga.
Time for our special guest. We don’t have a special guest. Traffic report. We did the traffic report. Quarter past the hour. Don’t you miss the old commercials we used to have?
HAROLD: Right. They were all—
See, they beep. If they beep there’s gotta be somebody listening. Oh for a word from our sponsor.
ROSALIE: Get lost, baby. That’s the word. We don’t have a sponsor. We hang on for seven years out of charity. There’s five old ladies out there who think we’re cute as a pig’s ear, and the rest tune in to listen to the simps. Let me tell you something. I am not a simp.
HAROLD: Well, it’s time for—
ROSALIE: I am not.
HAROLD: Cash in a Flash, and we want to know “WHO IS MISTER WEDNESDAY?” One more time.
ROSALIE: (after a moment) “Let’s hope we don’t hear him say, ‘We goofed.’”
HAROLD: Get those telephones ringing.
Drop us a card.
Wire your congressman.
Take a stab.
We’re lonely.
Repeated honk.
ROSALIE: I am not a simp. I read the papers. I think. I’ve done some very bizarre things in bed. Our image doesn’t fit. They’re tired of the image. Then why did they put us in an image? Why did we let them twist our noses into this sleazy, simpery, slobbery little—
Harold inserts cartridge. As she continues, tape plays.
HAROLD TAPED: I want to take a minute to talk about bodily functions. Nobody wants to talk about bodily functions, but we can’t ignore them. We can’t leave them grunting in the cold. They’re happening right now. Here and now, at a quarter past the hour. We are all, in a manner of speaking, the Word Made Flesh. And until you come to grips with your bodily functions, you can never be truly liberated.
ROSALIE: (simultaneously) No, Harold. No, it won’t go away. No, it’s in the circuits. Listen to me. Carlos! It’s all in the circuits. We used to be halfway funny, but it’s so tacky. It’s so sleazy. We don’t salvage our dignity by spouting some dirty words. We’re laughable. Wir sind l├Ącherlich! Nous sommes pleines de merde!
HAROLD: Well that’s show biz. But it’s a very special kind of show biz, because we often can’t really relate to the international news—
News copy feeds up.
—Where Soviet troops are reported to be occupying East Berlin and riots in support of the workers have broken out in five Western cities, with NATO forces on red alert—
ROSALIE: Oh my God—
HAROLD: It’s hard to relate to that. So we’ve shared our smiles and our chuckles and sometimes even a tear—
HAROLD: And get through this with some dignity—
ROSALIE: Carlos—
HAROLD: Senors and senoritas, we’re having some difficulties—
ROSALIE: You know it, Harold. Cause what goes out on the air, they erase that the next day, they wipe out our words like a snotty nose. But all the mumbles, the silence, all the fifteen seconds, thirty, sixty second spots where we sat there, drank our coffee and waited for the little red light, that’s all in the circuits. Carlos, he’s got it, he’s got every little dirty shadow scratched into the— It’s in the circuits, kids. It’s all there. All the stuff you never heard because we never said it. But it’s in every transistor, capacitor, twenty-five years, it’s burned into the nerves, and it will be heard!
HAROLD: Rosie—
ROSALIE: Carlos!
HAROLD: You are violating a trust!
Rosalie plugs patchcord. Electronic crackle. Flash.
CARLOS: Shelf Two. Reel Six. Side Two.
Synthesized gibberish.
ROSALIE: Hold me.
Animal cry. Sharp light change: Harold and Rosalie in backlight. Behind, photo cutout is illumined by decorative border lights. The figures’ expressions change: we see now their faces are rear projections.
Through sequence, Harold and Rosalie speak on mike, voices filtered. They are motionless, shifting at intervals, as projections crossfade.
Silence. Then sound of dishes.
HAROLD: Stubblefield.
HAROLD: I met a guy today. His name was Stubblefield.
ROSALIE: I thought we were going to eat early.
HAROLD: I just stopped for a drink, and this character comes up and starts to talk. I couldn’t tell he was talking to me, he kinda looked right past.
ROSALIE: Oh I’m just tired.
HAROLD: Not you. Stubblefield.
ROSALIE: I saw some really nice place mats. They cost too much.
HAROLD: What else is new?
ROSALIE: How was your day?
HAROLD: I sorted, bundled, stacked, filed and had a drink.
ROSALIE: They called. I’m not pregnant.
HAROLD: Mm. How do you feel?
ROSALIE: Hold me.
Sound of adding machine, then wind. Positions shift. Private tone, close to mike.
HAROLD: Every other word he’d say “This filthy life, this filthy, fatuous life.” He likes to say “fatuous.” Takes out his billfold, pulls out a twenty. “Here’s a piece of filth. You gotta have a nose for the filth.”
ROSALIE: I can sew. I could make really nice baby clothes. Bright colors.
HAROLD: We kind of hit it off.
ROSALIE: Stubblefield this, Stubblefield that. Ok!
HAROLD: He wasn’t for real.
Door slam. Shift. Living-room ambience. TV commercial, clicked off.
ROSALIE: How’d it go?
HAROLD: Glass of wine.
ROSALIE: Come on.
HAROLD: Promotions assistant. Twelve hundred a month.
ROSALIE: Oh honey!
HAROLD: I almost feel human.
ROSALIE: Here’s your wine.
HAROLD: No, I had a drink with Stubblefield.
ROSALIE: I’m going to make a list.
HAROLD: He put me onto it.
ROSALIE: When can I meet him?
HAROLD: I didn’t know you wanted to.
ROSALIE: It’s all I hear about.
HAROLD: We’ll celebrate.
ROSALIE: How about Cornish hens tonight?
HAROLD: It’s a start.
ROSALIE: Call your mother.
Adding machine, then wind. Shift. Private to mike.
HAROLD: First time since college I felt human. Work in the mail room, you talk to somebody, try to hint around how you’re really smart and you got a degree and “See, I’m not just your average mailroom clerk.” Sure.
ROSALIE: You eat what’s on the plate, and you feel empty. So you eat more, and you’re empty. So you gorge yourself full of being empty.
HAROLD: In May we had a hundred bucks in the bank and we owed the dentist. In June I put three hundred away.
ROSALIE: I’ll get some new curtains. Orange.
HAROLD: July I learned to do some things, some of the record companies. I banked a grand. Same thing in August. Then in September they caught me.
Glass breaking. Kitchen ambience. Shift.
ROSALIE: I’m asking. What is going on?
HAROLD: Nothing!
ROSALIE: Don’t say that.
HAROLD: People gave me some money.
HAROLD: I did some extra things. Don’t you believe me?
ROSALIE: Why can’t you tell me?
HAROLD: Stubblefield set it up. It’s taken care of.
ROSALIE: Your bosses call, they don’t tell me a thing, they ask questions.
HAROLD: Listen. I called Stubblefield, he made some calls. No problem. It’s par for the course, ok? I got a little slap on the wrist. “Don’t do it again.”
ROSALIE: Don’t do what?
HAROLD: Nothing.
ROSALIE: I don’t know you. Why do you talk like that? Honey. There’s this person. You say, sure, I’ll bring him home. I’ve never met him.
HAROLD: He’s a little skinny guy.
ROSALIE: You don’t act like someone I know.
HAROLD: Sure. Stay in character. Pasty face in the crowd. Act like yourself: Make sure you come home to your little wife and you look at each other and say “Hello, Nobody, how was your day?” You’re dull and I’m dull and we’re both alone. Oh sure, I really want to act like someone you know!
ROSALIE: I’m pregnant. I found out on Tuesday. I thought I’d be happy. Big surprise. I don’t want it. I can’t see all its arms and legs. I’m not ready. I don’t want to know what it looks like.
HAROLD: Honey, you do.
HAROLD: Let me put the coffee on.
Adding machine, wind. Shift. Private to mike.
I’d sort of learned to get started. Be special. Specially rotten. It’s the latest thing. You don’t need a diploma. Anybody can rot. Sit there, let the flies land. People start edging away, and you’ve got the whole building. You’ve got the city. My God, they’re jumping into rivers to get away from the stink. Reek into every living room, whole families gag together. Like all the guys that made their mark, you’ve lost your sense of smell.
ROSALIE: We’re just not ready for a baby. We need to be alone.
Door slam. Shift. Living-room ambience.
ROSALIE: I met Stubblefield.
HAROLD: Where?
ROSALIE: Did you call your mother?
HAROLD: Yeh. Where?
ROSALIE: He rang the bell. I opened the door.
ROSALIE: We talked. You’ve told him all about me.
HAROLD: We talk.
ROSALIE: He’s not little.
HAROLD: He’s put on weight.
ROSALIE: Well, we had coffee. And we talked.
HAROLD: What about?
ROSALIE: This filthy, fatuous life.
One thing I said. I’d like to buy a big jigsaw puzzle. A thousand pieces the size of cookie crumbs. And there’s no picture at all. I spend weeks to put it together, and then it’s together, there’s nothing on it. He got a kick out of that.
HAROLD: I bet.
ROSALIE: What am I talking about? It’s not the baby. I didn’t want it. But that did kill something, didn’t it? And we’ve got a new garbage can, it’s just the right size to set in that empty spot at the table.
HAROLD: I don’t know.
ROSALIE: I don’t want him here. You keep him away.
HAROLD: Rosie. . . Before I met him, I didn’t know where to start. Once I was Christmas shopping, and I had to scream, and I stepped down on a little kid’s foot. “Sorry bout that.” Guess what? I’m gonna be on the morning show. I get a raise.
ROSALIE: You better keep him away!
Sudden shift. Sound of slap.
HAROLD: I don’t know what I’m doing.
Adding machine, then wind. Private to mike.
ROSALIE: He said he was sorry. We bought a trash compacter. I started the pill again.
Door. Footsteps. Shift.
Honey, I’m late. Supper’s in the oven. Just warm it up.
HAROLD: Where to?
ROSALIE: I told you. I have to go back tonight. The office is a mess, it’s the end of the month. Stubbs called, he has to pick up his sister in the Loop, so he’ll drop me off.
HAROLD: I got laid off.
ROSALIE: Oh honey. Why?
HAROLD: They’re cutting back. The ratings are down.
ROSALIE: Listen. We’ll manage. You were smart to get me off my tail and get a job. I’ll be about two hours, then we’ll have some wine, and I’ll make you feel a lot better.
HAROLD: I talked to your boss.
ROSALIE: There’s a nice letter from your mother.
HAROLD: Rosie. . .
HAROLD: You haven’t worked for two weeks.
ROSALIE: He’s pulling your leg. That’s why nobody gets their work done.
HAROLD: You didn’t have to lie.
ROSALIE: You don’t believe me.
HAROLD: What is this? Revenge?
ROSALIE: You don’t believe me. Ok. Where have I been going? Where’s the money come from? Where am I going tonight? What?
ROSALIE: I’m going with Stubblefield.
ROSALIE: I hear the car.
Say it.
HAROLD: See what’s on at seven.
Adding machine, wind. Shift. Private to mike.
ROSALIE: I was a different person. There were things I did that Rosalie would never do. I’d just watch to see what she’d do. See my shadow on the wall of his room . . . blue flowers . . . and yeh, it was Rosie’s shadow, but I wasn’t Rosie any more. I wanted to come home and yell, Hey! I’m not Rosie! Aren’t you glad to get rid of dreary old Rosie? Don’t you like what you see? But he’d whine, I want Rosie! I married Rosie! Be Rosie again!
HAROLD: Maybe there wasn’t any Stubblefield. We both went to different rooms and sat alone. Wallpaper with flowers.
ROSALIE: Sometimes it’s like it wasn’t him. Like he had brothers. It felt like his brothers. Or maybe there wasn’t even any Stubblefield.
Door slam. Shift. Living-room ambience.
HAROLD: He’s gone.
HAROLD: He’s not here. He’s somewhere else. He’s gone.
ROSALIE: I’ll see him this afternoon.
HAROLD: I called. He checked out. Left a message for us.
ROSALIE: Why would he go? What are we going to. . . Where are we? We can’t go back.
HAROLD: I’m trying to think!
ROSALIE: Why don’t we go on a trip? We won’t make plans. We’ll just get in the car and go. Up to Wisconsin, maybe, right across through the lakes. Minnesota, Montana, Washington, down the Coast. Down into San Mateo, remember the beach at Pescadero? Take our time. Stay away from the cities. If we run out of money, we’ll stop, get a job, living in Billings, Montana. There’s nothing we have to do. Maybe we’ll meet people that like to get drunk and have parties where everybody winds up laughing and hugging each other and they say, Hey, you fit in. Or maybe we’ll be alone. We’ll just live.
HAROLD: Maybe we should.
ROSALIE: And we could stop and see your mother.
HAROLD: Kill two birds.
Adding machine, then wind. Harmonies. Private to mike.
ROSALIE: Drove up to Wisconsin a week. “Time heals all things.” Now it’s winter. Still can’t look it in the face. We must have learned something. There’s something we’re trying to—
HAROLD: Try to catch a moth in the bedroom, and it flutters up close at the light, you stand in your shorts, grab here, grab there, it flickers out. . .
ROSALIE: You know there wasn’t any Stubble—
HAROLD: There wasn’t any Stubblefield. It’s a fact. I know. I know.
ROSALIE: Final exam, but you haven’t read the book. And you walk in, and it’s kindergarten, and you don’t have your pants on. So you wake up. And Mommy’s wrinkled, and Daddy’s dead, and you’re all alone.
HAROLD: We’re together.
Phone hung up.
HAROLD: They called from the station. There’s a new idea for a show.
ROSALIE: They called from the doctor’s. I’m pregnant.
HAROLD: How do you feel?
ROSALIE: Hold me.
Adding machine, repeated. Cry.
Rumble, foreign voices on shortwave. Front light up as cutout figures fade.
Theme music. As taped Voice plays, Harold and Rosalie animate, speak simultaneously.
VOICE: And you’re tuned to 105 WHYO and you know why it’s the HAROLD AND ROSALIE HOUR, stay tuned for news, views, reviews and interviews with Harold and Rosalie, coming your way in just a minute with Action News, with Cash in a Flash if you can guess Who Is Mister Wednesday, right after this message—
HAROLD: (simultaneously) It’s not true. . . You know damned well. . . That’s sick. . . It’s a funhouse mirror. . . Those are the nightmares, ok, but we never did stuff. . . It’s a question of public trust. . . Are we on? Come on. . . We finish the hour, and then we’ve got the rest of our lives—
VOICE: (simultaneously) And here’s your favorite couple, Harold and Rosalie with Action News on Action Radio WHYO and you know why 105 on your dial, my dial and everyone’s dial with news, reviews and interviews but first this message—
HAROLD: (simultaneously) I never said that stuff. We never did that stuff. We never had orange curtains. We love each other. Do we love each other?
VOICE: (simultaneously) And it’s everybody’s favorite couple, dropping in for a cup of coffee, a visit, a little gossip, some chuckles and Action News on WHYO, 105 and you know why it’s Harold and Rosalie, but first this—
ROSALIE: (screeching) Ok!
Silence. Teletype. News copy feeds.
HAROLD: Starting that climb up the hour, here’s the Action News update. The White House denies reports of fighting in Berlin, but sources in the Agriculture Department say help is on the way.
ROSALIE: The Houston Astrodome is readied for the first scheduled launch of an MX missile. Tickets go on sale today. They predict a sellout.
HAROLD: Those naked fanatics are still on the mountain. They say “Wait and See.” And a nun has won the Pillsbury National Bake-off. She says “Why not?”
ROSALIE: The decrease in the rise of unemployment has leveled off, but the reduction is going down.
HAROLD: And now for a terrible leap for life through seventy-five feet of space with our head in a hangman’s noose.
Made it!
In sports, Wavering Monarch paid 6.40 in the seventh by half a length. The Pirates’ Winegar said, “That’s all, folks.”
ROSALIE: So long, Stan.
HAROLD: Well, Landl and Higgens advance to the semifinals, Broxton feels the challenge outweighs cheers, and Ramirez set a new contract record of three in a row. Scores from tonight’s action: 8 to 7, 11 to 10, 104 to 96, and 5 to 2. All the usual winners.
ROSALIE: Fair and unchanged.
HAROLD: Our salute to sports.
Nose blow.
ROSALIE: Hats off.
HAROLD: You can’t see that out there, but we did it. And here’s a report from Germany.
Explosions, cries, sounds of war.
Makes you think.
ROSALIE: Talk to me.
HAROLD: Not now.
ROSALIE: Please.
HAROLD: After the program.
ROSALIE: It’s dark then.
HAROLD: We’re on the air.
ROSALIE: I’m tired.
HAROLD: That’s why they’re letting us rest.
ROSALIE: It’s the vibes.
HAROLD: Vibes.
ROSALIE: The words get wiped off on the bulk eraser. But the vibes pick up, they loop through the circuits, twenty-five years at the speed of light and it comes out in words, it’s other words, we never spoke those words—
HAROLD: (making silly faces) Look at that!
ROSALIE: But it’s still our words—
HAROLD: See it?
ROSALIE: It’s all the words we never said—
HAROLD: Can you see it out there? Can you see what I’m doing? Hell no! Because this is radio!
ROSALIE: Harold—
HAROLD: This is radio! You don’t see things on radio!
ROSALIE: You better see it.
HAROLD: Call us. Call if you see it.
ROSALIE: They don’t call.
HAROLD: Put up or shut up.
ROSALIE: There’s nobody out there.
HAROLD: Cash in a Flash.
ROSALIE: There never was.
HAROLD: Man’s best friend.
ROSALIE: It’s all a joke.
HAROLD: Communicate.
Phone rings.
Don’t answer. They always call, and when we answer there’s nobody there. If we answer there’s nobody there. Don’t answer.
Phone continues ringing.
Don’t flake around. Come on. Call.
ROSALIE: Somebody call for real.
HAROLD: Don’t flake around.
ROSALIE: Please.
HAROLD: They hung up.
ROSALIE: There was somebody there.
Silence. She cries out.
CARLOS: Gotcha, babe.
Whistle blast.
Shelf Six. Reel Ten. Side One.
Synthesized gibberish.
Animal cry. Sharp light change: Harold and Rosalie in backlight, photo cutout illumined. Faces as rear projections.
Through sequence, Harold and Rosalie speak on mike, voices filtered, motionless, shifting at intervals, as projections crossfade.
HAROLD: We’re Number One.
ROSALIE: Big day.
HAROLD: Number One rating for the morning drive time. Number seven market in the country.
ROSALIE: Number One country in the world.
HAROLD: Isn’t that something? I mean just go on the air, and say what you want to say, play around, joke, talk to people and have a great time. I mean, who’s ever gotten syndicated out of Pittsburgh? We’re gonna hit the whole country. Florida, North Carolina, Utah. How do they talk in Utah?
ROSALIE: I think they grunt.
HAROLD: Where’s my coffee?
ROSALIE: We can’t have coffee here. It’s new mikes. It picks up the slurps.
HAROLD: New studio, terrific. Five years in that broom closet. You test the mike?
ROSALIE: I’m gonna kill myself.
I was testing. How much time we got?
HAROLD: Couple minutes. Isn’t that wonderful?
ROSALIE: Isn’t that great?
HAROLD: It’s really kinda scarey.
ROSALIE: It is, kinda.
HAROLD: It’s really something. They said, “You can’t go on the air and just be yourselves. It sounds silly.” I said, “What the hell. Maybe people want Silly. Read the news like you know you can cope with it.”
ROSALIE: It’s kinda scarey.
HAROLD: It is, kinda.
ROSALIE: Try the mike. We’re almost on. Carlos?
HAROLD: I’m gonna vomit.
I was testing.
ROSALIE: Carlos? Where is he?
HAROLD: At least we kept our own engineer. (to Carlos) They didn’t want you, but we said He’s Our Man.
ROSALIE: I don’t like it when they change the equipment.
HAROLD: Cause we’re a success. Nothing but the best. Is it working?
Sounds of a crowd gathering.
ROSALIE: Harold?
ROSALIE: Where are you?
HAROLD: Right here.
ROSALIE: Harold?
HAROLD: I’m sitting right here.
Sound fades.
HAROLD: The power was off. I don’t know where the jacks are. Is this plugged in? Carlos?
ROSALIE: You know where he is. He’s smoking dope. He gets a raise, first thing he goes out and scores.
HAROLD: We hired him. They’ll raise hell.
ROSALIE: Long as he gets us on the air
HAROLD: Hello Utah.
ROSALIE: Does it work?
Sounds of a crowd gathering.
HAROLD: Rosalie?
HAROLD: Where the hell did she go?
ROSALIE: I’m right here.
HAROLD: Where?
Sound fades.
ROSALIE: I was looking for my makeup.
HAROLD: What for?
ROSALIE: So I’m presentable.
HAROLD: This is radio. Rosalie, hey come on, it’s three minutes, let’s go over the format. It’s easier to get to the top than to stay there.
ROSALIE: Where’s the potatoes? Look, do we know what we’re doing?
HAROLD: What potatoes?
ROSALIE: It’s easier to get to the top than to stay there.
HAROLD: Let’s just go on and have fun. Whatta you doing with potatoes?
ROSALIE: Potato salad. Look, we don’t really know what we’re doing, so how do we know if we keep it. I wish we could sort of set it, I don’t mean like rigid, I mean like knowing what we’re doing.
HAROLD: Test the mike.
ROSALIE: This isn’t worth it.
I was testing.
HAROLD: What’s with potatoes?
ROSALIE: On Cooking Time. I’m doing potatoes.
HAROLD: This is radio.
ROSALIE: I always do Cooking Time.
HAROLD: This is radio. You fake it. We’ve got critics out there. New York, L.A. They’d laugh their heads off if they thought you were making potato salad in the studio.
ROSALIE: We got two minutes. Where’s the log sheet?
HAROLD: Under the potatoes.
ROSALIE: It’s all wet. What are we gonna talk about?
HAROLD: Potato salad. One hour. Really exhaust the subject completely.
ROSALIE: Don’t talk to me like that. You’ve never talked to me like that.
HAROLD: Will you stop this? I’m trying to make this work. You don’t want it just say I DON’T WANT IT. Whatta you want?
HAROLD: Lines, ok. “There’s a lot of morning in the air, so everyone here really leads a hero’s life. Laugh and the world laughs with you, cause we all love a winner, and hard work never hurt anyone if somebody else does it.”
ROSALIE: You’re a clown.
HAROLD: I’m not very funny.
ROSALIE: I mean a story. I mean I’d feel more secure if somebody wrote down who we are. They don’t care about potatoes, they want ROSEMARY COPING WITH POTATOES. I don’t want to be a CHARACTER. I mean I do. I mean whatta they want?
HAROLD: I didn’t shave.
HAROLD: It’s a big day.
ROSALIE: This is radio.
HAROLD: Something to eat?
ROSALIE: We just ate.
ROSALIE: Didn’t we?
HAROLD: We never ate.
ROSALIE: We forgot.
HAROLD: Isn’t that something?
ROSALIE: We’ll get a late breakfast.
HAROLD: Brunch.
ROSALIE: Celebrate.
HAROLD: Minute to go. Log sheet. Who’s the interview? Where are they? Where’s Carlos?
ROSALIE: I smell smoke. Harold?
HAROLD: Where are you?
ROSALIE: We need more light.
HAROLD: This is radio.
ROSALIE: Where’s the potatoes?
HAROLD: I ate them.
ROSALIE: I can’t see. There’s static.
HAROLD: Where’s my shaving cream? Writers, they’re supposed to give us writers, five shows a week syndicated, we gotta have writers—
ROSALIE: We just have to be real.
HAROLD: Have to work hard to be real.
ROSALIE: Rehearse.
HAROLD: Get in character.
ROSALIE: No, can’t we just give’em what we give’em? Don’t think about it, just do it.
HAROLD: Right. Make the morning looser. Let’s give them an image of morning, so they say, “Hey, it’s morning.”
ROSALIE: I mean just play around—
HAROLD: Cause morning’s a good time to sell, when you haven’t given up on the day. We want to tell’em, this is for you, it’s just for you, I know exactly what it’s like to be you and you and you and you and you—
ROSALIE: Honey, thirty seconds—
HAROLD: Say each word like it’s precious, even when it’s silly, it’s Today’s Silly. Like “Now it’s time to be silly, it’s the wave of the future, you deserve it.” We’re looking for a built-in market: Funny, Silly, Married, Not a Care in the World. Like you know what it’s like to be them, but you’re a friend anyway. They can say “I’m a good friend of Harold and Rosalie’s.” And we’re so enthusiastic, we have to smile. Smile when you talk, then your voice is like a smile. Like young, people want to stay young, they don’t want to lose control, they don’t want to be human. Interviews, like there’s six hundred seventeen Real People in the world, and we all know each other, and we give each other parties, and nobody worries about the gas bill. We don’t have gas bills. We don’t have gas. And they say “I wish my husband and I could sit and talk that way, kid around, bring in people to talk. I wish he’d say I was cute. I wish no one could see HOW WE LOOK!”
ROSALIE: We’re losing something.
HAROLD: What are you doing?
ROSALIE: Making potato salad.
HAROLD: You’re typing. What are you typing?
ROSALIE: Our lines.
Sound of typing.
I won’t fall apart. We’re making up a story. Once you have a story, you don’t fall apart, because then you still land in a story of falling apart. Say you love me.
HAROLD: It’s the story of people who love each other.
ROSALIE: Hold onto me.
HAROLD: Story of people holding on. Ten seconds. You ready with potatoes?
ROSALIE: Carlos? I can’t see.
HAROLD: Where are you?
ROSALIE: Syndicated.
HAROLD: Where’s Carlos?
Sharp static. Cry.
ROSALIE: Something scorched. I don’t want a broadcast. I want you to touch me. I don’t want a story, I don’t want characters, I don’t want a log sheet that tells the next twenty years—
HAROLD: You wanta play a breakdown on the air? The stress of stardom, we could talk about that?
We’re on the air.
ROSALIE: It’s dark. Where’s the log sheet?
HAROLD: Just ask me where’s the log sheet, and we’ll kid around—
ROSALIE: Where’s the damn log sheet, Harold?
HAROLD: Under the potatoes.
ROSALIE: Are we on the air?
Music intro, low level announcer. Their voices continue, but taped, filtered, and progressively distorted. Under, their real voices, close to mikes, speak in counterpoint.
HAROLD TAPED: Through the air with the greatest of ease—
HAROLD: We don’t have to do this—
HAROLD TAPED: Rosie’s got this great idea. She’s going to make fake potato salad—
ROSALIE: Harold, stop it—
HAROLD: I’m not doing anything—
ROSALIE: You’re mocking me. We snap at each other like some situation comedy—
ROSALIE TAPED: Harold’s learning to read.
HAROLD: We got the situation, now for the comedy—
Taped voices fade. Silence.
ROSALIE: What’s going on? We used to have fun—
HAROLD: It’s the story of people having fun—
ROSALIE: Nobody’s having fun—
Again, taped voices take over, filtered and progressively distorted.
Under, real voices in counterpoint.
HAROLD TAPED: Then let’s drop the bomb!—
ROSALIE: I love you, honey—
ROSALIE TAPED: You have, Harold, you have—
HAROLD: I’m a person too.
HAROLD TAPED: Our special broadcast for the hearing impaired—
ROSALIE: I said I loved you—
ROSALIE TAPED: Harold’s creepy today.
HAROLD: I’m as interesting a character as you.
ROSALIE: Let’s get outa here—
HAROLD: Women are supposed to have emotions. I just pick up the pieces.
ROSALIE: Get the hell straight out—
HAROLD: How many times do I put you together after you fall apart?
ROSALIE: There’s no time—
HAROLD: When do I get to fall apart?
Taped voices fade. Silence.
ROSALIE: Harold. . .
HAROLD: This isn’t the way I want . . . for the rest of my life. . .
ROSALIE: There’s something we’re trying to. . .
Again, taped voices take over, filtered and progressively distorted. Under, real voices in counterpoint.
HAROLD TAPED: Tallyho, the fox.
ROSALIE TAPED: Harold’s frisky today.
HAROLD: Rosalie. . .
HAROLD TAPED: All we need is love.
ROSALIE TAPED: To lay a big egg.
HAROLD TAPED: Bombs away.
ROSALIE: Please, Harold. . .
ROSALIE TAPED: Dagwood is all around us, Harold.
HAROLD TAPED: Coming Mother!
ROSALIE TAPED: Did you ever want to burn your hubby?
HAROLD TAPED: God bless asbestos.
HAROLD: Hon. . .
Voices distort. Cry. Silence. Quiet sobbing, extended.
Static. Teletype. As taped Voice continues, front lights up on Harold and Rosalie, arranging log sheets, cassettes, trash.
VOICE: Here’s the latest action weather from FM 105, WHYO and you know why, from the WHYO weather tower.
HAROLD: Here we are back again.
VOICE: Harold, coming up from the bottom of the hour, the President has just ordered an all-stations halt to the weather, in view of the situation developing in Europe. No front warnings for fear of a breach of security in the cloud cover. Might call it a freeze on the weather, ho ho. What we can tell you, though, is that the rest of the day will be fair and warmer, a little sun peeking through, so it’s a nice day to relax and maybe get in a round of golf. Precipitation is zero, humidity mild, and while we can’t tell you anything about tomorrow, it’s fair to say the sun will rise. That’s the weather from WHYO, 105 and you can guess why. . .
HAROLD: Thanks Frank. Coming up on the steep side of the hour, with Harold and Rosalie on the Harold and Rosalie Anniversary and Farewell Show, we’ve been doing some reminiscing, kind of an offbeat approach but that’s appropriate, I think—
ROSALIE: I think so, Harold—
HAROLD: What do you think, Rosalie, I mean recently we’ve seen a lot of celebrities making a comeback from mental illness, drugs, Democrats, breast cancer, how does it feel? I mean when you knew you were getting to that stage of life when women, not necessarily women, but sometimes women, just seem to fall apart? How did you feel?
HAROLD: And how did you feel when it went from bad to worse?
Honk. Laughtrack.
HAROLD: We’re still here, though. For another fifteen minutes.
ROSALIE: Do you know Harold plays with dolls?
HAROLD: When Rosalie sounds like she’s smiling she’s really not.
ROSALIE: When there’s a commercial we just sit here. We don’t do a thing.
HAROLD: I already know who Mister Wednesday is. It’s a fake.
ROSALIE: We make it all up.
HAROLD: The news. We make that all up. It’s a fake. How would we know the news? I’m nobody. I’m just a (beep)
ROSALIE: Well what am I? I’m just a (beep)?—
HAROLD: We want to apologize to any listeners who might be offended. We mean no disrespect. Some of our best friends are (beep), and others are (beep)
ROSALIE: Don’t take it personally.
ROSALIE: Shut up!
Flush. Teletype.
HAROLD: The latest news. It doesn’t wait.
Copy feeds up.
In the headlines from Europe. Continued clashes are reported between units of NATO and Warsaw Pact forces following this morning’s invasion. Unidentified planes are reported to have dropped sizeable quantities of heavy office furniture on the West German city of Freiburg in the early hours. NATO countered by filing a civil suit and beefing up its bureaucracy.
ROSALIE: Are we outmanned in public relations, Harold?
HAROLD: It’s hard to say. Let’s wave the flag.
Music. They wave small flags.
You can’t see that, but we did it.
ROSALIE: We’re making this all up.
HAROLD: Rosalie. . . Warsaw Pact tanks are rolling across Belgium, exceeding the speed limit, while the aircraft carrier Nimitz is reported to be steaming up the Volga toward Moscow on a goodwill mission. Forces are on worldwide alert, and an emergency meeting of the Security Council has adopted a resolution calling for free elections in Chad. The Air Force has revealed a secret stockpile of swivel chairs, both land and carrier-based. These are thought to match anything the Russians might throw at us.
ROSALIE: Better give us a call.
HAROLD: Or drop a card. There’s time.
ROSALIE: If you have a question.
HAROLD: Questions? Comments?
ROSALIE: We’d like to know.
HAROLD: Seriously.
ROSALIE: Gut essen, my Damen und Herren.
HAROLD: Bon appetit.
ROSALIE: Spasibo! Spasibo!
HAROLD: Arigato gozaimasu!
BOTH: Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum Sybilla—
ROSALIE: Please call. For God’s sake!
Phone rings.
It’s a fake!
Harold answers phone, hangs up.
HAROLD: Rosalie?
HAROLD: Help us out.
CARLOS: Glad to, Sweetiepie.
ROSALIE: Stop it!
HAROLD: (very quietly) Friends, this is not a matter of people going berserk. It’s technical difficulties, it’s the chips, this very peculiar electronic situation, where years ago our sound engineer, who was very high, plugged himself into a live socket and was etched forever into our circuitry, “Carlos is here, Carlos is here,” over and over, and I suppose maybe activated by oscillations under the stress of tension and the feedback that comes with middle age—
ROSALIE: (very quietly) Broadcasting is a metaphor, you know. So we better be careful. What if what they cancel is all there is? What if there’s nothing to take its place, there’s an hour chopped out of the day, and all the hours fall in on each other, there’s no more time, because you didn’t have that one little chunk holding it all together. If we’re a metaphor, what happens when you cut us out? You think about that? You think how it all adds up when we finally run the total? What happens at the top of the hour?
HAROLD: We tried to raise children.
ROSALIE: You have to be fertile for children.
HAROLD: We tried—
ROSALIE: Something has to be growing—
HAROLD: And bringing them into the world—
ROSALIE: You can’t swallow weed-killer and still raise children.
HAROLD: How’d we get on a subject like that?
ROSALIE: You have them, and they wilt.
HAROLD: Who is Mister Wednesday?
ROSALIE: Broadcasting makes you sterile.
HAROLD: In minutes a day.
BOTH: (whispering) Carlos!
CARLOS: Shelf Nine. Reel Twenty-four. Side Two. Good to the last drop.
Synthesized gibberish.
Animal cry. Lights: Harold and Rosalie in backlight, photo cutout illumined. Faces as rear projections.
Harold and Rosalie speak on mike, voices filtered, motionless. Child’s laughter.
Together, they slowly rip log sheet.
ROSALIE: You’d think they’d know better.
HAROLD: Yes you would. Who?
ROSALIE: You’d think so. But they don’t.
Sheet rips.
One doesn’t ever know better.
ROSALIE: They know. But they don’t know better.
HAROLD: You know what she said? She said it was because of what we did. When she was little. We did it all wrong, so she couldn’t ever get happy. Sometime we told her NO when that wasn’t the right answer, so she had to go stick her head in the oven.
ROSALIE: Not for me she didn’t.
HAROLD: Nor for I.
Sheet rips.
ROSALIE: Or the boy. He told me, he said, It’s because of the soldiers. You know the little toy soldiers we got him, he played with the soldiers and that taught him to join. He said, If I get shot, it’s because of your soldiers.
HAROLD: Well he did.
ROSALIE: But was it because of the soldiers?
HAROLD: Maybe or maybe not.
ROSALIE: Maybe not.
HAROLD: Maybe.
Start of rip. Silence.
I didn’t do it.
ROSALIE: Neither did I.
HAROLD: It just happened.
ROSALIE: Neither did I.
Paper rips. Again.
HAROLD: They’d babble out all the latest reports. The car wasn’t safe. Coffee caused cancer. The bomb was dirty. People died from the whites of eggs. You didn’t have to be born. All that.
ROSALIE: They never learn to stop crying. They only learn to talk.
HAROLD: They stopped.
ROSALIE: If you could call it that. What’s ripping?
HAROLD: Lines.
Paper rips. Again.
What can they ask? We had to live. It took a lot of effort. It was all a slap in the face, one slap in the face after another, just to live. What can they ask?
HAROLD: Not a thing. But it hurts to think we’re to blame.
ROSALIE: We’re not.
HAROLD: But it hurts to think it.
Sharp rip. Silence.
What can we do?
ROSALIE: What can we do?
We could forget.
HAROLD: Forget.
ROSALIE: When they were young, we dressed them in all the softest things. We even changed the detergent. We taught them manners. We taught good and bad, and they got candy when they were good. All the sleepless nights, all the saying things over and over. They had their dumplings on their plate. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July. Year after year.
HAROLD: Every damn year.
ROSALIE: And then one day they looked up from the plate and they said, “We’re dead. Mommy, Daddy, we’re dead.” We said, “No dear, you’re not, eat your peas.” “We can’t eat our peas, we’re dead.” We said, “We’re not to blame, it was all the TV, all the noise.” They said, “We’re not concerned with all that. We’re dead.”
HAROLD: And the little one? “I’m a birthday candle, papa. Blow me out.”
ROSALIE: So then we thought we’d humor them. We accepted the fact. We could forget.
HAROLD: Forget.
Paper rips. Again.
Except for the hopes.
ROSALIE: Oh yes, the hopes.
HAROLD: And the grandchildren. We might have grandchildren.
ROSALIE: Oh yes.
Otherwise, we could forget.
HAROLD: Otherwise. Your line.
HAROLD: Yours.
Children’s laughter, distant. Silence. Static. Teletype.
Front lights up. News copy feeds.
ROSALIE: Coming up to five before the hour—
HAROLD: Land sea and air operations continue, scores tonight at ten—
ROSALIE: Ceasefire shattered by human wave attacks of thousands of Russian dancers against the port city of Gdansk—
HAROLD: A last ditch effort is underway at the U.N. to call the roll—
ROSALIE: The President has gone on national television to approve the export of nuclear arms to the Soviet Union—
BOTH: (automatic, rapid) Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for Thou art—
High pitched beeps.
HAROLD: This is not a matter of a marriage falling apart, we’re very happily married, bad vibes or no—
ROSALIE: You’d find either of us very good in bed—
HAROLD: Paris has fallen.
ROSALIE: It’s not just a matter of cancellation, it’s a question of what is real—
HAROLD: The New Mexico death cult says Tallyho.
ROSALIE: Do they listen to us?
HAROLD: Can you hear us out there?
ROSALIE: Flores para los muertos.
HAROLD: What about all those people that wanted “a piece of the action”? What happened to them?
ROSALIE: This is the action. You want a piece?
HAROLD: Who is Mister Wednesday?
ROSALIE: Take a stab.
HAROLD: Bulls are loose in the streets of Madrid—
ROSALIE: Mass looting and rape in the former Dutch city of Amsterdam—
HAROLD: It’s not a matter of standing back and watching it burn—
ROSALIE: Missiles have interrupted an emergency performance by the Bamburg Symphony Orchestra—
HAROLD: A high pressure area from Canada was met by three divisions—
ROSALIE: It’s not a matter of loving or not loving—
HAROLD: Yankees 3, Pirates 2 after six innings—
ROSALIE: The President has declared that incursions will be met by quote “Every means at our disposal you get the picture?” unquote.
HAROLD: Three guesses—
BOTH: With me thy rod and thy staff they comfort me yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of—
Higher pitched beeps.
HAROLD: Coming up to the top of the hour—
ROSALIE: Please call now—
HAROLD: Last chance—
ROSALIE: Missile launchings are reported in two hundred forty locales forming a web across Siberia—
HAROLD: The President advises staying calm and under large mattresses—
ROSALIE: If this were a real emergency you would be instructed to turn and turn and turn—
HAROLD: The President remains in full control of his bowels—
ROSALIE: But prepares for evacuation—
HAROLD: Missile launchings are reported in two hundred forty locales forming a question mark across Nebraska—
ROSALIE: The National Safety Council says Buckle Up and Live—
HAROLD: It’s not a matter of guilt—
ROSALIE: You build great buildings out of concrete blocks, you build the blocks out of sand—
HAROLD: It’s not a matter of sterility—
ROSALIE: It’s raining in the East. It’s starting to rain. It’s raining in the Midwest. It’s raining down. Raining on the cities. It’s raining. It’s starting to rain. You can’t see it, it’s raining down—
They raise umbrella, opening over them.
BOTH: I fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over the top of the hour. . .
Flash. Blast. Animal cries. Blackout.
Long silence. Shortwave voices. Sound of wind, distant.
Front light up, dim, on Harold and Rosalie.
HAROLD: We’re on the air.
ROSALIE: It’s past the hour.
HAROLD: It’s past the hour.
ROSALIE: What was the flash?
HAROLD: Light.
ROSALIE: What happened?
HAROLD: Action News.
ROSALIE: Are we on the air? We’re still on the air.
HAROLD: It isn’t real.
ROSALIE: It’s radio.
HAROLD: The talkies.
ROSALIE: We’re past the hour.
HAROLD: Were you praying?
ROSALIE: I closed my eyes and pushed.
HAROLD: We’re past the hour.
ROSALIE: Standing there naked.
HAROLD: Whole new ball game.
ROSALIE: We’re ahead by three.
HAROLD: It is possible. It is still possible.
ROSALIE: A miracle of electronics—
HAROLD: Update. All nations of the world have reached accord.
Quiet, gentle tempo. Sense of wonder. They speak front, as though reading from a distance. Slow, brilliant chord progressions.
ROSALIE: All seven kittens have found a home.
HAROLD: New promise of a cure for emphysema.
ROSALIE: The boy has danced out of the plastic bubble.
HAROLD: Small children are swarming in the fields of Nebraska.
ROSALIE: We’re still on the air.
HAROLD: Friendship.
ROSALIE: Warm bodies.
HAROLD: Evening classes for adults.
ROSALIE: No more hunger.
HAROLD: All storm window problems are solved, and there’s an unbeatable selection of quality doors and windows at great low prices.
ROSALIE: Men and women want it at exactly the same time.
HAROLD: Every kid has a dog.
ROSALIE: Computers have feelings.
HAROLD: No one died today.
ROSALIE: Real progress on nuclear waste.
HAROLD: Children grow up.
ROSALIE: I have beautiful thighs.
HAROLD: We’re all going to live.
ROSALIE: Birds, thousands of birds.
HAROLD: We’re still on the air.
ROSALIE: Bare breasted.
HAROLD: Full voiced.
ROSALIE: The skies opened over Korea and the clouds formed my own face.
HAROLD: The light turns green.
ROSALIE: And the world all the world sings as if in a choir when the robes are long and the children stand in rows the tall in the center then sloping down to the tiny tiny children whose voices come from within who have God in their pockets whose voices are thin as thread and the world the world dances, slow shadows moving through streets dancing without a sound with the deep voice fullness of all the crying gone.
HAROLD: Carlos?
The circuits are clear.
ROSALIE: We’re still on the air.
HAROLD: Still.
Directly front. Voices natural, unamplified.
Can you see us?
ROSALIE: Talking to you.
HAROLD: Look in here.
ROSALIE: What are you waiting for?
HAROLD: Don’t wait.
ROSALIE: Try to see us now.
Silence. Fade to black.