The setting is a street corner in a residential neighborhood of the mid-1960s. The corner of a lawn enclosed in a picket fence is down right. A street sign is visible and the audience sees Maple. Although the streets are paved and curbed, there are no sidewalks. The tailgate of a pickup is up left. Four boys, about fourteen, stand where sidewalks should form a corner.
Carnell: Who got the Swisser Sweets?
David: I got ’em. (The others form a semi-circle around David facing the audience.)
Wayne: Break ’em out.
David: Right here? (Looking off right.) Man, my old lady’s in there.
Peter: You gotta let ’em hang some time.
David: Yeah, but it ain’t gotta be tonight.
Wayne: Dude’s scared.
David: Damn skippy.
Carnell: I am too. She a new species.
David: Git off my mama, man.
Peter: What species?
Carnell: Man, she a bear-rilla.
Wayne: A who?
Carnell: A cross between a bear and a gorilla!
David: Man you rough on my T-Jones. At least she ain’t no secret weapon.
Wayne: How secret?
David: So secret it’s been secret twenty years.
Peter: What you talking ’bout, David?
David: Hell, we didn’t drop no bomb on Hiroshima, we dropped Carnell’s mama. (Doubles over laughing. Between guffaws.) The sight of her killed almost a hundred thousand people. Threatened to drop her on Nagasaki, Japanese say, “We don’t wanna fight no more.”
Carnell: Peter, you ain’t got no room to laugh. Not after what I saw last week.
Peter: Here we go.
Wayne: What cha see?
Carnell: (Assuming the stealth position of a burglar.) Peter’s mama sneaking from room to room. (Pantomimes easing a door open.)
David: What was she doing, man?
Carnell: Old girl had to go to work. She was trying to sneak up on a mirror so she could put her make-up on.
Wayne: Oooh wee, that’s ugly.
Carnell: Man, we can play the dozens anytime, come on with the Swisser Sweets.
David: We need to wait.
Peter: Wait hell! You know porch lights gonna start flashing like we at a photo shoot ’fore long.
Carnell: That’s right. Just cup ’em so the flare can’t be seen. (David takes a box of cigars out and gives each boy one. Carnell produces a lighter and everyone lights a cigar.)
Wayne: What you do, fool?
Peter: Burned my hand.
David: This boy don’t need to be smokin’.
Peter: (Mock confrontation.) Boy! I got your boy. Hangin’ and swangin’.
Carnell: (Adult airs.) Children. Can a man enjoy his Swisser Sweet without all this fussin’? (Takes long drought and releases smoke elegantly.)
David: Won’t be long ’fore football season starts.
Peter: Don’t remind me.
Peter: Hundred degrees in the shade.
Carnell: Yo-yos. (Carnell and Peter cringe.)
David: No pain no gain. (Puffs chest out peacock style.) I’ma git fifteen hundred yards this year. I’m a bad man. (Takes long draught.)
Carnell: All I’ma say is remember Lee. (David chokes on smoke.)
Wayne: What happened at Lee?
Carnell: Well, old David got introduced to Anita Ward.
Peter: (Singing.) You can ring my bel-l-l ring my bell.
Wayne: (To David.) So you got your bell rung.
David: I’ll have you know I rushed for 253 yards and scored five touch-downs that game.
Wayne: And you got your bell rung.
David: Carnell, you foul man. You know you got me hit.
Carnell and Peter: Hit!
Peter: Many you got way-laid.
Carnell: And don’t blame me. Stop braggin’.
Peter: Come in the huddle like he some big shit.
Carnell: Talkin’ ’bout how many yards he got.
Peter: Didn’t say nothing ’bout our blockin.
Wayne: What Carnell do?
David: Sucker set me up.
Carnell: Damn skippy.
Peter: Told Logan to call 36 Power.
Carnell: Told the whole right side of the line to miss their blocks.
Peter: Look like twenty dudes hit his ass.
Carnell: Come back to the huddle. Helmet turned side ways. Jersey toe half off. Slangin’ snot. Boy you wuz a sight to behold.
Wayne: I agree with David, Carnell you foul man.
Carnell: Nah, but I feel like doin’ something foul tonight.
Carnell: It’s too boring. Let’s get into something.
Peter: Man, can’t we just peace out?
Wayne: Yeah. Peace out.
Carnell: That’s it!
David: Here we go again. When he gets that look we all end up in trouble.
Carnell: Nah, this’ll be fun.
Wayne: I don’t want to hear it.
Carnell: How much gas was left after cutting them yards?
Wayne: I don’t know. Little more’n half a can.
Peter: What’s goin’ through that pea-brain of yours?
Carnell: Remember last Homecoming when Monahans burned that M in the middle of our field?
Wayne: So now this fool wants to burn a K in their field. It’s a little late.
Carnell: You cats have no imagination. Wayne, get the gas. (Wayne hesitates.) Trust me. (Wayne goes to tailgate of pickup left and gets five-gallon gas can and meets others center.)
Wayne: Now what?
Carnell: You dudes want to peace out, let’s really peace out. (Takes gas and gives it to Peter.) Okay, this is the plan. Peter, pour a huge peace sign in the middle of the street. I’ll light it and we’ll hide and see what happens. Ya’ll game?
David: And just who do you think gonna get the blame?
Carnell: It ain’t like we can burn the damn street down. Pavement don’t burn.
Wayne: I can dig a peace sign burned in the street.
Peter: I’m game. (Peter pours gas and Carnell lights just as Peter finishes. Carnell trips and falls while others run up left.)
Woman’s Voice: Lawd them white folks just came down here and paved these streets and here these fools is tryin’ to burn ’em up!
Man’s Voice: And one of those fools is none other than my own son. Carnell! Boy, what the hell are you trying to do? Are you going to be ate up with the dumb-ass all your life? Of this you can be sure, you won’t leave your room again until the chickens come home to roost. And I ain’t got no damn chickens.
The setting is a cluster of shanties just off the right of way of a railroad. Small cardboard and tin lean-tos in haphazard formation from down right to up right. A barrel up left simulating a burning fire with lights down. Wino in tattered jeans and flannel shirt and oily baseball cap sits out front of lean-to closest to audience.
Carnell: (Enters from right with gym bag.) What’s this.
Wino: What’s what? (Looks back at Carnell.) Well, well. What have we here? (Waves Carnell over.)
Carnell: What you want?
Wino: What I want? What I want? You on my doorstep, Youngblood!
Carnell: What is this? (Indicates lean-tos.)
Wino: I just told you. My home. Known to some as Hobosville.
Wino: Yeah. Just a place of rest. You know, for rail-riders.
Carnell: You waitin’ on a train? (Walks over and sits with wino. Sniffs air and moves upwind.)
Wino: Nah. I live here. What you doing?
Carnell: I’m going to California . . .
Wino: Run away, huh?
Carnell: Yeah. Lessons can be taught as well as learned.
Wino: You better be a quick study cause life’s a bitch out here. (Takes a wine bottle from back pocket and takes drink.) California hell! You get hungry you’ll go home.
Carnell: I got food. (Points to bag.)
Carnell: Yeah. Want some?
Wino: Nah. I’ll drink my meal. (Takes another drink, wipes mouth with the back of his hand and looks at Carnell as if contemplating offering him wine.) I’m feeling charitable today . . .
Carnell: I don’t like wine.
Wino: Good. ’Cause wine ain’t what I’m giving. I’m giving advice.
Carnell: I’m not going back.
Wino: What I care where you go?
Carnell: But you said . . .
Wino: I know what I said. I’m giving advice on something I know about.
Carnell: And that is?
Wino: Wine. It ain’t no good for ya.
Carnell: Then why you drink it?
Wino: Problems. I had some problems and tried to find an answer in a bottle. Seven years and thousands of bottles later and no answers.
Carnell: Why don’t you stop?
Wino: You related to my ex-wife? (Imitates wife’s voice.) Why don’t you just stop?
Carnell: It’s logical.
Wino: Logical? What you know about logical?
Carnell: I just thought if it hasn’t worked . . .
Wino: I didn’t say it didn’t work. Hell it works right well. It sedates the hell outta me.
Carnell: What about your problems?
Wino: Well, when I sober up they’re still here. And they’ve invited friends over.
Carnell: Don’t you get tired?
Wino: Only when I’m sober. That’s why I’m sober as little as possible.
Carnell: It doesn’t make sense.
Wino: That’s what I’m trying to tell ya. Don’t ever start drinking wine. It’s a vicious cycle.
Carnell: I won’t
Wino: You know I used to be respectable.
Carnell: What happened?
Wino: Had a good family. Good job.
Carnell: Where they at?
Wino: Stock in the company.
Carnell: They leave you?
Wino: Not at first. Got laid off. Company went broke. Lost all my stock. All my retirement. Kid’s education funds.
Carnell: How the company go broke?
Wino: Shady financial deals. One day stock $32, next day 12¢.
Carnell: How much you lose?
Wino: Everything. Eighteen years. Almost half a million in stock. Gone.
Carnell: I need to get to California
Carnell: Hear there’s fun in the sun out there.
Wino: You can have fun anywhere.
Carnell: That’s what you think. Not around my dad.
Wino: What he do?
Carnell: Everytime I try to have some fun, he grounds me.
Wino: And why does he ground you?
Carnell: Just plain mean.
Carnell: Too old to understand.
Wino: And he couldn’t have your best interest in mind?
Wino: He just likes to see you sitting around with a long face?
Wino: Clearly doesn’t love you. (No answer.) A train stops here later tonight and leaves early in the morning. We have to get you away from that party-pooper.
Carnell: Yeah. Lessons must be taught and lessons must be learned.
Wino: (Stands.) Look, you get some rest. You can use my crib. I’m going to hang out with my buddies. (Points in the direction of the barrel up left.) If you get lonesome come on over. (Moves up left.)
Carnell: See ya. (Lies down with head on gym bag. Can rattles off right.) Who’s there? (Sits up. Peers off right. Lies down. Can rattles.) Okay, I know ya’ll messin with me. (Walks in direction of sound and looks. Return to bag.) Ain’t tired anyway. (Walks up left as lights down right fade and lights up left come up. Wino stands around the barrel with two others.)
Wino: Youngblood. I thought you were resting for your big trip.
Carnell: Couldn’t sleep.
Wino: Couldn’t sleep? (Whispers something to buddies and all laugh.)
Carnell: What’s so funny? Ya’ll been messin with me.
Wino: I see you met Floyd.
Wino: Yeah, Floyd. The raccoon that comes by every night about this time to forage in the cans.
The setting is a rail yard with a line of boxcars extending from up right to up left. All the doors of the boxcars are open. Mesquite like buses dot the landscape between boxcars and down. Intermixed with the shrubbery are lean-tos much like the previous. Several hobos lounge outside these.
Carnell: (Enters from right and walks to a lean-to.) Which train to California?
Hobo: No comprende.
Carnell: (To another hobo.) Which train to California?
Hobo 2: No hable.
Carnell: What you expect in El Paso.
Willy: (Enters from boxcar up left. Carries duffel bag and has guitar strapped to his back. Has scraggly beard and wears baggy suit pants and funny looking hat.) Hey, Cool Breeze, where you headed?
Willy: Well, you got a little wait. (Extends hand.) Willy’s the name. Ridin boxcar’s the game.
Willy: I got me a little wait too, and I’d be obliged if you sat a spell with me.
Carnell: Okay. (They take an empty lean-to down center.)
Willy: How long you, uh, been travelin’?
Carnell: Three days.
Willy: Things that bad at home?
Willy: Kinda? It’s rough out there, Cool Breeze.
Carnell: I can handle it.
Willy: If you can handle this you can handle the home front. (Eyes Carnell.) Somebody abusing you at home?
Willy: Folks don’t love ya?
Carnell: Nah. I mean yeah. Sure. They love me.
Willy: Then what you trying to prove, Cool Breeze? (Pause.) You a man. There are better ways to prove you a man. A lot safer too.
Carnell: They won’t let me have no fun. Always grounding me. Too strict. Talkin’ ’bout teaching me a lesson. More’n one lesson and more’n one teacher.
Willy: Alright, Breeze. I ain’t going to lecture you. Si jeunesse savait.
Carnell: See who?
Willy: If youth only knew. French.
Carnell: Just my luck, a French hobo.
Willy: You have something against hobos?
Carnell: You’re only the second one I’ve really talked to.
Willy: And from the two of us you’ve formed this negative perception?
Carnell: Nah. You seem alright. The other one was too, but . . .
Willy: But what?
Carnell: Well he was a wino and he smelled like nine sacks of grandpapas.
Willy: Hobos, now Viet Nam Vets. I surpose you got your negative opinion of Vets the same place you got your opinion of hobos.
Carnell: I ain’t got no bad opinion of Vets. (Fidgets with zipper on bag.) My cousin got killed in Viet Nam.
Willy: Oh. Sorry. Lot of good men lost in that jungle.
Carnell: So why didn’t you play guitar when you got home?
Willy: Disillusioned, Breeze. Disillusioned. (Strums guitar. Long pause.) Had to rethink everything I believed in.
Carnell: What changed?
Willy: Everything, Breeze. I enlisted to serve the country I love. I joined the finest fightin’ machine the world has ever known. But are we proving that? Hell no. ’Cause the politicians sit on their fat asses thousands of miles away from the war zone and dictate how we are to fight. (Pause.) And when I land back in the States you know what happens? A lady spit on me. On my uniform. Called me a baby killer. I put my life on the line every day for two years to stop or at least slow the advancement of communism and what I come home to? Protest. Burning flags. The symbol men are dying for. The country I love is in turmoil. It’s not the same country I left. It makes me want to cry. The beloved country.
Carnell: That why you a hobo?
Willy: (Laughs.) Yeah. That’s why I’m a hobo, although I think of myself as a railrider.
Willy: Don’t be. At least you didn’t call me a baby killer. (Carnell doubles over clutching stomach.) Breeze, you alright?
Carnell: Yeah, I’m okay.
Willy: You don’t look okay. (Eyes Carnell closely.)
Carnell: Just a little tired.
Willy: When’s the last time you ate?
Carnell: Earlier today. (Takes a pack of Now-&-Laters out of bag and offers some to Willy.)
Willy: Now-&-Laters. Used to be crazy about them, but no thank you.
Carnell: (Takes a gallon jug of water out of bag and takes drink.) Almost out of water.
Willy: Plenty over by those boxcars. (Points over shoulder.)
Carnell: I’ll go refill. You got a jug?
Willy: (Takes a gallon jug out of duffel bag.) That’s mighty neighborly of you, Breeze. (Carnell takes last of water from his jug and then takes both jugs and walks up left. Willy sits strumming guitar. Carnell returns carrying full water jugs. Sits and immediately doubles over holding stomach.) Breeze, the body’ll take what it needs. Even if your stomach has to take a bit out of your backbone.
Carnell: And what’s that supposed to mean?
Willy: Those Now-&-Laters won’t make no turds and them water samitches sho won’t.
Carnell: Soon as I get to California I’ma pig out on oranges.
Willy: Breeze, at this rate you’ll never make it. Catch the next Eastbound to Van Horn and go home.
Carnell: I don’t take not charity. I can make it. “No brag. Just facts.” Guns of Will Sonnet.
Willy: (Takes book out and pitches it to Carnell.) You ever notice how Will was always reading? Read this.
Carnell: Alan Paton. Cry the Beloved Country. Hey, you said something like that a while ago.
Willy: Yeah. Sometimes I cry for my beloved country. Not this one. The one before.
Carnell: What makes you think I want to read this?
Willy: I don’t know. I just see some similarities to you in that book.
Carnell: (Flipping through the book.) Oh right! South Africa. Black skin. I get it.
Willy: You don’t get shit!
Carnell: Yeah I do. You jump all down my throat because I stereotype hobos and here you are stereotyping dark-skinned people.
Willy: Let me tell you something! A dark-skinned man saved my hide in the bush. (Pause.) When I bought that book I didn’t know I was going to run into a pig-headed run away.
Carnell: That why you buy it?
Willy: Yeah. Change is dangerous, Breeze. If it happens too quickly people react in all sorts of ways. Some not so good. One of them head doctors got a whole theory about it. Paton’s country went through a very destructive change due to colonialism. It destroyed the values of the tribal system and the results were alcoholism, drug addiction, prostitution and the total destruction of the family.
Carnell: What that got to do with you?
Willy: Breeze, you want to be a man you got to think like a man. Critically. Now take the changes going on in this country. Where you think they’ll lead us?
Carnell: What changes?
Willy: Do you like girls, Breeze?
Carnell: Damn skippy.
Willy: How ’bout them mini skirts?
Carnell: (Smiling broadly.) Mini skirts are my friends.
Willy: Well, not too long ago mini skirts were unheard of.
Carnell: Dark ages.
Willy: Actually they’re a product of the ’60s. All this free love. Hell, ten years ago you talk about some free love you got marched to the alter at the business end of a shotgun.
Carnell: What a drag.
Willy: Yeah, but the change that really bothers me most is the change that got me spat on for serving my country. I’m talking about television.
Carnell: How can television be bad?
Willy: Critically. Think critically. Now in 1945, we drop a bomb and kill a hundred thousand people. You don’t see it on television and nobody thinks much of it. Now you have a fire fight, two people get killed, it’s shown on the evening news and people run out of their houses, grab a sign and protest our brutality.
Carnell: Yeah, I guess I can see that.
Willy: So, Breeze, what do we do?
Carnell: Change too.
Willy: That’s one solution. But some people are too set in their ways. What about them?
Carnell: Teach ’em to accept.
Willy: Way I see it, Breeze, you embrace the change, you protest the change or you quit the system. Me.
Carnell: You said you saw similarities to me in this book. Like what?
Willy: You looking for a change ain’t ya?
Carnell: Yeah. But one that only affects me.
Willy: You think so? Tradition break. What about the things your father needs to pass on to you? What about family? That’s the strongest institution your people have.
Carnell: How you figure?
Willy: My dad died while I was in the war. By the time I got home he was already buried.
Willy: Listen to yours while you can.
Carnell: Let me ask you something.
Carnell: You fought so everyone can have rights. Right?
Willy: Yeah. Even that woman that spat on me. Even those protestors that burn Old Glory. That’s what freedom is.
Carnell: Well, what about the children? They got rights?
Willy: Yeah. Well, yeah, children have rights too.
Carnell: Good. That means I have a right to go to California and have me some fun.
Willy: I disagree.
Carnell: You just said you thought kids have rights too.
Willy: In some things. Some things must be left to adults. Like how to best raise children.
Carnell: You’re not like most old people. They’re L7. You pretty hip.
Willy: Matter of opinion.
Carnell: I didn’t burn no flag and I ain’t done no protesting but I burned a peace sign in the street.
Willy: (In mock shock.) What the Sam Hell you do that for?
Carnell: Got grounded and got out.
Willy: To teach your old man a lesson huh.
Willy: Lessons can be valuable tools. (Reaches into his bag and brings out a pint of Old Crow.)
Carnell: Damn skippy they can.
Willy: Can’t tell you what to do now. (Takes drink and offers bottle to Carnell.) Might as well join me.
Carnell: Old Crow. Don’t mind if I do. (Lights fade as Carnell turns bottle up.)
The bedroom of a teenaged boy. Bed center with foot facing the audience. Night stand at head left. Posters of assorted music and sports icons decorate walls. Lamp and other boy things litter night stand. Carnell lies on bed reading. Knock on door right.
Mom’s voice: That David boy is here to see you . . .
Carnell: Well, since I’m grounded for life I guess I’ll just have to see him in the next one.
Mom’s voice: That boy seems pretty squared away. I’ll just let him visit. (David enters singing Temptation’s song “Run Away Child.”)
David: Run away child running wild. You better go back home where you belong.
Carnell: Aw shut up. You crimping my style.
David: I’ll bet your old man crimped your butt.
Carnell: Nah. Grounded me for life. Said I must be smelling my own piss.
David: Man, you were gone for four days. Where you go?
Carnell: Made it to El Paso.
David: El Paso! Were you trying to go to Mexico?
David: What happened?
Carnell: No money happened. Only had $3.29 when I left.
David: You run away . . .
Carnell: You say it I swear I’m gone pop you one good.
David: It’ll be worth it. You run away with $3.29? You dumb-ass.
Carnell: You lucky I ain’t got my strength back yet.
David: Why you go and do a fool thing like that anyway?
Carnell: Had to teach them a lesson.
David: Boy, you really taught ’em. Lost so much weight yo back pockets are meetin’, but you really taught ’em.
Carnell: Laugh if you want to but I’m grounded and you’re visiting are you not? Lessons have been taught and lessons have been learned.
David: You? Learned something? You pig-headed fool. What?
Carnell: Well, for starters water samitches and Now-&-Later don’t make turds and water samitches hurt like the dickens.
David: What you talking bout?
Carnell: This old hobo played a trick on me. He the one gave me this book.
David: A readin’ hobo. What the world coming to?
Carnell: That’s his main concern too.
David: What trick he play on you?
Carnell: Well he knew I was hungry . . .
David: He know that?
Carnell: Heck, I was so hungry by the time I ran into him that my mouth was white as a Mississippi mule.
David: (Laughing.) Brother you wuz hungry.
Carnell: Anyway I wouldn’t take food from him.
Carnell: He saw them water samitches cramping my stomach real bad. Gave me some Old Crow to drink.
David: Coach find out you been drinking you . . .
Carnell: Coach find out I been drinking he might as well know I been smoking too. Catch my drift?
David: Alright. Alright.
Carnell: Anyway that Old Crow made me want more and more water which caused more and more cramps.
David: You shoulda took the food. Dumb-ass.
Carnell: Old Willy, that’s his name, played me like a funky peenowna.
David: How? He tried to give you food?
Carnell: He knew what Old Crow would do to an empty stomach. And that’s not all. Then he gave me a can of peaches.
David: Sounds right neighborly.
Carnell: I thought so too till I had to run for the bushes a few times. ’Bout my fourth trip I knew I was headed home.
David: Thought you said water samiches don’t make turds.
Carnell: Believe me home-boy, wasn’t no turds and that Old Crow and them peaches opened the floodgates. (Both boys have a good laugh.)
David: Well, I gotta go. All this has made me hungry.
Carnell: (Reaches to the night stand and gets pack of Now-&-Laters.) Here.
David: Nah. I need something gone make some turds. (Lights fade as David exits.)