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Feast or Famine

A one act play

Scene 3

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...
Later the same evening. Tom and Nancy have eaten. They are both still uneasy due to the savagery of their argument. Nancy is worn, and forcing herself to be calm. Tom is genuinely sorry, but flamboyant in trying to eradicate the earlier mood. This scene must build in hysteric intensity, culminating at the end of the “Ham Hock Jubilee” in a gentle, tender rejoining of lovers, still without solutions to their problems, but touching each other’s deepest feelings.
NANCY. What happened today?
TOM. The same old crap. It wouldn’t interest you.
NANCY. I wouldn’t ask if it didn’t interest me.
TOM. Don’t you get tired of hearing about your hero’s failures? I should get a Presidential citation for being refused more jobs than any other man in America... I can see the ceremony... It’s a cool breezy day in Washington, but the sun is shining and the overcoats are open. The Marine band is blaring away like mad... Maybe Robert Frost can read one of his poems...
NANCY. He’s dead.
TOM. Yeah. He is. Well, maybe some other old poet... President Clinton will stand on the platform giving me fatherly glances; the crowd will fall silent, and he’d speak: “My friends and fellow Americans. We are gathered here on this solemn and auspicious occasion to publicly reveal the accomplishments of one of our fellow citizens...” The crowd would roar and cheer... The Marine band would blare away like mad...
NANCY. Very touching. What happened today?
TOM. Do you want it in Technicolor and Dolby sound, with a cast of thousands?
NANCY. Just tell me without the epic version.
TOM. I sing of jobs, and the man seeking in the city of New York, much buffeted by fate. (Nancy glares.) All right. I went to lots of agencies in the morning. About ten. They all said the same thing: we don’t have anything suited to your background. At two of the agencies I showed them their own ads, but they said the positions were filled. I had lunch. While I was eating I looked through the paper again and found an ad for an assistant to the vice president of production of Conglomerated Industries. I went there; they’re in one of those grotesque buildings on Park Avenue, all metal and glass, each floor full of computers and little plastic people scuttling back and forth like a science fiction movie...
NANCY. (Warningly) Tom.
TOM. I filled out an application. Discussed it with one of their personnel people. He gave me some tests... Those things scare the shit out of me. Next they’ll have machines interviewing people. Everything’s becoming so goddamn impersonal.
NANCY. The tests?
TOM. I waited until they scored them, then I saw the personnel manager. They were impressed with my tests. He told me about the job, the company benefits—they have their own asylum for employees who crack in the line of duty—and said he’d like me to meet the vice-president. I thought they wanted me.
NANCY. Before you even spoke to him?
TOM. If they wanted me to meet him, I thought they liked me. His name was Corbin and he had a face like a boiled ham hock. He treated me to a moment of teeth, allowed me to sit down in the presence and proceeded to mumble platitudes. I sat there for ten minutes without saying a word. I couldn’t decide if there was a cunning brain in that ham hock head, waiting to trap me if I agreed with some of the stupid things he was saying.
NANCY. You didn’t say anything for ten minutes? The man must be a genius.
TOM. I wanted the job. Shall I continue?
NANCY. Yes. I want to know what happened.
TOM. He mumbled along, said what a pleasure it was to talk to a man with a head on his shoulders and asked if I would come back in an hour. I gave him the usual yessir, thank you for the time, sir, and got up to go. The personnel manager appeared by remote control and led me back to the elevator, painting enchanting pictures of one big happy family. He told me about the bowling team, the baseball team, the picnics, the outings, the ping-pong tournament... I felt like puking.
NANCY. You didn’t go back?
TOM. I went back.
NANCY. What did you do for an hour?
TOM. I looked at toys in Woolworths. It may gratify you to learn that guns are still in first place, with missiles running a close second. Then I went back. I was meticulously punctual. His secretary said he’d be with me shortly. I looked at a magazine...
NANCY. The secretary.
TOM. She was an older woman. Then I went in. He went through the “where is that application” routine, read it aloud to remind me what I wrote, tucked his belly under his hands and told me no job.
NANCY. Why? Did he give you a reason?
TOM. I was too unstable... He gushed about how impressed they were, what a fine personality I had, but no job. “You’ve had five different positions in the last two years, Mr. Richards. We want someone with his feet on the ground...”
NANCY. (Derisively) Five? Only five? And he wouldn’t hire you?
TOM. (Sheepish, but quickly assuming his pose) Yeah. I told them that I had five jobs and even made up a nice logical story why I left them... I wonder what he would have said if I told him how many jobs I really had...
NANCY. (Giggling) He would have asked for an invitation to the Washington ceremony.
TOM. (Bitter, then lightly) Not him!... He’d campaign to have me put in prison for disrupting the national unemployment statistics.
NANCY. Did you try any place after that?
TOM. It was too late.
NANCY. How late?
TOM. I don’t know exactly, but people were pouring out of the buildings in torrents, slaughtering each other for the privilege of getting into the subway.
NANCY. They were going home to their wives.
TOM. E pluribus ham hock.
NANCY. What?
TOM. (Louder) E pluribus ham hock.
NANCY. What’s that?
TOM. A summary of this splendid day.
NANCY. Where did you spend the rest of the time?
TOM. I walked for a while, then I found a quiet little bar and sat there drinking and thinking.
NANCY. What’s the name of that quiet little bar? The Passion Room? Full of skinny little sluts with their tits flopping in the drinks when they bend over? I bet it was a quiet little bar.
TOM. I’ll take you there tomorrow and you can see for yourself.
NANCY. You probably know places for an alibi. You’re impossible! You don’t get a job. Disappear all night. Come home like a mad savage and all you can say is “E pluribus ham hock.”
TOM. It has a noble sort of quality; real Americana. (Angrily) What do you want me to say? (Pacing the room, taunting himself) If I got a job I could say: “We have met the Ham Hock and it is ours. You may hire when ready, Ham Hock.” (Nancy laughs despite herself.) We could have an annual Ham Hock Jubilee and publish the results in a slim, limited edition called “Ham Hocks From the Portuguese.”
NANCY. (In a shy wistful voice) Can I be the first contestant, Mister?
TOM. (Surprised) Why... Why, certainly. (Heartily) Step right up close to the microphone, little lady.
NANCY. (Thinking) “Look Homeward, Ham Hock.” (They are both startled by what has popped out, awkward at the mention of something once very precious to them; but Tom draws them back to the game.)
TOM. “A Tale of Two Ham Hocks.”
NANCY. “A Midsummer Night’s Ham Hock.”
TOM. “The Ham Hock of Notre Dame.” (They are both laughing and become wilder and wilder in hysterical escape.)
NANCY. “The Scarlet Ham Hock.”
TOM. “Gone With the Ham Hock...” (They laugh long at this; both beginning to gasp and talk with difficulty.) We’re getting too literary.
NANCY. (Laughing harder) “Don’t give up the Ham Hock.”
TOM. “Damn the Ham Hocks, full speed ahead.”
NANCY. “I regret that I have but one Ham Hock to give for my country.” (They are laughing wildly. Tom sinks down on the couch next to Nancy.)
TOM. Oh, baby. Listen to this.
NANCY. No more. Please. No more. It hurts too much.
TOM. Just this one. Ready? (Nancy nods.) “Tippecanoe and Ham Hock too.” (The laughter reaches a frantic climax, then abruptly dies. Tom is seated, blankly looking at nothing. Nancy is hunched over, hugging herself. When she sits up again she speaks in a solemn, frightened voice.)
NANCY. What shall we do, Tom? Are we going to drift and drift until we lose each other? When the world becomes too harsh, I’m afraid. Made afraid by days when we tear each other open... Afraid of long and empty nights if we tear too much... (Tom slowly turns to Nancy.) When you’re away I’m a dreamy child, imagining a thousand beautiful things for us; the children’s faces that we haven’t had, a home to live in and love you in forever... I’m lovesick, Tom... Married six years and still lovesick. When you fought the world and yourself I waited to rub away your pain. Your defeat and shame were mine... They fed on my guts too... But you don’t let me touch you any more. You’ve pushed me so far away that it’s almost too far to reach you... (Tom draws Nancy to him very gently and rocks her slowly back and forth in his arms.)
TOM. I’ve watched you become afraid, when all I had to do was say a word, or smile at you. I’ve been trapped in the isolation of my skull. I’d say to myself: I didn’t mean that, why did I let it happen? I don’t know what to say anymore. I’ve worn out promises and apologies.
NANCY. Do you still want me?
TOM. More than ever.
NANCY. Then love me. Love me. Make the shadows go away.
TOM. I’ll try, Nancy. I will. There’s so much that I don’t understand; so many things I do wrong.
NANCY. We’ll make them right somehow, together. (Nancy kisses Tom gently. He strokes her hair. The lights begin to dim.) Will you be my big poppa kangaroo?
TOM. Yes, baby.
NANCY. And keep me in your pouch, warm and safe?
TOM. Yes. And I’ll take you with me wherever I go.
NANCY. To Tibet and Peru, and back again too?
TOM. Everywhere.
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Copyright ©Gary Beck, 2006
By the same author RSS
Date of publicationSeptember 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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