Saturday, July 11, 2015

Untitled Play: Scene 2 - Another Draft

Scene 2 (in the kitchen. Mom and Aunt are preparing food, Cousin 5, 16 and dressed in an ultra-orthodox skirt, is reading at the kitchen table, doesn’t look up.):

Aunt: What’s the khopteh (commotion) in the dining room?

Mom: (dismissing it) They’re probably just fighting.

Aunt: (rolls eyes) Ma nishtana ha laila hazeh (Why is this night different from all others?)?

Mom: (trepid) Well,... there’s a bit of news from the other one.

Aunt: What news? You told me he was gay months ago.

Mom: Yeah but... (pointing to the dining room) he didn’t know.

Aunt: Your husband wouldn’t care if his son were gay.

Mom: Well, that’s not the problem.

Aunt: What is?

Mom: Well,... remember the meeskeit (ugly little guy), Robert Gold?

Aunt: Yeah.

Mom: It turns out he lied about the boy’s name, the name is Robert GOULD!


Mom: Shhhhh. Don’t let your husband hear, he'd have a heart attack.

Aunt: How can he do this to us?!

Mom: He doesn't care. He's like a four year old, he always does whatever he wants and he doesn't care who he hurts! (beat) Remember when he was four and I was pregnant again? Well... one day, just a few weeks before I had his sister I couldn’t find him, so I asked his brother where he was. He told me, (sincerely, with a child's inflection but not his tone of voice) ‘he went out to lunch.’ So I went outside and I still couldn’t find him. I start looking down the road and still I couldn’t see him. That was when I realized that his brother was complete serious, so I ran as fast as I could toward Main Street screaming his name at the top of my lungs and when I finally see him, he's riding his tricycle directly in the middle of Main Street, with stopped cars honking their horns as far as the eye can see in either direction. I screamed at him ‘What do you think you’re doing?!’ And he shouts back: "I’m going to McDonald’s."

Aunt: (laughs) Wow. How did you not have the baby right there?

Mom: I nearly did. But all I know is that was the moment I realized that I would have to watch him with beydeh eygen. (sighs) By the time I realized the other one needed another tzvay aygen, it was too late.

Aunt: (resigned) He was always so bright.

Mom: His whole life, I never knew what to do to help him. We don’t know from artsy-fartsy types, we know from Jews.

Aunt: Couldn’t one of us help him find some of those people? Knowing there are some people out there like him might make him happier.

Mom: Maybe we could if we tried, but why would we ever do that? If we helped him, he’d turn his back on us the way they all do. He might be happier but he’d become just like his brother and hate everything about us. (emphasis on us)

Aunt: You can’t know that.

Mom: Look at his brother! Y’know I almost would be OK with our sons becoming more assimilated if they actually assimilated. But they wouldn’t be Americans, they’re just America-haters like every other Jewish kid these days that comes out of college. They complain about everything in this country and ignore that this country did everything for them! From when they were little they both did everything they wanted and thought they were entitled to it. They never cared that their parents had no lives except taking care of them! And they both live like we’ll be here forever.

Aunt: Well look at your mother. You might be around forever!

Mom: I don’t think I will be. (comes right up to the aunt and says very quietly) I don’t want you to tell anybody this, but the reason I lost all the weight on that diet is that around this time last year I was diagnosed with Lupus.

Aunt: (concerned, perhaps overly) Oh my god!

Mom: Shhh… I don’t want the kids to know.

Aunt: Well, you’re obviously taking care of yourself.

Mom: But my kids can’t take care of themselves. It’s my fault for not teaching them, now they're never gonna have any kids of their own and I probably won't have any grandchildren while I'm alive.

Aunt: I'm sure that's not true. And even if it isn't (walks closer to her daughter) I'll have enough grandchildren for both of us! In two or three years this one's going to start pop them out like Tic-Tacs!

Cousin 5: Mom, I don't like you talking about me that way.

Aunt: It's your life, I'm not interfering. You can be fruitful and multiply as many times as you want and we'll be happy to have all your kids around. But who's gonna pay for all of them?

Cousin 5: Hashem will take care of us.

Aunt: Well I think your father is God, but you never did.

Cousin 5: It's my choice! And I haven't even met my Bashert yet! Who knows if we'll even be able have kids?

Aunt: So what point will there be to your life if you can't? (immediately realizes what she just said and regrets it)

Cousin 5: (Very hurt, pause) The point of my life, the point of all our lives, is to serve Hashem. And if he doesn't want me to have kids, he'll find another way for me to serve him. And if he does, then I'll be a better mother than you were.

Aunt: I'm sorry I said that chamoodi. I'm so sorry. Come here. 

Cousin 5: I just want to read my book. 

Aunt: Listen, I just don't want to see you tied into a decision you can't take back.

Cousin 5: Please, I didn't even want to be here, I want to be with the Rozenzweigs doing a real Shabbat but you wanted me to be here, so here I am, but you and I both know this isn't the real thing. It's just an act you all do to make yourselves feel less guilty about turning your back on your religion. 

Aunt: That's really hurtful. Your father and I were so happy when we you told us you wanted to be more religious. We let you to transfer to Bais Yaakov, we joined an Orthodox shul, we stopped eating out, we don't even drive on Shabbos anymore. We even got a second refrigerator!

Cousin 5: Just let me read!

Aunt: Seriously! What did we do to make you treat us with so much contempt?

Cousin 5: (pause) If you have to ask that question, you clearly won't understand the answer (looks back at her book).

Aunt: (beat, sigh) You do everything for them, and then you fail them in one little way, and they resent everything about you.

Mom: Give her time. One day she'll be a mother and she'll understand everything you've done for her. Anyway, I'm the one who has to live with the fact that I've failed as a mother.

Aunt: (immediately) That’s the stupidest thing I've ever heard! You’re the best mother in Baltimore!

Mom: No I'm not. I have to be around as long as I can because nobody else is gonna take care of them. They didn’t need the world's best mother, they needed a drill sergeant.

Aunt: Well, your husband certainly tried.  

Mother: And I should have let him. But he’s such a shithead.

Aunt: (shrugs) He can be. I don't know how you're so patient with him.

Mother: I'm not, believe me, you don't see us when people aren't around.

Aunt: (acknowledging) I know, clearly somebody's had to keep him in line all these years if nobody's ever kicked the crap out of him. He certainly means well, and when you need him he’s a real tzadik.

Mother: Sometimes he is, yeah, but it's also clear to everybody but him that he's a manic depressive. He always tells me that I want him to be miserable because the times when he’s miserable are the only times I’m not.

Aunt: (laughs) Was there ever any doubt about that?

Mother: Of course not. But he's proof that you can be a complete asshole and still be a great husband, son, and father. We have parents and children to take care of. And he takes care of them - anything they need: money, laundry, food, cars, apartments, tuition.

Aunt: (jokingly) And he wants every bit of credit for it.  

Mother: Yeah, he complains about it every second, but can you blame him? All these years when his Dad was sick: stroke after stroke, screaming nightmares from both his parents for their years in the camps. All the fights in his house when he grew up and the breaking of the furniture.

Aunt: And still he turned out to be a good man.

Mother: He is. He just hates every second of being one.

Aunt: (thinks of something) Did you ever wonder if his dad hit his mother?

Mother: (immediately) Never. Jews yell so they don’t have to hit each other

Aunt: Nobody in my family ever yelled, my parents just sat in the living room simmering at each other for fifty-eight years.

Mother: Your family was German Jews. Your great-grandparents all got here in the 19th century and moved out to the midwest to run stores. To Jews like us, your family might as well have been goyim.

Aunt: That’s not very nice!

Mother: You should be happy! You had a real American upbringing! The rest of us were just poor Jews in the middle of a neighborhood that became black after the fifties.

Aunt: We had antisemitism too!

Mother: Not the way we did! My family didn’t move out to the suburbs until 19fucking70 - in the sixties the schvartzes harassed me every day. Dad had to drive me and pick me up from college so I wouldn’t get groped on the way home from school.

Aunt: Yeah,... I'm sure that must have been hard. We didn’t have anything like that.

Mother: And I had it easy compared to my husband. He never really had a childhood! All those years in his parents store he would have to help out, stay up late to count the money from the day, get up early to help unload the stocks.

Aunt: And still he skipped two grades.   

Mother: And then he went to Chicago to get a PhD back when getting one meant something…

Aunt: Yeah. Why does he always dismiss that so much?

Mother: He always says he did it because of the war. But I think he just did it to get away from his family. He'd have loved to go to Vietnam if it meant getting out of that house, he might have almost been more scared that his draft number wasn't high enough! But it doesn't matter, that's all nearly thirty years ago. (sighs) I got pregnant, four months later we have a wedding with 400 people while I'm showing through my wedding dress. And now we're old too and I wonder if that brilliant mind of his isn’t gonna go sooner than his father’s did. The seizures are getting more frequent.

Aunt: I remember seeing it, it’s pretty scary. But long as you keep taking care of yourself, you’ll be there forever.

Mother: I don’t know that.

Aunt: Your kids still have plenty of time to figure it out. (decisively) They'll be fine. (beat) Anyway, I know you’ve known about him being gay for months. But how long have you known about the goyfriend?

Mom: (resignedly) From the beginning. I kept the whole thing a secret from his father until he told me to tell him, which was just this week. He didn’t want his father to know about the boy either because he knew his Dad would grill him about it until he got the truth.

Aunt: Well that’s just stupid. He should have told you everything right away.

Mom: He knew we’d try to break them up.

Aunt: Yeah, well, so what? There are plenty of gay Jews out there.    

Mom: You know him. If we tell him he can only date a Jew, he’ll go through every schkotz in New York.

Aunt: (confused) Y'know, I just don't get it... All those girls from college… Not a single shikse.

Mom: He probably shtupped his way through the whole Hillel house.

Aunt: How did he even find time for studying with all those schnozzy meydlach? (make a beak against your head with your elbow)

Mom: (laughs and shrugs) I don’t think he did. He was just one of those kids who could do the reading five minutes before class and ace the test.

Aunt: (shakes head) That’s so weird. I never thought of him as the type to cut corners.

Mom: (bitterly joking) Well, apparently he still likes things uncut…

Aunt: That’s horrible... (beat) But he was never the smart one. How did he turn out so well and your other one fuck up so badly?

Mom: (half-heartedly chuckles) Well, the other one always joked that he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of soup.

Aunt: I don’t get it… (thinks about it for a second) you mean like Esau did to Jacob?

Mom: Yeah. He keeps repeating that joke like it’s hilarious, but you know... nobody ever seemed to get most of his jokes but him.

Aunt: (as if to broach a difficult subject) Did you ever test him for some kind of autistic spectrum, like Asperger’s?

Mom: We did,... he has some traits in common, but if he has anything like that it’s mild. Between you and me, I always wondered if he had Borderline Personality Disorder.

Aunt: (aghast) Don’t say that!

Mom: (bitterly and resignedly) You’ve never really seen how bad his temper gets.

Aunt: Well I’ve seen flashes of it, and I’ve certainly heard all about it, but you should have seen the way my sister got when she was younger!

Mom: Yeah,... (knows she's broaching a difficult subject) y’know, about that, I know this is none of my business.

Aunt: (interrupting, angrily) Don’t start with that. You have no idea what she put me through. I know everybody gets along your family. But she’s crazy.

Mom: (beat, confused look) Have you taken a good look around here?

Aunt: She hasn’t thrown away a single article of paper in thirty years! She doesn’t let anyone come over to visit her so I can't even be in my mother's apartment anymore! She’s never had a job and now that Mom is dead she moved into Mom’s apartment with only her crap for company!

Mom: That sounds incredibly sad.

Aunt: I know it’s sad, but you can’t talk to her without her blowing up. She can’t even be in the presence of mustard!

Mom: Y'know... I might regret saying this, but with your permission of course,... if you want,... I’ll…

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