starting over starting over

(the stage is set like an apartment – chairs, a table, a telephone. TODD is passed out on the floor, empty beer cans and pizza boxes at his side. scattered around the stage are life-sized – roughly five feet tall – pictures of people, standing upright. they are not especially realistic, having been drawn with crayons or magic markers. the phone rings.)

SAM: (from offstage) Phone.
TODD: Yes.
SAM: (from offstage) Are you going to get it?
TODD: I'd rather not.
SAM: (from offstage) I'm brushing my teeth!
TODD: Yes, but you're vertical, and that's such a major part of it.
SAM: (from offstage, mouth full) Hih yaw tuf!
TODD: Can't argue with that.

(with effort, TODD rises and answers the phone.)

TODD: Y'ello. (pause) Mm-hmm. Yeah. (pause) Mm-hmm. (pause) Mm-hmm. (pause) Sure, we'll take care of it. (pause) Okay. Bye.

(TODD hangs up, sits down and yawns. SAM enters, mostly-dressed.)

SAM: Jesus, this place is a mess.
TODD: I call it "rustic".
SAM: Who was on the phone?
TODD: The state department.
SAM: What do they want?
TODD: They want warlike.
SAM: Huh.
TODD: I got the phone.
SAM: Fine. Where's the marker?
TODD: It's in the pizza box.
SAM: The pizza box. (checks, withdraws the marker) Idiot.
TODD: What?
SAM: Coloring in the green olives.
TODD: Thought I could get two ingredients for the price of one.
SAM: Idiot.

(SAM chooses one of the pictures and draws a sword in the person's hand.)

SAM: You know, I'm really not comfortable with this.
TODD: What?
SAM: The arrangement. Being at their beck and call all the time…how warlike?
TODD: I don't know. Give 'em fangs.

(SAM draws in fangs and caps the marker.)

SAM: It's a Faustian bargain, is all I'm saying. And it's kind of deceitful.
TODD: Pays the rent.
SAM: Look, I've got to go to work. Try to clean up before I get home, okay?
TODD: (yawns) Okay.

(SAM and TODD exit in different directions. the lights dim, then rise. SAM returns with a bag of groceries.)

SAM: (looking around) Still a mess…damn it.

(SAM exits with the groceries.)

TODD: (entering) Hey, Sam.
SAM: (from offstage) I thought you were going to clean up.

(TODD enters, sits down and yawns. he is in his underwear and has sleep-ruffled hair.)

TODD: What's the hurry?

(TODD notices the marker, picks it up, heads over to the "warlike" picture and thinks for a moment. SAM re-enters with a garbage bag and begins cleaning.)

TODD: Sam, are you any good at mustaches?
SAM: What kind?
TODD: I feel like he should have a mustache that he's twirling. That might be more sinister than warlike, but every little bit helps. (pause) What are you doing?
SAM: Cleaning.
TODD: Why?
SAM: Sarah's coming over.
TODD: She's coming here?
SAM: Yeah. I'm making dinner.
TODD: Sam, the state department's coming by at nine.
SAM: They are?
TODD: Yeah. They've got a whole big thing going on. That's why they wanted the warlike guy. Besides, you know we're not supposed to have friends in here.
SAM: Fuck it.
TODD: Fuck it?
SAM: I told Sarah I'm making dinner tonight. I'm tired of not being able to have anyone over. She probably thinks I live with my parents, or I've got a bunch of dead bodies hidden in closet or something. Man, I like Sarah. I don't want to lose her over a stupid thing like this.
TODD: What about the state department?
SAM: I don't care. I believe in the sovereign right of a guy to have dinner with a girl he likes.
TODD: It's going to screw everything up…

(there is a knock at the door.)

SAM: Too late. She's here.
TODD: Oh, shit.
SAM: Will you put some pants on?

(TODD exits. SAM opens the door and SARAH enters with a bottle of wine.)

SAM: Hi!

(they embrace.)

SAM: Come on in. Dinner's almost ready.
SARAH: Thanks. I…
SAM: What?
SARAH: Uh…what's…
SAM: The pictures?
SARAH: Yeah.
SAM: Don't mind them.
SARAH: Okay…
SAM: Sit down! Please.

(SAM exits in a hurry. SARAH examines the pictures, puzzled. SAM re-enters and sets the table with candlesticks and silverware.)

SARAH: This one's very angry.
SAM: (lighting the candles) Warlike, actually.
SARAH: Was this a bad night for me to come over?
SAM: Oh, no…
SARAH: Because if you've got something going on…
SAM: Nothing at all. What d'you say we break open that wine?

(they open the wine, pour glasses, toast and sit down. SARAH is still uncomfortable around the pictures.)

SAM: So, I saw the craziest thing at the shoe store today. There was this…
SAM: Yes?
SARAH: Can we move these pictures?
SAM: Unfortunately, no.
SARAH: They're creeping me out.
SAM: I'm sorry. Just try to ignore them.
SARAH: Why are they here?
SAM: It's kind of hard to explain.
SAM: Well…you ever see…news reports, and stuff, about other countries?
SARAH: Sure.
SAM: They're all…different, and far-away, and exotic…
SARAH: Of course.
SAM: But you've never actually been there, so you base your impression of the place on photographs, or news articles.
SARAH: Yeah…
SAM: So you don't have any way, beyond the pictures, of knowing that the place exists.
SARAH: I guess…
SAM: And for all you know, it could just be something the media is making up.
SARAH: Like what people say about the moon landing.
SAM: Exactly! That's exactly it. So, if they could fake landing on another planet…
SARAH: Yeah…
SAM: Well, you know…China?
SAM: This, right here, is basically…China.
SARAH: This is China?
SAM: Right.
SARAH: Your apartment?
SAM: Right.
SARAH: That's ridiculous.
SAM: Nevertheless…
SARAH: You mean to tell me that the government has been faking China all along?
SAM: Sort of.
SARAH: What about all the Chinese people?
SAM: Well, at one point, and nobody's completely sure when, but in China itself, uh, the place, one day all the Chinese people just up and left.
SARAH: They left?
SAM: Yeah. They didn't really leave a note or anything. They just kind of took off.
SARAH: Where did they go?
SAM: Nobody knows. But the government figured they had to keep it covered up, or else all the other countries would rush in and try to claim the land, and anyway, this way they could justify military spending by having China as a bad guy, like the Soviet Union was during the Cold War.
SARAH: So they put China in your apartment?
SAM: Yeah. Todd knows this guy who knows the Secretary of the Interior from this wilderness bonding trip, and one thing led to another, so he cut a deal whereby we get free rent if we agree to be China.
SARAH: And all the photographs?
SAM: They send camera crews over once a while to film stuff for the news.
SARAH: Why didn't they use the real country?
SAM: They've got their crap all over the place now. There's no room.

(there is a knock at the door.)

SAM: Who is it?
VOICE: Bob and Mary Jo Krenner from Omaha, Nebraska!
SAM: Yeah, hang on. (to SARAH) Tourists. (opens the door)

(BOB and MARY enter, carrying bags and a camera.)

BOB: Hello, China!
MARY: It's like another world!
BOB: (to a picture) Well, hello Mr Chinaman. That's a nice bicycle you've got there.
MARY: (to SAM and SARAH) Are you from America too?
SAM: Yeah. We're here on vacation.
BOB: Mary Jo, take my picture with the nice Chinaman.
MARY: Sure, dear.

(BOB poses with the picture, and MARY takes his picture.)

BOB: Ah, great.
SAM: The hotel is down the hall, third door on the left.
MARY: And the Great Wall?
SAM: Second door on the right.
BOB: Thanks!

(BOB and MARY exit.)

SAM: You have to keep your bedroom door locked, or else they take souvenirs.
SARAH: They think they're in China?
SAM: Yeah. The government tries to discourage tourism through high airfares and uneasy diplomatic relations, but some people want to go anyway, so the plane just flies around in circles for a while and then drops them off here.
SARAH: But these pictures aren't very realistic…
SAM: Yeah, well, declining standards and all, it counts as multicultural awareness these days if you even know that another culture exists.
SARAH: This is crazy…

(a bell goes off.)

SAM: Food's ready!

(SAM exits. TODD enters, now dressed.)

TODD: Hey.
TODD: I suppose he told you?
TODD: It's a pretty sweet gig, being China.
SARAH: I bet.

(SAM returns with the food.)

SAM: Voila!
TODD: Are there leftovers?
SAM: We haven't started eating yet.
TODD: Just want to be first in line.
SAM: Ahead of who? The Chinese people?
TODD: Those tourists looked hungry.

(there is a knock at the door.)

TODD: Oh, shit.
SARAH: Who's that?
TODD: It's the state department. You've got to get out of here.
SAM: Man, no. We're eating. Someone's got to draw a line. I'm sick of being China on demand.

(there is another, more insistent knock at the door. TODD opens. WALLENHORST and CAMERAMAN enter.)

WALLEN: Tensions are running high in the Far East…
CAMERA: I don't have the light, Don.
WALLEN: Can we get some light in here? It's supposed to be daytime on the other side of the world right now.
SAM: We'll turn the lights on later. Right now, we are having a candle-lit dinner.
WALLEN: What do you mean, later? Tensions are running high! Look at that guy with the sword!
SAM: You can wait. (to SARAH) So. I saw the craziest thing at the shoe store…

(the CAMERAMAN's mobile phone rings.)

CAMERA: Camera. (pause) Yeah. (to WALLENHORST) It's for you.
WALLEN: Who is it?
CAMERA: It's the Secretary of the Interior. He sounds pissed.
WALLEN: (takes the phone) Ambassador Wallenhorst speaking. (pause) Yes, I know, sir. I thought we'd have the footage by now. (pause) The hold-up? Well, sir, China's eating right now, and it doesn't want to be disturbed. (pause) I'll ask. (to SAM) Are you going to be done soon?
SAM: No.
SARAH: I can eat fast…
SAM: No. Take your time. You don't have to hurry up because these guys said.
WALLEN: (to the phone) China is playing hardball, sir. (pause) I will. (hands phone to TODD) He wants to talk to you.
TODD: (winces) Hello? (the phone squawks audibly) Oww. Yes, sir.
SARAH: So, what happened at the shoestore?
SAM: It was the craziest thing…

(TODD draws a sword on another picture.)

TODD: (to phone) I've increased the warlike, sir. (pause) Yes, sir. I'll talk to them. (to SAM) Sam, the Secretary of the Interior is about to lose his shit. Can't you hurry up?
WALLEN: Where'd this one get fangs?
TODD: Oh, that was my idea.
CAMERA: Let me see if I can get some stills with my shutter-lens.
SAM: We're trying to…
CAMERA: Look scared of the guy with the sword.
WALLEN: (posing) How's this?
CAMERA: (taking photos) Ooh, good.
SARAH: Sam, I don't think this is working. My food is cold, and…
SAM: Fine. I'll get dessert.

(SAM exits and then returns, angry, followed by BOB and MARY, who are eating cake.)

SAM: God damn it.
BOB: I found this cake by a volcano!
SAM: That was our dessert.
BOB: You left your dessert by a volcano?
SAM: No, by my stove.
BOB: (to the picture with the new sword) Now, what are you all riled up about, friend?
WALLEN: Excuse me…
MARY: Bob and Mary Jo Krenner from Omaha, Nebraska.
WALLEN: Ambassador Felix Wallenhorst. How do you do?
BOB: Ambassador, this Chinaman wasn't angry before. Something must be bothering him.
SAM: (shouts) Shut up! All of you!

(everyone stares in silence.)

SAM: I've been planning this dinner for days and now it's screwed because you fucking Americans feel entitled to just take whatever you find, like the whole world belongs to you, and you bastards have to justify whatever you do with the budget, fine, but I've got to eat some time, and I like this girl, and you fucked it up! I'm done! I'm done being China! Find someone else!
TODD: (after a pause, listens to the phone) Sam, the Secretary of the Interior wants to make sure you understand what you just said.
SARAH: Sam, it's really not that important.
SAM: No, it is. Sure, free shit is great. I love getting things for free. It's awesome. But there comes a time that's not enough any more. I used to think that free food was the best-tasting food in the world. But it's not. The best food is food you cooked for a girl you like and she enjoys it and nothing else matters. And you can tell the Secretary of the Interior I said that.
TODD: (listens to the phone) He heard you.
MARY: I'm confused.
TODD: Go check out the Great Wall.
MARY: Okay.
BOB: (to the picture) C'mon. You can be our tour guide.

(BOB and MARY JO exit. BOB brings the picture with him.)

TODD: (to WALLENHORST and the CAMERAMAN) You heard the man. Get.
WALLEN: But what about the tensions running high?
TODD: I'm sure you'll figure something out.

(WALLENHORST exits. the CAMERAMAN lingers.)

CAMERA: You know, there's a million guys out there who'd jump at the chance to be China. Don't think you two can't be replaced.
TODD: (tosses the phone) Whatever.

(the CAMERAMAN exits.)

TODD: I'm sorry, man.
SAM: It was my fault. When we made the deal, I thought I could handle it. But China is a very large country. Larger than I thought.
TODD: (smiles) You guys relax. If you're hungry later, I'm going to order a pizza.

(TODD exits.)

SARAH: I'm sorry dinner didn't work out as planned.
SAM: I'm sorry I tried to keep all this a secret.
SARAH: What do you say we start over?
SAM: Sounds great.

(they pour glasses of wine and each take a sip.)

SARAH: So, what happened at the shoe store?
SAM: Oh. This guy was wearing sandals, and he had seven toes on one foot!
SARAH: Wow! I wonder what you could do with all those extra toes?
SAM: It's a world of possibilities.

starting over by Marc Heiden, July 2001