A play in Four Scenes
The dining room of the Nelson residence, that evening. The
table is set for four, two of the settings being on the
upstage (long) side. A swinging door to the kitchen is stage
(into phone, eyes on the door) Is everything all right in
there? Do you need any help? (pause) Meatloaf? Yumm. Love
meatloaf, nothing better than meatloaf! (pause) It took longer
than you expected? (pause) Why don't you bring it out here?
I can slice it at the table. (pause) Okay. If you think you
have everything under control. (pause) Okay. I will.
full of serving dishes. She sets the tray on the table
and distributes them. ROGER returns the phone to his pocket,
removes a pill bottle from the other pocket.
He removes the cap, pours out a pill,
and slaps it to his mouth.
(noticing this) Your stomach?
Yeah. But. . .it's nothing serious.
that are connected to a small cassette player at his side.
He crosses to the chair up left, pulls it back,
and sets the cassette player on the table.
(standing, eyeing the food with repugnance) What's this?
It's meatloaf. Obviously. Don't you recognize meatloaf when you see it?
I don't like meatloaf.
Of course you do. Everyone likes meatloaf
I don't. I hate meatloaf. (sullenly, he sits down)
Son, don't start. Don't even think of starting. Your mother
has made us a wonderful dinner—for which you should be
thankful—and if you'll get over your mental block against it,
I'm sure you'll find you like meatloaf.
in his headphones. REENIE enters right, carrying a cell phone.
She takes her seat in the up-right chair,
and sets her phone on the table.
KEVIN picks up his fork and aims it at the meatloaf.
Kevin, let your sister go first! Don't you think it's polite to let women go ahead of men?
I'm hungry. Of everybody here. . .I'm the hungriest.
(impishly) No you're not!
(to KEVIN) Oh fine, fine. I practically have to drag you to the table, then you tell me you're so hungry you can't wait to eat. But. . .you don't like the food that's been prepared.
KEVIN slumps in his chair, nods his head to the music.
Go ahead, Reenie.
(to KEVIN, as she serves herself) Na-naaah. . . .
(to KEVIN) What are you listening to?
None of your business
Don't talk to your mother that way!
(smoothing over the tension) Okay, Kevin, now it's your turn.
He is followed by SERENA, then ROGER.
Who's going to say grace tonight? Reenie, would you, uh, do the honors?
(to REENIE and KEVIN, as all begin to eat) So what went on in school today? Give us some. . .news.
(looking at KEVIN; quietly) Tell Mom and Dad how you sneaked that pocket knife through the metal detector.
(startled) A pocket knife?
You sneaked a pocket knife into school?
(to REENIE) You want to know something? You're a real little brat.
What were you doing with a pocket knife?
(pause; impishly) Tell them.
And take those headphones off! Turn off that cassette machine.
(ceasing rocking, but leaving headphones where they are) Some of the boys have been picking on me lately. And I have to be able to defend myself. It's only fair.
Kev. . .inn!
So you were going to do it with a pocket knife? You were going to stab someone?
Not really. I was just going to flash it in front of their faces. But if they keep bullying me outside school, follow me home like they've been doing lately. . .well, I don't know.
Kevin, you know that's no way to behave! You know that's not civilized behavior!
Look son, (pointing at him) the Nelsons do not carry pocket knives to school. If you have a problem with some of the boys, we can go to the principal and talk about it. Or you can get in with a different group that will stand up to these kids. But I'm not having you taking a slash at someone in the schoolyard, do you understand that? Do you want to be carried off in a police car? Do you want to see our names in the newspaper?
Well, they wouldn't exactly—
I know, I know. But it's the principle of the thing. The
Nelsons are not a family of thugs. I am not having a knife-carrying thug for a son. (to KEVIN) I don't want you ever to
carry a knife to school again. And if I find the thing. . . .
Oh, all right I guess. Miss Delancey said she's going to tell us about sodomy, tomorrow.
(incredulous) Sodomy. . . ?
Yes. She says it's not a very pleasant subject, but it's something we need to know about. She's told us other things about hygiene, which is her word for girls' bodies. . .so I guess I'm. . .curious about this.
Don't you think the seventh grade is a little early to be learning about. . .that subject?
I don't know whether it is or not. I don't know what. . .that subject is.
(to SERENA) Can you believe? What they teach the kids nowadays! They never discussed any of this stuff when I was growing up. I think I was nearly thirty before I knew what sex I was! (to REENIE) That is, you know. . .whether I was a boy or girl.
I was very innocent about sex, too.
(to SERENA) Do you think we should have a meeting with Miss Delancey?
No. I don't think it would do any good. She can be pretty willful, you know. I think she thinks it's her classroom and she's going to do whatever she darn well pleases. (pause) Anyway, maybe it's for the best. Maybe, nowadays, kids need to know about things like that. (pause) But I think there are. . .more pleasant things to talk about.
What would you like to talk about that's. . .more pleasant?
Well, I don't know how pleasant it is, but it's certainly gratifying. 'Ixey' has been awarded a contract to build a sophisticated new component for the Department of Defense. I'm not supposed to. . .talk about it, but it's something that's going to be put in the cockpits of jet fighters. It lowers their silhouette, their electronic visibility. The problem is, the Defense Department wants the component on a hurry-up basis, and that may wreak havoc on the Christmas vacation schedule. I may have to work a few days I'm not used to working. I'll know better about it, next week.
Oh-oh, there goes the trip to Disneyland!
Awwww. . .!
Oh, and I forgot to mention. When Kelly and I order out, it's always a nice Hispanic kid who brings us our lunches. I think he's from Guatemala. Well, I got bogged down in my computer today, trying to do something I didn't quite understand, when Luis shows up with lunch—Luis is his name—and explains how to do it. Turns out he's going to night school, learning computers.
Isn't that something! Good for him! Because you almost have to be an engineer, nowadays, just to get up out of bed! (pause) Is Kelly going to marry that man you said is the son of one of the company bigwigs?
Harris Britton. Son of Harold Britton. I don't know, but on a whim I made him get down on his knee today, and rehearse proposing to her. I stressed it was only a rehearsal, he wasn't actually committing himself. Doing the deed.
And did she accept?
Don't know. His phone rang, and he got into a conversation
about some technical matters.
(as KEVIN looks defiant) You heard your mother! Take off those
headphones! Now! Turn that damn machine off!
(in retribution; to ROGER) Can I have some more?
Yes. But you might consider leaving some for your sister.
Not to mention your father.
And your mother.
KEVIN moodily knocks some of what he has taken
back into the serving dish.
(picking up her cell phone) Dad, would you do me a favor? You remember that hum I said I was hearing in my phone? Something else has gotten into it. I can call out okay, but when I receive a call I hear something. . .scratchy.
Maybe it's the battery.
No, I replaced the battery last week. I tried that. Please, Dad, would you give me a call, so I can test it?
Oh honey, not at the dinner table.
Well, let's see. . . .
his cell phone, and dials. REENIE's phone rings.
She pushes a button and answers.
Reenie, it's your father! I'm in the dining room talking to my. . .beautiful daughter! Can you hear me?
I can hear you! I can hear you just fine!
Do I sound. . .scratchy?
No! You're . . . perfectly clear!
But I think we need to be scientific about this! This is not
an adequate test! Reenie, we have to think scientifically!
We're too close to one another! What works at a few feet might
not work at all. . .from a distance! Why don't you go into the
and takes her seat.
(amused by what has transpired; into phone) Would you like to hear how my day went?
(into phone) Yes, Dad! I certainly would! Tell us how your day went!
Okay! If you want to hear what happened on the way to work,
press one! If you want to hear what happened at work, press
(as ROGER gets carried away) Uh, Roger. . . .
(pause; into phone) All our customer representatives are with other clients right now! But we value your business and your call is very important to us! Please stay on the line! A customer service representative will be with you shortly!
Uh, Roger, please. That's enough.
Did you know that at IXI Corporation, we supply a full line of sophisticated electronic parts for jet fighters and flight simulation equipment? Furthermore, some of the world's most advanced weapons, including tanks, make use of components fabricated by IXI. At IXI we take pride in supplying the very best and most reliable—
Ro. . .ger!
(distant, unaffected; to SERENA) Can I be excused?
Please, that's enough, Roger. You're keeping Reenie from finishing her dinner.
(pushing button to turn phone off, then returning it to his pocket) Okay, okay. I was just. . .having a little fun.
(to ROGER, more firmly) Can I be excused?
Don't you think it would be polite to wait until your sister finished her dinner?
No. Because you aren't letting her finish. I want to play Thor the Invincible. I was really creaming him, earlier. Smashing him up. Pulverizing him.
You talk like it's a physical fight, but it's. . .you know, just a computer game.
Yeah, I know. But I was fuckin' terrorizing him.
What? What did you say?
Sorry. (slumping) I didn't. . .mean to.
Don't you ever let me hear you using that kind of language! I will not have profanity in this house! You're far too young to be using that kind of language. . . !
(hypocritically) I'm sorry. Really. It just sorta slipped out.
Is that the way they talk at school? It's beginning to sound to me like you're getting in with the wrong crowd.
No. No I'm not, Dad. I hear the word occasionally. But I don't use it.
(after a sour silence) Dad, I'm full. I can't eat any more.
Okay. (eyeing her plate) You've done very well. We can use the leftovers to make sandwiches for your school lunches. (pause) By the way, what website were you investigating before dinner?
Oh, just something.
(mincing) 'Just. . .something'! That was some kind of something! Tell him what it was!
It was about, uh, horticulture. Plants. Plants at the. . .botanical gardens.
Yeah, plants! Plants without any clothes on!
(after a glance at KEVIN) Reenie, you're not. . .going to websites that are inappropriate for kids, are you?
No, Dad. Mrs. Jackson gave us an assignment about, uh, plants. And the. . .botanical gardens.
Well, maybe I'll have to speak to Mrs. Jackson. But in the
meantime, you stay away from websites that are inappropriate
for, and off-limits to kids, okay? You know what I'm referring
to. (pause; responding to a look from KEVIN) Yes, you may be
and exit right: she with her telephone,
he with his tape player.
ROGER and SERENA exchange weary looks,
then she rises and begins clearing the dishes.
Do you want some help?
Oh no, I can do it. You'll just get in the way. (pause) Would you like some coffee?
Mmm, I guess I'd better not. It's liable to keep me from
ROGER returns to fiddling with his Palm Pilot
(which has been on the table throughout the scene).
SERENA reenters left, carrying a tray.
(motioning to Palm Pilot) Oh, look. Here're some pictures of
the Franks in Switzerland. They went on a ski trip. (fiddles)
Oh, and some pictures of the Mueller's new baby. (fiddles) And
I see the market's up.
SERENA takes another load of dishes into the kitchen.
ROGER takes the pill bottle out of his pocket,
uncaps it, pours out a pill, and slaps it to his face.
He resumes nervously, obsessively, fiddling with his Palm Pilot.
The lights slowly dim to
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