Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Way to Milwaukee

(A one-act play.)


Tom: A man in his late twenties. He manages an ice cream shop and wears a white soda jerk’s hat and an old-timey ruffled shirt with a red bowtie.
Joe: Tom’s friend, also in his late twenties. Joe is dressed conventionally, in jeans, a T-shirt and a light jacket.
Man: A man in his mid-thirties.
Daughter: The Man’s young daughter.


Late October, late in the afternoon on a Tuesday.


A modest ice cream shop. There are a few tables and chairs, an ice cream display case with several tubs of ice cream, and a counter with a cash register and napkin dispenser, behind which stands Tom. There is a menu of flavors on the wall, with whimsical names such as “Chocolicious” and “Mint Condition.” Joe enters slowly through the front door.

Tom [slightly nervously]: Hey!

Joe: Hey man.

[Joe stands in the center of the shop and turns around slowly, taking in the decor.]

Tom: Yeah, this is it, man.

Joe [still turning and gazing]: Yeah! Yup.

Tom: It’s my fucking ice cream shop!

Joe: Yeah. Wow. You’re the manager of a goddamn ice cream shop.

Tom [laughing and shaking his head]: I know! I know.

Joe: There’s no one here.

Tom: Hmm?

Joe: There’s no one here. In the shop. Right now.

Tom: Yeah, uh. Yeah. [Pause.] It’s getting cold outside.

Joe [reading the flavor menu, a bit perplexed]: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah, so people don’t eat ice cream when it’s cold?

Tom: Not really. I mean yeah, they do. But less. They eat less ice cream than in the fucking summer. That’s for sure.

Joe [facing Tom now]: So that’s why there’s like, no one here?

Tom [beginning to grow a bit defensive]: Yeah, I guess. I mean, there’s customers, but not as much. It’s normal. It comes and goes.

Joe: Comes and goes.

Tom: It’s really fucking busy in the summer, man. I sold a shitload of ice cream in August.

[Joe stares at Tom for a few seconds, nodding.]

Joe: So you work in a fucking business where when it gets cold outside, people no longer patronize the fucking business?

Tom: Joe—uh, yeah. No. See, there are good times and there are not so good times. It’s like, the cycle of business. The winter is not such a good time for selling ice cream.

Joe: So what the fuck are you gonna do?

Tom [a bit indignant]: What do you mean, what the fuck am I gonna do? I’m fucking standing here selling ice cream, man.

Joe: Standing there not selling ice cream. Like a fuckin’ jerkoff. In your ice cream hat.

Tom: Yeah, in my hat. This is the type of fuckin’ hat the ice cream guy is supposed to wear!

Joe: A guy wearing a hat like that best be holding a goddamned scoop, preparing a fucking cone for a kid.

Tom [raising his voice]: There are people! There were people here before. There was a person here before. Bought a fuckin’ gallon of ice cream!

Joe [laughing quietly]: Dude, man. C’mon. Look at that hat.

Tom [leaning over, his hands on the counter]: I know.

Joe: You’re wearing a fucking ice cream hat.

[Tom is hanging his head over the counter. He convulses slightly. It’s unclear whether he’s laughing or crying. He lifts his head.]

Tom [laughing]: The fucking hat!

Joe [laughing too]: You fuckin’ jerkoff!

Tom: I know! I know!

[Tom and Joe laugh heartily for a few seconds. Then they quiet down, and a few more seconds go by, punctuated by chuckles.]

Joe [suddenly serious]: Take it off.

Tom [composing himself, a little teary from the laughter]: Hmm?

Joe: Take the fucking hat off.

Tom [recoiling a bit, hurt]: What?

Joe: It’s a disgrace, that hat. Take it off your head.

[Tom reaches for the hat, looking stricken. It seems as though he’s going to remove it. Instead, he resets it snugly on his head. He looks intently at Joe.]

Tom: Hey. Fuck you.

[Joe rushes to the counter, grabbing at Tom’s hat. Tom protects it with both hands and pulls away. Joe leaps over the counter and chases Tom around the ice cream freezer. A mad scramble ensues, both men running through the store, bumping into tables, knocking over chairs. Joe claws at Tom’s head, desperately trying to tear off the hat. Tom holds it firmly in place, even as this causes him to lose his balance. After about 30 seconds, when it is clear that Tom is determined to keep the hat on, Joe gives up and collapses onto a chair. Tom warily pulls up a chair nearby, but not too close, and sits down too.]

Joe [out of breath]: Alright. Keep on your goddamned hat. The fuck do I care.

[A few moments pass. Joe sighs a quick laugh and then falls silent. Tom and Joe are both still catching their breath. Joe reaches into the pocket of his jacket and retrieves a pack of cigarettes. He’s pulling one out when Tom interjects.]

Tom: No.

Joe [pleading, exasperated]: C’mon.

Tom [angrily, pointing a shaky finger at Joe]: No smoking!

Joe [shouting]: COME ON!

Tom [loudly]: No smoking in my goddamned ice cream store!

Joe [even louder]: YOU TAUGHT ME HOW TO SMOKE!

Tom [a bit incoherent]: You don’—you just—why? You don’t smoke in—inside a ICE CREAM SHOP!

Joe [suddenly quiet and calm, taking pains to appear to be the reasonable one]: Tom, I honestly don’t think your customers will mind? Especially considering they don’t exist?

Tom [after a few moments, quietly]: Give me one.

Joe: I thought you quit—


Joe: OK ice cream man.

[Joe puts a cigarette in his mouth and reaches across the space between him and Tom with the pack. Tom pulls one out. With his other hand, Joe reaches into his pocket for his lighter and strains again to light Tom’s cigarette. Then he settles back into his chair and lights his own. A few moments pass.]

Joe: I’m on my way to Milwaukee. Jeff and Nick are there.

Tom: Yeah?

Joe [after a dark chuckle]: You coming with?

[Tom hangs his head and shakes it.]

Tom [almost inaudibly]: Can’t.

Joe: Huh?

Tom [raising his head]: I CAN’T. I can’t, goddammit.

Joe: Why? Cause of this? [Joe indicates the store with a wave of his cigarette. Tom shakes his head again.]

Joe: Because you have to fucking stand like a moron in an empty ice cream shop all winter long?

Tom: No.

Joe [angry]: Then WHAT.

Tom: Just fucking go.

Joe: Come WITH!

Tom: I can’t.

Joe: Take off your STUPID ICE CREAM HAT and come to MILWAUKEE.

Tom: You’ll find another drummer.

Joe [suddenly realizing something, standing straight in his chair]: It’s Jessica?

[Tom looks at the floor.]

Joe: You knock her up?

[Tom doesn’t respond. He remains motionless, staring at the floor.]

Joe: Aw you fucking got her PREGNANT!? You didn’t fucking pull out your COCK?

[Joe gets up, steps to Tom and grabs him by the shirt.]

Joe: I was in fucking rehab for six FUCKING months! I was WAITING!

[Joe gives Tom a shove, almost knocking him off the chair, leaving his bowtie askew. Joe turns away in disgust and sits back down. Tom steadies himself and adjusts his hat.]

Tom [suddenly calm, accusatory]: What do you mean, waiting? Who the fuck do you think was waiting for you?

Joe [still livid, jabbing his index finger toward his own chest]: I had to wake up at fucking seven AM every damn day! I had to fucking scrub the toilet!

Tom [dully]: Yeah.

Joe: They put me with a roommate that was a fucking piece of shit! Liar! Thief!

Tom: Yeah.

Joe: And you were out here fucking your girlfriend and selling ice cream!

Tom: Uh-huh.

Joe: We had to do exercises in the yard!

Tom: Yeah?

Joe: It was militaristic!

Tom: Cry me a goddamn river, man.

[Tom’s comment throws Joe deeper into his rage. He leaps up, throws his cigarette onto the floor and paces maniacally for a few moments. Then he lunges toward the ice cream freezer display, opens it, grabs a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and hurls it to the floor in front of Tom. It lands with an unsatisfying, almost comical thud. Joe kicks it several times, making little wounds in the cardboard where bright green, melting dessert begins to emerge.]

Tom [calmly, throughout Joe’s actions]: Stop. Stop. Stop. Yeah. Stop it. Stop. Stop. Stop it.

[Finally Joe is exhausted. He collapses back into his chair. A few moments pass. The tub of ice cream sits stupidly on its side, in a sticky little pool of green muck.]

Tom [calmly]: We were waiting for you, man. We waited. We waited for quite some fucking time.

Joe [still a little out of breath]: Jeff and Nick are still waiting.

Tom: I wouldn’t be so fucking sure.

Joe: What?

Tom: Wouldn’t be so sure ‘bout Jeff.

Joe: What?

Tom: I heard he was in another band already. Possibly with Nick. [Airily] Or possibly without Nick. I don’t—

Joe [pained]: What?!

Tom: Listen man, we waited for a while. We did. And then, you know, it turned into kind of a long time. Shit happens in the course of six months. You can’t stop shit from happening.

Joe [bitterly]: Nothing happened to me.

[A few seconds pass. Joe gets up slowly and turns to Tom. He is sad, remorseful, perhaps close to tears.]

Joe [a bit haltingly]: Can you just let me fucking say something in total seriousness, for like, thirty seconds, without making any fucking remarks? Just listen to me?

Tom: OK. Sure.

Joe: Leave the store. We’ll go to your place and you can pack up. We can take Jessica. There’s plenty of room in the car. You, me and Jessica are going to Milwaukee. We’ll find those guys. We’ll find Jeff. We’ll find Nick. We’ll get a place to rehearse. We’ll start all over again. I swear, we’ll start all over. It’s not gonna be like before. It’s going to be new. It’s going to be better. I have like, tons of ideas. I have ideas for songs. I have ideas for other stuff. It’s gonna be better for everybody. Jessica can come with us. We can all live in a house together. I like Jessica. We can pool our money. It’s gonna be communistic. The baby can be born there. The baby can be born and we can all help take care of it. Leave the store. Lock the door. Put the sign up on the door that says we’re closed. No—I got a better idea. Put the sign up that says be right back. Like you went to get change at the bank. Except you’re not coming back. You’re going to Milwaukee. With me. Now! And leave your hat [Joe makes a laugh that turns into a sob]. Take off your hat and leave it here. Fucking ice cream hat. There. That’s it. [Gritting his teeth, stiffening his shoulders] It’s all I have to say.

[A few moments pass. Joe looks intently at Tom, his face tense, almost trembling.]

Tom [solemnly]: Yeah. No. I can’t.

Joe [tensely]: You’re going to regret it.

Tom: I doubt it. Maybe.

Joe: You’re going to be on your deathbed someday. You’re going to say, I shoulda gone to Milwaukee.

Tom: Maybe.

Joe [attempting an informal, breezy tone]: Come with me.

Tom: No.

[Joe gives the tub of ice cream a final, furious kick and stomps out of the store.]

Tom [sincerely]: Good luck Joe!

Joe [over his shoulder as he exits the door]: Fuck you!

[Tom sits there, stunned. After a short time, a man and his young daughter enter the store. They stop short at the sight of Tom with his cigarette, the ice cream tub before him. Tom kneels down quickly to pick up the tub. He holds it awkwardly, the cigarette between his fingers.]

Man: Are… are you open?

Tom: Yes! Sorry! Sorry, sir. Just have to clean something up here. There we go! Have a look at the menu! We’re open—yes! Sorry, we’re open!

[Tom places the ice cream back in the freezer, throws his butt in the trash, and hurries back behind the counter. He takes a handful of napkins out of the dispenser and wipes the green stains off his shirt. He straightens his hat again and puts on a smile for the customers.]

Man: Uh, ah. Well, you know what? I think we’re all set for now. Actually!

Tom [sadly]: Really?

Man: Yeah. Sorry. You know! It’s kinda cold outside.

Tom: Yeah! I know.

Man: Maybe some other time!

Tom: OK!

Man: OK. Bye!

Tom: Bye!

[The man and his daughter back away awkwardly, turn, and leave. The sound of the door closing on Tom in his empty store is heard.]