By: Shawn Davis
In the summer of 2007 I received an email from NBC about a Diversity Initiative Writer’s program they were starting (the program eventually folded and Tina Fey actually mocked it on an episode of 30 Rock). To this day I have no idea how they received my contact information – I think it was a professor who referred me or they saw some of my work – but they wanted a creative sample and this was it: A three-act play that I just recently found; this is the first act. Enjoy.
Scene: Early Monday morning in an inner city neighborhood; slightly overcast and a minor breeze blows. Adults are exiting the local bodegas with brown paper bags that are then being stuffed into the backpacks of the children that are clutching their hands. This morning is a trip-day for some students as a group of third graders can be seen eagerly crossing the intersection with the guard as she ensures their safety.
Coming down a side block is another student, Anthony, slightly older, who’s kicking an empty soda can while he whistles. After purchasing an orange juice from the bodega, he continues his activity with the can.
Anthony: This is going to be a good day…I think.
As Anthony whistles and hums, he kicks the can at the foot of a man sitting on an old milk carton; he’s dressed in dark jeans and a thin sweater. The man sucks his teeth and stares at the can as he takes a swig of his beer; he then spews a wad of saliva in the direction of the boy’s feet.
Anthony: Hey! Why did you do that for? That almost hit my new sneakers, man.
Man: Watch where you kick the damn can. (He mumbles to himself, initially, but then raises his voice to make sure Anthony can hear.) You kids have no respect these days, at all. (He kicks the can under the wheel of an oncoming car.)
Anthony: (watching the can careen into the street) What’s your problem?
Man: You are comin’ in-between me and my beer! Where are you going thinking you’re better than everyone else?
Anthony: (taking a sip of his juice) I’m going to school! What about you? Are you going to sit out here all day and drink?
Man: (taking a big gulp of his beer) Smart-mouthed little shit; watch your lip. Who are you to judge me?
Anthony: You were the one saying that I was thinking I was better than everyone else.
Man: Look at the way you act. I see you goin’ to school everyday with your head up high like you’re better than the people in this here hood. You aint better than nobody else…what makes you so special?
Anthony: Well if you were doing something with yourself – then you wouldn’t be here watching me walk to school everyday. But I also see you…you sit here and drink every single day and it doesn’t change. So don’t talk down to me because I’m a kid and that may be the case but I’m smart. I am special and you know why?
Anthony: Because my parents make me feel that way. They tell me I’m special and they tell me that they love me and how much I mean to them. They tell me that I can be anything that I want to be and they also tell me that I’m going to be someone when I’m older.
Man: (bitterly) Shut the fuck up little kid! Your parents are lying to you – filling yo head with bullshit. You can’t be anything that you want to be…that’s a lie!
Anthony: Don’t curse at me! How are my parents lying to me; why is that a lie?
Man: My parents told me the same thing and look at me. I’m nothing and I got hurt and I can’t work, at all. I can’t get a job because the color of my skin and because I’m hurt.
Anthony: How is that your parents fault? I’m sure they want you to do well. I know they don’t want you to sit out here and drink beer all day long. Did they want that for you?
Man: Don’t you question me boy?
Anthony: Why? You’re sitting there and asking me all these questions and so I’m doing the same thing in return.
Man: It’s about respect and you need to know your place when talking to adults.
Anthony: Respect? You already cursed at me so you should know your place when talking to people.
The Man rests his back against the wall and takes a deep breath as Anthony finishes off his orange juice. He dumps it in the garbage as Man opens his second beer and finishes the can off with a few large gulps. Anthony watches him and looks down the block, about to continue his walk towards school.
Man: I got into a car accident kid and that’s why I have had trouble getting work. No, my parents do not want me to drink all day long but it’s what I do. My life is this and it is what it is. I collect disability checks and they help me get by. The color of my skin is holding me back. The world isn’t as great as you think it is, regardless of whatever dreams your teachers and your parents try to sell you.
Anthony: Why would you say something so wrong?
Man: It isn’t wrong kid, but it is the truth. You can’t be what you want to be; it makes me no kind of sense to be telling you lies and shit. I’ll tell you the things that everyone else will try to sugarcoat for you – you should appreciate that.
Anthony: My parents and my teachers don’t lie to me, you’re lying. I think that you are just sad with your own life and you want to make other people unhappy because you are miserable.
Man: (laughing) I am miserable, but I know what’s coming to me. You walk to school and learn your little lessons, take your little tests, eat your little lunches and dream your little dreams but wait to school ends and life begins.
Anthony: What’s that supposed to mean?
Man: When you finish school and you begin to get out in the real world…you’ll see how different it is and how it’s not a fuckin fairy tale. (He finishes his third beer and spits phlegm into the street.) Once you finish school, you’ll see that things aren’t so bright. You’ll go out there and go to school and maybe finish, and find yourself right where you started. You’ll be no better than any of us and you’ll see that you never really got anywhere.
Anthony: You can’t say that! Don’t speak for me and the things that I want to do.
Man: What do you want to do kid?
Anthony: I’m going to finish high school and then I’m going to go to college in another country. I’m going to see the world and see cultures that are interesting to me and I’m going to have a lot of fun things that I’ll be doing. I’m going to find a way to make my dreams come true. I might be a lawyer or a doctor or a writer or a musician…I have time and there are so many things that I’m interested in.
Man: I was the same way and that attitude doesn’t last forever; things in life happen to smother that out of you. I went to high school and I graduated one of the top students in my class.
Man: (laughing while remembering) I finished high school and then I worked at the post office for two years before going back to school. I went back to college and got my two-year degree so I could advance in my position. Things were really good (he shakes his head and stares at the floor)…for me.
Anthony: So what happened, sir?
Man: What happened? (looking to the clouds) Well, I got the promotion and I got a little comfortable in my new position and I didn’t work as hard, maybe.
Anthony: What do you mean?
Man: What I mean is…there will come a time in life when you may be in your career or your life, maybe with school, and you’ll become lazy, in a way. You’ll be used to what you are doing and it probably won’t be difficult to you anymore and you’ll get to a point where you can do certain things like its second nature and you can become sort of unappreciative of where you are.
Anthony: I think that I understand what you’re saying.
Man: Ok, well I got a new supervisor who pushed me hard and was on my back about my work and what my numbers were. Nothing was good enough to please him and he was always on my back.
Man: When you have a test and you do bad…you get in trouble with your teacher right?
Man: Well, it’s like that everyday when you have a job, a career.
Anthony: That’s tough.
Man: Yeah, it is and it was harder because I didn’t get along with my boss. Eventually, my work improved and I was up for a bigger promotion but someone else got the job. I was upset and I wanted to prove my boss wrong so I decided to go for my four-year degree so that I have the education, as well as the training, to get the promotion the next time that an opportunity came about.
Man: So I was going to school and the work was too demanding and I felt that it was overwhelming me. I finally got my focus in order and I improved my grades in school while my work at the job improved and all of my bosses were happy with me. The happy feelings didn’t last that long as I began slacking off at my job and my grades began to suffer in school.
Anthony: Why did you let that happen?
Man: I can’t answer that. (he curses to himself and opens another can of beer) My bosses were too hard on me. I mean how much pressure can one person take at one time? It was too much.
Anthony: My dad always tells me that being an adult is all about how you deal with pressure. Is that right? I believe that my dad is telling me the truth. How do you feel about that? Do you think that he’s right?
Man: (biting his lip before drinking half of the can) That’s what your father thinks, huh?
Anthony: Yeah, that’s what he tells me all the time…my mom too.
Man: (sarcastically) Is that right?
Anthony: He says it all the time!
Man: What does he do?
Anthony: My dad is an editor at a magazine and my mother is an investment banker.
Man: Big jobs there…big jobs.
Anthony: What happened with your job?
Man: I started drinking too much and my attitude towards school and work became only worse.
Man: I hated going in to work and school…they felt like chores that never ended and I got frustrated with them.
Man: What chore do you hate the most?
Anthony: Well, since I turned eleven, I hate that I have to wash the dishes now. I really hate that.
Man: How often do your parents make you clean the dishes?
Anthony: I do them by myself on Mondays and Tuesdays and with my parents after Sunday dinner.
Man: So we’ll say you do them twice a week, ok? Since those are the days that you do them on your own.
Man: What if you had to wash dishes eight to ten hours a day and then you had to go to school and then finish homework?
Anthony: I would hate that.
Man: Well, I had to deal with that on an everyday basis and I got tired. I was working hard and then it wasn’t good enough. My grades were falling and my best friend became beer. I stopped hanging out with my friends and my girlfriend and I broke up so I stopped caring. I even went to work and school drunk at times.
Anthony: That’s scary.
Man: I guess, but I didn’t care.
Anthony: My dad says that when a man really doesn’t care anymore…he hurts himself.
Man: Hmm (finishing the beer)…
Anthony: My mom says the same thing.
Man: You know what kiddo?
Man: Your parents are right! They are so true. When you stop caring…you really stop caring and NOTHING matters at all. In the long run, you do wind up hurting yourself because your attitude is no longer positive. That was the problem with me. I drank too much one night and I got into my car and smashed it up pretty bad.
Anthony: You were driving drunk? Oh my god! That is dangerous and you’re lucky that you’re still alive today.
Man: I wouldn’t say that I’m lucky, but you can say whatever it is that you want. But that’s how I got hurt. My left knee had to get reconstructed and so did my left elbow.
Anthony: (pointing to his forehead) That’s why you have those scars on your head.
Man (rubbing his head): Yeah I got two huge scars on my knee and one on my left elbow.
Anthony: That’s why you can’t work anymore?
Anthony: But wait a minute…you caused your problems.
Anthony: No one made you drink and get into your car on that night.
Anthony: And no one caused you to have trouble with your classes.
Man: Did you not hear what I said, kid? The class work was too demanding and my workload at my job made it all that much harder for me to deal with. You hear kid, but you do not listen.
Anthony: I am listening but it all sounds like you are making excuses for yourself.
Man: (throwing his can in the street) Who are you to say something like that to me? You’re not better than me and you will not stand there with your new sneakers, blue jeans and your buttoned shirt and talk to me like one of your peers.
Anthony: (startled) I’m not talking to you in any way and I’m just thinking about things that my parents say. It sounds like your just making excuses instead of doing something with your life.
Man: I was doing something with my life and it was all taken away from me. I didn’t do anything wrong! Everything got so damned hard and it was unfair…it was all unfair. I’m a good person and I didn’t deserve what happened to me. You wait and see when you get older, you wait.
Anthony: Why are you saying that?
Man: It’ll happen to you — and when it does – you’ll see how difficult it will be to put your life back together.
Anthony: But all you do is sit here everyday and drink your beers…and…just sit.
Man: You don’t know me; you don’t know what I do.
Anthony: But I see you all the time.
Man: Be quiet.
Anthony: You can’t talk to me like that.
Man: It wasn’t my fault; things weren’t my fault.
Anthony: (shrugs his shoulders) Ok.
Man: Shouldn’t you be going to school now.
Anthony: Yep, that’s what I’m about to do. (He looks into the street for a new can to kick but doesn’t want to bother will all the beer cans. His soda can is crushed and he looks at the Man.) I’m outta here dude.
Man: (opening another beer) Have a great day kid? (He says while giving him an air salute with the brew.)
Anthony makes his way down the block and crosses the street to talk with some of his classmates who are nervous about their science quiz. Man looks at the children, from his seat, and finishes his beer before opening the next one.