Ant (A One-Act Play By JRS)

 

SETTING:

The basement of a used bookstore, which also carries some new books. Customers can come here, but this part of the store has less traffic than upstairs. There should be several large opaque bookshelves, mostly filled with books, but with some room in them to shelf additional books, and a large table on which books can be placed, with a chair behind it. This is not the workersí sorting/staging table, which is mentioned in the play, but not shown, but a table used by the manager for sorting and pricing books. There should be another, smaller table nearby, on which supplies utilized by the workers are kept, including tape guns, tape rolls, a stapler, a box with scissors, boxcutters, etc., twine, and spare garbage bags of various sizes. Next to the supply table, one or two handtrucks should be parked. There should be one or more piles of empty boxes on the floor, and several garbage cans spread around.

CHARACTERS:

Jimmy: An intense, controversial worker, considered uncooperative by management. He is highly intelligent, though he can lose his head and sometimes fail to see clearly, due to his emotions. He has a chip on his shoulder. He is middle-aged and white.

Budd: A frustrated writer, respectful, good-humored, and good-hearted, but also wounded by the thwarting of his dream. He sometimes allows himself to be Jimmyís audience, and he is the closest thing Jimmy has to a friend. He is middle-aged and white.

Robert: A young, slender worker, sweet, with glasses. Depending on production dynamics, he could be oriental or white (to me he is oriental).

Jose: A young Latin guy, with a blue-collar background. Itís his first day at the bookstore.

Unseen Voice: A black worker. You never see him, just hear his voice. He is not stereotypical. He might be gay, but itís not obvious. He has some distrust of, and feels some discomfort around, Jimmy, due to Jimmyís anger.

Klaus: A very tall and very unusual looking guy, Nordic Viking or Aryan type. Spacey, not socially smooth. Nice, though at first glance, he seems frightening. I imagine him not that young, 30 - 40, but he can be cast as suits production. Whatever his age, he is physically vigorous.

Mo: A sturdy, hard-working black. Not a kid, heís a man whoís been around.

Dick: The floor manager. White. Not a kid, but not old, either. Small, lithe, with a slight attitude. This is a bit part.

Customers: Optional. A few browsers might be good, but they have no speaking parts, they would just be used to create ambiance.

 

[Jimmy and Budd, two bookstore clerks, are shelving books, at some distance from one another]

JIMMY: Hey, Budd! Remember Ant?

BUDD: Who doesnít remember Ant?

JIMMY: [Pause] Do you think she made it?

BUDD: I donít know. I sure hope so.

ROBERT: [Who was out of sight, emerges from behind a shelf] Ant? You heard something from Ant?

BUDD: No, not me.

JIMMY: [To Robert] You heard something from Ant?

ROBERT: No, I was asking you.

JIMMY: Oh. No, me neither. I was just wondering. I saw this book about fairiesÖ

DICK: [The floor manager, passing by, with an invoice in his hand] Fairies? Talking about yourselves, again? [The employees sort of laugh]

JIMMY: [After he has passed] Yeah, funny, cause youíre the boss. Asshole.

ROBERT: So Jimmy, are you a fairy?

JIMMY: What, do I look like one? [Robert just smirks] Iím a manís man.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Youíre a psycho!

JIMMY: [To Robert] I canít help it that I have a sensitive side. If anyoneís a fag, itís you.

BUDD: Yeah, Jimmyís no gay. He always leaves me hanging at the bag check. Iím popping all the bags into their slots, and giving them back - you know, when itís just like the rush hour up there - and asking myself ĎWhere is he?í, when, all of a sudden I see him trying to get the telephone number off some girl from Sweden. [He comes over, and takes the book on fairies from Jimmyís hands, to look at it]

[UNSEEN VOICE]: So whatís wrong with gays?

JIMMY: Nothing, I just donít want to be mislabeled. [To Robert] You look like a f****g ballerina. [Robert, who has joined them, gives him a little good-natured shove] Stop groping me!

ROBERT: Iím not groping you.

JIMMY: I know Iím hot, but youíre not my type!

ROBERT: Cut it out! [Play hits him again]

JIMMY: Sissy!

BUDD: Wow. [Talking about the book] This guy really believes in fairies.

[Now Robert, Jimmy, and Budd are all looking at the book]

JIMMY: [Taking it back] Look, look. I saw a picture. [Heís looking for it] Here. No, not this one. [Robert stops him from turning the page]

ROBERT: I thought fairies were girls.

JIMMY: No, no, there was a whole race of fairies. Fairy folk.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Stop bashing gays!

JIMMY: Whole armies of fairies - men folk and women folk - running up and down the British Isles, fighting battles, marching in midnight processions, enchanting people, stealing babies, sometimes rewarding people with treasures.

ROBERT: Like leprechauns?

JIMMY: Leprechauns were Irish.

ROBERT: I know that! [Shoves Jimmy again]

JIMMY: Get off me, you queer!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Jimmy, youíre a psycho!

JIMMY: [Locating the picture he wants.] No, here! Here it is! Now tell me, who is that?

BUDD: Holy f***! Itís Ant! [Robert is staring at the picture] It looks just like Ant!

JIMMY: [To Robert] What, do you need new glasses? [Pushes the book up into Robertís face]

ROBERT: Cut it out!

JIMMY: If that doesnít look like Ant, Ashley doesnít look like Lisa.

ROBERT: What?

JIMMY: You know - those two twins - those two idiot twins? Whatever their names are! Iím too busy reading Gogol and Tolstoi to remember their names.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Jimmy! Let me know the day you plan to go postal. Iíve got some outside business to take care of, and I was thinking that would be the perfect day to take off.

JIMMY: F****g idiot!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: I forget. Who was it you were with? The Navy Seals? Project Stargate? The Likkud?

JIMMY: The Likkud? What?!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Isnít that Israeli intelligence?

JIMMY: Damn idiot! Just shut up, and get back to work! If you get stuck, just remember this little song: A,B,C,D,E,F,G - H,I, J,K,L,M,N,O,PÖ

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Is that the secret of your success?

JOSE: [Appearing from behind another shelf. He is not the Unseen Voice. He speaks in a heavy Latin accent, addressing Robert] Excuse me. What do I do when the book does not fit?

JIMMY: [About the Unseen Voice] F***g moron. He should be working with crates of beer, not books. [To Jose] No, no, Iím not talking about you. Itís about that idiot over there!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Thank God weíre in New York, and not in Alabama, or weíd all be dead by now.

ROBERT: [Looking at the book in Joseís hands] It doesnít fit?

JOSE: No. There is no more room for it in the shelf.

ROBERT: Then, youíll have to find the next free space, either ahead of it or before it, and begin moving books into the free spaces, so that you can clear room for it in the middle.

JIMMY: Screw that, donít listen to him! Robert, what the hell are you talking to him like a manager for? Heís one of us. Jose - is that your name?

JOSE: Yes.

JIMMY: Weíre the pawns on the chessboard. The ones in the trenches, who get sent over the top. The first ones into the machine guns. Donít kill yourself, pal. Just put the damn book back on the sorting table, and leave it for later. [To Robert] What the hell, you get paid 6 f***g dollars an hour, and youíre going to get all uptight about whether one book is in the right place? If it doesnít fit on the shelf, screw it! Wait for a customer to buy a book. Let them do the work!

BUDD: [Looking at the fairy book] Yeah, she looks so much like Ant. I canít believe it.

[They all gather around the book, and focus on it again]

JOSE: Whose aunt? Your aunt?

BUDD: What?

JOSE: Your aunt?

JIMMY: What? Are you saying she looks like Budd?

JOSE: What? [Jimmy and Robert laugh] I mean, parece como tu tia?

JIMMY: Woah, slow down, the only Spanish I know is si, no, and maricon.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Tia means aunt.

JIMMY: How do you know?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: I used to be with a girl from Honduras.

JIMMY: A girl? Yeah, right!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: I swear to God!

JIMMY: So what, she left you when she caught you with another guy?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Shut up, postal, youíre getting on my nerves.

JIMMY: Or was it after she got her green card. Good-bye gringo. On to greener pastures.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Chill.

JOSE: Thatís your tia?

BUDD: Thatís Ant.

JIMMY: You know, ants in your pants? Little tiny bugs, spoil the picnic? Social insects. Brains or instinct? Geniuses like Plato, or just little robots? Step on the anthill, [imitating line from Lady Madonna], see how they run. Get the RAID! [Imitates spraying around] Put them under a magnifying glass, on a sunny day. Archimedesí new invention! Worker ants, queen ants - make it singular - QUEEN ANT - Big Mamma of the ant world.

JOSE: You mean hormiga. Not tia.

JIMMY: Antennae. [Puts his fingers by his head, and wiggles them] Head, thorax, and abdomen.

JOSE: Thatís an hormiga. Not a tia. The insect. Not the relative.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Oh, he was talking about Ant! I thought he meant [says it in the "sophisticated way", ahh-nt] "aunt"! [Jimmy puts his finger up by his head and makes the sign for "crazy". The others laugh]

JIMMY: Yes my dear ahh-nt. Shall we play croquet today?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: The sister of your mother.

JIMMY: Oh, I thought an ahh-nt was the son of a godfather.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: YOUR MOTHER!

JIMMY: Sticks and stones will break my bonesÖ

BUDD: [To Jose] Ant was a girl who used to work here.

JIMMY: Anyway, I donít have a mother, I was created in a test tube.

JOSE: So, like, she was a - what you call? - pest, like an ant?

JIMMY: You never read my biography? Brave New World. They took out my genes for hernias, and put in extra alphabetizing genes. The perfect bookstore employee. With one fatal oversight. I like to read. [Imitates an alarm buzzer going off] Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Exterminate him! Exterminate him! He likes to read! My shelving speed has been compromised. I brake for book jackets. My own form of dwarfism; club foot. Blot out the imperfection! [Stamps passionately on floor] Blot it out! Blot it out! - Thank God for the union. - Jose, fly under the radar your first 6 months, then you can come out of the closet.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Get the bullet-proof jackets!

JIMMY: Just look at this place. Itís like Bellevue. If all the people who come here to buy books knew what was really going on inside our heads, theyíd stay home and watch TV.

BUDD: [Who has been distracted, like everyone, by Jimmyís display] No, Jose, Ant wasnít a pest.

JIMMY: A pest? Who, Ant? No way, Jose! That bitch was our reason for living.

ROBERT: She was really pretty.

JIMMY: Pretty? You need a Thesaurus, Hercules [ironic, because Robertís skinny. He grasps Robertís thin arm to emphasize the point.] She wasnít pretty - she was beautiful - she was - [searching for the perfect word] magic. Like this fairy [pointing to the book]. Thatís what Iíve been trying to tell you!

ROBERT: She was really good-looking.

JIMMY: It was her soulÖ

BUDD: She was beautiful, inside and out.

JIMMY: She had a sparkÖ

ROBERT: And she was really nice.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Itís like she never had a period.

JIMMY: Lord Byron would have had a crush on her. And Tolkien! She was the kind of girl the hero gets, but the hobbits long for.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: She was a mamacita!

ROBERT: In Tolkien, the heroes were hobbits.

JOSE: Sheís not here anymore?

JIMMY: [Puts his finger to his lips] Shhh! Donít say it. - Donít break our hearts!

 

[Enter Klaus and Mo. They are both pulling dollies loaded with boxes of books. Mo is in the lead, Klaus bringing up the rear.]

 

KLAUS: [Talking to Mo] Thereís no alternative. We have to colonize Mars. The earthís population is expanding too rapidly. [Mo stops his dolly, because thereís a problem with the wheels, which Mo begins to inspect. Klaus is blocked behind him, and waits.]

MO: What the hell are we going to do up on Mars? They ainít got nothin there but red rocks. Unless you believe in that weird face/pyramid structure, whatever it is. Atlantis in space.

KLAUS: Did you ever hear of terraforming?

MO: What?

KLAUS: Terraforming? Itís a technological concept that will allow us to release water, and generate a livable atmosphere for human settlers on Mars. To turn it into a second earth.

MO: Did you ever hear about condoms? I mean, come on, what kind of way is that to solve the population crisis? You tell me - giant rocket engines, and billions of dollars, or just some more boxes of Trojans.

JIMMY: [Who has overheard] Klaus hasnít heard about condoms! He hasnít even heard about girlfriends!

KLAUS: [Looking at them] Ha ha. Very funny.

JIMMY [To Jose]: Thatís Klaus the Giant. We call him the past-life Viking.

KLAUS: And how about your girlfriend?

JIMMY: [Continuing to explain to Jose] Canít you just imagine him wearing a horned helmet, with a battle-axe in his hands? Covered with the blood of monks. Staring into the sky while the lightning bolts flash all around? I call it the Klaus Kinski look.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: You two give me the creeps. Aryan Nation.

JIMMY: Me, with Aryan Nation? First Iím with Israeli special ops, and now Iím a neo-nazi? Why donít you just call me White Devil?, that will make it easier.

MO: Yo, what the hellís up with all you guys just standing around, anyway? Where were you when the books came in?

JIMMY: Nobody told us.

MO: Yeah, right. You probably just ran like a bunch of mice running from the cat, and hid yourselves in the stacks.

KLAUS: We had to face the "deathmobile" all alone.

ROBERT: [To Jose] Thatís Landís van. Land is a really nice guy..

JIMMY: But we hate everything he stands for. Hernias. Slipped disks. Heart attacks. Say, Klaus, how many aspirin did you take today? [Klaus stares at them, this is a joke between the two of them] One day, we caught this guy taking six aspirin at one time. We thought he was trying to end it all, until we realized that, in all his life, heíd never once read the label on an aspirin bottle.

BUDD: [To Jose] Land is the guy who picks up used books and libraries from private homes, and brings them back here.

KLAUS: They say that taking aspirins can help to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

JIMMY: [To Klaus] So can slowing down the pace. [To Jose] But this guy works like a maniac, itís like heís trying to impress somebody, like theyíre going to promote him to being the warlord if he lifts more boxes, in a shorter time, than anyone else.

BUDD: When Land arrives, they usually call us up to receive the books. So up we go, with dollies and hand trucks, in the freight elevator - itís back there [points].

ROBERT: Land is a really nice guy, but we hate to see his face.

JIMMY: For us, itís uglier than Medusa.

ROBERT: Then we all go up to the deathmobileÖ

BUDD: And start taking boxes out of the back and loading them.

JIMMY: But half the time, the boxes canít handle the weight of the books.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: [Imitating part of ĎI Shot the Sheriffí] "One day the bottom a-go drop out. One day, the bottom a-go drop outÖ"

JIMMY: So we end up dodging the cars, to rescue volumes of Stendhal, Dostoevsky, Zola, and Goethe from the street.

ROBERT: Land never finds parking on our side of the street.

JIMMY: Itís our homage to the human mind - our sacrifice to civilization - like the Irish monks, who saved the learning of the ancients from people like KLAUS.

KLAUS: Yeah, right! [Wants to be part of the banter, but canít really fit in]

BUDD: If we had good equipment -

ROBERT: [Agreeing] I know!

BUDD: But it sucks.

MO: Yo, tell me about it.

BUDD: The hand trucks are, like, frozen into position. Raising up the back to accommodate a bigger loadÖ

JIMMY: Is like pulling the sword out of the stone.

BUDD: And the dolliesÖ

JIMMY: Moving them is like trying to drive a car without a steering wheel, over ice. I mean, this is New York - itís not Arizona, or something, with one person per square mile - we need precision guidance here -

ROBERT: I know. Two days ago, I ran over a ladyís foot. Was she pissed!

BUDD: Jimmyís right, when we start moving with our dollies, itís like the scythed chariots of Darius

JIMMY: Or the elephants of Hannibal

BUDD: Or Napoleonís grapeshot. The wheels donít work right, and those little ropes in the front are useless for keeping them on course. No matter how well-intentioned, we end up wreaking havocÖ

JIMMY: We come back with our dollies, and they tell us to line up for the breathalizer.

MO: Yo. Chit chat. Chit chat. Where the hell were you, you underachieving idiots, when the deathmobile showed up? Were you hiding out on us?

JIMMY: Yo, honest, we didnít hear. Nobody told us. [Turning to Robert] Did you hear anybody making an announcement?

ROBERT: Would I be here if I did?

BUDD: I didnít hear anything.

[UNSEEN VOICE]: You know I wouldnít leave you hanging, Mo. The intercom must be whacked, like everything else here. Or maybe I couldnít hear you over Jimmyís bitching.

JIMMY: Bitching?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: All that disgruntled worker shit.

JIMMY: I donít bitch. Did Rosa Luxemburg bitch?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Rosa who?

JIMMY: Rosie Perez, you idiot!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Hit the deck! Stay low!

MO: Well, come on, you jokers [he stands up, the dolly is working now], now that theyíre here, help us unload them!

[UNSEEN VOICE]: You want me, too?

MO: No, bro, Iíve got enough guys, here.

[They begin to take the boxes off of the dollies, next to a table]

MO: So why the hell were you all just standing around, anyway?

JIMMY: Are you our boss?

MO: If I was, Jimmy, youíd be collecting unemployment.

ROBERT: We were talking about Ant.

JIMMY: [Imitating Dr. Smith from ĎLost in Spaceí as he struggles with a box] ĎO the pain, the pain!í I wasnít made for this.

MO: Wimp.

JIMMY: I wasnít born to be a donkey. Iím delicate, like a geisha - in a manly sort of way!

BUDD: [Imitating Rolling Stones song] Iíll never be your beast of burden - I walk for miles and my feet are hurtinÖí

JIMMY: Take it easy, Klaus, you make us look bad! Itís like he was fighting for his life, like every job, every idiotic task they give him, was the Battle of Hastings.

[The workers, except for Jose, know what to do. They have begun to cut open the boxes with box cutters, and to put the books they contain onto the table, according to category - this is not the sorting table, for alphabetizing, but the table the purchasers will use to look over the books]

MO: So, what were you doing? Just chilling? It is my business, because I was busting my chops, and your damn paycheckís got the same damn amount written on it as mine!

JIMMY: He told you. We were talking about Ant.

KLAUS: Ant? You heard from her?

JIMMY: No. No. We were just talking about her. [They all stop working for a moment]

MO: AntÖ Now there was one nice girl.

JIMMY: White girl, Mo. Not for you.

MO: Shut the hell up! I mean, she was really special, wasnít she? You know that song by the Beatles - ĎHere comes the sunÖ Here comes the sunÖí

JIMMY: You want your Grammy now, or later?

KLAUS: [Looking at Jose] You never met Ant, did you?

JOSE: No. No, this is my first day. People keep saying, ĎAnt, Ant, Ant.í So I donít understand. Why you call her that? Why she so good? [His hands make a shape in the air] Like a guitar?

JIMMY: No, I thought I told you, it was her soul. I mean, yes, she was beautiful, but in the wild, precious sprite type of way.

JOSE: [Bewildered, doesnít get it] Like the soda???

JIMMY: Wow, weíve got a language barrier here.

BUDD: [Elbowing Jimmy] Not the soda, Jose. Sprite also means like a fairy, a spirit. Thatís how she came off. [Now he widens his audience to include all of them] Charming, a little mysterious, beautified by secrets she seemed to possess - not withholding them from us, and yet, unable to explain them to us - so generous with her heart - mischievous, humorous, dependable, fair - so much life force in her, something extraordinary, like the engine of Captain Nemoís submarine - we could just be near her, and it was like she

JIMMY: Was breast feeding us

KLAUS: You wish!

MO: Yeah, she was a sweet thing.

JOSE: And why "Ant"?

JIMMY: Ant, the bookstore clerk formerly known as Dora.

KLAUS: Because she was little, like an ant. Especially when you saw her dragging around the trash bags.

JOSE: Trash bags?

ROBERT: [Puts his arm on Joseís shoulder] Youíll see. Later. We have to empty out all the trash cans on both floors, and break down the boxes. We put the trash bags from all the cans into a few big bags, and by the time we reach the back of the store, by the dumpsters, theyíre pretty heavy.

JOSE: And she had to do that? She was a girl!

MO: She was a trooper. [Looks at Jimmy] Not like this crybaby over here.

JIMMY: Iím not a crybaby. I just have too much social awareness to believe that anyone has the right to use me like a tool, like I was a shovel, or a spade.

MO: The queen of spades.

JOSE: And the boxes?

KLAUS: We didnít let her do the really heavy lifting, even though the upstairs manager said she had to do everything we did if she wanted the job.

JOSE: The lady?

JIMMY: Hell, yeah, no guy manager would make her work like that.

BUDD: She was like Cinderella.

JIMMY: Weíre all like Cinderella. Only, she was prettier than the rest of us.

JOSE: So, we have to do trash bags?

ROBERT: Yeah.

JIMMY: Youíd never believe how much trash a bookstore can produce. Itís like an elephant, that makes more shit than you could ever imagine!

JOSE: Man, I thought this job was "up". With books. Not like the factory. With all those chemicals. Make you dizzy.

JIMMY: Physically, the trash is not that bad. It beats running into Land by a long shot. But forget about your self-esteem. There was this chick who used to come every Thursday night, when it was almost deserted, down here, and Iíd help her find books, and everything. I think she thought I was a manager. We talked about Erich Fromm and Freud and Jung, and about the environment. It was like I was some kind of unconventional intellectual success story, you know, and I could tell she was interested.

MO: Yo, just because somebody doesnít tell you, ĎGet the f*** away from me or Iím gonna call the copsí, doesnít mean she likes you.

JIMMY: [Dismissing him with a gesture, as he talks to Jose] So, anyway, one night, she comes in early, right at trash time, and there I am with my red face, and sweating, dragging this giant black bag filled with trash behind me across the floor, like I was the one husky still alive, and it was the dogsled. And to top it off, talking to myself.

MO: [Laughing] At least, you know it!

ROBERT: What were you saying?

JIMMY: Who the hell knows, just shit like, ĎF*** this job! They donít pay me enough for this crap!í [They all laugh]

MO: Good-bye, princess. Hello hand!

JIMMY: Of course, it was never the same after that. It was like, when she looked at me, she was no longer the groupie of the bohemian genius, but some kind of martyr, trying not to look away when the leper came by.

MO: Thatís how we all look at you, Jimmy.

JIMMY: And suddenly, she seemed able to find books by herself. [They all laugh]

MO: You fell back to earth, brother.

BUDD: The wings of Icarus melted.

JIMMY: I was hurled from Olympus.

KLAUS: You came down in flames, like the Hindenburg.

ROBERT: You sank like the Titanic.

JIMMY: All right, already! And with these wages, who could afford a psychoanalyst?

[UNSEEN VOICE]: You need a straitjacket, not a psychoanalyst!

JIMMY: Damn! This guyís got the hearing of an AWAC! Mind your damn business! Concentrate on your work! ĎPoeí comes before ĎPound.í

[UNSEEN VOICE]: Thereís a back way out!

JIMMY: Bitches. Money, money, money. ĎItís a material world, and Iím a material girl.í Even bitches who read books are material girls.

KLAUS: Did anyone ever tell you, when you get angry, you look like a Komodo dragon?

JIMMY: No. Congratulations. Youíre the first. Put your flag there, Klaus. On the peak of Everest. On the beach of San Salvador. Youíve found India!

MO: Well, itís one thing to be an idealist. Itís another to be a fool. Weíre one cut above homeless; ainít no girls interested in us except for social workers. And thatís while theyíre working.

JIMMY: And thatís why. Thatís exactly why!

MO: Exactly why what?

JIMMY: Exactly why Ant was so special. She wasnít like that.

MO: How do you know? You ever asked her for a date?

JIMMY: Ant???

MO: Yeah. Why not? [The guys all look at each other]

JIMMY: No. Who was going to ask Ant for a date?

MO: Why? She was a pretty girl. And she didnít look like no prude.

KLAUS: Ant was hot!

JIMMY: You dirty bastard!

ROBERT: I never asked her for a date.

KLAUS: Dirty?

BUDD: Me, neither.

JIMMY: So thatís why your eyes always looked spaced-out. I thought it was because you were an outpatient, or something. But it was her, wasnít it? Probably trying to imagine her naked.

KLAUS: Why, didnít you?

JIMMY: Past-life Viking! Dragging away a screaming virgin with one arm, and a bag of gold with the other! [Closing his eyes, as though trying to achieve a vision] I can see you in those ancient days. [Opens his eyes] No wonder you ended up here! Thereís karma to be paid! For all of the monasteries and books you burned, you are condemned, now, to be drowned in books, enslaved by books, books here, books there, books everywhere. Run from them, turn the corner, more books! Books smashing through the windows, books hidden under the bed and in the closet, books jumping through flaming hoops, what if singed and maddened with pain, they should leap over the barrier into the circus crowd? Books that have escaped from cages, chasing you down the street! Repent, Klaus, the end is near! Your fate is to be buried alive like the Collier Brothers!

MO: Man, youíre nuts, Jimmy!

KLAUS: I want to thank you, Jimmy, for making me feel normal.

BUDD: Funny - how Ant lit up this place, and yet - none of us ever dared to ask her for a date. It wasnít like she was unapproachable.

ROBERT: Remember, when we all went to that Japanese Restaurant, after work?

JIMMY: That wasnít a date. That was like a class field trip.

KLAUS: I remember that green stuff.

JIMMY: Your Achilles Heel.

ROBERT: [Laughing] Klaus was crying.

KLAUS: I wouldnít call it crying. Tears were coming out of my eyes, as part of a natural bodily reflex.

JOSE: What? Hot stuff? Picante? Like Chinese mustard?

JIMMY: It looked like guacamole, but it packed the punch of plutonium.

KLAUS: The good part was that Ant became very concerned.

BUDD: She cared about us all, and never turned us away. But, somehow, we knew, we werenít meant to be with her.

KLAUS: She was too good for us.

JIMMY: Yeah, she was. Way too good. She didnít act that way. Condescending or arrogant. Just the opposite. But we knew she wasnít meant for us. We were like the thorns, and she was like the rose. We were her protectors. Her admirers. Her shields. But not her saviors. We couldnít get in the way, in case he came. We were barren asteroids, just happy to be in the presence of the sun. Circling her at a distance. Watching her every move. Getting what we could get.

BUDD: Itís like there was something we didnít want to tarnish, or risk losing. Though we all loved her. So much.

KLAUS: It makes me think of the Hindu Caste System. She was a Brahman, and we were the Untouchables. It just could not be done.

ROBERT: Only you, Klaus, would think of it like that.

JIMMY: Face it. Look at us! HG Wells must have had us in mind when he invented the Morlocks. Subterranean beasts, sweating in the secret underground of a bookstore! Underneath the flourishing world of books, the treasures and cherished knowledge of mankind. Shadows! Did I see shadows? Whatís down there? Monsters in the night! [He begins to lurch around like a half-human monster. Then begins to cover his eyes, and withdraw with pain] No! No! Someone struck a match. [Recovers] Ha, it burned out! [Begins to advance towards the unknown intruder. Then withdraws, in pain, again] O no, another match! Who am I up against, a smoker?

MO: Woah, chill, youíre overdoing it, Jimmy, youíre gonna get us all in trouble.

JIMMY: I wouldnít have asked her for a date, any more than I would throw a bucket of dirty water over her. - Remember the time she cried, when she read the dedication in the book?

BUDD: Yeah. Yeah, I remember it well.

MO: She cried?

ROBERT: I wasnít there, what dedication?

JIMMY: Tell them, Budd.

MO: Yeah, tell us, Budd, we get enough of Jimmy, all day long.

BUDD: It was an old book of poems, by Omar Khayyam, I think, that Dick had just put into the sorting pile, and while she was shelving it, she opened it up to take a look, and saw a handwritten dedication on the frontispiece. It said something like: "To Gladys, with all my love, I hope this is the beginning of forever. Rick, 1926." And Ant knew, right away, that Gladys would never have given away such a precious book; and so, putting that together with the year we were in, she realized that Gladys and Rick must have passed. Something just hit her, then, like a brick, and she started crying. And she showed me a page in the book, as her tears were dripping down onto it, reminding me of that part in Cyrano de Bergerac that goes, "the tears were yours", "but the blood was his", and the poem was very beautiful and desolate, like the most immense and lonely wilderness, and it went: "One moment in annihilationís waste. One moment, of the well of life to taste. The stars are setting and the caravan starts for the dawn of nothing. Oh, make haste!" And she was just crying, "All that love! All that love! Where did it go?"

MO: Sensitive girl.

BUDD: She asked me to pray with her, for Gladys and Rick.

KLAUS: It sounds like a good time for a hug. You should have made a move.

JIMMY: Barbarian!

BUDD: It was a very moving moment.

JIMMY: Animal! No wonder you donít suffer! This job is perfect for you!

ROBERT: [To Jimmy] Are you crying?

JIMMY: [Wiping eyes] Hell, no!

MO: Heís crying! Nasty-ass Jimmyís crying!

KLAUS: Poor baby.

JIMMY: Iím fine. - Itís moving, what do you think? Donít you have a heart? [To Klaus] You probably laughed at the end of the Traviata. "Hey, Violetta, want some cough drops?"

KLAUS: I donít have the money to go to the opera.

MO: Say, Jimmy, isnít going to the opera a gay thing?

JIMMY: Shut the hell up! Stop with that shit!

JOSE: So - what happened? Why did Ant go? [They all look at him]

MO: That ainít the question. The question is, why are we still here?

JIMMY: Jose, weíll forgive you for asking that question. Itís only your first day. By tomorrow, I think youíll know the answer. If you donít, you and Klaus ought to room up, youíll save on rent that way.

BUDD: She was a very creative person, with dreams. She had a really good voice.

JIMMY: Jose, for us, sad to say, this bookstore is our home. But for her, this bookstore was only like a gas station. She stopped here, when she needed it, but she never lost sight of the open road beyond. Somehow, we did. The gas station became our home. Donít ask me how.

MO: [Softly] Thereís a lot of creative people here. Slowly bleeding to death. Budd, here, writes. Donít you?

ROBERT: Yes, he does.

JIMMY: Yeah he does. Say, howís that novel coming? I havenít asked you for, like, a month.

BUDD: Novel? I should write haiku, man. Who can write a novel like this? I go home, feeling like Iíve been mugged. First of my two days off, Iím like Rip Van Winkle, trying to shake off forty years of being absent. Second day, I start to write, and before I know it, the gray hour of 4 PM has come around, like Old Man Death with his sickle, and I begin to realize that the day is ending, that freedom is ending, and this horrible depression comes in, falling like a shadow over my pages. A novel, properly engendered, is like a river flowing, always in touch with itself, gathering breadth and depth and power with every mile, every day. But my days are chopped into little pieces, that canít accumulate any force or vision. Just last week, I discovered that Iíd made a horrible mistake, that I had my character behaving in irreconcilable ways in two different chapters. It was like I had Alzheimerís, or something.

JIMMY: Well, it worked for Robert Louis Stevenson in Jekyll and Hyde.

BUDD: [Looks at him, like, Ďthis is seriousí] Itís that I canít keep it straight. Iím a foreigner to my own novel. I dip into it for a moment, and then Iím out, I dip into it for a moment, and then Iím out. Iím like a swimmer, who goes into the ocean for twenty minutes, then dries himself off with his towel, and goes back home, when I need to be like a fish. To live in the water. To be surrounded by it, all the time. I think I should consider becoming a songwriter. Something I can get out fast, on an adrenaline rush.

MO: Like a quarterback, whose got no offensive line. Got to dump off little screens. You ainít gonna throw no touchdown pass.

KLAUS: What you need is a good TV. Or a good joint.

MO: So, like, do you like it here, Budd? I donít mean "here", I mean, the part about the books. Do you like working around so many books, or does it piss you off?

BUDD: 50-50. Itís great to be in the presence of so many great books. Even if, as the day wears on, they just begin to ride around you, like the Indians at Custerís Last Stand, and it becomes one big daze of books, surrounding you and your exhaustion. But what really gets to me are the books that are mediocre; so-so. Or the ones that suck. You can tell that in a minute, even as youíre shelving them. And you ask yourself, why is this book in print, and not mine? Why the hell, in this giant labyrinth of book shelves, isnít there a place - just one little place - for my heart, my soul, my vision? It seems like a curse. To have so much inside of you, and be shelving other peopleís books. To know where thereís a great treasure, but not have the time or energy to dig there, because youíre too busy digging in the wrong place, where others have sent you. And you have to go there, because you want to eat. [Everyone is silent, and reverent]

MO: I used to play the bass. Havenít touched it for years. Havenít got rid of it, either, couldnít. Itís just stashed away, cause thereís not enough room to keep it out.

JIMMY: Iím an artist, too.

MO: O yeah?

JIMMY: An artist of seduction. Like Don Juan. [They all laugh]

MO: Guess that instrumentís stashed away, too! - Or do you play it every night?

KLAUS: Heís a soloist.

JIMMY: Klaus, of all the people to talk. I couldnít imagine any girl going out with you, except, maybe, for the Bride of Frankenstein.

JOSE: So, Ant was going to be a singer?

ROBERT: She wanted to have more time to give to her singing.

BUDD: She left to follow her star. Nothing was set, or sure. She had some possibilities, and she decided to pursue them.

JIMMY: She knew this place was a deathtrap. She knew she had to get out. Some band was interested in her, there was some contact in Seattle.

BUDD: She said it wasnít the kind of stuff that makes Top 40, or sells out the Felt Forum, but it could give her a chance to express who she was, and put something meaningful into the world, and if she was lucky, she might be able to live by it. [They stand around silently for a while.]

JIMMY: [To Budd] Do you think sheíll make it?

KLAUS: I hope not.

JIMMY: What?

BUDD: What?

MO: Why do you say that?

KLAUS: I want her to come back to us. [They think]

BUDD: We all want her to come back to us, but not like that. Not broken.

JIMMY: This place is for the broken. You canít come back here, if you want your dreams to live. This place is like a jail. We see the gallows out the window, and consider ourselves lucky, that we only got "life in prison." But thatís not the way of dreamers. Dreamers risk it all. And dreamers donít come back. Youíll never take a dreamer alive. I donít want to see her back here. Ever.

BUDD: Amen. Run free, Ant. Thanks for being here while you could, and for being you. Go to where you can keep on being you, and stay there. Never leave.

[Dick, the floor manager appears, and comes upon this congregation. He points to his watch]

DICK: Iíll take care of that, now. [The books on the table] End of the pow-wow. Itís trash time.

ROBERT: [To Jose] Come on, Iíll run you through it.

JIMMY: All right! The rite of initiation! Face the lion. Cut him with the knife. Ask him the sacred riddle. If you survive, you get to join us in the sauna, and listen to the story of our lives!

MO: A hundred times.

ROBERT: Just watch me. Monkey see, monkey do. Tomorrow, youíll do it.

[Mo goes elsewhere, but we can see Robert and Jose begin to work the garbage cans, some of which are onstage, and some off-stage. While Jimmy and Budd get tape guns, and begin to collect empty boxes, which they start to break down, and put into piles which they will secure with the tape guns. Robert and Jose pick up lots of trash bags, from where they are stored, some large and some small, and begin to empty out garbage cans, pulling out the filled trash bags inside them, and throwing them into bigger heavy-duty trash bags, while replacing the trash bags they have removed from the garbage cans, with others. They disappear off stage for a while, then come back with their bags heavier and more filled. Jose, seeing at once what is expected, is very effectively helping with the work, and not just allowing Robert to take him around on a tour. These activities are to be dragged out, and slow, to give a real sense of the hard work and drudgery that is going on here. There should be a melancholy atmosphere, a sense of life being squandered, not joy or banter. This is crucial.  Dick is in the scene for a while, looking over the books they have put onto the table, but then he drifts off, disappearing offstage to do something else, as the scene continues.]

JIMMY: [To Budd, as they finally begin to tape together the flattened boxes which they have collected and broken down] Hey, Budd. Remember how much Ant loved the tape gun?

BUDD: Yeah. The garbage was really too much for her, though she tried. The tape gun, though - that was her optimum economic use - her natural area of specializationÖ

JIMMY: According to the theories of Ricardo. Bananas for Guatemala. Sugar for Cuba. Coffee for Colombia. And the tape gun for Ant. She was so proud when she finally got good with it! [Pause] And territorial! Remember? - Mama Bear? And the tape gun was her cub? [They laugh]

BUDD: She never lost her sense of humor.

JIMMY: Hereís her secret tag - this little mark she made, remember? [Budd nods] Itís still here. [He hands the tape gun to Budd, who looks at it, nostalgically. After a while, he hands it back to Jimmy. They work a little more] I miss her.

BUDD: Me, too.

JIMMY: I hope she makes it.

BUDD: [Nods] Me, too.

JIMMY: I REALLY hope she makes it.

Robert: [To Jose] OK, now we go to the dumpster! This way. [They head off stage, weighed down like donkeys, dragging the loaded, heavy bags behind them. Jimmy and Budd get up, too, and head off stage carrying heavy stacks of flattened cardboard]

JIMMY: [As they disappear off stage] I miss her.

 

THE END

 

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