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Apr/May 2008 Spotlight

The Salesman: A Fifteen Minute Play

by Steven Schutzman


Setting:

A moving passenger train.
The present.

Characters:

Diana--30's
Parker--40's

 

(A moving passenger train, DIANA in window seat. PARKER enters huffing, carrying several large suitcases. DIANA addresses the Audience at first.)

DIANA
The train had already started moving when a man with many large suitcases trundled up. He was also quite large and wheezing and dramatically fumbling.

PARKER
Sorry about this. Sorry.

DIANA
And apologetic.

PARKER
Sorry. So terribly sorry.

DIANA
It's fine, I said, though I had the regular feelings about such a man sitting next to me in the almost empty car. It wasn't so much what he was doing, rather that he was breaking the rules of personal space in doing it. But there was something so paradoxically fragile about this extra large man, I didn't...

PARKER
(Interrupting.) Baltimore for a week...

(PARKER finishes stowing his luggage and sits down next to DIANA.)

PARKER (cont'd.)
...And then who knows. Baltimore for a week and then who knows. We'll see which way the wind blows.

DIANA
It was one of those moments of choice in any meeting. A man says something with a whiff of wildness or desperation to it. He even makes a little rhyme. And I could choose right then: Notice it or not, silence or conversation, privacy or not. The speeding train seemed a world unto itself disconnected from this one, a world where the regular rules were suspended like in a dream and I think he was depending on that.

(A short pause.)

DIANA (cont'd.)
Do you travel a lot?

PARKER
Yes and no. I haven't so far but I'm about to start.

DIANA
On business?

PARKER
Sometimes people feel obligated to take an interest because I'm fat. They bend over backwards. I hate that.

DIANA
Another rhyme. Another of those moments. This man had just laid a big egg between us, and I could choose right then: Deal with the egg or not, say what I was thinking or not. Again, I felt a lawlessness in the charging train and a kind of permission in the speed of us flying through the darkening twilight of no country at all. Besides, I'd be getting off in less than an hour.

(A short pause.)

DIANA (cont'd.)
What's that your way of taking control of the situation? Of rejecting a person before she can reject you?

PARKER
I wasn't being antagonistic.

DIANA
I didn't find it antagonistic. I found it pathetic. I could feel the pain behind it.

PARKER
Yes.

DIANA
You should keep that pain to yourself. Then at least you'll have the dignity of not playing the victim like you were a guest on some TV talk show. What gives you the right to come along, sit next to a total stranger in this empty car and lay your big egg of pain in her lap?

PARKER
It isn't about rights. It's about feelings.

DIANA
Yours, of course.

PARKER
Anger. You make me angry but not angry at you.

DIANA
At who? At women?

PARKER
You say that because I'm fat.

DIANA
Sorry.

PARKER
No. Thank you for making me angry. It feels good to be angry in front of you but not at you.

DIANA
I won't be your audience.

PARKER
So you're not interested in other people?

(Pause. Their eyes meet for the first time.)

PARKER (cont'd.)
I've spent a lot of time in hospitals, overweight, diabetic, with high blood pressure and a bad heart. Never expected to live this long. I used to think of every year after forty as gravy. I was born in a hospital and I will die in a hospital. Maybe I should never have left the hospital.

DIANA
His use of the word ‘hospital' had a hypnotic effect like the vibrations of the wheels of the train on the tracks...

PARKER
But I had a pretty normal life until a year ago; a wife, a house, a job selling life insurance. There's something about a fat man selling life insurance, wheezing through his sales pitch that creates an urgency as if death himself was presenting the charts. I could make my fingers tremble when I flipped the cards.

DIANA
He did it again. Charts, cards.

PARKER
Fat people can be tricky, hiding behind hiding nothing. I was salesman of the year five years running. My picture was on all the walls, bigger than anyone else's picture. I was so good I was able to get my wife a job at the company. Of course my wife was fat like me and this fact overshadowed all other facts about us. Everything seemed to happen because we were fat. We were set up with each other because we were fat. We were meant for each other because we were fat. We married each other because we were fat. We were never just two people married to each other but always two fat people married to each other. People thought of us that way and we thought of ourselves that way. It's like coming into a room riding a beast while every one else is on his two feet.

DIANA
Do you do that on purpose? Rhyme like that? Charts. Cards. Beast. Feet.

PARKER
Yes. It creates spikes of attention to counteract my mesmerizing use of repetition. You don't want to put people to sleep but you don't want them completely awake either. A trance is basically what I'm after. It part of my training as a salesman.

DIANA
I can see that.

PARKER
"My wife is mine, all mine, every square acre of her," I used to say, acting the clown in the fat man's way. And a strong love grew up between us, I thought. A love of the soul. A soul love. But you know, there's always something; medical advances, new medicines to take and she heard about one for losing weight. A miracle drug but with side effects. Bad for the heart valves. Because of my other ills, I was afraid...

DIANA
...to take the pills...

PARKER
...to take the pills. After expecting to die all those years, I loved my life too much. I begged my wife not to take them, saying I was afraid for her health but there was another deeper reason, you might guess, my fat man's fear, not of my fatness, but that she'd lose weight and leave me, really my fear that the body is the soul: My fear that we get the body our soul deserves, that what's seen is what's inside too: a blubbery, wheezing, disgusting soul. The pills worked and my wife lost weight fast without fasting. She became regular size, normal, desirable and began acting very differently toward me. It was as if her fatness had been a pregnancy, as if her former self gave birth to a new self; mean, unforgiving, unsympathetic to me anymore in my fatness, as if all the hatred she used to have for her body was suddenly born to be directed at me. I thought it would pass and clung to her desperately. I tried to serve her but all my kindness was turned on me, taken for weakness, treated as a desperate needy act of clinging. And the attitude of the others in the company changed too. I suddenly became the fat man who was beating them out for salesman of the year. They started sniffing around my wife who felt liberated in the new form of her body. She took a lover from among the other salesmen. People in groups are cruel. Once my wife felt free to make fun of me it liberated everyone else to make fun of me too. Especially as my sales figures fell and I was less valuable to the company.

DIANA
Why not take the pills?

PARKER
I was afraid.

DIANA
But why not take them when you were losing everything anyway?

PARKER
I loved the life I was losing and wanted it back. I clung to it like a drowning man. Finally when I was cuckolded, fired, humiliated, kicked out of my house, a walking joke, I bought a handgun.

DIANA
I thought, I better change seats now. But I couldn't move.

PARKER
It was a rational act. I wasn't going to kill anyone else. I wasn't some freak high school student or disgruntled postal employee who kills ten people before he kills himself. I was going to kill myself first, do things in the right order. You may laugh there.

DIANA
Ha, ha, I laughed.

PARKER
I came up with a plan; a foolish, horrible plan. Not one that I'd actually go through with. It just felt good to indulge my planning and self pity in the well-known way. But you know there's always something and one night it happened to push me over, something mysterious. It was on a Thursday. Thursday is the fat man's day, don't ask me why. Months before, across the street from the boarding house where I was living, a huge tree had fallen in a storm and, don't ask me why, suddenly workers were out there in the middle of the night under the full moon chain-sawing the trunk into large rounds. Chain saw noise way into the night, workmen looking so small next the huge trunk they were cutting up in the moonlight. I watched them from my window believing I was being shown something. Little men, the giant tree. The world was about me, about me only. I had become a world drama like Jesus Christ. You can't imagine the state I was in. And then, the beauty of it, the beauty, when the men would finally saw through a piece of the trunk and expose the flesh of the tree and roll it away, the beautiful round white discs shining like coins of bone all over the ground. A vision. I wept for the sadness of what I had been and the beauty of what I could become. It meant something to me and pushed me over.

DIANA
You were the tree?

PARKER
I don't know. On the last Friday of every month there's always a potluck at the company where I used to work and my wife still does work. Everyone cooks something and sets it out on a table in the middle of the office with paper plates and napkins and plastic silverware. When I came in that day a few of them dove under their desks like rabbits down holes. I didn't have the gun out, was just toting two shopping bags but still they dove. I went to the pot luck table and began to unload the food I had cooked, some of the wonderful foods my wife and I had always enjoyed together so I could present them to her in front of everybody. It's hard to connect back to my state of mind but I must have thought the smells, the sense memories, the public declaration and ceremony, and the beauty of my presentation because I have deft fingers and graceful arms for a man my size, mesmerizing fingers, hands and arms that drove my sales figures up the charts.

(PARKER caresses DIANA's face with his hand.)

DIANA
Yes, I see.

PARKER
It was exquisite to me, this scene with me at its center like the passion of Christ, grotesque and terrible and as fitting to me as the cross was to him. And I was doing it for similar reasons, as Christ needed to compel people to believe in him, I needed to compel people to feel sorry for me. That was my mistake, that was always my mistake, a fat man's mistake, making them matter too much and putting this need of mine need between us. I'm making the same mistake now. My egg as you call it.

DIANA
Christ stood for something more than himself, I said. Christ loved humanity.

PARKER
So do I. My egg of pain as you call it has hatched into love for humanity. For everyone. For you. Love is the realization of our common suffering.

DIANA
I don't understand.

PARKER
Neither do I. Even though it happened only a week ago I can't connect back to my state of mind except for this exquisite feeling of the rightness of the scene, this trance of pleasure in what I was doing and who was watching me set my foods out with such care: My wife, her lover, my former friends watching me at the food table, warily silent and not knowing what to do. I'd crossed a line. I was trespassing in their world, a visionary like Jesus Christ acting out his vision in a trance, the curtain risen for them on my dream. And of course it didn't work. There's nothing to be done when one person stops loving another and she said something cruel I didn't hear, that made others around her laugh. Now for the alternative part of the plan. I sat on the table which sunk under my weight and from that position was able to put my feet and legs in the plastic garbage can and stand up. Now I had my cross, a garbage can full of smudged paper plates and tin foil, casserole remains and coffee cup dregs. I was a fired, cuckolded, fat man standing in a garbage can in plain view of those who had humiliated him. All this was exquisite to me then, grotesque and exquisite to think about now but it gets worse. I took the gun out and put it to my head. No one said anything. No one said a word. You may interpret that any way you want but you know there's always something: My cross wouldn't stand. I was precariously stuffed into the can and lost my balance, fat as I was. My body being a human body when it started to go over tried to catch itself. No body, even one that wants to kill itself, will simply let itself fall in space and that saved me. I tried to regain my balance but couldn't manage it. I hit the ground hard and the gun went off. Silence and I start to cry, "O please don't let anybody be hurt. O please don't let anybody be hurt." That was my cry. That was the prayer of the fired, cuckolded, failed suicide covered in garbage on the floor. That's what I had in me, my vision of love. And luckily no one was hurt. The next day I withdrew all my money from the bank and will ride the trains until my money runs out. I don't belong to myself anymore, I belong to the world. Not to myself anymore, to the world. Because I have suffered, I will love the world and be loved back by the world in its turn...

(PARKER slowly lowers his head onto DIANA's shoulder.)

PARKER (cont'd.)
I'm going to put my hand on your breast now.

DIANA
The man stayed quiet as he unbuttoned my blouse. All I could hear was the sound of the wheels. All I could feel was the undulation of the train through the darkening twilight of no country at all...

(PARKER deftly unbuttons DIANA's blouse and slips his hand in. The sound of the train. Slow blackout. End of play.)

 

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