sweet nothings

(two students, KYLE and JIM, are sitting in the audience listening to a lecture. the professor stands at the podium, just babbling. they aren't interested)

JIM: Lectures give me rashes. I don't know why we're here. Did you do the reading responses for discussion section?
KYLE: No, but I thought about it. Next week I'm going to see if I can dope out what textbook we're supposed to be reading.
JIM: That's some real dedication.
KYLE: Well, I want to get into grad school eventually and they expect you to know that sort of thing there.

(LAURIE walks down the aisle and starts looking for a seat)

KYLE: Laurie! Hey! Over here!
LAURIE: Oh, hi, Kyle!
KYLE: Sweet thing, I would be truly honored if you would choose from amongst this entire sea of seats - a panorama of potential placements for your lovely body - I would be the luckiest man in this lecture hall if you were to sit next to me.
LAURIE: Sure, Kyle! (sits) So what's up?
KYLE: My affection for you, Laurie. That's what's up. I'd like you (JIM starts frantically motioning 'No!') to meet my friend Jim.
LAURIE: Hi, Jim. Nice to meet you.
JIM: (stammering) Hi.
LAURIE: Are you a History major?
JIM: Yeah.
LAURIE: I think this class is so interesting. Would you agree that our modern conceptions of monotheistic codified religions trace their structural roots to Zoroastrianism or do you believe the argument that they merely mirrored and adapted contemporary sociopolitical trends?
JIM: Um...I...(belches really loudly)
LAURIE: Jerk. (moves to a different seat)
KYLE: Jim...
JIM: I know, I know. I just get so nervous around girls. I don't think they like me, and even if they don't not like me yet, they will, they just haven't figured it out, that they don't like me, but they will, you know...
KYLE: Jim, Jim. Relax. It's all a language barrier we're dealing with.
JIM: A language barrier? Sure, I have trouble getting the words out, but I do speak English...
KYLE: I know, pal. That's the problem. Call this number.
JIM: "Hooked on Phonics"? Kyle, I know how to talk...
KYLE: Just dial the number, kid.

(JIM runs up to one side of the stage and dials a phone. lecture hall atmosphere disappears. the female VOICE can be done either via speaker or with someone actually like onstage, depending on which looks better)

JIM: This is so stupid...(he dials. there is the sound of ringing and then a click.)
VOICE: Welcome to Hooked on Phonics. For lessons in Spanish, press 'one'. For French, press 'two'. For German, press 'three'. (goes to low murmur)
JIM: I should just hang up. This is pointless.
VOICE: For Mongolian, press 'six'. For the international language, press 'seven'.
JIM: The...what? It's probably Esperanto or something. Oh, what the hell. 'Seven' it is.
VOICE: (now a sultry female voice) Language lessons. How can I help you?
JIM: Hi, is this, um, Esperanto?
VOICE: No. This is the international language.
JIM: What language is that?
VOICE: The language of love. Are you ready to get hooked on these phonics, little man? What's your name?
JIM: Jim...
VOICE: Alright, Jim. What seems to be the problem?
JIM: I, uh, have trouble talking to girls. Finding the right words.
VOICE: Just think of the word "stand"!
JIM: What does that mean?
VOICE: It's simple! S-T-A-N-D! Sweet Thing, Announce Nonstop Desire!
JIM: But how does it work?
VOICE: You just met a girl and you find her to be oh-so-fine. She says 'hello'. What do you say?
JIM: Uh, 'Hello'?
VOICE: No, no, no. What does that tell her? 'Hello' just tells her that you see her. You need to be awed by her.
JIM: I say...um...wow, you are, uh, great...
VOICE: Anything can be great, Jim. Report cards are great. Do you want to tell her she makes you think of report cards?
JIM: No, I guess not.
VOICE: What does she bring to your mind?
JIM: Uh...planets? And stars?
VOICE: Then use that.
JIM: Okay. Hmm...(thinking) Girl, you are so lovely that the rings of Saturn are far too small to contain your beauty. If it were, um, a planet. Your beauty. Was.
VOICE: Are you trying to make her think she's fat?
JIM: Uh, her beauty is so bright it's like there's an extra sun?
VOICE: (authoritative, quick. think of a boxing trainer) That's a start. Keep it on, Jim! Your sweet loving has to be a one-two rocket punch! Don't let her catch her breath! How does the searing light of her beauty make you feel?
JIM: Good?
JIM: Amazed?
VOICE: Harder!
JIM: Uh, as if I am floating upon an ocean of, um, wonder?
VOICE: Floating? Fuck floating! Bring her to you! Do you want to float with her or do you want to bump and grind with her like Romeo and Juliet riding a superfast comet of freaknasty desire?
JIM: I wanna bump!
VOICE: Move it, Jim! Work it! Lay it out for her! It's not enough to booty call, you got to booty shout! Why should she spend tonight with you? What are you going to do?
JIM: (dancing like a boxer, as if he's working out. throws jabs, etc. perhaps he has been wearing a hooded sweatshirt and now the hood is up) Kiss her!
VOICE: A kiss? Do you want a valentine from her or do you want some mind-blowing fire-breathing body ecstasy?
JIM: I have a plan, lover! And that plan will culiminate in a freaking...
VOICE: How hot will this freaking be?
JIM: Red-hot!
VOICE: Will she ever have been freaked like this before?
JIM: Not in her entire life!
VOICE: Come on, Jim!
JIM: Girl! I'm superbad!
VOICE: Where are you going to freak her?
JIM: At my apartment!
VOICE: No! You no longer own an apartment, Jim! You have a boudoir!
JIM: Hell yeah! In my boudoir!
VOICE: How long are you going to freak her, Jim?
JIM: Until we're done?
VOICE: No! There is no "done"! There is only a nonstop blizzard of sensual delights!
JIM: Right! And she will never want to depart from my love chariot!
VOICE: (relaxed) Okay, that's a good start, Jim. Go get some practice, and we'll have another lesson tomorrow. In 4-6 weeks you should receive your instructional tapes with seven hundred remixes of Rick James' "Superfreak" as well as, of course, some fine selections from Luther for use over wine and candles. And if you get stuck, just remember, S-T-A-N-D!
JIM: Cool! S-T-A-N-D! I feel so much more confident! How can I ever thank you?
VOICE: Well, by paying me.
JIM: Paying you?
VOICE: These lessons cost money, you know.
JIM: But...I'm broke...
VOICE: Well, Jim, I just might have the answer to that problem too.
JIM: You do?
VOICE: Have you ever heard of Hooked on Phonics for Bank Robbers?
JIM: Oh...
VOICE: It's simple! Just remember P-A-N-T-S!
JIM: What does that mean?
VOICE: All you have to do is this...

victimless crimes

(a short line of people has formed on the other side of the stage. they are waiting to see a bank clerk, LILY. next to the bank, nearer to the middle of the stage, a JANITOR is mopping up. JIM has a gun. the bank patrons take no notice as he shouts)

JIM: I want all your money in a bag now or I'll blow your fucking head off!
JIM: I said, start putting the money in a bag! I have a gun and I'll use it!
JANITOR: But...but...
JIM: Now! No questions! Now!
JANITOR: But this is the zoo!
JIM: (flustered) It is?
JANITOR: Don't take our penguins away! They can't make it so good on the outside!
JIM: I'm sorry, I, uh...
JANITOR: The bank is next door!
JIM: Sorry.
JANITOR: (sniffles) Damn ruffian.

(JIM sheepishly walks next door to the bank and gets in line. he looks back and forth, not sure if he should be waiting. he's tense. he is still holding onto his gun in full view. behind him is ETHEL, an elderly woman. JIM starts to walk forward)

MAN: Hey, get in line, jerk.
JIM: But...
MAN: I didn't wait twenty minutes so some wannabe cowboy could walk in front of me.
JIM: Hey, I've got...
MAN: Yeah, I see it. You think it makes you a big man? I'll fuckin' eat you for breakfast, boy. Now get in line.
JIM: Okay. (gets in line)
ETHEL: Certainly is quite a bit of weather we've been having, eh?
JIM: (distracted) Huh?
ETHEL: Snows when you think it's gonne be dry and it's dry when you think it's gonna snow.
JIM: Uh, yeah, I guess.
ETHEL: I remember the winter of '54...craziest thing I ever saw...

(ETHEL continues to talk to herself as JIM steps forward into internal monologue)

JIM: I wasn't really sure what to do. This wasn't covered in the course, you know? I think part of me was still feeling dumb about trying to hold up the zoo, so I didn't want to risk screwing up again. I wanted the money, but there was a line...and I did have a gun, so I didn't really need to behave by the rules, but I was thinking, what if some other guy with a gun came in? I'd want him to have to stand behind me or else he'd take all the money before I got it. So I figured I'd have to wait. (he returns to line)
ETHEL: Cats and dogs, I tell you!
JIM: (still nervous) Yeah.
LILY: (to customer) Have a nice day and thank you for banking with First National Country. (to JIM) Can I help you, sir?
JIM: Hi, I'd, uh, like all the money.
LILY: You want to close your account?
JIM: No, see...
LILY: (sighs) If you withdraw all the money, the account is empty. If the account is empty, your account is deactivated.
JIM: I just want all the money.
LILY: (steps forward into internal monologue) Right away I could tell something was going on with this guy. He was so insistent. Why was he pointing that gun at me? Was it supposed to mean something? Anyway, there was nothing I could do. We had to have a manager on the floor for account closings, and it was just me there. (turns back) Sir, I can't do account closings myself, but...
JIM: Please don't give me any hassle...
LILY: If you just leave one dollar in there, then we could leave the account active and you'd still have almost all the money...
JIM: Ma'am, this is a robbery. I have a gun.
LILY: It's a robbery?
JIM: Yes.
LILY: (screams) Oh my god! It's a robbery! (everyone starts to panic - except ETHEL, who remains totally oblivious throughout - but then freezes as LILY goes into internal monologue, calm) So that's what the gun meant. I knew it had to be something. I was really surprised and kind of excited too. This had never happened during one of my shifts before. I wanted to see what was going to happen next. (back to reality, panicked again) He's got a gun!
JIM: (shouts) This is a robbery! Everyone put your hands in the air and hit the fucking floor! (people start to scream but then get confused) Hey! Hey, I've got a gun! I said do it so, um, do it!
MAN: How can we put our hands in the air and hit the floor at the same time? Don't you have to choose one or the other? (general murmur of assent amongst the customers)
WOMAN: If we lay flat on our backs, we could put our hands in the air.
MAN: But isn't the natural position in this situation to be on your stomach?
WOMAN: (shrugs) Hey, don't ask me. I'm just trying to figure out what he wants.
JIM: I want all of you to be quiet! And shut up!
MAN: We wouldn't have to talk if you weren't so obtuse.
JIM: (into internal monologue) The hostage was calling me names. That really hurt. I mean, I knew I wasn't doing so well, but I didn't need him to remind me about it. (he fires off his gun. everyone screams and hits the floor) You're all going to bleed a whole lot!
LILY: (into internal monologue) He seemed like a pretty nice guy. I felt bad that people were calling him names and all. But I was also kind of mad because he shot the papier-mache Santa hanging from the ceiling. That took a long time to make. We had to put in extra hours to do that. (turns back) What do you want?
JIM: The money!

(they look into each other's eyes for one long moment)

LILY: I'll get it for you.
JIM: (smiles) Thank you. (she smiles. he goes into internal monologue) She had really nice eyes. I was worried that she would be mad about me pointing the gun at her. That's pretty rude, I guess. I shouldn't have done that. God, I screw everything up. (turns back)
LILY: Here's all the money.
JIM: (distracted) Huh? Oh, what the money? Yeah, great. Hey, listen, what's your name?
LILY: Lily.
JIM: Hi. I'm Jim. And I'd, uh (thinking) like to remind you that your thing, or rather the thing that you are, which is you, is very sweet. And, uh, I won't have any Rick James for six weeks, maybe four, but do you think maybe you'd like to come back to my apartment and wait for it?
LILY: (internal monologue) I thought about the situation for awhile and I decided that I actually wasn't too mad about the whole thing. I mean, customers can be real bastards during the holiday rush, and I'd been working all day, so more than a few of them had said some pretty nasty things to me. I didn't feel sorry for them at all. Excluding Santa, it was really a victimless crime. Of course, Santa did take it pretty hard.
JIM: (also in internal monologue) She probably thought I was a fool. I was the worst bank robber ever.
LILY: (still in monologue) In fact, I'd be more worried if he had done the bank robbery well. That would mean he was a thief or something. The only thing I was afraid of was that he shot the Santa on purpose and that indicated some sort of psychotic anti-holiday neurosis in him. Other than that, he looked perfectly normal. He even seemed pretty nice. I mean, excluding that he was robbing a bank and all.
JIM: (also in internal monologue) I knew I shouldn't have tried to rob a bank right away. I just wasn't ready. The Hooked on Phonics woman said
VOICE: Jim! You are not ready! You must complete the training!
JIM: I know all the words! G-R-O-O-V-E! Gun, Respect, Obliterate Opposition Voice...
VOICE: But you can't control them. Beware the grey side!
JIM: (back to own internal monologue) What did she mean by that?
LILY: (noticing JIM) Jim?
JIM: Lily?
LILY: I don't think we're in internal monologue anymore.
JIM: Uh oh.
LILY: Look out!

(ETHEL steps forward and knees JIM in the crotch. he falls. ETHEL grabs the gun)

ETHEL: Sucker. I'm gettin' me a condo. (grabs the sack of money, exits)
LILY: Jim! Are you alright?
JIM: (gasping) Isn't that just like the elderly? That old bag is probably going to go get a Ferrari and then drive it around town at twenty miles per hour. Did you know that approximately 30% of the government budget is spent on the elderly compared to 2% on education and less than a half a percent on the arts?
LILY: Jim, this is no time for social consciousness. We've got to get out of here.
JIM: No! We have to make a stand against the damn old people in this country who are always keeping stuff and never sharing it. They're screwing the young generation and it's got to end!
LILY: They'll arrest you and put you in jail, Jim.
JIM: Oh, alright.

(ETHEL walks back in with a cheap looking mustache on and the sack of money)

ETHEL: (in a bad accent) I want to make a deposit.
LILY: You're kidding.
ETHEL: Make a new account for me. My name is Aziz. Put the money in my account.

(a COP bursts in, holding his gun in one hand and a radio in the other)

COP: Freeze! Put your hands in the air!
ETHEL: (drops the money but draws the gun) Screw you, copper!

(another MAN, wearing no shirt and a construction helmet, bursts in with a gun)

MAN2: Nobody move!
LILY: Oh my god, it's that guy from the Village People!
JIM: Who knows if he's on the side of good or evil?
LILY: Their morality has always been somewhat suspect!

(a mexican stand-off forms. for those who have never seen a Tarantino film, it is a triangular formation where everyone has a gun pointed at their head and is holding a gun at someone else's head themself. COP is aiming at ETHEL. ETHEL drops LILY and aims at MAN #2, who is aiming at the COP)

COP: (into his radio) I need backup! This is Unit Four, I am in the situation and I need backup! Do you read me?
ETHEL: You'll never take me alive!
MAN2: So? You've probably only got like a year left anyway. I'm one of the Village People. I have no shame. I have no fear of death. The money is mine, old woman.
COP: (into radio) Damn it, doesn't anyone hear me? I need backup! I'm outgunned here! Chad, where the hell are you?

(they continue to be tense. LILY and JIM walk down the stairs, away from the bank. if possible, light goes off on the bank scene and only follows them)

LILY: We should get out of here before this gets bloody.
JIM: Alright. Don't worry, though. The gun that the old woman stole was a toy.
LILY: But aren't you mad about the money?
JIM: No. I don't want the money. I want...Lily, I'm sorry about what I said earlier.
LILY: About what?
JIM: About everything. I guess I learned that you can't live your life using instructions from a telephone. It just doesn't work. You have to have soul. You've got to be yourself.
LILY: That's not the moral of this sketch though, is it? I mean, that's a really dumb moral. Probably the worst one of all the morals ever. Everyone wants to be themself. You don't just decide to be someone else. It's useless advice because it has no real practical application.
JIM: Of course that's not the moral. The moral of these two skits is that old people are greedy bastards.
LILY: Okay. I can live with that.

(they smile and walk off, hand in hand, to the sound of two shots and two bodies falling)

sweet nothings, victimless crimes by marc heiden november 1998