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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
an elderly man looks back on his precocious teenage years and the horrible effect a vicious, bigoted nun had on his life, while a shy, affectionate man did all he could to help him.

Submitted: August 15, 2016

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Submitted: August 15, 2016

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Protected

By

Robert E. DiNardo

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Copyright: 2003 1118 Marlborough St.

Philadelphia, PA., 19125-4139

215-425-2312

rdinardo11@comcast.net

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CHARACTERS

Old Gene: A man in his mid-sixties.

SRA: A woman in her mid- twenties.

Gene: Mid-teens, with the body of a gymnast.

Fred: Early thirties, handsome, solidly built.

TIME: Early to mid-fifties and the present.

The set consists of three distinct playing areas that flow on a diagonal from upstage right to downstage left, with stage center being the dominant space. Stage right is slightly elevated, while stage left is at the lowest level. The upstage left portion of the stage center space wraps around the rear of the downstage left space.

Stage right will serve as a classroom and an artist’s studio. Its large window will go from double paned to six over sixes.

Stage center is a small isolated section of a park. Two benches are opposite each other on a narrow path. Another bench is partially visible behind bushes that curve behind stage left.

Stage left is a small room with a couple of low bookcases that contain history and biographies. There is a winged back chair, a small end table, and a lamp. There is a small window at far stage left.

ACT ONE

Scene One

A church bell tolls seven times, followed by a hand held bell being rung exactly ten times. The lights come up on Old Gene seated in the winged back chair.

OLD GENE

She never varied the sound of that bell. It was always ten rings – no more – no less. Twice a day. I listened to it for seven years before I became aware of her consistent but decidedly limited sense of rhythm. Yet it was my sense of rhythm she admired most. Well, it was one of the things. I thought it was my mind, until she started saying whenever I was in ear shot, “Wonderful sense of rhythm,” and pointing in my direction. All I was doing was playing the piano according to the required tempos and hitting the designated notes. Could that be considered a sense of rhythm? She thought so. And I liked the idea that she thought so. Being spoken of as someone with a talent of sorts, especially in her eyes, gave me a certain position, and, I suppose, a certain amount of

1 – 1 - 2

OLD GENE

(continued)

protection. Even if at the time I had no idea that I was in need of protection. Her cloak served its purpose for seven years. It was that eighth year when everything changed. I hated her. The new one. That’s what we called her – the new one. And I know that I was more than justified in my hatred, though no one agreed with me at the time.

SRA appears at stage right in front of a desk, the large double paned window behind her. She wears a classic nun’s habit.

SRA

He was the quintessential pet. Polite, well liked, academically sound, only mildly gifted musically, with a sense of rhythm that our Mother Superior, who adored him, attempted to turn into a legend. He was not what I expected to see – not what I had prayed for. No one warned me about him.

OLD GENE

Nothing prepared me for what was about to happen. It all began with the names.

SRA

I am Sister Regina Ange. That’s ‘Ahhhnge.’ Not Aaange. Ahhhnge. Understand?

 

OLD GENE

We all got it right. Sister Regina Ange. No problem. But why did she insist on calling me….

SRA

(sneering)

Eu-gen-e-o.

OLD GENE

….in that voice, when everyone else called me….

SRA

Gene?

OLD GENE

…or Eugene. All the other nuns called me….

SRA

Eugene?

OLD GENE

Or Mr. Bonocorso.

1 – 1- 3

SRA

But the records say E-u-g-e-n-e-o. That’s (sneering) Eugeneo in my book.

OLD GENE

She was determined to change things.

SRA

And things should be kept as they were intended.

OLD GENE

But my own mother called me Gene. So did my friends.

SRA

I was opposed to change. And there I was confronted with it on the very first day I started teaching. What was God telling me?

OLD GENE

What kind of God was it that made her a nun?

SRA

(addressing a class)

The sin of impurity always has its consequences.

OLD GENE

The lectures were delivered daily.

SRA

Whether it be a mark on your immortal soul….

OLD GENE

Always immediately after lunch.

SRA

…which can be removed only by the sacrament of Confession….

OLD GENE

As prescribed by the curriculum.

SRA

…and an act of penance.

OLD GENE

How many appetites would have been ruined if the lectures were given before lunch?

1 – 1 - 4

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SRA

Now, can anyone tell me some of the other consequences that can result from an act of impurity? Who else might suffer?

OLD GENE

Not one hand was raised.

SRA

Eugeneo, have you no idea who might suffer from an act of impurity?

OLD GENE

To this day, I can still hear the sound of the sudden intake of breath made by two girls sitting nearby.

SRA

Does one have to commit a sin of impurity to suffer from it?

OLD GENE

I noticed that no one was looking at me.

SRA

Well, Eugeneo?

OLD GENE

 

No, Sister, I can’t think of anyone else who might suffer. Unless you mean the sorrow God feels whenever a sin of any kind is committed.

SRA

Sit down, Eugeneo.

OLD GENE

Something was being directed at me by more than one person in that room, and I had absolutely no idea what it was.

SRA

So, remember, it is always the children who suffer the most.

OLD GENE

And I had no idea how to find out what it was. That desperate silence gave me the darkest feeling my young body had ever experienced.

SRA moves downstage.

 

1 – 1 - 5

SRA

Most of you, possibly all of you, take your neighborhood for granted.

OLD GENE

More lectures followed.

SRA

Your families, your homes, the people who surround you.

OLD GENE

She was right. We never gave the neighborhood a thought. But we knew we had a reputation for…

SRA

Being tough is not the only thing that distinguishes this neighborhood. So, Eugeneo, tell us why there are no Negroes here in Saint Monica’s parish?

OLD GENE

There were no sudden intakes of breath this time, only a palpable stillness that made the room look like an enormous photograph.

SRA

Well, Eugeneo?

OLD GENE

I said the first thing that came to mind. (turning to her) I suppose there are no colored people here at Saint Monica’s because they’re not Catholics.

SRA

I’m not talking about our church, Eugeneo. I mean the neighborhood. We, after all, have Protestant churches nearby. Unfortunately.

OLD GENE

Then I suppose Negroes don’t want to live here.

SRA

No, Eugeneo, Negroes don’t live here because they’re not allowed to live here.

OLD GENE

Really?!! That’s what I said. And with that degree of incredulity. Really?!!

SRA

(pause)

Yes. Really.

1 – 1 - 6

OLD GENE

In the instant following the uttering of those two words I realized she hated me. And still I didn’t know why.

SRA

There was something about his meticulously pressed, gleaming white shirts, combined with that pervasive smell of garlic that – irked me.

OLD GENE

After five months of her insidious teaching methods, I worked up the courage to ask the nun who taught me how to play the piano why Sister Regina Ange didn’t like me.

SRA

They had to be told, each and every one of them, what the world is really like.

OLD GENE

I was certain my music teacher, the nun I liked the most, would ask why I thought she didn’t like me, because she had never seen Ange in action in the classroom.

SRA

They were young, protected, with no experience of the world beyond their classrooms.

OLD GENE

At least I thought she had never seen her in action. But all she said was, “Eugene, just because we all wear the same religious habits doesn’t mean we’re all alike.” She already knew how Ange felt about me. But she wasn’t about to tell me why.

SRA

(addressing the class)

When I was just about your age, I walked far from my neighborhood with a couple of girl friends. We had no idea where we were. Suddenly a woman started to call from a window, “Get them, get them white girls. Get them ugly white girls.” And more people came to their door steps and started shouting at us. We had to run, run as fast as we could. It was the most frightening experience I ever had. So, you must never, ever go into a Negro neighborhood, because Negroes are…..

OLD GENE

Savages. That was the word she used. Savages. Again, there was that odd stillness in the room, a feeling that something not quite right had occurred. Seven years of being taught by nuns never gave you the opportunity to question anything you were told. So when the time inevitably came to detect that something was wrong, we were in no way equipped to deal with it. We just sat still, which is what a good Catholic used to do best. I decided I no longer wanted to sit still.

1 – 1 - 7

SRA

There is a certain boy in this class….

OLD GENE

I became someone who no longer had a name.

SRA

…who is going to a public high school.

OLD GENE

I was the only one in the entire class going to a public high school. And everyone knew it. Why did I suddenly become “a certain boy?”

SRA

He will be associating with Jews. He will lose his soul and become a Communist.

OLD GENE

That certainly had the desired effect. Jews. Communists. Two of the biggest fears you could have in 1952. There was no loss of oxygen in the room, no weird stillness. Just a very audible “Ohhhh,” and a lot of shocked expressions.

SRA

We can only pray for this boy’s immortal soul.

OLD GENE

And how were they to do that if she didn’t mention my name? “Pray for his immortal soul.” That expression was nothing more than a signal for disguised hatred. And she wondered why I wanted to leave the hallowed halls of Catholic education?

SRA

Eugeneo, could you come here for a moment?

OLD GENE

We were in the schoolyard after lunch, waiting for that bell to ring. A beautiful spring day, just a few weeks before the term ended, a few weeks before freedom. (he turns to her) Yes, sister?

SRA

Eugeneo, Mother Superior is always mentioning your wonderful sense of rhythm. Are you part Negro?

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1 – 1 – 8

OLD GENE

She asked it as calmly as you would ask for the time of day. Classmates nearby were visibly embarrassed. I couldn’t understand why she would ask such a question. But I just shook my head and quietly said no.

SRA

I could see the rage in his eyes, the quivering lips.

OLD GENE

The stares during the afternoon class were constant. Not hostile, only quizzical, coming from faces I had known since kindergarten. Faces that suddenly appeared not to know me at all. No matter how young you are, you can always sense when something around you is crumbling. Even when there is no motion. It’s terrifying.

SRA

Watching him quiver was so out of character. He often seemed almost fearless. I believe he was the only student who was allowed to take public transportation into town.

OLD GENE

Errands – I ran errands for my mother.

SRA

What parent allows a child to do that?

OLD GENE

It was just the two of us. Me and Mom. She couldn’t always get away from the laundry where she worked to get the bills paid.

SRA

Evidently he could breeze through any neighborhood in the city without worrying about being attacked.

OLD GENE

The streets were so much safer then.

 

 

SRA

The streets were safer for him. So safe, in fact, that our pastor allowed him to take the deposit from the weekly collection to the bank a few blocks away.

OLD GENE

They had me running all sorts of errands – the nuns – the priests. I enjoyed being trusted with the responsibility, enjoyed the sense of….

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1 – 1 – 9

SRA

….confidence it gave him.

OLD GENE

But one day I did ask Father Farrell if sending someone my age to the bank with so much money wasn’t just a little bit risky. He said…

SRA

Who would think that a boy twelve years old would be carrying so much money?

OLD GENE

What they had attempted to give me in those first eight years she was trying to destroy. But she was trying to destroy something else.

SRA

I have always firmly believed, as I was taught, that a call to the religious life, a vocation, was a call from God. I knew God would not call anyone who would harbor feelings of hatred, unless such feelings were needed to protect – to protect –

OLD GENE

My mother had just run the last sheet through the wringer on the washing machine and placed it in the laundry basket, when I said, “Guess what Sister Regina Ange asked me.” “What?” she said. “She asked me if I was part colored.” She had already lifted the basket, but stopped and put it down slowly. Without turning to look at me, she waited a moment, and said, “You are.” I watched as she picked up the basket and walked quickly into the yard to hang the sheets.

SRA

Everything had to be protected. The church, the neighborhood. A change of complexion was unthinkable.

OLD GENE

The sight of our blazing white sheets falling from the clothes line looked like a tent being dismantled. She collapsed. From the kitchen I could see Mom on her knees with the sheets spread before her, as though her wedding gown had suddenly become undone. I knew there had never been a wedding.

SRA

She thought she could protect him by giving him that obvious Italian name. Eugeneo.

OLD GENE

I knew Bonocorso was her name. The Eugeneo came from Pacelli. Eugeneo Pacelli – Pope Pius XII. He became Pope the day I was born.

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1 – 1 – 10

SRA

And the other nuns, even the priests, thought they could protect him by never mentioning his origins.

OLD GENE

She couldn’t stop sobbing. All I could do was hold her and tell her it was all right. All right. That it didn’t make any difference.

SRA

But – it – made – a – difference – to – me!

OLD GENE

Nothing seemed to help.

SRA

God would not have allowed me to feel such loathing unless it had a purpose.

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OLD GENE

All those years of determined silence.

SRA

They were wrong.

OLD GENE

Encouragement….

SRA

Inflicting a disguise….

OLD GENE

Nourishment….

SRA

…on something that should never be disguised.

OLD GENE

Love.

SRA

To protect what?

OLD GENE

Just an innocent kid.

1 – 1 - 11

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SRA

It’s always the children who suffer the most.

OLD GENE

And there is always someone there to see that they do.

SRA

(addressing a class)

There was a certain boy in this class.

OLD GENE

I didn’t hang around for graduation.

SRA

He left St. Monica’s before our graduation ceremonies, even though he would have graduated at the top of the class.

OLD GENE

How did I go from feeling so totally accepted to wanting to flee some unspecified danger? All that had been unspoken.

SRA

He is the only one of you lost to Holy Mother Church.

OLD GENE

As kind, as hard working as she was, I wanted to flee my own mother.

SRA

His immortal soul will be lost forever.

OLD GENE

Mom simply didn’t have the strength, the courage to stand up to….

The bell rings ten times, exactly as it did at the start of the play.

….the consistency of that damn bell and a determined lack of rhythm.

The lights fade.

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1 – 2 – 12

Scene Two

The church bell tolls four times, as the lights come up behind the scrim at stage center. Fred, seated on the bench closest to downstage, is poised looking at this watch. He wears a vested tweed suit. Gene is upstage, glancing back over his shoulder at Fred. He carries high school text books and a looseleaf binder. He wears khakis and a starched white shirt. He, too, is poised, looking at his wristwatch. After the scrim rises, Fred glances around impatiently and continues to check his watch. Gene tentatively approaches the bench opposite Fred, sits, and starts to make notes in his looseleaf binder. After a few moments of this, Gene speaks without looking at Fred.

GENE

He didn’t show up again.

Pause.

FRED

What?

GENE

Your friend. He didn’t show up again.

Fred is clearly uncomfortable.

What is it, the third time in a week he’s done this?

FRED

Do I know you?

GENE

Uh-uh. And your missing friend doesn’t either.

FRED

Then how…

GENE

I couldn’t help watching you – for over a month now.

FRED

Really? What were you doing, hiding in the bushes?

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1 – 2 – 13

GENE

(smiling)

No, just sitting over there.

FRED

And why didn’t you stay over there?

GENE

When I saw that your friend didn’t show up for the third time, I got curious.

FRED

Curious?

GENE

Yeah.

FRED

And what makes his not showing up any of your business?

GENE

I didn’t say it was any of my business.

FRED

But you’re acting as though it is.

GENE

Guess I can’t help it.

FRED

Are you always this…

YOUNG GENE

Forward?

FRED

Yes. That’s a good word for it.

GENE

Yep. That’s what I’ve been called. Forward, too smart for my own good, a smart ass.

FRED

Precocious. How old are you?

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1 – 2 – 14

GENE

Sixteen.

FRED

(shaking his head)

Sixteen. You hustling?

Gene laughs.

GENE

With these books, sitting here taking notes, do I look like a hustler?

FRED

Well, not your typical…

GENE

No, I’m not a hustler. Was your friend a hustler?

FRED

Did he look like a hustler?

 

GENE

No, no. I guess not. He was too clean, too neat. But he sure was handsome enough to be a hustler. And I don’t think he was much older than I am.

FRED

Not much. (pause) But I think he was a bit of a hustler.

Fred runs a hand across his brow.

GENE

How long…

FRED

Two years. We saw each other for two years.

YOUNG GENE

Then he must have been about my age…

FRED

No, he was older – eighteen. He’s twenty now. I do not rob cradles.

GENE

Oh, gee, why not? It can be fun. I’ve been robbed from my cradle a lot.

1 – 2 – 15

FRED

I’m sure you have. But not here. This isn’t exactly the cruiseiest place in town.

GENE

That’s why I like it. I get my work done, and if the weather’s bad, I just run into the library. I do my cruising at the Y.

FRED

Central Y?

GENE

Uh-huh.

FRED

I go there.

GENE

I know.

FRED

I’ve never seen you.

GENE

Yes, you have.

FRED

When? I thought you said we’ve never met.

GENE

We haven’t met. You were staring at me one Saturday afternoon a few months ago.

FRED

I do not stare at anyone. And I certainly don’t stare at boys.

GENE

You sure do when they’re doing flips on the Roman rings.

FRED

Oh. Oh, yeah. You look – different.

GENE

I hope so. I’m fully clothed.

1 – 2 – 16

FRED

And very nicely, I might add.

GENE

Thanks.

FRED

Who does your shirts? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a shirt look so white, so crisp.

GENE

My mother.

FRED

How did you get so skilled on the Roman rings?

GENE

I’m on the gym team at school.

FRED

And where’s that?

GENE

Central.

FRED

Ah, I’m impressed.

GENE

With the school or its gym team?

FRED

Both. I wouldn’t be impressed if you said you were on its football team.

GENE

Yeah, they’re pretty bad. “Knit one, pearl two, Central High, woo woo.”

FRED

Jews don’t make good football players.

GENE

You think so?

FRED

I know so. I tried.

 

1 – 2 - 17

GENE

You Jewish?

FRED

Yes. You?

GENE

Italian – mostly. Colored. And God only knows what else.

FRED

(laughing)

You’re kidding.

GENE

No, I’m not.

FRED

What’s your name?

GENE

Gene Bonocorso. Yours?

FRED

Fred – Fred….

GENE

You don’t have to tell me your real name. You can make one up, if you like.

FRED

It’s Skolnick. Fred Skolnick.

GENE

I’m petty sure you didn’t make that up.

FRED

(chuckling)

Nope. Bonocorso. Your father married a colored girl?

GENE

Are you nuts? Italian boys don’t marry colored girls. None that I know of anyway. It’s my mother who’s Italian. I never laid eyes on my father.

FRED

You say that so casually.

1 – 2 - 18

 

GENE

I’ve had a lot of practice. I get asked the question often.

FRED

In your neighborhood?

GENE

No, not where I live. I’ve been in the same neighborhood all my life, and only one person ever asked what I was. Guys at the gym will ask.

FRED

At school?

GENE

No, at the Y. Guys at school don’t care. They’ve known me for three years. The only thing they care about is if you have any brains.

FRED

Well, yes, that is the most important thing at Central.

GENE

So, what do you do, Fred Skolnick?

FRED

Sales.

GENE

Yeah, what?

FRED

(mumbles)

Zippers. I sell zippers.

Gene starts to chuckle. The chuckle grows into a laugh, which he tries to control, but can’t.

I’ve been waiting for someone to laugh about that since I got the job. But I didn’t think it would be a kid.

GENE

Well, gee, Fred, you have to admit, a guy who likes guys, selling zippers…

More laughter.

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1 – 2 – 19

Fred starts to rise.

FRED

Yeah – well, glad you had a laugh. Guess I better…

GENE

(quickly)

Don’t go.

Fred gives him a lingering look, which Gene returns.

FRED

I’ve seen kids your age work the streets.

GENE

I’m not working the streets.

FRED

No, but you’re working that bench and the Y.

Slight pause.

GENE

You said this isn’t the cruiseiest park in town.

FRED

No, it isn’t.

GENE

How, why would I work it? If I was working anything.

FRED

You were here.

GENE

No, you were here. You and your friend have been coming here for a month. I’ve been coming here for three years, and you’re the first person I’ve spoken to.

FRED

You own that bench?

GENE

No, but I sure as shit ain’t working this bench, or any other bench.

 

1 – 2 - 20

FRED

That’s terrible language for a Central student.

GENE

I can do worse.

FRED

I’m sure you can. A kid your age, cursing like that.

GENE

Ah, fuck, it looks like we’re having our first fight.

FRED

What the hell does that mean? Our first fight? Jesus Christ.

GENE

Not nice taking God’s name in vain.

FRED

You’re really something else. You know that?

GENE

Well…

FRED

And what the hell are you writing there? You can’t be doing homework and talking to me at the same time.

GENE

Oh, yes I can.

FRED

C’mon…

GENE

Dates. I’m writing down dates. History. It helps me remember them if I write them down.

FRED

I see.

GENE

Do you object to not having my full attention?

1 – 2 – 21

FRED

I think having your full attention might be pretty damn terrifying.

GENE

Well, why don’t you take a chance and see how it goes.

Gene closes both books.

There, that’s the end of those dates. Would you like to make a date?

FRED

See, that’s exactly what I mean!

GENE

What?

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FRED

I’m not even that aggressive, and I’m an adult.

GENE

And that’s one of the things I like about you, Freddy.

FRED

Oh, don’t do that. Don’t ever call me Freddy.

GENE

Okay.

FRED

And what does that mean – one of the things you like about me? When did you ever get a chance – oh, yeah.

GENE

Yes, the Y.

FRED

Do you check out everyone?

GENE

Everyone checks out everyone. Men do that. Even the ones who aren’t attracted to guys check out other guys. That’s what men do.

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1 – 2 – 22

FRED

I don’t look at underage boys.

GENE

You do when they’re on the Roman rings.

FRED

That – that was – a – thing of beauty.

GENE

And that’s one of the reasons I’m on the gym team.

FRED

Why – why. Something tells me I shouldn’t be asking this question.

Slight pause.

Why are you cruising me?

GENE

Are you serious?

FRED

Yes!

GENE

Fred, have you looked in a mirror lately?

FRED

When I shave.

GENE

Have you seen yourself naked?

FRED

You mean do I stand in front of a mirror? No.

GENE

Have you noticed guys at the Y looking at you?

FRED

Some – sometimes.

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1 – 2 – 23

GENE

How long have you been messing around with guys?

FRED

(hesitates)

Not – not long.

GENE

How long?

FRED

A couple of years.

GENE

How old are you?

FRED

I’m – ah – thirty-three years old, Dr. Kinsey.

Gene laughs

.

You know who Dr. Kinsey is?

GENE

Sure. I go to Central.

FRED

The lad knows Kinsey.

GENE

I haven’t read him.

FRED

In a few years, I’m sure.

He gives Gene a lingering look.

Do any of the men at the Y get you to go to bed with them?

GENE

(slight pause)

What do you think?

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1 – 2 – 24

FRED

That’s what I was afraid of.

GENE

Why should you be afraid?

FRED

You’re underage. Sixteen is underage.

GENE

Tell my body that.

FRED

The men at the Y should keep their hands off you.

GENE

You asked if they get me to go to bed with them.

FRED

Uh-huh.

GENE

It’s always the other way around.

FRED

What does that mean?

GENE

I have to get them to go to bed with me. But it’s not my bed, of course. It’s always their beds. And it’s always my idea. And it’s always hard work.

FRED

But they’re not saying no.

GENE

Oh, yes, yes they are. At first. Sometimes it takes months to get a man into bed.

FRED

You might have better luck with boys your own age.

GENE

I’m not at all interested in guys my own age.

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1 – 2 – 25

FRED

Why not?

GENE

To begin with, they don’t kiss, and they really don’t know how to suck cock.

FRED

Holy shit.

GENE

Why so shocked? That’s what we do, isn’t it?

FRED

Yeah – ah – well…

GENE

And you’re either good at it, or you’re not.

FRED

And you – are you….no, no, I’m not going to ask that.

Gene laughs.

GENE

I think cock sucking is an art form. Anyone who has ever had his cock sucked by someone who’s good at it knows it’s an art form.

Fred’s jaw drops slowly. Gene does a slow double take, then chuckles.

FRED

When – when I was your age….

GENE

…there was no such thing as penicillin.

FRED

You’ve needed penicillin?!

GENE

Not yet.

FRED

Well, that at least is reassuring.

1 – 2 – 26

GENE

Yeah – I guess. If you need to be reassured.

FRED

Sixteen – sixteen! I knew nothing when I was sixteen!

GENE

Times have changed.

FRED

No, no they haven’t. What you regard as an art form is still considered abnormal, not to mention…

GENE

…illegal. Yeah, I know. But only by people who aren’t doing it. And the ones who don’t admit to doing it. It took you what – thirty years – to admit what you wanted?

FRED

Almost that.

GENE

What were you doing before that?

FRED

Not much. Not much at all.

GENE

You’re the second really good looking guy I’ve met who’s been wearing blinders most of his life.

FRED

And what woke you up at such an early age?

GENE

Eh – intuition – I guess. And a need to get out of the neighborhood.

FRED

Why would you have to get out of the neighborhood?

GENE

Because I felt I didn’t belong there.

FRED

But you’re still there, aren’t you?

1 – 2 – 27

GENE

Only to eat and sleep.

FRED

Do you feel you belong at Central?

GENE

Sure. They’re a lot of us at Central. It’s a very brainy school. I would have gone nuts at Southeast Catholic, or even worse Southern.

FRED

Oh, you think there are no gay kids at Southeast Catholic and Southern?

GENE

What kids?

FRED

Gay – gay kids.

GENE

Is that what you call kids who are homosexual – gay kids?

FRED

That’s what – what homosexuals are called – gay.

GENE

Who calls them that?

FRED

Homosexuals!

GENE

You mean that’s what they call themselves?

FRED

Yeah!

GENE

That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Gay. Gay?

FRED

You never heard that term before?

1 – 2 – 28

GENE

No. And no one I know has ever used it.

FRED

Well, what have you been calling yourself all this time?

GENE

Gene. What did you call yourself before you discovered you were “gay?”

FRED

A mess.

GENE

Amess? What’s that, Yiddish?

FRED

A mess. A fucking mess.

GENE

Oh, a mess. Okay. Wait til I tell the guys at school what we’re known as – gay. Oh, I hate that. It sounds so – queer.

FRED

What would you prefer to be called?

Gene thinks for a moment.

GENE

Emperor Eugeneo Buonocorso.

Fred chuckles. It grows into a belly laugh that he does nothing to suppress. Gene chuckles at the reaction.

FRED

Oh, God. Oh, I haven’t – I haven’t laughed that hard in quite some time.

?

GENE

I guess you’re not hanging around enough “gay” people.

Fred shakes his head in disbelief.

So, Fred Skolnick, when are you going to take me home?

1 – 2 – 29

FRED

That’s never going to happen.

GENE

You’re sure about that?

FRED

Yes! I – am – very – sure – about – that.

GENE

But don’t you want to make up for lost time?

FRED

What lost time?

GENE

Well, you said you’ve been fooling around with guys for about two years – and seeing your missing friend for two years. How much fun could you have had in such a short period of time?

FRED

How long have you been at this?

GENE

Three years. See. Got you beat by one.

FRED

I don’t make it with underage boys.

GENE

Then why are you still sitting here?

FRED

Because this is one of the weirdest encounters I ever had in my entire life.

GENE

And why’s that?

FRED

Because you’re so damn sure of yourself.

GENE

Would you be less interested if I were older?

1 – 2 – 30

FRED

Ah – noooo.

GENE

More interested?

FRED

Possibly.

GENE

Why?

FRED

Because I’ve already seen you on the Roman rings.

GENE

See. I know when people are staring.

FRED

What makes you so sure of yourself?

GENE

People staring. You’re not even aware when you’re on the receiving end of stares. I’ve seen guys at the Y practically foam at the mouth over you.

FRED

I’ve never seen that. Never.

GENE

I know. I’ve watched you. You don’t even look at guys.

FRED

I think it’s rude. And I’m afraid I might look at the wrong guy.

GENE

I guess we’re all afraid of that.

FRED

Have you ever looked at the wrong guy?

GENE

No, no not really. I have started conversations with guys who were staring for weeks, but when I spoke to them they got kind of nasty.

1 – 2 – 31

FRED

Nasty?

GENE

Yeah. Not physically.

FRED

What –

GENE

You know. “Who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing?” That sort of thing. They sit there for weeks looking at me in the gym, staring at my cock in the pool, and then they give me the “Who do you think you are?” shit. Assholes.

FRED

I would have done the exact same thing. You’re a very frightening young man.

GENE

Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. But you’ll talk to me here. Not at the Y.

FRED

I wouldn’t want to be seen talking to you. How would that look? I’d look like a…

GENE

…a cradle robber. Yeah, I know.

FRED

It’s just not right.

Slight pause.

What about the guys you end up in bed with?

GENE

What about them?

FRED

Why weren’t they frightened of you?

GENE

I guess after a while they got used to me. And I had to get used to them. I sure as hell don’t go to bed with anyone I’m not comfortable with.

?

1 – 2 – 32

FRED

Do you have sex with them regularly?

GENE

A few of them. Depends on how we feel. Just timing I guess. Most of them have become friends.

FRED

Friends? What kind of friendship could a grown man have with a teenager?

Pause.

GENE

The kind of friendship that’s based on the same interests.

FRED

Oh, you know men my age who are gymnasts?

GENE

I know men your age who are interested in film…

FRED

Film? Not movies?

GENE

…theatre – museums – literature.

FRED

No baseball, no football – basketball?

GENE

Those are not the kind of balls they’re interested in.

FRED

Oh, yeah, I suppose so.

GENE

And what are you interested in?

Pause.

FRED

(mockingly)

Museums – theatre – literature – and, of course, film.

1 – 2 – 33

Gene stares at him.

GENE

That wasn’t very nice.

FRED

No, no it wasn’t, was it? I’m – I’m sorry.

GENE

I’m not the one who didn’t show up today.

FRED

No, no you’re not.

GENE

You really don’t have anyone to talk to, do you?

FRED

Do you?

GENE

Oh, yeah, sure.

FRED

That’s right. You go to Central. You seduce men at the Y. Your conversations are probably already legendary.

GENE

Are you one of those guys who felt he was the only guy in the world who was attracted to other guys – when you realized you had those feelings?

FRED

Yes. Yes, I was. And you didn’t?

GENE

No. I own a dictionary. I was twelve when I looked up the word homosexual. And I knew that if it was in the dictionary, it wasn’t put there just for me.

FRED

When – why does a twelve year old kid come in contact with the word homosexual?

GENE

When one of the parish priests makes every possible attempt to suck my cock.

1 – 2 – 34

FRED

What?!

GENE

There was a priest, Father Murray. He would always try to get me aroused. He kept telling me that if I got aroused then maybe I would be a homosexual. But when I asked what a homosexual was he wouldn’t tell me. Said it was a secret. Just like trying to get me aroused was a secret. The ugly old fart probably thought I didn’t know how to spell.

FRED

You’re making this up.

GENE

No, I’m not. He was a real pain in the ass. Had he been good looking, it would have been another story. Why couldn’t he have looked like Johnny Weissmuller or Johnny Sheffield?

FRED

Who’s Johnny Sheffield?

GENE

Bomba the Jungle Boy. Also played Tarzan’s son – lucky kid.

FRED

I thought you weren’t attracted to kids your own age.

GENE

Johnny was an exception – once he got to be Bomba.

FRED

So are you – an exception. But you’re dangerous.

GENE

No, I’m not.

FRED

Do you realize that men go to …

GENE

No one has ever gone to jail because they went to bed with me.

FRED

But it could happen.

1 – 2 – 35

GENE

Well, it won’t.

FRED

You already said you went to bed with guys at the Y.

GENE

Did I mention any names? And you wouldn’t know any of them, because you don’t talk to anyone. Remember, you’re the guy who doesn’t have anyone to talk to.

FRED

What about the crazy priests?

GENE

Priest. Not priests. It was one goofy priest. The others were fine. The pastor gave me a lot of confidence.

FRED

Good for him. But that one priest could end up in jail.

GENE

He’s a priest for Christ’s sake. They never do anything wrong. Nuns never do anything wrong. That’s the way it is. Oh, you are definitely not a Catholic.

FRED

What the hell does that mean?

GENE

You think the cops are going to do anything to the Catholic Church? That’s not possible. Priests do whatever they want. Nuns, too. They can say whatever they want, and they can make you feel like shit when they do it. That’s why I left.

FRED

Did the priest do that to you?

GENE

Not the priest. The priest was a nudge, but at least he gave me the word that told me what I was. And that sure as hell led to some fun. But not with him. Ugh! No, it was a nun, a nun who knew just what to say and when to say it who made me feel like shit. The priest wanted to suck my cock. Now that I think of it, that was flattering, even if he was repulsive.

FRED

What if he did that with kids who – who…

1 – 2 – 36

GENE

…aren’t homosexuals?

FRED

Yeah.

Pause.

GENE

I always thought he did it because he knew I was a homosexual, knew even before I could label it. Do you think he tried that with guys who weren’t?

FRED

How the hell would I know? I’m the guy who is definitely not a Catholic.

GENE

That – would – be – horrible. It would be like trying to force me to have sex with a woman. Revolting. Frightening even.

FRED

How did you figure this out at such an early age? Even as an adult, I buried everything. And you – you’re like a – a….

GENE

A what?

FRED

I don’t know what. But whatever it is, it scares me.

GENE

Okay.

FRED

Okay – what?

GENE

Okay – you’re scared. I can’t do anything about that.

FRED

Do you enjoy shocking people?

GENE

No. I enjoy talking with people. Do you?

1 – 2 – 37

Long pause.

FRED

No. No, I don’t enjoy talking with people. (pause) And I never said that to anyone. Never said it to myself. And no one ever asked that question.

GENE

Must be difficult for a zipper salesman, not wanting to talk to people.

FRED

Selling is not talking.

GENE

No?

FRED

It’s different. It’s – it’s not – this.

GENE

What did you talk about with your friend of two years?

FRED

Stuff. We talked about stuff.

GENE

What kind of stuff?

FRED

The kind of stuff interior decorators talk about.

GENE

Is that what he is?

FRED

That’s what he’s studying to be. For two years, I’ve listened to him talk about furniture, draperies, upholstery, chachkas.

GENE

I guess that kind of outweighs zippers, doesn’t it?

FRED

And I guess that’s why he hasn’t been here for two weeks.

?

1 – 2 – 38

GENE

Have you tried phoning him?

FRED

I can’t. He lives with his family.

GENE

I have the same problem. No one can phone me. But some of the guys, the ones who live alone or with their lovers, I have their numbers.

FRED

You know guys who live together?

GENE

A few. You surprised?

FRED

Not really. It’s only that you seem to have more of a social life than I have.

GENE

Well, if you start talking to people, maybe things will pick up for you.

FRED

I’ve always felt so damn different. Awkward – removed. You probably have no idea what that’s like.

Gene bursts into uncontrollable laughter.

That was a real dumb ass, insensitive thing to say, wasn’t it?

GENE

Oh, yeah.

FRED

I’m sorry.

GENE

Don’t apologize. That’s the second good laugh you’ve given me.

FRED

Do you laugh a lot with your friends?

?

?

1 – 2 – 39

GENE

Sometimes – yeah, sure. But then I’ve come across some real dumb ass shit because of my background.

FRED

Why?

GENE

People ask. People usually want to know what nationality you are.

FRED

But with your name, people would assume you’re Italian. You look Italian.

GENE

You wanted to know if I was Jewish before you knew my name. Most people don’t care what I am. But then there’s always someone who’s going to ask the dumb ass question: “Have you ever eaten spaghetti?”

FRED

Nobody’s ever asked you that.

GENE

Yeah, yeah somebody did ask me that.

FRED

What was he thinking?

GENE

Who said it was a guy?

FRED

I just assumed it was one of the guys you met.

GENE

No, it was the mother of a buddy from school. She’s a lesbian.

FRED

The mother of a buddy from school admits to being a lesbian?

GENE

She doesn’t have much of a choice. We’re talking serious butch here. She makes Gabriel Heater sound like Yma Sumac.

?

1 – 2 – 40

FRED

Who’s Yma Sumac?

GENE

Boy, you really don’t get out much at all. Yma Sumac is an Inca princess, or so she says. Has an eight octave range, or so she says. Does bird calls.

FRED

How do you know this stuff?

GENE

I’m a homosexual. I’m supposed to know this stuff. What’s your excuse for not knowing it? Too busy selling zippers?

FRED

I listen to jazz, mostly.

GENE

No musicals?

FRED

No.

GENE

Have you ever been to a musical?

FRED

Only movies.

GENE

Not in a theatre – live?

FRED

No.

Pause

GENE

Are you sure you’re Jewish?

FRED

Yes – I – am – certain – of – it. (slight pause) I did not come from a typical Jewish family. And you sure as hell didn’t come from a typical – a typical – anything.

1 – 2 – 41

GENE

Why do I get the impression that I’m having more fun than you ever had?

FRED

Because you are. You are having more fun.

Pause

GENE

I can think of one way to eliminate the absence of pleasure in your life.

FRED

You are relentless – absolutely relentless.

GENE

No. Not sex. I’m not talking about sex.

FRED

You’re having a change of heart?

GENE

Sure, when I first saw you at the Y, I thought – whew – great eyes – lips. Then I saw you in the shower…

FRED

Okay, that’s enough of that.

GENE

See. That’s why I never approached you at the Y. You would have run and never talked to me again.

FRED

Right. That’s exactly what I would have done.

GENE

But here it’s okay. No witnesses.

FRED

Witnesses. Perfect word, considering you want me to commit a crime.

GENE

I want you to meet some people you can talk to. Friends of mine.

?

1 – 2 – 42

FRED

Teenage homosexuals and lesbians? I don’t think so.

Slight pause.

GENE

I – have – good – kind – friends. And not many of them are all that interested in stuff. Though I’m sure a few of them would be interested in your zippers.

FRED

Now he’s trying to fix me up.

GENE

Why not? Isn’t that what people do?

FRED

Do you get passed around?

GENE

What does that mean?

FRED

Do guys you go to bed with introduce you to other guys who want to go to bed with you?

GENE

No, no. I’ve never had that happen – yet. I’m sure if a friend introduced me to someone and I happened to like him, it would be okay. But right now I’m still quite capable of finding my own victims.

FRED

Victims?!! Victims?!!

GENE

It was a joke, for Christ’s sake. Blanche DuBois , “….the Tarantula Arms, that’s where I took my victims.”? Oh, forget it.

FRED

What the hell are you going to be when you grow up?

GENE

(quickly)

A trapeze artist.

?

1 – 2 – 43

FRED

Oh, yeah?

GENE

Yep. I’m going to run away and join Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey, a world where you can be a real clown, where people don’t care what nationality you are, where almost all nationalities are present, where you do a job that makes the world smile. Can you think of anything better than that?

Pause.

FRED

Twenty minutes ago I was thinking, you’re the weirdest kid I’ve ever met. Now, I know you’re the weirdest person I’ve ever met.

Pause.

GENE

You know a lot of kids?

FRED

Ah – no.

GENE

You know a lot of people, have a lot of friends?

FRED

Uh-uh. No.

GENE

Then you don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, do you?

FRED

Holy shit! You’re going to one of the best public high schools in the country, and you want to be a trapeze artist?

GENE

That’s what I want to be. That’s not what I will be.

FRED

And what will you be?

GENE

A hairdresser.

1 – 2 – 44

FRED

You’re kidding. I know you’re kidding.

GENE

I don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.

FRED

You should be thinking about it. Now.

GENE

Really? And how old were you when you decided to be a zipper salesman?

FRED

Don’t be a smart ass. You need to think of the future. Do you like school?

GENE

Hate it. Except for gym.

FRED

That attitude’s going to effect your grades.

GENE

My grades are good. I’m just bored all the time.

FRED

Well, when are you not bored?

GENE

Right now. I’m not bored at all.

FRED

Thanks. Nice compliment. But they don’t teach this in any school.

GENE

The Greeks did. “But you would think nothing of his face,” he replied, “if you could see his naked form; he is absolutely perfect.”

FRED

And that is?

GENE

The beginning of Plato’s first Dialog. It’s the only part I really understood.

?

1 – 2 – 45

FRED

It figures.

GENE

Are you bored – right now?

Pause.

FRED

No. No. Not at all. I’m too terrified to be bored.

GENE

See. We’re probably a match made in heaven.

FRED

How do such ideas pop into your head? I would never think of saying that to someone, even if I was thinking it.

GENE

It’s what I want to say. It’s fun to say it. And it might even be true.

FRED

Well, we’re not going to find out.

GENE

No?

FRED

No. Are you like this with everyone you meet?

GENE

Hell, no. Very few people I meet look like you.

FRED

I meant are you always so – so blunt?

GENE

It depends on the setting.

FRED

The setting?

 

?

?

1 – 2 – 46

GENE

I would never have this conversation at the gym. Or at a party. Or anyplace where there are other people. Would you?

FRED

Certainly not.

GENE

That’s what I like about times like this. You have someone all to yourself, nobody’s around, you find them attractive, and if you’re homosexual you can pretty much say what you want. No pretense. You don’t have to be polite.

FRED

I’m trying to be polite.

GENE

You asked me if I was a hustler. Was that polite?

FRED

I – ah – guess not.

GENE

Do you live alone?

FRED

None of your business. And why do you want to know?

GENE

Wishful thinking. I kind of want you to live alone, at least for the next two or three years.

FRED

Why?

GENE

Because if I can’t have you now, I’ll get you later. When I’m old enough.

FRED

Ahhhhh---

GENE

What?

?

1 – 2 – 47

FRED

This has gone as far as it’s going to go.

GENE

So soon?

FRED

I’m afraid I’m starting to enjoy the flattery.

GENE

I hope so. If you got out of those tired tweeds and into a tight pair of Levis and talk to people, you’d be flattered even more.

FRED

What makes you so sure that’s what I want?

GENE

What do you want?

FRED

I – I don’t know.

GENE

You want your friend to come back. That’s something.

FRED

Lenny? I’m not even sure about that now. He became a habit I thought I should have. Have you ever dated anyone?

GENE

Ah, kind of – maybe. But not for any length of time.

FRED

You’ve never had any schoolboy crushes?

GENE

On the two Johnnys – Weissmuller and Sheffield.

FRED

Movie stars don’t count.

GENE

Yeah – okay. I’ve had – had a crush. On someone I thought was a schmuck.

1 – 2 – 48

FRED

What made him a schmuck?

GENE

He wasn’t responding when I wanted him to.

FRED

Oh, so that made him a schmuck? Who was it?

GENE

I’m not saying. And why do you want to know?

FRED

Just wondered if it was any of the guys at the Y.

GENE

I don’t know you well enough to tell you that. Maybe when I get to know you better.

FRED

If you got to know me better, I wouldn’t want to know. I have what is known as a jealous streak.

GENE

Is that bad. Isn’t everyone a little jealous?

FRED

I don’t know about everyone. Have you ever been jealous?

GENE

Sure.

FRED

When?

GENE

When someone else is getting someone I want. Isn’t that when we get jealous? Are you wondering who’s kissing – ah – Lenny? Is that his name?

FRED

Uh-huh.

GENE

(singing)

Do you wonder who’s kissing him now?

1 – 2 – 49

FRED

Most likely his wife.

GENE

He’s married? He’s so young.

FRED

With two kids. He was married at sixteen.

GENE

And you say I’m precocious. You’d think people would be more careful.

FRED

Was your mother careful?

GENE

Well, no. Ah, guess not.

FRED

Are you being careful?

GENE

What I do isn’t going to make anyone pregnant. And I’m sure as hell won’t be getting pregnant. So, what’s the point?

FRED

The point is – the point is –

GENE

Well?

FRED

We’re not considered normal. And it’s against the law.

GENE

Who gives a shit? The law is a goddamn lie. What harm am I doing if I have sex with someone?

FRED

You’re too young to even know what the hell you’re doing.

GENE

Then why am I enjoying it so much? It’s my body. I’m not hurting anyone with it.

1 – 2 – 50

FRED

You just might have a very sorry road ahead of you with that attitude.

GENE

And you already have a very sorry road behind you, don’t you?

FRED

No. No, I don’t.

GENE

You let that beautiful body of yours go unused for what nineteen, twenty years? That’s pretty damn selfish, if you ask me. And when you finally decide to do something, what do you take up, a married man with two children. Couldn’t you do any better than that?

FRED

It’s my body. Isn’t that what you just said? And you do what you want with it.

GENE

You haven’t been doing what you want. You’ve been doing what others want. The abstinence thing – until two years ago. And you’re not even Catholic.

FRED

Why the hell do you give a damn what I do?

GENE

Because you’re the schmuck at the gym I had a crush on! Oh, I know I shouldn’t have said that!

Pause. Fred starts to rise slowly.

FRED

I – guess – not.

GENE

Where are you going?

FRED

Gene, the flattery was – nice. A crush?

GENE

I’m allowed.

FRED

Yes. Yes, you are. I’m not. You don’t even know me.

1 – 2 – 51

GENE

Since when do you have to know somebody to have a crush on him? It happens all the time.

FRED

Not to me.

GENE

Well, I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it?

FRED

Listen. Don’t go through life thinking you can pounce on whatever you want. The world isn’t like that.

GENE

It is if you know when and where to pounce.

Pause. The bell tolls.

FRED

You’re dangerous, Mr. Bonocorso. Very dangerous.

GENE

Not at all. Anything but.

The bell tolls.

FRED

I – I must ask you to do something for me.

?

GENE

Okay. What?

The bell tolls.

FRED

If you see me at the gym. If you see me on the street. If you see me anywhere. Don’t talk to me. Don’t acknowledge my existence.

The bell tolls. Gene turns away from Fred and picks up his books. He carefully controls the smile that crosses his face.

?

1 – 2 – 52

GENE

I can do that. No problem.

FRED

Thank you.

Fred exits quickly. Gene looks at his wristwatch.

GENE

Hmmm. Forty minutes. Not bad. Not bad at all.

The final bell tolls. The lights fade.

End of Act I

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2 – 1 – 53

ACT TWO

The church bell tolls twice, as a light comes up on Fred at downstage right. He wears a beige poplin suit, shirt, and tie.

FRED

I walked away from a sixteen year old boy in shear fear. Sweating, I was sweating on a clear, crisp October day. My shirt was soaked. But I had walked only a block, if that, before I realized I missed him. I was old enough to be his father. A week later I was back looking for him, hoping the weather would stay balmy enough to keep him on that bench.

The bell tolls once, as a light comes up on Old Gene seated in the chair at stage left.

OLD GENE

You were such hard work. Worth every effort, but hard work none the less.

FRED

I tried to talk myself out of going back – to the bench. But in that week I didn’t see him, I thought of nothing else. And I hated myself for it. I felt weak. I deliberately avoided going to the Y. Told myself that he probably wouldn’t keep his promise to avoid me. That he might even deliberately embarrass me. (ironic laugh) Then I realized that I was more concerned that he would avoid me.

OLD GENE

That would have been impossible.

FRED

I went back to the park – same time – same bench. He said…

OLD GENE

Hey, Fred. How have you been?

FRED

The self-assured little stinker was expecting me. And I realized he was expecting me. (to Old Gene) Okay. You?

OLD GENE

If you’re wondering about your friend Lenny…

FRED

I’m not wondering about Lenny.

?

2 – 1 – 54

OLD GENE

Probably best.

FRED

Let’s get one thing straight.

OLD GENE

Is this going to be a pun? I hate puns.

FRED

We’re not going to bed. Understand?

OLD GENE

Probably best.

FRED

I have to protect myself.

OLD GENE

Yes. Yes, you do. Of course you do. So, how’s the zipper business?

FRED

What can I say? The world will always need zippers.

OLD GENE

And the magnificent men who sell them.

FRED

Yeah.

OLD GENE

I had already given up prayer when I left St. Monica’s. But I made an exception and said a daily prayer to St. Jude that he would return. Good old St. Jude, patron saint of the hopeless, the impossible. I wonder if God gave him hell for getting Freddy back to me.

FRED

Freddy. I actually allowed him to call me Freddy. He said Fred was too short, to…

OLD GENE

Abrupt. The short ‘e’ wasn’t enough. Freddy, as opposed to Fred.

FRED

The kid had a musical ear.

2 – 1 – 55

OLD GENE

(facetiously)

And a wonderful sense of rhythm. (turns toward Fred) Go with me.

FRED

I’ve never seen a foreign film.

OLD GENE

C’mon. You’ll like it. And it’s free.

FRED

He knew every free cultural event in the city. So many things were free. I had no idea. (to Old Gene) What’s the title?

OLD GENE

It’s a Japanese film – Ugetsu. My friends refer to it as Ugetsu, Girl.

FRED

I don’t speak Japanese.

OLD GENE

Who does?

FRED

Oh, all right.

The bell tolls, as the lights fade quickly on the two men.

Scene Two

When it tolls again, the lights come up behind the scrim at stage center, revealing Gene seated on a bench and SRA poised in the act of walking. He wears revealing Levis and a t-shirt. She is in a plain skirt and blouse, and has short cropped hair. She carries a briefcase. On the third toll of the bell, she starts to cross from upstage right to upstage left, then hesitates to look at Gene. He is concentrating on his books. She approaches slowly.

SRA

Eugeneo?

He turns toward her – hesitates.

Eugeneo Boncorso?

2 – 2 – 56

GENE

Ye – yes.

SRA

You’ve grown.

GENE

It – happens. Do I –

SRA

You don’t recognize me, do you?

GENE

No. I – oh, my God. Sister Regina…

SRA

Ange. Yes.

GENE

Does Father Farrell know you’re running around dressed like that?

SRA

Well, it’s no longer Sister Regina Ange.

GENE

You’re kidding. What is it now, Hitler?

SRA

Very funny. I’m back to being…well, it doesn’t matter.

GENE

You left the convent?

SRA

Looks that way, doesn’t it?

GENE

I didn’t even know you could do that. I thought they burned you at the stake or something.

SRA

Those days are gone.

?

2 – 2 – 57

GENE

What a shame. Why did you leave, if you don’t mind my asking?

SRA

I realized I didn’t belong there.

GENE

I could have told you that.

SRA

Quick witted, I see. Looks as though the Jews have gotten to you.

GENE

Oh, yeah.

SRA

Where’s your friend today?

Lights come up quickly on Old Gene.

OLD GENE

It’s really amazing how, in an instant, the simplest sentence can suddenly arouse the most negative feelings.

GENE

What friend?

SRA

The man I’ve seen you talking to here so often.

GENE

Funny, I never noticed you before.

OLD GENE

I had no idea how I was going to maneuver.

Gene nervously looks at his textbook.

GENE

What are you doing in the neighborhood – so often?

SRA

I work over there at the Archdiocese.

2 – 2 – 58

GENE

I never go to the Cathedral. Do – do you like it there?

SRA

Yes. So, your friend is?

GENE

My – he’s my big brother.

SRA

That’s very funny, Eugeneo.

GENE

Don’t call me that. Don’t ever call me that again.

SRA

But that’s your name.

GENE

But you make it sound like a curse.

SRA

You really think so? (slight pause) Do you expect me to believe that man is your brother?

GENE

My big brother. You’ve heard of Big Brothers? It’s over on Van Pelt Street. They take boys and find big brothers for them. Fatherless boys.

OLD GENE

Oh, I was good on my feet.

SRA

That’s a fine idea.

OLD GENE

Or so I thought.

SRA

How long has he been your big brother?

GENE

About a year.

2 – 2 – 59

SRA

What is it over there at Big Brothers, catch as catch can?

GENE

What – what does that mean?

SRA

Couldn’t they have found a big brother who’s Catholic?

GENE

How do you know he’s not Catholic?

SRA

Because he has the map of Israel all over his face.

Pause.

GENE

Do you have a problem with Jews? Are you going to tell me that you were once chased down the street by a pack of Jews?

She sits on the bench opposite him. Fred, in Levis and a sport shirt, approaches, but Gene waves him off. He backs away toward the partially concealed bench and sits down.

SRA

No. But I think someone your age would be better off with someone of your own kind, your own religion.

GENE

But I’m a senior at Central High. Remember? “There is a certain boy.” I’ve already spent three years with Jews and Communists. You don’t remember your prediction? You were right. I left what you call my religion, my kind, behind three years ago.

SRA

I’m very sorry to hear that.

GENE

You’re sorry to hear that?

SRA

Yes, of course.

GENE

You are so full of shit. You hated me.

2 – 2 – 60

SRA

Oh, don’t do that. Don’t you dare do that.

GENE

You don’t scare me anymore.

OLD GENE

I lied. She scared me a great deal. Her presence was the very last thing I wanted to see – ever.

FRED

And I couldn’t do anything to help.

GENE

Why are you sitting there? Don’t you have work to do?

SRA

I think your immortal soul might be more important.

GENE

I left my soul in your classroom three years ago, and you were welcomed to it.

SRA

We never give up on anyone.

GENE

But you’re not a nun anymore.

SRA

Just because I removed the habit and the cloche doesn’t mean I removed the religion. Every soul counts in the eyes of God.

GENE

What makes you think I’m going to sit here long enough to listen to what you have to say about my soul?

SRA

I have a duty to perform. I could go to your home and have a conversation with your mother. Does she know your Big Brother is a Jew?

OLD GENE

Going to my home. The very last thing I wanted.

?

2 – 2 – 61

GENE

My mother is too busy working. She wouldn’t care if my Big Brother was a full blooded orangutan.

SRA

You mean she doesn’t know about your Big Brother?

GENE

She – she knows.

OLD GENE

Of course, my mother didn’t know. She was too busy working to pay much attention to what I did. I had – enormous freedom.

FRED

That was a terrifying day for me, being waved away like that.

OLD GENE

What else could I do? She would have devoured you in seconds.

FRED

At first, I thought she might be a relative.

OLD GENE

Oh, yeah sure. My few aunts and uncles on the Parkway of Philadelphia. The main library, the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, the magnificent Art Museum – the city’s cradle of culture. I don’t think so. The only place they might have gone, the one place I never went , was the Cathedral. And I don’t think any one of them ever set foot in that place. It was not a cultured family. And it sure as hell wasn’t a religious one.

FRED

The offices for the Archdiocese were right behind the Cathedral.

OLD GENE

Yep.

FRED

That’s where I always parked the car. I bet she saw the…

OLD GENE

The Jewish Star you kept on the dashboard.

?

?

2 – 2 – 62

FRED

You gave me that thing.

OLD GENE

Something had to take the load off poor old Saint Christopher.

GENE

What makes you so sure he’s not Italian? I know Italians who look like him.

SRA

I doubt if there are many men of any nationality who look like him.

GENE

Oh?

OLD GENE

That was the moment when I knew I couldn’t walk away from her.

Gene closes his book slowly.

GENE

Are you sure it’s my soul you’re interested in?

SRA

I beg your pardon.

GENE

Never mind.

OLD GENE

I didn’t have the guts to ask her outright if she had the hots for you, Freddy.

FRED

What is the strange effect I had on Catholics?

GENE

What if I told you that you’re wrong, that he is Italian?

SRA

You’d be lying.

GENE

How would you know that?

2 – 2 – 63

SRA

He has the Star of David on his dashboard.

GENE

How long have you been….

The lights dim quickly, leaving a dominant spot on SRA as she moves to downstage right. She removes several stapled pages from her briefcase and checks them.

SRA

I never cease to be surprised at how naïve these people can be. Does he honestly think he’s not being watched? Really. But do I have time for him? No, they’re very low on the list. Maybe this is just a sign – a sign – from God. Of course. I suppose those was inevitable. I’ve been watching him for months – with his friend – the… Oh, well. But why the sudden change in….

The lights come up quickly, as Fred approaches Gene, who laughs when he sees him.

GENE

Look at you! Turn around! You look wonderful. How do you feel?

FRED

Restricted. These damn things are tight.

GENE

Yeah, but look at what they do for your ass.

FRED

I can’t see my ass.

GENE

But everyone else can.

FRED

You’re not supposed to be looking at my ass. I never thought I would go out in public in dungarees.

GENE

You never thought you would go out in public with…

SRA

…a seventeen year old boy, a senior in high school. I thought little of it, until he showed up without one of his very respectable suits.

2 – 2 – 64

OLD GENE

We had gone through the seasons. From tweeds to seersucker to dungarees. He looked best in Levis.

GENE

What a great surprise. I never thought you’d do this. C’mon. Let’s go.

FRED

Where?

GENE

Leon’s. I told you.

FRED

I forgot.

GENE

I told you. He’s expecting us. I’ve got work to do. I’m going to be immortalized.

FRED

Again.

Gene exits with his books. Fred turns toward Old Gene.

There wasn’t one friend of yours I didn’t like.

OLD GENE

Yeah, they were a pretty amazing lot, weren’t they? But you were afraid to meet them. Remember?

FRED

I was worried about what the hell they would think of me. The age difference.

OLD GENE

They were my friends. We did not live in a world of age differences. Only common interests.

FRED

I learned that fast enough. I had a lot of catching up to do. I knew nothing about – about – well – anything!

Fred exits in the same direction as Gene.

?

2 – 3 – 65

Scene Three

The lights dim, except for the spot on SRA.

SRA

There is certainly a great deal to learn on this Parkway that stretches beyond the Cathedral. But not one of its museums, its schools, its institutes of science contains a single piece of information that will help me handle this challenge. His Big Brother. Huh! It’s probably a phase. Whatever it is, I can only rely on my faith, my religion to do what must be done.

OLD GENE

I relied on my friends as much as I depended on oxygen. None of them cared what you were, what nationality, what combination of nationalities, what religion, as long as you weren’t destructive.

SRA

How do I break this down in such a way that it can’t be reassembled? Tricky business sin.

OLD GENE

It certainly wasn’t clear at the time what it was she had to destroy. Or what had to be maintained. It was certainly more than what she was willing to reveal.

SRA

Thank goodness I don’t have to concern myself with specifics. Sin covers a very broad spectrum. And sin is certainly enough of a foundation to get me through this horror.

OLD GENE

Sin. If anything saved me, it was sin itself.

SRA

What a horrible age…

OLD GENE

Discovering my own body.

SRA

…to teach…

OLD GENE

Knowing how it felt…

?

2 – 3 – 66

SRA

…when they were just starting to…

A light comes up slowly on Fred behind the scrim at stage right, his back facing downstage. Cole Porter’s “Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye” plays softly.

OLD GENE

How it was supposed to feel.

SRA

…discover all we had been warning them about since first grade. They…they…

OLD GENE

For me it was…

SRA

…they never listened. Too many of them just wouldn’t listen.

OLD GENE

Bliss. For me it was sheer bliss.

The lights fade on SRA and Old Gene.

Scene Four

The music gets only slightly louder, as the lights come up at stage right. Fred straddles a ladder back chair, facing Gene, who is reclining on his side on a draped table. He is nude, except for a wreath on his head and a cornucopia placed at his groin. He removes an apple from the cornucopia. The window panes are six over sixes.

GENE

Do you think Leon would mind if I ate this?

FRED

I don’t think Leon would deny you anything.

Gene chuckles.

Besides, you have fifteen minutes before he gets back. He might not notice that it’s missing.

?

?

?

 

2 – 4 – 67

GENE

Oh, he’d notice all right. He knows where every line, every color, every shape and shadow is. But I think he’s done with the cornucopia. Ah, I better put it back. It might throw his eye off or something.

Fred rises slowly and moves to the rear of the table.

FRED

How many friends have you posed for?

GENE

Three, I think. Maybe four. I’m not counting.

FRED

And you don’t charge them?

GENE

They can barely afford to eat.

FRED

You could probably model at the art school. When you’re old enough, that is.

GENE

I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing that.

FRED

Why not?

GENE

Friends are one thing. Strangers – nah – couldn’t do that.

FRED

Strangers see you naked at the gym.

GENE

And they’re all men. I wouldn’t feel comfortable posing for women.

Fred gently runs a hand along Gene’s body.

That’s the – the first time you touched me.

FRED

Yeah.

2 – 4 – 68

GENE

Feels good.

FRED

I had no idea someone’s skin could be this smooth, this soft.

GENE

It’s all in the genes.

FRED

I thought you hated puns.

GENE

I couldn’t resist that one. But it’s not original.

FRED

No?

GENE

About a year ago, I met this chorus boy at the gym. He was in town with a musical – a big flop. After we had sex, he said, “Wow, baby, you have the smoothest skin I’ve ever touched. I guess it’s all in the genes.”

Gene imitates a manic, effeminate laugh.

I didn’t get it until I was on the trolley on my way home.

Fred chuckles and continues to touch him gently.

FRED

Why did you stop trying to get me into bed?

Pause.

GENE

Because you said no sex. Because I knew if I pressed the issue you would have run away. And because I knew I really liked having you around. And having you around was more important than sex.

Pause.

FRED

Can I change my mind?

2 – 4 – 69

GENE

Oh, you betcha.

Fred leans down slowly and gives him a tender, lingering kiss.

GENE

If someone told me I was going to wait eighteen months for that, I would have said they were nuts.

FRED

We met about seven months ago.

GENE

But I had a crush on you long before that. Remember?

FRED

Oh, yeah. I ran away.

GENE

I don’t want you to do anything that would make you run away again.

FRED

I’m not going anywhere.

The lights fade.

Scene Five

The lights come up on Old Gene at stage left.

OLD GENE

To this day, I still don’t know how I kept my hands off him all that time. Self- control wasn’t one of my strong suits. He had no trouble controlling himself until he saw me pose. Yet, he had seen me at the gym. I never could figure out what the difference was. Maybe it was the cornucopia.

The light comes up on SRA at stage center.

SRA

Have you been paying close attention to your studies?

OLD GENE

Did she think I was carrying the books around for exercise?

2 – 5 – 70

SRA

And your music? Have you continued with that?

OLD GENE

Well, my wonderful sense of rhythm had fallen by the wayside. But why the hell did she care?

SRA

Why do you come here so often, Eugeneo…Eugene?

OLD GENE

I liked the light.

SRA

The light?

OLD GENE

I liked the way the light bled through the trees, the way it danced on the ground in a breeze. But most of all I liked the fact that I almost always had the place to myself.

SRA

Wouldn’t you be more comfortable studying at home?

OLD GENE

I never studied at home.

SRA

Really? Why not?

OLD GENE

I had stopped feeling welcomed in the neighborhood where my home was located. She saw to that.

SRA

I have no recollection of having done any such thing.

OLD GENE

I wasn’t about to remind her.

SRA

Oh, yes. Your parentage.

OLD GENE

She didn’t need to be reminded.

2 – 5 – 71

SRA

That was the problem, wasn’t it? Your parentage.

OLD GENE

Only for you.

SRA

Oh, no. For the entire neighborhood.

OLD GENE

Why was she the first one to mention it? She had just arrived in the neighborhood.

SRA

I did not make a major issue of it.

OLD GENE

It became a major issue in no time at all.

SRA

Well, then maybe there was a reason for that.

OLD GENE

She almost succeeded in destroying all that the nuns she had followed had given me. Almost.

SRA

Oh, I doubt that.

OLD GENE

They, at least, made me feel that I belonged there. And, at times, I actually felt useful.

SRA

Yes, those trips to the bank with the deposits. Impeccably neat Eugeneo in his beautiful

white shirts and handsome leather school bag that concealed a whole lot of money. What a pretty picture.

OLD GENE

I’m not wearing brilliant white shirts anymore, and there is no school bag full of money.

The light fades quickly on Old Gene.

Gene enters quickly, carrying his books. He takes the same bench. Fred enters slowly, taking the partially concealed bench.

?

2 – 6 – 72

Scene 6

GENE

But I’m still pretty as a picture.

SRA

Yes, even I have to admit that you’re turning into a very handsome young man.

GENE

Thanks. But how is all of this supposed to save my immortal soul?

SRA

We’ll get to that soon enough.

GENE

Oh, Lord.

SRA

So, is your Big Brother your only friend?

GENE

No.

SRA

Don’t you have friends your own age?

GENE

Yes.

SRA

Negro friends?

GENE

A few. What is this all about?

Lights up on Old Gene.

OLD GENE

I could see you listening intently, your head snapping every time she asked one of her dumb ass questions.

FRED

I didn’t know what the hell was going on, whether I should stay or go.

2 – 6 – 73

OLD GENE

I certainly didn’t want you to go, but I was worried about your staying, that she would see you, or that you would come over and she would start asking you about Big Brothers.

FRED

I never set foot in that place.

OLD GENE

Neither did I, but she didn’t know that. (incredulously) Do I have Negro friends?

SRA

Any Negro girl friends?

GENE

What is that supposed to mean?

SRA

I just want to know if you’re dating girls of your own race.

GENE

And what race is that? I’m a combination of more than one race.

SRA

Don’t kid yourself. There’s no question about it, you’re a nig…a Negro.

GENE

You were going to say nigger, weren’t you? You were. (slight pause) Why don’t you just leave here?

SRA

Why don’t you?

GENE

Because I’ve already given up a whole neighborhood, and I’m not giving up anymore places to you. I come here when the weather’s good. I come because very few people come here, and I think of it as my little place in an ugly world you helped create. And I need this. So why don’t you just go back to work over there at the Archdiocese?

SRA

I am working.

?

2 – 6 – 74

GENE

Making people miserable, that’s your job?

SRA

Seeing that people keep their place, that’s my job.

Gene opens a book. Lights up on Old Gene.

OLD GENE

I had no idea what she meant by that. Control over a classroom full of students, that I could understand. But control over people? It seemed preposterous.

SRA turns toward Old Gene.

SRA

Why do you find that so difficult to believe?

OLD GENE

Nuns have no power.

SRA

I’m not a nun any longer.

OLD GENE

A woman of the world has even less. At least none of the women I knew did.

SRA

There is work that has to be done.

OLD GENE

What work?

SRA

Liaison work.

OLD GENE

Liaison was a word that had not yet entered my permanent vocabulary.

GENE

Liaison? What does that…

SRA

I don’t think you need to know that just now.

2 – 6 – 75

OLD GENE

If ever.

GENE

Why are you being so vague? Why are you even here?

SRA

Eugene…

GENE

Couldn’t you just call be Gene like everyone else? Or just forget my name altogether.

SRA

That would be very hard to do.

GENE

I haven’t seen you in over three years. Why did you pick now to bother me?

SRA

I really didn’t expect to run into you.

GENE

Couldn’t you have just kept on walking?

SRA

No, oh no. I’m much too concerned with your future to even think of not stopping to talk to you.

OLD GENE

I sure as hell didn’t want that kind of attention, especially from someone directly connected to the Archdiocese.

SRA

We will always remain concerned, Eu – Gene.

OLD GENE

Oh, my name – finally, a small concession.

SRA

It’s the least I can do.

OLD GENE

Yes, yes it was.

2 – 7 – 76

Scene 7

Fred approaches Gene and hands him two books.

FRED

I found them – finally.

GENE

Thanks. Where did you get them?

FRED

Where else? Leary’s. What an odd place that is. Wedged there right into the side of Gimbel’s.

GENE

Neat, isn’t it? Gimbel offered them all sorts of money when he wanted to build the department store, but old man Leary wouldn’t sell. They had to build around him.

FRED

Smart move. All that traffic from the department store pouring into the bookstore.

GENE

It had nothing to do with traffic. A buddy at school says his grandfather told him old man Leary wouldn’t sell because he didn’t like Jews. And that was the only reason.

Pause.

FRED

Will it ever end?

GENE

The prejudice? Yeah, I think so.

FRED

And what makes you think so?

GENE

I’m not down there in the land of bigotry. I got out.

FRED

Did you really have any choice?

Slight pause.

2 – 7 – 77

GENE

I – I guess not.

FRED

Ah.

GENE

Do you think I would have turned into them if…

Fred returns to the concealed bench.

Scene 8

SRA

…you weren’t a Negro? Of course you would have. Everyone wants to belong, Gene. You should know that by now. They don’t call them the tribes of Israel for nothing. And I think it would be best if you found your own particular tribe.

GENE

And where would they be, that tribe of mine?

SRA

Negroes are very color conscious.

GENE

Then that would certainly make you a Negro, wouldn’t it?

SRA

It’s not the same. I do not perceive color the way a Negro would.

GENE

You might be better off if you did.

SRA

I doubt that. Look, I’m only trying to help you.

GENE

I don’t see how.

SRA

You and your mother are still living in the same house?

GENE

Yes. It’s almost paid off. She’s worked hard for that house.

2 – 8 – 78

SRA

I imagine she has. And I expect you’ll inherit the house when she dies?

GENE

My mother isn’t even forty years old yet.

SRA

Quite honestly now, don’t you think you and your mother would be happier in another neighborhood?

GENE

Yeah, sure, I would be happier in another neighborhood. That’s why I spend so much time in this neighborhood. But I don’t see what this has to do with my mother.

Fred addresses Old Gene.

FRED

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

OLD GENE

I kept watching the back of your head. Every time it twitched, I thought for sure you would jump up and say something.

GENE

You’re a nun…

SRA

Not any…

GENE

Or used to be.

FRED

When she said she removed the habit, I thought she meant…

OLD GENE

A bad habit?

FRED

Yes! A nun. She was a nun. I used to find them kind of strange and wonderful and mysterious. Sitting a few feet away from her and listening…

GENE

Why are you telling me that we should move?

2 – 8 – 79

SRA

To avoid any future embarrassments. Don’t you realize how successful, how popular you would be in a Negro community?

GENE

No. Tell me. What am I going to do there that would make me popular? Inflict my recipes for gravy and meatballs on them? What?

SRA

You cook?

GENE

When it’s just you and your mother, you cook.

Fred and Gene move toward stage right

SRA

Even I don’t know how to cook.

OLD GENE

Why would you? You were always waited on by nuns who did nothing but cook.

SRA

Each of us had a purpose. Cooking was not my purpose.

Scene 9

Lights up on Fred and Gene.

FRED

I can’t believe you did that.

He places his hands on Gene’s shoulders and gives him a quick peck on the cheek.

Thank you.

GENE

Why are you so surprised?

FRED

I don’t know anyone who’s a good cook. My mother’s a terrible cook.

GENE

So is my mother.

2 – 9 – 80

FRED

Then who taught you?

GENE

Sam, Jeff, Howard…

FRED

Okay, okay!

GENE

But it was really Leon. All he said was if you can read, you can cook. The trouble is there really isn’t that much to read. All the Italian recipes I had to get from women in the neighborhood. And Italians don’t do recipes. I’d ask a simple question like, “How much salt?”, and they’d say, “Eh, ya know, ya know.”

FRED

Well, it was the best meal I’ve ever eaten. Makes me want to go and get my own apartment, just so I can have you around to cook for me.

GENE

Oh, yeah? If you can read, you can cook.

FRED

That’s what you think.

They exit.

Scene 10

OLD GENE

My methods were simple. When in doubt, add more butter and garlic.

SRA

I have always hated the smell of garlic. And there were so many Italians at St. Monica’s. I never expected my purgatory on earth to be the constant odor of garlic. I arrived too late. It used to be a good, solid Irish parish.

OLD GENE

With very few recipes.

SRA

Food is everything to the Italians.

?

2 – 10 – 81

OLD GENE

Well, certainly not everything. It was the horniest, sexiest neighborhood in the city. I wonder if she sensed that. She must have. They all must have. They were always talking about sex, but only as something that shouldn’t be done. The more they said no, the more everyone wanted to say yes.

SRA

Is it the garlic that makes them so – so lusty?

Scene11

Lights up on Gene and Fred, seated at a kitchen table. Fred is looking through want ads. Gene has his books.

FRED

What does Leon pay for this place?

GENE

About thirty-five a month, I think. He’s been here for over ten years.

FRED

No one said anything when he gave you a key?

GENE

This is the only apartment in the building. No, no one has said a word. The other spaces are businesses. No one’s around at night or on weekends.

FRED

If I get a place of my own, it’s going to have to be something like this – non-residential. I don’t want neighbors asking a lot of questions about you hanging around.

GENE

I don’t think anyone would ask questions if this place was in a residential neighborhood.

FRED

A teenager coming and going in a grown man’s apartment?

GENE

But I’m usually carrying groceries when I come and go here. Remember, I shop for Leon. He is lame, after all. That’s why he gave me a key. So I could help out.

FRED

Not so you could bring your victims here?

2 – 11 – 82

GENE

Don’t start with me, Freddy. You’re the only guy I ever brought here. And I did that with Leon’s permission.

FRED

I told you he wouldn’t deny you anything.

GENE

Oh, yes he would. He would keep me from goofing off – not getting my school work done – being lazy. He would deny me that. He has kept me on track more than anyone I’ve known.

FRED

And I’m jealous of that.

GENE

I’m not sleeping with him. Never did. We’re friends.

FRED

I know that. It’s the positive influence I envy.

GENE

You don’t have a positive influence on me?

FRED

Not as much as you’ve had on me.

GENE

Yeah, well, I’ve always had a soft spot for squares.

Fred chuckles.

And hunky men. Hunky squares. But if you do get a place of your own, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop coming here.

FRED

I wouldn’t want you to. You’re probably more important in Leon’s life than you realize.

GENE

He has other friends.

FRED

But none of them look like you. And he is an artist. And a lame one at that.

2 – 11 – 83

GENE

Oh. Oh – okay.

Lights fade at stage right, as the lights come up on Old Gene at stage left.

Scene 12

OLD GENE

I had the oddly comforting feeling that I was about to become a mate. And I was really looking forward to it. What the hell, I was only seventeen years old – just. You can be insanely romantic at seventeen.

The lights dim on Old Gene, as they come up at stage center. Fred is at the partially concealed bench. Gene is at his bench. SRA sits on the opposite bench.

SRA

I imagine Negroes would like Italian food.

GENE

You’re suggesting I move to a Negro neighborhood and open up an Italian restaurant?

SRA

No. I’m only suggesting that you move to a Negro neighborhood – period.

GENE

I haven’t seen you in over three years. Why do you care where I live?

SRA

Because it’s my job to care.

GENE

Your job? You said you worked for the Archdiocese.

SRA

I do.

GENE

My mother and I live in South Philly. What does that have to do with your work at the Archdiocese?

SRA

It’s not all masses and novenas, Gene.

?

2 – 12 – 84

GENE

I know that. What I don’t know is what our moving is going to do for you, for the Archdiocese, for anyone at all for that matter.

SRA

It’s what it would do for you that matters.

GENE

Why do you care about me all of a sudden?

SRA

Because you are most likely headed toward very dangerous territory.

GENE

And you’re saying I should move?

SRA

If you stay where you are, it could become very dangerous.

GENE

What’s wrong with you? I don’t feel unsafe where we live, just unwanted. There’s a difference.

SRA

Everyone has made you feel unwanted?

GENE

No, not everyone. A few of the women on my block have… Why are we having this conversation? Could you tell me that? As far as I remember, I belong to that group of savages who scared the hell out of you.

SRA

You’re not nearly dark enough to qualify for that tribe.

GENE

But you want me to move in with them. My mother, too.

SRA

I’m surprised your mother…

GENE

Leave her out of this.

?

2 – 12 – 85

SRA

I was just about to say…

GENE

(fiercely)

I don’t give a shit what you were about to say.

Fred rises and addresses Old Gene.

FRED

I never saw you angry.

OLD GENE

I know.

FRED

In all those months, I never…

OLD GENE

I know.

SRA

It’s so typical of you people to use that kind of language.

GENE

You bet your fuckin’ ass it is!

FRED

It scared me.

OLD GENE

That was the idea. But it wasn’t you I wanted to scare.

SRA

It’s not going to work! You actually think you’re going to – to scare…

GENE

I don’t want you…

SRA

…me with…

GENE

…anywhere near…

2 – 12 – 86

SRA

…foul language!

GENE

…my mother!

SRA

Understand one thing, boy. I know exactly what’s going on here.

GENE

What the hell are you talking about?

SRA

You and your so-called Big Brother, the Jew.

GENE

What – what about him?

SRA

You’re supposed to be getting some sort of guidance. Boys your age need that sort of thing. So they say. It’s not uncommon to go through such a phase. It’s the next phase that concerns me.

GENE

And that’s going to be what – the next phase?

SRA

You will most likely marry.

GENE

(incredulously)

I will?!

SRA

Certainly. This big brother business is all meaningless. Women are going to find you very attractive.

GENE

They are?

SRA

(snide)

Yes! Look at you now. Imagine what you’ll look like in a few years.

2 – 12 – 87

GENE

You’re making me seem like some sort of threat, like a fire or a tornado.

SRA

That’s exactly what I’m trying to prevent.

GENE

HOW?!!

FRED

I thought you were going to hit her.

OLD GENE

I was giving it some serious thought.

SRA

No need to get excited.

GENE

If you were on the receiving end of this horseshit, you’d be getting pretty damn excited, too.

FRED

I knew, I just knew you were in trouble when you started cursing.

SRA

Is your mouth always that foul?

GENE

Yeah, whenever I think it’s necessary.

SRA

I see no reason why you have to subject me to it. I’m still a deeply religious woman.

GENE

That’s what I’m afraid of.

SRA

See. That’s exactly what happens when your kind leave the church.

GENE

“My kind.”

?

2 – 12 – 88

FRED

What did she mean by that? You were just a bright, good-looking, extremely precocious teenager.

GENE

Do – you – miss – me? Or something?

SRA

I would if you belonged in the neighborhood.

GENE

But I’ve been in the neighborhood longer than you have. I was born in that neighborhood.

SRA

And if you were to stay you might very well change its complexion.

GENE

I have no idea what the hell…

SRA

If you were to marry a girl from the neighborhood, and there are only white girls in the neighborhood, you could very possibly have a black child. And what direction would things take then? Have you ever thought of that?

Gene leans back on the bench, stretching his arms across the upper rail.

GENE

(very softly, sinister)

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

FRED

The gentleness of that response was the most menacing sound I ever heard in my life.

OLD GENE

And I had no idea where that sound came from.

GENE

And if we don’t move?

OLD GENE

Or how I got the courage to do what I did.

?

2 – 12 – 89

SRA

I will simply go to your mother and tell her what’s going on here.

GENE

No, no, no you won’t.

OLD GENE

Why couldn’t I keep my damn mouth shut?

FRED

I was hoping you would.

SRA

What could stop me?

GENE

Because what you think is going on here is not nearly as terrible as what went on back there at St. Monica’s.

SRA

I’m sure your neighbors have treated you well.

GENE

I’m not talking about the neighbors.

SRA

Me then?

GENE

Not you. No. I’m talking about a certain highly respected priest by the name of Dr. Murray.

SRA

What – what about him?

GENE

I’m talking about what he does with boys.

SRA

What are you…

GENE

The sexual things he does with boys.

2 – 12 – 90

SRA

You’re what, only sixteen?

GENE

Seventeen! What’s the point?

SRA

What do you think…

FRED

Couldn’t you have ignored her?

OLD GENE

Not at that moment, Freddy. No, not at that moment.

SRA

What do you think you’re doing, implicating a priest in such acts?

GENE

Implicating? Implicating? His body parts can be described. By me!

OLD GENE

That was a lie. That priest never exposed himself to me.

GENE

And if you go anywhere near my mother, I’m going to the cops.

SRA

And I could do the same about your so-called Big Brother.

Fred rises slowly and starts to back off.

GENE

How would you find him? You don’t even know his name?

SRA

There are ways.

OLD GENE

So, she didn’t even know his name.

GENE

What would you do, get all the Christians together to round up all the Jews?

2 – 12 – 91

SRA

Someone has already tried to round up the Jews. I’m afraid he didn’t get far enough.

FRED

Shit!

OLD GENE

That was all you had to hear.

FRED

The only thing I could think of at that very moment were my parents, my quiet, reserved, perpetually frightened immigrant parents.

Fred starts to exit slowly, backing away.

OLD GENE

I watched you back away.

FRED

What choices did I have?

OLD GENE

None. I watched you go without watching you go. The last thing I wanted to do was draw attention to your leaving.

FRED

Yeah, you sure knew how to keep her attention.

Fred exits.

GENE

You are a disgusting, evil, fucking cunt!

She rises quickly and goes to slap him.

SRA

How dare you!! I still consider myself a religious!!

Gene grabs her arm, blocking the blow. She brings up the other arm, which he also blocks, holding both wrists firmly. They struggle.

GENE

This won’t work! It won’t work!

2 – 12 – 92

SRA

How dare you!

GENE

No one slaps me around anymore, especially the likes of you! That’s all so many of you crazy bitches did, knock kids around.

SRA

Yes! Yes, we did!

GENE

But I’m not a kid!

SRA

Because this is what had to be controlled. Violence! Your violence! Violence from niggers like you!

He shakes her off, causing her to stumble to the bench.

Anyone who did what you just did has to be controlled.

He hovers over her.

GENE

You won’t go near my mother. You won’t go near our house. If you so much as walk down the street where we live, I will go to the police and see that the disgusting priest at St. Monica’s goes to jail. Then I’ll come and beat the fuckin’ shit out of you!

She clutches her brief case to her chest, as she moves along the bench, rises, and starts backing away.

SRA

Nothing, nothing you just did surprises me. You only confirmed everything I’ve ever believed about you people.

GENE

That we can protect ourselves?

SRA

NO! No! That every solution must be a violent one. No one would ever believe a word you say about Father Murray. No one! NO ONE!!

She exits quickly. Gene slumps on the bench, buries his head in his hands, and moans. The lights fade very slowly on stage center. The bell tolls three times.

2 – 13 – 93

OLD GENE

How right she was, though I didn’t know it at the time. But who would have believed a kid, especially a kid who deserted his religion? A kid who cavorted with Jews and Communists. And men. What choices did I have?

Lights come up on Fred at stage right. He wears a white shirt, tie, blue blazer, and khaki pants.

FRED

And you took the choice I hated most.

Gene slowly gathers his books together, glancing upstage, as though hoping Fred would return. The lights fade on stage center.

OLD GENE

You were no longer around to stop me.

FRED

It wasn’t in me to be courageous, Gene.

OLD GENE

But how long was it before I saw you again? Two years? And then only by accident. I waited for you. In that park. At Leon’s. Hoping you would phone one of my friends. Our friends. And then you were there – with a drink in your hand.

FRED

You were the last person I ever expected to see sitting in a Times Square bar – in a Navy uniform.

OLD GENE

And you were the one who got angry right off the bat.

FRED

It was such an incredible waste. It was the last thing I would have wanted for you.

OLD GENE

And all I wanted was you. And you had disappeared from the face of the earth.

FRED

You think I didn’t miss you?

OLD GENE

Not enough to come back. Do you know what it’s like being in love at seventeen?

2 – 13 – 94

FRED

How the hell would I know that? I was stunned at finding myself in love at thirty-three. But the Navy. Why did you do that? How could you do it? You were one of the brightest kids I ever met. Not just kids, one of the brightest people. You had so much – so much courage.

OLD GENE

Yes, well, even the brightest of us can make disastrous mistakes, Freddy. And courage fades quickly when you find yourself alone with your own thoughts. Remember, remember how quickly you backed off once she mentioned the genocide?

FRED

Of course, I remember.

OLD GENE

You already assumed that “they” would win – the ubiquitous “they” – always the winners.

FRED

I was raised to assume that.

OLD GENE

Weren’t we all? Just as you wanted to protect your parents, I wanted to protect my mother. And I felt the only way to do that was to bow out.

FRED

Why did she let you? How could she let you quit school like that?

OLD GENE

Education was not an Italian tradition, Freddy.

FRED

When I saw you in that uniform, I felt responsible.

OLD GENE

So did my friends. Leon especially. He wept. When I said he would have to find someone else to carry his groceries, he slapped me. I – I never thought he was capable of such a thing. Slapped me.

FRED

I would have done the same thing. The waste was unforgivable. You, of all people, remaining stagnant. Did you really think the Navy held a future for you?

?

2 – 13 – 95

OLD GENE

I wasn’t thinking. I was running. Fleeing. Solving a problem.

FRED

That wasn’t a life. Not the one I would have wanted for you. Did want for you.

OLD GENE

You’re right. It became a life totally lacking in ambition, without any sense of a future, because I was too terrified in the present.

FRED

You could have had more.

OLD GENE

More is hard to achieve when you feel permanently immobilized.

FRED

What scared you, Gene. What possibly could have scared you?

OLD GENE

The power that had over all of us. All of us.

FRED

And even if they didn’t, that was what we believed.

OLD GENE

Look how quickly you returned to those Ivy League clothes, Freddy.

FRED

Once I lost you, I felt, I suppose, safer in clothes that said nothing about sex. I no longer wanted my ass to be of any interest to anyone.

OLD GENE

Then how did you end up with the plumber?

Fred chuckles.

FRED

He came to my parent’s home to install the fixtures in the new kitchen I bought for them.

OLD GENE

You’re the only person I’ve ever known who ended up with a plumber.

?

2 – 13 – 96

FRED

He’s a year older. He’s Jewish. My folks liked that. He’s solvent. They liked that even more.

OLD GENE

Look, he’s a plumber.

FRED

Yes. And he’s a plumber who goes to the movies with me – at the museum. Sometimes a musical.

OLD GENE

I hear he actually courted you.

FRED

Bullshit. He courted my parents. He’s no dope. He never came to the house empty handed. Flowers for Mom, kugel for Pop. And they never paid for another plumbing problem.

OLD GENE

And they never asked any questions?

FRED

Not one. All my mother said after Pop died and our plumber had been coming around for a couple of years was, “Moishe is a good man. He’ll look after you.” You can’t imagine how uncomfortable that made me.

OLD GENE

Oh, yes I can.

FRED

Yeah, I guess you can.

OLD GENE

You call him Moishe?

FRED

I call him Mo. My Mo when no one’s around.

OLD GENE

I always liked the name Moses.

FRED

It has a very reassuring sound, doesn’t it? Who’s been reassuring you, Gene?

2 – 13 – 97

OLD GENE

Over the years, the usual collection of types.

FRED

Robbing any cradles?

OLD GENE

Don’t be ridiculous, Freddy. I might have been an adult molester in my youth, but I was certainly no fool when I became an adult. Kids never interested me.

FRED

They never interested me either. Just you. You were lucky you didn’t run into someone like you when you became an adult.

OLD GENE

You were right. I was dangerous. Very dangerous. But a hell of a lot of fun.

FRED

Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

OLD GENE

Take care, Freddy. And tell Moses I said he’s a very lucky guy.

FRED

I – I will.

Fred exits stage right. The lights focus only on Old Gene, as the school bell heard at the start of the play strikes again.

Scene 14

OLD GENE

The sound of that bell is no longer heard. Now, a button is pressed and a shrill electronic device summons the students into line. So few of them will remain in line. Over the years, fewer and fewer of my generation swallowed the lies we were told. Attendance at Mass diminished, while the complexion of the student body became more – well, colorful. But, oh, how hard they tried to prevent that from happening. It was years, forty-eight of them to be exact, before I learned that poor, misguided Sister Regina Ange had the singular task of working as a liaison between the Archdiocese and the real estate offices of all the white parishes. They worked hard to acquire homes when they could, and they saw to it that only the “right” people purchased or rented them. It wasn’t souls they were interested in saving. It was real estate. Still, no one ever approached my mother’s house. No one ever suggested she move. No one ever tortured her with her

2 – 14 – 98

OLD GENE

(continued)

past. And in her quiet, unassuming way she came to the end of her life with dignity, knowing that though she might have been way ahead of her time, that gave no one the right to punish her for it. She won. And this roof over my head is the one she worked so hard to keep for us. I am now protected by my mother’s house.

The church bell tolls, as the lights fade.

END OF PLAY

 

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© Copyright 2017 Robert E. DiNardo. All rights reserved.

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