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.
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!”