Dramatic Texts >> William Saroyan >> The Time of Your Life
THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE by William Saroyan
 
In the time of your life, live — so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness of death for yourself or any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.
 
THE PEOPLE
 
JOE, a young loafer with money and a good heart
TOM, his admirer, disciple, errand boy, stooge and friend
KITTY DUVAL, a young woman with memories
NICK, owner of Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant, and Entertainment Palace
ARAB, an Eastern philosopher and harmonica-player
KIT CARSON, an old Indian-fighter
MC CARTHY, an intelligent and well-read longshoreman
KRUPP, his boyhood friend, a waterfront cop who hates his job but doesn’t know what else to do instead
HARRY, a natural-born hoofer who wants to make people laugh but can’t
WESLEY, a colored boy who plays a mean and melancholy boogie-woogie piano
DUDLEY, a young man in love
ELSIE, a nurse, the girl he loves
LORENE, an unattractive woman
MARY L., an unhappy woman of quality and great beauty
WILLIE, a marble-game maniac
BLICK, a heel
MA, Nick’s mother
A KILLER
HER SIDE KICK
A COP
ANOTHER COP
A SAILOR
A SOCIETY GENTLEMAN
A SOCIETY LADY
THE DRUNKARD
THE NEWSBOY
ANNA, Nick’s daughter
 
THE PLACE
 
Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, Restaurant, and Entertainment Palace at the foot of Embarcadero, in San Francisco. A suggestion of room 21 at The New York Hotel, upstairs, around the corner.
 
THE TIME
 
Afternoon and night of a day in October, 1939.
 
 ACT ONE
 
Nick’s is an American place: a San Francisco waterfront honky-tonk.
 
At a table, JOE: always calm, always quiet, always thinking, always eager, always bored, always superior. His expensive clothes are casually and youthfully worn and give him an almost boyish appearance. He is thinking.
 
Behind the bar, NICK: a big red-headed young Italian-American with an enormous naked woman tattooed in red on the inside of his right arm. He is studying "The Racing Form".
 
The ARAB, at his place at the end of the bar. He is a lean old man with a rather ferocious old-country moustache, with the ends twisted up. Between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand is the Mohammedan tattoo indicating that he has been to Mecca. He is sipping a glass of beer.
 
It is about eleven-thirty in the morning. SAM is sweeping out. We see only his back. He disappears into the kitchen. The SAILOR at the bar finishes his drink and leaves, moving thoughtfully, as though he were trying very hard to discover how to live.
 
The NEWSBOY comes in.
 
NEWSBOY
(Cheerfully.) Good-morning, everybody. (No answer. To NICK.) Paper, Mister? (NICK shakes his head, no. The NEWSBOY goes to JOE.)  Paper, Mister? (JOE shakes his head, no. The NEWSBOY walks away, counting papers.)
 
JOE
(Noticing him.) How many you got?
 
NEWSBOY
Five.
 
(JOE gives him a quarter, takes all the papers, glances at the headlines with irritation, throws them away. The NEWSBOY watches carefully, then goes.)
 
ARAB
(Picks up a paper, looks at the headlines, shakes his head as if rejecting everything else a man might say about the world.) No foundation. All the way down the line.
 
(The DRUNK comes in. Walks to the telephone, looks for a nickel in the chute, sits down at JOE’S table. NICK takes the DRUNK out. The DRUNK returns.)
 
DRUNK
(Champion of the Bill of Rights.) This is a free country, ain’t it?
 
(WILLIE, the marble-game maniac, explodes through the swinging doors and lifts the forefinger of his right hand comically, indicating one beer. He is a very young man, not more than twenty. He is wearing heavy shoes, a pair of old and dirty corduroys, a light green turtle-neck jersey with a large letter “F” on the chest, an oversize two-button tweed coat, and a green hat, with the brim up. NICK sets out a glass of beer for him, he drinks it, straightens up vigorously, saying Aaah, makes a solemn face, gives NICK a one-finger salute of adieu, and begins to leave, refreshed and restored in spirit. He walks by the marble game, halts suddenly, turns, studies the contraption, gestures as if to say, Oh, no. Turns to go, stops, returns to the machine, studies it, takes a handful of small coins out of his pants pocket, lifts a nickel, indicates with a gesture, One game, no more. Puts the nickel in the slot, pushes in the slide, making an interesting noise.)
 
NICK
You can’t beat that machine.
 
WILLIE
Oh, yeah?
 
(The marbles fall, roll, and take their place. He pushes down the lever, placing one marble in position. Takes a deep breath, walks in a small circle, excited at the beginning of a great drama. Stands straight and pious before the contest. Himself vs. the machine. Willie vs. Destiny. His skill and daring vs. the cunning and trickery of the novelty industry of America, and the whole challenging world. He is the last of the American pioneers, with nothing more to fight but the machine, with no other reward than the lights going on and off, and six nickels for one. Before him is the last champion, the machine. He is the last challenger, the young man with nothing to do in the world. WILLIE grips the knob delicately, studies the situation carefully, draws the knob back, holds it a moment, and then releases it. The first marble rolls out among the hazards, and the contest is on. At the very beginning of the play “The Missouri Waltz” is coming from the phonograph. The music ends here. This is the signal for the beginning of the play. JOE suddenly comes out of his reverie. He whistles the way people do who are calling a cab thats about a block away, only he does it quietly. WILLIE turns around, but JOE gestures for him to return to his work. NICK looks up from The Racing Form.)
 
JOE
(Calling.) Tom (To himself.) Where the hell is he, every time I need him? (He looks around calmly: the nickel-in-the-slot phonograph in the corner; the open public telephone; the stage; the marble-game; the bar; and so on. He calls again, this time very loud.) Hey, Tom.
 
NICK
(With morning irritation.) What do you want?
 
JOE
(Without thinking.) I want the boy to get me a watermelon, that’s what I want. What do you want? Money, or love, or fame, or what? You won’t get them studying The Racing Form.
 
NICK
I like to keep abreast of the times.
 
(TOM comes hurrying in. He is a great big man of about thirty or so who appears to be much younger because of the childlike expression of his face: handsome, dumb, innocent, troubled, and a little bewildered by everything. He is obviously an adult in years, but its seems as if by all rights he should still be a boy. He is defensive as clumsy, self-conscious, overgrown boys are. He is wearing a flashy cheap suit. JOE leans back and studies him with casual disapproval. TOM slackens his pace and becomes clumsy and embarrassed, waiting for the bawling-out he’s pretty sure he’s going to get.)
 
JOE
(Objectively, severely, but a little amused.) Who saved your life?
 
TOM
(Sincerely.) You did, Joe. Thanks.
 
JOE
(Interested.) How’d I do it?
 
TOM
(Confused.) What?
 
JOE
(Even more interested.) How’d I do it?
 
TOM
Joe, you know how you did it.
 
JOE
(Softly.) I want you to answer me. How’d I save your life? I’ve forgotten.
 
TOM
(Remembering, with a big sorrowful smile.) You made me eat all that chicken soup three years ago when I was sick and hungry.
 
JOE
(Fascinated.) Chicken soup?
 
TOM
(Eagerly.) Yeah.
 
JOE
Three years? Is it that long?
 
TOM
(Delighted to have the information.) Yeah, sure. 1937. 1938. 1939. This is 1939, Joe.
 
JOE
(Amused.) Never mind what year it is. Tell me the whole story.
 
TOM
You took me to the doctor. You gave me the money for food and clothes, and paid for my room rent. Aw, Joe, you know all the different things you did.
 
(JOE nods, turning away from TOM after each question.)
 
JOE
Are you in good health now?
 
TOM
Yeah, Joe.
 
JOE
You got clothes?
 
TOM
Yeah, Joe.
 
JOE
You eat three times a day. Sometimes four?
 
TOM
Yeah, Joe. Sometimes five.
 
JOE
You got a place to sleep?
 
TOM
Yeah, Joe.
 
(JOE nods. Pauses. Studies TOM carefully).
 
JOE
Then, where the hell have you been?
 
TOM
(Humbly.) Joe, I was out in the street listening to the boys. They’re talking about the trouble down here on the waterfront.
 
JOE
(Sharply.) I want you to be around when I need you.
 
TOM
(Pleased that the bawling-out is over.) I won’t do it again. Joe, the one guy out there says there’s got to be a revolution before anything will ever be all right.
 
JOE
(Impatient.) I know all about it. Now, here. Take this money. Go up to the Emporium. You know where the Emporium is?
 
TOM
Yeah, sure, Joe.
 
JOE
All right. Take the elevator and go up to the fourth floor. Walk around to the back, to the toy department. Buy me a couple of dollars’ worth of toys and bring them here.
 
TOM
(Amazed.) Toys? What kind of toys, Joe?
 
JOE
Any kind of toys. Little ones that I can put on this table.
 
TOM
What do you want toys for, Joe?
 
JOE
(Mildly angry.) What?
 
TOM
All right, all right. You don’t have to get sore at everything. What’ll people think, a big guy like me buying toys?
 
JOE
What people?
 
TOM
Aw, Joe, you’re always making me do crazy things for you, and I’m the guy that gets embarrassed. You just sit in this place and make me do all the dirty work.
 
JOE
(Looking away.) Do what I tell you.
 
TOM
O.K., but I wish I knew why. (He makes to go.)
 
JOE
Wait a minute. Here’s a nickel. Put it in the phonograph. Number seven. I want to hear that waltz again.
 
TOM
Boy, I’m glad I don’t have to stay and listen to it. Joe, what do you hear in that song anyway? We listen to that song ten times a day. Why can’t we hear number six, or two, or nine? There are a lot of other numbers.
 
JOE
(Emphatically.) Put the nickel in the phonograph. (Pause.) Sit down and wait till the music’s over. Then go get me some toys.
 
TOM
O.K. O.K.
 
JOE
(Loudly.) Never mind being a martyr about it either. The cause isn’t worth it.
 
(TOM puts the nickel into the machine, with a ritual of impatience and efficient movement which plainly shows his lack of sympathy or enthusiasm. His manner also reveals, however, that his lack of sympathy is spurious and exaggerated. Actually, he is fascinated by the music, but is so confused by it that he tries to pretend he dislikes it. The music begins. It is another version of “The Missouri Waltz,” played dreamily and softly, with perfect orchestral form, and with a theme of weeping in the horns repeated a number of times. At first TOM listens with something close to irritation, since he can’t understand what is so attractive in the music to JOE, and what is so painful and confusing in it to himself. Very soon, however, he is carried away by the melancholy story of grief and nostalgia of the song. He stands, troubled by the grief and confusion in himself. JOE, on the other hand, listens as if he were not listening, indifferent and unmoved. What he’s interested in is TOM. He turns and glances at TOM. KITTY DUVAL, who lives in a room in The New York Hotel, around the corner, comes beyond the swinging doors quietly, and walks slowly to the bar, her reality and rhythm a perfect accompaniment to the sorrowful American music, which is her music, as it is Tom’s. Which the world drove out of her, putting in its place brokenness and all manner of spiritually crippled forms. She seems to understand this, and is angry. Angry with herself, full of hate for the poor world, and full of pity and contempt for its tragic, unbelievable, and confounded people. She is a small powerful girl, with that kind of delicate and rugged beauty which no circumstance of evil or ugly reality can destroy. This beauty is that element of the immortal which is in the seed of good and common people, and which is kept alive in some of the female of our kind, no matter how accidentally or pointlessly that may have entered into the world. KITTY DUVAL is somebody. There is an angry purity, and a fierce pride, in her. In her stance, and way of walking, there is a grace and arrogance. JOE recognizes her as a great person immediately. She goes to the bar.)
 
KITTY
Beer.
 
(NICK places a glass of beer before her mechanically. She swallows half the drink, and listens to the music again. TOM turns and sees her. He becomes dead to everything in the world but her. He stands like a lump, fascinated and undone by his almost religious adoration for her. JOE notices TOM.)
 
JOE
(Gently.) Tom.
 
(TOM begins to move toward the bar, where KITTY is standing.)
 
(Loudly.) Tom.
 
(TOM halts, then turns, and JOE motions to him to come over to the table. TOM goes over.)
 
(Quietly.) Have you got everything straight?
 
TOM
(Out of the world.) What?
 
JOE
What do you mean, what? I just gave you some instructions.
 
TOM
(Pathetically.)  What do you want, Joe?
 
JOE
I want you to come to your senses.
 
(He stands up quietly and knocks Tom’s hat off. TOM picks up his hat quickly.)
 
TOM
I got it, Joe. I got it. The Emporium. Fourth floor. In the back. The toy department. Two dollars’ worth of toys. That you can put on a table.
 
KITTY
(To herself.) Who the hell is he to push a big man like that around?
 
JOE
I’ll expect you back in a half hour. Don’t get side-tracked anywhere. Just do what I tell you.
 
TOM
(Pleading.) Joe? Can’t I bet four bits on a horse race? There’s a long shot—Precious Time—that’s going to win by ten lengths. I got to have money.
 
(JOE points to the street. TOM goes out. NICK is combing his hair, looking in the mirror.)
 
NICK
I thought you wanted him to get you a watermelon.
 
JOE
I forgot. (He watches KITTY a moment. To KITTY, clearly, slowly, with great compassion.) What’s the dream?
 
KITTY
(Moving to JOE, coming to.) What?
 
JOE
(Holding the dream for her.) What’s the dream, now?
 
KITTY
(Coming still closer.)What dream?
 
JOE
What dream! The dream you’re dreaming.
 
NICK
Suppose he did bring you a watermelon? What the hell would you do with it?
 
JOE
(Irritated.) I’d put it on this table. I’d look at it. Then I’d eat it. What do you think I’d do with it, sell it for a profit?
 
NICK
How should I know what you’d do with anything? What I’d like to know is, where do you get your money from? What work do you do?
 
JOE
(Looking at KITTY.) Bring us a bottle of champagne.
 
KITTY
Champagne?
 
JOE
(Simply.) Would you rather have something else?
 
KITTY
What’s the big idea?
 
JOE
I thought you might like some champagne. I myself am very fond of it.
 
KITTY
Yeah, but what’s the big idea? You can’t push me around.
 
JOE
(Gently but severely.) It’s not in my nature to be unkind to another human being. I have only contempt for wit. Otherwise I might say something obvious, therefore cruel, and perhaps untrue.
 
KITTY
You be careful what you think about me.
 
JOE
(Slowly, not looking at her.) I have only the noblest of thoughts for both your person, and your spirit.
 
NICK
(Having listened carefully and not being able to make it out.) What are you talking  about?
 
KITTY
You shut up. You—
 
JOE
He owns this place. He’s an important man. All kinds of people come to him looking for work. Comedians. Singers. Dancers.
 
KITTY
I don’t care. He can’t call me names.
 
NICK
All right, sister. I know how it is with a two-dollar whore in the morning.
 
KITTY
(Furiously.) Don’t you dare call me names. I used to be in burlesque.
 
NICK
If you were ever in burlesque, I used to be Charlie Chaplin.
 
KITTY
(Angry and a little pathetic.) I was in burlesque. I played the burlesque circuit form coast to coast. I’ve had flowers sent to me by European royalty. I’ve had dinner with young men of wealth and social position.
 
NICK
You’re dreaming.
 
KITTY
(To JOE) I was in burlesque. Kitty Duval. That was my name. Life-size photographs of me in costume in front of burlesque theaters all over the country.
 
JOE
(Gently, coaxingly.) I believe you. Have some champagne.
 
NICK
(Going to the table, with champagne bottle and glasses.) There he goes again.
 
JOE
Miss Duval?
 
KITTY
(Sincerely, going over.) That’s not my real name. That’s my stage name.
 
JOE
I’ll call you by your stage name.
 
NICK
(Pouring.) All right, sister, make up your mind. Are you going to have champagne with him, or not?
 
JOE
Pour the lady some wine.
 
NICK
O.K., Professor. Why you come to this joint instead of one of the high-class dumps uptown is more than I can understand. Why don’t you have champagne at the St. Francis? Why don’t you drink with a lady?
 
KITTY
(Furiously.) Don’t you call me names—you dentist.
 
JOE
Dentist?
 
NICK
(Amazed, loudly.) What kind of cursing is that? (Pause. Looking at KITTY, then at JOE, bewildered.) This guy doesn’t belong here. The only reason I’ve got champagne is because he keeps ordering it all the time. (To KITTY.) Don’t think you’re the only one he drinks champagne with. He drinks with all of them. (Pause.) He’s crazy. Or something.
 
JOE
(Confidently.) Nick, I think you’re going to be all right in a couple of centuries.
 
NICK
I’m sorry, I don’t understand your English.
 
(JOE lifts his glass. KITTY slowly lifts hers, not quite sure of what’s going on.)
 
JOE
(Sincerely.) To the spirit, Kitty Duval.
 
KITTY
(Beginning to understand, and very grateful, looking at him.) Thank you.
 
(They drink.)
 
JOE
(Calling.) Nick.
 
NICK
Yeah?
 
JOE
Would you mind putting a nickel in the machine again? Number—
 
NICK
Seven. I know. I know. I don’t mind at all, You Highness, although, personally, I’m not a lover of music. (Going to the machine.) As a matter of fact I think Tchaikowsky was a dope.
 
JOE
Tchaikowsky? Where’d you ever hear of Tchaikowsky?
 
NICK
He was a dope.
 
JOE
Yeah. Why?
 
NICK
They talked about him on the radio one Sunday morning. He was a sucker. He let a woman drive him crazy.
 
JOE
I see.
 
NICK
I stood behind that bar listening to the God damn stuff and cried like a baby. None but the lonely heart! He was a dope.
 
JOE
What made you cry?
 
NICK
What?
 
JOE
(Sternly.) What made you cry, Nick?
 
NICK
(Angry with himself) I don’t know.
 
JOE
I’ve been underestimating you, Nick. Play number seven.
 
NICK
They get everybody worked up. They give everybody stuff they shouldn’t have.
 
(NICK puts the nickel into the machine and the Waltz begins again. He listens to the music. Then studies The Racing Form.)
 
KITTY
(To herself, dreaming.) I like champagne, and everything that goes with it. Big houses with big porches, and big rooms with big windows, and big lawns, and big trees, and flowers growing everywhere, and big shepherd dogs sleeping in the shade.
 
NICK
I’m going next door to Frankie’s to make a bet. I’ll be right back.
 
JOE
Make one for me.
 
NICK
(Going to JOE.) Who do you like?
 
JOE
(Giving him the money.) Precious Time.
 
NICK
Ten dollars? Across the board?
 
JOE
No. On the nose.
 
NICK
O.K. (He goes.)
 
(DUDLEY R. BOSTWICK, as he calls himself, breaks through the swinging doors, and practically flings himself upon the open telephone beside the phonograph. DUDLEY is a young man of about twenty-four or twenty-five, ordinary and yet extraordinary. He is smallish, as the saying is, neatly dressed in bargain clothes, over-worked and irritated by the routine and dullness and monotony of his life, apparently nobody and nothing, but in reality a great personality. The swindled young man. Educated, but without the least real understanding. A brave, dumb, salmon-spirit struggling for life in weary, stupefied flesh, dueling ferociously with a banal mind which has been only irritated by what is has been taught. He is a great personality because, against all these handicaps, what he wants is simple and basic: a woman. This urgent and violent need, common yet miraculous enough in itself, considering the unhappy environment of the animal, is the force that elevates him from nothingness to greatness. A ridiculous greatness, but in the nature of things beautiful to behold. All that he has been taught, and everything he believes, is phony, and yet he himself is real, almost super-real, because of this indestructible force in himself. His face is ridiculous. His personal rhythm is tense and jittery. His speech is shrill and violent. His gestures are wild. His ego is disjointed and epileptic. And yet deeply he possesses the same wholeness of spirit, and directness of energy, that is in all species of animals. There is little innate or cultivated spirit in him, but there is no absence of innocent animal force. He is a young man who has been taught that he has a chance, as a person, and believes it. As a matter of fact, he hasn’t a chance in the world, and should have been told by somebody, or should not have had his natural and valuable ignorance spoiled by education, ruining an otherwise perfectly good and charming member of the human race. At the telephone he immediately begins to dial furiously, hesitates, changes his mind, stops dialing, hangs up furiously, and suddenly begins again. Not more than half a minute after the firecracker arrival of DUDLEY R. BOSTWICK, occurs the polka-and-waltz arrival of HARRY. HARRY is another story. He comes in timidly, turning about uncertainly, awkward, out of place everywhere, embarrassed and encumbered by the contemporary costume, sick at heart, but determined to fit in somewhere. His arrival constitutes a dance. His clothes don’t fit. The pants are a little too large. The coat, which doesn’t match, is also a little too large, and loose. He is a dumb young fellow, but he has ideas. A philosophy, in fact. His philosophy is simple and beautiful. The world is sorrowful. The world needs laughter. HARRY is funny. The world needs HARRY. HARRY will make the world laugh. He has probably had a year or two of high school. He has also listened to the boys at the pool room. He’s looking for Nick. He goes to the ARAB, and says, Are you Nick? The ARAB shakes his head. He stands at the bar, waiting. He waits very busily.)
 
HARRY
(As NICK returns.) You Nick?
 
NICK
(Very loudly.) I am Nick.
 
HARRY
(Acting.) Can you use a great comedian?
 
NICK
(Behind the bar.) Who, for instance?
 
HARRY
(Almost angry.) Me.
 
NICK
You? What’s funny about you?
 
(DUDLEY at the telephone, is dialing. Because of some defect in the apparatus the dialing is very loud.)
 
DUDLEY
Hello. Sunset 7349? May I speak to Miss Elsie Mandelspiegel? (Pause.)
 
HARRY
(With spirit and noise, dancing.) I dance and do gags and stuff.
 
NICK
In costume? Or are you wearing your costume?
 
DUDLEY
All I need is a cigar.
 
KITTY
(Continuing the dream of grace.) I’d walk out of the house, and stand on the porch, and look at the trees, and smell the flowers, and run across the lawn, and lie down under tree, and read a book. (Pause.) A book of poems, maybe.
 
DUDLEY
(Very, very clearly.) Elsie Mandelspiegel. (Impatiently.) She has a room on the fourth floor. She’s a nurse at the Southern Pacific Hospital. Elsie Mandelspiegel. She works at night. Elsie. Yes.
 
(He begins waiting again. WESLEY, a colored boy, comes to the bar and stands near HARRY, waiting.)
 
NICK
Beer?
 
WESLEY
No, sir. I’d like to talk to you.
 
NICK
(To HARRY.)   All right. Get funny.
 
HARRY
(Getting funny, an altogether different person, an actor with great energy, both in power of voice, and in force and speed of physical gesture.) Now, I’m standing on the corner of Third and Market. I’m looking around. I’m figuring it out. There it is. Right in front of me. The whole city. The whole world. People going by. They’re going somewhere. I don’t know where, but they’re going. I ain’t going anywhere. Where the hell can you go? I’m figuring it out. All right, I’m a citizen. A fat guy bumps his stomach into the face of an old lady. They were in a hurry. Fat and old. They bumped. Boom. I don’t know. It may mean war. War. Germany. England. Russia. I don’t know for sure. (Loudly, dramatically, he salutes, about faces, presents arms, aims, and fires.) WAAAAAR.
 
(He blows a call to arms. NICK gets sick of this, indicates with a gesture that HARRY should hold it, and goes to WESLEY.)
 
NICK
What’s on your mind?
 
WESLEY
(Confused.) Well—
 
NICK
Come on. Speak up. Are you hungry, or what?
 
WESLEY
Honest to God, I ain’t hungry. All I want is a job. I don’t want no charity.
 
NICK
Well, what can you do, and how good are you?
 
WESLEY
I can run errands, clean up, wash dishes, anything.
 
DUDLEY
(On the telephone, very eagerly.) Elsie? Elsie, this is Dudley. Elsie, I’ll jump in the bay if you don’t marry me. Life isn’t worth living without you. I can’t sleep. I can’t think of anything but you. All the time. Day and night and night and day. Elsie, I love you. I love you. What? (Burning up.) Is this Sunset 7-3-4-9? (Pause.) 7943? (Calmly, while WILLIE begins making a small racket.) Well, what’s you name? Lorene? Lorene Smith? I thought you were Elsie Mandelspiegel. What? Dudley. Yeah. Dudley R. Bostwick. Yeah. R. It stands for Raoul, but I never spell it out. I’m pleased to meet you, too. What? There’s a lot of noise around here. (WILLIE stops hitting the marble-game.)  Where am I? At Nick’s, on Pacific Street. I work at the S.P. I told them I was sick and they gave me the afternoon off. Wait a minute. I’ll ask them. I’d like to meet you, too. Sure. I’ll ask them. (Turns around to NICK.) What’s this address?
 
NICK
Number 3 Pacific Street, you cad.
 
DUDLEY
Cad? You don’t know how I’ve been suffering on account of Elsie. I take things ceremoniously. I’ve got to be more lackadaisical. (Into telephone.) Hello, Elenore? I mean, Lorene? It’s number 3 Pacific Street. Yeah. Sure. I’ll wait for you. How’ll you know me? You’ll know me. I’ll recognize you. Good-by now. (He hangs up.)
 
HARRY
(Continuing his monologue with gestures, movements, and so on.) I’m standing there. I didn’t do anything to anybody. Why should I be a soldier? (Sincerely, insanely.) BOOOOOOOOOOOOM. WAR! O.K. War. I retreat. I hate war. I move to Sacramento.
 
NICK
(Shouting.) All right, Comedian. Lay off a minute.
 
HARRY
(Broken-hearted, going to WILLIE.) Nobody’s got a sense of humor anymore. The world’s dying for comedy like never before, but nobody knows how to laugh.
 
NICK
(To WESLEY.) Do you belong to the union?
 
WESLEY
What union?
 
NICK
For the love of Mike, where’ve you been? Don’t you know you can’t come into a place and ask for a job and get one and go to work, just like that. You’ve got to belong to one of the unions.
 
WESLEY
I didn’t know. I got to have a job. Real soon.
 
NICK
Well, you’ve got to belong to a union.
 
WESLEY
I don’t want any favors. All I want is a chance to earn a living.
 
NICK
Go into the kitchen and tell Sam to give you some lunch.
 
WESLEY
Honest, I ain’t hungry.
 
DUDLEY
(Shouting.) What I’ve gone through for Elsie.
 
HARRY
I’ve got all kinds of funny ideas in my head to help make the world happy again.
 
NICK
(Holding WESLEY.) No, he isn’t hungry.
 
(WESLEY almost faints from hunger. NICK catches him just in time. The ARAB and NICK go off with WESLEY into the kitchen.)
 
HARRY
(To WILLIE.) See if you think this is funny. It’s my own idea. I created this dance myself. It comes after the monologue.
 
(HARRY begins to dance. WILLIE watches a moment, and then goes back to the game. It’s a goofy dance, which HARRY does with great sorrow, but much energy.)
 
DUDLEY
Elsie. Aw, gee, Elsie. What the hell do I want to see Lorene Smith for? Some girl I don’t know.
 
(JOE and KITTY have been drinking in silence. There is no sound now except the soft shoe shuffling of HARRY, the Comedian.)
 
JOE
What’s the dream now, Kitty Duval?
 
KITTY
(Dreaming the words and pictures.) I dream of home. Christ, I always dream of home. I’ve no home. I’ve no place. But I always dream of all of us together again. We had a farm in Ohio. There was nothing good about it. It was always sad. There was always trouble. But I always dream about it as if I could go back and Papa would be there and Mamma and Louie and my little brother Stephen and my sister Mary. I’m Polish. Duval! My name isn’t Duval, its Koranovsky. Katerina Koranovsky. We lost everything. The house, the farm, the trees, the horses, the cows, the chickens. Papa died. He was old. He was thirteen years older the Mamma. We moved to Chicago. We tried to work. We tried to stay together. Louie got in trouble. The fellows he was with killed him for something. I don’t know what. Stephen ran away from home. Seventeen years old. I don’t know where he is. Then Mamma died. (Pause.) What’s the dream? I dream of home.
 
(NICK comes out of the kitchen with WESLEY.)
 
NICK
Here. Sit down here and rest. That’ll hold you for a while. Why didn’t you tell me you were hungry? You all right now?
 
WESLEY
(Sitting down in the chair at the piano.) Yes, I am. Thank you. I didn’t know I was that hungry.
 
NICK
Fine. (To HARRY who is dancing.) Hey. What the hell do you think you’re doing?
 
HARRY
(Stopping.) That’s my own idea. I’m a natural-born dancer and comedian.
 
(WESLEY begins slowly, one note, one chord at a time, to play the piano.)
 
NICK
You’re no good. Why don’t you try some other kind of work? Why don’t you get a job in a store, selling something? What do you want to be a comedian for?
 
HARRY
I’ve got something for the world and they haven’t got sense enough to let me give it to them. Nobody knows me.
 
DUDLEY
Elsie. Now I waiting for some dame I’ve never seen before. Lorene Smith. Never saw her in my life. Just happened to get the wrong number. She turns on the personality, and I’m a cooked Indian. Give me a beer, please.
 
HARRY
Nick, you’ve got to see my act. It’s the greatest thing of its kind in America. All I want is a chance. No salary to begin. Let me try it out tonight. If I don’t wow ‘em, O.K., I’ll go home. If vaudeville wasn’t dead, a guy like me would have a chance.
 
NICK
You’re not funny. You’re a sad young punk. What the hell do you want to try to be funny for? You’ll break everybody’s heart. What’s there for you to be funny about? You’ve been poor all your life, haven’t you?
 
HARRY
I’ve been poor all right, but don’t forget that some things count more than some other things.
 
NICK
What counts more, for instance, that what else, for instance?
 
HARRY
Talent, for instance, counts more than money, for instance, that’s what, and I’ve got talent. I get new ideas night and day. Everything comes natural to me. I’ve got style, but it’ll take me a little time to round it out. That’s all.
 
(By now WESLEY is playing something of his own which is very good and out of the world. He plays about half a minute, after which HARRY begins to dance.)
 
NICK
(Watching.) I run the lousiest dive in Frisco, and a guy arrives and makes me stock up with champagne. The whores come in and holler at me that they’re ladies. Talent comes in and begs me for a chance to show itself. Even society people come here once in a while. I don’t know what for. Maybe it’s liquor. Maybe it’s the location. Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s the crazy personality of the joint. The old honky-tonk. (Pause.) Maybe they can’t feel at home anywhere else.
 
(By now WESLEY is really playing, and HARRY is going through a new routine. DUDLEY grows sadder and sadder.)
 
KITTY
Please dance with me.
 
JOE
(Loudly.) I never learned to dance.
 
KITTY
Anybody can dance. Just hold me in your arms.
 
JOE
I’m very fond of you. I’m sorry. I can’t dance. I wish to God I could.
 
KITTY
Oh, please.
 
JOE
Forgive me. I’d like to very much.
 
(KITTY dances alone. TOM comes in with a package. He sees KITTY and goes ga-ga again. He comes out of the trance and puts the bundle on the table in front of JOE.)
 
JOE
(Taking the package.) What’d you get?
 
TOM
Two dollars’ worth of toys. That’s what you sent me for. The girl asked me what I wanted with toys. I didn’t know what to tell her. (He stares at KITTY, and then back at JOE.) Joe? I’ve got to have some money. After all you’ve done for me, I’ll do anything in the world for you, but, Joe, you got to give me some money once in a while.
 
JOE
What so you want it for?
 
(TOM turns and stares at KITTY dancing.)
 
JOE
(Noticing.) Sure. Here. Here’s five. (Shouting.) Can you dance?
 
TOM
(Proudly.) I got second prize at the Palomar in Sacramento five years ago.
 
JOE
(Loudly, opening package.) O.K., dance with her.
 
TOM
You mean her?
 
JOE
(Loudly.) I mean Kitty Duval, the burlesque queen. I mean the queen of the world burlesque. Dance with her. She wants to dance.
 
TOM
(Worshiping the name Kitty Duval, helplessly.) Joe, can I tell you something?
 
JOE
(He brings out a toy and winds it.) You don’t have to. I know. You love her. You really love her. I’m not blind. I know. But take care of yourself. Don’t get sick that way again.
 
NICK
(Looking and listening to WESLEY with amazement.) Comes in here and he wants to be a dish-washer. Faints from hunger. And then sits down and plays better than Heifetz.
 
JOE
Heifetz plays the violin.
 
NICK
All right, don’t get careful. He’s good, ain’t he?
 
TOM
(To KITTY.) Kitty.
 
JOE
(He lets the toy go, loudly.) Don’t talk. Just dance.
 
(TOM and KITTY dance. NICK is at the bar, watching everything. HARRY is dancing, DUDLEY is grieving into his beer. LORENE SMITH, about thirty-seven, very overbearing and funny-looking, comes to the bar.)
 
NICK
What’ll it be, Lady?
 
LORENE
(Looking about and scaring all the young men.) I’m looking for the young man I talked to on the telephone. Dudley R. Bostwick.
 
DUDLEY
(Jumping, running to her, stopping, shocked.) Dudley R. (Slowly.) Bostwick? Oh, yeah. He left here ten minutes ago. You mean Dudley Bostwick, that poor man on crutches?
 
LORENE
Crutches?
 
DUDLEY
Yeah. Dudley Bostwick. That’s what he said his name was. He said to tell you not to wait.
 
LORENE
Well. (She begins to go, turns around.) Are you sure you’re not Dudley Bostwick?
 
DUDLEY
Who—me? (Grandly.) My name is Roger Tenefrancia. I’m a French-Canadian. I never saw the poor fellow before.
 
LORENE
It seems to me your voice is like the voice I heard over the telephone.
 
DUDLEY
A coincidence. An accident. A quirk of fate. One of those things. Dismiss the thought. That poor cripple hobbled out of here ten minutes ago.
 
LORENE
He said he was going to commit suicide. I only wanted to be of help. (She goes.)
 
DUDLEY1
Be of help? What kind of help could she be, of? (DUDLEY runs to the telephone in the corner.) Gee whiz, Elsie. Gee whiz. I’ll never leave you again. (He turns the pages of a little address book.) Why do I always forget the number? I’ve tried to get her on the phone a hundred times this week and I still forget the number. She won’t come to the phone, but I keep trying anyway. She’s out. She’s not in. She’s working. I get the wrong number. Everything goes haywire. I can’t sleep. (Defiantly.) She’ll come to the phone one of these days. If there’s anything to true love at all. She’ll come to the phone. Sunset 7349.
 
(He dials the number, as JOE goes on studying the toys. They are one big mechanical toy, whistles, and a music box. JOE blows into the whistles, quickly, by way of getting casually acquainted with them. TOM and KITTY stop dancing. TOM stares at her.)
 
DUDLEY
Hello. Is this Sunset 7349? May I speak with Elsie? Yes. (Emphatically, and bitterly.) No, this is not Dudley Bostwick. This is Roger Tenefrancia of Montreal, Canada. I’m a childhood friend of Miss Mandelspiegel. We went to kindergarten together. (Hand over phone.) God damn it. (Into phone.) Yes. I’ll wait, thank you.
 
TOM
I love you.
 
KITTY
You want to go to my room? (TOM can’t answer.) Have you got two dollars?
 
TOM
(Shaking his head with confusion.) I’ve got five dollars, but I love you.
 
KITTY
(Looking at him.) You want to spend all that money?
 
(TOM embraces her. They go. JOE watches. Goes back to the toy.)
 
JOE
Where’s that longshoreman, McCarthy?
 
NICK
He’ll be around.
 
JOE
What do you think he’ll have to say today?
 
NICK
Plenty, as usual. I’m going next door to see who won that third race at Laurel.
 
JOE
Precious Time won it.
 
NICK
That’s what you think. (He goes.)
 
JOE
(To himself.) A horse named McCarthy is running in the sixth race today.
 
DUDLEY
(On the phone.) Hello. Hello, Elsie? Elsie? (His voice weakens; also his limbs.) My God. She’s come to the phone. Elsie, I’m at Nick’s on Pacific Street. You’ve got to come here and talk to me. Hello. Hello, Elsie? (Amazed.) Did she hang up? Or was I disconnected?
 
(He hangs up and goes to the bar. WESLEY is still playing the piano. HARRY is still dancing. JOE has wound up the big mechanical toy and is watching it work. NICK returns.)
 
NICK
(Watching the toy.) Say. That’s some gadget.
 
JOE
How much did I win?
 
NICK
How do you know you won?
 
JOE
Don’t be silly. He said Precious Time was going to win by ten lengths, didn’t he? He’s in love, isn’t he?
 
NICK
O.K. I don’t know why, but Precious Time won. You got eighty for ten. How do you do it?
 
JOE
(Roaring.) Faith. Faith. How’d he win?
 
NICK
By a nose. Look him up in The Racing Form. The slowest, the cheapest, the worst horse in the race, and the worst jockey. What’s the matter with my luck?
 
JOE
How much did you lose?
 
NICK
Fifty cents.
 
JOE
You should never gamble.
 
NICK
Why not?
 
JOE
You always bet fifty cents. You’ve got no more faith than a flee, that’s why.
 
HARRY
(Shouting.) How do you like this, Nick?  (He is really busy now, all legs and arms.)
 
NICK
(Turning and watching.) Not bad. Hang around. You can wait table. (To WESLEY.) Hey. Wesley. Can you play that again tonight?
 
WESLEY
(Turning, but still playing the piano.)  I don’t know for sure, Mr. Nick. I can play something.
 
NICK
Good. You hang around, too.
 
(He goes behind the bar. The atmosphere is now one of warm, natural, American ease; every man innocent and good; each doing what he believes he should do, or what he must do. There is deep American naivetë and faith in the behavior of each person. No one is competing with anyone else. No one hates anyone else. Every man is living, and letting live. Each man is following his destiny as he feels it should be followed; or is abandoning it as he feel it must, by now, be abandoned; or is forgetting it for the moment as he feels he should forget it. Although everyone is dead serious, there is unmistakable smiling and humor in the scene; a sense of the human body and spirit emerging from the world-imposed state of stress and fretfulness, fear and awkwardness, to the more natural state of casualness and grace. Each person belongs to the environment, in his own person, as himself: WESLEY is playing better than ever. HARRY is hoofing better than ever. NICK is behind the bar shining glasses. JOE is smiling at the toy and studying it. DUDLEY, although still troubled, is at least calm now and full of melancholy poise. WILLIE, at the marble-game, is happy. The ARAB is deep in his memories, where he wants to be. Into this scene and atmosphere comes BLICK from right. BLICK is the sort of human being you dislike at sight. He is no different from anybody else physically. His face is an ordinary face. There is nothing obviously wrong with him, and yet you know that it is impossible, even by the most generous expansion of understanding, to accept him as a human being. He is the strong man without strength—strong only among the weak—the weakling who uses force on the weaker. BLICK enters casually, as if he were a customer, and immediately HARRY begins slowing down.)
 
BLICK
(Oily, and with mock-friendliness.) Hello, Nick.
 
NICK
(Stopping his work and leaning across the bar.) What do you want to come here for? You’re too big a man for a little honky-tonk.
 
BLICK
(Flattered.) Now, Nick.
 
NICK
Important people never come in here. Here. Have a drink. (Whiskey bottle.)
 
BLICK
Thanks, I don’t drink.
 
NICK
(Drinking the drink himself.) Well, why don’t you?
 
BLICK
I have responsibilities.
 
NICK
You’re the head of the lousy Vice Squad. There’s no vice here.
 
BLICK
(Sharply.) Street-walkers are working out of this place.
 
NICK
(Angry.) What do you want?
 
BLICK
(Loudly.) I just want you to know that it’s got to stop.
 
(The music stops. The mechanical toy runs down. There is absolute silence, and a strange fearfulness and disharmony in the atmosphere now. HARRY doesn’t know what to do with his hands or feet. WESLEY’S arms hang at his sides. JOE quietly pushes the toy to one side of the table eager to study what is happening. WILLIE stops playing the marble-game, turns around and begins to wait. DUDLEY straightens up very, very vigorously, as if to say: “Nothing can scare me. I know love is the only thing.” The ARAB is the same as ever, but watchful. NICK is arrogantly aloof. There is a moment of this silence and tension, as though BLICK were waiting for everybody to acknowledge his presence. He is obviously flattered by the acknowledgement of Harry, Dudley, Wesley, and Willie, but a little irritated by Nick’s aloofness and unfriendliness.)
 
NICK
Don’t look at me. I can’t tell a street-walker from a lady. You married?
 
BLICK
You’re not asking me questions. I’m telling you.
 
NICK
(Interrupting.) You’re a man of about forty-five or so. You ought to know better.
 
BLICK
(Angry.) Street-walkers are working out of this place.
 
NICK
(Beginning to shout.) Now, don’t start any trouble with me. People come here to drink and loaf around. I don’t care who they are.
 
BLICK
Well, I do.
 
NICK
The only way to find out if a lady is a street-walker is to walk the streets with her, go to bed, and make sure. You wouldn’t want to do that. You’d like to, of course.
 
BLICK
Any more of it, and I’ll have your joint closed.
 
NICK
(Very casually, without ill-will.) Listen. I’ve got no use for you, or anybody like you. You’re out to change the world from something bad to something worse. Something like yourself.
 
BLICK
(Furious pause, and contempt.) I’ll be back tonight. (He begins to go.)
 
NICK
(Very angry but very calm.) Do yourself a big favor and don’t come back tonight. Send somebody else. I don’t like your personality.
 
BLICK
(Casually, but with contempt.) Don’t break any laws. I don’t like yours, either.
 
(He looks the place over, and goes. There is a moment of silence. Then WILLIE turns and puts a new nickel in the slot and starts a new game. WESLEY turns to the piano and rather falteringly begins to play. His heart really isn’t in it. HARRY walks about, unable to dance. DUDLEY lapses into his customary melancholy, at a table. NICK whistles a little: suddenly stops. JOE winds the toy.)
 
JOE
(Comically.) Nick. You going to kill that man?
 
NICK
I’m disgusted.
 
JOE
Yeah? Why?
 
NICK
Why should I get worked up over a guy like that? Why should I hate him? He’s nothing. He’s nobody. He’s a mouse. But every time he comes into this place I get burned up. He doesn’t want to drink. He doesn’t want to sit down. He doesn’t want to take things easy. Tell me one thing?
 
JOE
Do my best.
 
NICK
What’s a punk like that want to go out and try to change the world for?
 
JOE
(Amazed.) Does he want to change the world, too?
 
NICK
(Irritated.) You know what I mean. What’s he want to bother people for? He’s sick.
 
JOE
(Almost to himself, reflecting on the fact that BLICK too wants to change the world.) I guess he wants to change the world at that.
 
NICK
So I go to work and hate him.
 
JOE
It’s not him, Nick. It’s everything.
 
NICK
Yeah, I know. But I’ve still got no use for him. He’s no good. You know what I mean? He hurts little people. (Confused.) One of the girls tried to commit suicide on account of him. (Furiously.) I’ll break his head if he hurts anybody around here. This is my joint. (Afterthought.) Or anybody’s feelings, either.
 
JOE
He may not be so bad, deep down underneath.
 
NICK
I know all about him. He’s no good.
 
(During this talk WESLEY has really begun to play the piano, the toy is rattling again, and little by little HARRY has begun to dance. NICK has come around the bar, and now, very much like a child—forgetting all his anger—is watching the toy work. He begins to smile at everything: turns and listens to WESLEY: watches HARRY: nods at the ARAB: shakes his head at DUDLEY: and gestures amiably about WILLIE. It’s his joint all right. It’s a good, low-down, honky-tonk American place that lets people all alone.)
 
NICK
I’ve got a good joint. There’s nothing wrong here. Hey. Comedian. Stick to the dancing tonight. I think you’re O.K. Wesley? Do some more of that tonight. That’s fine!
 
HARRY
Thanks, Nick. Gosh, I’m on my way at last. (On telephone.) Hello, Ma? Is that you, Ma? Harry. I got the job.
 
(He hangs up and walks around, smiling.)
 
NICK
(Watching the toy all this time.) Say, that really is something. What is that, anyway?
 
(MARY L. comes in.)
 
JOE
(Holding it toward NICK and MARY L.) Nick, this is a toy. A contraption devised by the cunning of man to drive boredom, or grief, or anger out of children. A noble gadget. A gadget, I might say, infinitely nobler than any other I can think of at the moment. (Everybody gathers around Joe’s table to look at the toy. The toy stops working. JOE winds the music box. Lifts a whistle: blows it, making a very strange, funny and sorrowful sound.) Delightful. Tragic, but delightful.
 
(WESLEY plays the music-box theme on the piano. MARY L. takes a table.)
 
NICK
Joe. That girl, Kitty. What’s she mean, calling me a dentist? I wouldn’t hurt anybody, let alone a tooth.
 
(NICK goes to MARY L.’s table. HARRY imitates the toy. Dances. The piano music comes up, the light dims slowly, while the piano solo continues.)
 
End of Act I
 

 

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