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Feast or Famine

A one act play

Scene 1

Gary Beck
Smaller text sizeDefault text sizeBigger text size Add to my bookshelf epub mobi Permalink MapNew York City, Park Avenue
Murray Hill Hotel, from Park Avenue and 40th Street, Manhatt...
As the curtain rises, Nancy is straightening the living room and collecting the Sunday Times, which is spread around the room. Tom enters from the bathroom a moment later.
TOM. Every time I’m in the bathroom I can hear someone taking a bath next door. Do they run a school for skin-divers? Maybe it’s a deranged marine biologist training porpoises for the coming war between man and fish.
NANCY. The woman next door has six children to keep clean.
TOM. Then she must pasteurize those kids. I hear the clanks and gurgles at 3 a.m.
NANCY. (Dreamily) She has all their clothing to wash. Six children.
TOM. (To distract Nancy from a dangerous subject) Where’s the employment section?
NANCY. (Gives it to Tom) Are you going job hunting today?
TOM. I told you last night that I would. You saw me look through the paper. Do you want to come with me?
NANCY. We don’t have much money left.
TOM. We’re not starving.
NANCY. Are you going to wait until we do?
TOM. I’m not waiting. I’m going to get a job today. Why right now someone is leaving for his office, saying: “Where can I find an ambitious, intelligent young man, still willing to work hard and make a career for himself in a solid company?” He’ll get on the 8:14 and instead of playing his usual rubber of bridge, he’ll worry about the decay of youth. His fellow timetable-philosophers will conclude that “you just don’t find young men like that anymore,” and he’ll reach his office feeling sad and pessimistic, his entire day spoiled. Then I appear. His secretary informs him that a young man is waiting. He is discouraged and at first doesn’t listen, but my subtle words creep into his consciousness. His eyes light up, his face begins to shine, he shakes my hand, two men, simpatico in a universe gone mad. He leads me to my desk, apologizing: “I know ten thousand is a low starting salary, Mr. Richards...”
NANCY. What about your application, Mr. Richards?
TOM. (Amazed) Why do you bring that up?
NANCY. Just to remind you that most places check your former employers and references. You seem to have forgotten that.
TOM. I haven’t forgotten. I’m going to the employment agencies. They’re so hungry for the commission that when you hand them your application, they don’t even check if you have arms or legs. They just leap for the phone, croon into it about the simply splendid young man sitting here, and zoom you on your way.
NANCY. It’s always simple, until you get there. Then there’s always somebody who resented you, or some gay guy lusting for your body. I remember when you came home from a telephone company interview for hundreds of file clerks, ranting about a woman interviewer who stared at you until you finished your application. Then she took it from the receptionist, led you to her office and sat there smiling nastily, until you said: “Shall I bother to say anything?” Then you said something dirty and left. Hundreds of applicants, dozens of interviewers, and this one hates you for no reason.
TOM. Well it happened. When I walked in and saw her watching me, I knew something like that would happen. Maybe she knew me in another life, or was afraid I’d realize that she was a nut.
NANCY. She thought you were a nut. Saying something dirty and stalking out. She was grateful that you didn’t attack her.
TOM. Very funny.
NANCY. It’s not funny. It has to be your fault sometimes.
TOM. I never said it wasn’t.
NANCY. But you always blame somebody else.
TOM. What started this argument? I’m getting ready to find a job and you’re carrying on about nothing. (Lightly) Now I’m going out. I’ll be a polite intelligent, charming son-of-a-bitch and come home employed.
NANCY. I just wish that you’d bring some of that charm home with you again.
TOM. What do you mean by that?
NANCY. You know what I mean. Coming home at two in the morning and telling me you walked to the Bronx... I know you’re seeing another woman.
TOM. You’re crazy.
NANCY. Am I? When was the last time you really wanted to make love to me?
TOM. Look, Nancy. I know you’re upset...
NANCY. Upset?
TOM. (Racing to safer ground) And worried about money, but I’ll find a job. I’ll work hard and come home to you after work. We’ll go to concerts, plays, clubs. (Sings) “Everything’s gonna be just right again. Ta, ta, ta. We’ll find delight again, ta, ta, ta. Just you and me.” (He tries to dance with her).
NANCY. Let me go!
TOM. What’s the matter, baby?
NANCY. Next time you’ll be Fred Astairing around the apartment, building us some idiotic cottage by the sea. God! You should see one of your performances; just once.
TOM. It’s not a performance. It’s my inner joy bubbling over.
NANCY. (Ignoring his protest) Either you come home sulking like a child from your defeats in the big, bad world, or you carry on like Tom Jones; wenching, carousing, drinking, only coming home to mother church for penance and absolution when you’re exhausted. You’re tearing me apart.
TOM. Baby. Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.
NANCY. Leave me alone. You’ll drive me out of my mind.
TOM. Listen baby. Things will be different. Better. I’ll change. It’ll be the way it used to be. Remember when I was your big Poppa Kangaroo... And I’d put you in my pouch where you’d be warm and safe... And we’d hop all over the world together... And I wouldn’t let anyone hurt you...
NANCY. Let me go. I’m getting your shirt wet.
TOM. So what. I’ll walk into that employment agency and say: “These are Nancy-tears. You should be honored to find a job for a man in a Nancy-tears shirt.”
NANCY. How do I endure you when you drive me to such despair?
TOM. That’s my line. You have to find one of your own.
NANCY. I think I’m going to adopt it.
TOM. It is too pompous for you.
NANCY. It is a little pompous, isn’t it?
TOM. Certainly. You need something else like: I fear my heart will burst in twain.
NANCY. Isn’t that too trite for me?
TOM. Well, it’s not pompous. (They stand silently for a minute.) Shall I stay home with you this morning, until you relax?
NANCY. (Moving away from him) No. You better hurry. It’s getting late.
TOM. Drive a man from the shelter of his hearth, into the cold; to suffer the slings and arrows...
NANCY. (Cutting him short) No speeches, me lad. Get out of here and on your way. (Tom puts on his jacket, kisses Nancy, crosses to the door and opens it.)
TOM. I go with wings as swift as meditation, or the thoughts of love, to the employment agency.
NANCY. Make sure you get there.
They look at each other, then Tom exits, closing the door. Nancy continues to stare at the door, as the lights go down. Hold blackout long enough to establish passage of time.
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Copyright ©Gary Beck, 2006
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationSeptember 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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