Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Mornings

In September 2009, I started working with five other women to write a screenplay together. One person said, "You're writing it TOGETHER?" One person said, "I'm jealous." My husband said, "I could never work that way." I thought, "I will never have time for this." But we are making time. We meet on Tuesday mornings for two hours, and everyone moves all their shit around and they work out how to take time away from work, babysitters are found and we meet in kitchens and coffee shops. We borrow training rooms and living rooms. We laugh alot. We try to keep the extra details to the outskirts, but it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes we talk each other into quitting caffeine or restarting caffeine. We save to a web-based program. We laugh our asses off. We've got all these characters now, and they own us. We've got big plans for it, but "it" is the work, and the work is the thing. I hate it when Chekhov is right.

Madeline Takes a Cat

MADELINE TAKES A CAT
By Denise Laughlin Stewart
Originally produced by Offstage Theatre at Miller's Restaurant in Charlottesville, VA in February, 2001


Characters
Madeline, a woman in her mid-twenties
Jack, her boyfriend, also in his mid-twenties
Woman, a bit older

Setting: A bar at night. MADELINE and JACK sit across from each other at a table. The WOMAN sits at a nearby table.

MADELINE
I think my whole apartment smells like it.

JACK
It’s only been a day.

MADELINE
It’s a small apartment.

JACK
I thought you said no pets.

MADELINE
I know, the smell, the hassle.

JACK
But, I thought, no pets in your apartment.

MADELINE
Personal rule.

JACK
Oh. What made you decide to--

MADELINE
This was a big mistake. I can’t handle a cat.

JACK
I have a backyard.

MADELINE
He doesn’t have to go outside. I bought this box for him to shit in.

JACK
Real cats go outside. Bring him over.

MADELINE
He’ll get confused.

JACK
Leave him at my place.

MADELINE
Then I’d have to be over there all the time.

JACK
(playfully, sexually)
Meow.

MADELINE laughs.

MADELINE
No.

JACK
Madeline takes a cat.
(pause)
I’m thinking of a movie.

MADELINE
A recent release?

JACK
No.

MADELINE
From the ‘90’s?

JACK
No.

MADELINE
The 80’s?

JACK
No.

MADELINE
70’s?

JACK
Yes.

MADELINE
Does it have any decent stars still in movies today?

JACK
Yes.

MADELINE
Have I seen it?

JACK
I don’t know.

MADELINE
Would I want to see it?

JACK
On a Sunday afternoon, after talking to your mother....if it was raining.

MADELINE
Terms of Endearment.

JACK
That’s from the 80’s.

MADELINE
Right. 70’s?

JACK
70’s.

MADELINE
I can’t think.
(to herself)
What was the name of that movie I saw last night?

JACK
I thought you said no movies on weeknights.

MADELINE
It was on cable. I couldn’t sleep.

JACK
Oh.

MADELINE
What if when I go back to my apartment, it smells so bad that I can’t even go in?

JACK
It’s only been a day.

MADELINE
And an evening. I left the windows open.

JACK
I’ll give you a hint.

MADELINE
I don’t want any hints. I’ll get it.

JACK
It’s a drama.

MADELINE
(warningly)
Tell me one more thing and it’s my turn automatically.

JACK
Fine.

MADELINE
(thinking)
Is the main character a man?

JACK
Both.

MADELINE
Yes or no. Say yes or no.

JACK
Yes, I want you to move in with me.

MADELINE
Is it “Tootsie?”

JACK
(incredulously)
“Tootsie” is from like ‘85 or something.

MADELINE
Fine. You said both man and woman so I just started connecting things.

JACK
There is a male lead AND a female lead.
(pause)
-and a child.

MADELINE
SHUT UP!

JACK
Do you know it?

MADELINE
I’m going to pick a movie about a cat when it’s my turn, and you’re not going to guess it.

JACK
Why are you obsessing about this?

MADELINE
I’m not.

JACK
(mocking her)
Ooooh, I’m going to think of a cat movie, ooh, a movie with a big fat cat.

MADELINE
Your choices are too obscure.

JACK
It’s an easy, how-could-you-grow-up-with-me-and-be-my-girlfriend-since-forever-and-not-know-this kind of movie about two people who--

MADELINE
Shh!
(pause)
What exactly is an ear mite?

JACK
One more little hint.

MADELINE
NO. I take on this little cat, this little kitten and as I’m walking away with it, they start talking about ear mites. He’s got little black dottie thingees in there, but they don’t look like BUGS.

JACK
Late 70’s -- divorce.

MADELINE
You make me sick.

JACK
Remember how my dad would sit in his Volkswagen and read the paper whenever they fought?

MADELINE
I don’t remember your family ever having a cat.

JACK
We had that dog once. Brown Sugar. My mother would use a hair dryer on him after his bath.

MADELINE
Dogs smell worse than cats.

JACK
Cats are good. Just don’t use a hair dryer on the poor bastard.

MADELINE
It’s only been a day, and I‘ve rearranged everything.

JACK
Give it a chance.

MADELINE
I’m just trying to go with this. I had a dream about a cat -- the next day, someone
comes directly to ME and wants to know if I want a cat.

She holds her arms up in an exaggerated shrug. He silently agrees. After a moment, he grabs the salt and pepper shakers.

JACK
Let me do a visual here for you.

MADELINE
If it doesn’t work out with the cat, it doesn’t work out with the cat.


JACK makes the salt and pepper shakers walk together across the table happily, then the shakers begin the kiss, then JACK makes a large sigh for each shaker, then the shakers have sex, then he grabs a sugar packet else from the table to be the baby, then the shakers fight, then they abruptly separate, then they tug at the “child”, spilling the sugar. He stops and looks at her.

MADELINE
This is about the movie, isn‘t it?

JACK
Yes.

MADELINE
It’s my turn now.

She takes the shakers away from him.

JACK
Wait.

MADELINE
I said no more hints.

JACK
You weren’t guessing anything!

MADELINE
We were talking about other things, Jack. It doesn’t mean I gave up on the movie.

Silence. They stare at each other.

MADELINE
Is it set in the city or the country?

JACK
Good one. City.

MADELINE
Help me name my cat. I found him curled up in the back of my closet this morning. I thought that was pretty cute.

JACK
Call him HOFFMAN.

MADELINE
It IS “Tootsie!”

JACK
No.

MADELINE
But Dustin Hoffman’s in it?

JACK
Yes.

MADELINE

I don’t know this movie.

JACK
When my mom and dad would fight, he’d march out to that Volkswagen and just sit and read his paper. Even if it was raining. You used to be over all the time so I though you might’ve.....can you guess a title yet?

MADELINE
Not quite.
(pause)
I gotta go to the potty.

JACK
Think: Hoffman, late ‘70’s, domestic strife.

MADELINE
Let’s do a new one when I get back. Okay?

JACK
Yeah.

MADELINE exits. The WOMAN impatiently raises her hand, like a child at school.

WOMAN
“Kramer vs. Kramer.”

JACK
Thank you.

WOMAN
I thought I was going to have to strangle your friend there.

JACK
She’s usually really good at these....games.

WOMAN
Sitting over here twisting the hairs off my arm.

JACK
Take it easy, now.

WOMAN
When you know an answer and you feel like you can’t say anything, and she kept talking about “Tootsie“ and I was like, “Hello, it‘s not ‘Tootsie’ !”

JACK
I thought she would’ve gotten it by now. She’s preoccupied.

WOMAN
Umm.
(pause)
Great movie.

JACK
Yeah.

WOMAN
What’s your favorite part?

MADELINE returns, sees them talking.

JACK
(pointing)
It’s her turn. She got it.

MADELINE
Got what?

WOMAN
“Kramer vs. Kramer.”

MADELINE
Oh.
(checking out the woman)
I’m hungry.

WOMAN
My mother watched that movie incessantly. After the divorce.

JACK
Mine too.

MADELINE
She did?

JACK
Yep.

MADELINE
I haven’t seen it.

WOMAN
(incredulously)
You haven’t seen it?

MADELINE
Nope.

JACK
Like I said it’s a Sunday afternoon, raining, call your mother type of thing.

WOMAN
My mother calls me incessantly.

JACK
Mine does too.

MADELINE
She does?

WOMAN
Some mothers get nuts after a divorce. NUTS regarding their kids. My mother spoiled me rotten until I was 12, told me about her sex life until I was 18, cried me through college, and now is convinced I’m never going to get married because of my father is
“SUCH an asshole“.

JACK
God, that is exactly right.

MADELINE
Did she call you today?

JACK
Every day, at work and at home.

MADELINE
Now I’M thinking of a movie.

WOMAN
I thought email would help. No. She’s a maniac. Sends me a message, calls me to see if I read it. Tells me to hang up and read it, and then she calls me back to discuss what I thought about what she wrote.

JACK
That’s hilarious.

MADELINE
I’ll give you a hint, nobody’s divorced or crazy.

WOMAN
That doesn’t sound like much fun.

JACK
Don‘t you want to order some food?

WOMAN
I’m starving.

MADELINE
I’m not hungry.

JACK
Yes you are.

MADELINE
I’m thinking of a movie. No, more like a fictional character.

JACK
We should get some appetizers and split them -- the three of us.

MADELINE
We should?

JACK
I just thought--


WOMAN
I should run to the bathroom. Excuse me.

The WOMAN exits to the bathroom. MADELINE begins to make the shakers talk.

MADELINE
You go to the bathroom INCESSANTLY. I butt-in INCESSANTLY. I like your boyfriend. I’ll wait ‘til you go to the bathroom and then I’ll talk INCESSANTLY.

JACK
(staring at the menu)
Fried mushrooms or LOCO Nachos?

MADELINE
Women are so obvious!

JACK
They are?

MADELINE
Don’t you think so?

JACK
She’s by herself. She knew the movie. She overheard us.

MADELINE
I know. She went to the bathroom because she can tell I’m pissed.

JACK
She did?

MADELINE
Yes.

JACK
Why are you pissed?

MADELINE
She was trying to make me feel stupid for not knowing that movie.

JACK
You’re thinking about your cat, Maddy, it’s no big deal that you didn’t remember the movie.

MADELINE
I didn’t forget it. I don’t KNOW that movie. She knows it. You know it. You guys are having this great-to-be-a-divorced-kid conversation and she was trying to make me--

JACK
Let it go.

MADELINE
I don’t know that movie, Jack.

JACK

Not a big deal. It came to my mind; we were playing the game.

MADELINE
OUR game.

JACK silently agrees.

MADELINE
I didn’t know that your mom calls you every day.

JACK
Not a big deal. I don’t bring it up. She’s lonely, she calls.

MADELINE
What does she want to talk about?

JACK
Us.

MADELINE
Really?

JACK
Just wait ‘til I tell her about that damn cat.

MADELINE
Why? What’s--

The WOMAN has returned. She collects her coat, puts some money on her table.

JACK
Taking off?

WOMAN
Yes. I’ve been the single, pleasant, available woman all evening. I’ll tell her that when she calls. Now I get to go home and just be a woman with a cat.

JACK
Madeline just got a cat.

WOMAN
(exiting)
Get drops for the mites. He could go deaf.

MADELINE
Thanks.

JACK
She seems sad.

MADELINE
(uncomfortable, fidgeting)
No she doesn’t. She seems fine.
(pause)
I remember your dad.

JACK
Yeah?

MADELINE
I remember him in the Volkswagen. I was roller skating up to your house one day and you know how your driveway had that dip? Well, I usually did fine, coasting all the way up to the screen door, but I got going really fast with the dip and then the downhill part....and I smacked right into the back of that bug like I was paralyzed or something and I couldn’t make my legs turn. I scared the shit out of your dad. He jumped out. I was holding on to the car, like I had splattered or something. He peeled me off, rolled me into the house, handed me off to your mom.

JACK
I can’t believe you remember all that.

MADELINE
I remember that they didn’t speak. I thought it was weird.

Silence.

JACK
I think we need to--

MADELINE
I do to.

JACK
You always have these rule about, about....

MADELINE
A lotta stupid shit.

JACK silently agrees.

MADELINE
But now that I have Tootsie, you think I might--

JACK
Tootsie?

MADELINE
Our cat.

JACK smiles, starts fidgeting with the shakers. MADELINE puts her hands over his and she makes the shakers kiss.

JACK
I thought you said no kissing in public.

They kiss.



THE END

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Secret Lives of Little Girls, Part 3: Anna Katherine


My mom (left) and her friend, Rose
Cleveland, Ohio
April 1957

Anna Katherine Kane Laughlin (December 8, 1939 -- August 13, 1994) was my mother. She liked Japanese gardens, bowling, and astrology. She seemed happiest in her life when she hung out with her girlfriends. She died of a brain hemorrhage due to complications with alcoholism and diabetes.

My mother didn't like to take me to the grocery store because I would run the cart into her heels. I started hiding in the back-back of the station wagon and then I would pop out when I knew we were close enough to the store that she wouldn't turn around and take me back.

But when we watched "The Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island" together on Saturday nights, I would lay across the end of her bed, and she would scratch my back.

My mother got so irritated when we played "Marco Polo" for more than 10 minutes...."Marco"..."Polo"..."Marco"..."Polo". She would scream for us to stop.

But she never wanted me to get my hair cut. She would brush it and put it into pigtails every morning.

My mother made very regrettable choices, and she would not have been a great choice to write an old-fashioned or a modern-day parenting book.

But I never went to bed without a kiss.

My three best friends from growing up think of my mother often, they tell me. This is moving to me. One of these friends has nightmare-type dreams of my mother where my mother appears to her very sad and angry. I am intrigued, and deep down I am jealous because I have not seen her my dreams.

But I see her in my shoulders and my eyebrows and when I am taking care of my fingernails, my hands look just like hers.

My mother died over 15 years ago. Mother's Day never makes me sad.

But her birthday hits me like a brick every year, even when I plan that it won't.

You know it is the little adjustments that pull you safely out of ruts. I cannot undo neglect and confusion.

I have learned to practice grief and praise, and that is everything. It is easy to remember her laugh and her pain and her thunder. It is easy to think that she loves my life. It's hard to explain why she was the perfect mother for me.