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Apr/May 2008 Spotlight

The Bank: A Play in One Act

by Steven Schutzman


Setting:

At a bank.
The present.

Characters:

Tommy--a bank guard, mid 20's, a black man, tall and thin
Jennifer--a bank teller, early 20's
Milt--a retired physician, late 60's

 

(StageLeft: JENNIFER, a teller at her station, helps an unseen customer. StageRight: TOMMY, a guard in uniform and holster with pistol, stands near patrons--also unseen--on line for the next available teller. MILT, walking by outside, sees TOMMY, observes him a bit then enters bank and line.)

MILT
Hello.

TOMMY
(Beautiful English in a rich African accent) Hello, Sir.

MILT
Nice day, isn't it?

TOMMY
Yes it is, Sir. Outside, it is a very nice day indeed. Please step up, Sir, if you don't mind.

MILT
I was just passing by.

TOMMY
Please step up, Sir. We don't want the line going out the door.

(MILT moves a bit forward on the line.)

MILT
This isn't my bank.

TOMMY
Perhaps we should be your bank, Sir. We are happy to provide information about our services to potential customers.

MILT
I don't have any banking to do really.

TOMMY
Perhaps we can be your new bank, Sir.

MILT
Yes, I'd like that... but I was wondering: How do you keep your mind occupied through all the hours just standing here?

TOMMY
Pardon me. Ah but I am protecting the money, Sir.

(TOMMY smiles widely revealing several missing teeth.)

MILT
Right. But I tell you: It would drive me crazy.

(Pause. TOMMY looks MILT up and down deciding something about him then speaks in a lowered voice while indicating JENNIFER with his eyes.)

TOMMY
Do you see that angel's face surrounded by golden light?

MILT
The blonde teller in the blue sweater?

TOMMY
Yes. Jennifer. I watch her sweet angel's face hover over the money drawer.

MILT
Yes, she's very pretty. If you don't mind my asking: What happened to your teeth?

TOMMY
Childhood in the republic of the Sudan happened to my teeth.

MILT
Oh. Gee. Sorry about that.

TOMMY
Did you personally ruin my teeth, Sir? No, you did not personally ruin my teeth. My teeth were ruined by the way things are in the republic of the Sudan.

MILT
I know a very good dentist...

TOMMY
First I must earn food. Only later, will I worry about chewing it.

(TOMMY smiles again.)

TOMMY (cont'd)
Please step up, Sir.

(MILT gestures to let the person behind him go ahead.)

MILT
I'm curious: Have you ever sort of fantasized... I mean... with all the money so close and you the only one with a gun...

TOMMY
I am an employee of the bank, Sir.

MILT
I only meant... in a daydream... in all your moments with nothing to do... I thought you might have fantasized...

TOMMY
Let me tell you, my friend: A rich man and a poor man are as equal as the man who holds a gun and the one at whom he is pointing it. This little boy here though (TOMMY pats pistol) pulls down on my hips. He's heavy and makes sink to the floor. He swells up with my thoughts about Jennifer over there and my feet swell up too from not walking. I have been told to stand not walk. I have been told I must be a presence, an unmoving, visible and vigilant presence in the bank. Four times an hour I am allowed to change my position, Sir.

MILT
Why don't you ask Jennifer to go out with you?

TOMMY
Three skinny Africans sleep in my room across two single beds pushed together. One, a Somali, talks in his sleep in a language that sounds like crying. Or perhaps the Somali is crying. Who knows? The other, a countryman of mine, roams the bed on all fours like a stalking wild animal. And my feet dangle, Sir. Dangle. And the crack between the beds is like a stone in the shoe of my sleep. And the green light from the pornographic video shop below our room buzzes all night.

MILT
It sounds awful.

TOMMY
When poverty goes on day after day, it can wear a man down.

MILT
I'm sure obstacles like that have made a person like you even more determined... Because you're here in America after all.

TOMMY
I am here in America but my parents and sisters are not.

MILT
Oh. That must be terrible. Well, if it's any consolation my wife has booted me out of the house for the afternoon.

TOMMY
A joke that isn't funny is a poor joke.

MILT
Though I did nothing, for all intents and purposes I'm booted out. No, it's because I did nothing I'm booted out. I did nothing, she said nothing, but I couldn't stay there anymore today. Or yesterday. By the loud and angry sound of her stacking the dishes or furiously brushing her teeth I could tell she wanted me out. And this after forty two years.

TOMMY
Wives in the republic of the Sudan have no such boot. The boot belongs to the State Police of the republic of the Sudan and so I am here. That is the way things are. And now I am a guard employed to protect the way things are. Things, as you know, have to be the way they are and so people like myself, refugees of the way things are, must be employed to keep them the way they are. It is a poor joke.

MILT
The money is very close.

TOMMY
If the money were any closer, my friend, we would smell its stinking breath. This is what we say of our close encounters with lions in the republic of the Sudan.

MILT
Oh right, you have lions there.

TOMMY
A mean and dirty thing, a lion, that often kills for no reason.

MILT
I can picture you in a long white gown instead of that uniform, striding to take your place among the chiefs of your tribe.

TOMMY
This uniform I have to pay for, how do you Americans say?, out of my pocket. Not the uniform's pocket, my pocket. Not America's pocket, Africa's pocket. So I can send no money home yet but the uniform will be mine one day if I'm lucky.

MILT
Do you want me to talk to Jennifer for you?

TOMMY
Certainly, you must do no such thing. Please step up, Sir.

MILT
I was wondering: Have you been in a bank robbery before? (TOMMY places his hand on pistol) Not that you're in one now I mean... God that was stupid, like talking about bombs at the Airline Counter... (Pause) I'm stupid, you know, stupid. It's why I'm booted out. I used to practice medicine but I didn't think. I was a doctor but I never gave my life a thought. I just lived it as it was, as I thought it was meant to be lived. I did what had to be done for each of my patients but my wife, Tina, did all the thinking in our lives. She made the decisions and I went along because to tell the truth I would never have known what to do. About the kids, about the money, about the house or vacations. But since I'm retired she wants me to think about what I want to do with myself. By that she means to get myself out of the house. And so she angrily stacks the dishes or furiously brushes her teeth until I can't stand it anymore. And that was how I discovered I don't know how to think, when I couldn't think of anything to do. Golf? Please. So what do I do now? I wander. Basically I'm kicked out of the house and I wander asking questions of strangers because that is what a doctor does, ask questions. He doesn't think, a doctor, he doesn't know how.

TOMMY
Please step up, Sir. I am not supposed to converse with the patrons of the bank and it is time for me to change positions.

(TOMMY steps away but never stops watching MILT.)

MILT
(To the unseen customer behind him.) I don't know how to think. I would think if I could but once you surrender thinking to someone else there's no power on Earth that can get it back for you. You become like a ward of her state. Oh please, please Tina, take me under your wing again, tell me what to do with myself. It's pathetic. But then she boots you out suddenly. Suddenly you get on her nerves. Furiously brushing her teeth. That's funny isn't it? But maybe not, maybe not, because of the hours you know, the long hours at my medical practice, I was hardly ever at home so she never got used to me. My kids treated me like some famous person there for a surprise visit. And then when we went on vacations I slept feverishly most of the time, a stranger in a strange fever. All the fevers I cured over the year would come down on me like clockwork during vacations. (Beat) Those money sacks look heavy. Why don't you go ahead? (Beat) Are you Mario? I just have to ask because you're shirt says Mario's Pizza and here you are in line at the bank with two heavy sacks of coins like one of those Chinese water carriers with buckets on their shoulders so I figured you were the owner Mario here with the receipts... What do you have, pin ball machines in your store? How's business?... I bet you inherited it from your father because pizza parlors often run in families. And that makes you Mario Jr. I guess you don't like questions. You know how I can tell? Because you didn't say "thank you" when I let you ahead in line. That mole on your neck: I'd get it checked out if I were you. What's that? Oh the merchant's window. So Mario Jr. gets to go ahead. (To the next person behind him in line) Do I seem odd to you? Because I tell you I feel odd. (Beat) God this line's slow. But I have nothing if not time, time on my hands, nothing but time. No banking to do, just time. So why don't you go ahead of me?

(MILT waits. Then he signals TOMMY to come over.)

TOMMY
Is there another problem, Sir?

MILT
You see that old woman at the front of the line, in the heavy black coat?

TOMMY
Yes, Sir.

MILT
It's much too hot out today for a heavy coat like that.

TOMMY
Is there a problem, Sir? I am not supposed to converse...

MILT
That old woman is nothing if she isn't a creature of habit. Like me. She and her black coat are like one being. Now here's what I think: I think that old woman is going to have very complicated banking business, that there are going to be many problems and that she is going to be very careful to understand what's happening to her money. That's what I think. And do you know why I think this? Because I must learn to think. And because of her too heavy coat and her cane and her shopping bag and the ace bandages wrapped around what must be extremely varicose legs and her wheezing breath and the many papers in her hand.

TOMMY
So now you are Sherlock Holmes all of a sudden?

MILT
I can also smell her all the way from here. She smells of very ripe peaches.

TOMMY
So now all of a sudden you have learned to think?

MILT
Yes and I also think that, if Jennifer turns out to be that old woman's teller, I will be on this line a very long time because Jennifer is the one I want to help me with my banking today.

TOMMY
I am thinking Sir, that thinking is still a very difficult activity for you.

MILT
I know. You don't have to tell me. And I have ceased to blend in. I have begun to make a spectacle of myself.

TOMMY
Yes, Sir. People like you are mentioned in our employee's manual as people who should be watched. You are a C-4.

MILT
A C-4. Some sort of code huh? Usually you just blend in and people are as unaware of you as you are of them. They just tune you out unless they sense you are dangerous. A C-4. I'm not dangerous though. I'm not a danger to anyone. Nobody should be afraid of me or interested in me. I suppose I could ask this nice young woman behind me if my behavior strikes her as dangerous but I won't because that would seem really dangerous. Now look at that: The old woman does get Jennifer as her teller. Now we're really in for it, my friend.

TOMMY
Please, Sir, I'm asking you.

MILT
By her walk, I'd say that along with varicose legs the old woman has an arthritic condition of the hips. Poor thing. See how she has to tilt her body with each step like climbing an invisible flight of stairs. I have spent my whole life helping other people. That is what I did. I was known for my bedside manner. I couldn't think but people got better under my care. Because, you know, they will or they won't. In ninety percent of the cases you need only do no harm like the oath says. And I intend to do no harm to you, my Sudanese friend.

TOMMY
You see this face, Sir? This face sees you.

(TOMMY smiles at MILT again and steps away. TOMMY watches MILT as he lets various people go ahead of him in line so he can have JENNIFER as his teller. Finally MILT arrives at JENNIFER's window.)

MILT
Hello.

JENNIFER
Hello, Sir. How are you today?

MILT
Fine. And yourself?

JENNIFER
I'm fine. How can I help you today?

(MILT leans in close breaking the plane of the imaginary window between himself and JENNIFER.)

MILT
I'd like to cash this check and ask you a question.

(MILT takes check from wallet and slides it to JENNIFER.)

JENNIFER
This isn't one of ours.

MILT
I know. I was just passing by your bank when I remembered it. So is it all right? Just this once, Jennifer.

JENNIFER
Sure, Mr... (Reading name on check) ...Denby.

MILT
It's Doctor.

JENNIFER
Oh... Sorry Dr. Denby... I said Mr... you know... because I always say Mr. They drill it into you. We watch instructional videos about it. Always say Mr. or Mrs. or whatever... you know... the personal touch...

MILT
It doesn't matter to me if you call me Dr. A lot of Doctors insist on it, especially the retired ones like me, but I don't. I don't know why I corrected you... I'm feeling a bit odd today.

JENNIFER
If you can just let me see some ID please.

(MILT shows ID and JENNIFER counts out his cash.)

MILT
Now for my question.

JENNIFER
I'll answer it if I can.

MILT
That old woman you just helped what was her problem, her banking problem I mean?

JENNIFER
Excuse me.

MILT
The old woman who was just here at your window, ripe peaches, what did you help her with?

JENNIFER
I can't tell you that. The banks holds to a strict confidentialness or whatever for its customers. Not that it's any big secret.

MILT
Was she suspicious as if the bank was trying to cheat her out of her life savings?

JENNIFER
No. Not at all. What a strange idea. I've helped her before. Like a lot of our older customers she doesn't trust the ATM.

MILT
Also her coat was much too heavy for the weather.

JENNIFER
That's right, isn't it?

MILT
That old woman and her black coat are like one being.

JENNIFER
Oh. You know what I think: I think she's lonely and just comes in to talk. Hard to talk to an ATM.

MILT
I didn't mean to pry. She took so long I had to let five people go ahead of me in line so you could be the one to help me.

JENNIFER
You waited for me?

MILT
You didn't notice, did you? Me? What I was doing?

JENNIFER
No. But what did you need me for especially?

MILT
A question. A banking question.

JENNIFER
I'll answer it if I can.

MILT
I was wondering if handling money all the time had changed you in any way.

JENNIFER
I get a lot more colds.

MILT
No, I mean has it changed the way you feel about your own personal money?

JENNIFER
I still spend every cent I get my hands on. No, that isn't really true. I spend a lot more than I get my hands on. My car loan, my student loan, the credit cards. You know how it is.

MILT
No I mean... (MILT leans in even closer to JENNIFER) You see the guard over there watching us?

(MILT and JENNIFER look at TOMMY who he is looking at them. TOMMY begins to slowly move in their direction.)

JENNIFER
Tommy? Sure. Did he send you over here?

MILT
No, he didn't. I was just wondering, an attractive girl like you, do you think you could love him?

JENNIFER
I'm not prejudiced, if that's what you mean?

MILT
No, it's just that I was curious how a woman loved, decided, gradually or all at once... if a woman decided right away in the first ten seconds by a man's looks or type if you know... she could or would...

JENNIFER
He's only been working here a few weeks.

MILT
I know, from the republic of the Sudan. He was an important person in his tribe, a leader.

JENNIFER
Really? Tommy? He never said anything about that. I know he's a real gentleman.

MILT
And smart. And very well spoken.

JENNIFER
Yeah. I love the way he talks. But you know I'm already... like... taken.

MILT
Married?

JENNIFER
No. Not yet.

MILT
Living together then.

JENNIFER
No, my boyfriend's like... we should wait...

MILT
So are you really taken?

JENNIFER
I don't know. I really don't know.

MILT
Now here's how you can tell if you're taken or not: Suppose he collapsed, fell apart, had a health crisis or emotional crisis, became a hollow shell of himself, would you stay with him?

(TOMMY has arrived at JENNIFER's station.)

JENNIFER
(Looking up at TOMMY, half cry, half question) Tommy?

MILT
Give him a chance.

(MILT turns to find TOMMY behind him.)

JENNIFER
It's a... He's a C-4 or whatever in the manual, you know.

TOMMY
I'm afraid I'm going to have to escort you from the bank, Sir.

(TOMMY takes MILT by the arm and begins to lead him out.)

MILT
Sure, sure, go ahead. I'll leave. You're not going to have any more trouble from me. (To the unseen people on line) That's all right. Turn away. Whatever you do; keep looking at the floor, not at me.

(TOMMY and MILT exit bank proper into the lobby.)

TOMMY
You are a stupid old man who doesn't know how to behave or mind his own business. Because of you, Jennifer will think things she shouldn't think about me.

MILT
Yes. You're right. I'm very sorry. I was only trying to help. It's what I do. Help.

TOMMY
Help? Help? Old man. Stupid old man. You who have been booted out... you who have been booted out... have forced me who has been booted out to boot you out again. It is my job. I did not want to boot you out like this, old man, to have to escort you out in front of all the blank faces in the line. But it is the way things are. You are a C-4, a disorientated elderly person mentioned in the manual. A person who must be booted out. That is the way things are. We do not like the way things are, you and me, but there is no helping it. So go home, old man, and take up painting or carving or golf. Go home while you still can.

(Beat. Beat. Beat. MILT reaches into his pocket, takes out the money JENNIFER gave him and holds it out to TOMMY.)

MILT
Here. Take it. Send it to your family in Sudan. Please. Take the money. For helping me out. Please. I want you to take it.

(Pause. TOMMY takes cash but doesn't let go of MILT'S hand.)

TOMMY
Can you feel how close the lion is? The lion, she is very close.

(MILT and TOMMY, hands still clasped, feel the lion. Slow fade to black. End of play.)

 

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