Top of the mountain. Café Decentral. 00:00:00.
A setting obscured by indeterminate twilight and rolling fog. It is unclear whether it is morning, night, or some other time of day in a region closer to the poles of the globe. The fog is thick and mellow, rolling like smoke off the cherry of a cigar. Perhaps we are perilously close to the middle of a large forest fire? Around the periphery of the scene, the shadowy green conical tips of mid-sized evergreen trees occasionally cut into view through the fog. They are spaced far apart at fairly regular intervals, coming into view one at a time only to once again sink into the haze before the appearance of the next, gradually forming a neat crescent in the eye of the mind, a dark crown to hold onto in the shifting morass. There is still no clue as to what lies in the centre or the background. In the foreground, only what might be a bit of wet, dirty snow is visible. The fog rolls in from right to left. Whether the scene appears splendid and enchanting or sinister and cursed is difficult to say, perhaps a bit of human impertinence to ask in this setting of extreme remoteness. It is what it is. The wind is audible but not overly severe. One hears muted music in which rolling orchestral brass is prevalent over a driving bass line. After a couple of minutes, a heavy wooden door is slammed shut in its jamb of rough-hewn timber. Gradually, the fog thins and disperses, bringing new contents into the scene. The first thing to emerge is the glowing ember of a small cigar. Next comes the door just shut, a few wisps of smoke still escaping through the cracks. The door has a small window, weakly lit. The door is like a stylized version of something leading into an old time mineshaft, with a large hillock behind it built up with timber and packed with a mixture of earth and all kinds of detritus: children’s toys, shopping carts, the colourful spreads of magazines and newspaper flyers, bottles and cans, car tires, used electronics, etc. Next to become visible is the tall, burly figure behind the cigar, at first suspended in shadow. He is dressed to extreme excess, with no discernible rhyme or reason. One perhaps wonders how he has managed to fix such a vast array of clothing to his body. It can only be because of his size. He wears an unbuttoned double-breasted zoot suit of baize green to which have been added golden epaulettes and the patches of an outlaw motorcycle club, as well as buttons from Octoberfest and from various political campaigns. A falcon perches on his shoulder, repositioning a large fish in its beak in order to take it down whole. On his very large head he wears a very small black bowler hat, set off to the side and kept in place with a hatstring, with a rather large white ostrich feather tucked in the hatband. He wears reading glasses and exactly half of a finely waxed handlebar moustache as well as half of a long, pointed Van Dyke beard on the same side. He has no eyebrows. Otherwise his facial hair is just a bit scraggly and unkempt, that of a grown man left unshaven for about a week. His hair is done in the style where one side (from the temple back) is shaved and the rest allowed to grow long and straight and combed over to the side away from the shaved area. He wears a cape (which does not cover his broad shoulders but is slung back behind them) made of thick fur. The cape includes a parka hood fringed with the same fur. The hood must be big enough to encase his sizeable head. Over his large chest and stomach, he wears a black mesh shirt under a flimsy leather vest as well as a yellow cummerbund with a matching bowtie. On his legs he wears pink pleather crotchless chaps with iridescent red tassels glowing in a line from the hips down the outer seam of each leg. Underneath, he wears a loincloth, and overtop, a shabby skirt made of palm fibers that comes down around his knees. He wears a large pair of cowboy boots with great big spurs that light up when they spin. He has a clipboard tucked under his left arm, on which he wears a falconer’s glove. With the other hand, he smokes his little cigars. As the bouncer comes more and more into view, so does the rest of this little treelined opening. Around the middle (to the left of the bouncer, who stands to the left of the door) there are three large saguaro cacti. They have been festively adorned with strings of beer cans and cigarette packages. Condoms, boxer shorts, brassieres, small carcasses of birds, rodents, and fish, and teddy bears have been punctured and fixed on their sharp spines. Their trunks and each of their many arms has a little black bowler hat, the same as the bouncer’s, perched on top, big white feathers holding strong in the wind. What looks to be a small desert occupies this opening among the wintry pines that first punctuated the fog. The dusty windswept ground in the middle merges with the dirty wet snow circling it just within the fringe of pines, outside of which the ground is all whited over with snow before giving way at a sharp cliff edge. In the background appear snowy peaks broken only by steep, craggy rock faces, above the tree line. A man opens the door of the “mineshaft,” releasing a large puff of smoke. He wears a tasteful suit and tea shade sunglasses with thick frames. He is smoking a cigarette as he pokes his head out of the half-opened door, looking around with quick sweeps of the head before the smoke clears enough for him to spot the bouncer off to the side. Although the figures are obscured by the smoke pouring out of the door, it has lessened since the scene first opened.
Bouncer: When did you go off of the patch, Dino?
Dino: That was around 2009.
Bouncer: [embarrassed] Oh, right.
Dino: You have always been short on memory and long in everything else, haven’t you, Ricky?
Ricky: Uhh, well, at least since my accident.
Dino: Right, of course. I didn’t mean . . . Well, it’s really nothing. We are what we are. Or, what we become. Anyway, keep an eye out and be ready. There should be a few more coming up very soon with their final loads. And then that should be it for the day.
Ricky: Alright. And then I’m on stage?
Dino: And then you’re on stage. But first, be sure to mind what the next set brings. Don’t admit anything we can’t use. The stage is all done, so no more lumber. And, for fuck’s sake, no more cactuses. There isn’t any more space for them. Plus, we’re running out of hats.
Ricky: Already? But, just last week . . .
Dino: Last week some drunk idiots sent a whole case flying off the side of the mountain for sport.
Ricky: Oooh, yeah . . . [a bit shocked] and then I . . .
Dino: Exactly. Don’t worry about it. Serves them right.
Ricky: Of course. Just, for a second, I could hear their screams again, see their lives flashing in their beady little eyes as they flew down, swallowed up by the ash . . .
Dino: Don’t think any more about it. I have to get back inside. You know, we’re currently entertaining some very distinguished guests. By the way, Richard . . .
Dino: You look great tonight.
Dino disappears back inside, releasing another stream of smoke.
Ricky: [low, awkward singing in a strange mix of operatic baritone with the style and rhythm of a Drum&Bass hype man/emcee]
Top of the mountain where there’s
Not a helicopter or a train
Air is thin but who’s counting
The atoms. Friends,
The mountain balds below your chins
I hope you’ve got something on them
As we’re on it
A new world coming up into the clear
Bring it up bring it up
A contingency plan
Is not enough to cut cut cut it . . .
Suddenly, Ricky notices a gloved hand feeling its way up over the edge of the stage/cliff. He stops singing and walks over to it, putting his cigar in the beak of the falcon. The falcon then flies up and beats its wings in the air around the cacti while the scene continues.
Ricky: Hey, top of the mountain, there. Welcome to Café Decentral! Let me give you a hand . . . [he grabs the hand and starts pulling.]
Climber 1: Hold on a second you goddamn hipster spaz! My pack is stuck in the rocks.
Ricky: [letting go] Oh, I’m so sorry.
Ricky reaches down and helps with the pack, releasing it and pulling it up with one arm. It bulges and is obviously very heavy, slumping over with a metallic grating and clinking as Ricky lays it on the ground. Ricky then goes to help climber 1 over the cliff edge. Climber 1 wears typical climbing gear, but has loosened it off a bit: a beaver fur hat with ski goggles, pulled back over the forehead, a thick unbuttoned parka, boots, etc. Climber 1 is thoroughly exhausted, woozy and maybe a little euphoric after the climb. He lies in the snow and reaches for a cigarette as Ricky begins pouring alpine liqueur into his open mouth.
Ricky: Take it easy there, Herc.
Climber 1: [lighting a cigarette] A bit late for that. I've never really listened to good sense.
Ricky: Apparently. Anyway, that ought to do it then, eh?
Climber 1: As long as you assholes haven’t forgotten how to count.
Ricky: Wow, take it easy, Herc. I record everything precisely on my clipboard here. I don’t trust anything to memory.
Climber 1: Ah, shit. Of course, I know. Honest, reliable, hardworking Richard Bouncerson, son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a son of a . . . [laughs] bouncer. You’ve changed since I last saw you, though. You used to be small and dress like it was your mother who taught you how.
Ricky: A bouncer must always be a man of his time, for his time.
Climber 1: Man, your mother. Sang like a . . . like a dolphin in a . . . in a massage parlour.
Ricky: That’s a funny way to talk.
Climber 1: That’s what you come here for, isn’t it?
Ricky: To talk about my mother?
Climber: Oh, I’ll shut up now. Just let me sleep here for a bit. [He nods off.]
There is a sudden commotion heard coming from inside. Ricky rushes in—releasing more smoke out of the door—just as another hand is seen reaching up over the cliff edge, cigarette pinched between index and middle fingers. Climber 2 pulls himself up over the edge, still with great difficulty but more easily and effectively than climber 1. His pack is smaller but still quite bulging and heavy. He pulls it off and rests it in the dirt, away from the cliff edge. He is dressed similarly to climber 1, but tightly bundled up.
Climber 2: It smells a bit off here, doesn’t it, Bart? [He sees that climber 2 is sleeping in the snow.]
Light floods the scene as the door suddenly swings open with a bang. The bouncer has rammed it open with the helmeted head of a man wearing skis which get trapped between the jambs as he is forced out. The bouncer continues heedlessly pushing the man through until the skis crack into pieces. All the while, the man mutters drunken, semi-coherent pot-shots about the bouncer and his profession. When they are out the door and at the cliff edge, the bouncer rips off the skier’s helmet and replaces it with a snorkeling mask. Then he detaches the sharp broken end still dangling from one of the skis and stabs him with it before throwing him over the edge.
Ricky: Good fuckin’ luck with those moguls, bitch!
Meanwhile, Dino has appeared in the lit doorway holding the clipboard formerly held by the bouncer, who now approaches to retrieve it.
Dino: The same old story: you catch up with the thing just in time to fall right back down with it again. The top is nothing but a moment already vanishing before it comes into the offing.
Ricky: Should I strike his name off the list, Dino?
Dino: No, he might be good for another couple hundred kilos. If he’s as stubborn as the rest, he’ll be back.
Climber 2: [smoking, now overcome by fear all but overridden by exhaustion] But . . . didn’t you just kill him with . . . with the ski?
Boss: [with reassuring calm and composure] Nobody has killed anybody. We wouldn’t want to tempt the cops up her just as we’re putting the finishing touches on the place. Richard here is a total expert. He knows where to stab and where not to, haha.
Climber 2: [after a brief pause] Yeah, it sure smells like it’s finished.
Dino: Oh, don’t worry about that. And don’t talk about it anymore either. It’s just a weather anomaly. Very soon, we’ll have the technical means of addressing it, but for now you can count on it going away within a day or so. Gentlemen, please excuse me. If I recall correctly, last time we saw each other you were very close to reaching your quota. So, top of the mountain gentlemen. Welcome to Café Decentral! [He strides calmly back inside.]
Meanwhile, a third climber has been making his way over the cliff edge with quite a bit more ease than the first two. He hauls a very large pack, larger than those carried by either of the first two, but it does not appear nearly as heavy. His outfit is more casual and sportier compared to the others, including jeans, an unzipped bomber jacket exposing a business-casual collared shirt, a sweater tied around his waist, a headband, and sunglasses. He is spry and limber, throwing off his pack and spreading his arms with a big grin on his face, as if his arrival were some sort of surprise. He is just finishing a cigarette when he gets to the top, holding in the corner of his mouth, inhaling it almost as he breaths, sending billowing puffs of smoke to be carried off by the wind. He flicks it away and pulls out three more, lighting and smoking them all at once.
Climber 3: [extending his hand to Ricky, who still wears the falconer’s glove] Ricky, what the fuck’s up, man. You finally going to let us into this shithole?
Ricky: Italo, you’re back. You ought to smoke cigars, man. Listen, I told you last time you had a free pass with me.
Climber 3: Yeah, well, don’t give yourself too much credit, offering only what you know I won’t take. When you look after me, you have to look after my friends, too. I’d have to be some asshole leaving them in the lurch. But you fascists can’t budge a little from your rules . . . [laughing] thankfully. It’s why we’re all here: the principle. Everyone pulls their own weight. Once that’s over, I’ll be stabbing myself right back down to the bottom of this cliff, like you with that ski bimbo just now.
Ricky: Nonsense. You know how we stand here. Unflappably!
Climber 3: Where did you learn such a word?
Ricky: I knew many words before my accident. They return to me now and then . . . when I’m on stage . . .
Climber 2: Who was that you threw down just now anyway?
Ricky: That was just some nobody who got drunk and decided to dance around with his skis on inside, scratching up the new floor, interrupting the music. A real asshole.
Climber 3: Well, what else is new? Getting any love up here these days?
Ricky: I’ve never really been in love. I have always just been a bouncer.
Climber 3: Ahh, and I thought you loved me. We had some pretty sweet times back in high school, long car chases at sunset and daquiris on the beach, didn’t we? Oh well, what I meant was are you seeing any action, Ricardo.
Ricky: Oh, you know how it goes up here. All that happens pretty naturally. Of course. Naturally.
Climber 2: Is that the quartet I hear playing in there?
Ricky: No, no. We haven’t heard from them in a while. This is a DJ who just got here from . . . Korea, I think. Listen! Hmm, the bass sounds a little weak. A bit of classical sensibility there, as you can hear. But very current. She moves backward and forward in time. A rarity these days, no?
Climber 2: Yeah, sure. Right on.
Climber 1: [getting up from his nap, yawning] Cool!
Ricky: Well, let’s get you guys weighed up. Once I make sure the quotas are right, we’ll get you inside for some cigars and hot sakes. The fire is going. Somebody even killed a goat yesterday. We’re eating like a bunch of ancient Greeks up here today.
One by one, the climbers lug their packs over to Ricky, who weighs them on a scale that had been leaning against one of the cactuses.
Ricky: What did you bring up this time, Bart?
Climber 1: To get to two thousand I needed a little extra weight this time, so I brought some tiles, bricks, a bit of piping, a couple glass blocks. I hope they didn’t crack when you threw my pack down.
Ricky: Okay, excellent. We’ll be able to finish the sauna now and we’ve been having some issues with the plumbing, so that’s perfect. [He takes the weight of the pack and marks it on his clipboard.] What about you, Sven?
Climber 2: Sven Haus is the name. I brought some turntables and a couple PA speakers.
Ricky: Nice! The sound system needs an upgrade. [Measures the weight, marks it on his clipboard.] And Italo, I’m sure you won’t disappoint.
Climber 3: My cousin hooked me up with a bunch of really nice hats. Derbies, of course, feathers included. And on top of that, a fresh load of Cohibas . . .
Ricky: Ahh, there are some things we can always use more of. Especially now. Well, gentlemen, welcome back to the top of the mountain. Once you’re inside, Pearl . . . that’ short for Purlicue . . . just arrived today as well . . . she’ll show you around, get you all settled and introduced.
Climber 2: [as the three climbers walk through the door] Ahh. Down there it’s a real dramafest. Up here, the wind and fog take over that role. Benevolently. The so-called human personality is reduced to a mere caricature.
Climber 1: Mere . . . but maybe up here, as I hear some architect or other likes to say, mere is more . . .
Climber 3: Well, when it comes to flirting with chaos . . . [the voices trail off as the door shuts]
The three climbers go in. Ricky stays behind, inspecting the figures recorded on his clipboard. After a minute or so, Dino comes out.
Dino: Alright, Richard. We’re ready to wrap things up out here for today. How about you just read out that list once and then you’re ready to go.
Ricky: Okay, no problem, Dino.
Dino: [after a pause] Ready?
Ricky: Yeah, sorry, I was just thinking about how I should read. Okay, here goes [read off in the same strange mixture of operatic singing and D&B style emceeing]:
Richard “Ricky” Bouncerson
Dino Dino Velasquez
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frederick Law Olmsted
Martin Heidegger III
Tulips Brokov Klostermann
Cadmus “CD” Snus
“Pearl” Purlicue de Bois
Bartholomew “Bart” Fitzgibbons
Patrick le Fleur
Lotus le Fleur Zedong
Lars Patrick Peterson
His gang of SAMOs
All of them paid up, but their identities yet to be determined.
Dino: That’s as it should be. In principle, we are absolutely against pigeonholing up here.
Ricky: In principle?
Dino: It means, we do the best we can with it.
The falcon finally flies back down and lands on Ricky’s glove as they go inside.
Once again, the scene opens obscured by a dense, grey-tinged-with-yellow, shifting mass of air thinning out only slightly around the edges, revealing a few suggestively shaped patches of colour or shadow: an arm, a leg, the arched figure of a cat, perhaps a couple pieces of furniture. However, there is something else different here. The air moves, but only in a stagnant clockwise-circling mass. The variations of the palette—through various hues and shades of grey to brown and yellow—are not smooth and do not seem to emerge in depth. The whole is rather flat in effect, and, in fact, the shifting mass composed of rigid, oddly rectangular patches appears to consist of a series of still frames following one after the other at fixed intervals. The sense of movement is like what is really only a rather cheap movement-effect. As much as possible—e.g. through the use of a mesh grid fixed on a pane of glass (one will have to experiment here)—the scene gives the impression of a pixelated computer image, such as one sees in low quality video streams. But it is not quite the same. The means used should have their own particular touch, “shitty” but new and different. The movements of the figures should also be stylized to reflect this kind of technologically generated aesthetic, although the sound, at least, travels through space in the traditional manner. Through the smoke, the embers of cigarettes and cigars can be seen flaring up like a bunch of lights intermittently flashing in the dark, but still in keeping with the flattened effect. The music, however, emanates from a deep corner of the scene, almost as if we were here seated at a bar in the lobby outside of the concert hall where the music is playing. Although it sounds muted overall, certain elements stand out, relatively more distinct: brass again (whether e.g. saxophone or trumpet), as well as the rattle of a snare drum. Somebody is singing, but this sound is rather muted. Richard Bouncerson has not yet fully loosened up. The glimmering shadow of a figure assesses the situation more bluntly: “Terrible when the hype man still hasn’t managed to hype himself up.”
The same as in Scene 2, except the music is now louder and more distinct. Additionally, the orange light permeating the smoky haze from the embers of the cigarettes and cigars does not come from a fixed place, as though from buildings or windmills in the distance, but rather bobs up and down to the music, rising and sinking like a luminous mass of fireflies hovering in the dark.
Ricky: [reading from a wrinkled sheet of paper, although this so far remains unseen]
Human beings go all in
Even though they can’t win
And still come out with at least enough
To bluff everyone and their mothers
They could call us all Erwin
Cause we’ll never win
Not excess or existence
Or anything at all
Till one fine day you’re in hospital
Diagnosed as having a seizure
But you’d hazard all along
You were an enfant terrible
Maybe not a master but
At least a builder in the
After the music has begun to fade, Ricky the hype man announces into the microphone
Ricky: Ladies and gentlemen, now here to tell us about the meaning of Being—that’s being with a capital B—it’s Martin Heidegger III!
Suddenly a brick wall in the background is heard crumbling to the ground, the smoke funneling out and bringing into view glimpses of a large mountain under a bright blue sky. The smoke continues to clear out of the room, beginning in the area of the stage behind which the wall was situated. A young Korean girl can be seen working some turntables, with Ricky beside her on the microphone (she appears even smaller beside his very large figure). She begins to play some kind of grandiose operatic prologue (Das Rheingold?), only loud enough to make effective background noise for the following event. The smoke is still pouring out of the fallen wall, gradually clearing out from the area in the foreground where the cigar embers are still burning away. But already before that, a mogul run on a large ski hill appears through the opening in the back. Making his way down from the top, we see Martin Heidegger III, an extra arm poking forward and up from his right shoulder in a Nazi salute jerked around each way as he bumps expertly from mogul to mogul. After he reaches the bottom and comes to a quick stop, sending a big spray of snow into the audience, he says quite simply:
Martin Heidegger III: Provenance.
A quick lowering of the curtain—only long enough to remove the technical device used to create a pixelated effect should this device prove disruptive or merely ineffective when the scene changes to relatively normal light and sound, more and more cleared of smoke.
Martin Heidegger III now takes off his skis and walks from the stage (at the back centre-right) up to the bar (occupying the entire far-left section of the scene), lighting up a cigar as he does so. It turns out that the room of the chalet-bar is not much bigger than, for example, the “End of the Line Café” in the film version of The Iceman Cometh. Meanwhile, the room becomes more and more clear of smoke. The music has continued on stage in a seamless transition from the operatic prelude to a techno sampling of the same. Ricky has stopped singing for the moment but remains standing with the DJ, dancing to the music. By the time Heidegger orders an absinthe at the bar, a number of figures congratulating him on his “happening” (using various different English translations of “Erieignis”), one sees that all the figures in the bar are drinking this same luminous green beverage. Much of the light in the bar actually emanates from the embers and the absinthe. Bart is already at work reconstructing the brick wall in the background behind Ricky and the DJ, but he does so quite casually while smoking, drinking, and dancing. He wears a yellow construction helmet, a construction belt, and work boots, as well as a tight-fitting suit jacket on his torso, but with no pants. Except where otherwise noted, the crowd in the bar is dressed in elegant evening attire, except that, on the one hand, each of them is missing something—a sleeve, a pant leg, the midriff section of a top, a bottom, etc.—while, on the other, each wears some unique, off-colour article—a pink fedora, a red sweatband, a yellow cowboy hat, a purple beard, blue sunglasses, green ski goggles, etc. One figure is visible only as a hovering set of powder pink lingerie. Her smoke-grey evening gown is draped over the back of her stool at the bar, on which her besotted head rests. Ricky’s falcon occasionally jets through the airspace near the ceiling of thick wooden beams, leaving it unclear whether or where it lands, letting out a loud squawk each time. As the smoke clears more and more—never disappearing entirely, of course, for everyone in the place continues to smoke as Bart slowly rebuilds the wall—the figures of those present become visible. Some entertain light conversation with the bartender or with those sitting next to them at the bar. Others stand around casually chatting or dancing. One of them sits on a stool passed out with her head on the bar, the ash from her comically large cigar falling under its own mounting weight to reveal the still-blazing ember. Dino and Pearl are mixing around, making introductions. The last figures to appear from the haze are certain nondescript gray “marionettes” without strings. A couple of them stand still with their necks craned back to face skyward, another with its neck bent down and what would usually be its face turned to the floor; a couple others dance with what seems like wild abandon, but in perfectly repetitive movements, despite the relatively low volume of the music and with a faster tempo; two others make motions which could be flying or falling while their bodies are suspended in midair. The identical gray “marionettes” don’t smoke and they don’t wear any accessories. Occasionally, one of those standing in place will suddenly walk a few quick steps forward or back, its head still turned to face the floor or ceiling; or one of those suspended in midair will fly up out of the scene, returning down through the ceiling into another area, suspended in midair in the same situation of flying-falling. Otherwise, the marionettes don’t mix or mingle like the rest. Finally, perhaps the décor can be done in such a way that achieves a kind of pixelated effect on its own. The interior is a mix between an old bar, a Nordic spa, and a ski chalet. Deer antlers and the stuffed heads of a few animals adorn the walls (although not excessively), which in some places are made of brick and in others done over with tiles. The bar area is made of wood, like a saloon from the time of the Yukon goldrush in Dawson City. There is a dancefloor which is raised up a step and composed of coloured squares which light up, but otherwise the floor is made of tiles which slope down to drains which collect water runoff. There are plastic Adirondack chairs along the right side, around a cedar door leading into a sauna. In the back-right corner, there is a raised wooden cold tub with a small deck encircling it, also made of wood. In the near-right corner there is a stack of firewood. Near the centre there is a fireplace open at all sides under a ventilator hood around which a number of figures sit in Adirondack chairs, warming themselves, chatting casually, smoking, drinking absinthe. They wear bathrobes, again with various different areas missing—the section below the waist, an arm, a patch around the breasts or crotch, the entire left or right side (perhaps one split between two characters—“his and hers”). Their “distinguishing accessories” are banya hats of various shapes, sizes, and colours. There is a whole goat roasting on a spit over the low-burning flame of the firepit. There is also a bearskin on the floor around the firepit, with two of the uniformly sexless gray marionettes engaged in the perfectly repetitive movements of an overly rigidified sexual act, although their bodies don’t quite seem to touch. Close to the near end of the bar at the left, Martin Heidegger III stands drinking his absinthe behind the woman with a comically large cigar, passed out on the bar in powder pink lingerie. A couple of meters away, far at the far edge of the scene, closest to the audience, Hans Decks, Thelma Klubmann, Ritalin, and Tranx Carafe are seated at a table. Their conversation is audible over the frothy hubbub of the rest. It appears that Heidegger is listening in as he smiles good-naturedly in response to certain remarks, and it also appears that they suspect he will be listening in.
Ritalin: [ironically] Can we get some etymology on that, Mr. Doctor Professor? [They all laugh mildly.]
Hans: Haha, you have to start smackdab in the middle—by dissecting some pixelated wordshit we’ve given birth to and swallowed up and shit out over and over for a thousand generations.
Tranx: [a stylized, somewhat awkward mixture of playful irony and abstract seriousness—beginning by speaking as though she were relaying a message received telepathically, index finger touched to her temple] A little history lesson. Beep-boop. To remember. [Clears her throat] From an ancient Greek preposition, meaning “among, between, with,” or “after, behind, beyond,” or “over and above, besides, at the same time,” or “according to, in pursuit of.” [Heidegger startles a bit. Tranx notices his subtle movement out of the corner of her eye and continues, perhaps intending to gently tease him.] Well, that’s the gist of it, anyways. But the important question—the question “beyond” the Greek necropolis, we could say—is, what’ll we do with this information, friends?
Thelma: “What is to be done?” That’s from another era of questioning, the communist era, no?
Tranx: I didn’t mean that question at all, that generalized pseudo-philosophical quasi-Marxist moralizing bastardization, “What is to be done?” I mean exactly what I say: “What’ll we do with the information?” Sorry . . . I mean, questions need upgrading, just like technology. The more technological upgrades, the more upgrades we need in our questions.
Tranx: Yes, “friends.”
[Heidegger smiles, touched.]
Ritalin: Friends interested in upgrading. Well, the idea coming here—our idea—our edge—was that we would . . . or so we said . . . “catalyze the interests of movement and change in the regions of perennial themes.”
Hans: Yeah okay, of course, but we can’t just keep repeating the same old shit over and over again. For example, we’ve all ended up here from out different starting points. Others with roughly the same starting points as all of us ended up in different places. Of course, they were never exactly the same, since two things can’t both be in the same place at the same time, eh, there, professor? So, we could start there. But that’s only part of it. For we’re also talking about the hurtles we’ve overcome—
Ritalin: All the mountain passes—we were there trying to get here, and now we’re over it: we’re here . . . we’ve been through it and now we know . . .
Tranx: Well, that’s no pleasure or solace in and of itself, and no help to others either . . . the true hour of need is like the hour of death—there’s no getting over it—you just have to be there. Let’s not forget about what we’re “in the midst of” right now . . .
Ritalin: You mean, like, how despite being different things coming from different directions we are now roughly in the same place?
Thelma: So it appears. Except when sometimes one of us gets so drunk you’d think they were speaking to you from some other mountaintop, below the tree line.
Ritalin: Or, like the gang of SAMOs that seems to keep growing around that Zamboni Neuköln. They’re unreachable. But would these exceptions actually show us anything if we looked furth—
Hans: That insufferable gang.
Ritalin: They’re a good time if you ask me. A bit dense, maybe, but fun.
Tranx: As long as there aren’t too many of them packed in here at once . . . But let’s rewind. We were talking about how we are all both here and there at the same time, or something like that. “Meta-” something . . . right?
[Heidegger can barely control his simpering. He tries to maintain his composure by lightly humming and rocking back and forth to the music.]
Hans: Close enough. As long as we remain consistent.
Tranx: Well, I’m thinking that all of this has something to do with void. You know?
Thelma: Here’s the secret of void and consistency, both. Cheers! [She raises her glass. They clink glasses, drink their absinthes, then think for a minute without anyone talking, making only the odd throat noise while shifting restlessly in their seats. Meanwhile, Heidegger orders another drink from the bartender, signaling to him to fill the glass to the top. It appears that he is now drinking in order to contain himself.]
Ritalin: [uncertain of herself] What kind of void do you mean?
Ritalin: I mean, like, for example, my family is supposed to have come from the coureur de bois in Canada, these European traders who knew the land and acted as the link between the natives and the colonial merchants. But I don’t know what the hell they came from. Probably some outcast debtors or runaway criminals or something. On top of which I don’t know who my dad was, just like he didn’t know who his dad was, except that he came from the coureur de bois—and so on. So, there’s one kind of void . . . And then, another example, there are all these mountains around us, waiting to be remade like so many new condo towers waiting to be filled with life.
Thelma: The void of the possible! Of what we might be.
Hans: Versus the void of the faded and disappearing—what we kind of are but can’t ever really even know.
Thelma: The fulsome void . . .
Hans: And the exhausted void, the void of the uncertain . . . the possibly irrelevant.
Ritalin: That sounds pretty cynical.
Hans: [affectedly deadpan] Yes. I am well-trained in the cynical manner of thinking. I’m not scared of changing directions.
Ritalin: Well, hmm . . . haha . . . if it ever comes to that . . .
Tranx: On the subject of changing directions, it has occurred to me that what we’re trying to make with this nth nature is a world in which there’s hope for artificial intelligence to really thrive and become something new and different, after all the past failures . . . contextual failures . . . the inevitable glitch of the early . . .
[Another short wordless period with restless humming, fidgeting, and throat noises. Heidegger suddenly appears quite drunk, swaying on his feet as he drains his absinthe, struggling to hold on to the ski still in his left hand. In what follows, Thelma begins speaking softly and slowly, the rest gradually picking up forcefulness and pace from there.]
Thelma: . . . something from nothing . . .
Hans: . . . two things from one thing.
Ritalin: One thing from two things.
Tranx: One thing from everything!
Hans: Two things in the same place at once!!
Thelma: One thing in two places at once!!
Ritalin: Nothing from everything!!!
Tranx: [after a short pause, more calmly again, as Thelma began] Might as well round it off: Everything from one thing. God . . . [They laugh]
[Heidegger has started repetitiously mumbling disjointed words and syllables in his drunken stupor: first “no, no, no,” then “some, some, some,” then “twotwotwo one,” then “thingthing thing thing no,” and finally “fro one one from frofrom one fro.” By the end of the last phrase, he stumbles back, his third arm smacking the back of Ritalin’s head, and crashes into the table, sending a pile of glasses flying onto the floor. He still holds onto his skis, which miraculously didn’t hit anyone. Then, when all has come to rest and Heidegger is lying more or less wholly incapacitated on the floor, his third arm sticking up into the air, he continues to mumble audibly:]
Heidegger: Romans . . . thoreally unsilophosical . . . Scheiße . . .
[Hans Decks, Thelma Klubmann, Ritalin, and Tranx Carafe have meanwhile gotten up from their seats, still holding onto their drinks, and now stand around a little awkwardly, although they don’t seem overly concerned. And then:]
Tranx: To the potent void from which flow the lives of plants fermenting. Cheers! [They all cheers and then empty their glasses around incapacitated Martin Heidegger III]
Tranx: [after a short pause] There is perhaps a kind of justice in it all.
Ritalin: Yeah . . . this . . . hmmm . . . “Pixel World.”
Thelma: “Pixelated Nightmare.” [Ricky approaches, responding to the commotion]
Ritalin: Yeah, the cynical edge could work here. With all those who know, who remember. [Richard rubs his neck in embarrassment]
Ritalin: Don’t worry Rick, there are many ways to know and remember. Your body has more capacity for it than most brains. [Ricky smiles at the moment of recognition]
Hans: But, for the perennial optimists, how about something lighter?
Tranx: “Naïveté à la Pixels.”
Thelma: Haha, that’s kind of cute. Sounds like something out of a fairytale or children’s story. [They cheers their empty glasses, draining whatever little drops remain]
Hans: Another round, please, bartender.
The only characters who remain upright are the DJ and Ricky—the former playing light, jazzy house music while Ricky does some very casual scatting into the microphone—as well as the marionettes (the SAMOs), who continue dancing, standing, or flying-falling as before. The room remains lit by the undying embers of the cigarettes and cigars still held even by those who are passed out or sleeping in their seats, and by the dregs of absinthe remaining in their glasses. The bartender sleeps on top of the bar. Martin Heidegger III is still underneath the table, which has been set upright. Bart sleeps over by the wall behind the DJ booth, his work only half complete. Through the unbuilt section of wall, darkness. The goat has been reduced to a blackened skeleton over the embers of the fire. After a minute or so of this, a head pokes furtively out the door of the sauna: Zamboni Neuköln. He is a very young man, his facial hair long but thin and scraggly. He wears an eyepatch and a banya hat shaped like a pirate hat. He is medium height but very muscular, his body covered in heart shape tattoos of red, pink, and black. He wears only a speedo bathing suit and a black leather vest. After he has taken a good look around, he gestures silently into the sauna as if to say: “Come on out but keep quiet!” One by one, marionettes begin exiting the sauna. They look identical: the same way of moving, the same body. They each wear an identical towel wrapped around the waist. Once they leave the sauna, they jog up to the wall somewhere throughout the room, take their towels off and pin them up on the wall. The towels are shaped like giant stamps or LSD tabs, their edges defined by the line of perforations along which they have been separated. The towels bear an image of Rainer Werner Fassbinder from his more haggard phase, with a bloated face, wild facial hair, aviator sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, smoking. After the marionettes have pinned their towels up on the wall, they walk to a free place in the room and stand there. This continues for some time, with only Ricky there to take notice, gradually becoming a little nervous but uncertain whether there’s anything to do about it. After the room is perhaps one-third full of marionettes and the walls just as full of RWF towel-posters, the members of the group at the front table begin to wake up from their drunken slumbers. The sun is seen beginning to come up over the horizon through the hole in the wall just as it is finally postered over by a couple marionettes. Zamboni Neuköln continues hurriedly to wave the SAMOs out from the sauna.
The group at the front table: [just beginning to stir, muttering with their bleary eyes struggling to open] Nothing . . . something . . . one . . . two . . . shit . . . from . . . no . . . yes . . . some . . . pixelwixel . . .
Hans: [stretching his arms over his head, speaking through the cigar in the corner of his mouth] Where’d all this gang come from?
Thelma: [catching sight of Zamboni Neuköln through the ever-denser mass of marionette bodies] Who let in that enfant terrible?
Ritalin: Watch it! Don’t you know that’s Zamboni Neuköln?
Hans: Fuck him and fuck this whole image he’s spreading.
Tranx: Oh no! Fassbinder!
Ritalin: I’ve been thinking he could be something significant for this generation. A kind of efficiency . . . maximalist, really . . . so heedless and uncompromising, almost inhuman, counter-dramatic, in how much humanity, how much drama, he was able to embroil in the whole . . . provenance . . . of his lifework.
Thelma: That Zamboni Neuköln can’t just go around acting like such a gangster here while everybody’s sleeping one off. Shouldn’t we get everybody up now?
Tranx: What does it matter? They’re just 2D projections. It’s not like the place is going to fall apart under the weight of them. I mean, up on this mountain . . .
Thelma: But they just keep coming. I can’t take all this distraction. All this optics has to add up to something terribly real . . .
Hans: Fassbinder? What decade are we in? Where does Neuköln think we are? This isn’t really the place for melodrama. We’re supposed to have left the need for all that kind of shit behind. He’s poisoning the atmosphere. Bringing his pseudo film buff shit where it doesn’t belong.
Ritalin: Oh, I don’t know . . . Anyway, I wouldn’t worry so much. Heidegger III’s probably already getting ready to come through that back wall again.
Thelma: No, he’s still sleeping under the table . . .
The room continues to fill up with marionettes and RWF towel-posters. The whole room begins to throb like a loudspeaker cone. Everybody in the room starts to wake up in confusion and anxiety. Under the table, Heidegger starts laughing in his sleep. It is spontaneous and light coming from him under the table, but then it starts to merge with the music coming over the PA system and is transformed into something demonic. Both continue at the same time, the light and spontaneous under the table and the monstrous surround sound. The whole place continues to throb stronger and stronger, the music transformed into nothing but a thick, heavy bassline projected over a bunch of broken speakers, plus the monstrous reverberating laughter. By now, everybody in the room (except Heidegger, the marionettes, and Zamboni Neuköln) is in panic, trying to grab onto something solid to hold themselves still. But they all lose grip, their bodies moving into the airspace above the mass of marionettes and below the ceiling. As they raise up from the ground, the room slowly stops throbbing and shaking. Once they reach the point of hovering in midair above the marionettes, only they are throbbing and shaking as they wave their arms and legs hysterically in a fit of flying-falling. No more marionettes come out of the sauna: there is no more floor space left empty; the walls are full of towel-posters as well. The marionettes go slack and would all fall to the ground under the force of gravity if there were room for their bodies to reposition themselves. The giant spurs on Ricky’s cowboy boots can be seen flaring up in the background, his giant falconer’s glove cutting like the blade of a windmill through the air. His falcon flies past and squawks. Only the Korean DJ has been lost in all the commotion. Then, a small green arm with little spines like a budding saguaro cactus arm emerges from the mass of marionettes at the front of the stage, carrying a stack of records.
The background is a chessboard in Central Park. The background of that is a bureaucratic office space. And beyond that, a bold blue sunny sky lined by a few vapor trails. The office equipment and furniture roughly resemble the skyline of New York City around the park. Bureaucrats hurry around making photocopies, verifying titbits of information with each other, giving and taking orders, typing, making phone calls, joking wryly around the water cooler (a skyscraper at Hudson Yards). Frank Lloyd Wright and Frederick Law Olmsted sit at the chessboard, intensely focused on play, with occasional pointed glances at their surroundings. And in the foreground, a mountain plateau. There is a wide flat surface checkered with the same image of RWF as on the towel-posters in the previous scene. Over this surface, a group of people circle around and dance on roller skates with wheels that light up as they spin. There is a PA system set up around the dance floor. The young Korean DJ is playing records at a simple collapsible table on which her equipment is set up. The DJ is still a young girl—at a closer look, twelve-years-old at most. Small saguaro cactus arms, only a bit bigger than her own limbs, stick out of her body in various places, including the top of her head. Her legs are spiky green stumps, like the twin trunks of one of these desert icons. On the whole, her body is more cactus than human. Each of the cactus arms as well as the trunk sticking up through her head is topped with a hat in various colours and styles, tastefully matched. Small rodents, birds, and fish, as well as old T-shirts, soda cans, candy and chip bags, umbrellas, sausages, hamburgers, and noodles are punctured on or draped over the sharp spines of her cactus branches. She has an unaffected, stoical style of playing, yet her whole body dances in place—for not only are her very minimal movements distributed throughout her entire body, but the cactus arms also amplify these subtle movements by radiating out from their centre. She wears tea shade sunglasses with hologrammatic mirrored lenses. She of course smokes a cigar along with everyone else present. We hear only scraps of what she plays, an eclectic mix: perhaps “I Know You, I Live You” by Chaka Khan, “Take Me Home” by Cher, “Crazy Arms” by Waylon Jennings, “Take Me Higher” by Virgo Four, “Everyone's Gone to the Movies” by Steely Dan, and some Detroit or maybe Windsor techno. Mostly, we hear the following conversation:
FLW: I say it’s a good thing all that’s behind us now.
FLO: It took me a while to change my point of view, but I’m happy to be here, now, just the two of us.
FLW: Well, not exactly here . . . not exactly there either . . .
FLO: Right, well, the old way of speaking still has its purpose—if only efficiency. You and I know a thing or two. We say one thing and mean another, or just mean more, and yet we understand each other fully.
FLW: Each in our own little heaven. How is it over there, by the way?
FLO: Oh, beautiful. Couldn’t be better. Mary and I just conceived again. And already in the womb, they conceived a new kind of tree. Out of practically no experience whatsoever. Certainly not with any trees.
FLW: Ho-ly! I’d have to see that to believe it.
FLO: Well, you know, I only noticed it last night when Mary was bending over to take her stockings off. It was, so to speak, presented to us as a gift. Coming out of the, you know . . . ?
FLW: Oh, how precious.
FLO: Yeah, it was Mary’s birthday. And how is it with your region of the clouds?
FLW: Oh, very well. I finished the hearth last night.
FLO: Oh, well done! You’ve been working on that for ages.
FLW: Well, when you’re dealing with cosmic time, you finally feel as though you can take an afternoon off every once in a while—to play chess here with you, for instance. Anyways, I needed the right stone. And it took a while to find my way around this place. But you should see the warmth radiating around this hearth!
FLO: Maybe some cards over mulled wine next week?
FLW: We’ll see. I’m having Louis over to work on the designs for the new sun.
FLO: Already? But I thought it’s not due for another couple million epochs, at least.
FLW: That’s true, but the timing will be quite tricky. We of course don’t plan to give any hint of what’s in the works until the lights are already . . . almost out.
FLO: Haha, cosmic pranksters.
FLW: Your park is still looking good. I’m not so sure about the skyline . . .
FLO: Still in doubt? There’s something so . . . godlike about Hudson Yards.
FLW: The viewing platform—like on one of those German toilets. My intuitions of course always took me in quite different directions, and now I begin to see why. Or rather, more and more I feel affirmed. The irony: a supposedly quintessential American architecture finally made in the shape of a German toilet . . . for the gods [They both laugh]. The royal throne they deserve! Humans . . .
FLO: Yeah . . . humans. I’m coming around again now. I mean, I championed everything human when I was living here, but it’s been a while since then . . .
FLW: You learn a thing or two at our age. Not like when we were so young and alive, everything beyond our own imaginations seen only as a hindrance to the highest ideals.
FLO: The damn bureaucrats. Yes, you come to pity that little slice of reality when you get to the point of always already being able to see it in a kind of rearview perspective.
FLW: Even so, right now I seem only to imagine that someday somebody will clean up the trash around the park’s perimeter as well, just as you conjured this park out of the sufficient trash before, more or less . . .
FLO: Ahh yes, the sufficient trash . . . The hazards we both faced: my landscapes and your homesteads. There’s a lot of fragility there. Somebody can always come along afterwards and build something over them.
FLW: But all the various ambivalent impressions aside, I’d like to the think we’re both doing pretty well down here, despite our mixed habitation with the wild beyond . . . schnapps?
FLO: Himmelbeeren? Oh, yes please! What a nostalgic little day we’re having here . . . Check-check, check one, check two, mate!
End of Prologue
Act 1: Seascape from New York
Berlin Rathenauplatz: The Chapters
Keep in mind that the first scene would be best viewed on an angle looking down from above. It might be possible to accomplish this by having the audience sit in the balconies, or else by staging the scene on an inclined plane. The stage is filled mostly with the scene of a play. As you will see, the area for the scene must be very large. In the foreground, at the very edge of the stage, perhaps even in the pit or on the ramp, there are a few audience members visible. It should be clear that they are in the play. However, as much as possible, the scene that they are watching must command the attention on stage, so that we are largely watching what they are watching. The sun is below the horizon, but there is still a comparatively pale band of azure over the buildings in the background of modern low-rise apartment buildings, lots of glass and steel painted white, bold cylindrical bannisters on the balconies. The sky above is a deep dark blue but mixed with the yellow streetlight the effect in the corner of the eye is a blackening purple. In the foreground but set back enough so that even those in the front rows can get a pretty good view of the whole scene, a traffic circle: Rathenauplatz, Berlin. Wolf Vostell’s “Two Concrete-Cadillacs in the Form of the Naked Maja.” Yellow streetlight off the grimy, cracked, stained concrete of the sculpture. The front end of one Cadillac from the top of the windshield forward extends at a downward angle out from the concrete encasement. It is exposed except for thin slabs over the windshield and half of the hood and front grill but is nevertheless even more caked in dirt than the rest, like the concrete in a parking garage, tunnel, alleyway, or the space below a bridge frequented by the homeless, covered in indiscriminate dirt. It is angled down, sitting on a kind of ramp so that we are looking down on the windshield, hood, and front grill. Both the ramp and the car on top of it bisects another, vertical block of concrete. Another Cadillac is stood on end in side profile beside it, only its wheels exposed, its whole form on this side otherwise submerged in an arching block of concrete, an aerodynamic sabre, with a long thin divot in the concrete suggesting a futuristic windshield (always somehow less exposed of the people of the future, but more exposed to them) or else an anachronistic one (like an old tank), but already petrified here in any case. At the irregular base of the concrete portion of the sculpture a kind of garden square, or else a graveyard, of many fragments of marble slab sticking up out of the ground. (Images can easily be looked up). It is perhaps the end of a balmy day in winter, getting on toward spring. There is no sign of snow. There is a bit of green in the matted-down grass, but it is mostly yellow and there are brown patches here and there. Cars drive around the traffic circle on a fairly consistent basis, the red of their taillights punctuating the commanding spectrum of dark blues. Occasionally, the tires on a car driving a bit too fast screech from the g-force. On the other side of the traffic circle, in front of the apartment buildings in the background, the green and yellow neon lights of a gas station canopy, the shop below still open on this beautiful Sunday evening at a crossroad between upper-class suburbs.
The next thing you know, a young man walks into the front of the scene and crosses the road from the nearside of the traffic circle to its centre. He is wearing traditional hipster attire of the lower alps: tight jeans, a bomber jacket, and some kind of hat that might have been worn by an official, whether a policeman or a postman, in times gone by. His hair is quite long with wavy curls. He somewhat resembles Al Pacino’s character in Cruising, except he has a moustache. He cuts straight across the road toward the sculpture, heedless of the traffic. A car swerves and honks but he pays little attention to it. He walks straight up to the sculpture and undoes his pants button to take a casual piss. Another car sees him and honks as it drives around the circle. Once he’s finished, he walks around the sculpture in order to then continue the same straight line to the gas station. A minute later he comes out with an armful of beers and walks back to the sculpture. Once there, he sets the beers down around the square of marble slabs, stepping diligently through them to open one of the beers on the sculpture. He is clearly respectful of the sculpture, perhaps only making himself familiar with it in his own way, but he is also a bit of a numbskull. On the first try, a bit of concrete crumbles off the edge of the sculpture. On the second try, the neck of the bottle breaks off. He again steps diligently between the marble slabs for another beer and then back and this time opens it with his lighter. He leans his ass against the hood of the one Cadillac and lights up a cigarette, taking in his surroundings. Soon, a woman with a stroller walks into the scene on the sidewalk around the traffic circle. When the young man notices her, he walks somewhat more hurriedly through the slabs, but this time loses his footing in his haste, making a last leap in order to fall outside of the square of jagged marble, barrel rolling over the lawn but making sure to save the beer and cigarette from spilling or breaking. He doesn’t stop after the fall, just gets up and keeps walking eagerly toward the woman with the stroller. This time he has to jump back to avoid being hit by a car. But, again, he just continues straight on his way. His interaction with the woman is silent, or at least the audience can’t hear anything. Perhaps he doesn’t know German and doesn’t want to assume she speaks English. His lips are moving vaguely, or uncertainly, during the interaction, but he seems to use mostly gestures in communicating to her that he would like her to take his picture in front of the sculpture with his cellphone. She is confused and a bit annoyed, particularly as he is not entirely conscientious with his cigarette smoke and is even so presumptuous as to lean down to say hi to the baby. If only to get him away from the stroller, the woman accepts his phone and gestures for him to pose for the camera in front of the sculpture. He crosses the road and stands in front of it, still and straight. Then he does one with his thumb up in front of his chest, elbow up and out to the side, cigarette in the corner of his smiling mouth. He goes back to retrieve his phone. As the woman quickly moves away, the man makes a slight bow with his hands clasped around his beer and can be heard saying, “Danke danke danke.” The woman murmurs a single “Bitte.” Then the man walks back over to the sculpture and resumes his post.
This next part must be sped up, for it would otherwise be too repetitive and slow and uneventful to hold the attention of the audience before what comes next, and yet it is important for the content and the feel of the drama. As night continues to take the place of the descending day, the young man drains his several beers to the last and even restocks at one point, steering his off-kilter, bleary-eyed frankfurter casing of a self over to the gas station and back. He familiarizes himself with various perspectives onto the sculpture and from it down to the traffic circle and the surrounding suburbs. He lays back on the exposed hood of the one Cadillac and contemplates the stars. He grimaces, grunts, strokes his moustache, sits cross-legged in the grass before the nude, idly picking a few blades as he squints into her beauty laid bare under the streetlights. He lights some tea candles left between and on top of the marble slabs, but only two or three, the results more or less without effect. He perches himself at various points and in various positions atop the sculpture, affording greater proximity to the sky or a better perspective on the dim surroundings. An old man passes by and the young man whistles to gain his attention, waving him over for a drink. They clink bottles and exchange a few words but are rather impenetrable to each other, not only because of the language barrier, and for the rest remain in silent enjoyment of the elements within and without. The old man could be retired, divorced, widowed, and/or married. His motives for pausing here from his walk aren’t necessarily clear. Perhaps he, too, just appreciates another view on the public artwork in its everchanging context, penetrating the specious wall of consistency rung around it by the unending years of traffic. The vehicles change, the people change, the weather changes, the sculpture does a good job of weathering, but all this is too easily drowned out in the ceaseless vehicular drone. The older man is happy there. But he is just as happy when he leaves the young man where he found him. The young man drinks himself drunk and eventually trips over his own shadow onto the soft wet ground, taking this opportune moment to call it a night as he pulls his jacket tight to his balled-up body in the season of still-cool nights and falls asleep sotted, content, and bemused. But before he does, he plays some white noise sounds on his phone to help him fall and stay asleep amid the traffic, which lessens but doesn’t quit.
Curtain (except for the few audience members, who remain without, still in play)
1st Audience member: Who the fuck is this hipster spaz?
2nd Audience member: I don’t know, not my idea of an everyman.
1st Audience member: No. I meant—what’s his name?
2nd Audience member: Oh, yeah, I didn’t mean . . . I mean, interesting choice of character for this role. I think his name is Padraig.
Suddenly the curtain quickly rises again. This scene is better shown from a bit closer up and on a level. For example, the road before the traffic island may no longer be in the scene, only the road as it curves around the far side of the sculpture. It is now morning. Sunny with a few clouds. The traffic is thicker than it’s been up to now, but still moving well. Padraig is still on the grass, but he is now lying on his back with his arms at his sides, straight as a pencil. The sound of a rotating fan still drones into his ear from the phone in the grass beside his head. His hat rests on top of his face. A woman of around the same age, perhaps a bit older, walks into the scene from the roughly the same direction as Padraig at the beginning of the previous one, but cautiously. She does not force her way across but waits for an opening in the traffic, although of course this cannot be directly seen by the audience. She is also perhaps a bit confused at what she is walking into as she approaches Padraig. She makes gestures of uncertainty, stopping to consider how to proceed, or even thinking about something else which she would prefer to be doing right now. She is smartly but casually dressed. She wears a hat and sunglasses. She slowly paces in alternating directions around Padraig’s stock-still prostrate corpse. Then she lightly whistles, similarly to how Padraig whistled for the attention of the old man. Padraig remains stock-still except for the arm by which he removes the hat from his face, returning it then to his side. Next, he sits up (without bending and perhaps without even using his arms, his upper half from the head to the waist remaining as straight as possible). Then he puts the hat on his head and sits cross-legged. He squints as he looks up at the woman, the sun in his face.
Padraig: Hello, it’s you. Top of the morning, Charlotte.
Charlotte: [she speaks English with an accent, perhaps Eastern European] Padraig, have you been here all night?
Padraig: [yawning as he reaches for the phone] Hold on, let me put some music on. Need to wake up properly. Let’s see . . . what’s good? . . . mmm here [puts on Hans Nieswandt’s disco mix of “So Long Frank Lloyd Wright”] . . . hey, beautiful day we’ve got.
Charlotte: [impatient, annoyed] Padraig, what the fuck is going on?
Padraig: [responding in a manner which might be interpreted as avoiding the question in the most ingenuous way possible] Oh . . . [looking around] we were just . . . hrmm . . . I was just . . . I didn’t want to be late and I knew I’d be drinking so I figured I’d just sleep here.
Charlotte: Padraig, none of this makes any sense. I mean, we didn’t have to meet here, at this time. There were places you could have slept.
Padraig: [long-winded] Well, yeah, but this place was on my itinerary. Time is precious, you know. I’ve planned it all out. I don’t have infinite time left. Sleep doesn’t matter so much to me at the moment. Trust me, this was the best way. Very reasonable. Very pragmatic. You might say we’re killing two . . . we’re multitasking. Logistics, metabolics, the whole body . . . the whole brain-body complex . . . I was thinking about you, too. I thought you said it fit into your schedule as well.
Charlotte: Paddy, let me be upfront: the only the reason I met with you is that I need the money. You owe me, like, 800 euros.
Padraig: Really, 800? I have the rent here, but . . .
Charlotte: The rent plus the food you ate and the wine you drank and the fines you incurred for illegal downloads and the cigarettes you smoked when I was gone plus your share of the pill plus the abortion when the pill didn’t work. I need all of it.
Padraig: Shit . . . [ironically] You know Charlotte, I can’t handle all this math until I’ve had a coffee . . .
Charlotte: [extremely impatient] Well you should have gotten up earlier! . . . Listen, I have to go to work. But first I need the money. I don’t expect we’ll ever see each other again. You want your two fucking birds? There’s coffee and a Geldautomat over at the Tankstelle. I don’t mean to be a bitch but can we please just get this over with?
Padraig: [hearing her but only in a very abstracted way as he takes in the surroundings, a kind of faux meditative openness, struggling to take in stride everything occurring within and around him, rather humming than speaking his response as he slowly gets up] Scheiße . . . naja . . . okay . . . keine Scheiße . . . aber wohin . . . geradeaus . . . zumzumzoom . . . to the Tankstelle . . . die Denkscheiße.
[In her impatience, Charlotte grabs him by the hand and almost walks straight into a car, but Padraig stops her. It was very close. She is visibly shaken, but also still visibly irritated by his attempt to calm her down.]
Padraig: [his voice fading as they walk across the road to the gas station] You know, this is kind of perfect . . .
1st Audience member: Okay, this is too much . . .
2nd Audience member: Or, not enough?
[During the delivery of these lines, Padraig and Charlotte go into the gas station and come out more or less immediately. Padraig has a coffee in hand and a beer tucked under his armpit on the same side, with a handful of bills in the other hand. He is struggling to manage it all as they approach the road again.]
Padraig: [handing her the stack of bills] Why don’t you just count it out for yourself? My hands are full . . . and you know how much it is. [Lighthearted, as if finally waking up in the new sun] I’m not one to take on more than I can handle . . .
Charlotte: [counting out her money, but also suddenly in a different mood now] Well, to be honest, I’m happy I don’t have to go to work now. It’s nice to spend the morning taking in some public art.
Padraig: Yeah, it really does feel kind of perfect to me. A whole artificial ecosystem unto itself circulating around this sculpture: the island, the circle, the road leading up, the road leading away, that gas station . . . I hate traffic circles as much as anybody. And everybody with an opinion on the matter hates traffic circles. I’ve never heard anybody say they liked them. But all that seems to unravel here. A museum-grade experience at a traffic circle. Can’t complain about that. Beautiful . . .
Charlotte: Hmm . . . haha . . .
Charlotte: I just had an evil thought. I thought, all it really needs is an accident, maybe a couple bodies.
Padraig: Needs? For what?
Charlotte: I don’t know. That’s all I thought. Maybe that’s where the evil lies.
Padraig: Well, it had me for a body last night. And this other guy.
Charlotte: Another guy slept here with you?
Padraig: Haha, just kidding. No, I invited this old guy over for a beer.
Charlotte: What did you talk about? He’s from around here?
Padraig: Nothing. I don’t know. I assume so. He was just out for a walk.
Charlotte: I can’t believe you just slept out here on the grass like a fucking homeless person.
Padraig: Why? I’m sure it’s been done before. People have probably driven circles around this thing like they were doing the Hajj. Except maybe they were drunk. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’ve been more than a few accidents.
Charlotte: Some accidental pregnancies, even.
Padraig: Some accidental abortions . . .
Charlotte: Now that’s going too far . . .
Padraig: I’m just exhausting the logical combinations. Want some beer?
[Charlotte takes the bottle and drinks. They walk around the sculpture. The traffic is a bit fuller and slower now. A couple of cars have circled around it a few times, although it may be unclear whether this is representative or just for the sake of economy in the staging—that is, it could be that there’s really supposed to be more traffic or it could just be that it’s not flowing through.]
Charlotte: The plaque says 1987. I wonder what it was like around here back then, before the wall came down?
Padraig: Do you know anything about the performance? What’s with the marble? Actually, there probably haven’t been any accidents. I don’t see any signs of one.
Charlotte: We’re quite useless, aren’t we?
Padraig: Well, shit. At least we showed up.
[They smile at each other and continue to walk in circles around the sculpture in a clockwise direction, i.e. opposite that of the automobile traffic. She puts her arm through the crook of his elbow, his hand in his coat pocket. With the other hand he looks at his phone.]
Padraig: Hmm . . . I assumed “Maja” was some kind of goddess. Because of the grammar I think, “The Naked Maja.” But it’s actually after the painting by Goya depicting a naked maja, a type of lower-class Spanish woman.
Charlotte: Oh, haha, I thought you knew.
Padraig: I never read the art books. I just look.
Charlotte: I read the second time. The first is for looking.
Padraig: Yeah, I intend to do that, too, but never get around to it. Somehow it always feels like a misfortune to have to go through a book a second time, and I always want to avoid misfortune, haha.
[Reading from Wikipedia on his phone]
Majo (masc.) or maja (fem.), also manolo and manola, after the most popular names, were people from the lower classes of Spanish society, especially in Madrid, who distinguished themselves by their elaborate outfits and sense of style in dress and manners, as well as by their cheeky behavior. They flourished from the late 18th to early 19th century, and to some extent later. Majos and majas were one of the favorite subjects of some 19th-century Spanish painters.
The majo’s and maja’s outfits were exaggerations of traditional Spanish dress. The style stood in strong contrast to the French styles affected by many of the Spanish elite under the influence of the Enlightenment. Majos were known to pick fights with those they saw as afrancesados ("Frenchified" – fops).
In Spanish, the word possesses derived forms such as chulapo and chulapa, a version of chulo and chula in reference to their saucy attitude, as well as chispero and chispera, among others.
Charlotte: Hmm . . . How would you interpret this, then?
Padraig: Well, normally I wouldn’t. I would prefer to drive . . .
Charlotte: Is it the relevant information, I wonder, or is it something specific to the painting.
Padraig: The “maja” in the Prado and the “maja” here on this traffic circle. The yuppies here driving around their very own bourgeois maja every day on their way to work.
Charlotte: And back. But in the end they are concrete Cadillacs, not majas, or not a maja. And they aren’t really naked either. Or at least the Cadillacs aren’t. Maybe the concrete Cadillacs are.
Padraig: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been here but never to the Prado that the traffic circle appeals to me more. Or . . . at least in this case. Maybe not in Goya’s case.
Charlotte: [ironic] Oh, and where do we go from here?
Padraig: The internet.
Charlotte: “Ethereum block in the form of the two concrete Cadillacs.” [They laugh]
Padraig: But do these bastards deserve it? Do they even recognize its existence?
Charlotte: So what if they don’t? Personally, I like the thought that we’re the only ones really paying attention even as all these cars have to notice at least enough to avoid driving into it.
Padraig: Maybe . . . but we’re in Germany. The public recognizes stuff like this here . . . so I hear.
[By now the traffic has become noticeably denser. Over the course of the following bit of dialogue, it fairly quickly escalates and takes on a constant, seemingly rather precarious pace. Perhaps the scene could somehow be shifted further back away from the audience so that the stage includes also the nearside of the traffic circle. In any case, it is now clear that it is the same cars driving around in circles because their passengers are holding onto protest flags unfurled in the wind. There is a screeching of tires and a honking of horns. The flags and banners say many different kinds of things, for example: “Nieder mit der Scheiss-impfungen!” “Ich liebe Truckers” “We love a trucker convoy” “Zukunft=Cryptocurrencies” “Truckers geh heim” “Fick mich Vitalik!” “Fick dich Faschist/in!” “Fick dich Scheiß-verkehr” “Fick mich Scheiß-verkehr” “Pflastern die Planet” and whatever else you can come up with that ranges from the vaguely appropriate to the humorous and absurd, and without regard for unity or consistency, or even proper German idiom or grammatical correctness.]
Charlotte: Hey, have you noticed that the same cars keep driving around the circle . . . driving in circles around the circle?
Padraig: No, I wasn’t paying attention to the traffic. But it does seem as though we have a couple Vostell heads forming a kind of . . . traffic gauntlet . . . around the sculpture. [to the circling cars] Hey there, brothers!
Charlotte: [reproachful] There are women there too!
Charlotte: But I don’t think they’re here for the sculpture. Look at the flags!
Padraig: What do they say? I can barely read them they’re driving so fast. I can see they’re mostly in German. Something about truckers, and shit, and Vitalik Buterin. Where have we come to?
Charlotte: Look at the traffic. How will we ever get off this island?
Padraig: It’s just a little protest. How long can it last?
[The traffic racing around the circle reaches a kind of saturation point where no more cars could possibly fit. Scared, Charlotte and Padraig have grabbed hold of each other. Suddenly, a car veers too tightly to the inside and skids into the centre of the circle to avoid an even worse multicar collision, crashing into one side of the sculpture. It barely misses Charlotte and Padraig. The driver appears to have been killed or knocked unconscious. Another car quickly takes its place around the circle.]
Charlotte: Padraig! What the hell is going on? We almost died!! What the fuck are we going to do?
Padraig: Quick!! In here. [He leads her to the crashed vehicle, managing to force the door open and to shove the driver over to passenger’s side, which is closer and more exposed to the road, making room for the two of them on the other more protected side. They are tightly embraced in the driver’s seat. The island quickly becomes concealed by dust and exhaust fumes. Other cars are visible at the edge of the scene, waiting for an entrance into the traffic circle.]
Padraig: You know, earlier I was surprised at what you said, about the money. I thought we were meeting to spend the day together. Because I’m supposed to leave soon.
Charlotte: What ever made you think that?
Padraig: I don’t know. Maybe just my wishes.
Charlotte: Well, to be honest, you know when I had that evil thought, I also had another thought of you and I driving around this island in circles with, like, cans on strings trailing behind like we’d just been married. It was only a split second, but I imagined us driving around at a dangerous speed, touching each other with those cans banging around on the pavement behind . . . I guess it was a kind of weird premonition. What are we going to do if they don’t stop?
[By now we can’t see anything of what’s going on inside the traffic circle, but the dialogue is still clearly audible.]
Padraig: My friends are on their way with beer. Maybe they’ll think of something.
Charlotte: You invited your friends? But what about your itinerary? The logistics of your plan, multitasking? And just now you said we were supposed to spend the day together?
Padraig: Yeah, exactly, the itinerary. And I thought you were the artist. What, you don’t know how to look at a sculpture?
[About fifteen or twenty seconds after their outlandish banter comes to stop, it sounds as though they are beginning some kind of sexual act in the front seat of the car. At this point, the two audience members from before get up one after the other.]
1st Audience member: That’s it. I’m out!
2nd Audience member: I’m with you there. Peace! [They exit, making a show of their disapproval]
The scene is a railroad style bar and restaurant in the basement of Grand Central Station, NYC. The room is exceptionally long and exceptionally narrow, most likely much longer and narrower than the stage itself. A bar extends down almost the entire length to one side, from the entrance almost to the very back, where the bathrooms are and where some space has been left for musicians. There is only enough room to sit at the bar. There may be a few stools but no tables or countertops on the other side of the room. Currently, there is a trio playing in the back, consisting of a stand-up bass player, a saxophone player, and a DJ. They are all dressed in beige trench coats and deerstalker hats and wear dark sunglasses. They are very serious and alert in demeanour. The saxophonist and the bass player are exceptionally skillful in their improvisational style of play. Only the DJ’s role is questionable. He manipulates the digital turntables and mixer and fiddles around on three or four laptops, but the only noises that seem to arise from it are static, crackling, high-pitched feedback, and strange boops and bleeps like on an old sonar system, which he perhaps loops, distorts, or filters in order to add a vaguely musical quality to them. On the whole, however, it is difficult to listen to. Train noises also wash in from the bowels of the station. At the beginning, the barroom is empty of patrons except for a few degenerate-looking characters seated at the bar about halfway down the room. There is a youngish, attractive woman who could pass either as an upscale sex-worker or a professional who is perhaps facing a career or midlife crisis. Her clothing is expensive but a bit disheveled. She talks to a good-looking young man sitting beside her, but he seems more intent on the music than on her boisterous rambling. He is perhaps occasionally annoyed by her inconsiderately wild gesticulations. On the other side of the young woman there is an older man who could be senile but retains an air of dignity and independent will. He stares rather vacantly at the mirror behind the bar but appears generally content. He bobs his head very slightly to the music, but otherwise moves only to sip on some cranberry juice. The woman also tries to engage the attention of the bartender. There is only one bartender role, but the actors who play it change every time they go into the back room where the kitchen is. Nobody seems to notice. In fact, as will be seen, they tend to respond quite naturally (so, not quite obliviously), with a few exceptions. The bartenders wear uniforms consisting of white dress shirts with black ties. But they themselves are very differently proportioned, from dwarves who have to hop up on stools to see over the bar to giants who crane their necks down to avoid hitting their heads against the ceiling, from tall skinny women with breasts so large they must wear back braces to little fat boys who have to jump and pull themselves up to sit on the counter in order to interact with the patrons. The bar appears classic, an “institution,” at once cozy and energized, confined but dynamic. And yet it is furnished in an ad-hoc, spontaneous, improvised, scrappy, trashy way—a product of a certain sort of taste, but certainly not to everyone’s taste. The construction should be relatively easy, fun, and inexpensive, although the clean-up might at first seem a daunting task (it’s never so bad, in the end). One may let the following descriptions, however precise, stand as guides and examples, without needing to take them as strict directives: the bar itself should be irregular but continuous as it extends down the length of the bar. It widens and narrows, with only two or three places where it suddenly diverges, in a concave or a convex formation (some of it cantilevered, perhaps), from its broad swoop to the back. Most of this irregularity occurs on the side of the patrons. The space behind the bar is a more or less straight isle up and down which the bartenders move. The bar is made mostly of a single material, such as cardboard, sheet metal, foam insulation, or maybe foldable tables webbed together with cardboard and tinfoil, tacked together by appropriate means. On the wall behind the bar, around the midpoint, there is a liquor cabinet, vaguely neo-gothic in its inspiration. Expanding all around this cabinet’s edges there is a large mirror of irregular cut—whether jagged, rounded, or mixed. It is perhaps cracked in places but held together by transparent tape, and especially around the edges the mirror seems to dissolve in a sharded mosaic. Stickers and paint may be used sparingly on this mirror. Another mirror on the other wall parallels this mirror. In the place of the liquor cabinet, however, there is a collage made of cutouts from various posters or handmade paintings of Hannah Schygulla. Along the length of wall on the patron’s side of the bar, wainscoting of tinfoil, cardboard, black garbage bags taped together, or chain-link fencing extends almost to the ceiling. In the space between—right below the ceiling—there is a kind of gallery display of very small drawings, paintings, or wall-mounted sculptures. They are distributed at intervals in an even line across the wall. The room is lit by old televisions mounted in the ceiling or held in fixtures attached to the walls, their light modified and cast against the mirrors in the bar to produce an inviting, comfortable, fairly even glow. The floor is tiled white and black and the ceiling is covered with punched tin. The audience can see into the bar from just outside the station concourse. Any parts of stage outside a thin margin just outside the bar entrance must be submerged in darkness. Cindy Mulleimer and Harry Bilgewater can be heard approaching the entrance.
Cindy: . . . [responding to Harry] I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Tin Lizzy. Pretty good example, though. If you listen to what they’re saying, they usually seem to be coming from the losing side of things. All vagabonds and cowboys, lonesome seekers on the edge of one abyss or another.
Harry: The blues.
Cindy: Of course, there’s that influence among others. But it’s so entwined with this context of, like, class issues, the social-political situation in Ireland, folklore, literature, a certain sense of identity issues undergone by the young alienated male—actually, I always found there’s something boyish there.
Harry: Yeah, there is always something kind of desperate and conflicted about it. But kind of punk . . .
Cindy: Yeah yeah—they accumulate these descriptions . . . and that’s why how they pull it off is so surprising, so far from given. Total failure seems the more likely result. So fucking cool! Even when that full-on guitar-fucking mode does tend to provoke a certain sense of ambivalence in me, as a woman, somewhere between repulsion and attraction. [During the delivery of these last lines, the pair walks into the light before the entrance. Harry gradually slows to a stop and starts to appear a bit woozy.]
Harry: Yeah . . . I . . . I think the potential failure you see in it is kind of absorbed or . . . pre-empted . . . by . . . by . . . hold on, suddenly I feel a little nauseous. Must have been that cigarette.
Cindy: Haha, well, if you’re going to quit then you should just quit, man. No sense starting and stopping all the time, giving yourself all those mixed signals.
Harry: Auuughhd . . . [Straightens up and shakes his head a bit to try and jerk himself back into form. Suddenly notices the bar there.] Huh, I didn’t know that there was a bar here. Maybe we should just go in and sit down for a bit.
Cindy: Ha! “Go and sit down for a bit,” he says. At a bar you don’t usually just go and sit down for a bit, do you? [She gets an alert on her phone, pulling it out of her pocket]
Harry: [still struggling, slightly convulsed and wincing] No . . . I guess not . . .
Cindy: Well, by chance—ha! chance, right—anyway, I actually have a coupon for free wings from this place . . . and, now that I think about it, I could go for some chicken wings . . . maybe a beer?
Harry: [suddenly seems in slightly improved condition] Yeah, I think it’s starting to pass. Chicken wings and beer sounds good.
Cindy: Good. We have some time to kill before the meeting. It could be better spent than walking around the basements of this shitty train station. I’m glad we ditched that piece of pseudo-Germanic perversity early. Ha! Academicized anti-academicism, or something like that . . . [pause]. Not a bad looking place! [She pats Harry on the back as they walk up to the close end of the bar and sit down, Cindy waving to the bartender, who gestures “one moment” but doesn’t walk over. After about thirty seconds, the bartender goes into the kitchen and then another bartender comes out thirty seconds later with a large plate of sausages for the group in the middle of the bar before resuming the previous bartender’s position, drying glasses etc.]
Harry: [off-hand remark to fill the brief waiting period] How are your students?
Cindy: Geez, I’ll make the bartender take responsibility for leaving you with the time it took to ask that question. They can be really sadistic sometimes, can’t they? [She makes a low whistle. The bartender makes the same “one moment” gesture as the last but again continues polishing glasses etc.]
Harry: Well, it’s good to know there are others in the same boat as you.
Cindy: More like same shit different pile.
Harry: Haha . . . well, whatever way you want to put it. It’s nice to have evidence that you’re not wholly responsible.
Cindy: Evidence . . . yeah . . . if that’s what you mean by evidence and it’s evidence we need, I think we’re fucked . . . I heard this one girl the other day going on about how the students’ lack of responsibility is your responsibility . . . like we’re running an elementary school or something . . . I don’t need evidence . . . I trust my gut instinct . . . the students are old enough to get no more than they deserve . . .
Harry: A teacher who’s more attentive to nursing their own hangover than to them? [They laugh]
Cindy: If I didn’t have to get up so early to get there in time it wouldn’t be half as bad . . . having to think about other people, who aren’t just people but students, themselves blissfully irresponsible and indifferent, really ruins my whole day. Not because I want to wake up thinking about myself, since in thinking about my responsibilities to them I am thinking about myself . . . in the worst way, and about them in the worst way too. What I mean is that as a teacher, and especially one who teaches in the morning, you wake up each day thinking about yourself and others in the worst way possible. This speaks badly for the whole profession. Not that that it requires compromise, but that it prioritizes it from the get-go. Anyway, how is a toreador supposed to fight a sleeping bull?
Harry: You could try to wake it up first, I guess. But these are more like narcoleptic sheep. Although I’m not sure how blissful their irresponsibility and indifference are.
Cindy: With narcolepsy, I guess it doesn’t matter what they are.
Harry: There’s some kind of animal abuse at work, anyway.
Cindy: Vicious cycle of masochists. Committed masochists rearing reluctant masochists to maturity unto eternity.
Harry: Haha, yeah, not my idea of a world. I hope that’s not somehow representative of the state of the world. They basically want you to throw yourself offside against it . . . the world. I’m not capitulating to that. Still, it’s not their fault for being raw meat. And you have to feel bad about how much the kids are paying for this shit . . .
Cindy: The parents pay now. The kids pay again later. [The bartender goes in the back] God, the service is fucking awful here. Maybe we should leave?
Harry: Give them another minute . . . [pause] But, if we don’t even like it, we’re presumably only in it for the money now ourselves.
Cindy: Definitely not the job security or the intellectual freedom.
Harry: And what’s to like? Nobody could actually like it. Tolerate, maybe. The money’s shitty, too. Aren’t there better ways of making more money? I’m starting to feel like I’ve been sucker-punched . . . maybe it wasn’t the cigarette, after all.
Cindy: Well, maybe we should take this conversation as a kind of cue: we have seen, once and for all, what lies at the bottom of the barrel, and it’s enough to corrupt the whole batch . . . or whatever . . . whatever’s put into it . . .
Harry: You mean let’s finally, finally quit? If that’s what actually comes of this conversation, at least the bartender might have a little bit of redemption for leaving us here to mull it over in the first place. [A different bartender now comes over with a heaping plate of chicken wings and two pints of beer. Just as Cindy and Harry don’t notice how the bartender has changed, they don’t take any notice of the fact that they’re order was never taken. They are at first somewhat confused by their order, but they accept it happily in the end.]
Harry: Goddamn these wings look good.
Cindy: Why did we order so much?
Harry: You always say that but then it’s you who’s polishing it all off in the end. [after a short pause] But why did we get suicide? My eyes are already watering just from the smell.
Cindy: And you always say that before we eat. But then you love it.
Harry: Well, if there’s one thing experience has taught me, it’s that we always have a lot to capitulate to, or—a lot of capitulating to do. [After chugging half the pint] I do feel like Guinness all the sudden. I wasn’t so sure before.
Cindy: Enough with your bastard lunchtime dialectics, let’s eat.
Berlin Rathenauplatz: The Epilogue
Back at Rathenauplatz, later. The traffic has maintained its density and its pace, flags and banners still streaming. But there are now a couple more cars wrecked on the sculpture in the centre. In addition, there are more people in the centre, including the friends of Padraig, who have brought food and drink. They have rigged up an electric-powered cooking element and even a small hot tub to the batteries of the wrecked cars, arranging these where the crashed cars have offered more protected enclaves. The people in the centre apparently stand in solidarity with the protest convoy speeding around them. Presumably, they have only gotten to the centre of the circle by jumping from the cars speeding around it or even via one of the now-wrecked cars. But the scene has also become mildly orgiastic: in the hot tub, on top of the sculpture, in the wrecked seats of the cars, and even in the cars driving around the circle, as well as in and around those waiting outside of it, people are engaged in various kinds of decadent and debaucherous behaviour. This includes even the wounded, one of them now convalescing in the hot tub with blood stains showing through the bandages covering half their head. Some ambulances have arrived on the scene and one of the paramedics tends to a wounded person, but the paramedics also seem to be swayed by the principle of serious, principled fun, occasionally becoming oblivious to the dangers which periodically erupt to remind all in attendance that their principle has sometimes drastic consequences. Topping it all off, a DJ has set up at the top of the sculpture, the equipment contained on a kind of “Bauchladen” like a street vendor or an organ grinder (see Westbam music videos like those for “C’est la Vie” or “Way Up” for possible stylistic inspiration). The DJ is a late-term pregnant woman with a crazy punk hairdo dyed pink and green and yellow, her swelled breasts ready to feed their copious founts of milk to hungry twins. She has long flowing sausage links draped over her shoulders down to the base of the sculpture. Helicopters fly high overhead, rather passive-aggressively for the moment. All of this must be expressed to the audience at a quick glance. Padraig and Charlotte stand pensively looking at the sculpture atop a wrecked car. Charlotte moves her face in for a closer, “textural” inspection of a part of the sculpture’s surface.
Charlotte: Hmm . . . no, I don’t see it. Maybe it’s my trained eye versus your untrained eye.
Padraig: I sometimes face that problem myself, what is in a way most obvious eluding the most well-trained faculties despite remaining maximally significant.
Charlotte: Back when I considered myself to be in a more experimental phase I considered it a kind of ideal that I would strive to realize and then inevitably surprise myself in diverging from it. I find it difficult to claw my way back there now . . . but, you know, it’s maybe a sense you just need to revive from time to time. Some resist this need, calling it capitulation, or maybe recapitulation [she chuckles]. A sign of immaturity, as if a good dose of immaturity weren’t itself something to be instinctively embraced.
Padraig: What do you call it?
Charlotte: I’d call it . . . [A helicopter flies close down above them, one of the female occupants in serious military dress and demeanour squatting or standing to piss down onto the scene, and drowns out Charlotte’s fuller articulation of the thoughts she’s now harbouring. The following text may be incorporated by any means into the scene:]
GHENT (in the same mood of self-parody)
The whole of life is a prison sentence, some people say, usually Christians. Not me. Life is a holiday from the great nothing, a vacation from the void—and, like all holidays, it seems interminable.
–B. S. Johnson, What is the Right Thing and Am I Doing It?
Back in the Grand Central Station bar. Business is picking up after the lull. The scene is now viewed from a little bit closer in. Rather than the bar entrance beginning some way back from the edge of the stage, the edge of the stage now begins already some way into the bar, right from where Cindy and Harry are sitting. This gives us a clearer view of what’s going on in the deeper recesses. Speakers placed behind the audience might project sounds of guests sitting around the entrance, including the clinking of cutlery against plates and the clunking of glasses on the countertop. The band continues to play their free conspiratorial jazz in the back. The bartender works at a quicker pace and has to go into the back more often, hence changing much more frequently. One of the new guests wears a thick layering of all sorts of tattered, soiled rags of clothing, exaggerated to the point of being essentially mummified with them. The face is not very well visible behind it all, but a big scruffy beard emerges around the chin and neck. The legs are wrapped in a raggedy mess of plastic grocery bags. However, the figure wears a clean, crisp tando hat, royal blue felt with a long red father streaming out the back, drinking a frosty martini and doing a stylized mummy dance around the first group of customers. Every once in a while, it appears the attractive woman is trying to seduce him, although he gently rebuffs her advances. She says things like “nice moves,” “you smell good,” “cool guys like you don’t come around here that often,” “I’d love to get a peak underneath these royal robes,” and “that dance set my loins on fire.” Between rebuffs, she dances just a little bit away from him, trying subtly to harmonize their movements by doing a kind of crab dance, “walking like an Egyptian,” etc. At one point she tries to wrap herself up in a long loose scrap of the figure’s mummy clothing. A jet of steam pours out. She cups her mouth around the orifice to suck it in and then staggers back, intoxicated. Then she blows out the steam and starts dancing in an energetic but rather spastic, arrhythmic way.
When the scene opens, the DJ is slowly making his way from the back of the bar toward the entrance. A looped series of beeps, boops, and crackling continues, the other members of the band improvising along. The DJ walks in a kind of tensed, rigid, crouched dance that might be described in the following way: his legs are bent, feet pointed forward with one a half-step in front of the other; his back is hunched but with his shoulders up toward his ears, his upper arms hanging down from the raised shoulders with his forearms held forward and up (parallel to the ground), wrists limp and hands curling down like claws. He holds one forearm at a level slightly above the other and jerkily crosses it over twice in quick succession, keeping them more or less parallel, then alternates, the other arm now crossing over twice in quick succession. As he crosses one arm over the other, he rocks slightly up and down on his bent legs (as already mentioned, one foot half a step out in front of the other). Then, as he is alternating the arms, he takes a step which alternates the positions of the feet (and legs) as well, the foot that was behind now in front of the other. He now keeps his feet planted while crossing his arms and gently springing his knees again, etc. He does this rhythmically, although his form is generally cramped. He looks rather mischievous, with a vaguely sinister grin as well. He is still wearing his sunglasses; the collar on his beige trench coat is popped up.
Also from the opening of the scene, Cindy and Harry are about half way through their giant pile of chicken wings and their beers are empty. Harry gestures and yells to the waiter, who has just come out of the back after another went in. The bartender is already preparing to bring them another round, this time of pilsners.
Harry: Hey David . . . [the bartender signals that he is on his way]
Cindy: How did you know his name?
Harry: I don’t. I just guessed from his appearance. Remember that game we used to play . . .
Cindy: “Name and occupation.” Mmm . . . another round of pilsners. Crisp, clean. I never drink anything else.
Harry: Me neither . . . Except liquor and wine, of course [they laugh].
Cindy: [as the bartender approaches] Hey, is your name really David?
Bartender: Mhmm. Your friend probably read it off of my name tag here. We believe a little bit of extra familiarity goes a long way in this city.
Cindy: Very true, but . . .
Bartender: Don’t think twice about it. It’s the principle here.
Harry: These chicken wings are phenomenal. A little small, maybe, but—
Bartender: Actually, that’s squab.
Cindy: Squab wings?
Bartender: Right from the region.
Harry: Hmm. Never heard of squab wings before. Are they from upstate or something?
Bartender: Uptown, actually.
Cindy: Sounds like it should be expensive. Good thing we have a coupon.
Harry: Do you have some kind of vegetable plate to go along with them?
Bartender: Our chef insists against vegetable platters. But I can recommend the stinging nettle sausages, if it’s something fresh and healthy you’re looking for.
Harry: What the hell kind of a restaurant is this, anyway?
Bartender: Our chef came up with this concept of a philosophical kitchen. An amateur philosophical kitchen, actually. It’s her way of practicing two professions at once. Totally anti-establishment, of course. She says improvisation is the only way to make it in this economy while maintaining an ounce of integrity. She’d go out of her way for it, even if that means to the grave.
Cindy: That’s a bit severe for a chef, don’t you think? A bit severe for a philosopher, actually . . .
Bartender: Well, in the end she’s really neither a chef nor a philosopher. A committed anti-specialist.
Harry: Interesting! But how do you survive in this climate? I mean, New York City is a tough place for this kind of idea . . .
Bartender: People do say that, but once you get over a few humps, it’s not so hard. As long as you stick to the principles that drove you to it in the first place.
Cindy: How long have you been here?
Bartender: This summer it’ll have been three years.
Cindy: Well, what the hell—one order of stinging nettle sausages please.
Bartender: Do you want those in pork, fish, or onion casings? You can also add fish roe.
Harry: What the heck is a fish casing?
Bartender: It’s the roe sack, or sometimes the skin, depending on the availability of edible skins and roe sacks.
Harry: [to Cindy] Some of each?
Cindy: [nods and looks at the bartender] With fish roe.
Bartender: Okay, coming right up.
[The bartender goes into the back and another bartender comes out immediately, this time a woman, with a bucket containing live sea urchins. The waiter stops at the taps to pour two more drinks, this time a couple bloody marys with sprigs of some kind of leafy green. Meanwhile, the step dancing DJ is just passing behind them.]
Harry: What is this song?
Cindy: You don’t know this one? It’s, haha, “Non-manual stimulation of the clitoris,” by Birdie McMahon. [The DJ pauses behind them, rubbing his hands together and snickering.] I thought you were something of a connoisseur of this kind of thing . . .
Harry: No, no. An admirer, or an enthusiast at best. Or, what am I saying—do I need to justify myself for knowing only what I know? I loathe the dictatorial and the proprietary impulses of cultural consumption equally!
Cindy: Wow! Take it easy you hipster spaz.
Harry: I mean, you can’t blame the French for their Frenchness, or the German for their Germanness, so what sense or interest is there in judging the mere enthusiast or—apropos—the amateur, for their limitations?
Cindy: This is a conversation, not a trial, Harry. Besides, it’s in the nature of the game, whose ways and means may be artificially constructed, but just because of that don’t need to be taken so seriously, at least not like some sort of death match.
Harry: Well . . . there are many gaps in existence, and in knowledge, too. In fact, I’m more concerned about what happens when the compulsion to patch over the gaps in knowledge takes over.
Cindy: It’s called “progress” or perhaps “learning.” Anyway, this one you should obviously know. At least you seem to have rightly sensed that. [The DJ has step danced past and now turns to walk back in the opposite direction. The new bartender figure approaches with the drinks and food.]
Harry: I can’t drink any more bloody marys after this one. Three is already too much.
Bartender: Here are your drinks and your fresh sea urchins.
Cindy: Thanks Frieda. Hey, I saw you shelling some oysters back there—
Cindy: Right. How much? Money’s a bit tight right now.
Bartender: A dollar a piece.
Cindy: Okay. In that case, we’ll take a dozen.
Bartender: I could tell you’d need an aphrodisiac after gorging yourself on all those fried wings this early in the day! [She goes down the bar and through the back. Another bartender comes out again after a short interval.]
Harry: Nice lady. Hey, what’d you say that song was called again?
Cindy: [taking a sip of here drink] Tastes a bit like the river. “Non-manual stimulation of the clitoris.” You get it?
Harry: [trying his drink] Or maybe piss? No. Why wouldn’t you just say “digital”?
Cindy: [cutting open a sea urchin with a paring knife] Haha, well, that could be the fingers, too. But, actually, it’s a bad play on Kant’s name. “Immanuel Kant,” you get it now? Birdie was interested philosophy, in a musical sense, you know. Fuck! I just got pricked [She washes the guts out in the bucket of water.]
Harry: [taking his turn with the sea urchins as Cindy slurps hers down] I think it’s starting to come back to me now . . . actually, no—what the hell is the musical sense of philosophy? Doesn’t everything just have its own sense?
Cindy: That’s a limited view. Can’t things be transmitted, repeated, or influenced by other platforms, other media?
Harry: Tempting suggestions. Haha, no pricks here [slurps the urchin right out of its shell].
Cindy: It’s a pretty surprising cover. They’ve got such a weird set-up going here. What should we order next?
Harry: Maybe some nettle salad and . . . a couple whiskeys.
Cindy: I’ll take mine on the rocks. [The new bartender is just approaching now—he perhaps has some sort of pronounced physical or mental disablement.]
Harry: Finally, our nettle sausages are coming. It’s really slow today with this new bartender. I hope Frieda gets out of the hospital soon.
Bartender: Here are your Rocky Mountain oysters. More drinks?
Cindy: [suddenly becoming rather severe with him] Hey! These drinks taste kind of like piss and our faces are beginning to swell up. [One sees that their faces have indeed become red and puffy]
Bartender: Hmm. Must be something with the nettle sprigs in your marys. We just got them today, straight out of the park. You’re the first to try them. You must have heard that we’re an amateur philosophical kitchen. Things don’t always go in predictable directions. That’s the cost of the kind of . . . liberation that our chef espouses. Certain hazards are unavoidable. More drinks?
Cindy: Yeah, these are done. We already ordered a couple scotch and sodas, remember, and an order of shrimp balls, too.
Bartender: I’ll be right back with the oysters. Did you enjoy your scotch and sodas?
Harry: As always, top notch. What do you think, Cindy, a couple more?
Cindy: Yes, please! And maybe some of those fried chicken balls with red sauce on special.
Harry: Thanks, Carl.
Bartender: Good to see you two back after so long. [He goes to the back.]
Cindy: Ich muss pinkeln.
Harry: Our clocks must be synced together. Me too!
They go to the bathrooms in the back. Meanwhile, the DJ step dances over again, sits down, and quickly eats a pigeon wing, then gets up again and goes to the back. At the same time, a choppy, grating techno remix composed largely from the sounds produced in the scene thus far—especially from bits of the conversation between Cindy and Harry—is played over the speakers.
Cindy and Harry return to their seats. A new bartender returns at the same time and starts clearing away all the dishes.
Harry: [to the bartender] Hey George, is it okay if we sit here?
Bartender: No problem, I’m just clearing these things away. [Gesturing to the leftovers] Some wings?
Cindy: They don’t call me Mülleimer for nothing.
Bartender: And to drink?
Harry: Whatever bilge water you’ve got swilling around back there.
Bartender: A couple malt liquors coming up. [He goes back]
Harry: Ich muss aufs Klo.
Cindy: Our clocks must be synced. [She winks and pats his shoulder flirtatiously. They go to the back together.]
Meanwhile, the DJ returns to their seats, sits down and starts eating chicken wings. At the same time, the chef—a very tall and beautiful woman dressed in a standard chef’s outfit—looks out of the kitchen, seems to spot somebody she knows at the front of the bar, and begins making her way there. When she walks by the old man seated sipping cranberry juice since the beginning of the act, he turns to her and speaks.
Old man: Don’t you just love this infinity effect of parallel mirrors? [We thereby come to realize what has been captivating his attention the whole time.]
Chef: [looking, but without stopping to chat] Specious infinity. [The old man continues to look, but in a more skeptical, “circumspect” manner]
The chef continues making her way to the front of the bar, i.e. of stage. Once she has crept off into the wings or whatever suitable place, the following segments play through speakers placed behind the audience. The first takes place between the chef and her parents and wavers between the endearing and the aggressive. The second is more ironic in tone. The whole thing takes roughly the same amount of time as it does for the DJ to finish off the chicken wings.
Woman’s voice: How’s our favourite little amateur?
Chef: Mom, Dad. Welcome. May all your income be disposable.
Man’s voice: We were just out for a train ride and thought we’d stop by to feast a bit on your amateurism.
Woman’s voice: What are you serving today? A little bit of irresponsibility? Perhaps some indifference?
Chef: Just some hypocrisy with a little bit of generational stupidity and cultural ineffectuality . . .
All three: Hahahahahaha . . . we’ll never change.
Man’s voice: Accretions and enormities all around.
Chef: Change? Never change. Lots of the time people apparently want you to change but also won’t let you. Fuck them. Become more of the same better. Never change. All change into the same. According to Zeno’s paradox everything is always already in motion. Before you were born you were in motion. And before you were conceived. Before you are dead you will be in motion and for a while after.
All three: [the same tempo but different melodies—including that of The Lady of the Night’s aria?] Never change never change never change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change change [the woman quickly slips in “sleep” without altering the tempo] change change [the man quickly slips in “sleeping” without altering the tempo] change.
Chef: [continuing the same tempo] Never would you like something to eat?
Woman’s voice: No, thank you. We prefer any old trash to your luxurious amateurism.
Man’s voice: Well, so long.
Woman’s voice: Between you and the sun, a specious infinity has already intervened to spoil the broth.
Man’s voice: But don’t be afraid! Fear is a kind of limit provoking nothing. The kind of nothing from which nothing comes.
Woman’s voice: Remain stoic and wild at the same time. Everybody can at least respect that kind of example.
Chef: Mom, dad—may all your income be disposable. So long! [Barely pausing] Oh, hey John! Did you come to fill the hole in your head with some of mine?
Another man’s voice: Rather empty the overfull hole in my head into the overempty hole in your—
Chef: Holy shit! That gives me one hell of an amateurishly philosophical culinary idea.
The chef rushes back to the kitchen and the next segment begins, delivered by a man in what one imagines to be an old-fashioned, theatrical style, but—as is suggested by the uneven pace—spoken at the same time that the words are being written:
Man’s voice: To whom it may concern:
I am restless content! I must confess to sniping the dj. I would have confessed earlier if the last 4 days were not to me less good than 4 seconds. Sniping the dj is the last thing I remember before blacking out, and the only thing I remember after gulping down the noxious elixir attained by filtering a melted-down vinyl record—it was Luke Slater’s 4 cornered room, I believe, but perhaps it was Duke Ellington, or a mixture of the two—through a cottage-cheese maker’s cloth. Presently, from one second to the next, I might suddenly with deep regret remember the loss of the record until time proposes its own muzzy alteration to my forward-looking senses. As for the seconds lost to me in the clock’s actual ticking, it was expendable and still might return a profit to the hole in my head, and despite it. The dj I cannot ultimately regret having sniped. But certainly I must admit publicly to the incident. I had just returned home drunk, learning of the contest well over an hour after it’d begun. Small chance, I thought, typing in the seed phrase. Sent from many different addresses, a modest but momentarily inadequate sum of ether had accumulated in the wallet holding it at once captive and exposed to the human extraction game. Still, the fees then required to extract it from the wallet remained too high. I had not personally contributed any gas to the tank. But suddenly the fees began to drop before my eyes. I saw my chance. I was already properly crapulent. The dj remained in the crosshairs despite well over an hour of many failed transactions. I didn’t feel any particular pangs of conscience, because an apparent (but, of course, maybe specious) multitude had tried and failed already, in an anonymized game to whose debit or credit, who knows. Only a god or a perhaps a devil of a machine could finally account for it all. Meanwhile, we can each of us do our best to account for ourselves. I was then very late to the contest and I was drunk and under a pall of desperation, having been late to the liquor store as well, but then the dj suddenly came available and so I was now into some rare luck. Downward the fees spiked in an instant. I sniped. I thank you ever-anonymous ones in good sport and sympathize with the feelings of ill potentially lodged in anyone’s skin or spilled in sudden exasperated aspersion onto their blindly present-absent fellows. I will continue to play any game arising more or less conveniently to me in the future even if the recent spike to my luck may be as suddenly somewhat evened out by it. The game is not zero sum. I am on a plane now, having come to here. I don’t even know where it is taking me over this hazy blue expanse. But the plane does have free wifi, for once, to appease the many seeping wounds circling my body like a string of tired lights. How still the clouds are up here, even their detached wisps posed and petrified like statues! Apropos—before I lay back to rest, let me just articulate a parting wish, that all your spikes—upwards or downwards, for I swear by the ongoing motion, or pregnancy thereto, and not the tardy impress of form—may be spurs pricking you on to new adventures.
[At the end of this segment, as the DJ wipes his face and hands off with a couple wet naps after having finished the wings and the conversation played behind the audience comes to an end, Cindy and Harry walk out the doors of their respective bathrooms. Harry gestures comically at his wristwatch as they walk back to their seats together. Upon returning to discover their squab wings have been eaten, Cindy becomes very angry in a comically exaggerated way.]
Cindy: [to Harry] Who, the fuck, has eaten, our, pigeon wings!! [To the bartender, who has changed perhaps two or three times in their absence] Barkeep! [The bartender approaches. Harry maintains the same tone of comically exaggerated anger despite his intention obviously having changed] Another, round, of pigeon, wings, please! My man here, he isn’t, satisfied, yet!! [Still in the same tone, loudly projecting] Say there, honey, how about we, to the back, a little [she winks in a fittingly exaggerated way, yelling in the same tone which has by now been wholly emptied of its original intention to anger] suckyfucky!! [He nods his approval and they go together through the same door in the back. They immediately come back out through different doors. Cindy puts her arm in the crook of Harry’s arm as the stride with elegant buoyancy back to their seats, with the pleasant smiles of sated lovers. Once back at their seats, in a tone of cute, dignified happiness:]
Cindy: Oh, Harry! I feel like I’ve just walked straight through a wall.
Harry: And I’m walking on water!
Cindy: Or through the air!
Harry: See! It’s like I said, you always end up loving suicide.
Cindy: (suddenly with sitcom-type irony) Ha-rry, that’s not what I mean!
Harry: But all the empirical evidence I’ve seen leads me to conclude it’s a top-notch aphrodisiac.
Cindy: Ohh, hmhm, maybe you’re on to something there.
Sudden brief blackout
When the lights go on again, we are viewing the scene from the opposite end of the bar, which is empty aside from the band, but otherwise the same as at the beginning. Of the band, we see only the flickering rhythms of their elongated shadows across the floor in front of the slightly raised backlit stage. Perhaps it is less that the audience doesn’t see the band than that it is put in the position of being the band? Effects may be employed to suggest this perspective. In any case, we can now see behind the bar as well. The members of the original cast now enter by diverse, progressively outlandish means. First, the bartender rolls ineptly on roller skates from the back off the barroom (i.e. the wings of the theatre) behind the bar. Next, Harry rides in on a scooter, which he plunks down on the bar as he sits down. The bartender confronts Harry and, in a fit of anger, throws his scooter out the front. Next, Cindy walks in on her hands and flips herself over into seated position on the stool beside Harry. The older man now rides in on a segue drinking from a straw out of a large plastic beverage container toward his usual seat near the back of the bar. The woman is lowered down from the fly loft in the rigid pose of a cardboard cutout of a real estate agent waving and smiling warm greetings to prospective customers. She does not break the pose and take her seat immediately but stays that way until the homeless mummy is rolled in on a dolly by a delivery person. Both the woman and the mummy remain fixed as the delivery person who is also the young man from before takes off his uniform and then takes his seat. The peeved bartender takes the dolly, the large cup, and the discarded uniform up to the front and throws them out then walks to the back and is replaced by a different bartender. Things then resume normally. All along, the audience hears only a quite wild jazz rendition of a techno song, the DJ accompanied by the sax and bass players. As soon as the new bartender is behind the bar, the band stops for a break. The band members enter the stage, one shadow flickering off toward the bathroom, the DJ step dancing over to the bar for a drink, and the other becoming engaged in a conversation with the enthusiastic young man, who is obviously a fan. Cindy and Harry then walk into the bar from the entrance and sit down at their usual place. We hear the following conversation between Cindy and Harry, at the far back of the stage, quiet but easily discernible. At first their conversation is very stilted, monotonous, almost deaf to itself. Gradually, it becomes more naturalistically animated, although some of the original disorientation continues toward the end.
Cindy: . . . the translation of Café Tamagotchi. It’ll be good, not only because people have never heard of it. It’s good that it’s a loose translation.
Harry: Since we can’t do anything else. Couldn’t even if we wanted to, unless we moved to Austria for a year.
Cindy: And I think that’s nice. The main motivations we have to find mirrored in ourselves . . . amplified, distorted. We couldn’t do it at all otherwise. So, it really leaves no room for academicism, finally.
Harry: I’m not so sure.
Cindy: [Snickering] I like that line with the pun between “power cord” and “powder to the cortex.” I think people will like that. They’ll begin with nostalgia over this stupid toy and then become totally confused, maybe even to the point of being flabbergasted, if they’re the types to allow themselves that.
Harry: Sounds like something Roger will like. He’s good for that.
Cindy: Thank god. With too much emphasis on responsibility and trust, you simply suffocate everything from the start. If you want to stretch the fabric of something, you have to accept that a few holes will emerge here and there. The more holes, the more points of attack. But the more points of entry as well.
Harry: There’s no god in the social accounting room. It’s just us, although many try to play the god role . . . and so, little gets done beyond the rictus of our expectations and pre-judgments.
Cindy: And our subtle, devious plan is to put on a radio play by some untranslated Austrian who’s not even really known in the German speaking world?
Harry: Subtle, devious, fun, funny—choose your motive, the more the better. They don’t all have to hit. It takes all kinds. Mainly, we don’t have time to do something really original anyway. Or figure out whether we’re capable.
Cindy: That is bullshit. We have so much time. But it’s true that being a bad student and a worse teacher leaves you a little unnerved. Maybe it’s true that under these particular conditions we just don’t have patience to sift and sort through all the possibilities rapidly running through the time we have.
Harry: Possibilities—that is, motives, means, and opportunities—are in excess. We just haven’t figured out how to put the infernal Rube Goldberg machine in motion. Each day it is rent asunder, and each morning we can only begin again the process of putting it back together again. Maybe steal a moment of satisfaction just before the nightly exhaustion . . .
Cindy: The owl of Minerva’s a fly-by-night. We don’t lack comforts, though.
Harry: [Ironic] That’s a mixed issue. I may know I don’t. But I can still feel like I do. Personally, I have always tended to sabotage the possibilities for comfort amply available to me. And quite successfully at that.
Cindy: I feel like the logic we’re following has taken us off course . . . a word logic off the course of what’s really essentially ours.
Harry: Well, maybe we’re not covering the whole of what’s available to us or of what we could desire to pursue, but it’s certainly a significant part.
Cindy: To the radio play! Cheers.
Cindy: Hey! You don’t tap you don’t fuck.
Cindy: It’s what Roger always says. His Spanish cousin or maid or someone taught it to him.
Harry: For so long, we have tried to anticipate and forestall criticism. Now, we will try to invite, precipitate, and provoke it.
Cindy: The critic always allows itself some usually generous degree of misunderstanding. At the very least, the degree that comes naturally from not directly doing anything about what they’re saying. That’s why they have to call criticism itself a praxis, which is more an empty wish than the essence of the matter. That’s what we need to judge them on. And ourselves, too, insofar as we play our own critics.
Harry: It’s obviously not the first or best or last thing we would hope for.
Cindy: [a waiter brings out a heaping pile of chicken wings and two pints of beer; they don’t seem to notice that they didn’t even order yet] Well, nothing to worry about for the time being . . . These chicken wings look good.
Harry: Why did we order so much?
Cindy: You always say that but then it’s you who’s polishing it all off in the end. [after a short pause] Why did we get suicide again? My eyes are already watering just from the smell.
Harry: And you always say that before we eat. But then you get into it and it’s like you’re dripping for it.
Cindy: Well, anyway, if there’s one thing experience has taught me, it’s that we always have a lot to capitulate to—or should I say, a lot of capitulating to do.
The bar crowd continues talking, dancing, and standing around more or less as they were, but as though the volume has been turned off. Meanwhile, the song “Birthday Cake” by Cibo Matto starts playing quite loudly but not irritatingly so as a new bartender flies out of the kitchen and around the bar at an extremely rapid pace (as much as possible, her movements should suggest either a sped-up or a time lapse video, although the rest of the bar moves normally) on roller blades with a can of spray paint and weaves a continuous line of white around all the characters. When she gets back to Cindy and Harry at the front of the bar, the can she’s holding runs out of paint but she grabs a fire extinguisher off the bar and starts spraying in more and more erratic fashion. As she makes her way back toward the musician’s stage again, the tacky white powder fills the space so that the line from her first transit across the barroom is sunk in the uniform white cloud. The song comes to an end and the following conversation is heard between the mummy and the woman:
Woman: I haven’t made any money at all today.
Mummy: Do you want to?
Woman: I’m not complaining.
Woman: What are you implying?
Mummy: What day is it?
Mummy: How could it be Tuesday?
Woman: What do you mean? There aren’t many people here for a Friday, or even a Thursday.
Mummy: This is New York City, Grand Central Station. There are always a lot of people here, any day of the week.
Woman: But there aren’t right now.
Mummy: I think it’s a pretty good turnout.
Woman: What museum did you crawl out of?
Mummy: No museum. I’m homeless, actually.
Woman: So am I. So is everyone here.
Mummy: Don’t play thought games with me.
Woman: I go in and out of many homes each day. And it is then that I feel most without a home, in the same way that you can be most alone when with others, most silent when speaking, most bored when being entertained, or generally most empty when you are most stuffed full of crap.
Mummy: But the logic can’t really be reversed. I don’t feel the least homeless now that I don’t have a home.
Woman: I’ll let you touch my pussy if it’ll make you feel better.
Woman: I was only joking. How is that supposed to make you feel better?
Mummy: You don’t understand your own magic.
Woman: Oh? What, do you find that somehow tragic? Actually, I might agree with you there.
Mummy: Tragedy died with privacy.
Woman: Don’t be so sure. Smugness ages you and makes you less and less likely to change.
Mummy: And you think I give a fuck?
When the lights come back on, the scene is once again viewed from the original position just outside the entrance to the bar. The whole scene, including all the guests except the DJ, are covered in the cakey white substance. The DJ is behind the decks, mixing and scratching with his saurian appendages. Just as the guests took scarcely any notice of the spray-happy bartender on rollerblades in the previous scene, they are not concerned by the current state of affairs. Only the mummy and the waiter are missing from the scene. The music is an anemic, depauperate version of what it was in the first scene, the DJ accompanying the musicians with manipulated sounds of static, crackling, high-pitched feedback, and strange boops and bleeps like out of an old sonar system. Only now, the musicians’ instruments emit almost no sound, being muffled by the fire retardant in which they are caked, except what noise they do emit is amplified throughout the room as the musicians go through the usual motions, with just as much energy and enthusiasm.
Seconds after the curtains goes up, a waiter—not yet seen but nevertheless covered in retardant—emerges from the kitchen door with a large food cart on skis bearing an enormous covered serving platter of sparklingly polished silver. She tries to slide the cart behind the bar, but it won’t fit, so she maneuvers it back out and down the length of the barroom up to where Cindy and Harry are seated. Harry moves to help her hoist the tray onto the bar before where he and Cindy are seated, but the bartender tells him not to get up. Harry and Cindy remain seated in affectless silence while, with great effort, the bartender manages to lug the tray up onto the bar in front of them. The dialogue in the scene should be spoken in a tone that is as naturalistic and conversational as possible, although the content quickly comes to possess an odd kind of academic fragmentation and remoteness, the sentences themselves increasingly taking on a structure to be spoken only laboriously. As quickly becomes clear, the dialogue is also overwhelmingly monologic. In the end, perhaps the speaking of the sentences must force the naturalistic, conversational tone upon them.
Bartender: [removing the lid off of the tray to reveal the corpulent mummy swathed in white] Voila! Your order of fresh ant larvae.
Harry: Mmmm . . . how fresh, may I ask?
Bartender: Sorry, I meant mature. If you don’t get at it soon, you’ll be treated to an order of fresh ants.
Cindy: Hmmm . . . not a bad idea, two dishes in one.
Bartender: Bon appétit! Mahlzeit!
[Cindy and Harry begin picking at the material encasing the mummy to expose the ant larvae, eating them hungrily while not being totally piggish. They rarely stop speaking as they chew the white capsule-sized bits picked one-by-one from underneath the desiccated wrappings. At one point, armies of innumerable black ants begin streaming out of the holes they’ve picked through the mummy’s casing. They just casually pick specimens from these scuttering hordes as well.]
Cindy: Hello, baby.
Harry: Baby hello.
Cindy: Know’st though not, young Bilgewater, that the heart is possess’d of a shape inclining more to the spiky than the rounded?
Harry: Aye aye
Cindy: Aye yi yi
Harry: Aye yi yi yi yi, I—
Harry: A E I O U?
Harry: Oh you
Harry: Eh yo
Bartender: [yelling with mild aggression down the bar to Harry and Cindy, who nod in thoughtful recognition]
I was conceived in two pieces and had to be nailed together
I was born in three pieces and had to be contracted together
I was circumcised in four pieces and had to be stitched together
I was baptized in five pieces and had to be gathered together
I was communed in six pieces and had to be chewed together
I was confessed in seven pieces and had to be Hail Maryed together
I was confirmed in eight pieces and had to be bound like a book
I was married in nine pieces and had to be laid together
I was ordained in ten pieces and had to be sworn together
I was anointed in eleven pieces and had to be boxed together.
Finally, they buried me without counting the pieces.
Harry: [yelling back down the bar] Fucking bastards!
Cindy: [explaining to Harry] Mothers for quantity over quality.
Harry: Mothers for honesty over truth?
Cindy: [a little ironic]
Oh no, my account has been compromised!
Oh no, my integrity’s been compromised!
Oh no, my identity’s been compromised!
Oh no, my marriage is a compromise!
Oh no, all my friends’ accounts were compromised the whole time!
Oh no, my brain has been compromised!
Harry: [preempting her] Life is long!
Cindy: Meet me at the public toilet.
Harry: [in a baby voice] We get the cwitticisms we desewve!
Cindy: [with mild aggression]
Get cancer level serious or die Get global warming level serious or die Get Cold War level serious or die Get murder-suicide level serious or die Get global-sex-ring level serious or die Get global-food-shortage level Get crack-cocaine Get American imperialism-seed-oil level seri—
Harry: [as if to say: what can I do about it?] The chicken gives out an egg each day whether it’s fertilized or not.
Cindy: What else would it do?
Harry: [after a pause—both are obviously becoming exhausted, disorientated, and delirious] I see black.
Cindy: I see white.
Harry: I see darkness.
Cindy: I see light. [They both lay their heads on the bar.]
Harry: They should have stuck to tinfoil.
Cindy: They should have stuck to cellophane, maybe cardboard.
Harry: America has always been a thoroughly unphilosophical place, after all. [They go silent and still]
The chef comes out and speaks to the waiter:
Chef: The garbage man told me a joke the other day. It went something like: ‘What’s the deal with logic? I mean, imagine Aristotle today: “A thing can’t both be garbage and not be garbage at the same time and in the same way”? “A thing must either be garbage or not be garbage”? “A piece of trash is always and everywhere identical to itself”? It’s obviously total shit. But, then again, Aristotle didn’t have my privileged perspective on the back of this truck.’ [They become awkward in the silence, and only then do they laugh just a little. Then the woman comes over and speaks to the chef:]
Woman: You know how much I love a fucking nerd, but [she points to the mummy, still prostrate on the bar] I think I’ve decided to go with him now. [Suddenly, Cindy and harry begin to stir, a carpet of black ants now covering the bar.]
Harry: Ahoy! Barkeep! Two beers, please, matey.
Bartender: [matter-of-factly] I think you two have had enough now. Once a guest starts talking like a pirate, I usually ask them to leave.
Cindy: [puts her feet up on the stool beside her] Those drinks drank for us and now we’re gonna pay it forward to these here, you . . . you . . . son of a . . . son of a . . . barkeep.
[The bartender walks over and taps the prostrate mummy, pointing toward the two unwanted guests. The mummy gets up off and bar and grabs Cindy, who resists, kicking over the stool on which her feet are planted as she’s forced out of her own.]
Harry: [gets up and takes a swing at the mummy, missing pitiably] Hands off the lay ee odl lay hee hoo!
[The mummy lets go of Cindy, who staggers to the floor, and pulls a very deft move on Harry, reaching up under his sweater and ripping his shirt off from underneath, at the same time swiping at his face with the other hand. But rather than punching Harry, he knocks Harry’s glasses clean off his face and onto the floor, then drags him out of the bar, Cindy following behind.]
Harry: Fuck you and your dirty bouncer’s tricks.
Bartender: [accusatory] Get two drinks in this guy and you never know what he’s going to do.
Cindy: Try thirty! It’s your fucking fault! Why else would you even have a bouncer unless you’re going to need to summon the bouncer in him, letting the drinks drink of themselves senselessly to us.
The bar is now empty of customers. The musicians have packed up. The bartender is cleaning glasses in the still whited-over bar. All remain caked in white. The musicians make their way to the entrance, the DJ taking the lead.
DJ: [from the back] Come along, boys.
As the musicians pass the bartender, they tip their frosted-over hats to the him. The DJ then addresses the bartender:
DJ: A largely unpredictable but still megalomaniacal success, Dick. [They shake hands.]
Once the musicians are at the front of the bar near the exit, the DJ rubs his finger along the counter and takes a lick of the black and white powder, then addresses the audience:
End of Scene
Act 2: Pissing Angels
The curtain goes up on the cramped space of an apartment in Manhattan’s Chinatown. A man and a woman are seated across from each other at a very small table which, together with the chairs on which they sit, fits quite snugly in the available space. At the edge of the space is a small kitchen counter with a tiny sink and some shelves on the wall above it containing various foodstuffs. One would think the whole space was some sort of breakfast nook, but there is no evidence that this dimly lit cell is supposed to represent a part of a larger space available to the man and woman. In the wall at the back of the space there is a window. On the window ledge is a small fountain statue in the form of a urinating cherub. The window opens onto another window of the same size set in a grey wall across a dimly lit airshaft, so close that the separate occupants could touch hands from their kitchens. The man and woman—Harry and Cindy—are seated in front of laptops, typing intermittently and apparently with great effort. They are not looking good. Suddenly, Harry seems to be hit with a sudden burst of inspiration and begins frantically typing. But after a few seconds he begins speaking out the words he is typing.
Harry: Sausages sausages sausagessausages sausagessausagessausages sausagessausagessausagessausagessausages sausagessausagessausagessausagessausagessausagessausagessausages
saus . . .
After about thirty seconds he stops and looks across to Cindy with a cheeky smirk. Cindy returns a sarcastic, slack-lipped smile. They each go back to their jittery, effortful parlay of thinking and typing. Thirty seconds later Cindy reaches for some kind of gel cap sitting next to her computer and takes it down without water.
Harry: You don’t want some water with that? Geez, that’s no way to live. [Pause] Hey, where’d that come from, anyway?
Cindy: I don’t know . . . I thought you’d put it there.
Harry: Not I. What was it?
Harry: [after a pause] I’ve never seen you take Advil before.
Cindy shrugs and gets back to trying to work. Soon, Harry buries his frustrated head in his hands. He then notices a small dried chili pepper on the table, pops it into his mouth without thinking twice, and starts chewing.
Cindy: What the hell are you doing?
Harry: [beginning to slow down in his chewing under the effects of the pepper] We live in desperate, if also not uninteresting, times.
Cindy shrugs again.
Harry: [suddenly he starts making spastic facial movements, sticking his curled tongue out as if trying to lick the air] Ah lul appello ethrall greath . . . motha tuh thpin thah wilth, ah ful shith . . .
Harry’s face is seized with spasms of pain, these compulsive movements rendering his state of exhaustion even more unbearable. He shakes his head to loosen the hold of the mouth pain over him. Cindy, noticing this ridiculous show, again simply shrugs. After half a minute more of trying to work, having looked up at Harry rather indifferently once or twice, Cindy gets up, leaving Harry to his pitiful state of exhaustion, pain, and discomfort. Cindy then returns and sits back down with a very large jar of pickles, a cutting board, and a knife. There is a cooing at the window. Harry suddenly seems to be almost fully recuperated, as though he’s been exaggerating his pain, albeit unintentionally.
Harry: Is that a fucking owl.
Cindy: What, are you retarded or something? We’re downtown in the middle of the day. Sounds exactly like pigeons to me.
Harry: [the next words are spoken with stoic slowness at first, then suddenly sped up] Re: slowness, impatience, laziness, over-stimulation depthtrivialityheavyhandedaccumlativelightness—sometimes these really are just aspects of a single quality consistent with many different perspectives. None exhausts its essence or seals its fate.
Cindy starts slicing pickles lengthwise. Harry shrugs and gets back to the effort of work.
Harry: [reaching for a slice of pickle and staring at it close up for a moment, before eating] Unbearable.
Cindy: When desperation speaks, that says to me that it’s bearable. [Cindy starts eating slices of pickle more or less uninterruptedly, so that her mouth is full just as her phone starts ringing. She reaches into her pocket, looks at the display, and passes it to Harry.]
Harry: Who is it? What should I say?
Cindy: [as she presses the answer button and passes the phone to Harry] ‘S Roger.
Harry: Oh. [Takes the phone] Hey Roger, what’s up? . . . Oh yeah. Again, we’re really sorry about . . . not surprised . . . right . . . the kind of shit that’s been happening around town recently? Yeah, I guess I’ve noticed some things . . . wait . . . what? . . . well, we did see . . . but we didn’t think . . . hmm . . . yeah, that’s . . . that’s something . . . I mean, I guess it’s there in the contract. But can we first— . . . Picasso? [To Cindy] He hung up.
Cindy: What the hell were you talking about?
Harry: You remember that part in the contract? About what would happen if we failed in our commitments?
Cindy: What? But we were fucking drugged!
Harry: He said the language in the contract covered the case quite clearly: “If, as a result of any unforeseen circumstances, so long as the signees remain capable—”
Cindy: Capable? Capable! How can you call us fucking capable! Why didn’t you immediately tell him, “No”? God, you’re such a pushover sometimes. I thought all the language was just standard formalities.
Harry: Oh, calm down. It might not be so bad. We have some good reasons to be happy about this. He said he’d call back to discuss with us—
Cindy: Oh yeah, and what was that shit about Picasso?
Harry: He had to hang up because his new Picasso was being delivered.
Cindy: Oh great. A shady rich scene kid seduces my retard boyfriend, and this is what we end up with . . .
Harry: You’re already saying “no” before you’ve had a chance to think about it properly.
Cindy: You’re already saying “yes” before you’ve had a chance to think about it properly.
Harry: I didn’t exactly say “yes.”
Cindy: But you let that cocky bastard foist it on you without much resistance, so far as I could tell.
Harry: He’ll call back and we’ll talk it over and then we can all make our voices heard. Okay?
Cindy: Of course I will make my voice heard! But I’m not sure you’re so capable of that.
Harry: Listen! Nothing is certain yet. Nothing specific has been laid down. Come on, let’s look at the contract again, and then we’ll be ready when he calls back.
Cindy: This is all too much, if we get roped into this now . . .
Harry: I doubt there’ll be a better time. I used to think we need to limit ourselves in order to do one thing well, but now I think contemporary life is all about taking on more and dealing with the consequences. In the end, all discomforts and dissatisfactions can be neutralized.
Cindy: You’re such an amateur . . . and an apologist for assholes to boot.
They begin to laugh. It is as if they have been performing an iteration of some sort of act or routine in which they indulge in a dramatic exaggeration of their respective sentiments, forgetting themselves until some unspecified moment pulls them back.
Cindy: Sigh . . . a Picasso . . . what’s he want with our amateur act, anyway?
Harry: Hey! Let’s not sell ourselves short. This is novel territory. Just being there is already something, having been sensitive to the challenge . . . anyway, he’s our friend. That’s reason enough, no?
Cindy: They keep us well-mixed I suppose.
Harry: Hmm . . . maybe there’s an idea for a title in there: “Poorly bred but well-mixed”?
Cindy: Ha! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and risk blowing our loads all at once.
Harry: Or “Poorly conceived . . .”? Not to be disingenuous about our upbringing. Rather be ambiguous, or polysemous, let’s say. Tread softly that old hazardous line.
Cindy: Come on! Let’s just read the damn contract. [Cindy’s phone rings. She shows the display to Harry.]
Harry: Well, I doubt there’s much detail in there anyways. It’s more about how we all interpret it under the present circumstances.
Cindy: [rolling her eyes as if to say: “You stupid insufferable rube!”] Let’s just figure out what kind of a friend old Roger is.
[Cindy presses the answer button and then puts the call on speaker. Roger’s crisp, confident voice must be discernible to the audience.]
Roger: Okay, tell him I’ll see him . . . or, no . . . nothing . . . I’ll do it myself. [Into the phone] Hello Cindy, sorry about that business.
Cindy: It’s okay, Roger. I’m here with Harry.
Roger: Hi Harry. Nice to speak again so soon.
Harry: [taking on a businesslike demeanour with a glance at Cindy] Ya, let’s just cut straight to the business.
Roger: Have you two had the chance to talk it over?
Cindy: It’s a little sudden and I’d say essentially improbable Roger. To be honest, I—we thought the contract was more of a formality. As you know, we have no recollection and no good idea of what happened to us that day to prevent us from—uhh—showing up, and then, you know, we’re not really improvisational types. We’ve got no experience, apart from teaching, which is hardly the same. Don’t you think that maybe we’re not the right people for the job?
Roger: I’m not out to play a sinister force or any kind of corporate trickster here. As you know, we’re part of an independent, more experimental, collaborative network.
Harry: [unnaturally forcing himself to speak up and be heard despite the unconfident mumbling] Oh, and how’s the new Picasso looking? [Cindy casts a flustered glance at him.]
Roger: Yes, Harry, we’ve had some success recently, and I’ve happily, unabashedly rewarded myself for it. It’s not only a luxury item. I’ve co-invested with my parents, through a business contact of my dad’s.
Harry: [seeming to gain composure in his decided tone] Let’s be upfront, Roger—
Cindy: [to Harry, non-plussed, covering the microphone] Take it easy! [Taking her hand away from the microphone] Wait. Roger, we’re still a little confused as to what you see as being the nature of our agreement. After all, we didn’t commit to anything definite or concrete. We could be prepared to perform the original radio play idea by the end of the week. Don’t you think it might be better for all of us to stick with the original plan?
Roger: Well, the thing is, we’ve really moved toward more of an improvisational ethos here, and a radio play translated from some Austrian, even if relatively unknown, and then performed live, doesn’t really fit so well with our program. It might even compromise our recent momentum. We need something a little more interactive, something that invites feedback. It will, of course, take a bit of a perspectival shift, as the medium requires. That’s why we’re here to work with you. We understand the medium.
[Harry is meanwhile writing something down on a piece of paper, preparing his thoughts in an attempt to better master his approach].
Cindy: But Roger, do you really think this whole livestreaming trend is something more than just that—another wave of whatever kind of pilled bullshit?
Harry: [while looking at his notes] Yeah, Roger, do you really think it’s something more than the kind of “as if” performative, “as if” eventful, “as if” decisively independent and free, but really indistinctly aggressive, treacherously unnuanced, conservatively self-assured and unsubstantial kind of shit people have been posting online for, like, forever by now? I mean, when is all this supposed to bear fruit?
Roger: Just hear me out. We’re not unaware of these uncertainties and risks. We’re, so to speak, upping the stakes. We’re convinced that total anonymity is essentially limited and that the reflective, responsive, temporally marked, positional values of a shifting authorial sense have an irreplaceable potency in the field of production. The problem is that the voices of anonymity have tended to embrace and capture aspects of the network that the individual inevitably either shies away from or contests under some humanistic pretense. People still seem to want to compete with the network in some sort of John Henry, man-versus-machine fantasy. As if contingency and multiplicity were only able to be expanded on some quintessentially neural basis. So, you hear this talk about drunken monads or whatever. But the network, while it can’t be made to bear human burdens or imagine other ways of being, certainly does transform them. Of course, we must ask ourselves what we have to give up, what must be sacrificed of our old habits, our old ideas, our old institutions. And, at the same time, we may ask ourselves what of the historically human is likely to return under some inexorable force—return either as something to be embraced and cultivated or as an insidious force to be defended against once again. We’re entering new territory here, where we’re once again becoming interesting in how the network not only ushers in something new but excites, stimulates, and harnesses the perennial powers and traditions, the historically dynamic forces. A renaissance is always an expansion of the time sense, in excess of mere history. We have not yet entered the renaissance. But we want to make ready.
Harry: Well, I for one feel even worse now. You see, Roger, we have extreme headaches and substantial memory loss from the recent events, and we thought we were going to be discussing the more concrete aspects of good old radio plays and livestreams in order to come to the conclusion that we would be doing the former or nothing. I thought my head would be taking a holiday form philosophy but now you’ve crushed it into your abstract snare, vice, or bear trap.
Roger: That is in many ways my job. I bear with the hairy business of reasons, motivations, and justifications—or rather, means, motives, and opportunities—so that our contributors can produce on psychologically somewhat simpler grounds. Think of me as a kind of cortical extension or prosthetic, keeping safe, warm, and happy those areas of the brain you’d better forget about for a while, although of course you can’t simply lose track of them entirely. A certain faith is required here, of course. But it rests on firm, concrete grounds. You do not have to tread so lightly.
Cindy: Well, then let me cut through the shit Roger. Is all this not just a roundabout way of saying that you’re trying to be first in capturing this emerging market?
Roger: First in livestreaming? Don’t forget about pornography—dependably ahead of the game, now as so many times before. But, also, video games, trading the markets, and even sport fishing, among so many others! In fact, isn’t it rather the normal course? As always, so-called higher culture is now playing catch-up and imposing this weary burden of consciousness, under a certain pretense of playfulness. This naturally makes you wonder what for. As I’ve said, leave that to me.
Cindy: But your examples are all very different from what we’re talking about. The burdens of performativity, creation, and understanding are different here. They are everything! All else follows from them and leads back toward them. We’re not—we might just not be up to the task.
Harry: We, in a sense, haven’t really wired our lives that way. Anyway, I also heard about some event in . . . what’s it called? . . . Café Milano I think . . . where they made butter sculptures on Persian rugs or something. I’m afraid we might already be too late to trap the worth firstness confers.
Roger: Yeah, we know all about that. None of this is really worth worrying about. though. The surface has barely been scratched. We were actually hoping you’d commit to something a bit longer term. Give the medium a chance to do its work, you know. After all, that’s why we’re interested in the first place, because it does work in various ways. But we need to give it time to play out in order to see, to experience it on the terms that it exposes to us over time.
Cindy: What do you mean, “longer term”?
Harry: [simultaneously] We’ll have to quit our jobs!
Roger: No no. Keep your jobs for now. It’s fuel for the fire. We’re operating on a maximalist principle, where everything goes, everything must be included, as much as possible. This is not at the expense of life as you’d otherwise be living it, but in addition.
Harry: Sounds . . . implausible.
Roger: Of course, it will change your lives, but the changes will be, let’s say, net positive. That’s something we’re exceedingly confident in. Our priority is that you do not regret the difference made.
Cindy: Okay, let’s accept that premise for now. Still, there are legal issues, livestreaming our classes for external purposes on the sly. We could never get around that, could we?
Roger: I’ve already checked your contracts. The issue is negotiable, but probably not. But if you get fired, it’s just another event in the total happening. Anyway, you already told me that you were thinking of leaving those jobs behind.
Harry: It does really seem like an inevitability at this point.
Roger: And we want to leverage that, not let it go to waste. Turn one form of energy into another, as far as that goes.
Harry: It sounds like you’ve put a lot of thought into this already.
Roger: Like I say, it’s my job. More than that, it’s my passion. I’m just chasing my dream to the point where it converges with those of others in adjacent regions, for maximal results.
There is a moment of silence as Cindy and Harry mull over the proposition. Then, we hear some voices in discussion from next door followed very suddenly by load moaning.
Roger: What the hell is going on there?
Cindy: Oh, that happens usually a couple times throughout the week here. We think the couple next door is running some sort of online sex channel.
The moaning suddenly stops and we hear the same voices muffled in such a way as to suggest more practical discussion.
Cindy: See, suddenly they stop fucking and start talking—about camera angles, lighting, positions, who knows what else.
Harry: [lewdly suggestive] How do you think that’ll go over on the stream, Roger?
Roger: Hmm . . . Shit. I’ll really have to think about it. The erotic factor is . . . potentially . . . disruptive. Which can, of course, be good in certain instances. It can actually work to hold things together in the end, even if it’s not necessarily moving them in a better or worse direction. But then, in terms of the monetization policy, I’m not so sure it’ll fly.
Harry: Well, it’s not all the time. And it’s only next door. You must be able to filter that out.
Roger: Yes, we do what we can, but streaming live complicates things a little bit sometimes.
Cindy: Wait. Monetization policy? I didn’t know it’d be monetized . . .
Roger: Well, we’ve got our expenses to take care of. We like to take a larger, more . . . philosophical view of it though, despite whatever they’re preaching in the institutions these days—it’s another instance of the conversion of one form of energy into another. And it’s another measure, another variable in the whole metabolism, the social metabolic system we’re tapping into here, feeding, complementing, hopefully provoking . . .
Harry: [nervous excitement] Our lives, streamed live, monetizable? Impossible!
Roger: There’s a certain magic to the livestreaming platform. Something about the spirit of the times. In our experience it has tended both to inspire and to provoke. Keep in mind that you’re not simply performing for the camera. You’re performing with the stream, always entertaining the direct feedback of the audience.
Cindy: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll see how far we get. In the end, what are we talking about here, Roger? An hour a day? A few hours a week?
Roger: An hour per day is not a bad idea for a start. It’ll get you used to the cameras and the interactive element. But I think you’ll see that that won’t turn out to be very much. It’s not like people are binge watching this like some network program. We predict there’ll be more intermittency in the course of events. You’re allowed to be a little bit boring sometimes. He development of culture is, after all, quite boring much, if not most of the time. It works largely through anticipation, speculation, and allusion . . . not direct stimulation, although it’s not bad to involve that sometimes . . .
Harry: With a little help from the nymphos next door.
Roger: Generally an unreliable source, but sure.
Cindy: And are you thinking we should maintain a regular time slot, or—
Roger: We’re flexible, to begin with. You might try out some different formats: an hour in the morning one day, an hour in the evening the next. Even an hour sleeping. You might do a couple minutes out of each hour, on the hour. Or you might stagger it, throw some contingency or chance into it. Experiment. Get creative.
Cindy: Oh, and, like, sometimes we might perform for the camera—if, for instance, we’ve prepared something—while other times we can just forget it’s even there. A kind of extended concept of the variety show.
Roger: Fantastic! I think you’re beginning to catch on.
Suddenly there is some commotion heard coming through the phone and Roger is heard in indistinct conversation with somebody in the background. All we hear clearly of it is “Caravaggio.”
Roger: Listen guys! I’m very happy where our conversation has gone but I have to go accept a delivery now. Let’s let some of what we discussed sink in and then reconvene tomorrow.
Cindy: But Roger—
Roger: Sorry, gotta go! [He hangs up.]
Cindy: What was that about Caravaggio? He’s generally so unassuming, especially in person, but then you’re talking on the phone and suddenly it’s like he’s playing a role . . . the role of some kind of gangster.
Harry: From hipster to gangster in the space of a telephone conversation.
By now the moaning sounds next door have reached a feverish intensity, briefly interrupted here and there by some directorial discussion or other between the actors.
Cindy: [biting into a pickle, suddenly inspired to walk around the table to Harry with a few seductive gestures] Well, I’m feeling inspired. What do you say we clear the cobwebs from our heads? If we’re gonna do this whole streaming thing, we might as well approach it in a . . . celebratory manner.
Harry: That’s true. We’ve got a lot of . . . redefining to do in our lives, if we’re going to do this thing. We’ll need to apply some or actually a lot of grease to the wheels.
Cindy: In a spirit of general . . . consummation.
Harry: As a couple of failed specialists, that seems only natural.
Cindy sits with her legs astride of Harry’s and they start kissing heavily. Suddenly the telephone starts ringing again. This time it’s Harry’s. He lets it ring as they continue to kiss and grope. It eventually stops but starts ringing again after a small delay.
Harry: Let me turn the sound off on this fucking thing . . . [looking at the screen] It’s Roger again. Maybe I should answer?
Cindy: Not now. He’s so pushy sometimes. We don’t have to be there to receive it, though. [Harry silences the phone and puts it on the table.] Besides, we need to have a little fuck for our heads to reset.
Harry: Perfect medicine for the time warp we’re living in now. [The phone starts buzzing] Shit, I thought I silenced it! Now he’s texting me. What the hell! [Looking at the phone screen] Apparently, it’s something urgent. “Stop fucking around and call me back!” he says.
Cindy: Holy hell. He’s beginning to seem impossible. Honestly, if it’s going to be like this the whole time, I’m not sure either of us will be able to take it. We’re not cut out to be on call 24/7.
Harry: Hold on, let’s just call and see. Things are bound to be a little rough in the beginning. We’ll just have to start making our voices heard. [Answering the phone] Listen, Roger, we really haven’t had the time to mull this thing over yet [indistinct barking projected through the phone’s earpiece] . . . you want us to stop? Stop what? [more loud barking] Hold on, let me put you on speaker . . . okay . . .
Roger: [voice severe but a bit calmer now] Have you been fooling around with the platform’s video functions while logged in to the network channel?
Harry: [simultaneously] A little.
Harry: Well, I just wanted to get a feel for the interface. What’s the matter?
Roger: You’ve been live the whole time. I just got a call from Hans, the host of the current program. While he was DJing he noticed some abnormal comments in the live chat. At first, he thought it was just trolling or bots, but then . . . just take a look for yourselves.
Cindy: [reading off the screen] “Probably staged” . . . “The world’s a stage” . . . sounds pretty normal to me.
Roger: Keep reading!
Cindy: “What is this, some kind of hipster porn?” . . . “Probably the gayest soap opera ever” . . . “I’d crawl a mile through broken glass, naked, just to suck the . . .”
Harry: Wow, haha. That’s some real construction worker talk there—
Roger: Hey asshole, you want to alienate even more viewers with your classist remarks?
Cindy: But are we really so sensitive about dividing the audience, Roger?
Roger: We haven’t gone over the platform’s monetization policy with you yet. Until then, you’ve gotta watch what you say and do.
Harry: Sorry, but we had no idea, Roger. [Indistinct talking through the earpiece] Roger?
Roger: Okay, we think we’ve figured out the issue. Sorry, I have to go finish dealing with these art handlers.
Harry: So, we’re good for now? . . . He just hung up. Fucking guy. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, the time warp . . . [he starts groping Cindy again].
Cindy: Stop, Harry, doesn’t that fucking freak you out? We were being broadcast live on the internet without a clue.
Harry: In some ways, I’d say it was a fitting start.
Cindy: But don’t you see what we’re getting into? It’s not . . . normal.
Harry: Hmm. Are we normal? To tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking it might be time to finally depart these still waters. I don’t think they run so deep as they seemed to at first.
Cindy: That’s not it at all. It’s just . . . I don’t know. There’s a lot to think about. It’s easy to get caught up in the ideas for people like me and you, but are we really so able to change our habits, our whole lifestyle, more or less solely under the impetus of an idea?
Harry: There’s the technology, too. And the prospect of a new life itself.
Cindy: I don’t know. I guess none of that seems so new to me, after all. Or else suddenly I feel old. Very old.
Harry’s phone rings.
Harry: Speaking of old people, it’s my dad. Want to say hi? [He answers it on speaker without waiting for a response.]
Harry: Hey, dad.
Cindy: [simultaneously] Not now . . .
Harry: [gesturing: sorry! while speaking into the phone] I’ve got Cindy with me here on speaker.
Cindy: [leaning in] Hi, Blake. [Meanwhile, Roger’s been idly lifting Cindy’s shirt up with one hand, revealing a bare breast.]
Father: [his voice audible, the same as with Roger] Hello, Cindy, Harry, just letting you know you’re still live. And I’ve been following the whole time. What a way to begin! Well done.
Cindy meanwhile bats Harry’s hand away and moves her hand over the camera, at which point there is a blackout in the theatre.
Harry: [embarrassed] Christ, sorry, dad. I guess we screwed that one up.
Blake: Don’t be embarrassed, son. You really are doing well. But I just want to say that you really have to listen to the director, what’s his name, Roger. Monetization is the way of the future. The monetization of everything. Don’t screw that up and you’ll be fine.
Harry: Everything? Dad, I didn’t know you had an interest in this kind of thing. How do you even know . . .
Blake: Sorry, Cindy, Harry, gotta go! I bought a very large Joseph Beuys fat sculpture and they’re coming to take the roof off the house today to get it down into the living room. [Hangs up.]
Harry: But since when did you . . . he hung up.
Cindy: [Taking her hand off the computer camera, the lights in the theatre go on again] Wow, your dad’s really taking retirement to the next level.
Harry: I don’t understand. When did he learn about . . . how did he get that kind of . . . since when does he even know who Joseph Beuys is?
Cindy: Harry, you yourself are always saying how one mustn’t pigeonhole.
Harry: But . . . in this case?
Cindy: Is it really so unbelievable?
Harry: No. But, it . . . changes things, doesn’t it?
Cindy: Well, maybe, but not in a bad way. Yet you look like you’ve just seen a mummy.
Harry: Yaya, you’re right. Anyway, it’s not time to think about that now. At least I stopped thinking about this raging headache for a fucking second.
Cindy: Watch it, I think we might be on still! [She puts her hand back over the camera and there is another blackout.]
Harry: What, we can’t swear? I’m pretty sure there’s nothing wrong with that.
Cindy: We should get clear with Roger first.
Harry: [softly chuckling with a bit of nervous irony] But we seem to have been begun already.
Cindy: Well, then, we might as well just begin ourselves.
Cindy takes her hand away from the camera. But now, instead of the lights coming on in the theatre again, there is a projection of a computer screen onto the since lowered curtain. It displays a tight, close shot of Cindy and Harry as they were, from the perspective of the computer camera. Along the right-hand side of the screen there is a live chat going on with a couple comments: “Staged!” “Staged?” “Pretty boring anyways” “Show us your tits again” “No no. Show us that juicy cock now, daddy’s boy!” “I wanna see what’s happening with the neighbours” and “https://liveporncams.com/nextdoorsuckyfucky/?IJOT=2222.” Meanwhile, Cindy gets up off of Harry’s lap and drags her chair around from the other side of the table, with difficulty in the cramped space (knocking it against the counter and the table in the process), and wedges it in close beside Harry’s chair.
Harry and Cindy look at each other in some confusion and embarrassment. Harry grabs some notes on loose sheets of paper from beside him on the table and hands half to Cindy.
Harry: Maybe these will help us get started.
There is a message alert sound heard from the computer.
Cindy: Hmm. Roger says we’re doing just fine, but we need to relax a little. We should introduce ourselves. But first, we’re supposed to play this intro track after saying . . . [She points to the screen. She and Harry spend a moment reading what’s on the screen and then:]
Cindy and Harry: Coming at you live from the internet! Early adopters, welcome to Play It Live, the city’s very first livestreamed anti-dramatic play space.
[Cindy clicks to play the introductory song, which is a recording of the “Top of the Mountain” operatic DNB song sung by Ricky in the Prologue: “Top of the mountain / Air is thin but who’s countin’ / The atoms” etc. The song comes to an end and there is a short awkward pause before Cindy and Harry start fumbling around for words, at first quite casually unconcerned, but then more and more as if speaking was the principle task of life, and the failure to speak thus equivalent to a failure to live. In other words, whether or not they satisfy any particular expectations, they nevertheless go a fair way in rising to the occasion.]
Cindy: So . . .
Harry: Hmm . . .
Cindy: So, let’s begin by introducing ourselves . . .
Harry: Hmm . . . Our names—
Cindy: They’ve already been revealed. Our project—
Harry: I guess we’re not above introductions.
Cindy: But we’re not below them either.
Harry: Neither pretentious nor abstentious . . . abstemious?
Cindy: We’re certainly not abstemious.
Cindy: Namely, two days ago we were on our way to a meeting with the director of the channel hosting the program you’re now watching, Play It Live. And we ran into, let us say, some technical difficulties.
Harry: And now we’ve been abducted into hangover land. Namely, we missed our meeting due to unforeseen events, or impulses which led to certain events.
Cindy: Events beyond our control, or to which we unintentionally lost our abilities to effectively respond. And the director, who—no, I shouldn’t say that . . .
Harry: The director suggested that, as a kind of fortuitous challenge—
Cindy: A penance—
Harry: We simply play it live! Since that would anyway be in the spirit of that kind of spirit we are trying to arise to here.
Cindy: On the program aptly named Play It Live, where our motto is “adapt and be early.”
Harry: Also, “it might be cool!” [Another brief pause, more awkward this time.]
Cindy: Uh—“Cool, until it’s hot!”
Harry: Aye, there’s the rub.
Cindy: The life of the marriage rite is in the drama of the divorce.
Harry: Poetic. Did you just think that up?
Cindy: No, it’s a line of poetry I wrote when I was fourteen. But by now, of course, we’re in an anti-dramatical age.
Harry: That’s what we’re here to adapt to, and to adopt early.
Cindy: Hrmm . . . [Short pause, more awkward than the last, fidgeting.]
Cindy: Well, I’m happy with how’s this is going, so far.
Harry: Yes, it at least leaves something to be desired . . . we’re acclimating. But now it’s perhaps time to turn our attention to some of the material we had prepared before.
Cindy: You mean, the stuff for our meeting?
Harry: Right—before we decided to go the more ad lib live performance route.
Cindy: After all, it’s also about the flow of words. Sometimes you need to bring in some support.
Harry: [holding a small sheaf of papers before them] So, without further ado—thanks to our host channel, InterLiving. We are coming at you live through the internet, and this, dear friends, is a performance. A living performance, livestreaming on the internet. Like all performances, our living live on the internet is staged, as you can see here.
Cindy: To get to where we are sitting and living now, we had to take a step up . . . to get back to where we were before, we’d have to take a step down. But, as the saying goes, you never step down the same step twice.
Harry: Nay, nor can you step up the same step again. A whole modern architectural dilemma wrapped up in these ancient philosophical memes.
Cindy: These are no small concerns.
Harry: But, with us, there shouldn’t be any concern at all. Integrity is one of our watchwords!
Cindy: And responsibility is another. You have our word.
Harry: And my word is all I have, so look, look to yourselves, but quickly, and now turn back!
Cindy: Haha . . . we’ll be having some fun today. One hundred percent guaranteed fun or your time back.
Harry: Two hundred percent of your time back.
Cindy: We will work out the cosmic accounts in the end. I assure you we will not be in arrears. We all moonshot in the end—that’s our gamble, grounded in reason, in logic.
Harry: In the finest procedures of cosmic accounting. But we’ve come off course . . .
Cindy: An auspicious sign, by the way, coming off course . . . And where from? Well, like all things staged, hence, like all performances, from the minutely neurological to the grandiosely cosmic, we bring our pretenses, both hidden and revealed, and our ulterior motives, both illicitly smuggled and fairly assumed—
Harry: That is what it means to be a child citizen of the cosmos . . . live from the internet . . . it means to take everything in hand, the greatest and the least, the best and the worst, the self-evident and the least of all marginal possibilities, whether we can make it self-evident as such or not—
Cindy: I’d like to remind everyone that as we come at you live from the internet, we’ve opened up the live chat section, to which we will respond as well as we possibly can in real time, in case you had your doubts . . . of course there are limits to our capacities, one can only assume, despite for now being untried—and therefore untired—between us cosmic children, if I may be allowed to suppose we will in fact achieve a certain amount of success, effectively reaching an audience and garnering some kind of feedback, if not exactly the kind of critical volume to run us off the rails.
Harry: We of course aim to live beyond our means here live on the internet, spurred on by our desires and our imaginations, but we may always trip over the means as well, falling, somersaulting, barrel-rolling to ever-greater effect . . .
Cindy: But, as long as we can help it, we will never fall into silence—
Harry: Into the horrible silence—
Cindy: Although we love silent cinema, for example, from a certain historical distance.
Harry: We even have the pretension to see ourselves in it.
Cindy: Pretenses pretenses pretenses. At least we’re honest . . .
Harry: Coming at you with live honesty, living honestly on the internet.
Cindy: Honesty like this takes real work, not just clever artifices but hard, honest work . . .
Harry: Both of us come from blue collar backgrounds. They paid off in the end but nevertheless—
Cindy: Like anything hard, honesty takes work and that work takes a certain amount of cleverness and that cleverness composes certain devices and develops a certain provenance in their inspiration, implementation and refinement . . . and it’s not always easy to make this open, transparent, and easily accessible in the result . . .
Harry: Not everyone bothers trying, but we bring it into the balance.
Cindy: And then into the crosshairs. If people don’t shoot us some more comments soon, we might fall into the silence.
Harry: We might drop dead.
Cindy: We exaggerate, of course.
Harry: That wouldn’t jibe with the financial policies of our sponsors. It’d be dishonourable of us.
Cindy: And, on that note, we might as well begin to announce—
Harry: But first we should declare that we are of course universalists, staunch universalists—
Cindy: And we really would be champions in the field if it weren’t for the fact that we are also the firmest believers in the contingency of each living being to the circumstances of its birth.
Harry: Experience tells us it takes more than one.
Cindy: That means, at least two.
Harry: But we erreh on the safe side despite our sizeable risk capacities and effectively implement the principle that it—by which we mean this business of artfully living live on the internet—
Cindy: It takes at least three well-defined things . . . [they gesture cutely to Cindy’s abdominal region]
Harry: Plus, the ready access of indefinite multitudes . . . [they gesture into the eye of the camera and freeze there. Once it becomes clear that the computer image has frozen: blackout. After another few seconds, the lights come back on and the curtains are again raised on the kitchen scene, Cindy and Harry seated beside one another, silent and apparently stunned. Then Cindy’s phone rings and she answers on speaker, still apparently quite dazed. They speak in blunt exclamations rather than conversation.]
Roger: Fantastic turn!
Cindy and Harry: Sudden inspiration!
Roger: Excellent news!
Cindy and Harry: New excellencies!
Roger: Andy Warhol! For now bye.
Roger hangs up and the two go back to sitting there, dazed, exhausted. After ten seconds:
Harry: My fucking head.
The curtain goes up on Cindy and Harry’s bedroom, not much bigger than the breakfast nook in which the first scene occurred. The bed nearly fills the room. To the left of the bed there is a window. Outside it is dark. To the right of the bed there is a small bedside table with a lamp, again in the form of a urinating cherub fountain. The lamp is turned on and the fountain is running. Cindy and Harry are sitting up in bed, their backs supported by pillows wedged up against the wall. They are wearing pajamas and reading glasses, reading. Cindy and on the window side and Harry on the side of the fountain lamp. Intermixed with the constant spluttering stream of water is the sound of birds cooing. Cindy and Harry converse while barely turning their eyes away from their reading material, as if in a kind of well-worn bedtime routine of casual reading and talking.
Harry: Damned birds. Weird, though, I still think they’re owls, or maybe falcons. They’re too loud for pigeons, and I think pigeons sleep at night, and I’ve heard certain predatory birds, which are often nocturnal, actually do well in a city.
Cindy: But there’s pigeon shit all over the window.
Harry: How do you know it’s pigeon shit?
Cindy: It looks like pigeon shit to me.
Harry: Maybe. But the cooing doesn’t sound like any daytime pigeon cooing, and it sounds a bit further away, not within or directly above the airshaft.
Cindy: I guess you could investigate if you’re so concerned.
Harry: Maybe I will. [Pause. They continue reading.]
Cindy: [slight chuckle] You and your pissing angels. At first the sound would keep me up at night. I don’t know if you noticed how I’d try to get you to stay at mine as much as possible.
Harry: Sure I did.
Cindy: It used to seem like some kind of bad habit.
Harry: Not the worst, though.
Cindy: But now I find it somehow natural to sleep with, and silence somehow unnatural.
Harry: An uncanny suburban tension. [Pause.]
Harry: That was some gooood improvising today.
Cindy: Who knew we had it in us. I’m proud of you.
Harry: Proud of us.
Cindy: I hate to say it, but Roger has some pretty good intuitions about this stuff. It was like we were suddenly possessed by the medium.
Harry: And by the energy of ideas surrounding it.
Cindy: The fetus also seemed to have something to do with it.
Harry: That was a nice touch, or really more than that.
Cindy: So much more. Too big for this apartment.
Harry: We’ll see.
Cindy: Nice of your dad to give us the Fat Chair.
Harry: He’s a sweet man.
Cindy: But we could really have used the money more. Where does he get it from?
Harry: Investments, maybe. He’s always been interested in that kind of thing. Now that he’s retired, he’s finally putting into action some of the passive knowledge he’s accumulated over the years. He’s really played the long game with life. Not a bad way.
Cindy: He can be an inspiring man. But suddenly rather impractical, almost excessively so. And he’s always been so careful. Most people take on less risk with age.
Harry: I don’t know about that. Maybe these are just riskier times. Before they were more practical, and now they’re riskier.
Cindy: At least, whatever time he’s been living in. [Pause] But I guess we can’t just go and sell the sculpture, for now.
Harry: What would we gain by it anyway? We can’t rely on that forever anyway.
Cindy: True, in a way. At least for now. The baby won’t be walking for at least a year and half. But we should still plan ahead. You can’t exercise the whole brain-body complex in a space like this, and I don’t want to raise some mental midget.
Harry: But we have the whole city at our feet. And then we can always go spend time in Canada. It’s all about contrast.
Cindy: Anyway, if we can get into a better place, we will, right?
Harry: Of course.
Cindy: Let’s make it happen. The monetization of everyday life—not a bad turn, if you can get your head around it.
Harry: Without compromising. Controversial, but so is everything challenging.
Cindy: [turning to Harry] I’m really quite happy right now Harry. I feel like we’ve begun to adapt.
Harry: Me too, mee tooo. Not the first, but early enough. Should wee . . . turn out the light?
Cindy: No, let’s leave it on!
They jump right into sexual intercourse without any apparent need for foreplay or other preparations. But shortly after they begin,
Still in the bedroom. It’s morning, some weak light enters the room through the airshaft-facing window. The couple next door has already started on the day’s work, but it is only very faintly audible. Cindy and Harry are asleep for about a minute before they gently begin to stir.
Cindy: How’s your head today?
Harry: [he shakes it around a bit before responding] Ready?
Cindy: Goo-ood? Mine too-oo?
The scene opens in the kitchen again, same as the day before. The pissing angel fountain is a little bit larger this time, and so is the jar of pickles now on the table. It has begun to rain outside. Thunder is heard in the background, intermixed with intermittent sex noises from next door. Cindy and Harry are on opposite sides of the table, their computers before them. Cindy’s phone is between them. They are in the middle of a conversation with Roger, on speaker. There is also a small projector on the table, but it is not plugged in.
Roger: [just as the curtain is going up] . . . switched to the Rumble network, so swearing is fine. But no hate speech or targeted attacks. No sexual acts purely for the sake of pecuniary reward. There are certain exceptions for artistic purposes, but there are limits to the percentage of the programming which may be devoted to such contents.
Harry: Hmm . . . and how do we intend to stick by these regulations within the improvisational, spontaneous framework of our program?
Roger: Well, first of all, the network issues a certain number of warnings before cutting you off, so we don’t have to worry about that happening without any notice. Secondly, unless you two are planning to perform some all-out porn scenes right in front of the camera, or exposing your assholes directly into the camera lens, there really isn’t much I can see you doing that’ll jeopardize the show. For instance, we’ve verified that the couple next door won’t really be an issue.
Harry: Hrmm . . . interesting.
Cindy: Well, transgression isn’t everything.
Roger: Yeah, I don’t think it’s exactly your thing.
Harry: Perhaps this is a provocation to work our way up to it.
Roger: We’re working with this network not because of what they forbid, but because of what they allow. For the moment, we see more or less eye-to-eye with them. Edginess is already incorporated into the framework of the network itself, so unless you’re trying to compete for edginess, then there’s no need to test their limits for no other reason than that. We’ll worry about those limits if and when we approach them on a more organic basis.
Cindy: Yeah yeah, we’re about to be parents. That’ll be all the edge we can handle for a while.
Harry: Domesticity as an edge? Sounds more like a network sitcom we’re running here: after absorbing such models as kids, now we’re reenacting them. Hardly a premise for a show.
Roger: Yes, but you have to think about the creative context within which our programming operates. We’re not isolating any particular aspect of the medium. We’re not developing any particular genre of content. All of this stuff which once seemed inaccessibly expensive and new is now readily accessible and cheap. We’re embracing this new accessibility of what was once forbidding without any pretense or ambition to skillfulness. We’re simply allowing it to converge out in the open, rather than as passive habit. We’re parlaying these energies in order to provoke and incorporate them into a total context of free relation, instead of allowing them to remain in their corporate packages. In a very non-specific, inclusive way, we want to inspire people to think: “Yes, I really can live this way, for a long time.” Or: “There is quite an excess of both the luxurious and the cheap; with some subtle adjustments, both material and mental, these may be made perfectly sufficient for a life.” It’s about the reality of being and what to do with it over the inevitably disappointing pretenses of false need.
Cindy: But what the hell does all this have to do with us?
Roger: A couple of 21st century North American adults trying to become philosophers in the good old European tradition, although they’re not only painfully aware of but directly resistant to the contradictions bound up with this reductive approximation of thought to the methodologies of a dusty, worn out tradition? Now you’re finally trying actively to pull yourselves away from this thing you’ve rejected in the thought for so long, despite your constant proximity and at least semi-active involvement, that that constant posturing negativity has crystallized in your minds like bitter coal. This is exactly what you need now. This is exactly what you are.
Cindy and Harry: Hrmmm . . .
Harry: I kind of see what you mean.
Cindy: Kinda? What, the actual, fuck?
Harry: Well, I feel a little inspired. I’m even enthusiastic, suddenly. Even a little . . . [he laughs]!?
Cindy: My God, what the fuck am I dealing with.
Harry: See, there’s a certain openness to this new level of existence spreading within me. Every little thing doesn’t seem to matter quite as much anymore, doesn’t seem to stop before the question mark placed before it like some black crow. I can filter it as I go. We can filter it as we go. We can filter each other. Or, we simply become better jugglers of all the various aspects of our existence the more we just go on with the business of juggling them. That’s what the medium brings into focus, provoking us to work responsively within the elaborate conditions and indefinite potentiality of every act, however shittily. If the conditions are broken and shitty, we must allow ourselves to be a little shitty in our way of dealing with them—which is not to say that we should be inordinately shitty with others who are caught up in the same shit, except to the extent that they are purveyors of the shit themselves.
Cindy: [ironic] Well, these are certainly some bold new ideals! Thanks, dudes. Excess blah luxury blah crap blah freedom blah embrace it blah blah blah crap blah shitty blah enthusiasm blah blah blah . . .
Roger: It’s up to us to make meaning of these perennial trademarks of thought. You can do this by acting alone, by putting your thoughts into action without further ado. But that requires figuring out how to make happen the kinds of thoughts that are conducive to action, that have an action potential, an active impetus. The medium is transparent. But it makes everything that happens with you accountable to the sense of action it flatly displays right before your eyes. Working with it allows thought to operate in this mold as well.
Harry: You’re a smart man, Roger.
Cindy: I guess you should never let your stupid husband fall under the influence of a smart man.
Roger: What do you mean by that?
Cindy: Oh, nothing. It just occurred to me and I thought it sounded nice. I’m just trying to think things over by getting rid of my words in speaking them out loud. Actually, I’m beginning to see the medium in a somewhat different way: as a purgative, or a kind of exorcist—an efficient exorcist medium. I think that, among other things, it could be good for you, Harry, and I guess that also means good for me.
The scene opens in darkness. The sound of pigeons. The sound of a door opening: Harry enters the bedroom and turns on the light, followed by Cindy. They undress and get into bed under the covers. Sped up presentation of a sex act without speaking or moaning or grunting of any kind, the only sound that of the pigeons on the windowsill. When Harry and Cindy emerge from the covers, Harry turns on the pissing angel fountain and then shuts off the lights. At first, the sound of the pissing angel fountain covers up the sounds of the pigeons. But then more pigeons fly to the windowsill. Harry gets up and taps on the window. The pigeons are unresponsive. He taps harder and harder until the window is heard to crack, and then Harry says, “Fucking bastards!” The pigeons continue cooing over the low spluttering of the fountain. Harry is heard tossing and turning.
Cindy: [sleepily—she seems unaffected by the pigeons] When did you get started on this whole pissing angel fountain white noise thing?
Harry: [tossing and turning] My grandmother’s house when I was a child. But it doesn’t have to be a pissing angel. Still, it adds a certain continuity . . .
Cindy: [sleepily] Mmmm . . . pissing angels . . . a family disease [she trails off to sleep].
Harry: [in a whisper, still tossing and turning as the pigeons continue to coo] Fucking bastards!
Cindy and Harry in the kitchen over morning coffee, Harry obviously very tired and on edge, Cindy apparently alert, happy, and refreshed.
Harry: [gesturing to the fat chair] What the hell are we going to do with this chair? In an apartment like this, we need only real chairs, made for sitting in, not chair objects made for looking at!
The buzzer rings. Cindy gets up to let the person into the building and open the door to the apartment.
Cindy: It at least seems to capture and transmit a certain warmth from the sparse light coming through the window.
Roger walks in with a briefcase wearing a suit and tea shade sunglasses.
Harry and Cindy: [the one sullen, the other cheerful] Morning Roger.
Roger: Nice fat chair! [Vaguely ominous] Well, let’s get down to completing the system of social sculpture.
The scene opens on the bedroom again. Daytime. Scant light. The bedside table on which the pissing angel fountain was formerly placed has been removed from the scene. Roger is in the middle of pushing the bed into the corner in order to fit a much larger and correspondingly louder pissing angel fountain into the other corner of the room. When he’s done with the bed, he carries the fountain in on a dolly and plugs it in. Then, he lies down on the bed and falls asleep. Talking in his sleep, he mutters, “Dirty bouncer’s tricks!”
Some kind of performance space. Harry is standing at the bar with a friend drinking a beer. The space is not crowded with viewers. As the scene opens, there is a kind of barbershop quartet in the performance space of the venue. One of them starts humming the tune from “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” Meanwhile, around them stand others in construction outfits, mixing cement, arranging wooden road blockades and traffic cones, pushing shopping carts around to collect scrap metal, as all sorts of tools stand idling beside them: hammers, axes, chainsaws, and shovels. Shortly after, a person rides into the space on a rented scooter.
Harry: [to his friend at the bar] I can drink one more beer after this one but then I have to go because I teach in the morning.
The other members of the quartet join in the humming of the tune and suddenly more people start riding in on rental scooters, bikes, and segues. The more the room fills up, the more sound is produced by the quartet and the workers with their tools, always timed along to the tune of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” being hummed by the quartet. Some workers hammer at scrap metal in order to bend it, others continue to mix cement, others hack apart the wooden blockades, pylons, and street signs lying around, at first with axes and then with chain saws, always working to the tune. As the signs and other materials break in pieces, they are given to the cement mixers, who arrange them in the cement. Finally, the room is full of rental scooters, bikes, and segues, so that they have no space to move. Their operators hand them over to the workers, who smash, hack, bend, or break them into pieces and then hand them over in turn to the cement mixers, who continue to construct the sculptural assemblage, which becomes discernible as a very scrappy pissing angel fountain. As more of the scooters, bikes, and segues are busted up and jammed into the cement, the noise subsides just as it built up earlier. Finally, only one quartet member can still be heard humming the tune. By now, Harry and his friend have ordered and finished another beer.
Friend: Hey, Harry—do you want to go to the bathroom and do some cocaine?
Harry: Yeah, why the hell not!? [They walk off to the bathroom.]
Cindy is in the kitchen filling up a bucket with water from the sink, clearly irritated, audibly cursing at Harry. Roger rushes in wearing a cream-coloured cable knit sweater and tea shade sunglasses, his hair unkempt, and slips on the floor, falling down hard on his back as his feet slide out from under him. Cindy tries to warn him as he comes in, but Roger’s entrance is too quick—it’s already too late.
Roger: Ahhhw! Come on, man. I’m soaking wet! What the hell is this?
Cindy: Did you run into Harry last night?
Roger: Yeah, at the performance. You missed it! Where were you?
Cindy: I have to teach today. Plus, I’m pregnant, remember? [Roger, who was just about to light up a cigarette, lets the flame on his lighter go out and puts it back in his pocket, along with the cigarette he was about to light, which was broken anyway.] It hasn’t been easy to bear with the smell of those places recently . . . had to give myself a break. Pickle? [She extends a jar to Roger, who takes one and says, “Oh, thanks”]. Anyway, Harry came home drunk and pissed on the kitchen floor while sleep walking.
Roger: [wildly gesticulating his discomfort and disgust, losing grip of the pickle and hurling it at the wall] What!!? You mean . . . ? [Cindy nods] Fuuuuuuuuck. Why didn’t you warn me?
Cindy: I didn’t exactly expect you to come barrel rolling in here at 7:30 in the morning on a Wednesday.
Roger: Well, I’ve been up all night. And now here I am, covered in piss at 7 in the morning! And I have to go meet my dealer in half an hour!
Cindy: [she’s started mopping up the floor] You’re going to meet your drug dealer now?
Roger: No no, my art dealer.
Cindy: Another Picasso?
Roger: Koons, actually.
Cindy: [ironically] How expensive!
Roger: Well, I know a guy who knows a guy who . . . knows another guy. Listen, can I borrow some of Harry’s clothes?
Cindy: Yeah yeah, check in the bedroom. [As Roger goes into the other room] That bastard, leaving me to clean up his piss because he’s too drunk to clean up after himself before work. [While pulling the chairs out to clean under the table, she realizes that some piss has sprayed onto the leg of the fat chair.] Fuck! He got piss on the fat chair . . . !?
Roger: [in the other room] You know, you could do a better job of storing that thing anyway. My buddy Mort Stevens had a fat chair in his kitchen, came home one day and all the fat had been eaten away!
Roger: No, his cats.
Cindy: His cats ate the fat off of his Joseph Beuys fat chair?
Roger: Apparently it was pork belly. Now they can’t get enough. He can’t leave out the butter . . . when he takes a chicken out of the oven, they immediately start clawing at him for the drippings . . . [Without turning his back to the audience, he returns to the room wearing all denim and sits down on one of the chairs after taking a pickle from the jar.]
Cindy: Nice Canadian tuxedo.
Roger: Only the best from the best.
Cindy: [recollecting] You know—could you get up and turn around for a second, Roger?
Cindy: I’m pretty sure—[Roger turns] yeah, those are assless chaps you’re wearing.
Roger: [jerking his body to look at his own ass, the pickle again flying from his hand] Maaan . . . I thought it was just a little cold in here. [He goes back into the other room.]
Cindy: [yelling to the other room] You know, you can borrow some underwear if you need it.
Roger: I’m already wearing underwear. Yeah, I always wear T-backs.
Cindy: T-backs? So that’s why I couldn’t see . . .
Roger: [coming back in wearing another pair of jeans, turning and posing jocularly] You think I’d want to hide these glutes behind an extra layer of cotton? No way. [He sits down again.]
Cindy: Mhh—That’s enough about your ass for the time being. To what do I owe the pleasure this morning, anyway?
Roger: Oh, I just came to drop off the Adderall. [He plunks a bottle of pills down onto the table.]
Cindy: [sitting down across from Roger at the table] Oh, right. How could I forget that little conversation!?
Roger: We must have our top entertainers fresh, attentive, and energized.
Cindy: Roger, don’t you think this is all getting a little perverse? I mean—a LOT perverse.
Roger: Well, every medium brings its own demands. They’re bound to seem a little perverse at first. But would you rather fall behind the times?
Cindy: I’d rather piss into the wind!
Roger: A lady like yourself? Well, I’d like to see that.
Cindy: Cut the shit Roger. What kind of a quack did you get this stuff from, anyway?
Roger: There’s nothing to worry about Cindy! Our doctors are accredited, vetted, and up to speed.
Cindy: He’s up to speed alright.
Roger: Come on Cindy, there’s nothing to worry about. Your well-being, your freedom, and your desire are paramount with us—with me. You may look at me sitting here and see simply a faceless company—your boss, your doctor, your legal advisor, your director and manager rolled into one. But can’t you start seeing me as I stand here—a friend and benefactor? Consider our history, that’s all I ask.
Cindy: Roger, we’ve known each other for, like, 6 months.
Roger: Well, Ms. Woods Runner, in this city, that’s as good as a couple country years.
Cindy: What? I don’t . . .
Roger: Harry told me you’ve got coureur de bois ancestry. One of my own.
Cindy: What does that have to do with anything?
Roger: Well, I think it has something to do with something. [Looking at the time on his phone and then getting up] Ah shit, I have to go. Listen, Cindy. Just give this to Harry when you see him tonight and we’ll have another chat real soon, okay? [He makes to leave.]
Cindy: [weary with exasperation] Yeah . . . we’ll see. [Roger exits]
[The following scenes depicting Harry’s morning should be shown in quick succession.]
Auditorily, the tenth scene consists of two distinct tracks: Harry’s muttering and mumbling to himself, and the noises occurring around him. Harry’s noises are amplified above the rest, as if the audience is hearing from beside him, or from inside his head, while the rest is heard as a kind of accompaniment.
The scene is the inside of a subway train rocking back and forth as it speeds down the line, shunted from one track to another. It is one of the older cars: drab shades of orange, brown, and cream; sharp, uncomfortably white lighting which only manages to further accentuate the general dinginess; the advertisements are missing or peeling away, thick spills and stains and graffiti spread with a kind of wild vegetal excess over the floors, walls, windows, and seats. A couple of vagrants are asleep in the corners at the ends of the car. There is a woman with a stroller, a couple of construction workers on their way to a job. Harry is there, writing furiously on a notepad. Loose sheets of paper are heaped on the subway seat beside him. Harry mumbles as he writes: words discernible but clipped, discernible mostly by a sort of inner light, passing without substantial echo or reverberation. The words sound hurried and yet they are fragmented, scattered, compressed, skewed, and slowed in overall frequency by the process of writing itself.
When the scene opens, there are two young men amplifying their rather shabby musical improvisations over a loudspeaker. One of them plays a drum machine, the other blows into a jug hooked up to a synthesizer. The woman is visibly annoyed, trying to calm the baby crying in the stroller. The train soon comes to a stop as the two young men walk around seeking donations for their entertainment from the passengers. After the woman shoos them away and Erwin ignores them, they get off. Meanwhile, Harry is absorbed in writing. His gestures are erratic and seem to be a stylized exaggeration of the act of writing. Occasionally he stops and looks around into the surrounding space for a moment, looking for the next word, the word which will send a fresh stream of words flowering across the page. He mumbles the words aloud as he writes, not detached from the space but rather unconfined by it, feeling uninhibited and jogged into being by the train’s movement itself. He is writing as if in fact he were in some sort of off-kilter race with the speeding train. At some point, a pool of urine starts collecting on the seat around one of the vagrants before dripping onto the floor and down the isle of the train past all the other passengers. Harry looks down but is unconcerned, casually backing his feet away from the stream. The mother backs the stroller into the corner by a door.
A drunkard sidles up to Harry, curious as to what the hell he’s up to making these odd gestures and noises.
Drunk: Slow down, speedy Gonzalez! [Harry quickly looks up but more or less ignores him] Yo man, you’re fucking crazy. You need to slow down or I swear your arm’s going to fall off. What are you doing to your fucking neck? [He bends down close to his face] Ya goddamn fool! [Laughing as he moves away] Damn pencil-head can’t even smell the piss at his own fucking feet.
The train pulls up to a station where two Mexican men in sombreros play an upbeat mariachi song. The one plays a guitar, the other plays a drum box on which he sits. They are also accompanied by a recording of some horns played on a boom box. The woman with the stroller claps along, engaging the attention of the baby.
Timed to the above scene, Harry’s mutters the following text, which is not necessarily identical to the one he is writing:
Harry: Does . . . the . . . development of . . . an increasingly . . . efficient . . . method . . . equate to . . . honesty? “Order . . . out of . . . chaos”—the formulation . . . of this perennial . . . ambition . . . doesn’t make . . . things any . . . clearer. I, at least, . . . won’t . . . let . . . the order . . . mute the . . . chaos. And, . . . of course, . . . I won’t . . . or can’t . . . give . . . free reign to the . . . chaos . . . either. As if that . . . were . . . so simple. None of . . . these . . . exhausts . . . the whole . . . performance. They . . . simply . . . give . . . perspective . . . on what’s already in . . . motion—already before the womb! . . . Converging on the . . . round . . . womb . . . from . . . all . . . directions. T’s like . . . withdancing . . . good . . . orbad . . . doesn’t matter really . . . the questionisn’trelevent . . . atall . . . the important thingishe . . . movesall’s joints . . . at once . . . as . . . many’spossible . . . [he stops for a moment to look out the darkened window at nothing then continues writing and mumbling to himself, the words continuing to wash through the audience by a kind of inner light] . . . exactinglight . . . exacting . . . sound . . . it’sgottabeideal . . . irresistible megalomanias of contemporary life . . . suchabsolutelynecessary . . . resistance . . . to inevitablyunideal . . . circumstancesimpossible . . . idealsunrealistic . . . the point being . . . they’re nonetheless effective . . . theperfectcalls . . . never happen . . . strategize . . . againstoneself . . . edge . . . over oneself . . . firstofall . . .
In the classroom. There are perhaps fifteen students in attendance and as many empty chairs and desks. The students are talking among themselves rather loudly, apparently not anticipating the classroom experience. Meanwhile, Harry is seated at a desk in front of them, still writing his notes and muttering, but inaudibly under the raucous voices of the students. After a minute or two of this, in which the only clearly discernible words are various slang terms for penis and vagina, the classroom quietens down of its own accord and looks at Harry, still absorbed in writing. Harry slowly notices the change, stops writing, stands up in front of the class, and begins speaking in a quite professorial manner:
Harry: The world moves through me since before I was born. I can feel it in my limbs whether I am on the go or trying to come back toward the stillness and rest that persistently elude me, still in a restless state. My organs are at work both day and night with a monotony that I would find insufferable if I had to take a hand in it. I don’t envy the doctors for the subject matters of their knowledge and the psychological consequences I imagine such subject-matters to have on their unwitting patient-victims. Of course, my mind can conjure cartoonish moving images of the cells in my body, the organelles inside the cells, the electrochemical activities of the membranes of the organelles. These images have their origin in the printed matter of science textbooks and educational videos from my youth. I always liked those images, but they were part of the world that was not of my making, with a presence that was not left up to me to decide. I can now imagine the possibility of rebelling against those images, but I felt myself to be a part of that world, then. And I still do, now, although I’m old and experienced enough now that it’s hard to imagine that everything in the textbooks hasn’t changed since then. To tell the truth, I was always a little underwhelmed by the fixity of the cells of rats and plants we viewed under the microscope, sensing that they had been robbed of that essential spiritual element, time, which once moved through them. I knew it once moved through them as much as it moved through me, curiously turning to offer itself to be inspected, dissected, and counteracted, afterwards softly forgotten in the due order of nebulous day. Since then I have always detested the very word “formaldehyde”—a poisonous preservative bringing duration to death—conjuring a look and a smell I equate with urine and therefore with the beyond-unholy act of pissing on dead things. To preserve a thing in its dead state is only to thwart the life impulses it continues to exert on our minds even when there’s no matter left. As for the actual movements permeating those trillions of busy vessels composing the elemental principles of my own existence . . . well, haven’t I said enough to express how my mind moves by quite independent means and ways, and knows them only by the most unnatural turning about? For, earlier than those relatively more sophisticated images of which I have been speaking are the sounds to which the impressionable circuitry of my own capacities was exposed from the womb on. Relatively more sophisticated: that is only to say that the images were worked over and delimited through processes of more specific intent than the muffled sounds and streaks of light tickling the enwombed. Yes, already in the womb we learn to hearken, although perhaps these words “learn” and “hearken” are too presumptuously imposed on the embryonic unwitting: thankfully, the baggage of poets and pupils is not yet theirs. All of this runs through them with a rather organic incontinence. And I can’t believe that such organic incontinence is only a readiness to be sculpted after the fashion of the time that’s already in motion, lapping over itself. It is the physical manifestation of an early leaning toward the dynamic and fluid elements of existence, to which we certainly must add the dimensions afforded by light and air. Like fine linens, humans, too, could be analyzed in terms of their thread-counts, only, on a purely intuitive level, there are far better things to do with the threads than count them, whether the long-ingrained or those just now being woven in. So often, in our futility, we would rather try to wake the dead than live . . . [For a while, now, a student in the front has had her hand up.]
Harry: Yes, Robin?
Student: Didn’t you give us that speech yesterday?
Harry: Monday, you mean. Good! I was testing to see if you’d been paying attention. Now, would anybody like to share their response to the day’s reading with the rest of the class? [A student puts up his hand.] Thanks, Edwin. You can come to the front or just read it from your desk, if you like.
Student: [stands up from his chair but remains at his desk, clears his throat, then begins reading] “According to Aristotle, the hero in a tragedy should be as good or better of a person than the audience. This is because when the characters are better than the viewers or readers, they feel that the misfortune could happen to them. The purpose of authors using this is to induce catharsis, or purgation of emotions. A modern-day example of a movie in which good characters experience undeserved misfortunes is in the 2009 movie The Hangover. Three regular and likeable best friends planned an innocent bachelor party and were kind enough to invite Doug’s soon to be brother in law, Alan, who is troubled. What the boys thought was a kind act turned out to be a terrible idea when Alan eventually drugged them and ruined the whole bachelor party and wedding day, which led to viewers feeling pity for the characters.”
Harry: Okay, great. Are there any questions for Edwin? [All those in attendance raise their hands.]
Back on the train. Harry is again writing. A haggard woman in a dirty dress is standing leaned back against one of the train doors, expelling a torrent of urine onto the floor. Meanwhile, she sing’s the Lady of the Night’s aria from Die Zauberflöte. Harry pays little to no attention. He writes and mumbles to himself, although this time his mumbling can just barely be made out under the sound of the splashing torrent of piss. When Harry fills a sheet of paper, he places it on top of a pile held in place under a book on the seat beside him. When the curtain opens, he is finishing off a beer while writing. He briefly stops writing to open another bottle and takes a drink, then looks at what he’s written.
Erwin: Will I ever use that? I feel like my head is in a very specific kind of space right now, a certain kind of state. Everything I say, think, and write strikes me precisely as a fair generalization, maybe just a little too obvious. I write it, it sounds true enough. But was it ever in question? And is what wasn’t in question worthy of the name, truth, and of being written down? But maybe we need this occasional question-answer lightning round of obvious truths. For punctuation. Sounds like some Buddhist shit, maybe? No idea. Can the universal be obvious, the obvious universal? I prefer the perennial—what seems to live and hence also to die but never finally goes away, never stops living and dying again, error upon error, and me. Error upon error, me upon me. We can’t always just be assuming the obvious. Merely assuming the obvious has always been dangerous. Maybe we need a poetic body for the obvious, then, a body willing to turn on its head, body swap, head swap, contract, explode? Self-lacerate? Append? A tinfoil, tape, and cardboard body for our intuitions! People have to build things and people have to produce garbage. People have to trash the things they have built. They have to build things out of the garbage they produce. Yet they don’t. They have to but they still don’t. They should! They must!
He crumples the sheet into a ball, stops, uncrumples it, puts it on top of the pile under the book.
Erwin: Perhaps a bit of provocation, then. [Drinks, still thoughtfully vexed.] That is, amid my commitment to perennial themes—or . . . my being committed, like in a soft prison. [Drinks. Takes the topmost paper again and recrumples it before lighting it on fire and throwing it onto the floor of the train.] A hard prisoner in a soft sickwomb. [Pause.] Melodrama . . . we mustn’t leave melodrama to the hacks—to those who take it as a matter of dramatization, over-dramatization, as if they have to squeeze the juice out of it, rather than the neutralization of the cosmic dramas that humans are already in the middle of: mellow-drama haha. I’m getting closer . . . it’s coming closer.
A pigeon flies down the length of the train as Harry gets back to writing. Harry barely notices. The pissing soprano stops singing as the bird passes. Then she starts up again.
The lights remain out for this very brief scene. Harry and Cindy are having sex in bed. The erotic noises they make intermix with those of their own voices, the pissing angel fountain, and the pigeons.
Harry: Come on. I always thought the pills would help me in some way. Even when I was a kid, I wanted to take those pills. I’ll be careful. We’ll monitor the results closely. You let me know if you notice any changes, too. Oh fuck.
Cindy: Whatever. I don’t even care anymore, you little son of a bitch.
End of scene
Scenes 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18
These scenes should be played in even quicker succession than the previous four, separated only by blackouts. Before each blackout, a pigeon flies down the length of the train. Harry is on the train, but in different positions each time. He is writing. His writing speeds up from scene to scene. When he fills a page, he crumples the sheet and throws it onto a pile on the floor of the train, the position of the pile shifting each time the scene changes. The piles of crumpled note paper also grow each time. They are set on fire. In addition, it should be suggested by various means that the speed of the train increases in step with the speed of Harry’s writing until, by scene 18, it reaches a kind of critical threshold, ultimately about to run off the rails. Harry mumbles, but he cannot be heard. The sound in each scene should consist of a different genre of computer music, arranged according to their increasing tempos. The text of Harry’s writing should be projected somewhere on the inside of the train, scrolling faster and faster with the acceleration of Harry’s writing, the music, and the speeding train. In scene 18, Harry is pissing on the flaming pile, but his piss only feeds the fire, making it flare up rather than extinguishing it. However, as the flame is threatening to engulf the whole train in scene 18, the pigeon which before the blackout would normally fly freely straight down the length of the train hits Harry in the head and knocks him unconscious. The bird’s beak is lodged in Harry’s skull, the bird desperately flapping its wings without success in dislodging itself. The flames subside and the train stabilizes and slows to a normal pace, Harry’s piss simultaneously slowing to a trickle so that the pool of urine growing around him stills as well, so that only the bird flapping its wings continues the frantic pace from the previous scenes.
End of Act 2
Morning. Birds chirping before the theatre lights come on and reveal a public square represented in miniature. There is a small stand of trees slightly off-center toward the back and, front right, a fountain with a bronze statue of a DJ and turntables alongside a saxophone player in the pool area, which is now dry. At the front left of the square, a single larger tree. A fresh-looking wedding dress has been discarded on the fountain’s stone perimeter ledge. The square is girded by a low rail. At the far left of the scene is a large building with a couple restaurants and a convenience store (a.k.a. bodega, depanneur, Späti) on the ground floor and apartment balconies above. There are picnic tables for public use set up between the square and the building. The building extends up into the fly-loft to an invisible height. To the right of the rail surrounding the square is a sidewalk and a road which is only partially visible. The shopkeeper is out in front of his store sweeping the sidewalk. A police van with its siren on speeds up the road in the direction of the audience and stops by the square, the side door on its only visible side opening. The blare of the siren stops but the lights keep flashing. A cop hurries out the open door toward the stand of trees, where he stops to urinate. Meanwhile, the shopkeeper has stopped sweeping and looks on the scene with his hands pressed over the knob-end of his broom.
Cop 1: [from inside the van, not visible] Bravo! First class, Stevens.
Cop 2: You know, I’ve heard that in a lot of countries this would be totally legal. You can take a piss pretty much anywhere. And they have many public toilets, anyway, if for whatever reason you don’t like going in the open.
Cop 1: [sarcastic] Wow, some freedom . . . some opportunity . . .
Cop 2: Yeahhh. Someday I’ll get out of this stinking country. I mean, I just have to. For a while now, I’ve been unable to take things on my own terms here, the terms allotted to me in combination with the circumstances of my birth and—
Cop 1: Yeah, yeah. Could you pinch it off now? We’ve gotta take this call.
Cop 2: Right! Fucking subcultures. They just won’t sleep. When they do, you know they’re dead.
The cop finishes urinating and hurries back to the van while doing up his pants, the sirens blaring on again as the van speeds away. The shopkeeper shakes his head and continues sweeping.
The same square, a bit later the same day. There is a family eating lunch from one of the restaurants at one end of the picnic tables outside the square. At the other end, the wedding dress is draped over the table. A kitten is sitting on the dress with a dead pigeon it’s caught for supper. The blood from the pigeon soils the dress on which it has prepared its meal. An adolescent boy and an adolescent girl are playing around the fountain. The girl is wearing the veil from the wedding dress. She makes scratching noises while pretending to DJ. The boy has wrapped the saxophone player in a piece of cellophane, which he arranges with cigarette butts, condoms, and needles collected from the bottom of the empty pool. The girl picks up a cigar stub and throws it at him. He begins chasing her and they run off, laughing and screaming. There is now an unoperated backhoe shut off beside where the stand of trees was formerly located. The trees have been dug up by the roots, and now lie with a heap of earth beside a large hole. There is a worker in the hole and a worker around its edge, the former digging with a spade and throwing bits of root up out of the hole while the latter chips away at its sides. The area within which they are to work has been measured out on the ground above with string and spray paint. A woman enters the stage pulling the two kids by their ears.
Worker 1: [outside the hole] Wow, I told you to take it easy, Herc! I swear you’re within a pube’s breadth of the main.
Woman: What a way to talk in public, around kids, and so early in the morning. You damn construction workers are all alike!
Worker 1: Please don’t pigeon-hole me, mam. That was really quite a bit tamer than the language I was brought up around.
Woman: [sarcastic] Then I guess I should congratulate you for breaking the mold?
Worker 1: Well, what really is at the basis of change? I guess a bit of criticism doesn’t hurt, properly contextualized, as in a public space like this here future public toilet.
Woman: This is not one of those public spaces in which you work out your fancy systemic issues. For decades, this has been a popular meeting ground for the local population. Wedding parties, for instance—things of essential, time-tested beauty—have spilled out here from the hall over there for as long as I can remember. I hope this public toilet doesn’t change any of that, and I would have been sure to protest this development had I known about it beforehand. Nothing interrupts the placidity of a nice public square like one of these newfangled toilets that, rather than simply carrying away the filth, tend to attract it in the most public and unsightly way.
Worker 1: I’m sorry to hear about your concerns, mam. It is only my job, you know, and I try to carry it out with as much consideration as possible for the life-giving energy it affords the community. I’m essentially a craftsperson. Now, I don’t spend much time around these toilet-laden squares myself. But I’ve witnessed a few fine speeches and even a not-at-all-uninteresting literary event, quite recently, in fact. Perhaps there are other ways of looking at the matter.
Woman: Other ways are exactly the kind of interruption we don’t need!
Worker 1: Well, I don’t know who the “we” is exactly, but I do know it’s changing all the time. Take your kids there, for instance. This place seems to be a pretty good outlet, a resource even, for their interests and energies. The toilet is an essential aspect, a basic principle even, both in the metabolic processes of the body with its needs and in the spirit and its culture of ideas. Believe me, I know, since I’ve studied the history of toilets and their construction.
Woman: May I ask how old you are, sir?
Worker 1: I’m 35, mam.
Woman: Hmm. You look much closer to 50.
Worker: Maybe it’s my eyes. Plenty of wisdom accumulates through the sockets of those who use them [the woman is a little shocked by this remark]—I’m kidding, of course—it’s from spending so much time in the sun, too often without sunscreen. It’s another bit of the old construction worker culture that’s slow to change. But I’ve met some of similar age in my line of work who look closer to their grandfathers in age than to me. I’m more than keeping pace with the improvements.
Woman: You know, I have often considered the social implications of trash and refuse from your point of view. Just please keep in mind the child’s right to ask these questions of themselves in their own good time, not have them thrown in their faces in the public square before their cousin’s wedding. [Off, with the kids, still held by their ears.]
[The punctilious, stilted, perhaps a little bit old-fashioned tone of the foregoing conversation gives way to something much more casual now, in the conversation between the workers.]
Worker 2: [from the hole] Rude old bitch. Is it lunchtime yet?
Worker 1: After we finish this job. She’s alright. A bit uptight, maybe, but you can’t blame her for caring.
Worker 2: Not bad looking, either, from what I could tell down in this hole. Come on, man, I’m hungry as shit.
Worker 1: Work will be so much worse when the sun comes over those buildings. Yeah, not bad. I don’t know, really. I’m gay.
Worker 2: Haha. I just remembered something—you ever heard this one: “I’d dig naked to the bottom of a pile of rusty scrap metal just to suck the dick of the last guy she fucked”?
Worker 1: For me, that all depends on the guy. [Pause]
Worker 2: All I know is that sometimes hunger’s all you get for this kind of work.
Worker 1: You’re looking ripped, though.
A wedding party is now seen entering the square from the side of the buildings, laughing and talking.
Worker 2: Really? Well, I guess that’s something. [Louder noises from the more vigorous exercise of his spade can be heard coming out of the hole.]
Worker 1: Boris! I told you to take it easy!
Right after the blackout, there is a sudden piercing “Kkchunk!” sound of metal on metal, followed by a brief sound of spraying water. A woman screams. A child laughs. A cat meows loudly.
The same scene the next day. The fountain is now turned on. The kitten is dead on the dress beside the pigeon, a falcon now lording over the dining table, picking at the remains. The backhoe is gone. The same workers are back on the spot. Around them are heaps of refuse materials: cardboard boxes, empty bottles, plastic food containers, stacks of newspapers, bags full of trash, etc. These are the materials with which they are to erect a public toilet on the square.
Worker 1: Yeah, back when I started, the site would be just covered in discarded Horton’s cups and we used to smoke a pack or two a day.
Worker 2: I can’t imagine.
Worker 1: And it used to be so easy to get fired. Now it’s more or less impossible. You’d think we were the only public toilet contractors in the whole city.
Worker 2: Maybe we are. Do you know any others?
Worker 1: I did know one, once. A good man. Told the dirtiest jokes I’ve ever heard.
Worker 2: Where is he now?
Worker 1: I wish I knew. If it happened to be dead in some scrap pile somewhere, full of piercing sharp and foul fetid things, I’d rummage through it, wearing nothing but a T-shirt, just to piss on his corpse.
Worker 2: Hey—my joke!
Worker 1: Know your history. You know what they say about the truth concealed in the joke.
Worker 2: Sounds like some pretty mediocre unimaginative construction worker level shit to me. But wait—I thought you said he was a good man?
Worker 1: Exactly. He was! And those were the dying wishes he expressed to me.
Worker 2: You mean—
Worker 1: We were lovers. But he disappeared under mysterious circumstances I’m afraid I’ll never get to the bottom of.
Worker 1: Oh . . . well . . .
Worker 2: Yeah . . . yeah . . . perhaps this tale may someday have an end. But it’s beyond my power to fix that now. I spent a long time denying it, but now I have to resolve myself on the likelier eventuality that he won’t be returning to our common dinner table. There’s been a hole in my head ever since his disappearance. I used to let it bleed into the night. Now I must pursue the aim of filling it up . . . [short pause]
Worker 1: Filling it up with—
Worker 2: This job will be a temporary thing. I’m slowly stacking the chips, playing the long game.
Worker 1: You are a weird guy, for a construction worker.
Worker 2: Craftsman! Historically, I’d say I’m not all that much weirder than the average. Nowadays, maybe . . .
[A wedding song is heard coming from off stage but close by, followed by a procession approaching the square.]
Worker 1: Another wedding today.
Worker 2: I guess it helps explain in part why we’re building here. Well, may they go forth and multiply. I think I recognize one of them . . .
Worker 1: You’re right! It’s the woman from yesterday, over at the picnic table.
Worker 2: With the little kids! Greasing themselves up with kebabs before the big day. Must be an aunt or something.
Worker 1: Well, this square seems to invite all kinds.
Worker 2: What do you mean by that, “all kinds”?
Worker 1: I mean just what I said. It’s a microcosm. There are many little surprises here. It could use a little bit of music, though.
Worker 1 starts humming/mumbling/DNB-style emceeing the song “Top of the mountain” first introduced in the prologue: “Top of the mountain / Air is thin but who’s counting / The atoms. Friends / The mountain balds below your chins . . .” Worker 2 starts singing Stan Rogers’ song “The Idiot”: “I often take these nightshift walks when the foreman’s not around . . .” The wedding procession enters in a conga line whistling Frankie Knuckles’ “The Whistle Song.” Other disparate combinations are also perfectly acceptable. Probably, Worker 2 will take the longest to finish: “But you’ll be free and, just like me, an idiot I suppose.” The wedding procession continues whistling, filing off stage just before the end of Worker 2’s song. Worker 1 stops at the natural end of his song. All throughout, Worker 1 and Worker 2 do not stop in their task of taping garbage together in forms with which they can build something at least roughly resembling a public toilet. They continue working silently for a minute or two after Worker 2 has finished singing.
Worker 2: Would you pass me that roll of tinfoil there, Italo? [Worker 1 hands him a roll of tinfoil. Worker 2 begins unrolling strips of foil and placing them side by side in order to cover the whole with strips of tape and create a flat sheet. He pauses and looks around for a moment.] You know, once the toilet is up and running, this is going to be a real fine square.
Worker 1: Can you pass me that bag of bottles, Boris? Thanks. [He starts taping bottles together end-to-end in order to create support structures.] Yeah, you start to get a little itch after spending a bit of time in the place like this.
Worker 2: What exactly do you mean by that?
Worker 1: I mean, I know that in plain terms we’re working to cleanly dispose of the spent remains of life with this construction, yet I feel as though we’re actually doing the reverse. Since talking to that woman yesterday, in fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that her position was crucially wrongfooted. In building this toilet we’re simply adding the necessary phase which is currently lacking to convert this square from a negligible repository of filth to a full-blown circulatory, digestive, or metabolic system. You have to dispose of the spent life efficiently in order for the life still being lived to exercise its full potential. Before, this was a minor cesspit, except it was hardly being used. A wedding now and then, sure, but I doubt there aren’t really as many weddings here as the last two days would make it seem. Now, in adding the essential functions, we’re opening up its worldly presence more in the way that me and you do to each other when we work and talk together like this.
Worker 2: Ah, I think I see what you mean. An elaboration of life rather than something more like a concession to its mere existence.
Worker 1: Something like that.
The two workers now attempt to put their two different structures together. If they fail to do so, then the following bit occurs:
Worker 2: That’s alright, I’ll just work these together according to their natural forms. [He crushes the materials flat with his foot then crudely wraps them together with tape, effectively producing a larger trash composition.]
Worker 1: That’s the way. You have to work with the trash, not against it. Sooner or later it finds the form that is natural to it, or rather we discover it in a form that’s useful to our limited purposes, like oil or coal once were.
A homeless-looking person slowly and laboriously enters the scene, pisses himself, and starts rummaging through the trash pile.
Worker 2: Many hands make light work, or too many cooks spoil the broth?
Worker 1: [to the man] Excuse me, but are you aware of the costs of building supplies these days?
Homeless-looking person: Me? I’m not homeless, okay? Or, not exactly. I know how to make money, just never learned how to spend it, I guess. Damnit! That’s like the fourth time this week. A real pattern is emerging. Oh well. [Suddenly there’s a ringing in his pants pocket. He pulls out his phone, takes a call, hurries away with a bag full of bottles held in his other hand.]
Worker 2: Wait! Man . . . shit.
Worker 1: It’s alright, Boris. It’s not important, in the long run. Build and let build. Easy come, easy go. Once the bear market ends and our investments start to pay out—
The falcon is heard flying away with a loud squawk and a raucous flapping of the wings.