John Tang

From the Bottom

Posted in Sketchbook by Jt's Item Roster on January 13, 2011

I don’t like how the document doesn’t copy verbatim.

Exercise #1: The Object of Desire.

For comment box: What does one character want? It has to be tangible.

Fountain of Youth

Characters

Eugene Grahm—Man. Twenty one.

Albert—Man. Sixty.

Scene

In a room full of books an earthquake had occurred, so there are books splayed everywhere and empty shelves.

Eugene

Over there?

Albert

No.

Eugene

You held it last, you don’t know?

Albert

No.

Eugene

Did you check that corner?

Albert

No.

Eugene

(Pause.) Sorry. I didn’t mean to step on boundaries.

Albert

That’s fine.

Eugene

(Pause.) Do you have a problem with me?

Albert

I don’t.

Eugene

(Believes him.)

Search over there.

Albert

(Doesn’t listen.)

Eugene

All I need is a couple of pages; from there I can fill in the spaces. A page or two will generate an idea and maybe I could pare down my understandings from there. If only I had a base, a trunk I can stem from.

Albert

Trees don’t work like that.

Eugene

(Pause.) Like I said before: Some might think it’s a burden, others citizens find it a luxury— redefining themselves, even. One of my coworkers told me you—you, Albert—could rebuild your past.

Albert

Don’t stand in shadows you don’t know their weight.

Eugene

Listen for a moment. Let’s say everything you know to date; what if you had that thirty years ago?

Albert

I don’t want it.

Eugene

Your wife is not here anymore! (Stops.) I’m sorry. The fortune allocated to you was a sad one, I know. Why she left your house is no one’s fault. If ever I have children, once they’re adults, I hope my wife remains; that she found something indelible in my soul since we fell in love. I believe that. Honestly. Beyond conventions and the institution of marriages. I know she left a note saying she was gone. Left unexplained. And I want to bestow some peace tonight; that note doesn’t survive if you and missus…(Doesn’t know last name.) live above it together. The mind forgets and that’s how we forgive. But you know where she is now. Go there with youth and wisdom and build a new home from there; better, you can both have your youth and rebuild a home together. Who doesn’t want to pass away with a beautiful ending?

Albert

I don’t want it.

Eugene

You’re a janitor! How are you qualified for any moral judgment?

(Silence.)

Albert

May I tell you something? A little candidness never comes to short for a character; for people, passing nights a dreadful voice may sing below a red moon. So I’ll share another one: Last month I installed the Grounder underneath the city and caused the earthquake.

Eugene

Did you?

Albert

(Hyperbolic.) No!

(Afraid, Eugene searches frantically, as if divine fortune was to bless him.)

Albert

In here, doc. Over there, doc. Sleeping before your eyes. Pages and pages and pages. Latin characters, Egyptian numbers, black ink arranged in billions of ways.

(Silence. Eugene gives up.]

Albert

You know the compounds of the fetus, work from there.

Eugene

(Stressed.) Let me package it in terms—in human emoting terms; in human emoting melodramatic terms—in terms accessible: It’s a dream now. The harder my mind forces the reality, my mind sees another dream I don’t want to see. My mind and I are, as if, apart; that it doesn’t line up how I want and when I want it.

Albert

Reality doesn’t want to be found.

Eugene

It’s the Fountain of Youth—a legend produced. Are you listening? You know what you should try? Try saying it. Then listen to yourself. Say it with me, “The…Fountain…of Youth.”

Albert

I tasted the words. They are not ripe.

Eugene

Nothing occurred to you that you are not alone in this world. (Suddenly.) You are selfish. Your moral plateau, from what I concluded in your apathetic nature, doesn’t lend a hand in helpless society; while people are hurt, hungry, and ill; while people who are cold…

Albert

Have you had a lick of bourbon to yourself?

Eugene

I’m of age. I can imagine—

Albert

(Goes to him.) How can you tell my life back to me? Snatch moments from a stream that is my life and isolate one part of my character in one piece of time. You don’t believe my minimum pity wage follows the current—

Eugene

That’s irrelevant…earlier—

Albert

The least a listener could understand is the fowl hum on my upper lip. Thank you for not having me walk alone in the city unemployed, but it won’t compel me from strangling a man, light a house on fire, find a grasshopper under my boots, if that is —the reality—troubling over heads. They’re everywhere and I find pleasure in destruction. You would know eyeing a lick of bourbon.

(Silence.)

Eugene

Did you know I had a gun on me?

Albert

I anticipated. Know someone long enough—there gestures, the rings on their fists, the inward steps in their ankles; how they string words together, one behind another—you can design any kind of phantom. When he’s gone and you go home, think of one gesture that repeats like motif, and the haunt begins. (Beat.) I see you every night, in here overtime, slipping a pistol in your belt after the lights are off. What are you afraid of? Because you walk between Ashton street and Cather boulevard? Your brick home standing low on bladed grass. The quiet. The safe. The high as clouds that is home.

Eugene

What are you even saying, anymore? Symbols? In symbols? They don’t say anything.

Albert

I cannot cope with the world’s sanity, either. I have these ghost—these mythologies, you call them—that understand me.

Eugene

How do you understand the Fountain of Youth?

Albert

It doesn’t understand me, if you listened. (Beat.) It’s time I left.

Eugene

I found it! (Waves page in the air.)

Albert

You didn’t find it.

Eugene

(Reading.) Hydrogen…Oxygen…Phosphorous…This is it.

Albert

(Disbelief) Because I have it here. (Takes out paper.)

Eugene

I don’t need it. It’s in here. (Points to his head.)

Albert

Your chapter is right here. (Reads introduction.) Second year in University of Solitmine, Eugene Grahm discovered the mythology, “The Fountain of Youth,” a study on the chemical phosphorous and a isolates study on the human DNA.

Eugene

I’m remembering.

(Albert steps closer, and Eugene pulls the gun.)

Eugene

Stop. What are you doing? Go on the other side.

Albert

Full circle. This a mirror image?

Eugene

What are you doing?

Albert

I know you will shoot me. (Takes a step.)You’re a child behind a gun. Either me or you. Point and end. A baby who has no sense of the future for anyone. Cry and pull.

(Steps closer. Eugene shoots him. Shocked, he drops the gun, takes the original document and exits.)

Curtains.

Exercise #2: A Funny Sketch

Spite & Assumption

Characters

Stefanie—Thirty.

Jason—Old as Stefanie.

Construction worker—Has the appearance of the leader.

Scene

An abandoned coffee shop: no people, no workers, an empty shelf, a few tables and chair; it still has a cash register and some paintings. There are lawn chairs Jason and Stefanie think they make the place “original.” Jason is waiting alone next to a gumball machine. He notices a message on the machine when Stefanie returns.

Jason

Look. Been missing since ninety-nine.

Stefanie

Oh, that’s sad.

Jason

Makes me wonder how old the candy is.

Stefanie

What’s her name?

Jason

Don’t know. Didn’t read it.

Stefanie

Go read.

Jason

Sarah Skirba. What a name. She looks white, though. I can see golden locks. Green eyes.

Stefanie

And she’d be pretty, and everyone would ask about her name—not to her face of course, but amongst each other. Then I’d explain why no one knows your name because they are still talking about it. Like an honest rumor, so it’ll take some time so everyone will get it right.

Jason

(Ignores.) What kind of last name is Skirba?

Stefanie

Indian, I think. Can you hear it for yourself? Ski-bra. It’s Indian,  I’m positive.

Jason

(He put a quarter in the machine. While Stefanie talks, he turns the silver knob.)

Stefanie

What are you doing? It’s probably four years old. You want to get sick again?

(Jason keeps turning until the candy comes out.)

I only have to remember a few months until I see you sitting in a stretcher leaving the hotel. It’s so funny when I think of it today: You were naked crawling on the floor, crying: “Could you call for help. Help me.” You were leaving on that stretcher with your little penis out. You couldn’t have seen the looks on their faces, but they were smirking. The best part is they didn’t put a sheet over you. It’s alright though, you were unconscious. It must’ve been some kind of funny dream for you.

(He lays the candy out on a napkin.)

Jason

What do you want me do with them now? We can’t waste them. (Eats one.)

Stefanie

Stop.

Jason

What?

Stefanie

You can throw them away. Consider that? I’ll buy you bag.

Jason

No, I’m good. (Fascinated with the color.) Yellow. (Eats.)

Stefanie

(Finally takes her seat.)

Are you spiting me?

Jason

No, dear, you’re making assumptions. Assumptions can be drawn from anywhere.

Stefanie

Don’t be spiteful. It doesn’t fly with me.

Jason

You do this all the time, in public space, in private space. I have no trouble with what you think.

Stefanie

Private space? You mean home.

Jason

I mean your house.

(Silence for some time.)

Stefanie

Isn’t it nice I’m thinking of you?

Jason

It is nice. I don’t mean to discredit your love. It’s warm, like your soft face (Pause.) Remember when we saw “Love’s Labor’s Lost”—You were there for me and that’s the seed I fell in love with; but you were buried in my heart when we sat close in the white beam of the movie and I felt the warmth of your cheeks…and I heard the king sang for my unsaid soul, “My love (her mistress) is a gracious moon, She (an attending star) scarce seen a light.”

Stefanie

So you didn’t mean everything you said?

Jason

No. Let’s have everything back to order.

Stefanie

Okay. I’d like that, too.

(Silence for a while.)

Jason

Can I ask if you want a piece?

Stefanie

I’m still waiting for someone so I can order some chocolate.

(Sees the machine. She puts a quarter in.)

Jason

What are you doing?

Stefanie

Craving chocolate.

Jason

Take mine.

Stefanie

No, I’m fine.

(She takes a napkin. Makes a set.)

Jason

Now are you spiting me?

Stefanie

That’s exactly not what I’m doing. By the way, how do you know what I’m thinking now?

Jason

(Ignores.) What do you want me to do now? A. I can wait until you eat the candy. B. Be upset and apologize for something that’s over. And C. Pretend the elephant was never in my thoughts. (Pause.) I’ll choose…A.

Stefanie

Fine. (Places the candy between her teeth.)

Jason

Where in heaven is Picasso? Put the cashier behind you, add more old people there, put a bag of grounded coffee over there, some mugs, a little cart of condiments and boom…The Coffee Shop.  Draw some squiggly lines…boom, Rembrandt.  (Moves head side to side.) Boom, Monet.

Stefanie

(Eats. Coughs. Jason laughs.)

You have it wrong, idiot! Rembrandt was the realist, Monet the impressionist.

Jason

I know.

Stefanie

(Silence.)

We enter. It’s snowing papers. A nice coat. Everywhere: On the desk, on the lamp, the couch, the TV stand, the movies you have on the floor, on your porn—oh yeah, I forget, they took those, too—we’ll call the portrait, “The bastard thieves pushing Stef’s boyfriend into her home like a gang of assholes: Jason’s prelude: Oh yeah, I know a lot about a gang of assholes, but they took that, too.”

(Pause.)

Then he should have this one here, in this shop. Keep everything the way it is. Call it “The Abandoned Coffee Shop” you laughing, have your skin lighter, your teeth brimming, then me in the shadow, the side of the poor lighting, because this is your story.

(Begins weeping.)

Jason

(Pause.)

That’s sad. Are you alright?

Stefanie

(Composes.)

When are you leaving?

Jason

We can leave anytime now?

Stefanie

I want you out by midnight.  (Pause.) I want your clothes on the street. I want it to rain. When it floods I want the dogs and pigeons gone in the current.

Jason

You know we live on the second floor.

Stefanie

Out by eight o’clock.

Jason

Come on. Let’s go.

Stefanie

No.

Jason

See, now, I drove…my car. The city is another twenty miles from here. It’s almost four o’clock. Do you want be stranded in an abandoned building in the dark?

(Construction worker enters.)

Construction Worker

Hey! What are two you doing in here?

Stefanie

It’s a public space.

Construction Worker

You’re standing in a building we’re about to demolish.

Jason

Why is everything still here?

Construction Worker

Lunch.

Jason

And you came back in for the lawn chairs?

Construction Worker

Get out.

(Stefanie and Jason ignore Construction Worker.)

Stefanie

There are some things I never said to you.

Jason

Like which? The photo of me in a Kimono. When I fell asleep on a bus to Davis and I woke up in Richmond. Not picking up a grain of Cheerios off the floor, and I argued specifically that evening, “No ant wants to eat anything in alcohol.” Because sorry, those are the cards showered on me because I lost a couple of hands.

(Silence.)

Stefanie

You are a fucking complete asshole.

Jason

(Pause.)

Fair enough. What do you want me to do about that?

Stefanie

So you don’t want to have our daughter Sarah?

Jason

(Looks at the machine, then at Stefanie.)

Her?

Stefanie

You can’t imagine us in a Sakura field, us and our daughter, finding each behind the trees. The pink petals on your daughter’s shoulder and you brush it off. Then because there’s a hill, a violet sky on our backs, we climb and have our lunch on the verdant grass.

Jason

You lost your mind.

Construction Worker

Get out!

Lights dim

Exercise# 3: A Speech

Invading Privacy

Awhile ago, a friend of mine texted me I should update my blog. With what? I wondered at night in cold room, a yellow shack in the backyard of a Catholic household. For the last sixteen weeks I was writing in my notebook and simply was too lazy to transcribe it where it would be lost in the infinite that is the internet. Also, there hasn’t been anything material worth posting.

This morning I was reading my last entry on playing Jim, the Gentleman Caller in Tennessee William’s The Glass Menagerie, and remembered why I began the site last year. The world has a lure of its own and I tried to capture every instance, which my friend Gabe believes is “invading privacy.” That is the perfect term for housing Things, the past, friends, people, the city, the town, politics, so on and so forth. And I’ll use it here for a title, “Invading Privacy.” There is voice in everything.

Last semester I lost perspective where I stood as a writer. Was I novelist, short story writer, or a dramatist? Each is a machine in its own way. Yet I forgot the simplest concept for a writer: An interest with the world or one who can’t make peace with the world. Genres are shapes, and they help one out if you can recognize their parts. Sadly I think I only “recognized” or saw the architect of fiction but never trusted its shape, as I had my hand in the craft; it was foreign tool making sense of a foreign world. Intuition is a tool. Although because it is natural it discredits its tangibility; nonetheless it is used to help where the body is limited. I imagine some works in fiction, but I’m realizing those souls and concepts may not belong in that home, especially if they are forced from my hands.

Invading privacy, I’ll remember as I write everything, for everything has voice.

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