Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesday Excerpt

This week's selection comes from a one act play I wrote last year for the Surfacing Emerging Playwright Festival. It did not get selected, though members of the selection committee told me it was due to length and number of male characters, not because it sucked. Great. Next time, if it doesn't suck, don't not pick it.

Don't...don't not...more better...yeah.

Okay, the title for this one is The Unfinished Paper. It tells the story of James Evans as he sits in Jeremy Noy's coffee shop on the campus of the University of Minnesota. He is skipping class and they get visited by James' classmate Angela, his roommate Colin and the Professor Weinskart, who's last assigned paper James is valiantly ignoring. We join the action as it happens!


from The Unfinished Paper, 12/06-1/07

JAMES: This place reminds me of home.

JEREMY: Is that why you’re in here all the time?

JAMES: That, and it’s close to all the classes I’m skipping.

Jeremy smiles and turns his attention to goings-on outside the window, while James stares thoughtfully at nothing, warming his hands with his coffee mug. He sets it down gently.

JAMES: Bike shop slash coffee shop.

JEREMY: Excuse me?

JAMES: That’s my idea. There’s a bookstore attached to my parents’ coffee shop. I want a bike shop with a coffee shop in it.

JEREMY: Is that really your dream?

JAMES: Well, mostly my roommate’s. It would be open twenty four hours. But it’s just a pipe dream. Good name for it, though.

JEREMY: Oh yes?

JAMES: Either way we go. The Vicious Cycle or Gear Grinders. (he resumes his search through the newspaper) Although the second one sounds like a bike shop slash hoagie vendor.

JEREMY: I take it that’s not really your plan, though.

JAMES: Colin has all of these grandiose ideas, but almost no follow through. That’s why he’s going to be a journalist, so he can report on things and never have to actually do things.

JEREMY: (glances at the door) Here comes another friendly face.

The door opens again and Angela Grable walks in. She is average height, blond hair, blue eyes, the look of the Swede about her. She is bundled against the cold with a heavy coat, gloves, and hat. She is carrying a messenger bag.)

JEREMY: (checking his watch) Good morning, Ang.

ANGELA: (shaking off the cold) Hi Jeremy, um, I’ll have a—

JEREMY: Hot cocoa and a chocolate chip cookie?

ANGELA: (smiling warmly) Yes, thank you Jeremy.

JEREMY: Four dollars and three and a half dimes. (she digs in her purse and throws a five dollar bill on the counter) Be right up.

ANGELA: Keep the change, Jeremy, and I’ll be over here with James. (pause) Oh, how long has he been here?

JEREMY: I opened at 7, and he’s been here since about, oh…six.

(Jeremy winks and gets to work while Angela walks over to the table where James sits, oblivious to her presence. She slams her bag on top of his paper just as he is about to take a sip of his coffee, causing him to spill a little.)

JAMES: Holy, Shit, Angela, what are you doing? (he wipes some coffee from his chin with his left hand)

ANGELA: (angrily) What the hell are you doing, James? (he continues to shake the coffee from his hand) You missed another one of Weinskart’s classes. Do you know that our paper was due a week and a half ago?

JAMES: (pushes her bag to the floor, where it lands with a dull thud) Relax, I asked him for an extension. (Jeremy brings her cocoa and cookie) Have a seat, Angela.

ANGELA: (sitting heavily) How long of an extension did he give you? Thank you, Jeremy.

JAMES: (reluctantly) I guess it was kind of…open ended, you’d say. (Angela is bringing her drink to her lips as he says this, but stops, brings the drink back down and stares fixedly in James’ eyes) I asked the class period before it was due if I could have an extension and, well, he said that was okay. The next class period, I asked if he wanted me to e-mail it to him and he said to just, you know, give it to him the next time I saw him.

ANGELA: Oh, James. You know he meant the next class period.

JAMES: Details, details. If he had wanted it the next class period, he would have said so.

ANGELA: (head in her hands momentarily) No, James, he wanted it on the due date. He said so, too. An extension is for one class meeting later. Have you read the syllabus?

JAMES: Of course. It told me that before class today, I was supposed to have read the first half of Colonel Chabert, and I did.

ANGELA: But then you didn’t come to class.

JAMES: My paper isn’t done.

ANGELA: Why not?

JAMES: (long pause, several drinks of coffee. Angela sips her cocoa and takes a bite of her cookie) Because in order to finish it, I have to start it. And in order to start it, I have to be interested in one of the topics. Can’t I just sit in a coffee shop for the rest of my life, though? It’s warm, it’s friendly, there are fresh Sudoku puzzles every day in the paper, always somebody new to meet. (he turns and looks at the man in the suit, still sitting near the door) Hi there, I’m James and I’m probably going to fail my Cultural Perspectives class because my professor wants me to write about Oedipus and Phallic symbols. (back to Angela) Seriously, why is Weinskart so obsessed with male genitalia? Have you noticed that in his lectures? The one about Balzac’s statue grasping his erect-

ANGELA: Why can’t you just bullshit a paper, James? Isn’t your roommate a writer?

JAMES: Colin? He’s busy writing cover letters for internships and his own work Oh, but you should read his humor paper, it—

ANGELA: You’d better come up with something, and fast. Weinskart asked me about you after class.

JAMES: (obviously surprised) He did? How about that, he knows who I am.

ANGELA: He asked me if I knew where he could find you. And it just slipped out, and I’m sorry.

JAMES: (stopping in mid drink) What just slipped out, Angela?

ANGELA: I told him you spend a lot of time here.

JAMES: Here where? Here Earth? Here Minneapolis? Here campus?

ANGELA: Noy’s Coffee.

JAMES: So he’s coming here to find me? (Angela nods her head) Well, thanks, Judas.

ANGELA: That’s not fair. Come on, I’m letting you know, you can escape if you want.

JAMES: (drains his coffee mug again. Calls) Jeremy! Another.

JEREMY: Coming up, James.

JAMES: Not today. I’m too comfortable here. What can he do? (stands up, walks to the counter and sets his empty mug next to his new, full mug. He picks up his new drink and turns back to Angela) It’s not too late to drop classes, is it?

ANGELA: (removing her coat) Yes, the withdraw date was sometime last month. You’re only hope would be a medical reason. Or death.

JAMES: (considering) Death, huh? Or a medical reason? Like a broken leg?

ANGELA: Extended hospital stay.

JAMES: (slumping into his chair) Forget it.

ANGELA: Hopeless, James.

Angela sits back and ruminates over her mug of hot chocolate. Jeremy continues working behind the counter. James sits, looking dejected, holding his mug in both hands close under his chin. His demeanor suddenly brightens as he sets his coffee mug on the table and begins rooting through the messenger bag he has brought with him. He pulls out a USB drive and sets it in front of him on the table. He puts his bag back down on the ground with a thud, which gets Angela’s attention. He then stands and takes the USB drive to the door. He opens it and stares outside for a moment, listening to the traffic as it rolls by. Jeremy checks his watch, then quickly puts a fresh pot of coffee on.

JAMES: Oh, the express! (He tosses the USB drive out the door as the sound of a bus goes by. He waits at the door for a moment, then exits)

Angela stands and goes to the door, looking out and cradling her mug of cocoa. She takes a step back as James opens the door and re-enters the shop, carrying what used to be his USB drive before it got run over by a city bus.

ANGELA: James?

JAMES: Angela, I’d like you to meet my excuse. (He hands her the two biggest pieces of his USB drive.) Now, how long do you think it will take Weinskart to get here? (James does not wait for a reply, but instead returns to the table, pulling a laptop computer out of his bag and setting it on the table, opening it, turning it on, etc.) This is better than saying my dog ate it or anything.

ANGELA: (returning to her seat, placing the bits of the USB drive on the table and sitting down heavily) You think Weinskart will believe that the only copy you had was on your jump drive?

JAMES: (working furiously on his computer) No. But when I show him my tragically corrupt document that is on my computer, with only a part of my heading, title, and a few words here and there intact, and the remains of my jump drive, perhaps he will… (trails off)

ANGELA: (pause) Perhaps he will what? Only flunk you a little bit? (pause. James stands again) Do not throw your computer under a bus.

The man in the suit drinks the last of his coffee and stands up. James watches him put on his coat, gloves, hat and scarf. The man walks to the door and opens it.

COLIN: (offstage) Hold the door, gang way! (The man jumps aside, holding the door open and Colin rides his bicycle into the shop, causing everyone to turn their attention to the door. Colin is tall and he gangles. He is wearing jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt under a windbreaker. He has a schoolbag slung behind his back) Thank you, sir. (The man gives Colin a bewildered look, then exits as Colin himself dismounts from his bike and busies himself in his bag, which he swings around to his side) The usual, Jeremy. (He digs out his wallet and a thermos)

JEREMY: Coming up, Colin. (He sets a small mug on the counter) Here’s your espresso, coffee’s brewing.

COLIN: (walking over to the counter with his bicycle) Thanks a million. (He sets a wad of cash on the counter along with the thermos and picks up the drink. He cools it with his breath, then turns on the coffee shop) James, Angela, nice to see you both.


COLIN: Thanks, Jeremy. Time for an epic battle with sleepiness. I’ve got a class with Garrison Keeler next. Great class, great man, but that voice of his! My parents used to play Prairie Home Companion tapes to put me to sleep, and his voice still makes me…(wiggles his hand back and forth while making a strange sound. He swings his bicycle around to face the door, and swings his leg over it) Could somebody grab the door for me?

At that moment, Professor Weinskart enters the coffee shop, looking thoroughly windswept. He is in his late fifties, wearing a long black overcoat and a yarmulke. He straightens this and his coat as he walks in, looking around.

COLIN: Pardon me, could you just hold that door for me a second please? Thank you.

WEINSKART: Oh, yes, sure, go right ahead, son.

Weinskart stands aside and holds the door for Colin who, with a wave of his hand, is off and out into the cold. Weinskart lets the door close and makes his way to Jeremy at the counter.

WEINSKART: This place used to be a Subway, right?

JEREMY: Yes, it was.

James has been staring at Weinskart since he entered, though Weinskart has not acknowledged either Angela or James. Through the next exchange, Angela snaps her fingers in front of James’ face in an effort to get his attention, but James continues staring at Weinskart with silent fear.

WEINSKART: Your prices are a bit higher than Starbucks, hmm. What’s the advantage?

JEREMY: Personality. Warmth. My wife bakes the cookies and the coffee is Fair Trade.

WEINSKART: You’ve just made a lifelong customer, my friend.

James finally reacts to Angela’s snapping fingers. She points towards the door and silently urges him to make a run for it. He shakes his head no, and stoically brings his coffee mug to his lips.

JEREMY: That’s probably the best news I’ve heard all day, sir. Was it the cookies or the Fair Trade that caught you?

WEINSKART: I haven’t tasted the cookies yet. I think I’ll take a large cappuccino and the biggest chocolate chip cookie you’ve got.

JEREMY: (ringing up the register) Six dollars and twenty three cents if you would be so kind. (Weinskart hands over a bill and waits while Jeremy makes change) Here’s your change and just take a seat, I’ll bring you the coffee. Here’s the cookie.

WEINSKART: Thank you, very much.

Jeremy busies himself as Weinskart turns from the counter. He casually wanders from the counter to the newspaper stands, to the center of the shop, where James and Angela sit. James has been watching him over the rim of his coffee mug. Without a look in James’ direction, Weinskart takes a seat at their table.

WEINSKART: You don’t mind, do you? (pause, no answer or movement from either James or Angela) Good. This place has a nice feel to it. It’s probably just the fair trade coffee, you know, those hard-working, underpaid—oh, but I didn’t come here to lecture you, Miss Grable, sorry. (Angela hides her head in her hands and, over the next few minutes, shakes her head slightly. Weinskart takes a bite of his cookie, from which he obviously derives great pleasure) Exquisite. No, I apologize for the lecture, Miss Grable. (Turns to James, who noticeably shrinks at the following words) You, on the other hand, Mr. Evans.

JAMES: Professor, I—

WEINSKART: I’ve heard it all, trust me. What’s this?

He picks up pieces of the jump drive.

JAMES: Um, my USB drive. I threw it under a bus.

WEINSKART: Ah, I understand. Well, that’s a unique way to do it. And on your computer?

JAMES: Well, originally, it was going to be a clean document that I was doctoring up to look like a corrupt one. You know, part of my heading, my title, a couple brilliant sentences comprising my introduction, then a bunch of broken-up computer code jargon, interspersed with words like disassociate and, you know, just—a very elaborate hoax.


JAMES: Well, I only got as far as the heading, title, brilliant introduction, and…

James shows Weinskart the screen, who surveys it with wide, happy eyes. Angela peers momentarily from behind her hands, then resumes her previous actions. Jeremy approaches with a large ceramic mug, which he sets in front of Weinskart. Jeremy then takes a step back and looks at the computer screen as well.

WEINSKART: There is only one ‘c’ in disassociate. Doesn’t that have spell check?


There you have it! And now, friends, it is time for dinner.

What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he's staring out of the window. -Burton Rascoe

1 comment:

Molly said...

Wait! I need closure on that anecdote!!