GEORGE GARRETT | Garden
Where are now your prophets which prophesied unto
you, saying, The King of Babylon shall not come against you, nor against
Garden Spot, U.S.A.
A Play by George Garrett
Staged by Nina Vance
CHIEF OF POLICE
GIRL IN HAREM COSTUME
MAN WITH EARPHONES
First presented at the Alley Theatre (Houston, Texas), April 25, 1962.
Though the situation of the play is remotely possible—and
though the characters speak in a language which approximates the common
language of daily life today, this is not intended as a “realistic” play.
Most of the characters are stock figures, familiar clichés of
our times brought to life. And they know it. Every attempt should be
made to emphasize this quality. The play is a kind of children's play
for adults, equally composed of the cartoon, vaudeville, burlesque; in
short, old time comedy.
The only two characters approximating “real” characters
are Jack and Jill, who might just as well be called Everyman and Everywoman.
Their general story is played in counterpoint to the public events.
Absurd though the plot may be and the people in it,
this is not a piece of “the theatre of the absurd,” since
it is the reasonable working out of a problem and since the
spoken language is intended to be used rather than abused.
The long and short of it is that the play should
be performed with gusto and broad exaggeration. It is supposed to be
The theme of the play is that evil and corruption
are in our own heads. That is, the Devil (The Stranger) only helps corrupt
those who help themselves. Thus, in form it can only be comic. The results
are folly, not tragedy.
TIME: The Present
PLACE: The Public Park of Garden Spot, U.S.A.
Order of Scenes
1. A Typical Day in the Park
2. Plague or Problem?
3. The Natives are Growing Restive
1. Enter Mysterious Stranger
2. This is Real Life
4. This is Real Life?
5. Where Do We Go From Here?
Act I, Scene 1
(The public park in Garden Spot, U.S.A. A stylized
park scene. To one side stands the heroic statue of the GENERAL. There
are several park benches. There is a large trash barrel labelled TRASH.
There is a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign and a DO NOT PICK FLOWERS sign.
The curtain rises on a perfectly frozen scene, lifeless as a photograph.
Two old men, PAT and MIKE, are bent over a checkerboard. The others
are perfectly still, as if caught in an action photograph: A MAID pushing
a baby carriage; a POLICEMAN passing her, his hand on the visor of
his cap, as if he were just about to raise it. A young couple arm in
arm. An athlete in a sweat suit, the sweatshirt bearing the stenciled
label—P.E. GYM. . . . Suddenly the STRANGER appears, from behind
the statue of the GENERAL. He wears black full dress, a cape, white
gloves, and he carries a gold-headed cane. Briskly salutes the statue
as he enters.)
General . . .
(He strides across the stage, invisible, of course,
to the others. He looks around quickly, well pleased. Using his cane
like a baton, he waves it and exits. The others instantly come to life.
The sweat-suited athlete jogs by, puffing and blowing. The maid crosses.
The policeman tips his hat and smiles. They take a couple of steps,
turn simultaneously to look at each other. The policeman tips his hat
again. The maid sticks out her tongue at him. And they are gone . .
. The young couple crosses, arm in arm, talking intently in low voices
. . . Under a park bench JACK is fast asleep, his bare feet protruding.
He is the town bum and drunk, who holds down the vague job of keeping
the park more or less clean and picked up. A young man, a TRAVELING
SALESMAN, enters. He carries an attaché case. Glances at his
wristwatch, checking it against the unseen Courthouse Clock . . . Then
he sits down on a bench. Carefully he opens the attaché case
in his lap; from it he removes his lunch—a sandwich, an apple,
a thermos bottle . . . JILL WORTHY enters. She is a young pretty girl,
rather primly dressed. She is the town librarian. She carries her lunch
in a paper sack. The only empty bench is the one under which JACK is
sleeping. Just as she starts to sit down, he stirs and snorts in his
sleep and she notices him. Seeing his dirty bare feet, she gives a
little wince of disgust and moves over to the bench where the YOUNG
MAN is sitting. He smiles politely and makes room for her. They exchange
a nod and a smile. She takes an apple out of her paper bag and is about
to bite into it. He is also just about to bite into his apple. At that
moment, they steal a second look at each other. They smile and move
a little farther apart. Once again, they raise their apples in unison,
turn to look, smile, lower their apples and open their mouths to speak
. . . At precisely that instant a loud siren begins to wail, drowning
out any possibility of conversation, and the Courthouse Clock begins
to strike twelve times. At that, JILL and the YOUNG MAN smile and shrug.
As soon as the siren begins to wail: (1) PAT and MIKE stop their checker
game long enough to check the time on large gold pocket watches, nod
with satisfaction to each other and bend over their checker game again.
(2) JACK wakes up with a start and comes crawling out from under the
park bench, looking around wildly as if it were Judgment Day. Then
he stretches painfully and, scratching himself, goes straight to the
trash barrel. He fumbles and rummages inside of it, coming up with:
(a) a short stick with a nail in the end of it for picking up trash,
(b) a burlap bag with a strap, and (c) a battered visor cap. He squares
the cap in a military manner, gives a neat sober salute to nobody in
particular with the stick, then assumes the classic en garde position
of a fencer. Then he looks around quickly and, seeing that no one is
paying any attention to him, he rummages in the trash barrel again
and produces a bottle of whiskey he has hidden there. Takes a long
drink and puts the bottle in his burlap sack. Suddenly JACK notices
something on the unseen Courthouse. He rubs his eyes and looks again
in pure amazement, then he advances on the YOUNG MAN and JILL.
Hey! You know what? The bastard didn’t move. He didn’t even budge.
Are you speaking to me?
Who do you think I’m talking to—the General? (indicates the statue)
I’m afraid I didn’t hear what you said.
I said: The courthouse clock struck noon with its usual dull and plonking,
leaden tones. The damn old siren in the Firehouse went off like the trump
of doom itself and stirred me out of a daydream of fame and riches and pure
respectability. And in spite of all that godawful cacophany, that chaos of
noise unleashed upon a startled universe, that old bastard up there didn’t
Watch your language, Mr. (in a more confidential tone) There’s a lady
Oh—her. She knows what a bastard is.
Now wait a minute . . . !
If she doesn’t know what a bastard is, she ought to. She works in the
library, and if she doesn’t know, she can look it up. Anyway, I was only
Is he annoying you, ma’am?
I am not. She’s just very sensitive.
Lady, if he’s annoying you, you just say the word.
Thank you very much for your concern. But I am perfectly able to cope with
any . . .
Cope? Cope? You can say that again. That’s one thing nobody can ever
take away from you, Jill Worthy, worthy Miss Worthy, you can really cope. Look
at her! Just look at her! She is a pretty near perfect example of the modern
American female. You know what the trouble with the modern American woman is?
I believe you said you noticed something—unusual.
Indeed I did. Something very unusual. And if you will allow me to dispose of
the problem of modern American women . . .
Nobody is the least bit interested in your theories. They’re completely
juvenile and predictable. And, anyway, we have all heard them over and over
I haven’t. I’m a stranger here myself.
You’re just trying to make me look ridiculous.
That seems to be your vocation. It’s the only thing you do really well.
What line of work are you in anyway?
Do. What do you do?
Sir, you are speaking to the unabridged and unexpurgated conscience of this
town. In spite of my, shall we say, casual appearance, I am a philosopher.
I am a park bench philosopher in the grand old American tradition.
Yeah, like Bernard Baruch.
I have heard of the gentleman’s reputation. I won’t ask you your
line of work—I won’t even ask you what in the world has caused
you to stop here in Garden Spot—dear old Garden Spot—the most dreary—the
most godforsaken little old . . .
You were about to tell us something you had noticed, before you digressed.
Digression is the essence of my style.
May I ask what it was—or is it some kind of a big secret?
You are at liberty to ask. Although I have already explained in faultless rhetoric.
There is one little flaw—I wasn’t listening.
JACK (to the YOUNG MAN)
See? See what I mean? (to JILL, with a note of self-pity) You never pay any
attention to me.
That, Jack Peterkin, is because you never speak in an organized way.
You want an outline? I will repeat, Miss Worthy, in spite of that siren, in
spite of that and everything else, that bastard didn’t budge! It didn’t
even ruffle his feathers. He just sat there, and he is sitting there now.
Just sitting and looking . . .
Who is just sitting and looking?
(JACK glances again at the Courthouse. He shudders
and produces his bottle and takes a drink.)
Where is he sitting?
Smack on top of the Courthouse Clock.
Is it anyone we know?
You never believe me—just because I am not living up to my potential.
I am not pulling my oar. I am not carrying my own weight. I am not putting
my nose to the wheel and my shoulder to the grindstone. In short, I am a bum.
I admit it fully and openly and categorically and most emphatically without
pride, dismay or hesitation. . . .
Man! You said a mouthful.
Sir, I am not addressing these remarks to you.
YOUNG MAN (belligerent)
Oh, yeah? Well, I’m talking to you, old buddy.
In a strictly chronological sense I am not old. Nor am I, to the best of my
somewhat cloudy recollection, a buddy of yours.
Whom did you see sitting on top of the Courthouse Clock?
I didn’t say that. I didn’t say I saw somebody.
What was it that you saw, then?
See! Let’s be accurate, please. Do see! The son of a bitch is still up
YOUNG MAN (laughing)
I know! A very large pink elephant!
Wrong! You have missed the mark, sir. As a matter of fact, it happens to be
What kind of a bird?
A dodo bird! A red, white, and blue dodo bird!
JACK (to JILL)
Come up here and see for yourself.
I’m trying to finish my lunch before I have to go back to the library.
But suppose you describe the bird and I’ll see if I can guess what it
You won’t have any trouble.
I won’t have any trouble either. Back home I’m the acting secretary
of the Early Bird Watcher’s Society.
How nice for the birds!
Go ahead and describe the bird. Let’s see which one of us can guess it
Why are you so competitive?
What’s wrong with competition?
You don’t know?
Say, what are you—some kind of subversive or something? What are you
JACK (taking another drink)
At the moment? Sobriety.
I’m trying to be serious.
Well, I’m not. I spend most of my waking hours trying my damnedest not
to be serious.
Jack, will you please stop talking and simply describe the bird.
Okay . . . . . . . . . It’s a big one . . . . . . a very large bird .
Is it an eagle?
No, sir! It’s a very large bird. It is a very large, very black . . .
A swan? A black swan?
A very large, very black, very ugly bird. With a big, long, skinny, naked-looking
neck . . .
That couldn’t be a swan.
But they never roost in towns.
Look for yourself, damn it!
(Very slowly the YOUNG MAN turns around to take
a good look. He reacts by quickly slumping down on the bench, loosening
his tie and mopping his brow with a handkerchief.)
You want a drink?
YOUNG MAN (grabbing the bottle)
Don’t mind if I do.
Well, I give up. What is it?
I’m afraid he was telling the truth, ma’am.
And the truth is?
The truth is that there is a very large, very black, very ugly-looking old
buzzard sitting right up there on top of the clock.
A buzzard? Are you drunk, too?
No, ma’am, not yet. But I’m getting there.
Hey! Take it easy on that bottle.
How long has he been up there?
Since early morning. I didn’t pay much attention at first. Frankly, there
are times, especially first thing in the morning, when I don’t feel I
should give full credence to the reports of my sensory apparatus.
And when the clock struck twelve, he didn’t even move?
The bastard didn’t even budge?
Didn’t even budge.
JILL (to JACK)
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
I don’t think she believes us.
(The YOUNG MAN crosses quickly to the bench where
PAT and MIKE are still playing checkers . . .)
(They turn slowly to look where he is pointing)
Do you see what I see? Do you see a bird sitting on top of the Courthouse?
What kind of a bird does it look like?
Looks kinda like a buzzard to me. What do you say, Pat?
(PAT produces some glasses and puts them on for
a better look.)
Yep. It’s a buzzard all right.
Don’t you think that’s a little bit strange?
Yeah, strange. Odd, unusual, curious, crazy, weird. Have either one of you
ever seen a buzzard up there before?
Now that you mention it, can’t say as I have. How ’bout you, Mike?
You know, I can’t recall ever seeing a buzzard up there either.
Well, like the fella says, there’s gotta be a first time for everything.
Sonny, you see all kinds of unusual things nowadays.
(They return to the checker game.)
Look! There’s another one! There’s two of them now!
(The YOUNG MAN takes one more look. Takes the bottle
from JACK for one last drink, grabs his attaché case and closes
YOUNG MAN (giving JACK his apple)
Here, you take it. I don’t feel hungry any more. (to JILL) Pleasure to
have known you, ma’am.
Where are you going?
Home! I’m a stranger here, remember? I’m just a traveling salesman
and I don’t have to stay here, thank God!
(With one last look at the birds, and a shudder,
he is gone.)
(JACK sits down on the bench beside JILL. He smiles
and wiggles his toes.)
Well, I hope you’re satisfied!
I didn’t do anything. Will you just go up there and see for yourself
and admit for once that I’m right?
JILL (rising, carefully depositing her trash in the
I simply do not care if you are right or wrong.
Never mind about me. You do care, don’t you, if there are two—no!
there’s three of them now!—three buzzards sitting up there.
If there are any up there, I don’t want to know about it. As far as I
am concerned, they simply do not exist. Just like you! Goodbye!
(She exits quickly, very angry.)
JACK (hesitating, then following after her)
Wait just a big minute! (shouting) You think you can close your eyes and pretend
things don’t exist?
(But she has gone. He shrugs and then exits, performing
his duty as trash man.)
PAT (looking up from the checker game to the Courthouse)
How many do you count now, Mike? How many do you count up there?
’Bout a half a dozen. Course I wouldn’t swear to it. My eyes ain’t
what they used to be.
What do you make of it?
Nothing . . . How about you?
Well, I’ll tell you the way I figure it.
There’s gotta be a reason.
Got to be a reason for everything.
The question I ask myself is what are they after? What do they want?
You got a point there.
Those buzzards are sitting up there looking right down at . . . us . . .
You don’t think . . . ?
Yes, sir, that’s exactly what I do think. They’re just sitting
there waiting to see which one of the two of us dies first.
What do you mean—us? If they are waiting on me, they might as well give
up and go home.
That’s what you think.
Remember old Happy Ferguson?
Sure I do.
Now, he was what you’d call a healthy old man. Hale and hearty; lively,
wouldn’t you say?
I’d say so.
He ate what he pleased and ran around doing what he felt like and everybody
said he was going to live to be a hundred. Right up to the day he just fell
over dead in front of the Luxuria Beauty Parlor. He stopped one minute to
wink at the manicurist. Looked in the window and winked at her.
Happy Ferguson had a way with the ladies.
And, the next thing you know, he was dead as a mackerel.
Well, it don’t worry me. I’ll be here long after you’ve gone.
The hell you will!
I plan to attend your funeral.
You won’t be here to attend my funeral.
Oh, I’ll be there all right. You want to know why? Because I take care
of myself. I never get excited.
I never lose my temper!
I don’t lose my temper either!
And I promise you, you’ll have a real first class funeral.
Your move, Mike . . .
(They bend over the checker board again.)
(A crowd gathered. They stand silently facing a
small podium. All the people from Scene 1—except the TRAVELING
SALESMAN—are there. Plus the BANKER, the PREACHER, and a young
stranger with a pocket notebook—a NEWSPAPER MAN. Also the CHIEF
OF POLICE. The PREACHER, the BANKER, and the CHIEF OF POLICE are like
figures out of an animated cartoon. The PREACHER wears a black, full-length
cassock and carries a large Bible. The BANKER is in striped pants,
frock coat, homburg hat, and carries a brief case. The CHIEF OF POLICE
is as resplendent as a Field Marshall in full dress.)
(After a moment the MAYOR enters, nodding and smiling,
and mounts the small podium. He is folksy, with a broad brimmed Stetson
hat, a string tie, etc.)
Good evening, everybody. I guess all of you know why we had to call this meeting
tonight. I’m sure everybody will agree it’s just a whole lot
easier to conduct this particular bit of business in the dark, so to speak
. . . I think we can safely assume that they’re all sound asleep now
. . . Or, even if they aren’t asleep, they probably can’t see
us . . . Or, if you have to take the most pessimistic view of the situation,
let’s say they aren’t asleep and they can see
us—well, at least the main thing is we can’t see them.
VOICES FROM THE CROWD
That’s a blessing!
What are we going to do about it? Yeah, what are we going to do?
Now then, now then, everybody. Let’s try and keep our heads . . .
With those ugly things just sitting up there?
Let us try to conduct ourselves in a decent, civilized manner. I hereby call
this meeting to order. First things first. The first thing we have to do
is agree on the facts . . . Now, the fact is that a few days ago those birds,
for reasons of their own, settled down here in Garden Spot. Since then, more
and more of them have shown up. I think it is safe to state that there has
been a steady and continuous growth in our—buzzard population. Chief
of Police, what is the latest official count?
Your Honor, distinguished dignitaries, ladies, and gentlemen. As of sunset,
which occurred officially at 6:43 P.M. tonight, we had counted approximately
323 buzzards in the area of Garden Spot proper.
Where are they presently located?
Well, your Honor, so far they have been sticking pretty close to the center
of town. What you might call the main body is at present situated up there
on top of the Courthouse. There are smaller groups on top of the Bank and
City Hall and the County Jail. Just before sundown, a couple of new ones
flew into town and lit on the Church steeple.
I deny that allegation! . . . They wouldn’t dare . . . I haven’t
seen any yet.
I’m sorry, Reverend, real sorry. But me and my men actually seen them
Chief, have you and your men been carefully observing their activities?
That’s what you told us to do and we done it, your Honor.
Would you venture a generalization upon the nature of the activities you have
What the hell are they up to, man?
Oh, nothing much. Mostly, they just sit there and look at us.
Thank you, Chief. And now that we are all agreed on the basic facts . . .
. . . we can proceed to . . .
I’m not agreed.
The chair recognizes Miss Mabel. What seems to be the problem?
We still have to determine what they are.
Why, honey, they’re just buzzards, aren’t they?
Not exactly . . .
What are they?
Well now, what are they—exactly, Miss Mabel?
If someone will be kind enough to hold a light for me . . .
(The POLICEMAN comes forward and holds a light
for her. CLUBWOMAN opens a dictionary.)
Let me quote to you directly from the dictionary.
The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, to be accurate: “Buzzard,
spelled B-U-Z-Z-A-R-D, pronounced Buzz-ard. Old French Busard,
French Buison (whence come the French Buse). Latin Buteo.
One: Any of numerous heavy, slow-flying hawks (Buteo and other
allied genera). Two: Any of various other birds of prey, especially the
Turkey Buzzard. See Turkey Buzzard. Now, you will have to admit that
is a very broad and general definition . . .
If you will just allow me to . . .
Thank you very much, but I don’t believe that will be necessary. Time
is pressing, so if you will just tell us briefly what you are driving at .
I just want it clearly established right at the outset that strictly speaking
the creatures in question are not buzzards.
Well, if they aren’t buzzards, what the hell are they?
Permit me . . . Would you please hold that light for me again?
(Again the POLICEMAN holds the flashlight for her.
Again she reads from the dictionary.)
The bird in question is more properly defined as
follows: “Any of certain large raptorial birds of the temperate
and tropical regions, allied to hawks, eagles and falcons, but having
weaker claws, and the head is usually . . . uh . . . naked. They subsist
chiefly on carrion.” (She slams her dictionary shut for emphasis.)
Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen, the birds we are dealing with, the
birds we are discussing tonight are, strictly speaking, vultures!
I say they’re buzzards and the hell with them!
That’s the ticket!
Down in front!
Quiet! Quiet please! Miss Mabel here has been trying to make a point. An interesting
point, a valid point, a viable point. After all, we’ve gotta agree
on what they are before we can get down to any concrete thinking.
They are vultures.
Yes, ma’am, I’m sure. Well, whatever they are, we have to agree
on what to call them.
Throughout the entire English-speaking world they are called vultures.
Miss Mabel, you are a real nice lady. And I don’t want you to think for
one minute we don’t appreciate your point of view.
Put it to a vote!
Let’s vote on it.
Do I hear a motion?
I move we vote.
All right! All those in favor of calling the said birds in question buzzards,
signify by saying aye!
No! Jill Worthy, how can you stand by and allow another woman to be voted down
You mean unanimously.
Very well, the ayes have it. Be it therefore known that hereinafter and evermore,
in the precincts of Garden Spot, that said birds will be officially known
But they aren’t buzzards.
Now look here, Miss Mabel. This is a democratic country. Be a good loser. Now
then, I take it that we are all . . .
Brothers and Sisters, I take this strange and sudden visitation for a Sign.
A Sign of all the hidden sinfulness here in Garden Spot. Now, we all know
that the wages of sin is death!
Amen! You can say that again, Reverend. Spiritually speaking. But let me tell
you, as the President of the Bank, that the only kind of wages I am worried
about at the moment, is cash wages. Cold, hard cash. If the word about this
ever gets around . . .
What are we going to do about it?
Let’s all get drunk and forget about it!
Kneel! Kneel and pray!
Thank you for the suggestion, Reverend. And, believe me, we may just try a
little praying if nothing else works. Meanwhile, the floor is open to suggestions.
I have a suggestion. I suggest that we ignore them. After a while, if they
see that we don’t care about them one way or the other, maybe they
will just fly away.
True, Miss Worthy. Very true. But once again I would like to point out a few
hard, cold pertinent facts from the world of commerce. This town stands or
falls on business and trade. If we wait around and meanwhile the news gets
out that we have a . . . that we have a kind of a . . .
Plague! A Plague upon us like the Plagues of Egypt!
Damn it, Reverend, it ain’t reached plague proportions yet. It’s
It’s a plague!
Ladies and gentlemen, let me assure you on the basis of my not inconsiderable
experience in the business world, that business is inevitably going to suffer.
And, if business suffers, then the whole town will suffer. Before you can
say Karl Marx, Garden Spot will be a ghost town.
It would be different if it was just pigeons or something. I mean, pigeons,
all they do is fly around and shit all over everything.
What’s the matter with all you people? What have you got against pigeons?
Act now! Strike while the iron is hot!
Whatever we do, let’s do it anonymously!
Let us all gather at the church and pray together!
I understand that, Reverend, but me, I always try to look at the sunny side
of things if I can. We don’t have any evidence yet that these birds
are against us. This might even turn out to be a friendly visit.
Who needs them?
Who wants them?
Get those birds out of here!
Another thing. Please sit down. While they are here—and I want you to
know I don’t feel any better about this thing than the rest of you—but,
as I say, as long as they are here, maybe something good will come out of it.
Who knows? They might simplify the whole problem of garbage disposal. And if
it works out that way, why the next thing we might even have a tax reduction
or refund or something . . .
(LADY FROM SCHOOLBOARD waving papers aggressively)
Your honor! I want to register a serious complaint on behalf of the schoolboard.
Now wait just a minute! Before you say a word, I just want to remind you that
education-wise we run a clean town. If you’re talking about the textbooks
again . . .
We don’t allow a book of any shape, kind or color in the Bank!
We have completely revised the Bible. All the offensive passages have been
CLUBWOMAN (reacting to “expurgated”)
You mean “extirpated.” Reverend, please. I am proud to report that
the last meeting of The Golden Penwomen of Garden Spot we publicly burned a
copy of that awful book that all the young people are reading.
What book is that, Mabel?
You know the one I mean—THE RAPTURE IN THE RYE.
I’m not complaining about books this time. I simply want to report the
undeniable fact that there are already buzzards roosting on the Schoolhouse.
We must not let the youth of our town suffer from P.B.E.
Premature Buzzard Exposure.
The very least we can do for our young people is to make sure that they suffer
She means vicariously.
We expect action! I don’t have to remind you, do I, that there’s
an election coming up one of these days?
No, ma’am. You don’t have to remind me. And that’s a fact.
CHIEF OF POLICE
Your honor! I think I’ve got an idea. That is, if we still want to get
rid of them.
Of course we do. That’s the first order of business.
Well sir, I think maybe we could scare them out of town. I was thinking if
we could get all the bells ringing at one time and all the cars horns tooting,
and the radios and record players going . . . if we could shoot guns in the
air and the ladies would beat on pots and pans . . . if we could fire off
the old cannon in front of the Armory . . . if everybody in town will get
together and make as much noise as humanly possible . . .
Chief, that’s a wonderful idea.
We’ll try it.
Praise the Lord!
Yes, sir, we’ll give her a try right after this meeting. I’m glad
I thought of that.
Mr. Mayor! Mr. Mayor! One moment please!
(All turn to him, suddenly aware of a stranger
in their midst.)
Yes, what is it?
If you don’t mind taking a word of advice from a stranger.
Speak up, young fella.
Well, it’s this way. From my point of view, it kind of looks like you
are going at the thing ass backwards.
From your point of view? Just what is your point of view, young fella?
Well, I’m a newspaper reporter, your honor. I . . .
A newspaper reporter? Oh my God!
Quick, don’t let him get away!
(Exit the REPORTER at a dead run, pursued by all
except JACK and JILL. JACK has settled down at the base of the statue
for a snooze. JILL, thinking herself all alone, sits down on a park
bench and begins to sob)
What’s the matter with you?
Well, why don’t you just shut up then?
(JILL begins to cry louder than ever.)
Something has got to be the matter. (he turns to
buzzards) Friends, allow me to extend my sincere apologies for the way
my fellow creatures just behaved. I’m afraid they don’t understand
Jack, who in the world are you talking to?
Isn’t that typical? Here the whole town is nervous—the whole town
is scared to death—everything is a complete mess—everybody is going
crazy. And you decide it’s a fine time to talk to the birds.
Have you condescended to look at them yet?
They are rather hard to avoid seeing.
Have you seen them yet?
This afternoon, I just happened to glance out of the Library window. All I
wanted to do was to check my watch against the Courthouse Clock . . .
And there they were. There they were!
You don’t have to act so happy about it.
I am happy. Charmed and delighted! Those birds is the best thing that’s
happened around here since Miss Mary Beth Birdsong ran off with a traveling
That whole episode was tragic. She ended up being shot out of a cannon every
night. It made her a very nervous woman, poor thing.
They really are kind of special. They have character. Look, there’s a
fine old fellow. Enormous natural dignity. There’s a pompous fool. Thinks
he’s too good for the rest of them. Part eagle or something. There’s
a shy one. Doesn’t know what he’s doing here. Just followed the
crowd. And, look! There’s a little baby one. Kitchy, kitchy, koo . .
. (to JILL) Oh, Jill, you’re really missing something.
There are a great many unpleasant things in life.
But if the Preacher says they’re a plague, and the Banker says they’re
a problem, you can’t ignore them completely.
I just think people should tend to their own business.
JACK (a parody of a hardworking cleanup man)
By all means. Business before pleasure.
Just look at you!
Aside from the fact that there may be some room for minor improvement, what’s
wrong with me?
You’re a disgrace, that’s all. A public disgrace! Oh, Jack, you
used to have such promise.
Once upon a time, when we were all in school together, they elected me the
most likely to succeed. I’m simply trying to prove how wrong they were.
You certainly have proved your point admirably.
What do you care?
I did care once, very much, and you know it. Before you threw up a good job
and everything else and settled for—this!
What about you? Is it so wonderful, is it so satisfying to be a nice, respectable
small town Librarian?
It’s . . . it’s enough.
Very well, now that we have disposed of our little problem, tell me, Miss Worthy,
what do you make of all this other excitement?
Why should I want to make anything out of it?
Everybody else is. The Preacher says it’s a Plague. And the Banker says
it’s a Problem.
They are upset. When people get upset they are not reasonable. They do and
say silly things.
And you never get upset, do you?
I try not to. A disciplined life is a happy life.
Are you happy?
I am trying to be emotionally mature about . . .
(They kiss. When they break, JACK can’t resist
the temptation to joke.)
Thank you, Miss Worthy, for that little demonstration of emotional maturity.
You are always making fun of me. I never want to see you again!
(NEWSPAPER MAN enters)
Nice little town you’ve got here. Yes, sir, a real nice friendly little
Oh! What did they do to you?
They were going to hang me. But I managed to convince them that it’s
bad publicity to lynch a newspaper man. So they just tarred and feathered me
I’m so sorry. Please try to understand. Everybody is terribly upset by
So am I. But I want you to know I’m going to be big about it. I am not
going to be bitter.
That’s the spirit!
(a bugle call offstage)
(a loud explosion)
(a gradual accumulation of noises)
Here we go!
From now on it’s going to be real simple. It’s us or the birds.
(The siren comes on. Now they have to shout to
You know what?
I’m betting on the birds.
(The noise reaches a peak)
(The Park as before. Spaced around the stage are
four principal figures—the MAYOR, the BANKER, the PREACHER, and
the CLUBWOMAN. The CLUBWOMAN should be so placed that she can make
a costume change. Perhaps near the statue of the GENERAL. As one speaks,
the light is on him alone. Transitions from speakers are accomplished
by means of lights. The rather swift moral disintegration of the community
should be indicated visually by a gradual dishevelment of all four
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to have to report to you that the plan suggested
by the Chief of Police didn’t work out too well. The Chief, in an excess
of public zeal, in a desire to make a real big noise, a memorable bang so
to speak, over-charged the cannon. When it went off, it went up. And unfortunately
he went up with it. (solemnly, removing his hat): Now he has gone to the
place where the good Chiefs of Police go. A place where, let us hope, there
will be no more birds to trouble him. Rest in peace. And silence. . . . So
much for the Chief of Police. Meanwhile those birds are still up there. And
we are now entering into a difficult period in our lives, a time of “agonizing
reappraisal” where we . . .
Brothers and Sisters, I stand before you this morning with a heavy heart. Our
town, our pretty little town with its wide streets and shady lawns, its smiling
people and contented pets, Brothers and Sisters, our town is suffering under
the dark shadow of a curse. I take these birds . . . . . so naturally associated
in our minds with death, decay, corruption and so forth and so on—I
take them to be the outward visible sign of the curse. Brothers and Sisters,
these birds have been sent here to remind us, to warn us, to awaken us. So
that we may repent and be ready. And in that sense our curse may be a blessing
Listen, I’ll tell you what I think. Those birds have already had a serious
effect on the local economy. Business is practically at a standstill. The plain,
unadorned truth of the matter is people just don’t like having to come
downtown and conduct their daily affairs with buzzards watching them all the
time. And a man can’t do a whole lot of business in the pitch dark, at
least not banking business. Some people are already packing up their stuff
and taking their families and moving away. Now, you want to call them rats—rats
leaving the sinking ship. But let me tell you I don’t blame them a bit,
not even a little bit. If we don’t take firm, practical steps to deal
with the situation, this town is going to dry up and die on the vine. I propose
that a survey be run . . .
Before we begin the session today, I have an important announcement to make.
The committee on gardens and the committee on the Better Homes Tour met in
special session yesterday at Katie Eversoe’s house—and, by the
way, weight-watchers, Katie served a delightful, up to date refreshment,
Metrical and vanilla ice cream; she calls it “The Plump Girl’s
Surprise”—anyway the two committees met and decided that under
the present circumstances it would be unseemly to go ahead with our regular
plans. So we are going to have to postpone the annual Magnolia Meander. I’m
sure you’ll all agree that with conditions the way they are the Clubwomen
of Garden Spot have more important things to do. Think of our pioneer ancestors.
Now then, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you our guest speaker
for today, Professor Elwood P. Funk, PhD, the distinguished bird watcher,
who will address us on the subject “Know Your Enemy—For What
It’s Worth.” Professor Funk . . .
. . . Personally I don’t have anything against buzzards. I feel the same
way about animals as I do about people. Even though animals don’t have
the vote yet. (ha ha) My philosophy is I try and get along with all kinds.
I always try and consider the other fellow’s point of view. Now, I’m
sure there is some reason why all these birds have come here. Maybe they like
it in Garden Spot. So do I. So do I! I only wish we knew what that reason was.
And I wish we had some way to get our point of view over to them. If there
just weren’t so damn many of them! What I mean is, we could probably
assimilate a few of them into the community without any noticeable effect on
the general. . . .
The text this morning refers to the angel of death. Notice that the angel of
death is dark; he isn’t white, he isn’t tan or pink or anything
else. He’s dark. Now, as we all know, dark is what night is. Dark is
what hell is. But I say unto you, fear not. Look them straight in the eye.
Hold up your heads and lift up your hearts. And I say take heed, lest some
of you be tempted to fall down on your knees and worship them. That is idolatry.
I have heard rumors that some members of this congregation . . .
I have the information from a very reliable source. And I am convinced beyond
the shadow of a doubt that this strange visitation is not an accident. It
is part of the vast monolithic Communist Conspiracy. They are just testing
it out on us here in Garden Spot. If it works here, who knows what will happen?
We may live to see the day when swarms of buzzards will be roosting on top
of all the great public buildings of New York City, Chicago, Detroit, San
Fransisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Miami Beach and
Washington, D.C.! The whole economy of the nation will come to a screeching
halt. The Capitalistic System of Free Enterprise will be the laughing stock
of the whole world. We must hold our ground. We must fight and win the battle
here and now in Garden Spot or . . .
CLUBWOMAN (now in black, like a widow)
Girls, it has been proposed that the best thing we can do to help the situation
is to make some kind of public demonstration. To show that we, the amalgamated
Clubwomen of Greater Garden Spot, are solidly, one hundred percent behind
the Mayor’s policy—whatever it may be. Lucy Fry has come up with
what I think is a simply marvelous idea. Beginning tomorrow we will all wear
black until further notice. May I suggest Ye Olde Spinning Wheel has some
very nice creations in all sizes . . .
I don’t say we haven’t had our problems. We have called on the
(Enter F.B.I. AGENT wearing trenchcoat,
snapbrim hat, with magnifying glass.)
You got a problem here all right. The whole thing is, it’s kind of out
of our jurisdiction. I mean, if you could prove that the birds came across
a state line or something . . . I’d like to help you. If it would be
any use, we could run a picture of a buzzard in the Post Office.
(He exits. These characters enter
and exit quickly, crossing the stage.)
We called on the Army.
(A GENERAL enters. Comes to stage
and center and salutes the audience. Comes to “Parade Rest.”)
Re: your request for aid and comfort, filled out on a Form 1094631-C in triplicate
and passed through proper channels, has come to my attention this date at
0945 hours. Whereas, it would appear that some exercise or show of force
may be necessary to alleviate your position, I am instructed that under circumstances
which may possibly have socio-political complications, all action falls under
the provenance of the Department of State, or Interior, or Health and Welfare,
or one of those other Goddamn civilian offices. Bearing all this in mind,
I have forwarded your request through channels, to the Library of Congress.
P.S. Next time, try the Air Force. Birds are more like their responsibility
the way I look at it.
(He comes to attention, salutes and
marches off stage.)
We even went to the top of the intellectual heap—we called for psychiatric
(Enter the PSYCHIATRIST. Speaks with
German accent and is a caricature of the comic psychiatrist and the
absent-minded professor. He wanders in vaguely, smiling at the audience.
A painful pause.)
Oh, yeah, that’s me! Yes, what is it?
Have you reached any conclusion?
About our problem.
Problem? What problem?
Oh yes, the buzzards. (fumbles through papers) Buzzards, buzzards, B, B, B
. . . here we are . . . (reads) “This syndrome, being based primarily
on pseudo-socio—economic and anal-erotic mass and halfmass delusions,
is not unknown historically though it is relatively rare in recent times.
Group or mass syndromes of this nature, no doubt primarily paranoiac in origin,
appear to have been commonplace during the so-called Dark Ages. According
to Rabunus Marus . . .”
I’ll skip the next part. It’s in Latin. “Furthermore in the
remote fringes of the Fiji Islands, it is reliably reported by an early traveler
that . . .”
I’m sorry, but time is of the essence.
It’s very rude to interrupt someone like that.
We are paying you fifty dollars an hour and all you can talk about is Fiji
You’re a sick man. You need help.
Then help us, Goddamn it! Tell us what we can do. Tell us what’s wrong.
You want to know what’s wrong?
You want it straight?
Straight and simple, please.
Well, ordinarily, my individual best judgment would be you people got a condition
like bats in the belfry. But that won’t apply in this case. I mean
bats is one thing and buzzards is another. The way I see it, and this is
my personal prognostication right off the top of my head: you got buzzards
on the courthouse! (laughs)
(The PSYCHIATRIST runs off stage.)
I keep thinking maybe it’s all
some kind of a great big practical joke. I can take a joke. Everybody
knows I can take a joke as well as the next guy. But what I can’t
figure out is who would want to pull one like this on me . . . ?
PREACHER (in prayer)
. . . O Dark Strangers, we beseech you to open our eyes to the meaning of your
truth. Fill out hearts with your continual and brooding presence. Teach us
to fly high and soar into . . .
You know what I call it? CREEPING VULTURISM! That’s what I call it .
And I say if Lady Godiva could do it, so can we!
(She rapidly begins to undress.)
(The Three Confidence Men and the
girl in the harem costume enter quickly and look around. One is dressed
as a classic BUM, with a bundle tied in a bandana on a stick. The second
is dressed in a long robe and wears a turban and is accompanied by
the girl in the belly-dance harem costume. The third is a TRAVELING
SALESMAN with a sample case.)
Hey, this must be the place.
Who are you?
(The MAYOR, BANKER and PREACHER come
to meet them)
We heard you got—like a problem.
I read about it.
In the papers?
In the stars.
We’re here to help you.
You’ve been going at it like all wrong.
You can never get rid of a bunch of buzzards that way.
What you need is experts, specialists.
Are you people buzzard-removal experts?
Man, I wouldn’t know about these guys. I mean, like we just happened
to meet up the way here.
I come to you with a wealth of experience.
I run into tougher deals than this all the time . . .
What is it you propose to do?
If you really want to get rid of them birds.
He means if you care enough.
What they both are trying to say is that for an adequate renumeration . . .
Fifty Thousand in cash if you can just get them to go away.
He means to say that it may be possible to get them to leave town, but we can
hardly guarantee they won’t come back.
Unless, maybe, you were willing to make a guarantee . . .
Fifty Thousand in cold cash plus a regular retainer on a permanent annual buzzard
I understand the man.
He rather interests me.
Buddy, you’ve got yourself a deal.
We will draw for high card to see who goes first. (to PREACHER): Here, you
hold the cards.
Ordinarily, I don’t approve of gambling. But, under the circumstances
. . .
(The three men draw and the ENTERTAINER wins.)
Ah-ha! Gentlemen, consider yourselves lucky. Your problem is practically a
thing of the past.
What are you going to do?
Get rid of the birds—what else?
Easy . . . I’m a magician.
But magic is superstitious!
You see how you feel after I’ve made those buzzards vanish forever.
It’s worth a try. We’ve got nothing to lose.
That’s right. Nothing to lose (aside)—except your shirt. Darlene,
the watch, please.
(Darlene reaches in her bra and produces a large
pocket watch on a chain. He takes it and holds it up by the chain.)
What’s she going to do?
Nothing. She’s just decoration.
(JACK enters with his stick and trach
bag. He concentrates on the girl during all of this.)
Now, gentlemen, I want you to look closely
at this watch and concentrate with me. Think of the great, empty, windblown
spaces of the North Pole. Now think of a lovely lake, picture it, a lovely
lake as smooth as a mirror, without even the ghost of a breeze. All smooth
and shining and clear like a mirror . . . Now you are looking into the
mirror and nothing is reflected there. Nothing, nothing, nothing at all
. . . You look up-up-up into the sky and the sky is like the lake. It
is an empty, blue, cloudless sky, a sky as wide as a prairie, a sky as
pure and cold as spring water, a sky all blue and filled with sunlight
like the eyes of a beautiful girl in love. You see that beautiful sky.
Can you see it? Do you see it now?
Yes, yes, yes!
And now if you will just walk over there and turn around and look, you will
notice that all the buzzards have flown away.
Praise the Lord! The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.
I’d call that pretty quick work for Fifty Thousand Bucks.
Wonder where they went to?
You dumb squares! (He claps his hands.) I don’t know what you’re
looking at, but I see like multitudes of buzzards roosting all over the place.
I thought you guys were my buddies.
Don’t take my word for it. Get a witness. (to JACK): Hey you! Come here!
Are those buzzards still up there?
Damn right they are!
MAYOR AND BANKER
All right, so all right! I hypnotized. So what? I can’t make those buzzards
fly away. Nobody can. But at least I fixed it up so you wouldn’t have
to see them any more. It’s an illusion, I’ll grant you that. So,
what isn’t an illusion?
(A POLICEMAN enters and quickly collars
the ENTERTAINER and the HAREM GIRL. Throughout all this, the HAREM
GIRL has been exchanging shy and sly glances with JACK. When she is
led away, she blows him a kiss and for the first time smiles brightly.)
ENTERTAINER (continuing under duress)
Life is an illusion, gentlemen! I ask you, wasn’t that a wonderful moment
when you looked up there and there wasn’t one single buzzard on the whole
horizon? Wasn’t that worth something?
POLICEMAN (shoving him)
It’s worth about ninety days in the County Jailhouse, buddy.
ENTERTAINER (waving the watch as he
is pushed off stage)
Officer, officer, officer, I want you to start concentrating on wide open spaces,
the prairie, the Sahara desert . . .
Well, if that’s the best kind of service you montebanks have to offer
. . .
Montebanks? Sir, I’ll have you know I do not now nor have I ever depended
on magic tricks and illusions. My methods are like strictly scientific.
(He opens his bandana and removes
a pair of canvas wings and begins to strap them on his arms.)
Now then, what I plan to do is to fly
up there and frighten them away. I mean, what would you do if you were
a buzard and saw a man circling and soaring all around you? They are
bound to realize that, as far as the birds are concerned, the jig is
like up. No doubt they will depart at once. Now, if you’ll excuse
me, I want to go over there where I can get like a good running start
. . .
(He dogtrots off the stage.)
So long, sucker!
(All are looking in the direction
he has gone.)
Look! He’s running!
He’s taking off!
Praise the Lord!
BANKER (flapping his arms in sympathy)
Wh—oh . . . . .
ALL (in unison)
Oh . . . . . .
SALESMAN (setting down sample case,
dusting off his palms)
Well, like they say, that’s show business.
He got off the ground, anyway.
Man should not aspire to rise beyond his natural place in creation.
The son-of-a-bitch was really flying! You’ve gotta give him credit for
(The BUM is carried back across the
stage by two white-coated Stretcher Bearers.)
Pretty good, huh? Maybe I didn’t get rid of any buzzards. But I flew.
I really flew!
Young man, I like your ambition and your energy. I think—after you—uh—recuperate—we
just might be able to work out something or other. I can visualize huge rolls
of tickets—two bits a head.
Thanks just the same.
Aren’t you even interested? I mean, you’ve got a real unusual talent
Honest to God, that’s the first time I ever tried it. And it scared the
living bejesus out of me . . .
(He is carried off by the Stretcher
Now we get down to brass tacks.
Well now, I’m not so sure . . .
I wash my hands of the whole affair.
What can you do?
SALESMAN (in the rapid manner and style
of a pitchman or carnival barker)
All right, now, gentlemen. Tell you what I’m going to do. I’m not
agoing to try and sell you no illusions or hallucinations. No, sir! I’m
not in the show business. I’m a business man, a thinking business man.
And the thing I’ve got to offer is an idea. A brand new idea! And, naturally,
along with this brand, spanking new idea comes a little proposition. What good
is an idea without a practical way of using it? An idea with a means of implementing
it, a way of putting it into practice, why that idea is worth the weight of
this whole town in gold and jewels and precious stones! Yes, sir! Observe .
(He opens the sample case and takes
out and proceeds to assemble a submachine gun.)
Just what is your idea?
Kill the bastards!
All of them?
Suit yourself on that.
What’s so special about that idea? We could have thought of that.
Exactly. You could have but you didn’t. I did. And that, gentlemen, is
precisely what distinguishes The Great Thinker from The Common Herd. Plato!
Socrates! Aristotle! P.T. Barnum! Horatio Alger! Henry Ford!
But what would we ever do with all those dead buzzards?
SALESMAN (fast-talking pitchman again)
I’m glad you asked that question. Now, I could say to you, if I was a
cynical no-account kind of fellow, I could say that’s your problem, couldn’t
I? But I’m not agoing to say anything like that. No, sir! You may wonder
why. Well, you won’t have to wonder long because I’m going to tell
you why. You’ve got a problem here. To me it’s a challenge. What’s
life without challenge? I could probably go around the countryside solving
problems right and left and raking in the dough. Raking it in! I could accumulate
an enormous fortune. I could mingle with Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. I could
rub elbows and noses with movie stars! I could be on the cover of Time magazine.
But, gentlemen, fame and glory are fleeting. A man has got to grow—tall!
It’s the challenge that counts! Tell you what I’m going to do.
I’m not going to kill those buzzards. I am simply going to show you how
it’s done. Then you can do it all by yourselves. At your own leisure
and convenience. Yes, sir! You can get it over with. You can have yourselves
a real old-fashioned buzzard massacre. Or, you can knock them off one at a
time. Whenever you feel like it. And, if you don’t like killing, well,
look at it this way: maybe you won’t have to kill but a few. Maybe the
rest of them with catch on and fly away of their own free will.
But what if they come back?
Well, in that case, your honor, all you’ve got to do is to keep right
on shooting them. Take a look at this little product I got here. This here
is a really first-class buzzard exterminator. The best of modern science and
modern engineering have joined together to come to grips with your problem.
It’s simple. It’s effective. It does the job! And it’s easy
to use. Any man, woman, or child in the community can learn to operate one
of these buzzard exterminators safely and efficiently with just a little basic
instruction. But, I ain’t going to talk to you about it. I’m going
to prove it to you. Like it says in the Bible, a good picture is worth a hundred
and fifty words. You just watch and see what happens here.
(He fires a burst)
For Heaven’s Sake!
You hit the clock!
You destroyed the Courthouse Clock!
SALESMAN (faster than ever)
Wait! Wait, wait just a minute, gentlemen. Don’t let’s get excited!
Don’t let’s lose out heads! “If you can keep your head while
all about you . . .” What’s a minute or two? What is Time? Why
should all men be slaves to the clock? Now then, all I did here was to fail
to compensate for the windage.
(He raises the gun again and aims.)
Don’t let him shoot again!
He might hit the steeple!
Or the bank!
Okay, okay. I’m going. I just left . . .
(He exits on a dead run. The POLICEMAN enters and
(The three leaders of the town are thoroughly dejected.)
Well, what do we do now?
We might as well. We’ve tried everything else.
I’m thinking of forming a committee.
I pray for the arrival of some wise stranger . . .
(The PREACHER and the BANKER exit.)
The life of a public servant these days is strictly for the—pardon the
expression—birds. Used to be kind of fun, just hanging around, slapping
people on the back, shaking hands, kissing babies, cracking jokes and exchanging
clichés with my colleagues. Freeloading, figuring out ways to spend
tax money. Figuring out new ways to raise taxes. It beat working for a living.
But now! Sometimes I think I’m losing my mind. I have bad dreams . .
. Sometimes I even see things . . .
(at the four corners in a dreamlike
illumination, four young ladies: a BEATNIK, an EXOTIC DANCER, a GIRL
IN A BIKINI WITH A GLOWING SUNTAN, and a WITCH):
Do I know you from somewhere?
Why don’t you just let everything go and grow a beard, baby?
Hello, doll. Remember me?
Oh no! Dreama the Denver Bombshell.
I knew you wouldn’t forget. The State Fair of 1948.
Listen, Dreama, you gotta be reasonable. I’ve got a wife and three kids.
I have to uphold the standards of public morality. More or less. . . .
BIKINI (French accent)
Come weeth me to ze Riviera, where ze sun she is always shining and ze wine
Did somebody mention bad dreams?
Are you what I think you are?
That depends on what you are thinking, darling.
What do you all want?
Nothing much . . . a thing of no importance . . . only your immortal soul.
Come with me and be my dad
And we shall share a grubby pad . . .
Let us develop a suntan together. Brigit Bardot, Francoise Sagan . . .
Nothing much . . . just your immortal soul.
Come live with me and be my dad
And we shall share a grubby pad . . .
Remember . . . Remember . . .
I think I shall turn you into a toad . . .
Come with me . . .
I saw him first . . .
He’s all mine . . .
No! No! No!
(Lights out on girls. MAYOR left dazed.
Your honor! Your honor!
What is it?
It’s the ladies, your honor, the Clubwomen . . .
Don’t just stand there. What are they up to?
Marching. They’re marching on the Courthouse.
(drums are heard)
Well I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it. It’s
a free country, isn’t it? (becoming Senatorian): The right of free assembly
is a Constitutional guarantee, set down in ineffaceable language.
In the nude?
. . . and procured for us and future generations for our Founding . . . What
did you say?
The ladies are marching on the Courthouse without no clothes on.
Buck naked, your Honor.
(The sound of women singing “The
Battle Hymn of the Republic” grows louder.)
Oh my God! Call out the Fire Department! Call out the National Guard! Call
out . . . ! (a slow grin) On second thought, the hell with it. Let’s
just wait and see what happens next!
(“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung
by the ladies, gets louder and louder . . . )
Act II, Scene 1
(JACK stands looking up. Addresses
Okay, guys, are you listening? You get no bedtime story tonight. I’m
too tired. Don’t take it personally, Herman. Night Ed . . .
Jack? . . . Jack?
(JACK reacts, turns away. She enters.)
Ah, Miss Worthy. May I ask how come you didn’t march in the big parade?
Sometimes you are just awful.
And that is the secret of my charm.
Here. I brought you that book by Henry Miller.
And I thought they had burned it. Any good?
I haven’t read it.
Not even a little peek?
And here’s . . . (produces a bottle of wine)
Ah, “Night Train.”
I don’t know the first thing about wines. Is it any good?
It will do very nicely. Jill, you are a complete mystery to me. One minute
you call me a public disgrace. Next here you come like the Goddess of Plenty
bearing gifts—pornography in one hand and hooch in the other. What’s
happened to you?
The Library is closed. You’re on your way home. What’s wrong .
. . ?
Jack, do you have any idea what it’s like living at Miss Ida Fishback’s
Friendly Boarding House?
Well, I can guess. I guess I can imagine.
I used to pretend that I was happy . . . happy just working at the library
and living quietly at Miss Ida’s. Tonight when I locked up the Library
and walked home, when I turned up the walk to that house, I felt my whole
heart sink, literally sink inside me . . . Have you ever felt anything like
Yes, I have. . . .
And the worst thing of all, I realized, is coming home in the evening to that
unfriendly Friendly Boarding House and being greeted at the door by that
horrible hat rack and the smell of cabbage cooking and the blare of bad news
from the T.V. in the living room. And then I go up the stairs to a room where
the wallpaper is ugly and the alarm clock on the dresser is ticking and ticking
and glaring at me like a moral owl . . . And tonight I knew that I just had
to get out, to go somewhere or just lie down there and die. . . .
JACK (mild sarcasm)
You must be in real trouble to come here.
Why do you always act that way?
Sarcastic and . . . defensive.
What do you care how I act?
Well, I do care. I guess I really do.
And I guess I always have. In spite of everything. In spite of that time you
clipped off my pigtail and put chewing gum in my desk in the third grade.
. . .
Oh, that. Well, I can explain.
And you gave me a live bullfrog for Valentine’s Day . . .
Oh, I was a naughty boy—I was a devil.
(They are now sitting side by side on one of the
Remember the time you tied my clothes in knots at the Swimming Hole?
That was during my brief career as a Boy Scout. I went through a knot-tying
And when you took me to the Senior Prom on your bicycle. You were wearing that
I had to borrow it from Fatty Brown. I’ll admit it didn’t fit too
well. It was too big for him in the first place.
You looked like a fugitive scarecrow.
Like a giant three-toed sloth! We had fun together, didn’t we? Remember
when we played doctor? I was always the doctor and you were always the patient.
JILL (reacts with indignition—mild)
You would remember something like that! You were awful.
I still am.
No, not really. You just think you are. Oh, Jack, whatever happened to us?
We were in love . . .
I have always loved you.
Well! You never showed it.
Well, I never had a chance.
. . . lots and lots of chances.
Name one. I dare you.
I could name a thousand. Remember when I stood at the bus station in the pouring
rain without a raincoat or even an umbrella for an hour and a half just waiting
for you to come home from college?
The bus was late. I couldn’t help that.
Jack Peterkin, why do you think that day in and day out I’ve been coming
to the park to eat my lunch? Because I like fresh air? I have waited and waited
for you just to say something, something, for some kind of sign . . .
Let’s go away, Jill. Now. Tonight. We can have a wonderful life together.
Anyplace else but here.
We could have run away from all this—and each other—any time. But
we didn’t. Don’t you know why?
No, ma’am, I . . .
Garden Spot is not such a bad place. It could be a beautiful place. God knows
there is plenty of everything for a good life. And, you know, we can begin
right here and change the world!
(Sound of someone whistling, coming toward them.)
JACK (kisses her lightly on the cheek)
Guess we better wait ’til tomorrow to change the world. Right now you
better run on back to Miss Ida’s before they turn out the lights and
lock the front door.
I don’t care. I . . .
(Sound of whistling, closer.)
(She exits. A moment later the COP enters)
Evening, officer. All quiet on this bright and starry night?
Same old thing. Not a creature is stirring, not even . . . (looks up at buzzards)
any of those beady-eyed bastards. Tell me something, Jack. How do you stand
it with them up there all the time?
Well, we have reached an . . . understanding.
Beats me how you do it. Night . . .
(COP exits whistling. JACK, who of course lives
in the park, produces a sleeping bag. Lays it out, fluffs it. Prepares
to climb in.)
(The STRANGER enters with a flash and puff of smoke,
or equivalent music cue.)
Good evening! Good evening, my good man!
Excuse me, sir, but do you smell something funny? Kind of like sulphur?
Could be. May I inquire who you are, young man?
Well, sir, a lot of people around here are convinced that I am the town bum.
But the unromantic truth is I’m the official custodian of this little
park. I am supposed to keep the place more or less clean and shaped up. And
I do that. But I spend a good deal of my precious time just hanging around
and watching this so-called world pass by.
Well now. Do you think you might be able to locate the so-called Mayor of this
town or anybody else with some authority?
Now? At this time of night?
I reckon I could.
Well, go and see. Tell them that the man with the answer, the man with the
answer to all your problems has arrived upon the scene. Here . . . (gives
him money) let this speed you on your merry way.
STRANGER (to statue)
Ah, General, you look ever so much better in bronze. It must be a little wearisome
just standing up there with life whirling all about you . . . an endless
cycle of seasons, sun and rain, dogs and cats, children and maids, birds
in the trees and lovers in the grass. And pigeons. The eternal occupational
hazard of all bronze heroes. (to audience) It’s great to be back in
the harness again. Frankly, I was becoming a little bored with my usual haunts
. . . the court rooms, corporate board rooms, the senate chambers and parliaments.
Even crisis can be monotonous . . . and travel is so terribly wearing. I’ve
lived out of a suitcase in Africa . . . and, believe me, the laundry service
in the Congo is absolutely abominable . . . Then on to Algiers, which I can
assure you is not what Charles Boyer cracked it up to be. And Berlin . .
. probably the coldest and draftiest little “hot spot” I found
this winter; except, of course, for the Kremlin . . . where I wore a fur
hat, had cold soup, warm liquor, and innumerable promises which fluctuated
between the two. I have attended endless meetings . . . that Birch group,
the Minutewomen of NOW, your very own schoolboard . . . But to be here! Back
to the grass roots! Smell that air! I love simple people. And they need me.
Isn’t it wonderful to be needed by someone . . . ?
(Enter the MAYOR, PREACHER, and BANKER)
You wanted to see us?
Are you the duly constituted authorities of this place?
I was elected by the overwhelming majority.
I received the call on April Fool’s Day, 1934.
Let’s face it. We run this town. (apprehensive) Where’s Mabel?
Gentlemen . . .
What can we do for you?
Better to ask, what can I do for you?
Who are you, anyway?
My name and background are largely irrelevant. Suffice it to say that I have
come here to Garden Spot with the solution to all your difficulties.
Not another one!
Permit me to ask you a question. What are you doing about the problem?
Not a day goes by that the Special Subcommittee isn’t in Special Session.
I have ordered a marble statue of one for the church. There are those who persist
in referring to it as a graven image, but . . .
Let’s face it! The only practical step being taken at the moment is my
CRASH PROGRAM OF ADVANCED BUZZARD RESEARCH. I’ve got college professors
trying to figure out how to use them. Can we eat them? If so, what are best
recipes? Can we stuff pillows with their feathers? Can we see them as pets?
And, if so, who the hell would want one? That’s a job for Motivation
Research. I am firmly convinced we can not only lick this problem, but, while
we’re at it, we can make a buck.
Gentlemen! Gentlemen! It appears that you are approaching the situation negatively.
Wait a minute! I believe in the power of positive thinking as much as the next
In the Gospel according to Norman Vincent Peale it is written that . . .
You got a proposition?
I am not trying to sell you anything. The truth is, I have nothing to sell
you. But naturally I, too, am interested in turning what you may call a kind
of profit. But I promise it won’t cost you a red cent.
MAYOR AND PREACHER
The root of your trouble, I fear, is that you have been directing all your
efforts toward getting rid of the birds.
I think you can safely assume . . .
We have wept and prayed, prayed and fasted . . .
Let us suppose, just for the sake of argument, that we took the opposite view.
That we turned all our energy and attention to the business of keeping them
Would you say that again?
I don’t follow you.
Gentlemen! Learning to live with our feathered friends can be a valuable life
experience . . . (played to BANKER. BANKER with slow-dawning realization
and big grin.)
Valuable, now you’re talking!
Let me assure you, it is entirely possible to live with buzzards and love it.
If you will allow me to instruct you . . .
This is Real Life
(EARPHONES, a T.V. director with headset, clipboard,
and various materials, enters.)
Places, everybody! Stand by . . .
(Original cast, more or less, for “A Typical
Day in the Park,” Act I, Scene I, takes places.)
EARPHONES (to STRANGER)
We’ve got a few cuts and changes. Here. The Preacher’s sermon was
a little too downbeat last time. And we need a little more drama in the Bank.
Bo and Rod have come up with a nice little bit about a mortgage foreclosure.
You know, with a pretty widow begging and crying and all. Great stuff. Look
it over, huh? And listen, the rest of you, watch your feet this time. Try not
to trip over the cables.
(EARPHONES moves out as if to survey the set. Seems
to approve. Then turns and directs himself to the audience.)
Ladies and gentlemen. In just a couple of minutes
we will be on the air, live, from coast to coast. Some forty million
of your fellow Americans will be watching this show. And it is being
taped to be shown to untold millions overseas. There will be four cameras
working this set—two there, one over there, and one right here.
those of you who have never had the honor and the privilege of being
in the studio audience for a network T.V. show, please remember to sit
perfectly quiet and still at all times. Look straight ahead and do not
wave at the camera or make faces. Don’t cough or sneeze, and if
you itch, please do not scratch. And, above all, be responsive. When
I hold up this sign . . .
(He is carrying several large cue cards. They read: “APPLAUSE!,” “LAUGH,” “CRY,” AND “BOO!
HISS!” He holds up the “Applause” sign.)
When I hold up this sign, please begin to applaud and clap loudly and continuously
until I give you the wave off . . . Let’s try it now. Keep your eyes
on me and make it spontaneous. (He tries it a couple of times with sections
of the audience.) Come on! Let’s hear it! You can do better than that.
Bruise your palms! Make noise!
(He waves off the applause.)
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’re a great bunch, really. I mean
it. Now, then. T.V. is a mass medium of communication, so the basic human feelings
and emotions have to be simplified. Other than the basic applause signal, we
only use two other reactions on this show . . .
(He holds up the “LAUGH” and “CRY” cue
cards, appropriately laughing and crying as he does so.)
T.V.’s other basic emotion (hold up “BOO! HISS” sign) is
never ever used on a quality show like this one. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
(Turns back to cast.)
Are you crumbs ready? Take positions . . . (Now all actors take position.)
Places everybody! Places! Set? Hold it . . . All right, dolly in number one.
Gimme a long shot of the park . . . Now bring up the Garden Spot theme. That’s
it. Now. One for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four
to go. Action!
STRANGER (as host)
Welcome! Welcome to THIS IS REAL LIFE. Brought to you live by the good, decent
people of Garden Spot, U.S.A. In just one minute we are going to bring you
a slice of real life, of life as it happens, life in the raw. But just a
word from our sponsors . . .
You’re off camera. Sixty seconds. Hold it, please, while they sell the
soap. Hey, you, put out that cigarette! . . . Okay, ready. Ten seconds. Action!
And now a word or two about Garden Spot. The whole world knows about the strange
and sudden visitation that has fallen on this town. What the world does not
know yet is that the people of this town aren’t letting it get them
down. Life goes on smoothly and proudly here in Garden Spot. Just as it always
has. And now let’s watch a typical day in the park . . .
Gimme the cricket noise. Now cut to the steeple and zoom in on the birds. Okay,
Joe, cut to the birds.
(BOY and GIRL in park)
You know how much I love you.
But how do I know you are really sincere?
Because I love you deeply and sincerely.
I hope so. I hope you really are sincere.
Well, I am sincere. I’m sincere all right. You bet.
GIRL (with a sign)
I admire a man who’s sincere.
Okay, gimme a long shot of the kids leaving. Now give me “Silver Threads
Among the Gold” and come in on the two old guys playing checkers . .
Nice day, huh, Pete?
Kind of warm for this time of year, Mike.
Personally, I prefer the warm weather, Pat.
Well, I like warm weather, too, Mike. I just wonder if it will hold out.
Maybe it will and maybe it won’t.
You never can tell.
Nope. You never can tell for sure about the weather.
You know what they say about the weather around here.
Yep. If you don’t like it, just wait a minute.
(They laugh loudly.)
Your move, Mike.
Okay, cut to the host . . .
STRANGER (stepping forward, as if addressing camera)
And now for a direct, person to person interview with one of the natives.
Cut to the friendly drunk.
Sir? I wonder if I might have a word with you.
Sure, sure. Why not?
Surprise! Surprise! You are on camera. And THIS IS REAL LIFE.
Oh! . . . Hi, mom! . . . Gee, I wish I had known I was going to be on the T.V.
I mean, I could have at least put on a clean shirt or taken a bath or something.
Don’t worry about that. On this show we present things as they really
are. We try to show the naked truth.
Man, you should have seen the big parade we had here awhile back.
I understand you were the first one to see them.
No, by the time I got there the parade was almost over.
I mean the buzzards.
Oh, yeah, sure. That’s right. I seen the very first one fly into town
and perch right over there on top of the Courthouse Clock. We used to have
a real nice clock . . .
How did you happen to be here at the time?
Well, actually I live here. I usually sleep over there under that bench.
Want to tell us about it?
I guess I have slept under all the benches in the park at one time or another.
But I have come to prefer that one . . .
What we are interested in is the arrival of the buzzards.
Sure. Well, one fine morning I looked up and there the son of a gun was. I
could hardly believe my eyes. You wouldn’t have either if you had been
in my shoes. I prefer going barefoot . . .
But what about the buzzards?
JACK (wiggling toes)
Kinda keeps me close to nature.
About the buzzards.
Just a typical buzzard. Your ordinary average buzzard. You know. Lucky for
me he turned out to be real. I almost went on the wagon then and there.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
STRANGER (as if facing camera)
In a moment we will take you to the heart of the downtown business section.
There you will see business as usual. You will see the world of free enterprise
and commerce going on as if nothing had happened. As if nothing were wrong.
Because . . . THIS IS REAL LIFE!
(As STRANGER speaks, EARPHONES has signaled to
get the rest of the cast back in place in the park for a final shot.)
Okay Jo-Jo, bring up the bank theme . . . (church music is heard) No! No! No!
You idiot! That’s the goddamn Church theme. Kill it! (now lively and
familiar show-biz music comes up) That’s it. Good. On the nose. Dissolve
through to the bank. Good. (turning to cast) Okay, everybody, that’s
it for today. Report to window 11 and pick up your checks.
(The park people go out quickly, all talking at
the same time.)
BOY and GIRL
When you get your money, buy me something pretty.
Buy yourself something. You make as much money as I do.
COP and MAID
Put all your money in Gaspe Oil Ventures. They haven’t found oil yet,
but when they do we’ll all be millionaires.
I believe in keeping money in circulation.
PAT and MIKE
When I get my money, I’ve got half a mind to invest in a new set of false
I would use the money to buy myself a hearing aid. But there’s a whole
lot going on around here that I don’t much want to listen to . . .
ATHLETE (jogging, half-singing)
Money . . . money . . . money . . . money . . . money . . . money.
(Suddenly they are all gone and the
stage is empty)
(Lights up on the “Quartet”—MAYOR,
PREACHER, BANKER, CLUBWOMAN)
One thing I have learned from a lifetime of politcs. No matter what you fall
into, you gotta try to come out smelling like a rose. Well, folks, I am happy
to tell you that’s the way everything smells in Garden Spot—rosy!
Remember it is more blessed to give than to receive. Give freely as the collection
plate passes buy. Give thanks that these winged creatures have come here
to bring us joy and prosperity.
As it says in the Good Book: “Thou wicked and slothful servant! Thou
shouldst have put my money with the bankers, and then at my coming I should
have received mine own back with interest!” Who says that banking isn’t
a spiritual business? Garden Spot is booming! Garden Spot is blooming! If I
could sing and dance, you can bet I would . . .
Thank you very much for your most pleasant report, Madame Treasurer. And now
our guest speaker, Dr. Jerry Scrunch, who will speak to us on the subject
of “The Humble Buzzard and the History of the World.”
Now, now, now boys! Take it easy. You know I can’t say definitely and
unequivocably at this time that I will be a candidate for the office of Governor
for this state. But if it is the will of the people, well, I’ll sure
have to give it some serious consideration.
Only yesterday this Bishop said to me, “Henry, I do believe you have
the most generous bunch of contributing Christians in the whole entire diocese.”
“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way . . .”
Our beloved and creative Treasurer has come up with a wonderful idea for the
forthcoming Rites of Spring Bazaar. We shall sponsor a good old-fashioned
Roman orgy. Bring your own grapes, girls!
This is Real Life?
(Lights up on the original “park
scene.” Characters are now bored and weary. Either address the
audience directly, or each other.)
ATHLETE (to audience)
My feet are killing me. I am so bored and sore from running around this silly
park that I don’t care if I ever take any exercise again. (exit)
COP (to audience)
I wish they would at least put a bank robbery in script or something. Anything!
We don’t even have any crime around here any more. Nobody has time
for it. (exit)
My baby carraige is broken. The Director promised to have it fixed and he promised
me a new doll for my carriage. He promised! Big Deal! At least he could find
a real baby for me to push around. (exit)
PAT and MIKE (to each other)
That young whippersnapper of a script editor told me to cut out my accent. “Get
rid of the phony Irish, Mac,” he says. Goddamn it, Mike, I am Irish.
And my name ain’t Mac.
You think you got troubles? The Assistant Director had the nerve to tell me
to quit acting so damned decrepit. As if I wanted to hobble around here like
an old scarecrow. Tell me something, Pat.
Do you ever get tired of playing checkers?
I’m sick of it.
I wonder . . . couldn’t we be playing some other game—like dominos
I doubt it.
Cards, maybe. Gin rummy?
Because the script says that we are playing checkers.
I hate the script. And I hate checkers, too.
You know, it’s just the same as we used to do. It’s all the same
thing we used to say and do.
Yeah, only now we get paid for it.
Takes most of the fun out of things, don’t it?
Who said it’s supposed to be fun?
Well, it used to be, didn’t it?
(They go out. Leaving only the BOY
and GIRL on stage. They are sitting on a bench, evidently studying
scripts. Abruptly, he snaps his script closed and tosses it aside.)
What’s the matter with you?
Buzzards . . . I hate buzzards.
Oh, I thought maybe you were feeling bad about your crummy performance.
Listen, I am warning you. The next time you cut off my line right in the middle
. . .
Your line? Who cares? It’s my scene. Anybody could say your lines.
Well, you just try it with “anybody” and see what happens.
I may do that. I may get to play my scene with “somebody,” if you
know what I mean.
I don’t. And I couldn’t care less.
Maybe you will care when a real professional actor comes along and takes your
Who said anything about professional actors? They promised us.
Well, they can’t help it if some people in this town haven’t got
an ounce of talent.
What do you know about professional actors?
I just heard a rumor, that’s all. From a very reliable source. I feel
Girls like you are a dime a dozen. A dime a dozen. There’s thousands
and thousands of them. Do you know what they call them? They call them ingénues!
I hate you! You don’t really think . . . ?
That I could be, you know, like . . . replaced?
Baby, you will be among the first to go.
I hate you! You are horrible! I hate you!
(She runs offstage. BOY picks up his
script and follows.)
Wait a minute, Princess!
(In the dark the sound of a phone
ringing. Lights up on the MAYOR talking on the phone. Or a toy phone
. . . )
Hello? Who wants to know? Time magazine. You’re really from Time magazine?
Well, this is him, I mean, this is he, the Mayor, speaking. Well now, you know
I’ve always been a firm and dedicated believer in the First Amendment
and the freedom of the press. Yes, Siree! You want a picture of me. I’ve
got a real good one taken at the World’s Fair, 1939 . . . Go ahead. Ask
me anything . . . What? What’s that? Listen here, young fella, I don’t
know where you dug up dirt like that, but there’s not a word of truth
in it. I deny it categorically . . . Who’s word are you going to take—the
Mayor of Garden Spot or some dumb blonde by the name of Dreama, the Denver
Bombshell? . . . Oh yeah? Well, that’s what she says . . . Don’t
you even want to hear my side of the story? You don’t? . . . Listen,
print one word of that and I’ll sue. I’ll sue your ass off!
(He hangs up. Then dials. Phone rings.
Lights up on the BANKER also. Who answers the phone.)
Hello, it’s me again.
MAYOR and BANKER
Just be reasonable. All I am asking is a short-term loan. As soon as I get
re-elected, I’ll repay you in full.
Well, I’d like to oblige you, good buddy. But I can’t.
What do you mean? I’ve got a major political campaign to finance.
Maybe some other bank will help you out.
What other bank? You’re the only bank in town. Listen, you are planning
to support me, to vote for me, aren’t you?
When I stop to think of all the responsibilities and burdens, the grief, misery,
and woe that go along with high political office, I feel it’s my moral
duty, as an old friend, to try to spare you from all that.
You ungrateful bum! Remember all the times I bailed you out of trouble. Have
you forgotten that time you bet five hundred big fat bucks on a certain sway-backed
horse named “Lonesome Sailor”?
That was in my lost and impetuous youth.
And that five hundred dollars was somebody else’s money.
Now you are going to force me to remind you of a certain little event from
the past. Do you have any clear recognition of the Sate Fair of 1948?
What? I’ll admit I was drunk. Somebody put some whiskey in my sassparilla
. . .
No doubt it was a very blond, very entertaining young lady who went by the
name of Precious Diamond from Dubuque.
It isn’t fair to dig up a lot of ancient history like that.
I read all about it in Time magazine.
What is the Press trying to do to this country? They are attempting to undermine
all lawful authority and to destabilize the government. Don’t you realize
I have to uphold the banner of public morality?
(BANKER laughs loudly.)
Wait a minute! What’s so fucking funny about public morality?
(Ringing of phone. Lights up on CLUBWOMAN and PREACHER
talking on phone)
Reverend, I’m glad you called. Because I’m afraid we can’t
have a Church Rummage Sale this year. None of the ladies have any old clothes.
Anyway, who needs charity in Garden Spot any more?
What I really want to talk to you about, Mabel, is the Altar Guild. It’s
Oh! I never dreamed I would live to see the day when a word like that escaped
Defunct? What’s wrong with defunct?
There! You said it again. Twice!
What about the Altar Guild?
Oh, well. With Katie Everose gone to bask in the sun on the French Riviera
. . . Can’t you just picture Katie in a bikini bathing suit? No, excuse
me, I mean even if you can, you shouldn’t. Anyway, with Katie over
there and Lucy Fry over in Hong Kong . . .
What about you, Mabel?
Sunday is my only day to rest.
I’m surprised at you.
I have to do my nails sometime.
You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Well, you ought to be ashamed of yourself, too. Browbeating and manipulating
a good and faithful member of your congregation like me. And then using words
like defunct . . . like that. Anyway, the last time I went to church there
were only two people there. I was one of them. And the other one wandered
in by mistake. A tourist or something . . .
I guess nobody needs me any more.
Don’t feel bad. Nobody needs any of us any more. We are all much too
successful for all that.
(Lights up on all four of them. All are shouting
at each other.)
You couldn’t get elected County Dogcatcher, you old reprobate!
I would put my money in a Beautyrest Mattress before I’d leave it in
The women of this town are strutting and sashaying right down the primrose
path of perdition!
Defrocked! That’s what you ought to be—defrocked, destabilized
I never want to talk to you again!
(Lights up on JACK and JILL in the park. JILL enters,
obviously in a hurry.)
Jill! Jill Worthy! Where are you going in such a hurry?
I am trying to get back to the Library. I still have to get ready for the show.
They always leave everything in such a mess . . . Oh, I finally found The
Joy of Sex for you.
Wonderful! Where did you find it?
Hidden right behind Doctor Spock. Who would ever think of looking there?
Whoever put it there. Say, somebody’s going to be mighty disappointed.
(Notices that she seems troubled, distracted.) What’s wrong, Jill? What’s
the matter? You can tell me.
This show has ruined my Library. Now they have decided that all the books have
to be pink. Looks better on T.V. Do you have any idea what kinds of books
come in pink? A whole generation is going to grow up thinking that there
aren’t any good books.
If they grow up thinking anything at all . . .
And now I have to wear glasses. I don’t need glasses. I can see just
fine without them. But the Assistant Director says I have to because all Librarians
are supposed to wear glasses. He comes from Hollywood. But I guess the worst
thing of all about the Library is that nobody reads anything any more. They
just pretend to when they’re on camera.
So what else is new? You weren’t under the delusion that people read
anything in this advanced civilization, were you? I mean, who’s got time
to waste on a book?
Jack, can’t you see what this is doing to all of us?
Why, we’re all in this together. We are a team. Even I have status in
Jack Peterkin—known to television audiences throughout the world as a
lovable town drunk.
Richest drunken bum this side of California. And you know what else? I haven’t
touched a drop in ages. Guess what I’ve got in my bottle. Cold tea. A
man’s gotta stay sober to remember his lines.
Then you are just pretending, too, like everyone else.
Well, I’m an actor now.
At least you had a certain kind of pride once—the pride of rejecting
I don’t know. I’m not sure about anything any more.
EARPHONES (off stage voice)
Hey, where the hell is the Librarian? Get the Librarian in a hurry. We got
the camera and lights all set up and we’re ready to roll. Tell her
to get the lead out!
Oh, God, I’m so confused . . .
(She runs off stage, forgetting her new glasses.)
Hey, Jill, wait for me! You forgot your glasses . . .
(He runs out after her.)
Where Do We Go From Here?
(Park scene. All present and apathetic. EARPHONES
enters as if late. Shouting and distracted . . .)
Places! Places! On the double! Places, damn it!
EARPHONES (to STRANGER, giving him script changes)
Coupla changes. We’re going to cut the church bit completely. Rod has
written in some kind of a wife-swapping party.
EARPHONES (hurriedly moving to address the audience)
Ladies and Gentlemen. We are like fighting the, you know, clock. Bear with
us, please. And, above all, remember that, no matter what happens, when I
hold up this sign . . . (Inadvertently he holds up the “BOO! HISS!” sign),
you do it. One time now for rehearsal. Let’s hear it everybody!
(He discovers he has got the wrong sign. Stuffs
it in trash can.)
EARPHONES (to cast)
Are you creeps ready? Bring up the park theme, David. Okay, two to get ready
and four to go. Rolling!
(STRANGER enters, already in midst of his spiel
. . .)
And now let us see a typical day in the Park.
(From beginning to end everything goes wrong. ATHLETE
trips and falls. COP drops his nightstick. MAID abruptly bursts into
tears and thrusts the rag doll into the astounded COP’s arms.
She runs off. He looks around, confused, then chases after her, blowing
loudly on his police whistle . . .)
(Quick, David! Gimme a two-shot of the lovebirds.)
(BOY and GIRL enter, strolling, hand in hand.)
But how do I know you are really sincere?
You don’t. And that’s the beauty of it.
Well, I admire sincerity in a man.
Yeah? Well, all your stupid sincerity makes me want to throw up.
(She slaps his face. He slaps her back. She runs
off stage. He chases after her.)
Cut to the two old crooks!
(PAT and MIKE at checker table.)
Nice day, huh, Pat?
Maybe you think so. As far as I’m concerned, it stinks.
Personally, I like the warm weather.
You would. “Personally, I like the warm weather. Personally, I like the
warm weather.” You stupid old goat!
You better take that back.
Why, you stupid old goat? What are you going to do about it?
(MIKE knocks over the checker table. They begin
to hit each other with their canes.)
(STRANGER steps forward as if addressing a camera.)
And now for a direct, person-to-person, live interview with one of the natives.
Gimme a tight close shot of the Drunken Bum!
JACK (to EARPHONES)
Don’t call me a drunken bum, you . . . drunken bum!
(STRANGER steps close, as if separating him from
I wonder if I might have a word with you, my good man.
JACK (shaking fist at EARPHONES)
Phony bastard! (to STRANGER) Huh? What did you say?
Can we talk? Can we have a calm and rational conversation?
By all means. Be my guest. That’s what I get paid for, isn’t it?
Surprise! Surprise! You’re on T.V. “THIS IS REAL LIFE!”
Permit me to deal with your inane and inconsequential remarks one at a time.
In the first place, it is not in the least bit surprising to me to discover
that I am on television. I spend a good deal of my time these days performing
in front of your infernal camera. Secondly . . .
Thank you very much. And now . . .
Secondly, I am not all certain, myself, what real life is or may be. But whatever
it may be, it does not appear in any way, shape, or form on this incredibly
stupid and silly program.
Cut to the Bank! Bring up the Bank Theme! Idiots! You’re all fired! Fired!
(Park scene. All enter as if gathering for a town
Well, now. I guess everybody knows why this emergency town meeting had to be
called. But before we get underway, I would like to take this opportunity
to say on behalf of myself and the Town Council that it is with a deep sense
of regret . . .
Get to the point!
Be more extinct, please.
And so, without further preamble or ado . . .
(STRANGER steps forward. Pushes the MAYOR easily
aside and takes charge.)
Today you ridiculous people became restive and rebellious and ruined a perfectly
good show. Fortunately—and no thanks to you—it was only on videotape.
Do you know what would happened if this had been live? Do you have any idea
what would happened if something like this took place on the Broadway stage?
This ain’t no theater!
This is our home town!
This is off-Broadway!
And all the world’s a stage!
(STRANGER waves cane at them one at a time and
all are silenced.)
Thank you . . . Thank you . . . Thanks very much. Now then, allow me to correct
your misapprehension. Once upon a time this place may have well been your “home
town.” But at the moment it happens to be nothing more or less than
a theatrical experience. Do you know why you stopped being typical and ordinary
people in an all-too-typical and ordinary town? Do you know why your lives
became a show? I shall tell you. In a word, ladies and gentlemen, the answer
is—money! Your lives may be empty, your souls may have diminished to
the size and significance of a single dry-roasted peanut, but all the time
your bank accounts have been growing and growing and growing.
If I may be allowed to speak for the entire populace here in the Garden Spot,
but I think that we all would have to agree that, all things considered,
we never had it so good.
Believe me, I hate to have to resort to threats and intimidation. Because,
when all is said and done, I much prefer to [conduct] my kind of business
cheerfully, with a firm handshake and a nice smile. But I am warning you
here and now. If this script has become, in the colorful jargon of our profession,
too “plain vanilla” for you, then we shall have to make it more
Just what do you have in mind, good buddy?
Consider. Consider that thus far our feathered friends have not been invited
to participate at all. Except, of course, passively. By just being there.
You don’t mean . . . that?
The public, the mass audience is so jaded nowadays. It takes something different,
and impressive, to attract attention and raise eyebrows. Well, I can easily
imagine some very unusual, not to say sensational, possibilities. Suppose,
for the sake of argument, we were simply to take full advantage of the natural
appetites and instincts of our visitors.
What are you talking about?
Perhaps we ought to give these buzzards something to do.
Anything but that!
Wait a minute, everybody! Hold it! He may have a pretty good idea there. We
could kill, if you’ll pardon the expression, two birds with one stone.
We could tighten up the show. And at the same time, we could get rid of a
whole lot of deadbeats, misfits, oddballs, radicals, and bums.
There is nothing very dramatic about a public execution. Seen one and you’ve
seen them all. Oh, of course, the first few times it would be a novelty. But,
then, the best part would be when these huge ugly birds came flapping and fluttering
down to do their part.
(He waves his cane and creates instant silence.)
To make it really work, to keep it interesting, we would have to have some
solid suspense. An element of pure, implacable chance. Perhaps some kind
of a lottery.
BANKER and MAYOR
Surely not the ladies!
(STRANGER silences them with a cane.)
Everybody! Except, of course, myself . . . There is an alternative, however.
We can begin anew tomorrow and play our good old script as it has never been
played before. Put your hearts and souls into it, into every line, every
gesture, every movement. You are being given one more opportunity to play
life as it really is. Play it as if it really mattered!
(A conductor’s motion of the cane frees them.
And all cheer. Then another gesture of the cane cuts them off.)
Play your life as if it had meaning, as if it mattered. Whether it does or
not . . . Any questions? Does anyone wish to add anything?
Thank you sir. You won’t regret giving us another chance.
Speaking on behalf of you-know-who, I want you to know that we anonymously
agree that your important remarks were purely and simply superfluous.
I know I’m speaking for everyone here in Garden Sport when I say I’m
going right straight home and study my part like a madman!
(All start to leave. STRANGER freezes them one
last time with cane.)
Remember, dear hearts, this my be your last chance to play comedy . . .
(Makes sign with cane.)
No, go. Go. Go!
(He laughs as they rush off. Then he notices that
JACK is still there.)
And why aren’t you rejoicing with the multitude? Why aren’t you
off and running with the common herd?
As you may have noticed, I am not much of a joiner. And, to be honest, I really
don’t feel much like rejoicing about anything. Besides which, and much
more to the point, the only thing I have to console myself with is this cold
(STRANGER points with his cane, like a magic wand,
at JACK’s bottle.)
Now try it.
(JACK takes a swig and reacts.)
That’s hundred proof sour mash.
No. Actually it’s bourbon. If you prefer sour mash . . .
I’m not what anyone would call finicky. Anything alcoholic will do.
Not much. I don’t want to seem ungrateful, and I’m not. The thing
is, when I drink, I change, but the world doesn’t.
Oh dear, don’t tell me you want to try to change the world.
Afraid so. Even at this late and damn near terminal stage.
Well, you surely have your work cut out for you.
You know something? You were really something up there—waving your wonderful
baton around. Like an orchestra conductor. The Leonard Bernstein of corruption!
Not bad. I’ve never been called that before.
The Lawrence Welk of pure evil.
Now, I resent that. However, since you have chosen to mention corruption and
evil—subjects with which, may I say in all modesty and humility, I
have a more than passing acquaintance . . .
That’s it exactly—evil.
What have I done? I ask you. I haven’t created anything new. I haven’t
made anything happen that wouldn’t have happened anyway, one way or the
other. Now, you’ll have to agree with that.
And if I agree?
Why then it follows with the impeccable logic of an elegant equation that everything,
all that you call corruption, was already there, completely at home in their
own heads and just waiting for the appropriate occasion to be focused. Or,
as you say, conducted.
In that case, what about you, my friend?
Oh, I am merely another figment of the popular imagination. It is the cross
I have to bear. But I am available for all kinds of occasions—storm,
drought, flood, fire . . . I am here for a plague of locusts or . . . buzzards.
When, again, on the other hand, my proper occasion may be a very small one—a
flat tire, for example, or a slight increase in the pollen count, or maybe
a tummy ache, a little indigestion.
You really hate us don’t you?
On the contrary. I am often dazzled with admiration. You mortal men have somehow
mastered the secrets of stars and atoms. You can circle the earth in orbit.
Or you can blow it up if you want to, any time you feel like it. But whenever
the wholly unexpected event occurs, that thing just beyond your power to control
or understand, then I am here, ready to serve. Mankind needs me.
I don’t need you.
I’m aware of that. And I’m willing to concede that you are a difficult
All right listen. You may not be real. But they are!
(Points to buzzards.)
True, true, all too true. They are depressingly real. But then they are just
buzzards. For the Mayor and the Banker and the Preacher, for all the others,
these visitors have assumed a significance weighted with meaning and implication.
It is the natural propensity of these sweet and simple people, to whom, let
me assure you, I am completely devoted, to label anything and everything
they do not understand. And, my dear young man, the more redundantly profound
and opaque the label, the more satisfying it seems to be for them. Why, even
I have been assigned the deep significance of being a kind of symbol. How
Yes, it must be. And sad, too. I think it must be terribly sad not to have
any life of your own, not even to be able to waste it. Not to be able to
love and hate, to win and lose . . . .
Please don’t waste any sympathy on me. I may not have your freedom, but,
nevertheless, I have . . . the baton. I am a little like a genie in a bottle,
helpless until they pull out the stopper and make a wish. But once they call
on me, they belong to me. They are all mine.
We’ll see about that.
Yes, we will, won’t we. And soon enough. But now, the witching hour approaches
and it’s bedtime for me. Pleasant dreams . . .
(STRANGER strolls off. JACK takes a long pull at
the bottle. Then turns to address the buzzards.)
Friends, things seem to be going from bad to worse in old Garden Spot. But,
then, I don’t need to tell you, do I? I guess it isn’t news to
you. You have seen it all. You and I, we live in a bad world getting worse.
And there are times when a man can’t keep on laughing at everything.
I tell you there are times when it would break your heart to be a human being.
Times when I would trade places with you in a minute . . . But it doesn’t
matter, does it? I mean, there isn’t a whole lot that either one of
us can do at this point. Except say goodnight. Well . . . goodnight and sleep
. . . tight.
(JACK toasts the buzzards. Then he begins to prepare
his sleeping bag.)
(Lights up on Park scene. JACK is asleep, but waking
up. MAID and COP enter.)
Thanks a million for fixing my baby carriage. And thanks for the new doll,
You know I would do anything for you, baby.
I wish you and I had some real dialogue like everyone else.
We could make some up. You know, like . . . improvise.
Oh, he wouldn’t like that.
The hell with him.
Aren’t you afraid after what he said yesterday?
Baby, after last night, I feel like I could take on the devil himself.
(They embrace and kiss. During all this, unseen
or ignored by them, JACK has been waking up.)
MAID and COP (to each other)
Good morning, love . . .
Lemme see now. You be pushing the baby carriage. And I’ll be walking
across the park, whistling and all.
(They try it.)
No, no, Darlene. Not like that. Remember, we’re not even supposed to
know each other yet.
(JACK, stretching, looks up to where the buzzards
should be. Reacts to something.)
(They don’t see or hear him.)
I’ll be the one to speak first this time, okay?
(They pass again in the Park.)
Top of the morning, ma’am.
Darlene, you’re supposed to be friendly, too. We’re both like .
. . friendly people. Now all you gotta do is smile and . . .
Officer, they are all gone!
Hey, Jack, don’t interrupt right now, huh? Me and Darlene are rehearsing
a new scene.
They have all gone away.
What did you say? Who?
Look! Look! They’ve gone. There’s not a one of them left.
I guess they all just flew away.
Oh, my GOD! Help! HELP!
(He begins blasting on the whistle.)
Is all this going in the scene too?
Honey, they have gone. The have really fucking gone . . .
(The Townspeople begin running on stage. Reacting.)
What hath God wrought?
Thousands and thousands of dollars! Just flying away in the sky.
Please come back!
Rally round the flag, girls! Anybody seen a flag we can rally around?
I’d be happy to lead a prayer if it would do any good.
(MAYOR enters and moves to take charge. It’s
another town meeting.)
Quiet . . . quiet, please . . . Shut up! Now then, what seems to be the problem
Your honor, the sons of a bitches have flew the coop!
Who? . . . Oh NO.
Don’t just stand there.
Do something about it.
What are you going to do?
I hereby declare this to be an official disaster. But try to remember, everybody,
there is no disaster from which some glimmer of hope cannot be salvaged.
(suddenly singing) “Every cloud must have a silver lining . . .”
Shut up, you old fool!
Girls! The least we can do is to demonstrate our feelings.
Mabel, please, for God’s sake. No more demonstrations. Please. We’ve
got enough trouble around here already . . . .
(Suddenly the STRANGER enters. Brisk and chipper
Good morning. Good morning, dear hearts.
What’s so good about it? We have just been ruined.
How can you stand there and smirk and smile at this tragic hour?
I haven’t been ruined.
Besides, you are interrupting.
Well, please don’t let me interrupt anything. Continue, if you please.
Go ahead and make complete fools out of yourselves, just as if I weren’t
here to laugh at you.
You can’t call us fools!
It’s all his fault. Everything was fine until he came along.
Let’s get him!
Make him pay!
(As a surge against him begins, the STRANGER freezes
them in their tracks with his cane.)
What is the meaning of this raucous and vulgar spectacle? Now, then, perhaps
you are ready to listen to the good news I have brought you. Ladies and gentleman,
I am very happy to be able to report that when the buzzards departed from
Garden Spot, they did not simply vanish into the empty air. And they didn’t
even fly very far. At present they are comfortably roosting in another town.
(STRANGER “frees” them with a motion
of his cane. And they react.)
You call that good news?
Where did they go?
The people of that little town are, frankly, degenerate. They do not know how
to cope with the situation. I have just been on the phone talking with the
Is he a Republican or what?
He would like to hire us, all of us, to come at once and perform our buzzard
script there. At least until his own local talent has acquired sufficient
training and experience and has gotten used to the birds.
Yeah, what do we do after that—go on welfare?
I have arranged a contract for us to continue as consultants, and there’s
a profit-sharing plan.
Just tell us where!
Do you promise to be very, very good? Do you promise to do exactly what you
are supposed to? And no ad libbing? No improvisations?
We’ll do anything!
I don’t know whether I should tell you people or not.
For God’s sake!
Pretty please with sugar on it!
Dear hearts, when the friendly buzzards left here, they flew directly to .
. . Centerville!
(Or he names the town where this play is being
performed . . . )
(There is a momentary stunned pause. As if he had
frozen them again with his cane. Which he has not. The BANKER reacts
Last one there is a rubber check!
(He runs away. The others, shooed now and directed
by the STRANGER’S cane, follow after him. In their hurry, they
leave odds and ends behind. The MAID leaves the baby carriage. In a
moment all are gone except for JACK.)
Pity. I would have enjoyed getting to know you better.
(JACK sits down on a bench, pulls hat over eyes.
After a moment JILL enters. She sits on a park bench, opens a book
to read. Sensing her presence, JACK reacts, looks up, sees her.)
Well, well, well. Miss Worthy. Why aren’t you running off to Centerville?
Why aren’t you?
How long do you plan to stay here?
Oh, I don’t know . . . a while, I guess . . . as long as you’ll
Do you mean that?
I can’t believe it!
Dear old Garden Spot. Now we can start all over.
We can make something wonderful out of this old place.
And we can have fun . . . fun! . . . fun! I hereby declare every day a legal
holiday. We’ll ride the merry-go-round and eat cotton candy and go
to the zoo. We’ll play “Monopoly” with real money in the
bank. And I shall sit on the bench in the courthouse, oh very stern and solemn
like a judge, and sentence us both to years and years, a lifetime of joy!
Yes, of course, darling. We’ll have fun. But first . . .
JACK (rightly suspicious)
But first what?
JILL (cheerfully taking command)
First there are a few basic things that have to be done. You’ll need
a clean shirt and, yes, a necktie. I can’t remember seeing you with a
(JACK feels his neck uneasily, as if a noose were
being placed around it. JILL has begun to tidy up the Park.)
And we’ll fix up the park. We’ll plant flowers over there and maybe
a tree right there . . .
Not an apple tree?
And there’s the clock to be repaired. And so many, many things that must
be done . . . Come along, let’s go see if Miss Ida forgot to lock up
the Friendly Boarding House for once in her life.
(She takes JACK by the hand. Starts to lead him
away. Notices the baby carriage.)
Might as well bring that along. We’ll be needing it some day.
(JILL exits. JACK stands a moment with the carriage.
Smiles and shrugs and skips off behind JILL, pushing the carriage before
him . . .)
(Once they are gone, the lights dim and change
to suggest a vague, dreamlike quality. Then a single spot reveals the
smiling STRANGER. Now, moving like sleepwalkers or zombies, directed
and frozen in place by his cane, all the others, except JACK and JILL,
take their original places.)
STRANGER (to audience)
Soon we shall be ready. And in just a moment our story will begin again. As
it must begin and end and begin again, world without end. And all this beginning
and ending takes place during that little wink of light that we call a life-time
. . . But I don’t intend to be gloomy and philosophical. It’s
not my nature. I have a real understanding, a deep sympathy for all forms
of human weakness. And, after all, our subject this time was only folly .
. . I won’t say good-bye. Farewells are always so depressing. And besides
I haven’t got the slightest doubt that I’ll be seeing you again.
(Pointing around the audience with his cane.)
And you . . . and you . . . and you, too. Oh, I am
bound and determined to see all of you lovely people sooner or later.
Look for me when you see me . . . Arrivederci, au revoir, auf
wiedersehen . . . Lots of luck!
(He motions with his cane, unfreezing the characters,
as he briskly exits. The routine of the original Park Scene begins.
EARPHONES runs on stage holding up the “APPLAUSE” sign.)