This Thing Called Courage

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Short Play by My Friend Tom O'Leary

Hi All,
We just had our first little snowfall in New England this am-- just a dusting really-- but it's much more seasonal than the warm and vapid weather we had last week, which felt rather errie after a while. Thanks to all who came to my Calamus Books reading Friday night-- a wonderful great and a great time. A special nod of gratitude to the Heath Contingent, who drove three hours through the rain to attend, all the way from Western Massachusetts. Your support is truly inspiring.

Below is a short play that was sent to me by my friend Tom O'Leary, a writer living out in Los Angeles. I enjoyed it so much, I thought I would share it here, and Tom has kindly given his permission for me to do so.

COLD CALLING A short play by Tom O'Leary
LIGHTS UP STAGE RIGHT ON: A small cramped studio apartment. Stacks of magazines and newspapers are piled everywhere. But neatly. A day bed Left. A round kitchen table Center.
MARTIN KRATCHMAN, 77, sits at the kitchen table dozing.
The phone RINGS.
Martin opens his eyes but does not move.
The phone RINGS again
MARTIN'S OUTGOING MESSAGE
At the beep you know what to do or you're a moron and I shouldn't want a message from you anyway.
The CLICKING sound of a hang up.
MARTIN
Coward.
Martin gets up with effort and walks to the refrigerator.
From on top of the refrigerator Martin gathers a multitude of pill bottles. Martin walks back to the kitchen table and drops the pill bottles in a heap in the middle of the table.
Martin walks slowly to a kitchen cabinet and retrieves an expensive bottle of red wine. Martin sets the bottle of wine next to the pills on the kitchen table.
The phone RINGS.
Martin sits in front of the phone. He stares at.
Martin answers the phone.
Martin
Yes?
LIGHTS UP STAGE LEFT on RONNIE SWANSON, 24. Ronnie has on a pressed shirt and tie. He sits up straight.
Ronnie
Hello?
MARTIN
Yes?

RONNIE
Is this Mr. Martin Kratchman?
MARTIN
What?
RONNIE
Is this Mr. Martin Kratchman?
MARTIN
What do you want?
RONNIE
I'm calling from Bank of America.
Martin gets up slowly, walks to a drawer and looks for a corkscrew.
RONNIE
Mr. Martin Kratchman? Hello? Is this a bad time? If this is a bad time I totally understand. If I'm disturbing you. If I'm calling too late. Or you're watching your favorite television program. Hello?
Martin takes the corkscrew to the table. Martin uncorks the bottle.
RONNIE
Hello? Mr. Martin Kratchman?
MARTIN
Are you trained to say the full name every time?
RONNIE
Yes, sir.
MARTIN
It's damned annoying. People call me Martin.
RONNIE
If this is not a good time---
MARTIN
No time like the present.
RONNIE
If you're in the middle of something---
MARTIN
How old are you?
RONNIE
24.
MARTIN
Where are you?
RONNIE
Euclid, Ohio. On Lake Erie.
MARTIN
Must be damned late there.
RONNIE
It's four minutes to midnight.
MARTIn
Ah, so the Euclid cold callers call California at four minutes to midnight. Makes sense.
RONNIE
I'd be happy to call back at a better time.
MARTIN
Can you perhaps tell me when that will be?
Martin pours a glass of wine. He smells the wine and savors the smell.
RONNIE
I beg your pardon.
MARTIN
I wouldn't go promising a better time unless you can deliver on your promise.
RONNIE
I meant earlier in the evening.
MARTIN
You presume my early evenings are better than later?
RONNIE
Mr. Martin Kratch---I mean, Martin, I am calling from Bank of America. As you may have read in literature we have recently sent to you, we are offering an insurance policy against unemployment.
Martin goes to a drawer and retrieves a gun. Martin puts the gun on the kitchen table next to the pills.
MARTIN
What's the weather in Euclid?
RONNIE
It's warm for this time of year. That's what the morning news said.
MARTIN
You cold call at midnight and you're up for the morning news?
RONNIE
I teach during the day.
MARTIN
When do you sleep?
RONNIE
I . . . manage. Martin, as I mentioned, our new policy against unemployment can and would be a lifesaver in times of stress or tribulation.
MARTIN
Whoever wrote your copy should be shot. Tribulation is a word that was buried with Steinbeck.
RONNIE
The Pearl is a favorite book of mine.
Martin looks at the gun.
RONNIE
Also, To Kill A Mockingbird.
Martin opens the barrel of the gun and looks at it.
RONNIE
Also, The Great Gatsby.
MARTIN
Reading is one of the true dependable pleasures.
RONNIE
Yes, sir.
MARTIN
How long you been cold calling?
RONNIE
Three weeks.
MARTIN
You don't talk fast enough.
RONNIE
With this insurance policy---
MARTIN
Faster.
RONNIE
(faster)
---you are eligible to receive---
MARTIN
Faster.
RONNIE
(faster)
---six months mortgage or rent payment---
MARTIN
Too fast. You want to honor the words you're saying. No matter how poorly they were written.
Martin takes a very healthy swig of wine.
MARTIN
24. I'm guessing 5 foot 9. 170 pounds. Trim. But you have to watch the pizza. You played sports in high school. The non-competitive competitive kind. Cross-Country. Track.
RoNNIE
No, sir.
MARTIN
Why not?
RONNIE
Weak knees. My family has a history.
MARTIN
My family has a history of weak hearts. My family has a history of medical bills with astronomical numbers that add up to more astronomical numbers.

RONNIE
Sir, Martin, I would like to call at another time.
MARTIN
Does it say my age?
RONNIE
Excuse me?
MARTIN
In your computer.
RONNIE
Not on this screen.
MARTIN
I'm 27.
RONNIE
Really?
MARTIN
I have a cold or my voice would be as youthful as yours.
RONNIE
Martin. Sir.
MARTIN
What is your name?
RONNIE
Ronnie.
MARTIN
24 year-old Ronnie and 27 year-old Martin. If I happened to be in Euclid on Lake Erie I would buy you a beer. At a local beer joint. Sawdust on the floor. Loud rock music on the jukebox.
Martin takes a pill with wine, savoring the flavor.
RONNIE
About our policy, Martin. I could re-send the information.
MARTIN
I'd rather you didn’t.
RONNIE
You sound tired, Martin, if you don't mind my saying so.

MARTIN
I don't mind you saying anything, Ronnie in Euclid on Lake Erie.
Martin looks off.
MARTIN
I'm not tired. I'm resigned.
Martin takes another pill.
MARTIN
When you drive through Euclid on your way to school or your night job of cold calling strangers, do you see the old people, Ronnie? Do you notice them? Are they on your radar?
RONNIE
I think so.
MARTIN
It's my experience, even though I'm holding steady at 27, that most people in this country at this time do not see people over 50. The people who hit 50, the unlucky sons-of-bitches, are invisible. Doesn't seem fair to me. We notice old trees. Old buildings. We notice Lake Erie and it's way over 50. But people. People are invisible.
RONNIE
Martin, sir, I should be typing something here. I'm sorry.
MARTIN
Sign me up.
RONNIE
Really?
MARTIN
Sure, why not?
RONNIE
There is a six-month trial period.
MARTIN
Sign me up for 100 years.
RONNIE
Sir, if you aren't serious---
MARTIN
I'm very serious, Ronnie. I told you. I'm seriously resigned.
Martin takes another pill.
RONNIE
Are you well, Martin?
MARTIN
That depends on who you ask.
RONNIE
Do you need help in some way?
MARTIN
We all need help in some way.
Martin pauses and thinks about whether to be honest with Ronnie about what Martin is doing. Instead, Martin drinks a swig of wine.
Martin opens all of the pill bottles and pours the pills in the center of the table, like a child would if they were playing.
MaRTIN
I'm glad you called, Ronnie. I'm glad to hear your melodious youthful voice. I really am.
RoNNIE
You aren't making fun, are you?
MARTIN
Not in a million years. No.
RONNIE
If I could believe one person tonight enjoyed hearing from me, it would be a relief.
MARTIN
Relief is yours. I very much enjoy hearing from you tonight. That is said from the heart. A weak heart. But so it goes.
Ronnie leans back in his chair.
RONNIE
A beer together would be nice, Martin, but I don't drink beer.

MARTIN
Religion?
RONNIE
Stomach.
MARTIN
Wine?
RONNIE
Very carefully.
MARTIN
At the moment, Ronnie, I am very uncarefully drinking a glass of the best Cabernet that France has to offer. I raise a glass to you.
Martin raises his glass.
RONNIE
You mentioned your heart, Martin, is wine allowed?
MARTIN
It's not only allowed, it's encouraged. Have you been out of Ohio?
RONNIE
Yes, sir.
MARTIN
Junior year trip to Washington, DC doesn't count.
RONNIE
I've been to Pittsburgh. And Toronto, Canada.
MARTIN
Good for you. Promise me you'll visit New York City within three years. Paris before you're 30.
RONNIE
I have accumulated school loans, which might rival your medical bills.


MARTIN
I pray that is not so. Living depends on seeing. Vision comes from surrounding yourself with new sights and sounds and experiences. Surprise yourself continuously, Ronnie. Please.
A small red light blinks at Ronnie’s desk. Ronnie sits up straight. The red light goes off.
RONNIE
The monthly fee for this wonderful insurance policy is $4.95.
MARTIN
Is there someone in your life, Ronnie?
RONNIE
I shouldn't be discussing things not related to this policy.
MARTIN
Find a person who you can laugh out loud with. Physical gymnastics are great but verbal gymnastics win the day every time.
RONNIE
I haven't had much time for my private life of late.
MARTIN
Make time.
RONNIE
I appreciate your good will, Martin.
MARTIN
Time seems luxurious at 24. Bountiful. It is not, Ronnie. Time is a finite thing. Use it well. That would be the insurance policy to sell: using time wisely.
Martin takes a pill. Drinks. Looks at the gun.
RONNIE
Do you have someone special, Martin?

MARTIN
No. Did. 37 years. Dead 6 months. Died just to keep from taking care of me.
RONNIE
You said you were 27.
MARTIN
I will be. Soon. I'll be 27 and 38 and 12 and 4 and 90. Soon.
RONNIE
Martin, is there something I can do to help you?
MARTIN
Yes. You can keep talking.
RONNIE
This is the first conversation I've had with a potential customer that was a real conversation.
MARTIN
Your calling me means everything in the world. You are a comfort. I do not say that lightly.
RONNIE
Martin, perhaps I could look up a number for an organization that could help you.
MARTIN
You're all the help I need.
RONNIE
I'm a little worried about you, Martin.
MARTIN
Not to worry, Ronnie. I'm in my nine-bedroom apartment in Beverly Hills. The moon is full. I'm 27. Life is sublime.
RONNIE
I would love to see California. Perhaps we could have a beer. Or you could. I could have wine.
MARTIN
That would be heaven, Ronnie.
Absolutely.
RONNIE
Paris, unfortunately, is out of the realm of dreaming at the moment.
MARTIN
Never! You will get to Paris before you are 30! Promise me, Ronnie! Promise me! Make an oath!
RONNIE
Yes, sir, Martin. I promise you.
MARTIN
When you walk through the Jardin des Tuleries or down the Champs Elysees or stand in front of the Mona Lisa, think of dear old Martin in California. Think of me, Ronnie, and chuckle.
RONNIE
I would.
MARTIN
You will. Great things have happened when strangers connect. Great things. And sometimes connections with strangers are the only connections we have.
Martin takes more pills, drinks.
The red light next to Ronnie blinks.
RONNIE
I should go, Martin. I'm sorry.
MARTIN
It has been a pleasure, Ronnie.
RONNIE
Yes, Martin. It has.
MARTIN
Say hello to Lake Erie for me.
RONNIE
Could I call someone for you? Someone to talk to?
MARTIN
I've talked to someone, Ronnie. It's been the most enchanting time I've spent in many a night. Guaranteed.

RONNIE
I truly wish you the best, Martin. You have been very kind.
MARTIN
Teach your school children the joy of reading, Ronnie. And get to New York and Paris.
RONNIE
And laugh with a person I love.
MARTIN
Ronnie, remember, I want you to sign me up for your insurance policy for 100 years. Are you listening?
RONNIE
Yes, sir.
MARTIN
Good night, Ronnie.
RONNIE
Good night, Martin. Be well.
Martin stands. He sways. Martin steadies himself.
Ronnie dials another phone number.
RONNIE
Hello. Is Miss Lu Ann Smith there, please?
Martin takes a long luxurious swig of wine.
Martin picks up the gun.
Martin walks slowly to the bathroom and closes the door.
RONNIE
Might I leave a message for Miss Lu Ann Smith? This is Ronald calling from Bank of America. We sent some vital information regarding an insurance policy.
A GUNSHOT is heard.
RONNIE
Excuse me. I am very sorry to have bothered you. Thank you for your time.
Ronnie sits up straight. Ronnie dials another number.
The phone in Martin's apartment RINGS.
AGAIN.
MARTIN'S OUTGOING MESSAGE
At the beep you know what to do or you're a moron and I shouldn't want a message from you anyway.
RONNIE
Martin? Hello? It’s Ronnie. I just wanted to tell you that this will be my last night here. I don't like bothering strangers, even when they're as kind as you. But thank you for your kindness, Martin. I wish you well. I hope you are listening. Good night.
Ronnie dials another number.
RoNNIE
Hello, May I speak to Mr. Stephen Johnston, please? My name is Ronald and I am calling from Bank of America.
Lights fade.
End of play.

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