Hitchhiking off the Map
by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
© 2000 by Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
On stage, a huge map as backdrop. Traffic signs. An open roadmap on the floor, center.
Music. Man and Woman appear, come to center, looking down at the roadmap.
VOICES: Journey. Trip. Tour. Travel. Transit. Trek. Quest. Voyage. Cruise. . .
WOMAN: Take 80 East, continue to 580, then South to Ashby, take Ashby East about a mile and half, and you’ll see a deli on your left—
MAN: (simultaneously) 29 South, sign for the bridge but don’t take that, then Highway 6 West into town, there’ll be a fork that comes by a big Methodist church—
Having consulted the map, they begin to move, setting up for the first scene.
VOICES: Passage. Pilgrimage. Odyssey. Safari. Migration. Peregrination. Perambulation. Divagation. . .
WOMAN: (recorded) IRT downtown to 14th, then crosstown on the Double L, then down to the next level and catch the N or the R—
VOICES: Hajj. Hegira. Jaunt. Junket. Outing. Detour. Wandering. . .
MAN: (recorded) Flight 117 to Atlanta, arriving 10:49 a.m., connecting with Houston Flight 23, departing at 12:19 from Concourse B—
VOICES: Flight. Drive. Hike. Expedition. Excursion. . .
WOMAN: (recorded) Just two blocks over, Willow Street, second house from the corner, two-story brick, 542, and just come around in the driveway to the side entrance—
VOICES: Trek. Transit. Travel. Tour. Trip. Journey. . .
MAN: (recorded) Over the mountain you will come to a river, and at the bridge you must cross will stand a knight in silver armor. . .
WOMAN: (recorded) Will stand a ferocious dragon. . .
MAN: (recorded) Will stand a fair maiden. . .
WOMAN: (recorded) Will stand a great oak. . .
Lobster Liberation
Office desk. Karen sits, working. Michael appears, with cup of coffee.
MICHAEL: How’s it coming?
MICHAEL: You sound gloomy. Never sound gloomy around here. It suggests vulnerability.
KAREN: My guru.
MICHAEL: Guru. Ok. I guess five years in an ad agency is equivalent to a bed of nails.
KAREN: Don’t be gloomy.
MICHAEL: Just being sociable.
KAREN: Sociable? (mimicking) “You sound gloomy.”
MICHAEL: On your terms. I’m responding, being responsive. Don’t you want somebody to respond to The Real You? Am I interrupting you?
KAREN: Yes you are. Thank God.
MICHAEL: This coffee. . .
KAREN: No, really, it’s great. Challenging, creative. Sometimes morally despicable—
MICHAEL: It is not—
KAREN: But not really all that often. And it satisfies my addiction to money.
MICHAEL: And outrageous Art Deco. (referring to her designer phone) Yes, I know: the telephone is an instrument of oppression—
KAREN: But mine is in drag.
MICHAEL: I wish we still worked together.
KAREN: So we could scream and fight like I do with Larry and Chris? Could I have a sip of that coffee? (He hands it.) No, Mike, we get along great at the water cooler. I mean seriously, it was a godsend they promoted you before we could establish a relationship of solid animosity. (Drinks. Grimaces.) And thank God you’re gay. I wish they all were.
MICHAEL: Do I catch the whiff of relationship trauma?
KAREN: Don’t go there.
MICHAEL: Ah, come on, Karen, is that ol’ glass half empty or half full?
KAREN: It’s entirely full, but I won’t say of what.
Back to her desk:
Oh God, vacation packages. I look at these photos, it’s all cliché. White beaches. Stunning babes and studly studs. Freedom, relaxation, blah blah. I look at this stuff and I don’t have one original idea — except I want to go there, fast.
MICHAEL: Ok, here’s the hook— Here’s one for free, ok? Closeup of this woman. Gloomy, depressed, harried, haggard— no, you’re not haggard— on the beach, palm trees, tropical blossoms, middle of the beach, sitting at her desk— and it says, “Wake up and smell the flowers.”
KAREN: Wow. Clever. No, I mean that’s great. That’s really good. That’s why they promoted you. This client would say, (mimicking) “I don’t get it.”
MICHAEL: Well, that’s my contribution. Good luck.
KAREN: Oh, Mike!—
KAREN: I don’t know. Funny, I was looking at this stuff, and thinking about this kind of . . . little grotty two-bit beach in Delaware... And you came up and suddenly I just realized who you remind me of. . .
Never mind.
MICHAEL: You leave me hanging there?
KAREN: Don’t you have work to do?
MICHAEL: Actually I just finished a presentation and my clients asked for a little time to recover. I love it when they freak.
KAREN: Oh God, you are so much like Ronnie.
MICHAEL: Ronnie?
KAREN: Oh, uh . . . my cousin Ronnie. I don’t know, I haven’t seen him for years, he travels, he does documentaries, nature stuff. I saw one on PBS, it was great, it was trilobites or something, these primeval little slugs in the mud, and they’ve discovered, I don’t remember how, but the lenses in their compound eyes were incredible. They could see stars that we can’t even see. And they didn’t need’em, cause they’re just glopping around in the goo. They might need to see maybe three inches, but they could see the stars. So the question is, why? . . . Why am I talking about this?
MICHAEL: Trilobites?
KAREN: All this stupid—
MICHAEL: What are we talking about?
KAREN: Liberation.
Yeh, that’s it. That’s what this crap is about. Lobster liberation.
MICHAEL: Lobster?
KAREN: Lobster.
Ok. Ok. I was fifteen, and very messed up, but outside I was the model student and very happy and a perfect little lady, and was that ever false advertising!
And we took a trip— my dad and his brother were very close, and both families went to Rehoboth — beach in Delaware. And my cousin, Ronnie, he was about a year older, and behind my glasses and braces and zits I was lusting madly. And actually he turned out to be gay— lucky for me. But we hung out together.
Shift of reality. Michael is Ronnie.
KAREN: Why are you looking at me like that?
RONNIE: Why don’t you take off your glasses?
KAREN: I can’t see.
RONNIE: All you see is people looking at you thinking how stupid you look in glasses. You said you had contacts.
KAREN: Being cousins doesn’t mean that—
RONNIE: It means I don’t have to lie. Those glasses make you look as ugly as you think you look.
Long pause.
Well so either you could burst into tears and never speak to me again, or you could take off your glasses.
RONNIE: Ok, so I got good news and bad news.
KAREN: Bad news first.
RONNIE: The bad news is that we’re going to fight about the good news.
KAREN: Am I ready for this?
RONNIE: The good news is that we’re going to the beach. Not right now, but like get up real early, so we’re out at dawn. Not here, there’s too many people here. But about seven miles south, there’s access.
KAREN: Seven miles.
RONNIE: I’ll drive.
KAREN: You’re still on your learner’s permit.
RONNIE: I’m underage, so I’m not responsible for my decisions.
KAREN: Why are we driving seven miles before dawn? The ocean is right out there.
RONNIE: For the lobster.
I’ve got a lobster, from the grocery store, and we have to set it free.
She just looks at him.
I’m serious, Karen. Mom asked me to go to the grocery store, and so I’m just coming out, and here’s this lobster tank, and. . . This one lobster, I stopped because, it’s so strange, it’s green, it’s not brown, it’s green, well, it’s like greenish-brown. And it’s got a nose. A big white nose. It wasn’t a nose. It was a barnacle, actually, right on the nose. But it looks like a nose. I mean if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a nose.
KAREN: What are you talking about?
RONNIE: Karen, I swear to you, I have never, ever shoplifted before.
KAREN: You shoplifted—
RONNIE: I opened the top of the tank—
KAREN: A lobster?
RONNIE: I grabbed it, put it in the grocery sack—
KAREN: A lobster?
RONNIE: Right on top of the vanilla fudge.
He has unplugged her phone, grabbed it like a lobster, picked up her wastebasket, stuck the phone into the wastebasket. They look at it.
KAREN: It’s a lobster.
RONNIE: I packed in some ice, to keep him cool. And took the tape off his pinchers.
KAREN: Won’t he die?
RONNIE: He’s ok. That’s the way they ship them. He’s not from here, he’s from like Connecticut or something.
KAREN: His pinchers are different.
RONNIE: They all do that. That one’s the cutter, that slices up dead fish. The big one is the crusher, crushes clam shells.
I mean he’s not a vegetarian. This isn’t an animal rights humanitarian Buddhist thing. I just felt, he’s special, he’s just very peculiar, and so maybe I’m an elitist, but I just don’t think he’s destined for somebody’s dinner.
KAREN: You’re really strange.
RONNIE: My nose is a barnacle.
Reacts to beep. As Michael:
MICHAEL: Scuse me, I’ve got a beep.
KAREN: Michael, I need to finish this.
MICHAEL: (checking) Just crap. What were we talking about?
KAREN: We’re talking about I’m very busy and I’ve got a deadline and I’d better stop daydreaming.
MICHAEL: You are a worrywart, you know that?
KAREN: That’s what Ronnie said.
RONNIE: You are a worrywart, you know that?
KAREN: Ronnie. . .
Moment of orientation.
Ronnie, I appreciate your insight. It’s just not every day I think about driving the getaway car for a crustacean.
RONNIE: I’m driving.
KAREN: Could I just offer some constructive criticism?
RONNIE: There are times when that’s useful, and there are times when you should just go with the flow. Look, I understand it’s nuts. Shoplifting is a misdemeanor, even if it’s an endangered species—
KAREN: It’s not an endangered species—
RONNIE: This individual is! And it’s probable that, being far from its natural habitat, and homesick for Connecticut, it will die. It will die, ok. True, yes, true. But at least in the ocean. At sunrise.
KAREN: Die in the ocean at sunrise.
RONNIE: Or not. Maybe swim out, and be a lobster.
KAREN: Oh god. I know I’m gonna do this. Why am I gonna do this?
RONNIE: Because you’re in love.
Long pause, looking at each other.
KAREN: Don’t flatter yourself.
Shift of reality.
Michael, I’m sorry. I need to work.
MICHAEL: So work.
KAREN: I need to. I’m sorry, you just bring out the worst in me. I am not paid to reclaim my childhood on company time. I don’t have issues about liberation. I reconciled myself long ago to working for a living. Being a commodity, if you will. I am plucked out of my habitat, packed in ice, marketed, boiled and eaten, and this is by my own free choice.
MICHAEL: I didn’t say a word.
KAREN: You wouldn’t dare.
Shift of reality.
RONNIE: So let’s go.
KAREN: Ronnie. . . This is stupid. . .
They shift chairs. Now they’re in a car.
What are we gonna say when we get back?
RONNIE: Tell’em the truth. We went down to the beach.
KAREN: Seven miles to the beach?
RONNIE: I admit they’ll wonder about that. But that’s where we have the advantage. They have to worry about us, we don’t have to worry about them. See, you just establish just a general bottom-line insanity, then that’s good, cause any time you need to, you can act just a little bit normal, and that makes them very happy.
Ok, then we say we just drove down south of town, just a few blocks. It’s chilly so we didn’t want to walk.
KAREN: I don’t lie to my parents.
RONNIE: Of course you do. Don’t be silly. Have some consideration, they care a lot about you. Don’t tell me you’re so cruel and unfeeling as to tell your parents the truth. It’s cruelty to dumb animals.
KAREN: Ronnie. . .
RONNIE: I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight.
That’s a song.
KAREN: Related to lobsters?
RONNIE: Am I really fucked up? And kind of cruel and awful?
RONNIE: Well yeh, related to lobsters and the choices one makes in life. And who you’re going to be when you come up over the horizon. And shine in the water. And stretch out all eight legs and your big pincher and your little pincher and tentacles and glasses and braces and really see through those eyes, see this very funky sunrise and scuttle into the surf and, oh, man, you’re home to Mama. Oh Karen— There is a world lapping up at us, and who gives a shit about the rest of it?
KAREN: I think turn there.
Stops the car. They get out.
You wanta carry Leonard?
KAREN: It’s not Leonard.
RONNIE: He oughta have a name.
KAREN: No. He can’t be free if he has a name. Karen is a name. You know who Karen is, and so that’s exactly who Karen has to be. For life.
RONNIE: Ok, no name.
Pointing at her.
No name.
At himself.
No name. Let’s do it.
Slowly they come forward, both holding the telephone as the lobster.
Sandpipers there. Put him down.
They put it down on the floor.
He’s in rigor mortis.
RONNIE: Wait for the surf.
She takes her scarf, lets it float down over the lobster, as surf. They back away very slowly, still focused on the lobster.
KAREN: Michael, I’ve told it to people, couple of people, and I’ve missed the whole point. It lies there, thawing out like, and then it twitches, and then it moves. It’s in the surf, and it’s moving out, and then it’s gone. Doesn’t wave back. No thank-you’s. But it’s free.
MICHAEL: Well, and they stand there, on the beach at dawn, sandpipers, chill wind, and the sun coming up fierce in their eyes. . .
KAREN: Wow. That’s good. That’s really good. That’s why they promoted you. Yeh. We freed the lobster, and I stood on the beach at dawn, with a boy I loved, and could never ever have, or would ever have me, and the salt.
MICHAEL: Sweet salt.
KAREN: The Fool’s journey. What good are journeys?
MICHAEL: As reference points. For whatever you want.
KAREN: Oh. Well, so, Michael, hey, you’re brilliant, you’re Promoted, so you tell me: what do I want?
MICHAEL: Well, I guess you might be wanting this gorgeous, witty, soulful guy here, who happens to be gay, but that makes it kind of sweet and simple, you know. Uncomplicated. To say, Hey, how about we go down to the shore for the weekend, and walk on the beach, and wonder about things, and plot some great strategies of liberation?
KAREN: That’s an interesting idea.
MICHAEL: Although I’m never serious.
KAREN: Then let’s do.
They hold hands a moment.
MICHAEL: Beeper.
KAREN: Deadline.
MICHAEL: Cutters and crushers.
KAREN: Barnacles.
KAREN: Beep.
KAREN: Thank you, cousin.
MICHAEL: You’re welcome, worrywart.
KAREN: Crustacean!
MICHAEL: Trilobite.
KAREN: Lobster.
KAREN: No name.
MICHAEL: No name.
He goes out.
KAREN: No name. You’re in the surf and the sea, and you’re far away from your home. You’ve got your pinchers, your cutter, your cruncher, but that’s not much help in the Midatlantic. But you wiggle those legs, and roll those eyes, and oh Mama, you’re free. No name. No name to grab you. You’re free, honeybunch. Swim for it.
Music. As the recorded voices speak, Man and Woman set the next scene.
BOTH:         NOW.
I can’t go there.
It costs too much.
It’s not my style.
Need a four-wheel drive.
Can’t see around the curves.
I’m too old.
I need to lose weight.
I need to get my act together.
I need more information.
Am I ready for this?
Am I dressed right?
Will I have to take my clothes off?
        NOW. GO. NOW.
Bridge is out.
We’re lost.
We’re late.
We’re low on gas.
It’s a detour.
It’s a cop.
It’s an avalanche.
It’s a troll.
Need a better map.
Need a translator.
Need time.
Need a game plan.
Need to pray.
        GO. NOW. GO. NOW. GO. NOW.
Where to?
Diamond Head
Man in background. Woman at music. He speaks, focused on remembering.
MAN: It’s my first time in Hawaii. Fly in. Look at that. We’re bidding on a job. One of the big hotels in Waikiki upgraded their data systems, and their files seem to have contracted herpes. Major outbreaks in inelegant places. And so we’re bidding on a very thankless job.
So I drive in from the airport, late morning, rental car cause I really want to see some of the island tomorrow before I fly back. So I bought a guidebook, and my appointment’s at three, and I’ve still got some time to kill.
So drive into Honolulu, and walk around Chinatown, then to a garden, trees, red flowers, is that bougainvillea?— Can’t get the right angle. Show people the snapshots and they say, “Oh, yeh. Flowers.”
Tries to take snapshot, gives up.
And I’ve still got an hour to kill. That mountain there. What is that? Check the map.
Diamond Head. That’s the volcano, yeh. That’s on my list. It’s extinct, but then you should never say extinct in relation to a volcano — that might be pushing your luck. Inactive. Retired. On sabbatical. No surprises.
Could I drive up there, quick snapshot, maybe, the distances are . . . not far . . . and just see what—
Moves about the stage, stops.
I dreamed this. Last night. Motel in L.A., reading the guidebook, and then . . . Pele.
Which is funny, because I’ve never been interested in mythology, religion, that stuff, although I realize these concepts speak to a deep longing, and blah blah blah. Most of my dreams focus on data systems.
But volcanos, yeh.
So drive up, yeh, up around, into a tunnel, out, and— Diamond Head.
Stops, looks.
God, I dreamed this. I’m in the crater. What used to be the crater. Kinda like it’s filled up with . . . Oklahoma. Flat, kind of, arid, dry vegetation, military buildings, fences, “Keep Out,” “Danger,” “Death.” Rock walls around, like a huge stadium. Parking lot. So park.
Gets his bearings.
What am I doing here? Ok, it’s on my list, and if I see it today, then I don’t have to see it tomorrow. So I see it. Good. Great. No big deal.
There’s a trail. Up to the rim. I got, what, forty-five minutes. Trail, sign says, damn, takes an hour and a half up and back—
Pele, she’s the goddess of . . . volcano or something. Yeh, I spose if you got a volcano, you better have somebody in charge. So . . . Pele.
Chord. Woman chants. At times, she blends into his narration, unison, or repeats phrases.
WOMAN: Pele. . .
MAN: But that’s funny, friend of mine said they don’t talk about Pele. I haven’t even seen her on T-shirts. They must be scared, cross-culturally, they must be, the Americans and Japanese and Polynesians and Filipinos, and the native Hawaiians, they know she’s here, but she’s extinct, or inactive, or just killing time. Till . . .
He makes a gesture: ka-boom! Looks at guidebook.
So here, we had five temples, so the god of the winds, who was Pele’s nephew, wouldn’t blow out the fires, the line of signal fires around the top of the rim, they burned to signal the boats that went out, to come back.
Temples. . . Barbed wire, quonset huts, “Keep out.” Can’t stop progress.
God, the way the wind shapes the trees.
Sound of wind and the Woman’s voice.
I could climb up. Stand on the peak of the rim. Talk to the wind, “Hello, there.” I could ask about Pele. “Extinct? Inactive? Just thinking about it?”
I can’t get to the top, no way, I don’t have time, but— Let’s see, thirty minutes, so I could hike up there till quarter after, get a better view, maybe, take some pictures, and then turn around, and that’ll still give me time to drive down for the appointment. Having communed with nature.
Or I could just stand here.
“Stand here”? That’s weird. No, I’ve got time. Start up the trail.
Nice wide trail. Slow and steady.
Wonder what the latitude is. It’s incredibly arid. No birds. Trees are scruffy little runts. Some kind of ferns or locusts. Claws into the rock. Bone fingers.
So we’re supposed to feel the gods were here. I could hike up there and have a profound experience. Fifteen minutes, why not? Guess if you believe in data systems, then you might as well believe in the gods. Maybe I’m here for a reason. Maybe I’m nuts.
WOMAN: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.
MAN: Here we go. Getting rocky. Zig-zag.
WOMAN: Zig-zag.
MAN: Zig-zag. Tricky. This is tricky. What’s the time? Plenty of time. How far it— Ten minutes and I’ll stop and— What was the dream?
WOMAN: Zig-zag.
He stops.
MAN: Oh yeh. Dream, woke me up. Steps, something about steps, a hundred— No, steps, not steps— I had to make the decision if I wanted to live a hundred years. Entirely my decision. Be a hundred years old. Let’s see, fifty-seven, and— That’s forty-three more years? Very serious decision.
Where that came from?
He starts climbing.
WOMAN: Zig-zag.
MAN: Zig-zag. I could stop here, just stop at the zig or right at the zag. Spend time looking at . . . gray black ugly rock. Ash, really, but packed down tight, hundred fifty thousand years and it’s rock.
And she’s not saying nothing. Not today. Not to me. Not Pele.
WOMAN: Zig-zag.
MAN: Zig zag. Zig and you zag and you zig and you zag, and— What the hell am I doing here? Right, I’ve got it on my list. Pele’s on my list. Climb to the top of the rim, what, then I’m going to see something I can’t see from here— hotels? Or the gods will talk to me and say, “Hello white man!”
WOMAN: Zig-zag.
MAN: They used the temples till 1819, and in 1819 they abolished the religion. Just abolished a religion. Splat.
How do you abolish a religion? Just tell the gods they’re no longer required? We’re down-sizing. We’re out-sourcing the divinity. We need gods with better brand recognition. Gods we can franchise. Gods that are multinational. Gods that take human sacrifice by the millions and not by the twos and threes.
No temples, no fires, no more. Wonder the boatmen find their way. Steps.
Woman begins counting chant. He starts climbing.
Steps. Numbered. Up and up. I’ll just get up and have to start back. Eleven, twelve, thirteen. It’s time right now. Twenty-two, twenty-three. My God, in forty minutes I have an appointment for a major contract, and what am I doing here?
Forty, forty-two, forty-four. This is nuts. I’ll die. My wife will be horror-struck, and then very pissed.
Sixty-two, sixty-three. I could pitch straight backward from here and croak ergonomically, instead of this pointless, idiotic climbing up steps and steps and—
Ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine— Yes!
Music change.
A tunnel. Bottom of the trail, it says take a flashlight. There’s a tunnel, there is. Railing, ok. Circular staircase. Why am I doing this?
For a good reason. Yes, dammit, I’m looking for—
Something. Voices. Birds. Fires. Gods. Thunder. Erupting. Ecstatic. Real. And I’m here, I’m alive, I’m—
At the top.
Long silence. Looks around. Gestures “Wow.” Hurries to take snapshot.
I’m out of film.
Looks around.
I want to feel something now. Hear voices. Gods who have suffered no abolition.
Five temples. Then they abolished that. And some point in time, the Army took it over, and they put in gun emplacements.
Nice view. Waikiki. Hotels.
I could have saved all the trouble. I could have just stood still in the center of this dead, extinct, impotent, cold-ass volcano and yelled for the gods to come out of hiding, “Come outta there!” Nothing but wind.
No film. I am a dead, extinct, impotent, cold-ass tourist. Voices: “I’m hungry!” “You got some more film?” “Jenny, we have to go.”
My appointment. I have to go.
But I did it. I made it in twenty minutes. I did. Twenty minutes, I’m in good shape, yeh. Poor guys drudging up here, they see the steps, they’re ready to die in place. Twenty minutes up, maybe fifteen down, and I won’t have to do this tomorrow, check it off the list and—
What did I do? I did it again. Climb way the hell up Diamond Head to set a record? I don’t live my damn life, I send a representative.
Sound of wind and the Woman’s voice. He starts moving.
Oh idiot. Move it. Keep moving, lope down past this old lady you’re making feel so damn much older, and leave her in the dust, and three teenage kids that are already middle-age flabby, and—
There’s a woman, maybe thirty, blonde, down the trail, carries her baby in a front harness thing, and the baby’s cute, and so’s the lady, and I lope up longside, say, “She doesn’t look the least bit tired”—
WOMAN: (laughing) Not yet.
He stops.
MAN: Baby looks me in the eye. So much wonder in her eyes. She starts to cry. The mother snuggles her. And she cries. And then they go off.
Music of crying.
She cries. Not fear. Nor pain. She cries because she’d gone all the way to the top, and she’d seen the gods. And she was crying for me. Cause she knew I couldn’t see, cause I was so damned scared to see, and so she was crying for me.
WOMAN: And she hears the gods of the wind, the gods of the sea, the rain, the trees and the blood and the fire, the fire under all, the fire rising up alive, the birds, and flowers burst on the withered trees, red, yellow and purple gods, and orange and blue—
MAN: —Like fifty-some years ago in Sunday School I colored the Disciples and Jesus. Colored them all those colors. Teacher said, “They’re not those colors.” But they were.
WOMAN: They were.
MAN: I want to catch up to the baby, look in the eyes. Look in eyes that have seen the gods. But I’m standing there, flat-footed. Abolished.
Music change.
And then, I’m at my appointment. Five minutes late, but I made it. I have not the foggiest notion. I took care of my business, had supper, I walked on the beach, by great hotels where the tourists erupt and excrete and dream.
That night I dreamt. I was a hundred years old. I’d agreed to be a hundred years old. Agreed to risk life, agreed to live . . . oh god, a hundred years. I was climbing steps. Climbing to the rim of the crater. The sharp lips of Pele. Slowly.
Woman begins counting chant.
Earth shaking under me, low growlings, like babies being born. Birds fly up by the millions, clouds of orange and green and white, and the mother is screaming and laughing, growling and crying and laughing, and I’m going up step by step — sixty-two, sixty-three, sixty-four — to the top, and get there before I wake— and the trees in blossom— eighty-nine, ninety — filled with lava, fluid— ninety-seven, ninety-eight, ninety-nine—
Slow gesture of explosion and settling. To us:
Please come with me.
Music. As the recorded voices speak, Man and Woman set the next scene.
BOTH:         THIS IS
I didn’t realize they wouldn’t speak English.
I didn’t realize it was this far.
I didn’t realize it was so huge.
I didn’t understand exactly what would be expected.
I didn’t anticipate mosquitoes.
I had no idea what they were really saying.
I didn’t pack for this weather.
        FROM WHAT
I wasn’t aware of the extra charges.
I didn’t plan for a change in plans.
Burlington Lunch
Lights. 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. There’s gonna be some furniture, I got stuff at home, 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. They come cruising in here like I was an accident on the freeway. Wanta see me cause I got my name in the papers. 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.
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. 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 thought it might come back, but I dunno if they’d have the right maps. There’s some 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?” 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. 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. 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. Corn meal pancakes. I ate a whole pile of’em. And I put a couple in my pocketbook, case I got hungry later. They were just pancakes. And I talked, 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. . . 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 wsn’t something they’re doing. It was something in me, cut into my head, 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, 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, and he looked at the pancakes, he sent one to the lab. It finally come back, it was all dried up like a turd. And the lab said it’s corn meal. Wrote that in the paper. So what? 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 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. 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 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. 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. 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.
Map on the floor down center. Music. Man and Woman appear, standing above it, looking at it.
MAN: In Boy Scouts, we went on a 20-mile hike, and I was the youngest, I think, and it was very hot, and I was wearing sneakers, and all I remember vividly from that hike was the last mile home.
WOMAN: We met in college, and he asked me out to a movie, first date, and we’re coming back on the subway, I’m watching the lights flashing past, dumfounded, terrified. “My God, this is the one.”
MAN: We were in Spain on a motor scooter, and about three kilometers outside this little tiny town, it broke down. We pushed it into town, and found a cafe, and did our damndest to pantomime the Spanish for “carburetor.”
WOMAN: Moving East from Illinois, driving at night, our daughter’s in the back seat, she’s two and a half then, looks, out, says, “Mama, the moon is coming with us.”
Woman speaks to us.
MYRA: The journey is the story you tell about it.
Be mindful when you choose to tell it.
Take care to whom you tell it.
It will change as you hold it in your hands.
She sits in an airplane seat. A man comes down the aisle, checks his ticket.
STEVE: I guess I’m here.
MYRA: Guess you are.
He sits.
Need more space?
STEVE: I’m fine. Thanks for asking.
MYRA: Probably because I’m drunk. Not really. Just pleasant. My flight was cancelled, so I’ve been killing three hours.
STEVE: Yeh, well this weather.
MYRA: Well I should be used to it. I grew up in Omaha. Left as fast as I could.
STEVE: I can see why.
MYRA: So you’re not from here?
STEVE: My mom remarried, moved out here.
MYRA: So you’re in New York?
STEVE: Philadelphia. I fly into New York.
MYRA: I did some work in Philadelphia.
STEVE: Winters there too.
MYRA: So you’re here to visit your mom?
STEVE: My mother passed away. I just came out last Tuesday.
MYRA: I’m sorry.
STEVE: And then I had to stay, cause of the blizzard. They couldn’t do the burial.
MYRA: It really came down. So was this an expected thing, or—
STEVE: No, it was pretty sudden. Yeh, it was amazing, the blizzard, I’ve never seen anything like that. On the news, there were these people, trapped in the shopping mall? Spent the night?
MYRA: Whole weekend. I was there.
STEVE: What, in the mall?
MYRA: Whole weekend. Yes. Northridge Mall. Are we buckled?
STEVE: Wow. We both had experiences in Omaha.
MYRA: Let’s hear it for Omaha. A primal experience. Actually it was.
Looks out window.
So you’re probably wondering if I flew from New York to go shopping at Northridge Mall? And the answer is, of course, all the best people do.
No, I. . . Well ok. I’m an actress, professional actress. And yes, you’ve probably seen me in something, and I guarantee you won’t remember what, so enough said on that.
And I don’t go much outside New York, but I hadn’t worked for awhile, and I’d just had a break-up— of a relationship—
And so I needed a paycheck. So I was hired for a dinner theatre tour. Four theatres, twelve weeks of Neil Simon with mushroom dressing. One of those limbo experiences: hotel, dressing room, ho ho, yuk yuk, clap clap, dressing room, bar, hotel.
STEVE: There must be some rewards.
MYRA: Oh yes? What?
STEVE: I guess I was just saying that.
MYRA: Here we go. Oh. . . I never like take-offs.
And the real icing on the cake: the theatre is in a shopping mall. Northridge Dinner Theatre. It’s horrible. They bus these people in, and they eat, and they’re sitting there, once in a while they chuckle, and somehow you think somebody’s going to get up and try to change the channel.
STEVE: I haven’t really seen much theatre.
MYRA: It’s a three-week run, and Friday of the second week I had evaluated my whole life and come up with a net deficit. I had had two distinct propositions from very attractive people, and declined. I was as stale as the dinner rolls. You play Neil Simon you start to talk like that. I lay in the congealed sewage of the chicken a la king.
So there’s a blizzard predicted. Great, some excitement. It starts to snow about six. Small audience, lot of cancellations, end of the show somebody says, “Myra, we’re snowed in.”
STEVE: Myra?
MYRA: Myra.
STEVE: Steve. Jeff Stevens, actually, but people have always called me Steve, never Jeff, just Steve.
MYRA: Steve. Hello, Steve. Hey, I’m sorry, you probably have work to do. It’s just— I really had an incredible experience. In Omaha!
The plane hits bumps.
Oh! . . . I think— No, I was going to say something cute. It’s a habit. Too many sit-coms.
So we were snowed in. Wind blew up drifts six feet deep. I thought, hey, people don’t get trapped inside shopping malls, we’re Americans. Turn around, people just standing there. Muzak still going. It’s Day of the Dead.
STEVE: I remember that movie.
He puts his briefcase on his lap.
MYRA: I’m sorry. You’ve got work to do.
STEVE: No, not really. Well, I should do some, actually. . .
MYRA: What do you do?
STEVE: I’m a C.P.A.
STEVE: That’s the usual response.
MYRA: That’s fine. I’ve got a book. Do they serve food on this flight?
STEVE: Snack pack.
MYRA: Right.
He takes out file folders, starts to open them, stops.
STEVE: You said something. You said it was an incredible experience or something, for you.
She nods.
MYRA: Yeh, well. Yes it was.
I guess it— restored my belief— I don’t know, my — my belief in what’s possible— some day — for people — maybe.
Looks out window.
I wonder what that town is. Lights are beautiful.
Looks back at him.
Ok. We stood around, there was a loudspeaker announcement, “Attention Shoppers, Northridge Mall will close in ten minutes.” Oh really?
Somebody said, “Anybody have a radio? We could check the weather report.” Weather report, guess what, it’s snowing!
So we stood there, waiting for the teacher to tell us what we do. And I think what happened, the Muzak was turned off, they made an announcement that the roads were totally closed and we’d have to spend the night. And they could contact our loved ones by cellphone or smoke signals because the phone lines were down—
But it was somebody’s birthday, some little girl—
No, the first thing was, this guy came on the loudspeaker, he says, let’s see. . .
“Hello, shoppers. . . I always wanted to say that. Hi, this is Randy, at Pennys, I’m the assistant manager, and we don’t want anybody to have a bad night, so you come to home furnishings, we have bedding, mattresses, you can make up your own little nest.”
And we did. Other stores brought stuff out. It was summer camp.
STEVE: That’s really something.
MYRA: Later I found out this guy’d been fired and was leaving next week, so he didn’t care what the hell happened.
God, these bumps!
STEVE: We ought to be climbing out of it.
MYRA: Climbing out of my skin.
It was a strange night. Next morning, Saturday, some little girl has a birthday, and she’s sad because she’d been going to have a party, and it was so sad this little girl felt bad because in this country you’re not supposed to be miserable until you’re at least fifteen.
I continue this endless monologue. I’m sorry.
She looks out the window. Long pause.
It’s a long way down. And I was almost there. I get like this in winter. I have dreams.
STEVE: That’s Seasonal Affective Disorder.
MYRA: So people started putting together this party, for the little girl. I thought about my daughter. She’s grown now.
STEVE: My daughter’s nineteen, son seventeen. Dog eleven.
MYRA: Were you there when she died? Your mother?
STEVE: No. No, it wasn’t possible.
MYRA: I’d want my daughter there. I want people very close now. I think a lot of doors opened.
It was beautiful. People really opened up. There was a ton of ice cream, and they turned on the fountains and let people play with the controls, the fountains and the lights, and then one of the cast said, “Let’s do the play,” and I thought, “Oh God, not that play!” so I said, “No, let’s do a talent show.” And we did.
I went around recruiting people, and they’d all, “No, I don’t have any talent,” and I’d work on’em—
What would you do for a talent show?
STEVE: I guess I could explain the principles of accelerated depreciation.
She grimaces, suppresses a comment.
MYRA: And I went up to this old lady.
She’d been just sitting there, just— And I said, “Hi, I hadn’t asked you: can you do something for the talent show?”
And she said. . .
She said, “I just come down to the Rite Aid, to get the pills.”
I said, “What? Sorry. What?”
“To get the pills.”
She looks at him.
STEVE: I’m sorry, I don’t understand what. . .
MYRA: This very flat Nebraska voice. (imitating) She said, “I didn’t go right to the Rite-Aid, cause I was afraid they might show I’d already filled the prescription, so I walked around and shopped for a pair of shoes— I’m here to get pills to kill myself and I’m shopping for shoes!”
STEVE: You do that really well. You look. . .
MYRA: Right, twenty years older. (snapping fingers) “I coulda gone to the Walgreen’s over on Farnum Street, and then I’da been back home by nine p.m. and dead.”
“Well, we’re having a talent show. Would you like to do something?”
“I don’t have any talent.”
And all of a sudden, I said, “My mother committed suicide.”
“She probably had a reason.”
“I don’t think she did.”
“You get awful tired after a while.”
And we talked. She talked about her ex-husband, and her son’s ex-wife who wouldn’t let her see her granddaughter, and her son never came to visit. And I told her my winter dreams.
I think my mother would forgive me for telling a total lie. She’s fat and happy in Florida.
STEVE: You sort of followed your instinct.
MYRA: And why don’t we ever do that? She so much needed to talk. Then I said, “Hey, you’ve gotta do something for the show. I’ll bet you know a poem. Something they made you learn in school?”
“I know one poem.”
And it was a great show. There was a kid with magic tricks. Half of a barbershop quartet, and the contest for the best chicken imitation. Some songs, and a very large lady did a clog dance, and an old man did a dog act, very seriously but without the dog.
And we did a comedy improv. We asked what people were afraid of, and the little girl said she was afraid her daddy wouldn’t remember to feed the dog, so we did a skit where the dog got hungry and ate up Daddy.
Oh God, it’s what theatre is supposed to do, I don’t know, bring people together, celebrate—
And this old lady, we were just about to finish up, and she walks up. . .
“This is a poem I learned, long time ago. It’s by, I don’t know, Shakespeare, maybe.
    Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
    Is hung with snow along the bough
    And stands along the woodland ride
    Wearing white for Eastertide.
    Now of my threescore years and ten
    Twenty will not come again
    And take from seventy springs a score
    That something something something more.
    And since to look at things in bloom
    Fifty springs are little room
    About the woodlands I will go
    To see the cherry hung with snow.
Pause. She looks at him.
I have a hunch you want to do some work.
STEVE: I think I read that in school.
MYRA: Anyway, that’s my story. Next morning they got the ploughs through, and TV crews came in, and questions like, “Trapped two days in a shopping mall, how did that feel?” “Just like Omaha.”
People were glowing. It really opened something up, what people are all about, and what I want to do, I mean like this, I never talk to strangers—
STEVE: What happened to the old woman?
MYRA: Gee, I don’t know. She was just glowing, I mean.
And we said goodbye, and she said, “Thank you.” And it, I don’t know, just— restored my belief— in what can happen. It’s possible. It really is possible.
I don’t even know her name.
STEVE: Loretta Stevens.
MYRA: I’m sorry, what?
STEVE: Her name was Loretta Stevens. She was my mother. She called up my sister, and on the way home they stopped at the Walgreens to fill her prescription, and Sunday night she took the whole bottle and died.
It’s hard to find happy endings.
He takes out his folder, starts to work. Silence. He rises, comes to us.
I don’t know, maybe I just don’t like to see women drunk. Maybe I feel guilty about my mother — we were never close. Or I just don’t like people who go off on wild emotional tangents, all this New Age crap, people had better grow up.
My mother was in a nursing home, and she died of a heart attack. I mean obviously I made it up. I can’t imagine she believed it.
Suicide, come on!
Picks up his briefcase, goes off.
MYRA: The journey is the story you tell about it.
Be mindful when you choose to tell it.
Take care to whom you tell it.
It will change in your hands.
Music. As the recorded voices speak, Man and Woman set the next scene.
VOICES: The problem with journeys is that everything interesting about them is what you don’t plan for.
The problem with journeys is finding a good mattress.
The problem with journeys is if you have any expectations.
The problem with
Problem with journeys
The problem
Figuring out what really happened.
Figuring how to pay for it.
Knowing who to blame.
Coming home.
The problem is coming home.
The problem is how do you describe it.
Holding onto it.
The problem is telling the truth.
The Truth
Woman speaks to us.
WOMAN: You teach your kids, always tell the truth, so you know who took the cookies. But then they learn to lie. They’d better. The Commandment says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” Nowhere does it say tell the truth.
Shift. She is packing a valise on the table. Man sits, reading the newspaper.
Something good in there?
MAN: Just the news. Try to know what’s going on.
WOMAN: They don’t tell you what’s going on. They tell you what’s good for you. They get paid a lot to lie.
MAN: Well then try to keep up with the lies.
WOMAN: Makes me mad.
MAN: Well do something about it. Start a riot. You gonna be done with that? Takes half hour to the airport.
WOMAN: I’m getting there. Cat says it’s cold in Denver at night.
MAN: Cold here too.
WOMAN: Funny September. Look what I found.
MAN: What?
WOMAN: Cat’s doll. When she was little. I’ll take it for the baby.
MAN: Baby won’t want that. It’ll want action figures.
WOMAN: Don’t get me started. Oh I’m glad she’s having a baby, I know she wants it, I just worry, I just think about bringing babies into the world the way it is... I don’t know.
MAN: If you take snapshots, tell Kevin not to smile. He’s a great son-in-law, but he smiles he looks goofy.
Sudden activity. She checks her purse, goes to kitchen.
WOMAN: There’s stuff in the fridge.
MAN: I can feed myself.
WOMAN: I want to make sure you eat something.
MAN: I won’t starve.
WOMAN: When I come home from having Cat, and you been living on crackers and milk—
MAN: Why I ever told you that—
WOMAN: Well it’s true—
MAN: Name of God, that’s twenty-six years ago!
WOMAN: I haven’t been gone since then! (checking purse) I got a mind like a dish drainer.
MAN: And say hello to Diane.
MAN: Their friend Diane. That visited here for Christmas. The Jewish girl.
WOMAN: I don’t know if I’ll see her. Don’t call her the Jewish girl.
MAN: Well she is. I’m not prejudiced.
WOMAN: You’re about as open-minded as a turtle.
MAN: Well I liked her. We got along fine. I wish they’d all come back to visit.
WOMAN: I don’t know why I’m going. That’s what mothers do, when their daughters have babies. Try to help out. Get in the way. I gotta feed the goldfish.
MAN: We got five minutes.
She goes to another area. To us:
WOMAN: I never told him what he didn’t need to know. I learned that early on. Our daughter Cat brought her young man Kevin home to visit, Christmas, and they had their bedrooms, but I knew they weren’t staying there. I told her, look, you’re a grown woman, but in this house there are standards. It’d kill your father. I know the world’s changed a lot, but he’s not changed, and never will.
MAN: They always came for Christmas. And before they got married, why you could tell they weren’t as innocent as a father might like to think, but I knew they’d get around to doing it right. I made a damn fool of myself at the wedding, started to cry. All this emotional stuff. I guess I blame the Blessed Virgin for it.
WOMAN: But so they got married, Kevin and Cat, and I breathed a sigh. And I never give it a thought when they’re coming for Christmas and she asked could she bring along her friend Diane. Why sure. And I really liked the girl, and Henry did too, he thought it was the funniest thing that this Jewish girl knew all about sports, he never thought Jews cared anything about sports.
MAN: And here they come with Diane, and some reason we hit it off, and it was just about— the nicest Christmas we ever had. So much love. I could feel it. Just come in waves, and we’d be sitting around the table, and start to laugh.
WOMAN: They brought candles.
MAN: Sally got the giggles.
WOMAN: Popcorn blew up.
MAN: Diane made that funny bread.
WOMAN: She called me Mama Sal.
Next Christmas, Diane came again. And I knew from the minute they walked in. I knew Kevin was having an affair— Kevin and Diane. I don’t know how I knew, they say a mother knows. That’s a good one! I didn’t know the half.
Into scene, from distance:
There’s goulash in the freezer.
MAN: For the goldfish?
WOMAN: What?
MAN: Never mind.
To us:
WOMAN: I was dead silent for two days. I know it was noticeable, except to Henry, he never sees a thing. And finally Kevin comes up, says, “Mom, what’s going on?” And I says to him, “You tell me.” And he says, “You better talk to Cat.” And I did. And she told me.
MAN: Sally was mad at Cat or something, I don’t know. They left a day early, they made some kinda excuse. I didn’t have a clue.
WOMAN: (to us) What about you? Think about the last time you covered something up? Think of it. Why’d you do that? Why do people not tell the truth? I’m asking you.
How about cause somebody might be hurt? That was the reason. I didn’t tell Henry cause I didn’t want to hurt him. And she still writes, but they find excuses not to visit. It just about kills me. That’s what you get from all this telling the truth. Heartache.
Back into scene:
I guess I’m ready. I don’t know how I raised a daughter that’s always on time. I expect the baby’ll do the same. If it’s due Thursday, it’ll be two o’clock Thursday.
MAN: Tell her to relax.
WOMAN: I won’t tell her a thing. I’m going to help out, because that’s what a mother’s sposed to do. I’m not there to tell her anything.
MAN: Sally, try to make up with her, if you can. You’re too hard on her, you don’t mean to be, but—
WOMAN: But what?
MAN: Don’t jump on me.
WOMAN: Well say what you mean.
MAN: I’m trying.
WOMAN: You mumble. You come home from work and mumble around.
MAN: I’ve worked thirty-one years for a box company. There’s only so much you talk about boxes. It’s just boxes.
WOMAN: Criticizing me—
MAN: I’m not—
WOMAN: For being the one that has to deal with this stuff—
MAN: She’s having a baby. You could take the time to make up with her—
WOMAN: There’s nothing—
MAN: There’s something—
WOMAN: You stick your head in the sand—
MAN: What in the name of Christ—
WOMAN: They’re all three of’em—
MAN: What are you talking about?—
WOMAN: They all three live with each other, and have to do with each other, and I don’t know what all. She says they’re in love. Don’t ask me! I told her not to tell you.
MAN: What?
WOMAN: Just read your paper. See what’s going on in the world. Fifty cents, they’ll tell you the God’s Truth, and then you can wrap the garbage in it.
MAN: What are you telling me?
WOMAN: We gotta go.
MAN: Sally!
WOMAN: Don’t yell at me!
Silence. To him:
We were doing the laundry, and I stood there, armful of wet towels. Till she said, “Mom, you’re dripping.” And she kept saying, “Mom, we all love each other. We love each other.” As if that mattered. She acts happy about it.
I don’t know what else. I know we cried, and I yelled at her, and then we hugged, and I said, “You know I’ll always love you, just don’t bring that girl here again, I never want to see her, and don’t tell your father!”
She says both of’em, she loves’em both. She says, “We’re totally honest, Mom, we tell each other everything.” I said, “You haven’t been married thirty years.”
MAN: Thirty-five.
WOMAN: What did we do wrong? What made her get like that? I see stuff in the magazines, on the TV, how they can’t help it, that stuff. But Cat—
MAN: Her name is Catherine.
WOMAN: That sounds like a goddamned nun.
MAN: You never told me.
WOMAN: I never told you because I knew you’d act like this.
MAN: Like what?
WOMAN: Yelling at me!
MAN: Let’s get to the airport.
They move to new locations.
We had to get her to the airport. Drove twenty minutes, never said a word.
WOMAN: I didn’t want to leave it like that. That wasn’t the way to do it.
MAN: I did a lot of thinking. But not thinking, just your mind spins the wheels in the rut. I believe there’s right and wrong. I believe there’s a higher power, and our ways are derived from the higher power. I don’t believe we’re here to make up our own rules. But that wasn’t what I was thinking.
Answers phone.
WOMAN: Hi. It’s me.
MAN: Yep.
WOMAN: How you doing?
MAN: Doing ok.
WOMAN: Well you’re a grandpa now. It’s a boy. Eight pounds four ounces. They haven’t named it yet, they’ve got three or four names, all pretty funny if you ask me, but nobody’s asking me. So I’ll be staying a couple of days, to help out.
MAN: That’s ok.
WOMAN: I’m sorry we left it like that.
MAN: Well we generally do.
WOMAN: I guess we need to talk.
MAN: Talk? What’re we gonna talk about? Tell each other lies?
She hangs up.
That was dumb. I called up later, said I was sorry.
WOMAN: So was I.
She returns, starts to unpack.
It was sunny. I packed all wrong. Sunny the whole time.
MAN: What does their house look like?
WOMAN: It’s old. But they’ve fixed it up real nice. Roomy. Lotta plants. Surprised me, cause Cat always tried to grow plants, but she never had the knack. I guess somebody else knows when to water’em. Or else she’s changed.
MAN: People change. She doing all right with the baby?
WOMAN: He waters himself.
MAN: I guess you know she wrote. Long letter. She gave me the whole story.
WOMAN: I didn’t tell you because I thought it’d hurt you. I thought you’d get mad. I thought that’s something you didn’t need to know.
It’s her life. I think it’s not for us to say. It bothers me. Does the baby have two mommies? What happens when the neighbors find out, or at school? I’ve got stuff to worry about for the next twenty years. And I can’t hardly talk to Diane.
But I don’t think it’s for us to judge her, for me to judge her, or for you. That’s between her and God, and you’re not God.
MAN: What else don’t I know?
WOMAN: What?
MAN: What else is is there I didn’t need to know, or you’re scared to tell me, or you’re doing me a big favor for me not to know? What don’t I know?
WOMAN: Things. Yes there were things.
MAN: Things.
WOMAN: Some things.
MAN: Big things?
WOMAN: No. Yes.
MAN: No?
MAN: I want the truth!
WOMAN: They asked Jesus Christ, What is truth? He didn’t say a word.
Silence. She starts to unpack, stops.
What do I say? What am I sposed to say? I didn’t have an affair. Did you? I didn’t rob a bank.
MAN: I been sitting here a week. Thinking about it. Thirty-five years, she has to hide stuff. Thirty-five years, and she can’t trust me. What else didn’t she tell me?
WOMAN: (to us) What didn’t I tell him? What didn’t you tell anybody for years and years? Or for days? Or at the right time? What didn’t you say, sometime, when you could of. When you wish you could of?
She goes to him.
What I never told you was—
I never told you when Cat was in high school, and she thought she was pregnant.
I never told you your mom told me your dad hit her.
I never told you Cat hates the name Catherine.
And I never told you sometimes you hurt me in bed, when we were in bed. And that I fell in love, maybe fifteen years ago, with your brother, and didn’t ever tell him, but I’d cry myself to sleep about it, and you thought I was crying about the dog.
And how much I hated Cat when she told me, “We tell each other everything. Nothing withheld. No lies.”
MAN: I never told you stuff either. I don’t know if I want to, I don’t know if I can. I don’t think there’s any guarantee it’s a good thing. But I guess it won’t make the roof fall in. Did she tell’em she snores?
WOMAN: They found that out. Look at me.
He does.
We’re like we first met. Two sticks of wood. Scared to death.
MAN: Look at one face thirty years.
WOMAN: Thirty-five.
MAN: (touching her face) Where’s the road map?
Music. Man and Woman set the next scene. The recorded voices alternate the Man and Woman’s voices in dialogue. But it’s double-tracked: we hear the same dialogue overlapped, but with roles reversed.
VOICES: Check the Rand McNally?
Not there.
Triple A?
I checked.
The Thomas Guide is very detailed.
Things fall through the cracks. Must be a special place.
It’s not a place. It’s a trip. They show places on maps, they don’t show trips.
Lotta people looking for it.
You only get there hitchhiking.
That’s dangerous. It’s illegal, isn’t it?
You have to have the thumb for it.
Oh blessed thumb.
Oh blessed thumb.
Oh blessed thumb.
Down the Stairs to Yellowstone
On left, a chair, several cardboard boxes from moving. A cordless phone on one box.
Down center, a roadmap spread out on the stage.
On right, a woman sits in a chair, holding a cellphone. The lefthand phone rings, repeadedly. Man’s voice, off.
JERRY: I hear you. Hold on. Damn it. Yes.
He enters, with a magazine, walking slowly, in pain. Answers phone.
Hello? Oh hi, Joan. Yeh, intelligent people take their cordless phones to the bathroom. What’s up?
Oh yeh. I know, look, I’m sorry, I’ll get it in the mail on Monday. Ok, today. Is it that much of a rush, I thought her fall tuition wasn’t due yet. Oh yeh, it is November. Time flies. Well look—
Joan, please. I’m not a deadbeat, I think we can agree on that, can’t we? I never missed a support payment, and I’ve been pretty good on the tuition, but I—
Could you cut me a little slack, please? I’m walking around with five broken ribs.
I fell down stairs.
Well I didn’t want to bother you, I felt, I don’t know, that’d be intrusive.
I know you do. I care about you too. Look, I wasn’t saying that as an excuse for the check, I just forgot, I’m sorry, I—
No. Well you know I told you I was moving. I have no use for a whole damned house, and I’m not really having money problems, I finished a big contract, but things are slow, so I found a nice apartment —
Yeh, same number, I mean you just called, right, we seem to be talking on the phone right now, yes? Right, so I put stuff in storage, and then Friday before I left I fell down the stairs.
Woman on phone, speaks. He turns front, speaks to us:
JOAN: Hi, this is Joan.
JERRY: I’d put out the trash, ready to go. Then I found another box.
JOAN: Had you forgotten that Sarah’s tuition check is due? For the fall.
JERRY: Letters, mostly from Joan, my wife, ex-wife. Stuff from my mother, knickknacks, Boy Scout badges.
JOAN: What about today?
JERRY: Yikes, clear it out. Remember Lot’s wife, one look back, pillar of salt.
JOAN: It’s the fourth of November.
JERRY: But I couldn’t throw it out. Too final.
JOAN: Jerry, I don’t want to be a nag, and I’ve sent them a check already, but this is the agreement, right?
JERRY: So I thought, put it back in the basement, clear back where the stairs go up, I’ll never see it again, but I’ll know it’s there. People do crazy things when they’re nuts.
JOAN: “Pretty good” is not really good enough. I’m not rolling in money, you know.
JERRY: So I take the box, and open the door to the basement stairs, and step into empty space.
With his fingers, he mimes a slow fall.
JOAN: You what? What happened? When?
He speaks to us, hitting himself with a folded magazine at the points where he strikes architecture.
JERRY: The fall to the Underworld.
JOAN: Why didn’t you call me?
JERRY: Blur and stumble.
JOAN: Don’t apologize for breaking your ribs, damn it.
JERRY: Hit the wall.
JOAN: Look, dummy, I care about you.
JERRY: Bannister.
JOAN: Oh Jerry!
JERRY: Bam bam bam bam bam!
He falls sharply to the floor.
JERRY: He should have let go of the box.
He heard himself yell out, but couldn’t tell what he was saying. He felt the floor before he hit it. Then he hit it.
Touches the floor very lightly, comes up to standing, frozen.
Great peace. Just lay there. For the first time in months I felt no need to check the calendar, finish the worklist, balance the checkbook, seek company for the evening, breathe.
JOAN: My God, Jerry, I’m sorry. Is there anything you need?
JERRY: I lay there, and then the pain came. Try to get up, crawl, scream. Try to sleep, try to cringe from the cold seeping up.
JOAN: But you’re ok now?
JERRY: Try to remember old myths of Underworld journeys. How to talk to the demons. Wings, shadows, teeth.
JOAN: But you’re ok now?
JERRY: Try to remember Joan.
Back into conversation.
Well, one good thing. I found an ashtray.
JOAN: Ashtray?
JERRY: Ashtray my mother had. Souvenir.
He picks it up from the top of a cardboard box.
It was lying right at my nose. Fell out of the box. It hurt to reach for it.
JOAN: I know ribs are terrible. There’s no way to brace’em, they just have to heal.
JERRY: Very true. If I’d thought of that, I might not have broken them.
JOAN: I’m sorry, Jerry, I didn’t mean to— I’m trying to be sympathetic, damn it, ok?
JOAN: So are you able to work all right?
JERRY: The ashtray says “Yellowstone.”
JOAN: Yellowstone?
JERRY: Yellowstone.
JOAN: What are you talking about Yellowstone?
JERRY: I remembered our trip to Yellowstone.
JOAN: We never went to Yellowstone.
JERRY: My mother. My mother and me. When I was eight or nine.
JOAN: I’m sorry, I think I missed the point.
JERRY: Down the stairs to Yellowstone.
He laughs. Winces. He sits on chair, legs up.
BOTH: What if we run out of gas?
What if it’s a fake?
What if we can’t afford it?
What if they close it up?
What if it rains?
What if bad guys attack?
What if mama dies?
What if there’s no one to play with?
What if I get lost?
He tosses the ashtray. It clangs on the floor in front of him.
JOAN: Jerry, just please remember to call. You don’t sound good. You sound like it hurts all the time. You sound like you’re gonna cry.
He speaks as a young boy.
JERRY: When we get to Yellowstone, will we see geysers? Will the geysers spurt up high? Will we see bears? Will the bears be grizzly bears?
When we get to Yellowstone, will there be the lava pools that burble like oatmeal, but a zillion times hotter than oatmeal, so you fall in you’d curl up to a little black shrivel? Will the lava be there all night, or only when they turn it on? I think it’ll be there all night. I think it’s real.
Will we see deer? Will we see wolves, and mountain lions, and ducks? Can we feed the ducks, if they have ducks? Would they have ducks if they have grizzly bears? Could the bears eat a tourist? Can we watch?
How far is it to Yellowstone?
Yellowstone. Why do they call it Yellowstone? Are there yellow stones? Are the yellow stones gold? Can we look for gold? How will we know it’s really gold? If we find the gold, can we buy stuff?
When we see mountains, will they be up in the clouds? Will they all have snow on top? Can we go to the top? And hang down over the cliffs?
How much farther? How far?
JOAN: You know, because we’ve been through a lot together. And hurt each other. But we can be part of each other’s lives without being intrusive. Don’t you think?
Back into the conversation:
JERRY: Joan, goddammit, I miss you so much.
JOAN: Let’s not get into that. We’ve been there, done that.
JERRY: Damn you!
JOAN: I know.
JERRY: I know.
JOAN: Well I miss you too. You know I do. You know I care about you. Just because we’re not together and we fight at the drop of a hat, I still care. Ok? You hear what I’m saying? Ok?
JERRY: Thank you.
Didn’t I ever tell you about Yellowstone? Trip to Yellowstone, my mom took me on?
JOAN: I don’t think so. That’s where you got the ashtray?
JERRY: Hadn’t seen that for years. My mom died, I packed up some stuff, and this stupid ashtray. Because Yellowstone—
Look, I’m sorry to go nattering on, but this damned ashtray, I mean, why did I find this ashtray? Why did I descend to the Underworld and bring this back? Do I sound like a total nut case?
JOAN: I refuse to testify.
JERRY: Yellowstone. Joan, I gotta tell you because there isn’t one goddamned sonofabitching human being I can talk to right now, and I won’t take up your time, but. . .
I was nine, I guess. I’d thought about it for months ahead.
Remember thinking we’ll drive there, across the prairie and the brown grass, not much to see, billboards, farmhouses off in the distance, nothing. And then the mountains rise up, blue and white, and I’ll be stunned, and then a gate, saying “Welcome to Yellowstone,” and it’s green.
Green, and heavy sunlight, you can swim in almost, and the sound of the hot mud pools, flustered. And I knew there were prehistoric fish, with jaws and big teeth, and they swim in the rivers of lava.
Rumble of bears, and I roll up the windows because I’m scared. And then slowly I roll them down.
The grizzly comes to the window. The biggest, darkest grizzly, and I don’t put my arms outside the window, but he comes and he stands.
And tells stories. Stories of all the grizzlies, and how the grizzlies fought the Indians, then how they made friends.
And here I am, lying on concrete, stone cold, pain, pissing my pants, twenty-two hours before the real estate person came — rescued by the realtor — and I’m reaching out, holding this ashtray.
But I’m there in Yellowstone.
I drift off, I’m dreaming of grizzlies bathing in lava, taking a shower in the geysers, lying down under the snow, in caves under the snow, and dreaming of me.
BOTH: What if we run out of gas?
What if it’s a fake?
What if we can’t afford it?
What if they close it up?
What if it rains?
What if bad guys attack?
What if mama dies?
What if there’s no one to play with?
What if I get lost?
JERRY: (as child) We’ll get there tomorrow. But today the car stops. My mom thinks it’s the fuel pump. We’re in Laramie, Wyoming. They fix it, but my mom’s scared to drive on. We buy an ashtray that shows Yellowstone, then drive back home.
Silence. Jerry finds his adult voice.
So I guess one way to interpret that, in this context, is that I had these wonderful visions built up for our marriage, and it broke down, lousy fuel pump, and never got there.
JOAN: The other way to interpret is, for Yellowstone anyway, you got there. It couldn’t have been more real if you’d walked through the gate.
JERRY: Well, this isn’t a fairy tale, Joan, I’ve got five broken ribs. And one tacky souvenir.
JOAN: The souvenir holds the vision.
He gets up from the chair, picks up the ashtray. She comes to meet him, down center, standing above the map. They speak directly.
So are you getting any better?
JERRY: Painfully.
JOAN: You know I care about you.
JERRY: Well and if you were here, I would have to say, “I know you love me but please do not hug me very hard.”
So how’s your significant other?
JOAN: He’s good. He’s fine. He’s . . . really good. I love you too.
JERRY: Thank you.
They focus on the map at their feet. The following litany is spoken sometimes in unison, sometimes singly, sometimes repeated or fragmented.
BOTH: Can I say what I want to say
Since we can’t hear each other?
What if we run out of gas?
        On the New Jersey Turnpike. We did.
What if it’s a fake?
        I always believed it anyway.
What if we can’t afford it?
        Charge it.
    Forget it.
        Raise your own.
What if they close it up?
    Stand there and imagine.
What if it rains?
        Get wet.
What if bad guys attack?
What if mama dies?
What if there’s no one to play with?
What if I get lost?
        They did. She did. I did. Yes.
Funny that it’s taken us this many years, and two dogs and a daughter and a divorce, just to find the seed of something. Friendship?
They return to their separate areas on the stage, speak on phones.
JERRY: So thanks for calling.
JOAN: I had a good excuse.
JERRY: The check’s in the mail.
JOAN: I hope. G’night.
JERRY: ‘Night.
Fade. They come to the front as Man and Woman.
WOMAN: So we wish you a safe journey home. Down the block. . .
MAN: Onto the on-ramp. . .
WOMAN: Up the stairs. . .
MAN: And over the mountain
WOMAN: At the bridge you must cross. . .
MAN: Will stand a knight in silver armor. . .
WOMAN: Will stand a ferocious dragon. . .
MAN: Will stand a fair maiden. . .
WOMAN: Will stand a great oak. . .