Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Unscripted Script

"I can..."

The stage echoed.

"I can..."

The director and assistants watched from the front row.


The dark, empty theater waited.

"Well, Cecil?" said the director.

The young actor threw his hat on the floor and stomped defiantly.

"Who wrote this script?" he demanded. "It's ridiculous!"

"Many scripts are," the director assured him.

"Find me one that isn't!" he snapped.

If he hadn't been blessed with unnatural good looks he might not have said that. The fact was that in a town of 1,800 Cecil Drifter was the only man for the job, and Cliff knew it.

"Be reasonable," said Cliff. "No one could do this play as well as you."

"No one would want to," replied his employee.

"Okay, fine," said Clifford in an easy tone. "Let it go. Let the whole town miss the production. Theater and art aren't so important, right?"

"Of course they're important!" thundered Cecil. "My kid sister's in the ballet, my big brother's paintings are on half the walls in town, and my mom teaches sculpting. Art's in my blood whether I like it or not."

"And drama is an art, right?"

"An art. A fine, precise art. A delicate rose."

"And does this not include comedy? That which produces laughter and great happiness?"

Cecil's arms hung loose and limp at his sides in surrender.

"Yes," he sighed.

"Then please read the script. I promise this will be the last rehearsal. Next Friday's for real."

Cecil shifted his feet to a more steady stance, blinked twice, took a deep breath, and resolutely spoke.

"I can just taste that blackberry pie right now!"

Instantaneously a large pie splattered his countenance. The assistant cheered his own good aim, and all broke out in smiles.

"Thank you, Mr. Drifter."

A muffled mouth of berries managed, "You're welcome," and with a great sweeping distinction, he bowed.

Friday night opened with a full house. Cecil's eyes twinkled extra brightly as he took the stage and winked at the assistant director, who winked back.

The curtain rose, the audience clapped, and the play commenced. There were many good punchlines, and Cecil delivered them all with skill. He interacted naturally with the cast, and when the final act arose he stood tall with pride, eyes still twinkling, wearing a handsome grin.

"Well, boys, it's time we headed home. Auntie Jo said she was going to bake today."

Cecil glanced downward. Just as planned, the chairs on either side of their beloved director were empty. He continued.

"Cliff can just taste blackberry pie right now!"


Clifford, now drenched in pie, joined the cast up on the stage. With half the town on Cecil's side there was but one thing to do: play along. He scraped a glob of fruit from above his ear and plastered it against Cecil's forehead. Cecil laughed.

Auntie Jo bounced heavily across the floor boards and set five more pies on the table. Both men's eyes gleamed. As one they rushed for the stack. The curtain slowly lowered on the trembling stage, awash in flying purple pies. The comedy's new ending brought loud cheers and uncontrollable laughter from the crowd, who vowed to return and see it again next season. Seven cast members later headed for the dressing room, warm with laughter and covered in purple splotches.

In time Cecil did get to do more than comedy, and in time bigger companies offered him roles. Cliff stayed with the small town theater until he passed away, and though no one could replace him several kept his shows alive for younger generations to enjoy.

Oh, and one more thing: Cliff wrote that script.

Friday, August 28, 2009


"Don't make him mad," she whispered.

"Why not?" I said. "I'm not afraid of him."

"It's not him," she continued softly. "It's things."

"Things?" I said, getting louder. "What sorts of things?"

"Shh!" she cautioned, glancing back at Werner, who was busy busing tables.

"What do you mean?" I insisted, more hushed.

"Things will happen to you if you make him mad," she said.

A bucket splashed dingy gray slop water all over the entrance. I turned just in time to see Werner stepping clumsily away, his leg soaked to the knee.

"Werner!" I said. Annette grabbed my elbow in begging restraint, but I shook her off.

"Now look," I continued, marching in his direction. "I'm not going to fire you on my first day as manager, but we can't have the patrons slipping. Clean that up!"

Werner nodded, mouth open, and began hurriedly throwing large amounts of the customers' supply of napkins into the pine scented wash water, which did nothing to remove the spill and wasted the napkins.

"Werner!" I said sharply.

"Shh!" pleaded Annette.

"Werner," I continued more evenly, "please go get the super absorbent disposable mop kit from the supply closet. Do not ever waste napkins."

Werner slowly shuffled to the closet, leaving a trail of wet footprints all the way.

"Werner!" I hollered after him.

"Shh!" warned Annette.

"Annette, what's he going to do? Quit? Why should I be afraid of that?"

"No, he never quits."

"Why shouldn't I show him how to be a more efficient employee? What harm is in a little scolding now and then?"

"He doesn't mean to," she said.

"Doesn't mean to what?" I insisted.

Werner returned with an armload of supplies in his same slow deliberate gait. He passed me without a word and began mopping up the floor, this time correctly.

"See?" I said to Annette. "He's making himself useful. He doesn't appear angry in the least, and it's getting done."

I turned confidently toward the grill. The scent of warm, inviting food was still fresh in my mind when I saw stars upon stars eminating from a central focal point. I landed on the floor in a sitting position and held my head, too breathless to speak.

"Ms. Flare, Ms. Flare!" said several employees.

"What happened?" I mumbled incoherently. I looked beside me and realized that a ceiling fan is really quite ornate, especially when there are stars dancing upon the blades. I also realized it had fallen on the floor amid a crumble of ceiling pieces.

Next morning I was back at work with a head bandage peeking out from under my visor. Everyone went about business as usual, including Werner. He seemed to bear no ill grudge for yesterday's incident, but neither did he seem to have learned anything. When he knocked over a customer's drink with his sleeve, he immediately piled napkins in the mess and wasted them. He also ignored the customer--policy was to replace the drink.

"Werner!" I said sternly. "Go apologize and offer to replace what you spilled."

He shuffled to the table and proceeded to speak in a thick but distinct voice.

"I'm sorry your drink got in my way."

"Werner!" I shouted. I smiled appeasingly at the very large unhappy man and his hungry family.

"I'm sorry," I said to them. "New employees don't understand things. I'm going to replace your drink with the same thing but in a larger size, on the house."

I turned to Werner.

"Go get the mop kit!"

The family continued eating until at some point Werner poked one of the children in the eye with the mop handle, resulting in a black eye. Our insurance costs would be going up.

"I'll fire him!" I roared from the break room.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said Marie, another good worker who was freshening her hair and makeup at a small corner mirror.

"Why not?" I asked.

As if in answer the mirror fell off the wall. I rushed to catch it, did so, and hung it back on the peg.

"He's a jinx," she said, "The real thing."

"There's no such thing," I laughed.

"That bump on your head would say otherwise," she warned.

"This is serious," I said soberly. "There are no jinxes."


"What is it that makes him that way, Dr. Travis?"

"Some people were born with mental wavelengths that we don't yet fully understand. They have used them accidentally, but some have learned how to direct them, how to focus them. These are the people who pose the greatest threat."

"And Werner?"

"No. He doesn't know how. I am convinced he is benevolent. But somewhere inside him is a deep residual rage. Contact this, and his talent awakens. Make him angry, and it will point in your specific direction. I don't think it is something he can help, or even knows about. But it is real, and you're going to have to find ways to deal with it."

I sighed, picked up my crutch, and went back to work.

Miss Lacey's Good Sandwiches

Her peanut butter was never dry. Her bologna and cheese was perfect. Her ham, with pickles and mustard, was famous. There was no sandwich that passed her butter knife without her complete attention, nor was there a recipient of such work that did not appreciate her talent.

Parties called her for a tray,
Weddings had her in their plans.
No one let her get away
Without introduction.

Beef tenderloin was the central topic, and all adored her delicate handling thereof.

Many were fed by her unrivaled skill,
Ranch and cold chicken rejoiced at her touch.
Long were the orders she scrambled to fill,
While crowds gathered where there were rumors of lunch.

In time she was noticed by famed Big Bucks Bill,
Who tried in his time every marvel to buy.
He told of a restaurant he wanted to build,
But when he asked Lacey, his quest was denied.

He flaunted his money in large waving fans
But still Lacey's gifts were for little or free.
If anyone asked for more food than she'd planned,
She'd offset the cost with a nominal fee.

And so she continued, the talk of the town,
Until she expired at age 93.
And still ever after for miles around,
They talk of Miss Lacey, the legendary.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Incredible Power of Soap

It was neither storming nor sunny when the wide wheeled jeep rolled around the dusty corner and into the unmarked driveway. Grass patches stubbornly claimed their territory despite being driven on, and the inhabitants of the jeep didn't bother to tell them otherwise. Chickens roamed about behind a fence that kept them more or less behind the house, although an occasional escape went unnoticed by all except the neighbor's dog.

A flabby, slovenly woman emerged. Her jeans were torn, and her feet were black with grime atop her minimal foam shoes. Her over sized shirt besmirched with food completed the ensemble, and her short, greasy hair hung in clumps atop a pimpled and unwashed face.

She waddled lazily to the porch, followed by two overweight and very dirty children. Her grocery bags were full of airy new packages of sweetened, flavored, oil-soaked chips upon which they would all feed for the rest of the afternoon.

The cluttered house gave one the feeling of being in a pack rat's den. Crooked window hangings, caked with dust, let in a small amount of daylight, and the dim glow of the television allowed them to see what they were eating.

A knock at the door brought one of the children to see whom it could be, for her laziness did not yet outweigh her sense of curiosity.

A saleswoman, brightly dressed, stood beaming a smile through freshly applied red lipstick.

"Would you like a sample?" said the lady.

"Who is it?" bellowed the woman on the couch.

"A pretty lady," said the girl.

"What does she want?" grunted the woman.

"What do you want?" echoed the girl.

A look of extreme compassion washed across the saleswoman's face.

"I'll be right back," she said.

She disappeared to her car for a moment, then returned with a heavy looking paper bag.

"Here," she said, handing it to the girl. "You can tell me how you like these the next time I come."

The young girl closed the door and began to peek inside the bag.

"What did she want?" repeated her mother, not looking up from the talk show.

"She left," said the girl. "She wanted to sell perfume."

"Ain't got money for it," grunted the woman, who filled her mouth full of chips beside her son who did the same.

The girl looked in the bag and tip toed to her room. There was a bar of soap, a small bottle of shampoo, some powder makeup, and some earrings. She carefully placed them in the corner of her top dresser drawer and covered the bundle with a wrinkled handkerchief.

The next school day the girl held her head up high. She was still overweight, but her whole outlook had changed. She was clean for once, cleaner than she'd ever been in her life, and it felt good. She made her mind up then and there: she would grow up to be like that pretty lady.

She began to try harder at some of her school studies, and found that she really was smarter than she'd formerly realized. Her grades were noticeably higher--noticeable by colleges who scouted scholars.

She left her mom and brother when she turned eighteen and rented a small apartment, which she kept clean--not pristine or spotless, but clean. Her weight problem was never perfect, but it did go down several sizes. She stayed busy and got several job offers when college was finished. The pretty lady kept in touch with her and they often exchanged short notes. Eventually she became involved with politics and ran successfully for a local position several times.

She never married, although she'd turned down a few dates. In a joint project the pretty lady and she raised a large sum for medical research.

She felt fulfilled in life, useful, a valued community member; and when she retired, she often visited houses in poor districts at Christmas time, bringing gift baskets composed of shampoo, bath oils, and soap.