A MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
A short play
By Adam Seidel
A bare stage. A man, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, stands in front of a microphone.
My fellow Americans. Tonight I would like to talk to you about the rumors which have been recently swirling around the media. These rumors concern an alleged comet, which according to television pundits, fringe scientists and conspiracy theorists alike, will strike the Western Hemisphere of our planet later this week resulting in as they put it, “complete and total destruction of the world as we know it.” (Beat.) I before you today, as your elected leader, to tell you that this is simply not true. (Pause.) There is no such comet and our world is certainly not in danger of extinction. My fellow Americans, in times such as these, we must think objectively and not fall victim to figments of the human imagination. Our ability to imagine is what makes us great. Imagination is the tool of progress, the beacon of hope in times of darkness. But imagination can also be our greatest foe, persuading us to give into fears predicated on the fictions of Hollywood. Tonight I ask that you refrain from giving into fear, but instead turn to sound logic. (Beat.) Again, I repeat, there is no comet and we are under no imminent… (Pause.) I’m sorry. I can’t do this.
Man With a Wig
(An older man is sitting on a chair in a long bathrobe. He is holding a woman’s wig in one hand, looking at it and touching it with the other hand. Every so often he gets up and walks downstage, closer to the audience)
She’s dead a year ago. Tomorrow. We met in high school – a year before we graduated. Junior year. We didn’t ever fight a lot. Not anything loud. Little things – like the color of the house. Maybe it was just a room. Colors matter. They make you feel something inside. Mostly it was white. The house. Clean. Bright. Safe. But you get a feeling with a color. She wanted blue. The child’s room. I wanted it yellow. Soft. Like a flower. My friend Billy had a tie like that. When we were young, growing up. In school. We used to do everything together, me and Billy. My father didn’t like it. The tie. That’s no color for a man, he said. He didn’t like Billy too much. When I told Anne – that’s my wife – she understood. She had some friends like that, too. One had red hair. One had brown. I used to see them together. But they didn’t seem to want me around. So we painted the room blue. My daughter’s room. I wasn’t going to fight about it. And we painted the parlor yellow. Soft. Like a flower.
I don’t think my father knew. When he’d visit, he didn’t say anything. Maybe he forgot about the tie when I married Anne. Maybe the child changed everything. You stand there on the porch, and it’s a nice house. With a garden. And flowers. And you have a granddaughter. And the house is mostly white. So you don’t think about a yellow tie and a yellow parlor.
We just had the one child. It seemed enough. One child. There was work. And there was church. And then we each had our friends and things to do. Like the garden. Anne took care of the vegetables. Tomatoes and squash. Lettuce and cucumbers and peas. I was the one for the flowers. Lilacs. And Sweet Williams. Lots of them. And even roses, though the weather was hard. And sometimes, just when a bush was full and set right and you figured you could count on it, winter would come and blight it and it wouldn’t bloom at all. It would just sit there in the spring, all brown and black and stunted, with just the thickened stem and thorns.
That’s a lot how it was. She had her life and I had mine. Thirty-five years. That’s how long we were married. I wanted Billy to be my best man, but my father would have none of it. He said, I’m paying for the wedding and I don’t want none of that here. Then Billy went off and joined the Navy and he got to go around the world and he never came back. And I bought that house. And we had a child. And I started working at the mill. First on the saws. Then the planers. And then out in the yard. I liked that best. Being outside. Even in the cold. You got teamwork there. Sorting. Loading. Unloading. Poling the wood. Like a lumberjack. One of the guys did that for a while. Lumberjack. Big guy. Big arms. Big hands. Had this finger missing. Ring finger. Said a buddy piked him when they were out on the river breaking up a jam. Always wore those red and black lumberman jackets. Except for summer. Then he’d wear these sweatshirts with the arms cut off. We had good times out there. Working the lifts together. Some Fridays we’d go bowling. You couldn’t tell how he’d do, what with that finger missing. Sometimes he’d get it right and you’d be thinking a 300. Other times, he’d spin the ball so hard it’d run out of the gutter into the other lane. A couple of the other guys thought it had more to do with the whiskey. He used to carry this flask with him. Out in the yard even. Nip the cold, he used to say. Nip the cold. Awful stuff. I had a few pulls on it myself. Times it got twenty below. Bad stuff. Take the chrome off a bumper. But then the mill got bought out and the new foreman got it in for him and he got fired for being drunk. And the new guys were all four-wheeler types and lady chasers, and it was just a job to them till they got something else or got some girl with child and had to get married or get out of town.
Thirty-five years. What’s the Bible say? Three score and ten? So, that’s a lot of years, those thirty-five, half of what the Bible gives you. And a daughter. She lives out west. Went off to college. Moved away. Has a whole life out there. Full of sun. The stuff you do in the sun. Around here, they just shake their heads. Say the Lord will get them for what they do. Maybe it’s the winter. The dark and cold. The snow and ice. Thick and brittle, both. Maybe it gets into your soul so that you turn your back on the bright things. Make them the devil’s things.
I think we both knew early on. Never said anything about it, though. Never talked about it head on. Maybe slantwise. Maybe with a look. I think we both just knew and made our peace with it. She had her Ladies of this or the Ladies of that. You know, sewing groups or charity groups or daughters of the revolution. Stuff like that. I’d get jealous sometimes. Seeing them at work, all together like that. Doing stuff and laughing. I seen em holding hands, hugging each other. Kissing each other even. Easy in their skin, if you know what I mean.
With me, it was different. You can have buddies as a man, but you’ve got to watch what you say. They’ll laugh, all right, but not always with you. You bring in a flower to give someone or brighten up the place and they’ll be: So, who you trying to impress? And does your wife know? And stuff like that. So you drink and you tell jokes and turn your back on all the rest. If I were to say to them, the guys I worked with or drank with or hunted with, if I were to say to them that we did what we did out of duty, out of making it seem right, and that after that we didn’t do it any more, not even when we had too much to drink. And that it was all right, for the both of us. That we could still be together and still love each other, what do you think they would say?
The time we got the twin beds. That was maybe the worst. Went out of town to get them. Brought them home at night. Took the big one down to the basement. Got all damp and moldy down there. Then when we had company we’d slide the twins together so it looked like one of those queen-sized beds. Kept the old covers and sheets. That was about as direct as it got. Couldn’t really go slant-wise into that. But we never talked much about it. I think she was the one who first wanted it. Said something about it. But I’d been thinking about it, too. Just didn’t have the guts to say. But it was nothing mean. Nothing fierce. I used to kick a lot from being on my feet all day. But it just made things easier. Getting up and down. Getting up early. Coming in late. Wearing what you wanted.
You know, you can love someone in a lot of ways. Thirty-five years. Thirty-five years of being there. Being faithful. Leaving space. Good space. Not cold or icy. Like when you plant well. And everything’s got room enough to grow. To be. Without crowding. Without interfering. Knowing, but letting it be. Making do without meanness or regret. I waited a month before I did it. (holds up the wig) I had to go on the internet. But I waited a month because it seemed wrong to rush right into it. I knew she’d do the same for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I rehearsed for it. Tried on this. Tried on that. Shaved this. Shaved that. It made me realize all my wife had to go through every day. I don’t know how she did it. How any woman does it. Then, I’d get to the door and I’d just freeze, my hand right on the knob. Maybe like a prisoner when they open the cell after a long time. Like forty years.
But I’m gonna do it this time. I made a promise to myself. To my wife. If you love somebody good enough, long enough, you let them be who they are. Dying shouldn’t change that. Should it?
(Stands up. Opens the bathrobe, revealing he is dressed in a skirt and blouse.)
I know my wife’s dead. I know that Billy’s dead. (puts on the wig, adjusts it and then his skirt) But I don’t have to be.
Character: Joe: a man of indeterminate middle age, more blue-collar than white-collar
I know this guy ever since I was a kid. And every time something comes up we get into an argument over it. If it’s raining out and I tell him its raining, he’ll say, No, man, that’s not rain, that’s mist. And if I say it’s sunny out, he’ll shake his head and point and say, no, man, it’s partly cloudy – even if there’s just one little wisp of a cloud in the whole damn sky. You know the type. Mr. No, I call him. He doesn’t have an opinion about anything until you have one, and then he’ll take the opposite side just for spite. Like one of those mean little dogs that’s asleep until you walk by and then all hell breaks loose. Anyway, this one time he was talking about metaphors, trying to act smart and everything. And he says to me – What’s your metaphor for Life? And I said to him, I said: You want a metaphor for life? All right, I’ll give you a metaphor, Mr. Smart Aleck. Mites.
Mites? he says. And I tell him: What are you deaf as well as dumb? That’s no metaphor, he says, shaking his head and puffing himself up like he thinks he’s Socrates or something. How’s it a metaphor, Mr. Big Shot? he says. You tell me that.
So, I told him. I told him it’s a metaphor because it’s the size of a pin – the tip of a pin, you understand? Not the head, the tip. And it’s got a dozen legs on it, and every one of those legs itches. And about a million of these things are crawling down this spider’s leg and pretty soon they’re crawling up your leg, and that’s why they’re a metaphor. It’s because they’re dumb. It’s because they’re persistent. It’s because all they want to do is crawl and bite. You understand? They just want to get on you and bite and keep on biting. That’s their whole ambition. Their whole purpose in life. They crawl out of this spider’s belly, they take a deep breath, and then they look around for something they can bite. And every time they move one of their hairy legs, which you can’t even see except under a microscope, it’s a torment – an honest-to-God torment. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. Not once they get inside. Not once they start crawling on you. Because you can’t even see them, so that you gotta hold em up to the light and then this here spot starts moving and itching and you grab it between your thumb and finger and you squeeze the crap out of it till and then you look at your hand to see if it’s dead and the sonofabitch takes off like a bat out of hell as if nothing had happened.
All that talk in the Middle Ages about how many angels you can get on the head of a pin – that doesn’t mean squat. Who the hell knows if angels exist? And even if they do, what is that all about? What can they do anyway – sing a hymn to you when you hold the pin up to your ear? But you take a mite – and you can maybe get 100 of them on the head of a pin – and you hold that up to your ear and they’ll bite the crap out of you. They’ll make that ear of yours a torment. You understand? All they’ve got are teeth and legs. Teeth and legs. Nothing else. No brain. No soul. No nothing. And all they do is bite and suck your blood and then use those hairy legs to move on down the line to the next poor bastard and bite him. Could be a mouse. Could be an elephant. Could be the Queen of England, for that matter.
Think about it. A whole planet full of them. I read where they catalogued 50, 000 kinds already. And they say there’s ten times more out there. Now what kind of universe goes in for a thing like that? You see God actually making something like that and sticking it in this spider’s belly so it can get on board the Ark? What kind of God would do that? That’s more like something the Devil would do.
And if it’s not God, then what – a whole universe of teeth and legs? Crawl and bite? All that stuff about a great white whale or the great white shark – that’s just a bunch of bull. The whole time Ahab was paddling around trying to shove a harpoon into Moby Dick, he’s got a whole shipload of mites biting the crap out of everyone.
So, I tell my friend all this and you know what he says? He says, Mites don’t kill you. You don’t die from a mite. A lion bites you – now that’ll kill you. Or a mosquito that’s got a virus on it – that’ll kill you, all right. They got these flesh-eating bugs turn someone into a pint of slime. Now, that’s a metaphor.
Man, you’re even dumber than a pint of slime, I tell him. You know that? The whole point about a mite is that it doesn’t kill you. There’s a whole universe of things out there that’ll come up and kill you. They probably got a movie about it already. Man-eating this. Man-eating that. But the whole thing about mites is that they’re such a torment they make you think about dying before you die. And you know what he says, that dummy, he says You really got this thing about them, don’t you?
Yeah, I got this thing about them. I tell him. You know why? Because I used to be like you. Ignorant and stubborn. Thought they were just a bug. And then what happened was that I did a little kindness and I got bit for it. That’s what. And when I started thinking about it, I realized that’s the way the world works. (very directly to the audience) You know what a phoebe is? It’s a bird. About the size of a blackbird. They spend their winters down south. Alabama. Georgia. Then they come up here for the summer. A pair of them – the size of a blackbird. Flying all that way up from Georgia. And you know what? They land right up over my window. And then they start building their nest right there. Right outside my window. Out of mud and grass. And they slap it up right against the wall. I can see em building it-the whole damn thing. And then before the summer’s out they hatch these two little phoebes and then they all take off for Georgia again. And then a year later, almost to the day, they come back right to that same damn spot. Not two inches away. Right there over my window. All the way from Georgia. Only now half the trees are down from this storm we had so the damn place doesn’t even look like it did. Looks more like a meadow. But still they find it. Only this time they come early. Maybe it’s global warming or something. Maybe something’s going on in Georgia they don’t like. So up they come. And they build their nest. And they have their two little babies. Only this time they don’t go away. Instead, they start to have a second batch of birds. Now all these other times right after they take off, I go ahead and knock down the old nest, because by then it’s all dried out and falling apart. Only this time, I can’t do it.
So, I tell this to my neighbor who’s always going on about nature and everything, and she tells me it’s not such a good idea. She says they stay like that bugs are gonna start coming around. Only she didn’t tell me what kind of bugs. She just said, If they’re gonna do that, then you really have to watch out for the bugs. That’s all she said. I thought maybe she meant mosquitoes. Or flies. I didn’t know she meant mites. And then those mites started coming in everywhere. Didn’t matter what you did. They’d get in. And they started crawling and itching. Crawling and itching. And that’s when I realized that’s the way the whole world works. Right from the beginning. Right from the Garden of Eden. You got this apple hanging there. You got somebody who knows what’s waiting for you if you eat it, but all he says is “Don’t eat the apple because on that day you will die.” What the hell is that? Who the hell knows what death is? What it’s really like? So you go ahead and do a kind thing, you take the apple because it looks good, because it looks like it’d be good for you, and you go ahead and you share it, and the next thing you know you got a whole damn universe crawling on you.
You see, if I’d knocked down that nest like I wanted to and didn’t give a damn about those phoebes, or instead of saying watch out for the bugs, my neighbor had said you let them stay there that long and you’re gonna get mites, and they’re the size of a pin – the tip, not the head, mind you – and they’re all teeth and legs and they’re gonna crawl on you till your whole life’s a torment, then none of that would have happened, would it? But no, I did a little kindness and I got bit for it. You better believe it. And you know what that jackass friend of mine said when I told him all this: Yeah, but you got a metaphor out of it, didn’t you?
Man, I just looked at him and shook my head. What else can you do? You can’t even be mad anymore. It’s gone past that. Gone way past that. All you can do is just feel sadness – sadness for all the ignorance there is in the world.
You go ask Eve whether making the apple into a metaphor was worth it, I told him. See what she says.
After many years of living in Idaho and Washington, Alan Steinberg now lives and works in New York. He has published fiction (Cry of the Leopard, St. Martin’s Press), poetry (Fathering, Sarasota Poetry Press), and drama (The Road to Corinth, Players Press). His radio play, The Night Before the Morning After, won the national award for radio drama sponsored by the American Radio Theatre.
We leave one step at a time from many things:
the table after eating, a failing job, a disproved
belief, a broken argument of a home, one hand
against cold glass, the other on the key to the door.
It was like this at our house when I was a kid…
father would argue with mother about whatever
married parents have always argued about;
he would storm out of our small house and march
down the street like some kind of middle aged married
soldier; later, he would return and they would hug
and mother would cry like a little girl and things
would seem fine like the weather seems to be fine,
but one never knows the weather always, do we?
Sometimes we pretend the day is fine when it’s really
raining and the picnics we had planned for what seemed
like a thousand years are cancelled but we go on
to the next day with smiles on our faces and tomorrow’s
dreams on our beds anyway. Once, when I was maybe ten,
it was dark by five-thirty, and I was in the woods
and father came marching by and I called out to him
but he kept marching and I called out again
like a ten year old might when it’s dark out
and you don’t want anyone to know you’re afraid
of the dark, but he kept marching, crazy steps,
with wind clatter at his back, and me following him
as far as the big hill, the one that went up-and-down
and we all knew we weren’t ever supposed to go down
in the dark by ourselves, but father did that night and
even though I called and called he never did turn around
and acknowledge me; it was one of those times I didn’t know
my father, kind of like the time I went to his funeral but there
was nothing there but an urn and ashes and I was scared to call
his name for fear he wouldn’t answer me yet again.
Tim J Brennan’s one act plays have played in Bethesda MD, Bloomington IL, Rochester MN, San Diego, and other nice stages. Brennan lives in southeastern MN, a nice place to write about all kinds of stuff.
The day I turned 16 was the day I stopped going to church. “You’ll go to hell for sure,” Mrs. Marmalade said, her orange hair gleaming in the sunlight. Yeah right.
The day I turned 16 I had ‘the talk’ with my Father. “Don’t disappoint your old man, Hel. It’s important to have God in your life.” My father lit his cigarette, inhaled and then coughed up enough sputum to choke a whale. Not that I know if whales can choke, but it sounds good. I said to him…“You told me when I turned sixteen, I could decide. So I’ve decided. I’m not going to church anymore. Here’s a Kleenex Dad.”
I look kind of grubby and I want to apologize for that. I’ve been here all night. In jail I mean and I didn’t shave. I’ve never been in jail before and I’d like to go home. Grace thinks — Grace is my wife. Grace thinks they’ll let me out soon. I sure hope so cause I don’t feel very good. I have a blood problem. I can’t pronounce it but the Doc told Grace it’s very serious. He says there’s a new drug that could help but it costs lots of money and the Medicare don’t pay for it. Grace called the drug company and asked if they could do something but they said they couldn’t. Grace thought maybe if we went there they might help me. So we went there, but no one would see us. Grace thought if we hung around maybe they’d feel sorry for us or something so we sat in the waiting room. Grace read magazines and I spent the time staring at this big blank painting on the wall. Well it wasn’t really a painting; it was a blank canvas ya know. “Nice, isn’t it,” says the girl behind the desk. “What,” I asked? “The painting,” she says – “the Caudio, – don’t you love it?” “When’s Mr. Caudio gonna finish it,” I said? “It is finished,” she said. “But there’s nothing on it,” I said. “Of course not, that’s why it’s called, Nothing.” I asked how much did Nothing cost. “Three hundred thousand” she said. “Caudio’s bring very high prices.” I asked why someone would pay all that money for a painting that isn’t a painting. “Because it’s important,” she said.
Rudy Went Riding was originally written as one of seven monologues in a play titled The Prayer List. That play was originally performed at the Jeslyn Performing Arts Center in Huntington, West Virginia in June 2007 and subsequently at the Clay Center in Charleston, WV as a part of Festiv-ALL Charleston. Travis McElroy played the title role. Since then, it has been performed at theatres in New York City and Asheville, North Carolina. It is also on a waiting list for possible translation and production with the Cluj Theatre in Romania.
Every day, on my break, at 12:15 on the dot I go riding. I hit the downtown streets straddling my turquoise Kazuma Cheetah motorbike. I ride up the fifth street hill and onto the interstate. There I can really let loose. I know I got the kind of hog that motorcycle enthusiasts laugh at. But here, on that stretch of winding highway road between fifth street and the west end of town, maxed out at forty-seven miles per hour, with the wind slicing sharply at my body, I feel right at home. Riding in the slow lane for nine and a half miles with the cool smell of an oncoming rain in my nose and Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory playing on the radio in my mind, I feel alive.
My lunchtime rendezvous with the open road has become a welcome routine. Daily, I pass up the opportunity for a vending machine snack and mindless conversation with my fellow worker bees. Instead, I strap on this helmet, don these sunglasses, tuck my tie snuggly into this bland button up shirt and I bolt for that bike. For thirty-three minutes, my life is my own. For thirty-three minutes, I can escape from that soul sucking office and the endless castigations of a boss half my age with twice my income. It is the best thirty-three minutes of my day, every day. I go out in the wind and the rain, in the snow and the sun. I ride and ride and ride. And it feels good.
In the evening, after work, I go home. It’s only a five minute trip and I wouldn’t dare to be late. At five past five o’clock, I return to a small house in the east end of the city and park my bike safely in the garage. I open the door and enter the house and I return to a wife that barely speaks to me since that drunken Christmas party affair last year. I say hello to two loving children who are both so well-mannered and studious and beautiful that they often make me feel bad about myself. At times, I can’t help but think that they aren’t my children at all. I sit down to a nice dinner prepared by my lovely wife and the entire meal is eaten through an uncomfortable silence that has taken the family years to cultivate to perfection. After dinner, I retire to the living room sofa, which now doubles as my bed, and eventually I fall asleep while watching soft core porn.
In the morning, my wife wakes me with a nudge. Not a word, a nudge. I shower and read the paper and eat my Toaster Strudels. I watch my children happily leave for school. Then I leave for work. And the cycle repeats. Work, ride, work, home, dinner, TV, sleep.
Everyday has progressed this way for a long, long time. Until now. My wife told me she was leaving me. She said she was taking the kids and that they would be living with her father in Cumberland for a while. She said it was my fault and that she hated me. She said a lot of things. Her mind is made up. And so is mine. I decided to make some changes. I decided to start living again.
It started at work where I quit my job in a hellacious way. I stormed into my boss’s office and told him that I slept his wife and that his coffee had piss in it and that he could go straight to hell. Security escorted me outside where I hopped on my bike and ripped my shirt off and rode all around town. And every time somebody stared at me or snickered just a little bit in my general direction I would stop and scream at the top of my lungs, “What are you looking at? Do you want to die today?” I got my ass kicked three times. And it felt good. It felt good to feel something again.
I rode that bike out of town. I didn’t know where I was going. I just rode for hours. I stopped at a gas station for fuel and corn dogs. I decided to take up smoking. I chugged a Colt 45 at 2:30 in the afternoon and then I hit the road again. I rode until I couldn’t ride anymore. I spent the night in Aberdeen with a hooker named Marcel. I did forty push ups. I took a shower. I fell asleep.
The next day I bought a gun at Wal-Mart and had a grand slam breakfast at Denny’s. Extra bacon. I robbed a bank and I shot a guy just because I felt like it. I took in a matinee and I ate the super large popcorn with extra, extra butter. I cried at the end of the movie. I went to a biker bar where I hustled some guys at pool and drank until tequila was coming out of my ears. Benjamin Franklin was playing the bongo drums in a corner while six penguins were dancing the electric slide. I drank some more and then I passed out in the bathroom in a pool of my own vomit.
The next thing I knew I was steering my chopper down the streets of L.A. when a damsel in distress stopped me for help. It was Halle Berry. Her car had broken down. I gave her a ride home and she was real appreciative and asked if I wanted to go out later and party with her and Marylyn Manson and the Energizer Bunny. I said sure. That’d be cool. But only if zombie Elvis can come too.
Then I woke up. At home. On my couch. It was all a dream. And my wife was there. And Halle Berry wasn’t. And I was okay with that. My kids were eating breakfast. I took a shower. I ate my Toaster Strudels. Before I left for work, I kissed my wife on the cheek and told her that I was sorry. She smiled a little. A good sign. I jumped on my bike and rode to work. For a moment, I thought about riding right past the office and out onto the open road. I thought about telling my boss off. I thought about it. I did. I thought about going home and making some grand romantic gesture to win back my wife’s trust. Instead, I went to work, clocked in and started another day. Three more hours until my break. I can’t wait.
Jonathan Joy is the author of 25 plays, including “The Princess of Rome, Ohio”, “American Standard”, the “Bitsy and Boots” series, and over a dozen one acts that are regularly produced. His work has been staged in 12 US states, from countless productions in his home state of West Virginia to Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway stages in New York City, and overseas in France and Dubai. Publications and features include the New York Times, Smith and Krauss, Brooklyn Publishers, Southern Theatre magazine, Insight for Playwrights, the One Act Play Depot in Canada, and more. He has won several regional writing awards and is the only two time winner (2005 & 2008) of the national “Write like Mamet” award sponsored by the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. His books have topped the Amazon charts in Theatre, Drama, Political Humor, and Christian Literature categories. Mr. Joy is an English/Writing Professor at Ashland Community and Technical College in Ashland, Kentucky, where he enjoys his dream job and has been nominated for Teaching Excellence Awards five straight years. He is the son of James Edward Joy, a Biology professor once described by a colleague as, “…the conscience of Marshall University for forty years…” and Susan Karnes Joy, a retiree of the Corps of Engineers and the kind of woman that would gladly take her son out of school early to see “Return of the Jedi” on its opening day in 1983. He is married to his best friend, Rissie, who is a successful Scentsy Director (rissiejoy.scentsy.us) and is father to an enthusiastic, playful four year old son, Levi.