Shoes, a full-length play

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

A son’s inability to write a tribute poem for his father’s 75th birthday party gives him a chance to reflect on his life and his father the opportunity to come clean regarding his.

This play is 75 pages and can be read in a little more than an hour.

"Shoes" has been translated into Spanish and will be produced in Oaxaca, Mexico as soon as we can return to the theater.

CHARACTERS

Paul, 50

Joe, 75

Mary, 73

TIME

The Present

PLACE

A house in a small city in Illinois.  

 

SCENES

Act I

Scene 1 Early Saturday afternoon

Scene 2 Later that afternoon

Act II

Scene 1 The next morning

Scene 2 That afternoon

Scene 3 That evening

I-3

 

(MARY and PAUL sit at the kitchen table.  She with a legal pad; he looking at a photo album)

 

MARY

Seventy-three, seventy-four, seventy-five.  There.  One guest for every year.  Some of these people we haven’t seen in ages.

 

PAUL

These pictures are ancient.

 

MARY

We were all so close at one time.

 

PAUL

I don’t understand the logic of inviting people you might not recognize.

 

MARY

They’ll tell us who they are.

 

PAUL

These shots of me at the hospital.  I was a big baby. I still can’t believe dad’s not in at least one of them.

 

MARY

He was too busy taking them.

 

PAUL

He’ll spend all night talking to the same four people he’s been hanging with for fifty years.  

 

MARY

Oh, no.  He’s a social butterfly when the spotlight’s on him.  Telling jokes, making people laugh.

 

PAUL

He told me he could do without this party.

 

MARY

That’s what he says, but if we didn’t have it, he’d be crushed.  You know him, Paul.  Unless he’s bellyaching about something...  

 

 

I-4

 

PAUL

If I’ve lost touch with someone, it was for a good reason.

 

MARY

You always cut people off so quickly.

 

PAUL

Yeah, the cut’s always quick, but not the decision.  I mean, I was tired of Angelo’s bullshit ten years before I stopped calling him.  But, once I did…

 

MARY

You may wish you had some of those friends in your later years.

 

PAUL

Hey, they weren’t adding anything to my life before, what good are they later?

 

MARY

Is that it?  If they’re not helping you, they’re out?

 

PAUL

It goes both ways.  Some I’ve dropped because I wasn’t adding anything to their life. Or they dropped me.

 

MARY

I don’t want you to end up like your Uncle Sid.  He cut himself off and nobody went to his funeral.

 

PAUL

Maybe that’s what he wanted.  Problem is, you never know if you get your wish.

 

MARY

Well, I just pray that you don’t grow old alone.

 

PAUL

If I do, I do.  

 

MARY

I truly believe there’s somebody for everyone.

 

I-5

 

PAUL

True, but I may die before I meet him.  Gotcha.  You want some coffee?

 

MARY

No, thanks.  Have you written your speech?

 

PAUL

What speech?

 

MARY

For the party.  Didn’t I tell you?

 

PAUL

No, but after all these years...

 

MARY

You can read my mind.

 

PAUL

On some things.  I’ve started it, but...

 

MARY

I’m sure it’ll be wonderful.

 

PAUL

Actually, it’s not going so well.

 

MARY

You’re a natural born writer.

 

PAUL

I write stories, ma.  And plays.  Not tributes.

 

MARY

Pretend it’s one of your characters talking to his father.

 

PAUL

That’s what I’m trying to do, but the words aren’t coming.

 

MARY

Think back to your sisters’ weddings.  People are still talking about your speeches.

 

I-6

 

PAUL

That’s different.  I mean, the girls and I are close, but a father...I need my class A material.

 

MARY

Just say how he’s influenced you.

 

PAUL

Right now all I could say is I’ll never be the man he is and the only mark I’ve left on this world was burning grandpa’s barn to the ground.

 

MARY

You’ve lived a lot of places.

 

PAUL

A sign of floundering.

 

MARY

Had multiple careers.

 

PAUL

Can’t find anything I’m good at.

 

MARY

Why do you always go negative?

 

PAUL

I’m trying to write a poem.  That’s positive.

 

MARY

He’ll love that.

 

PAUL

But I’m telling you now, if I don’t finish it, I’m not saying anything.

 

MARY

Maybe you could read what you have.

 

PAUL

No, let one of the girls do it.  They always have something to say about life.  Usually mine.

 

MARY

That’s not true.

 

I-7

 

PAUL

Really?  Jenny calls me the other day and says I should move back here because Bob has a job for me.  When I told her I didn’t want to, she goes into preacher mode and says I need a focus in life; that fifty year olds need to start looking towards retirement.  Then she finished by saying I’ll never find peace because I avoid life.

 

MARY

Do you?

 

PAUL

I don’t know, but A), I could never move back here and B), there’s no way in hell I’m going to deliver ice for a living.

 

MARY

She and Bob live very well.

 

PAUL

So do I, ma, based on what I consider very well.

 

MARY

I don’t want to argue.

 

PAUL

We’re not.  All I’m saying is, ah, never mind.

 

MARY

You’re doing well.  Very well.  You should hear your father.  He’s always talking you up.

 

PAUL

I’m not doing that well.

 

MARY

Pauly, have you called that number I gave you?

 

PAUL

No.

 

MARY

These negative spells, they used to only happen in the fall, but now...

 

PAUL

I’m not calling anyone, okay?!

I-8

 

MARY

I’m just trying to help.

 

PAUL

You think I’m nuts, don’t you?

 

MARY

You don’t want to hear what I think.

 

PAUL

I’m sorry, yes, I do.  Go on.

 

MARY

Maybe, it’s the stress of job hunting.

 

PAUL

A lot of it.  Whoever said it’s better to cast for talent over type never applied for a writing job at 50.

 

MARY

People don’t read newspapers like they used to.  Maybe you should consider working for Bob.

 

PAUL

I’ve had offers but I had to turn them down.

 

MARY

Why in heaven’s—

 

PAUL

The cities are too small.  I need to live in a city with professional sports teams.

 

MARY

You can’t be too picky at your age.  About anything.  Why can’t you start small and—

 

PAUL

You know why.

 

(Silence)

 

MARY

He’d be happy for you.

 

PAUL

He deserves better than Paducah.

I-9

 

MARY

I don’t understand.  You quit a good sales job to change fields and then you don’t take a job in it.

 

PAUL

Can I see the list?

 

MARY

Sure.  You want coffee?

 

PAUL

I do.

(MARY exits and returns with coffee while PAUL scans the guest list)

Man, some of these people I haven’t seen since I was a kid.

 

MARY

We could have invited so many more.  I felt so bad we couldn’t include cousin Sherman.

 

PAUL

I thought he was dead.

 

(JOE enters and kisses MARY)

 

JOE

He is.

 

MARY

He is not, Joseph, and you know it.

 

PAUL

Hey, dad.  Nice haircut.

 

(JOE and PAUL hug)

 

JOE

Better be.  They’re up to ten bucks.  You’re looking good.  

 

PAUL

I’ve looked better.  Starting to get a gut.

 

JOE

The party’s not until tomorrow.

I-10

 

PAUL

Mom wanted me here today.

 

MARY

Because we don’t see him so often.

 

JOE

How’s the search?  Have you applied to the Tribune?

 

PAUL

(To MARY)  See what I mean?

 

JOE

Don’t be afraid of those big papers.  

 

PAUL

I’m not.  I’m holding out for a major daily.

 

JOE

That’s the spirit.  What’s that, Irish coffee?  

 

PAUL

Haven’t had a taste in over a week.

 

MARY

Thank you, Lord.

 

PAUL

You make it sound like I’m a lush.

 

JOE

You wanna play some golf?

 

PAUL

My clubs still in the basement?

 

MARY

Are you going to find time to visit your Aunt Martha?

 

PAUL

She never even knows I’m there.

 

JOE

What are you doing to the list?

 

PAUL

Adding cousin Sherman.

I-11

 

JOE

Why?  I haven’t seen him in over 40 years.

 

PAUL

He used to visit a lot.  What happened?

 

JOE

Is the mail here yet?

 

PAUL

He gave the best presents.

 

MARY

He still sends us a card every Christmas.

 

JOE

Fine.  We’ll put a picture from the party in his this year.

 

PAUL

You grew up together, right? I mean, the way I heard it, you were like brothers. Even looked alike.

 

JOE

I can’t afford any more guests.

 

MARY

Quit your fibbin’, Joe.  

 

PAUL

How much is it?

 

MARY

Fifteen dollars a person.  You’d think it was fifteen thousand.

 

JOE

Fifteen here, fifteen there.

 

MARY

You talk like you have one foot in the poorhouse.  You know, Sherman only lives an hour away, so he’s not far, but with just his Social Security . . .

 

(PAUL takes a twenty from his pocket)

 

PAUL

Here.

I-12

 

JOE

Keep it.  (To MARY) I’ll pay for the dinner, but you want him there, you call him.

 

MARY

He doesn’t have anyone to drive him down.

 

PAUL

Put him on a bus.  I’ll go pick him up.

 

MARY

No, we made the limit seventy-five and that’s what we have.

 

JOE

Nothin’ like a little drama, eh, Mary?  I’m going to take a little nap and then we can go play nine.  How’s that sound?

 

PAUL

Fine.  

 

MARY

I thought you wanted to plant your garden this weekend.

 

JOE

Today, tomorrow.  That’s the beauty of retirement.

 

(JOE exits)

 

PAUL

How can I work in Paducah when he wants me at the Tribune?

 

MARY

He’d be thrilled to death with any job you took.

 

PAUL

Maybe, but a small paper like that, I’d feel like I failed him.  He worked two jobs so I could go to college.  I’ve done nothing to make his sacrifice worthwhile.

 

MARY

He wanted you to have opportunities he didn’t.

 

PAUL

I know, but it’s about more than just the opportunities.

 

(Lights down)

 

I-13

 

(Later that day.  JOE’s driveway.  PAUL, with pen and pad in hand, occupies one of two lawn chairs.  He doodles.  JOE stands next to a flat of plants, broom in hand, a blank look in his eye.  Short silence)

 

PAUL

Go on.

 

JOE

What was I—?

 

PAUL

The Cubs.

 

JOE

Oh, right.  So, here’s the deal.  The Cubs will never play in another World Series.

 

PAUL

Never?

 

JOE

N-E-V-E-R.

 

PAUL

What if they play for another million years?

 

JOE

Make it a billion, Pauly, they’ll never get there.

 

PAUL

Do they know this?

 

JOE

If they did, they’d close up shop.

 

PAUL

But, they’re so lovable and Wrigley Field...it doesn’t get any cuter than that.

 

JOE

True, but cute can’t change the course of fate.

 

I-14

 

PAUL

In my experience, cute has been all aces.

 

JOE

The reason being...(JOE looks skyward)

 

PAUL

God issued a decree.

 

JOE

I believe the proper word is edict.

 

PAUL

Banning the Cubs from the World Series.

 

JOE

Yes.

 

PAUL

When?

 

JOE

1945.

 

PAUL

Why?

 

JOE

Too many missed opportunities.

 

PAUL

How did he let them know?

 

JOE

Mysteriously, as always.

 

PAUL

Ok, why that year?  Why not 1932 when The Babe called his home run?

 

JOE

You can’t punish a team that loses to Babe Ruth.  But in ’45 they lost to Detroit.

 

PAUL

And that was the last straw.

 

I-15

 

JOE

Yup.  They hadn’t won a Series since 1906.  In ’45 a lot of good players were fighting in the war.  And they still couldn’t win the damn thing.  So, even though it hurt him to the quick, He pulled the plug on them.

 

PAUL

Your God is a Cubs fan?

 

JOE

He loves cute.  And He’s everybody’s God.

 

PAUL

Not everybody be—but he’d seen enough, that what you’re saying?

 

JOE

The proof is in the pudding.  1969.

 

PAUL

The stinkin’ Mets.

 

JOE

1984.

 

PAUL

Leon Durham’s error.

 

JOE

1989?

 

PAUL

Okay, but 2003, if that fathead just lets Alou catch the damn ball...Five lousy outs from going to the Series.

 

JOE

God has a wonderful sense of humor.

 

(JOE begins sweeping)

 

PAUL

Wouldn’t it be great to come back, like in a hundred years, to learn they’d won the last twenty World Series?  The Killer Cubs.

I-16

 

JOE

All I’m trying to say is, don’t be the Cubs.  Take advantage because you only see so many opportunities in this life.

 

PAUL

I thought He was all forgiving.

 

JOE

He is, but also very busy.  If he presents and you always pass, pretty soon you fall off His radar screen.

 

PAUL

So, I should take the job in Spokane?

 

JOE

How many have you turned down?

 

PAUL

Three, but my God, dad, Paducah, Cedar Rapids and Little Rock.  Not a professional franchise in the bunch.

 

JOE

You’re too good to cover high school football?

 

PAUL

No, but you were talking Tribune earlier today.

 

JOE

I was?

 

PAUL

(nodding)

Spokane is not a good enough return on your investment.  Thirty years later, I still owe you.

 

JOE

How do you figure?

 

PAUL

Now, I land a job in New York, Chicago or LA, that’s a satisfactory return.  Even a Seattle.  Spokane is not.

I-17

 

JOE

Listen, Moses first gig wasn’t the Ten Commandments.  He worked his way up from the bush leagues.

 

PAUL

Good one, pops, but at the very least, I need a city with a major college team.

 

JOE

We plan and God laughs.  

 

PAUL

He must be having a ton of fun with me.  A month from fifty, still trying to find my way in the world . . .

 

JOE

You should be happy as hell.  Obviously you have talent or the papers would’ve offered a kid right out of college.

 

PAUL

I don’t have to stay there forever, do I?

 

JOE

Some guys are late bloomers.  You’re still growing.

 

PAUL

(Looking down)  Not as often as I used to.  (beat)  So, what is it, Spo-kan or Spo-kane?  I s’pose it doesn’t matter.  Hell is hell no matter how you say it.  (beat) Ready for the big party?

 

JOE

Not really.

 

PAUL

You think everybody will show?

 

JOE

One or two may not.

 

PAUL

Hey, it’s summer.  People are busy.

 

JOE

Yeah.  Dying.

 

I-18

 

PAUL

Come on.

 

JOE

I’m serious.  Two guys may not make the weekend.

 

PAUL

How old?

 

JOE

Younger than me.

 

PAUL

So, what does seventy-five feel like?

 

JOE

I guess it’s different for everybody.

 

PAUL

Yeah.  You’re healthy, maybe seventy-five feels a little worse than fifty.  You’re sick, it’s just a little better than dead.

 

JOE

I’d say I feel like I did at sixty, only slower.

 

PAUL

Listen, considering forty years in a foundry, with all the shit flying around in there, I’m happy as hell you’re still here.

 

JOE

Giving up the smokes helped.  You still smoke?

 

PAUL

According to my definition, I’d say no because I don’t do it very often.

 

JOE

Either you smoke or you don’t.

 

PAUL

Well, if you’re going to be close-minded about it...

 

JOE

I was about your age when I quit.

 

I-19

 

PAUL

Yeah, but you were a smoker’s smoker.  Luckys, at a pack a day times how many years?

 

JOE

I didn’t smoke so many as you think.  Most of ‘em at work burnt themselves out.

 

PAUL

Still—

 

JOE

You’re right.  That’s why I quit.  And so should you.

 

PAUL

Maybe, but here’s the thing.  Let’s say I give up the booze and the smokes and I live to be a hundred.  The last thought I’ll have is, “Shit, I coulda smoked and drank all I wanted and still seen ninety.”  Think of all the fun I’da missed.

 

JOE

Yeah, but if you’re suffering with lung cancer like your uncle—three years of agony, dead at 65-what kind of life is that?

 

PAUL

I’ve got that covered.  As soon as the doctor tells me it’s terminal, I walk straight to the el and jump in front of a train.

 

JOE

Suicide is a sin.

 

PAUL

Would you really like a beer right now?

 

JOE

I could have one, but I can wait until five.

 

PAUL

See, this is what I don’t get.  Given the temporary nature of our existence, why delay any type of gratification?  You want a beer, drink one.  What if tomorrow never comes?

 

JOE

Jeez, Pauly, relax.  I’ll have one in a little while.

I-20

 

PAUL

Must be the army in you.

 

JOE

What?

 

PAUL

Your rigidity.

 

(PAUL exits to the garage and returns with a can of soda)

 

JOE

No beer?

 

PAUL

I quit for good this time.  I can’t believe you still have my little college fridge.  Did I ever tell you about the time I wanted to test the tiny freezer in it?

 

JOE

Yes.

 

PAUL

I go out and buy some ice cream.  Two hours later I open the door and it starts running out like—

 

JOE and PAUL

Diarrhea from a donkey.

 

PAUL

Man, I’ll never forget those days.

 

JOE

You live in the past.

 

(JOE goes back to planting)

 

PAUL

I had my choice, I’da stayed twenty-two forever.

 

JOE

That means I’m paying student loans forever.  No thank you.

 

PAUL

Just think, when you were my age, you had three kids out of college.  If I had a kid tomorrow, I’d be over seventy

I-21

 

PAUL (cont’d)

before he—oh, hell no.  How could I shoot hoops with my son, I can’t even see the basket?

 

JOE

So, you don’t want a family?

 

PAUL

I don’t know.  I mean, yeah, it’d be cool, but if it were meant to be, I’d have one already, yeah?

 

JOE

He only gives what you can handle.  Maybe now you’re patient enough to have one.

 

PAUL

If that’s the key, how’d you have three?  

(JOE breaks a plant in half)

See?

 

JOE

Damn thing wouldn’t stand straight.

 

PAUL

How about the time you left for church without your grandchildren?

 

JOE

Their mom was here.

 

PAUL

That’s not the point.  You left the house at nine-twenty for ten o’clock mass.  

 

JOE

I don’t like to be late.

 

PAUL

It’s a seven-minute drive!  The first mass wasn’t even over yet.

 

JOE

That way I get to see the comers and the leavers.

 

PAUL

(Pause) Ever think about how long is enough?  To live, I mean.

I-22

(JOE takes a seat)

 

JOE

All the time.  When I made it to 70, I thought 75 would be a nice life.  Now, that I’m here, and healthy, I want to stick around a while.

 

PAUL

To see if my ship finally comes in, I’m sure.

 

JOE

That and I’d like to get to Italy...and Africa and I’ve always wanted to play the banjo.

 

PAUL

You’re in good shape.  Eighty-five is a real possibility.  Let’s see, if you make it to 90, I’ll be 65.  And dead, more than likely.

 

JOE

Why do you talk like that?

 

PAUL

It’s just a feeling I get, that’s all.

 

JOE

Drop a couple bad habits and—That reminds me, you got some mail the other day. AARP.

 

PAUL

What?!  I'm not fifty.  Yet.  

 

JOE

Maybe they don’t want you to forget.

 

PAUL

People at work think I’m 39.

 

JOE

I bet they’re all young.  Young folks have no sense of age.

 

PAUL

I know I don’t look mine.

 

JOE

It’s more about how you feel than how you look.  I’ve always believed ugly and alive is preferable to the alternative.

I-23

 

PAUL

I feel like I could still run a six minute mile, but reality says I couldn’t do it under ten.

 

JOE

Soon you won’t see as well or heal so quickly.

 

PAUL

If I drink too much, I don’t get out of bed the next day until dinner.  I’m telling ya, growing old is a bitch.

 

JOE

Oh, it’s not as bad as all that.  Why...

 

(Silence)

 

PAUL

Yeah?

 

JOE

I forgot what—

 

PAUL

Growing old.  We were talking—

 

JOE

I know.  I just...The other day I drove to the store.  Got there and couldn’t remember why I went.

 

PAUL

Something in the store remind you?

 

JOE

Nope.  Got back in the car and drove home.

 

PAUL

Hey, that happens to me already.  A lot.  Too much...

(PAUL makes a drinking gesture)

The worst part of all this aging thing is the women.  Most of them don’t do it so well.  That’s why I’ll always date women under 40.

 

JOE

Who are you, Peter Pan?

 

I-24

 

PAUL

No, but all I have to do is look at you guys to know I’ll look fine forever.

 

JOE

Going to the gym would help, too.

 

PAUL

So would eating better, but that’s not happening either.

 

JOE

God forbid you put any real effort into anything.

 

PAUL

Yeah, well...

 

(PAUL studies what he’s written and starts again)

 

JOE

What’re you writing, a letter?

 

PAUL

It’s a secret.

 

JOE

A book?

 

PAUL

No, although I’ve been working on it long enough to feel like one.

 

JOE

What’s it about?

 

PAUL

Rather not say.

 

JOE

Why, is it pornographic?

 

PAUL

Oh, God no.  

 

JOE

Why can’t you say?

 

 

I-25

 

PAUL

All I’ll say is I’m under a deadline.

 

JOE

It better not be for tomorrow, cuz—

 

PAUL

Calm down, daddy-o.  

 

JOE

I want no hullabaloo.  Don’t even want the damn party.

 

(MARY enters)

 

PAUL

So, you wouldn’t mind if I didn’t—

 

MARY

Didn’t what?

 

PAUL

Nothing.

 

JOE

We were talking about the party.

 

MARY

You’re not going?

 

PAUL

Did I say that?  

 

MARY

I’m cooking your favorite meal for dinner.

 

PAUL

Cold pizza and Oreos?

 

MARY

Curry Roast Pork.  

 

JOE

She never makes it like that for me.

 

MARY

You don’t like curry.

 

I-26

 

PAUL

She’s right, you know.

 

JOE

Well, even if I did...

 

MARY

Why do you go on like that?

 

JOE

Your sisters get leftovers and I get leftover leftovers.

 

PAUL

Maybe you should cook once in a while.

 

MARY

He’d just find something else to gripe about.

 

JOE

She won’t eat my franks and beans.

 

MARY

Is it too much to ask that you heat the beans?  He sets the can right on the table.  Cold.

 

JOE

Your mother has such a limited palate.

 

MARY

You’re going, aren’t you?

 

PAUL

Yes.

 

JOE

Now, Mary.

 

MARY

Just checking.

 

(JOE looks at his watch)

 

JOE

Almost five.

 

MARY

Happy hour.

I-27

 

PAUL

You ready?

 

JOE

Sure.

 

PAUL

Cool.  I’ll get it.

 

MARY

You sit.  I’ll go.

 

(MARY exits)

 

JOE

Fifty-five years with your mother—she only gets my beer when you want one, too.

 

PAUL

You’re not the charmer I am.

 

JOE

Is that it?

 

(MARY returns with two beers)

 

PAUL

None for me, thanks.

 

MARY

You’re really serious?

 

PAUL

Yeah.  It’s time.

 

MARY

You’ll be around longer.

 

PAUL

Hopefully.  (To JOE)  Mind if I try to plant one?

 

JOE

Be my guest.

 

(PAUL takes the small shovel and a tomato plant)

 

I-28

 

MARY

We always end up with so many tomatoes, we have trouble giving them away.

 

JOE

We don’t have that many.

 

PAUL

Maybe you could plant some herbs and cut down on the tomatoes.

 

JOE

Herbs I’ll grow on the windowsill.

 

PAUL

Is there a special way to do this?

 

JOE

Probably, but I just do what works for me.

 

(PAUL digs a hole)

 

PAUL

Deep enough?

 

JOE

Maybe another inch or so.

(PAUL digs)

That’s it.  It’s nice to know you’ve learned to take advice.

 

PAUL

I’ve always taken your advice.  It’s the follow through where I—you know, I never like this kind of work until I do it.  Like the deck we built for the house.

 

JOE

Hey, it came out okay for a couple of amateurs.

 

PAUL

You couldn’t even call me an amateur.  More of a hindrance.

 

MARY

Your calling was to use your mind, not your hands.

 

JOE

A little dirt under the nails never hurt anybody.

 

I-29

 

MARY

Paul could’ve done blue collar, but he had—

 

PAUL

No, mom, I couldn’t.  And it has more to do with aptitude than attitude.

 

MARY

See the wonderful way he uses words.

 

PAUL

Please.  Listen, blame it on the Baxter boys.  They got me into sports, so I don’t know squat about cars or machines, but I could hit a baseball a mile.

 

MARY

You could have been a pro.

 

JOE

When I was young, a man’s car was his world.

 

PAUL

After what happened to mine, I never want another one.

 

MARY

You live in the city.  You don’t need one.

 

PAUL

If I lived here I’d need one.  To drive as far away as possible.  When I think of all the guys who never left this hellhole—guys my age—they must be suffocating from the boredom.

 

MARY

Jack moved to Hilldale.

 

PAUL

You make it sound like he’s a thousand miles away.  It’s 15 minutes.  Frank, Dave, Sammy.  All still here.  What a waste.

 

JOE

Those guys have families.  This isn’t a bad place to raise children.

 

I-30

 

PAUL

Maybe, but it’s no place for a single guy.  The worst stretch of my life was coming back here after college.  I must’ve been drunk as hell the day I made that decision.

 

JOE

You could have stayed in Milwaukee.

 

PAUL

They let me go at the library.

 

JOE

Those jobs were for students.  You graduated.

 

PAUL

My lease ran out.

 

JOE

You just wanted to play all summer.

 

PAUL

So, it’s all my fault.

 

JOE

It’s not mine.

 

PAUL

You could’ve kicked me back up there.

 

JOE

At twenty-two, I don’t tell you what to do.

 

PAUL

Well, you should have.  Maybe my life—

 

JOE

Don’t blame me for your shitty life.

 

PAUL

Finally, you agree that I’m a failure.

 

JOE

No, that’s what you think.  Hell, you’ve already made more money than I ever did and lived more places.

 

I-31

 

PAUL

It’s not about that.  It’s about character, values, doing for others.

 

JOE

It’s my fault you don’t act like a Christian?

 

PAUL

Religion sucks!

 

MARY

Stop it!  Both of you.

 

PAUL

I’m sorry, but...

 

JOE

But, what?

 

PAUL

You don’t know the enormity of the shadow that covers me.  It’s huge, overwhelming at times.  That’s why I—

 

MARY

Can’t write the—

 

PAUL

Yes, but it’s my life and I’m dealing with it.  Maybe not always the right way, but I’m trying, nonetheless.

 

MARY

You want to talk?

 

PAUL

No, but thanks.

 

MARY

Why don’t you visit one of your sisters?  Might do you good.

 

PAUL

They think I’m a bigger loser than I do.  And that’s saying something.

 

MARY

Your sisters love you more than anything.

 

 

I-32

 

PAUL

On their best days, they treat me like a pebble in their shoe.

 

JOE

You know, when you were little, well, maybe you don’t remember, but every time you spilled some juice or broke a plate or whatever, Denny always took the blame.

 

PAUL

You’re kidding.

 

MARY

He’s not.  When we could prove it wasn’t her, Jenny would chime in and take it.

 

PAUL

Why?

 

MARY

You were their little brother.  They didn’t want you to get spanked.

 

PAUL

Wow, then they—

 

JOE

Took a few for you.

 

PAUL

It’s amazing what we forget.

 

JOE

Or suppress.

 

PAUL

You never stop.

 

JOE

You just have a fear of the truth.

 

PAUL

Yeah, maybe.

 

MARY

I better check on dinner.  Is it safe to leave you two alone?

I-33

 

PAUL

Yeah.

(JOE nods.  MARY hugs PAUL, then exits)

I didn’t mean to raise my voice.

 

JOE

I can’t remember you ever—but, that doesn’t mean you haven’t.

 

PAUL

Your memory’s not that bad.  

 

JOE

What’s this about a shadow?

 

PAUL

It’s why I had to leave here for good.  It was my only hope for a future.

 

JOE

A lot of those guys are doing pretty well.  Business owners, executives.

 

PAUL

What are you saying?

 

JOE

Just that home is not always a bad place to be.

 

PAUL

What if you’d taken that job in San Diego after the war?

 

JOE

I still wonder that myself, but I had no choice but to come back.  Your grandfather was sick.

 

PAUL

There’s always a choice.  He died a couple years later.  Why not move then?

 

JOE

My mother needed me.  Sure, I’ve lived here all my life, but it hasn’t been so bad.

 

PAUL

Today it’s different.  More mobility.

 

I-34

 

JOE

I think people’s priorities are out of whack.  No job is good enough, no house big enough.  They’re so busy moving up, they never know their kids.  And then when the cops come knockin’, they’re surprised.

 

PAUL

I still can’t believe you quit the road, just to watch us grow up.  And, took a pay cut, too.

 

JOE

It was important to be around my children.  My only son.

 

PAUL

(proudly) You never missed a game.  

 

JOE

‘Course everything costs more now, especially college.  I might not be able to make the same decision today.

 

PAUL

Somehow, I think you would.  (beat)  This town had nothing to offer me after Lisa.

 

JOE

You gave up on that woman too quick.

 

PAUL

It wasn’t her.  I know that now.  I hated my job, had no real friends here and—

 

JOE

Sounds like the problem wasn’t where you lived.

 

PAUL

But, it was.  I need the energy a big city offers.

 

JOE

You lost two great women because of impatience.  Shelly asked you to give her a year.  One year when you’re twenty-two is nothing.

 

PAUL

My life has been all down hill since college.  All the best things in my life happened there.  I’ve never loved any woman more than her; the most fun I ever had was there.  And then, then I came back here.

I-35

 

JOE

At that point in your life, no place was the right place.

 

PAUL

New York might have been.

 

JOE

If you’d gone to New York, I’d be having this conversation at St. John’s Cemetery.  Your problem wasn’t place, it was perseverance.  You took saxophone lessons for six weeks and quit.  You wrote eight pages of a novel and quit.  You worked on a stage crew for three shows—

 

PAUL

And quit. Yeah, I know.  But New York, which wouldn’t have killed me, by the way—that place brings out the best in people.  (sings) If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere...

 

JOE

You would not have had a singing career.

 

PAUL

How many songs did you learn on the accordion?

 

JOE

One, but that was different.  I didn’t choose it.  My mother made me play that damn noise box.

 

(MARY opens the house door and speaks from there)

 

MARY

Joe?  Just got a call.  Ed Sims passed on.

 

JOE

Well, it’s a blessing.  He was in a lot of pain.

 

MARY

Sheila’s going to make the party, but I told her Ed’s arrangements were first priority.  You’ll be a pallbearer?

 

JOE

Sure.

(MARY exits to the house)

See what I mean?  

 

I-36

 

PAUL

Now Uncle Sherman makes number seventy-five.  You guys go to a lot of funerals.

 

JOE

At least we stick to people we know.  You remember the Smiths, don’t you?  They go for the free lunches.

 

PAUL

They don’t know the deceased?

 

JOE

Not always.  

 

PAUL

There’s something about them that I can relate to. It’s ballsy.

 

JOE

Although I’ve heard they’ll leave if they don’t like what’s being served.

 

PAUL

Crashers with discriminating palates.  Nice.  What if they get caught?

 

JOE

Just say you went to high school with the guy.  

 

PAUL

But how would they—

 

JOE

From the paper.

 

PAUL

The Smith’s have money, right?

 

JOE

It’s not about that.  It’s their social life.

 

PAUL

That’s it?  Crashing funerals?

 

JOE

I hear they hit the occasional wedding, too.  Especially if it’s at a country club.

I-37

 

PAUL

They invited to your party?

 

JOE

Naw, we aren’t that close anymore.

 

PAUL

They may come anyway.  Listen, let’s email them the menu.  Maybe save them a trip.

 

JOE

The dress is casual, in case you still don’t own a suit.  And your mother wants you to say a few words.

 

PAUL

She already asked me.

 

JOE

And?

 

PAUL

I’m working on it.

 

JOE

Newspapers have deadlines every day.

 

PAUL

That’s different.

 

JOE

How?

 

PAUL

Listen, if you pressure me, I won’t even go.

 

JOE

Hey, don’t give the toast, I don’t care.  But, the woman inside—

 

PAUL

Just tell her you’re adamant about no fanfare.

 

JOE

Not me.

 

PAUL

Come on, dad, I don’t ask for much.

I-38

 

JOE

You give speeches all the time.

 

PAUL

Yeah, at weddings, for friends I don’t care about.  But this, this is special.  And if I can’t give the best speech of my life for you, well...

 

JOE

That’s nice, but I’m still not telling her.

 

PAUL

Denny could say a few words.

 

JOE

She is.  And Jenny, too.

 

PAUL

(sings) Two out of three ain’t bad.

(JOE is not amused)

Will you at least think about it?

(JOE ignores him)

I persevered at golf.

 

JOE

For several years, but you lost it there, too.

 

PAUL

I discovered girls.

 

JOE

That was your real sport.  

 

PAUL

Girls?

 

JOE

I used to tell everyone that my son was going to be the next Arnie Palmer.

 

PAUL

That day haunts me still.  Talk about stupid.

 

JOE

No, you made a decision.

 

I-39

 

PAUL

Something else to put on the “quit” list.

 

JOE

You didn’t quit.  You left the team because you thought you broke a rule.

 

PAUL

Not a rule, exactly.  Coach said anybody who missed that Saturday practice shouldn’t bother coming to the next one.

 

JOE

You forgot, that’s all.  If you’d explained it to him...

 

PAUL

I felt like such a failure.  That was the first time I remember feeling conflicting emotions.  Anger, embarrassment, sadness.

 

JOE

If you’d just explained...

 

PAUL

The day before I shot a 73.

 

JOE

You could really smoke that ball.

 

PAUL

Maybe that’s where I lost it.  The persevering spirit.

 

JOE

You did what you thought was right.

 

PAUL

Until the next year when I got booted off the basketball team.

 

JOE

Now, that was stupid.

 

PAUL

(sings) Smokin’ in the boy’s room. (Speaks) You don’t know how stupid.  I never told you how it really went down.  Mr. Nelson walks in and smells smoke.  I’m the only one in there, but he didn’t actually see me do it.  But, when he asks if it was me, like an idiot, I said yes.

I-40

 

JOE

You couldn’t lie.

 

PAUL

I’ve lied a gazillion times in my life.  Why not then?

 

JOE

You knew you were wrong.

 

PAUL

I’ve got to get over that.

 

JOE

Could be why you’ve never been to jail.

 

PAUL

Never even been in a fight. Always talk my way out of ‘em.

 

JOE

I always felt it was my fault you smoked.

 

PAUL

Please.

 

JOE

They were a temptation, lying around the house.

 

PAUL

Nonsense.  I’d been getting them with a fake note since I was eight.

 

JOE

I shoulda made you smoke the whole pack that time, like I wanted.  But, she wouldn’t—

 

PAUL

Face it, I was destined to smoke.  I’ll be back in a sec.

(PAUL exits and returns with a putter and two golf balls. He takes a beer bottle and places it ten feet from JOE)

Here, take these. (beat) Okay, let’s see your stroke.

(JOE putts but misses the bottle)

Good speed, but your line...

 

JOE

I know, I always think I’m aiming right at it.

 

I-41

 

(MARY enters with another beer for JOE)

 

MARY

I just noticed you got your hair cut.  I like it.

 

PAUL

You always say that and half the time you don’t mean it.

 

MARY

This time I do.  Dinner’s ready.

 

JOE

Paul doesn’t want to talk tomorrow night.

 

PAUL

Telling her when I wasn’t around would’ve been nice.

 

MARY

But, you told me...

 

PAUL

Too many speeches, it sounds like a funeral.

 

MARY

You’re the only son.

 

JOE

He only does weddings now.

 

PAUL

That’s not—mom, it’s not, it’s not that easy to explain.

 

MARY

You don’t have to say a lot.  Just one of your funny stories.

 

PAUL

Please, I’ll do anything else, I just don’t...

 

JOE

You can’t force him, Mary.

 

MARY

I know, but he’s such a good speaker.  Everybody will be so disappointed.

 

I-42

 

PAUL

“Everybody” will not even notice.  Only you.

 

MARY

Maybe by tomorrow you’ll have a change of heart.  I need to set the table.

 

PAUL

I’ll do it.

 

(PAUL exits)

 

MARY

He usually jumps at the chance.

 

JOE

I don’t know, but something is bothering him.  Maybe it’s the job hunt.  Or that shadow thing.

 

MARY

You think he’s drinking too much again?

 

JOE

You heard him.  He said he quit.  

 

MARY

I don’t think he’s coming tomorrow.

 

JOE

He’ll be there.

 

MARY

I had a dream.

 

JOE

Oh, boy.

 

MARY

He was sitting in a pile of shoes.  Hundreds of pairs, maybe thousands.  He kept trying them on, but they were all too big.  Maybe he’s trying to run away from somebody or something.

 

JOE

Maybe he wants to be a clown in the circus.

 

(PAUL enters)

I-43

 

PAUL

Table’s set and no, I’m not trying to run away or be a clown.  I like Chicago.  Especially since I have two theatres fighting over my latest play.

 

MARY

Two?  Why, Broadway’s right around the corner.  Maybe you could read part of it at the party.

 

PAUL

I don’t think so.  Anyway, I had a reading last week and the next day, dudes from two theatres called.  One said a full production was almost guaranteed.  Non-equity, but still...

 

JOE

That city’s been good to you.

 

PAUL

And I haven’t been there that long.

 

MARY

We love having you so close.

 

PAUL

I’m enjoying it, too.  

 

JOE

Your mother doesn’t think you’re coming.

 

PAUL

What else did you tell her?

 

JOE

Nothing.

 

PAUL

She had to have a reason.

 

MARY

Are you?  Not coming?

 

PAUL

What did you say?

 

JOE

She has a right to know if her son will—

I-44

 

PAUL

No, she doesn’t.  Not if I—you never understood the pressures of being—

 

JOE

Quit laying your shit on everybody else.

 

MARY

Joe.

 

PAUL

I said I’d be there.

 

JOE

You say you’re going to do a lot of things.

 

MARY

Joseph!

 

JOE

Well, it’s true.

 

MARY

It is not.  He’s a good boy.

 

(PAUL cries)

 

PAUL

Yes, it is, mother.  It’s so very, very true.

 

(PAUL exits quickly leaving the notepad behind.  JOE sweeps.  MARY looks at him.  Lights down)

 

END OF ACT 1

 

II-45

 

ACT II

 

(JOE and MARY sit at the kitchen table.  JOE reads the paper and MARY looks at PAUL’s notepad.  Two cups of coffee sit on the table)

 

MARY

Anything in the paper?

 

JOE

Not that I can find.

 

MARY

Look in the local section.

 

JOE

I’m not done looking through the first section.

 

MARY

This is important.

 

JOE

He’s probably shacked—

 

MARY

The rest of the paper.  Let me see it.

(JOE slides the paper towards MARY.  JOE rises and looks out the window)

See anything?

 

JOE

No.

 

MARY

Did you check the basement?  Sometimes he—

 

JOE

He’s not here, Mary.  The Pontiac is still gone.

 

MARY

Maybe he ran into a friend.

 

JOE

He doesn’t have any.  Not here.

 

II-46

 

MARY

Maybe he ran into Johnny.

 

JOE

Johnny lives with his mother.  My guess is he—

 

MARY

Don’t say it.

 

JOE

It’s possible.

 

MARY

So is snow in Florida but nobody wants to think about it.

 

JOE

He’s always had a way with the ladies.  Reminds me of—

 

MARY

Who?

 

JOE

My brother, Michael.

 

MARY

Oh.  Let’s call Pauly’s cell phone.

 

JOE

What should I do if a woman answers?

 

MARY

At least we’ll learn if he’s alive.

 

(JOE dials.  After several seconds...)

 

JOE

Paul, it’s dad.  Please call home as soon as you hear this.  Your mother is worried. (beat) We both are.

(JOE hangs up)

I still say he’s—

 

MARY

Sleeping.

 

JOE

Yeah, sleeping.

 

II-47

 

(MARY shows JOE the pad)

 

MARY

Do you know what this is?

 

JOE

He wouldn’t tell me.  Do you know?

 

MARY

It’s the poem he’s writing.  It’s called “Shoes.”

 

JOE

Shoes?  I don’t have my glasses.  Can you read any of it?

 

MARY

Just a word here and there, nothing that makes any sense.

 

JOE

Let me see it.

 

(JOE takes the pad)

 

MARY

But, you don’t have—

 

JOE

If I hold it out far enough...It’s no wonder he crossed-out all the words.  What’s poetic about shoes?

 

MARY

It’s what he wanted to read tonight.  He said it wasn’t going so well.

 

JOE

Maybe he realized he has nothing to say.

 

MARY

No, Joseph, just the opposite.  That boy thinks the world of you.

 

JOE

I’m nothing special.

 

MARY

You are in his eyes.  That’s why it’s so hard—

 

II-48

 

JOE

When he gets home, I’ll set the record straight.

 

MARY

Why?  Why not let him keep his vision of you?

 

JOE

Because it’s not true.  I’m not the man he has in his head.

 

MARY

It’d kill him if...

 

JOE

It might make life easier for him.

 

MARY

It may take away his reason for living.  You’re his motivation.

 

JOE

I’m an imposter.

 

MARY

Nothing good will come from it.  (beat)  He’d be fulfilled if only he’d followed his true calling.

 

JOE

One time, in the sixth grade, he mentioned being a priest.

 

MARY

He has all the qualities.

 

JOE

I think abstaining from sex is part of the deal.

 

MARY

He only spends time with those women because he’s lonely.  He needs to turn his life over to Jesus.  (beat)  He’s almost fifty.  He has no girlfriend and no prospects.  That’s God talking.

 

JOE

While He’s at it, maybe God could give him directions to a church.

 

MARY

He’d make a wonderful priest.

II-49

 

JOE

Consoler of lost women.

 

MARY

Stop that, Joseph!

 

JOE

Listen, he’ll come home when he’s ready.  Just act like nothing’s happened.  We don’t even know that anything has.

 

MARY

He never stays out all night when he’s here.  He may come in late, but...

 

JOE

Shouldn’t you get ready for church?

 

MARY

Aren’t you worried?

 

JOE

What do you want me to do, Mary?

 

MARY

You’ve always cared more about the girls.

 

JOE

That’s natural, I’m—

 

MARY

He wouldn’t get into these situations if you’d intervene.

 

JOE

If he doesn’t know responsibility by now, he never will.

 

MARY

Look what happened to Jenny.  She never knew that Louis was a drunk until after they got married.  Before that he was always a social drinker around her.

 

JOE

What’s that got to do with anything?  (beat)  Nobody has coddled that kid more than you.

 

MARY

Not true.

 

II-50

 

JOE

When was the last time he attended a family reunion?

 

MARY

My family?

 

JOE

Yeah, the picnic on the farm.

 

MARY

It’s always the same weekend as his golf outing with his college buddies.  If he loses touch with them...

 

JOE

And the girls?

 

MARY

They go.

 

JOE

Because you guilt them into it.

 

MARY

I do not.

 

JOE

If they don’t, you play the grandchild card.

 

MARY

Well, everybody loves to see them.

 

JOE

Paul coming from Chicago is easier than the girls schlepping from—

 

MARY

If he had children—

 

JOE

You’d find some other excuse for him.

 

MARY

You can think what you want.

 

JOE

I’m not saying anything bad, just stating facts.  The baby always gets spoiled.  

II-51

 

MARY

You could talk to him, but you don’t.

 

JOE

A man’s got a right to live his life his own way.

 

MARY

Then why accuse me of coddling?

 

JOE

(Smiling)

Somebody’s gotta take the blame.

(The doorbell RINGS)

One of the girls?

 

MARY

They have keys.

(The doorbell RINGS.  JOE walks to the door, opens it a crack and steps outside, closing it behind him.  MARY makes the sign of the cross)

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women...

(JOE enters with PAUL.  His face is cut & bruised and his shirt is ripped.  MARY rushes to him)

Pauly, my baby, what happened?  Come here.  Sit.  Joe, get a wet cloth.  And a clean shirt.  Warm water.

 

(JOE exits)

 

PAUL

I’m okay, mom, really.  A shower and some shuteye and I’ll be fine.

 

MARY

Did you go to the hospital?

 

(JOE enters with a face cloth and a t-shirt)

 

PAUL

No.

 

JOE

The cop said they offered.

 

MARY

Did they?

 

II-52

 

PAUL

Yes, mother, they did, but I didn’t feel—

 

JOE

Don’t get mad.  It’s the nurse in her.

 

PAUL

I’m sorry, it’s just that, you know, in between jobs, no insurance.  Too much hassle.

 

MARY

You didn’t take COBRA?

 

JOE

Nothing broken?

 

PAUL

Nothing physical.

 

MARY

How’d this happen?

 

PAUL

Playing the idiot, as usual.

 

MARY

I thought you quit drinking.

 

PAUL

I did.  But, when I—It’s ok, I’m quitting again today.

 

MARY

Do you know who did this to you?

 

PAUL

Very well, but really I need some sleep.  We’ll talk later, okay?

 

JOE

Did you file charges?

 

PAUL

S’pose I could’ve.

 

JOE

(Looking towards door)

Maybe the police are still—

II-53

 

PAUL

But, I’m not going to.

 

JOE

I don’t see why not.

 

PAUL

Because then I’d have to say why it happened and—please, let it die.

 

MARY

That’s okay, dear.  You know what’s best.

 

JOE

Sure, he does.

 

MARY

Go get some rest.

 

(Lights down.  End of scene)

 

Lights up on JOE at the table playing solitaire.  PAUL enters carrying the pad and a pen)

 

JOE

You look like a million compared to—

 

PAUL

The piece of shit that pirouetted in here this morning?

 

JOE

Yeah, something like that.  You hungry?

 

PAUL

Not really.  Maybe some coffee.

(PAUL sets the pad on the table and exits.  He re-enters with coffee and sits)

Mom around?

 

JOE

No, she’s getting her nails done.

 

PAUL

That’s good.  I don’t want her to see me looking like this.

 

JOE

Well, unless you can heal in an hour...

 

PAUL

I wish I were a dog.  (beat)  Remember Katrina?  Best damn dog in the world.

 

JOE

She took a lot of smacks on the ass before she was, though.

 

PAUL

Yeah, but she learned.  That’s the key.

 

JOE

You saying I should have beat you?

 

PAUL

I don’t know but for a pretty smart guy, I never seem to get it.  And not from lack of effort.  You should read my journals.  Fifteen years and hundreds of pages of vows to

 

II-55

 

PAUL (cont’d)

live better, broken promises to myself, and enough self-flagellation to wipe out an army of sinners.

 

JOE

For some, it’s a life-long battle.

 

PAUL

A thousand times I’ve asked myself, “Why can’t I be more like dad?  He has everything under control.”

 

JOE

I wasn’t always like that.  Still not.

 

PAUL

Coulda fooled me.  You got married, stopped gambling, raised a family.  Hello Saint Joseph.

 

(PAUL doodles)

 

JOE

Want to talk about last night?

 

PAUL

Never would’ve happened I hadn’t stormed out of here like a baby.  You see?  That’s not how you’d have handled it.

 

JOE

I was maybe a little hard on you.

 

PAUL

Nothing you said was a lie.

 

JOE

I know, but still...it’s just that...

 

PAUL

What?

 

JOE

You had, have so much potential and...

 

PAUL

I’ve wasted it.

 

JOE

No.

II-56

 

PAUL

Yes!  And not a day goes by that I don’t think exactly that.

 

JOE

You’re not the only one.

 

PAUL

Yeah, but your dream to be a lawyer—grandpa died.  Supporting the family came before college.

 

JOE

I could have gone back later.

 

PAUL

And you had the GI Bill, too, right?

 

JOE

I did.  So, you see...

 

PAUL

One of God’s opportunities, wasted.

 

(JOE briefly closes his eyes and lowers his head)

 

JOE

When you left here, you went to The Tap Room?

 

PAUL

Where else?

 

JOE

See anybody?

 

PAUL

Yeah, the sons of the guys I used to hang with.

 

JOE

One of them did this?

 

PAUL

No.  Mitch did.  You know, I knew him before he was my brother-in-law, ex-brother-in-law, and didn’t like him then.

 

JOE

He—

II-57

 

PAUL

Yeah?

 

JOE

He’s bigger than you.

 

PAUL

Yes, he is.  Stronger and faster, too.

 

JOE

You want a beer?  Little hair of the dog?

 

PAUL

One more before I quit again?  Why not.

(JOE exits and returns with two beers)

How’d you do it?

 

JOE

What?

 

PAUL

Quit the cards.

 

JOE

Fear.

 

PAUL

Of bankruptcy?

 

JOE

Of your mother.  There were a few games floating around the south end of town.  Poker, mostly, but some dice, too.  Anyway, I was on about a six-month streak where I couldn’t lose for tryin’.  Bought myself a new car and put a down payment on a house from it.  Now, your mother wasn’t too keen on me playing at all, but with the way I was winning she couldn’t really say anything.

 

PAUL

Were you the best?

 

JOE

One of ‘em.  It was my face.  No one could tell if I had ten high or aces full.

 

PAUL

Why’d you stop?  Sounds like a pretty good part-time gig.

II-58

 

JOE

The week before the wedding I had a bachelor party.  Poker party, really.  Right before it started, your mother called me.  She said that I better enjoy the game ‘cuz it would

be my last if I wanted to be married to her.  Went out a $300 winner.  That was big money back then.

 

PAUL

If I had half of your willpower.  Shit.

 

JOE

She knew me too well.  We wanted a family and she knew the law of averages would come knocking soon enough.  I didn’t want to be Bobby Giovingo.

 

PAUL

Nino’s dad?

 

JOE

One Sunday morning he told his family to enjoy their breakfast ‘cuz it would be their last meal.  In that house, anyway.  Word has it he put his house up against Jimmy Hall’s.  Bobby was holding four queens, but Jimmy had all the kings.  Part of the deal was the loser had to be out of their house by sunset.

 

PAUL

No shit?  Is that why he—

 

(PAUL shoots his temple with a finger gun)

 

JOE

That came later, but yeah, maybe, I don’t know.  Anyway, soon as she told me to quit, I did.

 

PAUL

There’s the difference between us.  You hear it once and it’s mission accomplished.  I tell myself a thousand times, I know it’ll be a thousand and one.  One thing.  The bars didn’t cause my divorce because Lisa liked going, too.

JOE

I think you still love that woman.

 

II-59

 

PAUL

Yeah, maybe.  That’s sorta why my face looks like a horror show.  (beat)  Seems I’ve made a few calls to her over the past year.

 

JOE

That’s nothing.  You’re still friends.

 

PAUL

Yeah, but these were made after a night out.  Like, at three a.m., telling her—slurring to her, actually, how much I still loved her, how I wanted us to get back together.  From there I’d move on to describing various parts of her anatomy and how much I miss them, too.

 

JOE

She’s remarried.

 

PAUL

Hello.  What I didn’t know is that I really made the calls.

 

JOE

How do you know you did?

 

PAUL

I called from the bar and asked her.

 

JOE

After Mitch told you about them.

 

PAUL

Yeah.

 

JOE

And for that, he did this?

 

PAUL

Yup.  (beat)  Well, not right away.  First he told me to stop making them.

 

JOE

And you didn’t agree?

 

II-60

 

PAUL

Where’s the fun in that?  I told him I didn’t care that he was her brother, that I’d call Lisa anytime I pleased and I’d tell her anything I wanted.  I’d had a few pops already and was feeling exceedingly confident, so I called him a couple of choice names for good measure.

 

JOE

Oh, Lord.  Is that when—

 

PAUL

Listen, Mitch ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s not gonna kick my ass in the bar.  So, when he split I thought I was home free and ordered another drink, you know, to sorta celebrate.  It wasn’t until I got to your car that I saw him sitting on the hood.  I stopped, weighed my options—none of which were too good—and decided to run.  That’s when I learned he was faster than me.  Right after that I learned the stronger part.  His punches really didn’t hurt but that was either the alcohol or the unconsciousness.  Do you know that last night was the first time in my life that I’ve ever been hit?  Over thirty years of drinking and these are my first visible wounds.  When I came to the first thing I wanted to do was look in a mirror to see if there were any permanent scars.  Shows you where my priorities lie.

 

JOE

Why, Pauly?

 

PAUL

Why am I like this?

 

JOE

Why do you constantly torture yourself?

 

PAUL

It’s certainly not for the satisfaction.

 

JOE

Are you sure?  Some people find solace as a “perceived” victim.  Even if they’re only a victim of their own actions.

 

PAUL

You sound like mom.

 

II-61

 

JOE

I occasionally read her Psychology Today’s.

 

PAUL

Solace.  Hmmm.  Okay, doc, tell me what you think.  I’m dating this new lady and everything is going great.  Last week she calls me to say she wants to spend Friday evening by herself.  We originally had plans for dinner.  Naturally—for me, that is—I go into a deep funk.  I start creating these crazy scenarios, like she’s seeing someone else or wants to end it.  I react by feeling sorry for myself, wondering if I’m worthless and I really do deserve this kind of treatment.  Then I start thinking of all the other women I could date who would appreciate me.  So, I call her and break it off, followed by my super-charged emotions kicking in and I cry for hours.  Am I finding solace or satisfaction in this behavior?  

 

JOE

Do you find the thought of being alone comforting?

 

PAUL

No, I want a woman in my life.  I don’t want to grow old alone.  But, at the same time, if I’m alone, no one can disappoint me like that.  Does that make sense?

 

JOE

I’m not a professional.  Just a pair of ears.

 

PAUL

But, you’ve always had the answers.

 

JOE

You think that because I never told you when I didn’t.

 

PAUL

You have more than me.

 

JOE

Maybe you need to talk to a shrink.  Or a priest.

 

PAUL

I’ve always felt that we’re supposed to solve our problems alone; that asking for help is a sign of failure.

 

II-62

 

JOE

That’s crazy.  If you think that way, then why do we need doctors, lawyers, plumbers?

 

PAUL

(chuckling)

You’re right.  

 

JOE

I gotta ask.  You didn’t do this to get out of—

 

PAUL

Hell no!  Give me some credit.  But, since I can’t go looking like this, I can tell you why I was being so clandestine yesterday.

 

JOE

You don’t have to.

 

PAUL

I want to.  You may already know.

 

JOE

What you’re writing?

 

PAUL

Yeah.  It’s a poem.  Or it’s supposed to be, at least.

 

JOE

About shoes?

 

PAUL

Yeah, but not just any shoes.  Yours.

 

JOE

My shoes are nothing to write home about.  Except for my Florsheim wingtips.  

 

PAUL

It’s not—

 

JOE

(speaking over PAUL)  I’ve had them for over forty years.

 

PAUL

Dad.  I’m talking symbolic here.

 

II-63

 

JOE

Good, because I was wondering why a poem about shoes would keep you from the party.

 

PAUL

It’s something—it’s hard to explain.

 

JOE

Okay, forget the speech.  Just tell a joke and sit down.  I’ll make it okay with your mother.

 

PAUL

If you remember, that’s exactly what I did ten years ago.  Do you know how long I’ve been trying to write this damn thing?  Thirteen years.  And the most I ever wrote was four lines.  I’ve thrown away a redwood in paper.

 

JOE

Doesn’t seem it should be that hard.  Lose, cruise, booze, snooze.  Lots of words rhyme with shoes.

 

PAUL

It’s not quite that easy.  Say what you will about my perseverance overall, but on this, I’ve been a pit bull.

 

JOE

Why’s it been so hard?

 

PAUL

Sometimes putting what you feel into words is the hardest part of writing, especially if there’s an emotional connection with the subject.

 

JOE

The stronger the connection, the harder—

 

PAUL

Exactly.  Doing a story on an athlete is easy.  Ask some questions, refer to some stats and type away.

 

JOE

But in this case...

 

PAUL

It’s the strongest connection there is.

 

 

II-64

 

JOE

Thirteen years?

 

PAUL

I got the idea when you were sixty-two and wanted to give it to you at sixty-five, but couldn’t—well, you know.

 

JOE

You didn’t have to do that.

 

(THEY hug)

 

PAUL

It was supposed to be your gift, my tribute to a great dad.  But, just like everything else, I couldn’t finish it. And, honestly, I’d rather miss the party—one you don’t really want anyway—than expose yet another of my life’s failures.

 

JOE

Hey, nobody has to know about the damn thing.  Our secret.  I mean maybe you couldn’t write it because there’s nothing there.  My life has been pretty uneventful.  I’m just a retired foundry worker who did his best to make sure his children did better than he did.

 

PAUL

Your character is beyond reproach.

 

JOE

Hell, you’ve done more than me.  Made more money, been more places.  I could’ve taken the job in San Diego, but my roots were here.

 

PAUL

It’s not about material things.  It’s about character.  Things like letting relatives live with us; being involved in the church for forty years, lending money you didn’t have to spare.  There are very few men who possess all of those qualities.

 

JOE

Guess I never thought about it that way.

 

PAUL

Trying to write this made it painfully clear how inadequately I’ve followed in your footsteps.

 

II-65

 

JOE

You’ve done okay for yourself.  Maybe not what—but, hell, nobody meets their every expectation.  The only thing that hurt me was you losing your religion.  I sent you to Catholic schools thinking—

 

PAUL

You did the right thing.  Bottom line, you’re a better man than me and that’s what I can’t put into words.

 

JOE

Don’t be so hard on yourself.  At least you gave it a shot.

 

(MARY enters with a bag of groceries.  She unloads them on the counter)

 

MARY

Who got shot?

 

PAUL

Where’s your hearing aid?

 

MARY

On the dresser.

 

PAUL

Nice.

 

MARY

What happened to your new girlfriend?

 

PAUL

How’d you hear—

 

MARY

Your sister.  Her name is, was Kim.  You dated two weeks and she’s Jamaican.

 

PAUL

You know, from now on, my personal life is classified top secret.

 

JOE

You broke up already?

 

PAUL

Ah, she works too many hours.

II-66

 

JOE

Man, it’s always something with you.

 

MARY

What your father means is sometimes you have to roll with the waves.  Nobody fits all the criteria.

 

PAUL

There were other issues.

 

JOE

Do you think you’ll ever remarry?

 

PAUL

Why, just so you can have a grandson with our last name?  

 

MARY

We worry that you’ll grow old alone.  Once you hit fifty, well...

 

JOE

Maybe you need to widen your horizons.

 

PAUL

I date black women.  End of story.

 

JOE

The two greatest loves of your life were white.

 

PAUL

That was then and race had nothing to do—listen, we’ve been over this a trillion times.  Who I date has nothing to do with why I haven’t found someone.

 

JOE

Then what is the reason my name dies with you?

 

MARY

Paul, you remember Mrs. Ramirez, don’t you?

 

PAUL

From church.

 

MARY

Yes.  Well, I ran into her at the nail salon just now and she told me her daughter, Celia, is divorced.  Wasn’t she in your grade?

II-67

 

PAUL

She’s two years older than me.

 

MARY

She’s very pretty and lives in Chicago.  

 

PAUL

I don’t date older.

 

MARY

She’s in town this weekend and doesn’t have any plans for tonight.

 

PAUL

I’m not meeting anyone looking like this.

 

JOE

You wouldn’t be in this predicament if you’d stayed with Lisa.  

 

PAUL

Will you drop it?!

 

JOE

You could have worked things out.

 

PAUL

You don’t even know what the “things” were.

 

JOE

I know more than you think.  I know you did cocaine.

 

PAUL

I’m sorry I didn’t have your perfect life or marriage.

 

JOE

It was not perfect.

 

MARY

Close enough.

 

JOE

Not close at all.

 

PAUL

Perfect enough in my eyes.

 

II-68

 

MARY

And we should leave it that way.

 

PAUL

Fifty-five years together.  I barely made four.  Three children to my none.

 

JOE

Lots of people stay married who shouldn’t and too many men have children but aren’t really parents.

 

PAUL

True, but that’s not you.  You and mom are totally in love and you’ve always been there for us.  Hell, ask anybody, and they’d all say you’re one of the greatest guys they know.

 

MARY

We could have invited 200 to the party.

 

PAUL

Maybe more.  All the guys from my class would’ve come.  You were everybody’s favorite dad.  Remember the nickname they had for you?  

 

JOE

“JoJo with the MoJo.”

 

PAUL

JoJo with the MoJo.  Now you know that jerk-off dads don’t get that kind of praise from teenagers.  You put it all together and it’s no surprise that I can’t write that poem.

 

JOE

Maybe I can make it easier for you.

 

MARY

Joe.

 

JOE

Maybe you should leave, Mary.

 

MARY

Why can’t you—

 

PAUL

Leave why?

II-69

 

JOE

I should have done this years ago.

 

PAUL

Done what?

 

JOE

Well?

(MARY exits and brings coffee for all and sits)

Yesterday you said the pressure of being in someone’s shadow can be overwhelming.  

 

PAUL

It can.  It is.

 

JOE

Well, being held to that level of esteem, for lack of a better word, is equally overwhelming.  Especially when a lot of it is unwarranted.

 

PAUL

Nothing you can tell me will change my feelings for you.

 

JOE

Reserve judgment until—

 

MARY

Are you sure you want to start this, Joe?

 

(PAUL stands)

 

JOE

Where you going?

 

PAUL

I’m hungry.

 

JOE

Sit down, please.

 

PAUL

I’m happy with the JoJo I know.

 

(PAUL starts to exit)

 

 

 

II-70

 

JOE

Sit down!!!

(PAUL sits.  MARY exits and returns with cookies)

Alright, so let’s start with broken dreams.  Dad dying did not keep me from being a lawyer.  He left ma well provided for and a college fund for me.  I was ready to go until Willy Sims introduced me to a deck of cards.

 

PAUL

So what, you’re not a lawyer?  The point is you worked on something ‘til you were the best, which I’ve never done with anything, and then kicked it cold turkey when you got married.

 

JOE

That’s not exactly—

 

MARY

Joe, I forbid you—

 

JOE

I’m sorry, Mary, but you have no say in this.

 

PAUL

Listen, this is pretty heavy stuff and I feel, with all due respect, unnecessary.  So, if you don’t mind...

 

JOE

I’m not done yet.  When you were still a baby, I lost three jobs in one year, had five mouths to feed.  I had to take any odd job that came my way.  You got nothin’ on me, son, when it comes to feeling like a failure.

 

PAUL

Most guys would have left town with that kind of adversity, but you stuck it out, did what needed doing, to put food on the table.  That is so far from failure.

 

MARY

Let’s go out for lunch.

 

PAUL

Good idea.  It’s on me.

(JOE exits)

Where do you want to go?

 

 

II-71

 

MARY

He’s a good man, no matter what.

 

PAUL

Maybe this is his cleansing, but I still think he’s—

 

(JOE enters with the photo album and lays it, opened, in front of PAUL)

 

MARY

Oh. Mi dios.

 

PAUL

I was looking at those yesterday.

 

JOE

Notice anything odd about them?

 

PAUL

None of you holding me, but that’s because you wouldn’t let anyone else use your new camera.

 

JOE

I wasn’t even there.

 

PAUL

(To MARY) But, you said?—Is that true?

 

JOE

It is.

 

MARY

We were separated.  Temporarily.

 

JOE

She kicked my ass out of the house because I started gambling again.  Well, technically, we didn’t have a house because I’d lost it the night before.

 

PAUL

You mean...

 

JOE

I told you it was Bobby Giovingo because I wasn’t sure I could tell you the truth.  And it happened before you were born, so I figured...anyway, Bobby had the kings and we had to move.

II-72

 

PAUL

You know, there’s something pretty cool about having a father with the brass to bet his house on a poker hand.

 

JOE

What I had was a disease.  I just didn’t know it.  When your mother called me to say you were born I vowed to quit and asked her if I could come home.  She’s a very forgiving woman.  

 

PAUL

(To MARY) You’ve always been a saint to me.  More than ever, now.

 

JOE

I haven’t fallen since.

 

PAUL

Do you know how many times I’ve sworn I’ll never take another drink?  And the stories are getting worse the older I get.  Remember last year when I called to say my car was stolen and they found it stripped in an alley?

 

MARY

Who needs a car in Chicago?

 

PAUL

That’s really not the point, ma.  The point is I lied.  What really happened is I got drunk, brought home a crack whore, who, after I passed out, stole the damn thing.  And there’s no chalking this up as a youthful indiscretion since it happened when I was 48.  Something is seriously wrong with me, but you, you always learn from your mistakes.

 

JOE

Not all of them.  One cost me something I can never get back.

 

MARY

Please, Joe, I’m begging you.

 

PAUL

Dad, I appreciate you telling me what you have, but it won’t make writing the poem any easier, because I know I’ll never be able to fill your shoes.  I won’t be there tonight but know that you’re the best father a son could want.

II-73

 

(PAUL starts to exit)

 

JOE

I’m not done.

 

MARY

Yes.  Yes, you are.

 

PAUL

She’s right.  Everything’s cool.

 

JOE

Not to me.  (To MARY) And don’t look at me that way.

 

MARY

In fifty-five years I’ve never told you not to do something you wanted to do.  But, now I am.

 

JOE

And if I say it anyway?

 

MARY

I don’t think you will.

 

(Long silence.  PAUL hugs JOE)

 

PAUL

There is a bright spot in all of this.  I’m writing a play about my inability to write the poem.  It’s called Shoes. And I’m dedicating it to you.  Happy birthday, dad.

 

(PAUL exits)

 

MARY

Thank you.

 

JOE

I don’t like unfinished business.

 

MARY

It’s not.  I just thank God he reacted the way he did.  What he just heard could have been devastating.  He’s going through a rough time right now.

 

JOE

I still think...

 

II-74

 

MARY

Why?

 

JOE

There’s more he needs to know.

 

MARY

Fine.  Tell that fragile—

 

JOE

He’s not fragile.  If he was, the booze woulda killed him years ago.

 

MARY

I don’t think Pauly needs to know the real reason you’re not in these pictures.  Why you weren’t there.  What purpose would it serve to tell him Sherman is his father? (beat) What would that solve?  How does that make him a better man?  Make his life happier?

 

JOE

Some day.

 

MARY

Maybe.  After I’m gone.  In my mind, I don’t want him to know everything about me like you do.  Especially that I found comfort where I could when you weren’t there for me.  I’m not proud of it, but he doesn’t need to know.  He thinks I’m a saint and I can lively happily with that image.  Very happily.

 

(End of scene)

 

 II-75

 

(Lights up on JOE and MARY seated at a table at Joe’s party.  They each have a glass of wine in front of them. PAUL stands next to JOE, a soda in his hands)

 

PAUL

Quiet please.  Thank you.  Good evening, everyone and thank you for being here on this super special occasion.  I especially want to thank the Smiths for coming.  You’re my kind of people.  The roast beef was great, wasn’t it? So tender. (beat)  Um, I also want to say a word about my appearance.  Last night I was treated to some facial reconstruction.  I didn’t want it, but can’t say I didn’t ask for it.  A painful lesson learned.  But enough about that.  Let’s talk about the man of the hour.  It’s rare that someone has the honor, privilege and pleasure to be the son of a great man.  But, it’s been mine for almost fifty years.  And I’ve been trying to write what this fabulous experience has meant to me for longer than I’d care to admit.  Alright, I’ll admit.  Thirteen years.  With no success, I might add.  I was so disappointed with my failure to accomplish this task that I had decided to skip this soiree and go back to Chicago this afternoon.  Thankfully, my mind was changed.  I had always, and incorrectly, thought that my inability to express my feelings for my father stemmed from being an inadequate follow-up to the man he was.  Until this morning, that is.  Believe me when I say I am a changed man.  Today, I learned that we often mistake image for reality.  Maybe because we don’t know any different; maybe because we choose not to.  In an effort to fill my father’s shoes, I was chasing a false image.  This does not tarnish any of his wonderful accomplishments and characteristics:  his deep compassion, his unerring guidance, and his fifty-five years of marriage to name a few.  They remain as they were, as they should be, held in high esteem.  What has changed me as a man is finally knowing him as one.  As a man and not as an icon.  The poem I’ve been trying to write all these years is called, Shoes.  My belief that I could never fill his has led me to abandon, prematurely, one hope and dream after another, feeling I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, achieve the greatness I thought necessary to win his approval.  Funny, but I learned that I didn’t need to. I already had it.  Now, I know that’s it’s not important to fill a father’s shoes, just to keep mine polished as I walk through life.  

II-76

 

PAUL (cont’d)

So, here’s to JoJo with the Mojo.  My role model, my friend and my father.  My love and admiration know no bounds.

 

(They drink.  Lights fade to black)

 

THE END


Submitted: January 26, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Michael Licwinko. All rights reserved.

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