A play in Four Scenes
The office at IXI Corporation, two years later; late morning.
Easy, Mrs. Britton! You hit F2 and do a transfer function, then use your triple-toggle thru-pointing plug-protector!
(eyes returning to her screen, fingers moving on her keyboard) Thank you, my little genius. You're my guardian angel. I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you to rescue me, from time to time. They sure taught you well at school.
(pleased with himself) Yes, it was a good school. And I worked hard. (pause) Though there were a lot of things. . .I figured out on my own. Anyone can do it. You just have to get the right books, and go through them slowly. And you have to enjoy messing around with computers.
(looking at LUIS) Anyone can't do it, Luis. You have the knack for it, but not everyone has. (looking at screen, then up again) And Luis. . .congratulations on getting your American citizenship. That's a magnificent accomplishment, and no one deserves it more than you do.
Thank you, Mrs. Britton. This is a great country, I'm proud to be an American. But you deserve congratulations, too. So congratulations on your new house! Are you and your husband enjoying it?
Thank you, we're enjoying it very much. I've always lived in apartments, and never expected to have so much. . .space. I'm still finding my way around in the house, and some days it feels like there are rooms I haven't even discovered yet. And it's still rather bare. Harris and I have been picking out furniture, but we want to do it right. At least we have curtains on the windows, and rugs in most of the rooms. (lest all this sound grandiose, appealing to mea-culpa practicality) We could never have raised a child—and what may prove to be children—in the apartment we were living in. But (laughing) you know what happened? You want to hear something. . .strange?
(with a concern for propriety) Not too strange, I hope?
No, strange in the sense of. . . . Well, I'll tell you. A week ago my husband and I gave a housewarming party—
What's a 'housewarming party'?
It's a party where you invite people in to let them see your new house, and where they sometimes bring you gifts, household items you might not own yet. But here comes the strange part. My husband recently bought a baby-monitoring device, and installed it inside our daughter's crib. It transmits to a portable speaker, and allows us to keep track of her when we're downstairs. Well, some of our guests went upstairs to have a look at the second floor. I was in the kitchen with the speaker nearby, when suddenly I hear: She s not very pretty. And another voice says: 'No, she's downright ugly.' (as LUIS laughs in horror). And it was the way he pronounced it! 'Oog-ly'! 'She's downright oog-ly'! Well, you know how babies are! They don't all come out of the womb looking like movie stars! Of course, she's pretty to us, and I'll give you odds she grows up to be a knockout. But. . .oog-ly. . . .
(gallantly) I'm sure she will, Mrs. Britton! I'm sure she will! You're very. . .attractive, and so is your husband!
(demurely appreciative) Thank you, Luis. (pause) But that wasn't the end of it. I mean, the end of the strangeness. I then went out to the living room and the den, to perform my hostess duties. When I returned to the kitchen, I heard a voice in the speaker say: 'There sure isn't a lot of furniture in this house. It all feels rather cold.' Well, Luis, I told you! We're still fixing the place up!
Of course you are. That's only natural.
Then another voice says: 'Maybe they're just not into things. . .they're not very thingy. The first voice replies: 'Or they don't have any money.' Can you believe it? We're just taking our time, in order to purchase nice things! And with Harris's promotion, really. We're not exactly paupers.
No. Of course you aren't. (pause) Did you recognize any of the voices?
Not any of those I've described. (confidentially) But then came two I did recognize. They were the voices of a husband and wife, a husband and wife who aren't married to each other. I probably shouldn't be talking about such things, but phooey, we're grownups. I hear the woman say: 'Leonard, not here. Not standing up in somebody else's bedroom where there's a baby asleep.' I hear some knocking and thumping about, then the woman' s voice again: 'Leonard, no! Not standing against the wall of somebody else's bedroom! Please! This is unseemly!'
(rolling his eyes) Woooooo. . . ! And they didn't know they were being overheard! (pause) Think what you could do with their secret if you had a. . .sinful mind.
And silly me. I thought the two people in question had good, strong marriages. I kept an eye on them for the rest of the evening and, thankfully, nothing else. . .fishy occurred. (pause) But all that from one innocent baby monitor! I thought, after my husband fixed it, it was going to stop picking up extraneous voices.
(confused but intrigued) He fixed it? Why did he have to fix it?
Oh. Because when we first got it, it was picking up our
neighbor's child. I would hear crying and run upstairs, only
to find my daughter poking at her little hanging toys, or
fast asleep. It finally dawned on Harris that we were picking
up the neighbor's monitor along with our own, and he put
some kind of filter in it. (pause) Okay, you said hit F2,
do a transfer function, then use my. . .triple-toggle plug-protector. . . .
fingers moving on their keyboards. Seven seconds.
When they hear the following, they stop and listen.
Good morning, members of the IXI corporate family. This is
your CEO with some news I think will be of interest. Owing to
our robust quarterly earnings report, issued yesterday, and
the enthusiastic reception our Enhanced Radar System has
received on the commercial aircraft market, IXI stock has
risen another five and seven-eights points this morning.
Approximately two million shares have changed hands. I want
to commend each and every one of you for the part you are
playing in making IXI technologically competitive, and
financially sound. There continues to be strong interest in
the products our company designs and manufactures, and with
the economy reviving, I have every reason to believe that that
interest will continue. I know I've said this before, and
perhaps you are tired of hearing me say it, but I sincerely
believe that at IXI, it is our people who make the difference.
Thank you for your attention, and have a productive day.
gauge one another's reactions.
KELLY turns and glances through the stage-right door
to confirm that she will not be overheard.
(to LUIS) Ah, soothing words from our See-Eye-Eee-Eye-Oh. You know, sometimes I think he actually believes what he says.
But if our stock is up, that is good! (pause) Mr. Morgenstern is a good man. (pause) I think I'm going to take your advice and sign up for the stock-compensation plan.
You should. It's been good to me, at least so far. Of course,
I have a husband to manage it. And he gets quite generous. . .options.
(pause, eyeing her screen) Now where was I. Where was
I. . . .
HAROLD BRITTON enters, right.
Good morning, Kelly, good morning, Luis. (to KELLY) How's my favorite daughter-in-law?
Fine, thank you for asking. I've been working on the Grant-Warren bills for the diversionary analyzer, as you asked me to, and with Luis's help, here, (graciously indicating him) almost reinventing the wheel.
Sounds good to me. (turning) And Luis, speaking of daughters-in-law. . .how is you fiancé
Real swell, Mr. Britton, real swell. We're both excited to be getting married.
Are you going to get married in the States?
No, I'll return to Guatemala. That's where our families are. And we want them to be present at the ceremony. But she'll come back with me, and since we'll be married, it'll be easy for her to get her green card. I'll help her with her English and, one of these days, she'll apply for citizenship, too.
Do you talk to her often?
No, because it's so expensive. But we e-mail every day.
Luis, I forgot. Forgive me. Congratulations on getting your
citizenship. (pause) I don't think I ever shook your hand.
(pleased) Thank you, Mr. Britton, thank you very much. (sitting down) Mr. Britton, may I, uh, ask you a question. . . ?
Feel free. I just hope I can answer it.
(feeling his way) Mr. Britton, I've always felt that my coming to IXI somehow resulted in Mrs. Nelson's. . .Mrs. Serena Nelson's. . .losing her job. She seemed like such a nice lady and. . .a good worker. Very devoted. If it's not. . .what's the word, im, imp—
(abrupt change of mood; bristling) Impertinent.
If it's not. . .impertinent, Mr. Britton. . .though I realize I should never have brought this up. . .why is she no longer with the company? Did she have her own reasons for leaving? Was it something. . .personal?
(after a long, defensive pause; angrily) Yes it was, Luis. It was something personal. There were. . .personal considerations. You see, Mrs. Nelson's husband is an air traffic controller out at LaGuardia, and a couple of years ago, after those two planes nearly collided and her husband had a heart attack, I thought she ought to be with him, and take care of him. I felt I was doing her a favor by encouraging her to be with her family. Despite appearances, my decision to let her go was an act of kindness. Then, by the time her husband was ready to return to work, well, we had hired you. And your skills, your potential for advancement are greater than hers were. It made sense to retain you.
(crestfallen) Gee. If I'd only known. . . .
(glancing at her father-in-law) It was the right thing to do. You had no choice. A company like this needs the best and most talented people it can find. (pause) Yes, it was the right thing to do.
(to LUIS) Furthermore, you could say she brought it on herself. Or, if you prefer, her family brought it on her. Her son took part in that so-called peace protest that was staged right outside our gate. He was the one who threw the homemade bomb over the fence. (to himself, moodily) Dear, sweet little Kevin Nelson. Probably on drugs at the time.
(startled, but regaining composure) There was. . .a peace protest? Against our company? That's terrible, Mr. Britton, just terrible. I would be angry, too. Because when you attack American corporations, you attack America. You attack the. . .what's the word. . .citadel of freedom and democracy. Who else is going to defend freedom and democracy, if not America?
That's exactly the point, Luis. And I'm glad to know you think as I do. (glancing at his wristwatch; softening) Well, it's time for lunch. And today, ladies' and gentlemen, lunch is going to be special. The vice presidents have been invited to dine with Mr. Morgenstern in his private suite. I think the good news from the stock market has made him. . .uncharacteristically sociable. (crossing right) Well, I'll see you two later. Carry on. Have a productive day. (exits right)
(pause; musing) Still, it's too bad. . .about Mrs. Nelson. . . .
Luis, you've got to stop thinking that way. This is a business, not a charity. You can't run a business. . .like a charity.
I guess you're right. It's just. . .too bad.
HECTOR, wearing a white apron, enters left.
He has headphones around his neck,
connected to a CD player on his belt,
next to which is a pager.
(to KELLY, who notices him first) Buenos tardes, Se᯲a.
(looking up; firmly) Speak English, Hector! Speak English!
(as if caught out; to KELLY) Hello, dear.
'Hello, dear'? That's what you say to somebody intimate! A family member, a girl friend! Just say: 'Hello, ma'am.'
(to KELLY) Hello, mom.
Okay. Why are you here? What can we do for you?
I make delivery. . .ah, I deliver to lunches of (pointing) office next the door. I wonder, since I going by, if you like. . .ah, to order place. I order take to restaurant.
(glancing at LUIS) I don't think so. I think, Luis, in honor of your recently acquired American citizenship, I ought to take you to lunch. Will you let me? You certainly deserve it. I'd really like to.
(surprised) That would be very nice, Mrs. Britton! Thank you, yes. (to HECTOR) You understood what she said, didn't you? She's going to take me out to lunch. So we won't be ordering today.
Okay. Pero Luis, amigo, gracias por conseguime esta trabajo.
English, Hector! Speak English!
Okay, okay! Again thank you for me getting. . .this job.
If you want to thank me, do it by working on your English!
I do it, Luis, I do it. (teasingly) Adios. . .goodbye!
raises his headphones to his head
and adjusts them to his ears.
(dealing with her computer; to LUIS over her screen) I know
just the place to take you. . . . We'll have to walk a few
blocks, but I really think you'll enjoy this restaurant.
(ambiguously) You can hold my hand while we're walking and
pretend I'm your fiancé You can practice holding an
'attractive' woman's hand. (rising, pushing her chair in) I'm
going to the ladies room. I'll be right back. You guard the
fort. (pause; thinking) Our new house, Luis? The house I
was telling you about. . . ? (suddenly quiet) I don't know why
he bought such a large house. . .if he' s going back to traveling
for the company....
LUIS begins closing down his computer.
Good morning again, members of the IXI corporate family. I
promise this will be the last time I get on the horn today,
but I wanted you to hear a conversation between an air traffic
controller out at LaGuardia and one of the many pilots he was
guiding in. It's on a tape a friend sent me. I just now received it. (pause)
Requesting landing instructions, Delta 124. (pause)
Good morning, Delta 124. Descend to 4,000, turn left, maintain bearing two-four-zero and approach 9 Left. You're clear to land.
Hey, a familiar voice. You were right, friend. This new Radar Enhancer from IXI is the cat's pajamas. Makes it a real pleasure to fly—makes flying more fun than ever. Say hello to Kevin and Reenie. Delta 124.
IXI employees, you should feel proud of yourselves, because that's the testimony that counts. What you heard was a real pilot flying a real plane, and referring to our product. And there's a coincidence involved, here. The coincidence is that the wife of the air traffic controller you heard is employed at IXI. Serena Nelson, as some of you know, works in the Personnel Department. (pause) While I have your attention, and despite the good news that I've reported, I'd like to make one other point. There is an area in which I think we can make improvements, and that is in our interdivisional electronic communication methodology. It's important that we have an efficient interface between all our divisions, so I'm going to direct our software people to design a program that will allow more instant, and more importantly, more interactive, communication—
and with a ...WHAT? expression, shrugs incredulously.
Finally, as yesterday was the single best day ever, so far as appreciation of our stock, and as it was a triumph for the market in general, I'm going to let you hear what the stock exchange sounded like at closing. Thank you for your attention, and have a productive day.
accompanied by prolonged and enthusiastic applause.
The lights continue to dim,
This time LUIS points at the ceiling
and wags his finger judgmentally.
Interactive communication protocols? That's. . .easy!
The sound of applause
gradually fades to silence.
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