Protected: Everywhere is Nowhere, Book One

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Bean for Real

 

Boston Baked Bean by Shamrock McShane, directed by Mike McShane, featuring George Whitehead and Scott Gross, ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY, Friday December 8, 8pm, Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 610 S. Main Street, Gainesville FL

The story of Boston Baked Bean goes back to sometime in the early 1970s when Kent Johnson was a student at Gainesville High School. I don’t enter into it until the late 80s when I started teaching in a poor rural school out in Hawthorne, about 20 miles outside of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida.

I was teaching Language Arts in the middle school and coaching girls’ basketball in the high school. The middle school and high school, oddly enough, shared the same campus, the town being so small and poor it couldn’t afford two campuses. Just a couple of years before I arrived, however, the boys’ basketball team had managed to win the state championship. The Hornets were coached by the legendary Bill Woods.

The town was neatly divided between poor blacks and poor whites, but the basketball team was all Black, and fate, for a variety of reasons, including generation upon generation dating back to slavery of hard physical labor combined with poverty that virtually shackled them to the land, had produced generation upon generation of gifted and powerful athletes who could run like the dickens, as Bill Woods discovered when he ditched the South Florida coaching scene where the Miami schools held dominance for this poor town out in the piney woods in north-central Florida, where the kids were natural athletes and even if they didn’t have much height, they were fast as hell – if you took color out of it, it looked a lot like Lawrenceville, Illinois, where Woods grew up and basketball is king.

So Bill Woods found himself a home in Hawthorne, Florida, and he did take color out of it. All of his players were Black, but he didn’t see black, he saw X’s and O’s, he saw Lawrenceville, and most of all, he saw points.

Bill Woods needed a bridge to cross over so he could coach his players. Once he crossed over, he was good. The players all trusted him implicitly and respected him and would willingly accept his coaching – it was fun the way they played, scoring baskets in bushels, breaking the clock as the players called it. (The scoreboard in high school gyms are normally fitted with just two digits, so every time the Hornets scored 100 points the scoreboard flipped to double-zero. Since the game clock was up on the scoreboard too, the players took to calling scoring 100 points “breaking the clock”. They did it 18 times the year they won the state championship.)

Kent Johnson was the bridge that allowed Bill Woods to enter the Black circle, a Black man with a top athlete’s high school career and a college degree who had come from nearby Gainesville’s east side and had won respect as a teacher and a role model and who had recognized Bill Woods as a mastermind of the fast break and the full court press who could take them to the promised land.

Kent Johnson was a phenomenal basketball coach, but his true love was football. Hard as it may be to believe now, back then, it was hard for even a qualified candidate like Kent Jonson to get hired as the head coach for a high school football team if he happened to be Black.

Like most of the coaches at a small school like Hawthorne, Kent coached just about everything there was to be coached. So did his friend Jerry Lourenco.

I would hang out with Coach J and his friend Jerry Lourenco at lunch in the coaches’ office and then I would go back to my portable to practice writing with my sixth grade language arts class and I would write down what I had just heard. I would embellish it and shape it and sometimes I would flat out invent it and they said things they never said and did things they would never do.

Then our well-meaning nice guy athletic director stumbled into the scene and I wrote him down too and warped him into someone Coach J and Renko despised, which was not the case at all, in fact it was the opposite of the truth, and I’m sorry about that, but I did so for purely dramatic purposes, for tension and conflict, without which there was no drama.

 

Coach J and Jerry Lourenco were tight. They were good friends. I found their relationship, one white, one black, in a town of poor whites and blacks who were frequently at odds literally note-worthy, so I wrote it down.

I coached the girls’ basketball team and I was lucky they even let me in the coaches’ office at all, where there were real coaches who’d won district and regional and state championships in basketball and track.

And I listened to Coach J and Renko and wrote it down and played with it and it began to coalesce.

I gave the script to Sid Homan to read. Sid is a world renown Shakespeare scholar who also directs plays by Brecht and Becket and Pinter and the like as well as Shakespeare.

 

Sid liked the play. He has written about it himself quite eloquently, in his article “Playing Gainesville with Bean” as well as in his book Staging Modern Playwrights.

 

I watched the play the night it opened at the Thomas Center from the second floor. It was a wonderful bird’s eye view, not only could no one in the audience see me, but they wouldn’t even think they were being observed – like the King at The Mousetrap in Hamlet, each presumes himself a watcher, not the watched. (Playwrights go to the theater to watch the audience, not the play, when their own play is playing.)

Sid had drummed up business through his Shakespeare and Modern Theatre classes at UF, and the Gainesville Sun had even done a story on the play and its real life roots, although of course the Sun wasn’t about to review the play. It was treated more like an anomaly than a work of art, and I was cool with that. Then, as now, I just wanted the play to get as wide an audience as possible.

The Thomas Center was packed, and no one quite knew what to expect. Suddenly everyone was thrust into the coaches’ office in the gym of the rundown school in the piney woods, where the roaches roamed full time and the coaches were only part-timers, and it was funny, and then it was tense, and then the tension blew up, and it was over.

Coach J, the real Coach J, and the real Jerry Lourenco were there and so was a sizable portion of the teaching community who were anxious to see the story of one of their own and of public schools and their working conditions revealed.

There was a standing ovation at the end, but, as David Mamet has pointed out, a standing ovation can be coerced. But the laughs and gasps had been real and people were talking about it when it was over.

Then a strange thing happened, not just to the play, to everything. Everybody turned on their TV. A white Ford Bronco was doing about 20 miles an hour down the LA Freeway eerily all alone with the entire Los Angeles Police force behind it and helicopters hovering overhead, and O.J. Simpson was in that Bronco with a gun, threatening to kill himself, and everybody was thinking about O.J. instead of Coach J.

Over the next week we put on the play at the Covered Dish on the stage where Gainesville’s best punk bands played, with the punked-out kids watching from the pit. We staged it at the Market Street Pub, and, finally, we performed it for the prisoners at the County Jail. They all dug it.

We played Gainesville with the Bean, and then I sent the play out to theaters and contests around the country, hither and yon, a very expensive and arduous proposition in those days, and nothing came of it. Anybody around here who remembers those days remembers O.J., the heady beginning of the O.J. case, when it was just beginning to dawn on us, like waking up the next day after a drunk, that our race problem was going to come on us again like a giant migraine. This was its aura, and we could absorb it as a drama, we could imbibe it, get high on it, have another drink.

BBB wasn’t going anywhere, so I put it away. A few years later, don’t ask me how, a guy from New Jersey called me up and said he wanted to make a movie of it. He had gone on the internet and now he was buying up the movie rights to all of these play scripts – that’s what I pictured anyway. I never met the guy, and then he sent me these contracts and I signed them, and then he was furious because they all said Shamrock McShane and there is no Shamrock McShane, so they were all null and void.

Which is what I considered BBB. Until now.

I went on a submission binge a couple years ago. I hadn’t submitted any writing of mine in years, and I was amazed it was so easy now, and so cheap, I couldn’t resist sending out over the wide world through the magic of cyberspace all manner of plays, poems, and stories in a rush. Boston Baked Bean was one of them. A black man is the protagonist, so I sent it to the DC Black Theatre Festival.

Within 24 hours an email arrived from August Bullock and the DC Black Theatre Festival, congratulating me on BBB’s inclusion in the 2016 DC Black Theatre Fest!

Now, finally, after all these years, Boston Baked Bean is coming home to Gainesville, with a staged Reading at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre on Friday, December 8, 2017. The performance is part of the ART’s Homegrown, Local Playwrights Showcase – where the best plays get a shot at a full production at the ART next season.

 

The play is a mirror image of reality – in that the opposite resolution to the play’s authentic conflict has taken place in reality.

 

Kent Johnson has gone on to what will surely be recognized someday as a Florida High School Hall of Fame career in coaching since his long apprenticeship to the legendary Bill Woods in Hawthorne. First, he went on to become Hawthorne’s first black head football coach, as well as the girls’ basketball coach, leading both teams into the state’s elite. Then Johnson moved up in class to coach the football team at Gainesville’s Eastside High, taking on the biggest teams in the state. Next Johnson became Athletic Director at Newberry High School, head man for all the school’s sports programs. Finally, with a flourish, Johnson has returned to Gainesville to become head football coach at P.K. Yonge, the laboratory school of the University of Florida. P.K. is to local prep sports circles what Duke is to college basketball.

In the intervening years between the O.J. case in 1994 and now, between Coach J’s story then and now, our thoughts and feelings on race have evolved, if that’s what you could say of a pot that has boiled over.

I prefer to think that in the 20 years that have elapsed since I first submitted the play that people are just now finally starting to get it. What I take from that is that Boston Baked Bean was roughly 20 years ahead of its time.

 

BOSTON BAKED BEAN by Shamrock McShane

Characters:

COACH J, an African-American man in his late thirties. He is not six feet tall, but all heart, bone, and muscle, a coiled spring.

RENKO, a hulking, tobacco-spitting, foul-mouthed redneck and former Florida State linebacker.

CARLUCCI, a forty year-old Yankee, the school’s athletic director, an educated, well-intentioned liberal.

Setting:

The Coaches Office in the dilapidated gymnasium of a run-down high school in a small, rural, poverty-stricken town in the deep South. There is a battered couch, a cluttered desk, a beat-up chair, file cabinets. Athletic equipment, dumbbells, balls, shoes, spikes, trophies, etc. are everywhere. A door leads offstage to the bathroom and shower. Another door leads to the locker room (offstage) and down front to the gym, where the students (audience) sit in the bleachers.

Time:

One   – A Thursday in May

Two   – The next day, Teacher Work Day

Three – The teachers’ last day before summer vacation

 

Boston Baked Bean synopsis

Coach J is a black man trapped in a dead-end job at a poverty-stricken, rural public school in north-central Florida. His best friend is a tobacco-chewing, foul-mouthed redneck named Jerry Renko. Basically a two-hander for a Black actor and a white actor. However, there is a third important character, Carlucci, who is also white, the athletic director and straw man, who is a liberal apologist for the system.

Both coaches, J and Renko, want to move up in the coaching ranks, to be a head coach. Renko is white and will get his chance. J won’t.

We see the combustible interaction among these forces practically in real time, albeit over a period of a week at the end of the school year. To say that the situation deteriorates is putting it mildly. The forces of racism and ignorance seem to align with convenience to keep Coach J down despite his heroic and life-saving and life-changing tragic action.

Running Time: 60 minutes

 

From Sidney Homan’s Staging Modern Playwrights

https://books.google.com/books?id=KzR9E2Zxp0AC&pg=PA95&lpg=PA95&dq=Boston+Baked+Bean+Shamrock+McShane&source=bl&ots=2KpnLnTtJy&sig=6zPu13vurI0Mao0tmLyw960opEI&hl=en&sa=X&ei=yxlOVer3BorQtQXZjYCICg&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAA

 

The Street

 

Sexual Diversity in Chicago

 

Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, 1975

 

The Street was always best when you couldn’t predict it, on those nights when you went there with no other purpose than to drink and play games and people caught your eye as you sat down and ordered and you forgot about them till they caught your eye again and then if anything was going to happen it did.

 

He liked that, the chance involved, the hazard, the mystery. And all for the price of a drink.

 

He ran it through his head again. What sense did it make? It was all manufactured and if it made senses it was just that, made sense, manufactured sense, not the thing he was really after.

 

But what he was after was on the Street, he was sure of that. It was there with all the rest of the human animal kingdom, a chain of being connected by drinking, by bars and all the comedies that took place in them. It was the place to look. And besides everyone was looking there.

 

“O’Ryan.”

 

“Say, Danny.”

 

“What’re you lookin for?”

 

“Lookin for a better life. Jeez. I duno. I always come in here.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Sometimes I find a girl. Sometimes I find a woman.” He chuckled and where there would soon be a double-chin ducked into his cravat, as O’Ryan called it. He was the only friend Danny had who would wear a cravat. “Sometimes I just hang out.”

 

“That’s what I do mostly,” Danny said.

 

A little ways down the bar there were two young women. Danny looked at one and then at the other, hoping they would look back. When they didn’t he turned back to O’Ryan.

 

“Wanna buy me a drink?”

 

“Christ, you’re blunt guy, Danny. But you know I can’t do that. I’m on a strict budget. Hey, that’s a nice shirt though. Where’d you get it?”

 

“Amvets.”

 

“It’s nice.”

 

“Thirty-five cents.”

 

“Jeez.”

 

“Yeah, you know a beer is only a quarter more.”

 

“You know how much this shirt cost me?”

 

“That’s a nice one. I duno. A buck?

 

“Seventy-five smackers. I gotta wash it in the sink. Goddamn laundry might rip the buttons off or some shit.”

 

“I don’t never wash this.”

 

O’Ryan looked at him.

 

“Well, I gotta run, Danny.”

 

“Okay, O’Ryan, see ya.”

 

And there he went. Danny watched him cross the Street and go into another bar. Danny wondered what O’Ryan would order. White wine on the rocks, a wine cooler, a screwdriver maybe. It was too early for O’Ryan to be silly, to be saying “Gimme a snot a shops” or “How’s about a Pink Russian?”

 

Good-for-a-laugh O’Ryan.

 

That was a swell tweed jacket he had on, Danny thought. It sets off his spectacles nicely.

 

The first girl down the bar glanced at Danny and he pulled himself back from staring at her.

 

“It’s not that they don’t like to be stared at,” Lupus said. “They just don’t like to catch you doing it.”

 

Well, he thought, Lupus would know. He wondered whom Lupus was screwing now, if she was tied up, whom she was married to, what new fetish she might introduce. He realized he was putting on a pretty lewd face for the ladies. He tipped his glass toward one of them and she turned away.

 

God, did you see her cut me? Why is it always like that? She could have smiled. She could have nodded.

 

It wasn’t as if they were strangers. Almost, he granted. Well, yes, it was as if they were strangers, but they weren’t strangers. He had seen those girls around plenty.

 

The two of them scooped their purses off the bar and left. Danny kept his eyes ahead and heard the door slam behind him.

 

The one with the mashed-in nose was an actress. On the stage. Danny had the hots for her. Just the hots. He had seen her in a play and she was wearing a slinky black dress and stockings with a black line that looked like it led from her heels to her bottom and he right away liked her. She could act too. When she was onstage her nose didn’t matter. Her face on stage was meant for her eyes, big and round, and her lips the same way and she acted all the time, not just when she had lines to say. She was convincing and argumentative at the same time and that is good acting, Danny thought, and he liked her. She had a small circle of admirers and it couldn’t be broken by someone like Danny, someone who was really just a boy, and a poor boy at that. There were many around her with so much more to offer. There was that hot young playwright, he could write her a part maybe. He never did, but he could. And he had money, he had fame. He was a notorious wit and by all accounts a Great Man. There was no competing with him. So Danny did not.

 

The other was a would-be actress and Danny had no respect for her. She was pretty and had had a lot more success, but when Danny saw her on TV he always made a face and found her very distasteful. It occurred to him it was the same face he had just had on, and maybe that was why the pair had left. They were after all friends.

 

Then he reconsidered, those girls had never looked at him hard enough for that.

 

The hell with them. It was just the hots. You had the hots for someone and then if you were lucky you had the someone and got rid of the hots and that was the end of that. And if you weren’t lucky? It might never end. Better maybe to try and transfer the hots to someone you could manage.

 

Of course a lot of guys ended up gay that way. They were no less men than other men, but they took the easy way out, and who could blame them?

 

Danny wondered if O’Ryan was gay.

 

O’Ryan came back in.

 

“Danny.”

 

“Say, O’Ryan.”

 

“Danny, I gotta tell ya something.”

 

“You don’t gotta confess to me, O’Ryan. It’s perfectly all right.”

 

“What’s all right?”

 

“The way you live your life. You got a right.”

 

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

 

“You don’t”

 

“Nah.”

 

Well, what’d ya got to tell me?”

 

“You remember before you asked me what I was lookin for?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, I am lookin for something, and it aint a woman.”

 

“This aint a proposal, is it, O’Ryan?”

 

“What? Nah. Danny, I’m lookin for your pal Lucas.”

 

“That’s Lupus, O’Ryan, and you’re wastin your time.”

 

“Lupus, yeah.”

 

“What’d ya want him for?”

 

“Business.”

 

“Business, huh?
“Yeah.”

 

“Well, lemme ask you this, O’Ryan: What business are you in now?”

 

“I’ll give you a hint – you wanna drink?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“There’s no business like it.”

 

“You work with the Space Administration?”

 

“I’m a stage manager.”

 

“Jeez, that’s impressive, O. Gimme, oh gimme . . . I don’t know . . . . What are you drinkin?

 

“Banana Daquiri.”

 

“Gimme another beer. I won’t try to keep up with ya.”

 

O’Ryan stood up against the bar, tiptoeing on the rail. He was wearing hushpuppies and white socks.

 

“O,” Danny said, “I like your style.”

 

“Thanks, Dan.” He took a twenty out of a fancy wallet and paid for the drinks.

 

“Here,” Danny said, “lemme light your pipe.”

 

“You can’t light a guy’s pipe, Danny. A guy’s got to light his own pipe.” O’Ryan banged away at the bar with his pipe. Then he packed it with tobacco from a fancy pouch and tried lighting it. After a while he gave it up and put the pipe away. “I can’t never seem to get the damn thing lit,” he confessed.

 

Danny laughed and shook his head. But he wouldn’t laugh any more and give into O’Ryan’s joke because O’Ryan, by making himself a joke thereby made himself superior to everyone who laughed at him without control.

 

“It’s a clever ruse,” Danny said.

 

O’Ryan looked at Danny knowingly. “I duno,” he said.

 

So was the way he talked, Danny thought. Dumb. Pretend dumb. Something he’d picked up from the playwright who was now the Great Man, which was maybe something the Great Man had picked up from DaMare. DaMare of Chicago that would be, the Honorable Richard J. Daley. Something Danny was not incapable of himself, a pugnacious anti-intellectualism that was brazen arrogance behind a mask of naiveté

 

“Ya don’t?”

 

“What’s the matter, Danny?”

 

“Nothin, O. I’m just sore.”

 

“Sore about what?”

 

“Forget it. Say, thanks for the beer.”

 

“Forget it. Say, d’ya know where Lucas –“

 

“Lupus.”

 

“D’ya know where he is?”

 

“Good question.”

 

“Wudiya mean?

 

“Do you know where he is?”

 

“No.”

 

“See what I mean?”

 

“Danny, are you pie-eyed already?”

 

“Sure. Siddown, O, everybody’s lookin at your socks.”

 

“My what?”

 

“Socks, socks. What’re you wearing white socks for? Aint you got no argyles?”

 

“Course I do.”

 

“Why aint you wearin em?”

 

“Say, what is this? I thought we was gonna have a nice friendly drink and talk business.”

 

“We are, O. Go ahead and gimme the business.”

 

“You want the low-down?”

 

“This is what I’m sayin.”

 

“It’s about your friend Loo- “

 

“Lupus.”

 

“Yeah. He’s wanted for a task.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me about it.”

 

“Frankly, no, but I’ll probably have to. You are his friend, aren’t you?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“About the only one he’s got.”

 

“Not if you count girlfriends.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

“How could you?” And Danny started laughing.

 

“Go ahead, I can take it.”

 

“I’m sorry, O. it’s just that’s one of the best things about you.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And why I really like you.”

 

(He is pie-eyed, O’Ryan thought, and he was a little bit sad for Danny Mann. The guy hadn’t shaved. His eyes were all red. He was only twenty-two, like O’Ryan, but Danny Man, the street poet, the sports scribe seemed to have been hanging out on the Street for half a century, and what was it, eleven o’clock only?)

 

“That’s a swell watch, O.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“They don’t make em with Spiro Agnew on em no more.”

 

“No, I got it as a gift back in –“

 

“Don’t tell me – back in college.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Excuse me.”

 

(Sure, he was pie-eyed. Look at him walk. Of course you couldn’t tell it from his walk. Not if you didn’t know him. But O’Ryan could see that the Dan-Man’s walk was a little too athletic now. He was walking on his toes so he was nimble and picked his way easily through the thick crowd of theatre people from the Organic and Saint Nick and Horses and Old Town Players and Body Politic, heading for the back of the bar and the men’s room.

 

O’Ryan lit his pipe.

 

Well, let him be pie-eyed. People always do business better when they’re pie-eyed. It gives them the proper perspective. Everything else gets kind of watery and unstable and whatever you wanna concentrate on moves around and has the look of good business sense.

 

O’Ryan sipped his daiquiri.

 

This stuff could give ya confidence. And stomach disorders! But when a guy was tanked up, loaded, tight, well, he was better off then, a little more tranquil, not his real self. That was always best for doing business. What was business anyway? Some kind of foreign activity, a way of acting that required unnatural guile.

 

Guile, that’s for sure. O’Ryan finished off his daiquiri.)

 

Danny stood looking at O’Ryan from across the Street in the window of a bar whose name was always changing. O’Ryan put his drink down and looked all around, Danny could see him balancing on the bar-rail, his back to the bar, looking dumbly.

 

The joke’s always on you, O, when you turn out to be actually dumb. And this was undoubtedly dumb. Business with Lupus. Hell, if there was one thing he did not want to be tied up with it was business with Lupus.

 

Lupus, his pal. Sure, some pal. He was one of those guys who was a good pal when there were no women around, a good pal in patches. He was like any pal and anybody, after what he wanted for himself and a different guy when he had than when he didn’t.

 

The Street was filling up with cars and taxis, doors opening, and players pouring forth, comedians from Second City, actors, actresses, designers, techies, theatre people, full of laughter and cheery theatrical displays of greeting. Danny was just thinking of them when the two actresses from before walked right by him, arm in arm, and entered the bar next door.

 

“Danny!”

 

O’Ryan was hailing him, crossing the Street, cars honking at him and O’Ryan lurching drunkenly out of one car’s way and into another’s.

 

This was some important business all right. Danny held up.

 

“O, you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

 

“Why’d you run out on me?”

 

“I didn’t run out on you. I left.”

 

“What for?”

 

“One can never know the secret of his neighbor’s brain.”

 

“What?”

 

“Peter Lorre.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Who knows? Who knows what moves people from bar to bar on the Street?

 

“Good question.”

 

“The Great Man. The Great Man knows all.”

 

“That reminds me. Let’s go in here and have a drink.”

 

“I like you, O.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Say, this is a pretty famous bar, isn’t it?”

 

“Oxfords?”

 

“I mean, a lot of theatrical types hang out here.”

 

“My dear boy, I am hanging out here.”

 

“Yeah, you’re really getting on, O. Say, wudiya make at this stage managing? I knew a guy was manager at McDonalds near Broadway and Clarke.

 

“Not the same thing.”

 

“That’s good. They found the guy in the freezer last month – dead, with an icepick. And here’s the kicker – whoever did it, cut both his ears off – before or after I duno.”

 

“Hear no evil.”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Or perhaps, you know in a bullfight, if the bull puts up a good fight, they cut off his ears.”

 

“You figure that’s what this guy did?”

 

“I’m thinking a gang.”

 

“Insane Unknowns.”

 

“Gotta be. Were the ears still on the scene?”

 

“Took em.”

 

“Nother beer?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Gimme a beer and a wine cooler,” O’Ryan said to the barmaid. She was a knockout. They were all knockouts in this bar. It was a pretty famous bar. Mike Royko spilled some ketchup on lady in this bar one night when she had the audacity to refuse his invitations, and Danny turned to O’Ryan and said, “If Royko shows up, have em call the cops.”

 

“I agree,” O’Ryan said. “The guy presents the wrong element. He’s got no veneer.”

 

“Say, speaking of veneer, get a load of that valise.”

 

“She’s cute. I know her.”

 

“O’Ryan, you are a guy what presents the right element.”

 

“I am.”

 

“You are. Look, you got panache, you got nonchalance, you got a corsage.”

 

“This a boutonniere.”

 

“Right. It’s still beautiful. Captain Kangaroo always wears one of those. You see? This is what I’m saying, O. You got class. You dress right.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Aint you got no argyles?”

 

“There you go on my socks again, Danny. Let’s get down to cases.”

 

Russell O’Ryan was stage manager for the Ploughshares Theatre Company in New Town. He had worked his way up assiduously from volunteer to usher to assistant to ass-kisser supreme, which ended, so far, at stage manager. Someday he would be a producer, and it would all come back to him. He had a sense of ebb and flow, and he knew that the wave he was riding now was a big one. It seemed like everyone was riding it, at least everyone who was going anywhere. They were riding the Great Man’s wave, his tidal wave, his tsunami for crysakes.

 

“It’s his ear.”

 

“Whose ear?”

 

“The Great Man.”

 

“I thought you were talking about the Insane Unknowns.”

 

“His play is only going to be on Broadway.”

 

“So?”

 

“I’m not talking about Broadway in New Town. Broadway in New York!”

 

 

 

The Street

 

Sexual Diversity in Chicago

 

Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, 1975

 

The Street was always best when you couldn’t predict it, on those nights when you went there with no other purpose than to drink and play games and people caught your eye as you sat down and ordered and you forgot about them till they caught your eye again and then if anything was going to happen it did.

 

He liked that, the chance involved, the hazard, the mystery. And all for the price of a drink.

 

He ran it through his head again. What sense did it make? It was all manufactured and if it made senses it was just that, made sense, manufactured sense, not the thing he was really after.

 

But what he was after was on the Street, he was sure of that. It was there with all the rest of the human animal kingdom, a chain of being connected by drinking, by bars and all the comedies that took place in them. It was the place to look. And besides everyone was looking there.

 

“O’Ryan.”

 

“Say, Danny.”

 

“What’re you lookin for?”

 

“Lookin for a better life. Jeez. I duno. I always come in here.”

 

“I know.”

 

“Sometimes I find a girl. Sometimes I find a woman.” He chuckled and where there would soon be a double-chin ducked into his cravat, as O’Ryan called it. He was the only friend Danny had who would wear a cravat. “Sometimes I just hang out.”

 

“That’s what I do mostly,” Danny said.

 

A little ways down the bar there were two young women. Danny looked at one and then at the other, hoping they would look back. When they didn’t he turned back to O’Ryan.

 

“Wanna buy me a drink?”

 

“Christ, you’re blunt guy, Danny. But you know I can’t do that. I’m on a strict budget. Hey, that’s a nice shirt though. Where’d you get it?”

 

“Amvets.”

 

“It’s nice.”

 

“Thirty-five cents.”

 

“Jeez.”

 

“Yeah, you know a beer is only a quarter more.”

 

“You know how much this shirt cost me?”

 

“That’s a nice one. I duno. A buck?

 

“Seventy-five smackers. I gotta wash it in the sink. Goddamn laundry might rip the buttons off or some shit.”

 

“I don’t never wash this.”

 

O’Ryan looked at him.

 

“Well, I gotta run, Danny.”

 

“Okay, O’Ryan, see ya.”

 

And there he went. Danny watched him cross the Street and go into another bar. Danny wondered what O’Ryan would order. White wine on the rocks, a wine cooler, a screwdriver maybe. It was too early for O’Ryan to be silly, to be saying “Gimme a snot a shops” or “How’s about a Pink Russian?”

 

Good-for-a-laugh O’Ryan.

 

That was a swell tweed jacket he had on, Danny thought. It sets off his spectacles nicely.

 

The first girl down the bar glanced at Danny and he pulled himself back from staring at her.

 

“It’s not that they don’t like to be stared at,” Lupus said. “They just don’t like to catch you doing it.”

 

Well, he thought, Lupus would know. He wondered whom Lupus was screwing now, if she was tied up, whom she was married to, what new fetish she might introduce. He realized he was putting on a pretty lewd face for the ladies. He tipped his glass toward one of them and she turned away.

 

God, did you see her cut me? Why is it always like that? She could have smiled. She could have nodded.

 

It wasn’t as if they were strangers. Almost, he granted. Well, yes, it was as if they were strangers, but they weren’t strangers. He had seen those girls around plenty.

 

The two of them scooped their purses off the bar and left. Danny kept his eyes ahead and heard the door slam behind him.

 

The one with the mashed-in nose was an actress. On the stage. Danny had the hots for her. Just the hots. He had seen her in a play and she was wearing a slinky black dress and stockings with a black line that looked like it led from her heels to her bottom and he right away liked her. She could act too. When she was onstage her nose didn’t matter. Her face on stage was meant for her eyes, big and round, and her lips the same way and she acted all the time, not just when she had lines to say. She was convincing and argumentative at the same time and that is good acting, Danny thought, and he liked her. She had a small circle of admirers and it couldn’t be broken by someone like Danny, someone who was really just a boy, and a poor boy at that. There were many around her with so much more to offer. There was that hot young playwright, he could write her a part maybe. He never did, but he could. And he had money, he had fame. He was a notorious wit and by all accounts a Great Man. There was no competing with him. So Danny did not.

 

The other was a would-be actress and Danny had no respect for her. She was pretty and had had a lot more success, but when Danny saw her on TV he always made a face and found her very distasteful. It occurred to him it was the same face he had just had on, and maybe that was why the pair had left. They were after all friends.

 

Then he reconsidered, those girls had never looked at him hard enough for that.

 

The hell with them. It was just the hots. You had the hots for someone and then if you were lucky you had the someone and got rid of the hots and that was the end of that. And if you weren’t lucky? It might never end. Better maybe to try and transfer the hots to someone you could manage.

 

Of course a lot of guys ended up gay that way. They were no less men than other men, but they took the easy way out, and who could blame them?

 

Danny wondered if O’Ryan was gay.

 

O’Ryan came back in.

 

“Danny.”

 

“Say, O’Ryan.”

 

“Danny, I gotta tell ya something.”

 

“You don’t gotta confess to me, O’Ryan. It’s perfectly all right.”

 

“What’s all right?”

 

“The way you live your life. You got a right.”

 

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”

 

“You don’t”

 

“Nah.”

 

Well, what’d ya got to tell me?”

 

“You remember before you asked me what I was lookin for?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Well, I am lookin for something, and it aint a woman.”

 

“This aint a proposal, is it, O’Ryan?”

 

“What? Nah. Danny, I’m lookin for your pal Lucas.”

 

“That’s Lupus, O’Ryan, and you’re wastin your time.”

 

“Lupus, yeah.”

 

“What’d ya want him for?”

 

“Business.”

 

“Business, huh?
“Yeah.”

 

“Well, lemme ask you this, O’Ryan: What business are you in now?”

 

“I’ll give you a hint – you wanna drink?”

 

“Sure.”

 

“There’s no business like it.”

 

“You work with the Space Administration?”

 

“I’m a stage manager.”

 

“Jeez, that’s impressive, O. Gimme, oh gimme . . . I don’t know . . . . What are you drinkin?

 

“Banana Daquiri.”

 

“Gimme another beer. I won’t try to keep up with ya.”

 

O’Ryan stood up against the bar, tiptoeing on the rail. He was wearing hushpuppies and white socks.

 

“O,” Danny said, “I like your style.”

 

“Thanks, Dan.” He took a twenty out of a fancy wallet and paid for the drinks.

 

“Here,” Danny said, “lemme light your pipe.”

 

“You can’t light a guy’s pipe, Danny. A guy’s got to light his own pipe.” O’Ryan banged away at the bar with his pipe. Then he packed it with tobacco from a fancy pouch and tried lighting it. After a while he gave it up and put the pipe away. “I can’t never seem to get the damn thing lit,” he confessed.

 

Danny laughed and shook his head. But he wouldn’t laugh any more and give into O’Ryan’s joke because O’Ryan, by making himself a joke thereby made himself superior to everyone who laughed at him without control.

 

“It’s a clever ruse,” Danny said.

 

O’Ryan looked at Danny knowingly. “I duno,” he said.

 

So was the way he talked, Danny thought. Dumb. Pretend dumb. Something he’d picked up from the playwright who was now the Great Man, which was maybe something the Great Man had picked up from DaMare. DaMare of Chicago that would be, the Honorable Richard J. Daley. Something Danny was not incapable of himself, a pugnacious anti-intellectualism that was brazen arrogance behind a mask of naiveté

 

“Ya don’t?”

 

“What’s the matter, Danny?”

 

“Nothin, O. I’m just sore.”

 

“Sore about what?”

 

“Forget it. Say, thanks for the beer.”

 

“Forget it. Say, d’ya know where Lucas –“

 

“Lupus.”

 

“D’ya know where he is?”

 

“Good question.”

 

“Wudiya mean?

 

“Do you know where he is?”

 

“No.”

 

“See what I mean?”

 

“Danny, are you pie-eyed already?”

 

“Sure. Siddown, O, everybody’s lookin at your socks.”

 

“My what?”

 

“Socks, socks. What’re you wearing white socks for? Aint you got no argyles?”

 

“Course I do.”

 

“Why aint you wearin em?”

 

“Say, what is this? I thought we was gonna have a nice friendly drink and talk business.”

 

“We are, O. Go ahead and gimme the business.”

 

“You want the low-down?”

 

“This is what I’m sayin.”

 

“It’s about your friend Loo- “

 

“Lupus.”

 

“Yeah. He’s wanted for a task.”

 

“I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me about it.”

 

“Frankly, no, but I’ll probably have to. You are his friend, aren’t you?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“About the only one he’s got.”

 

“Not if you count girlfriends.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

“How could you?” And Danny started laughing.

 

“Go ahead, I can take it.”

 

“I’m sorry, O. it’s just that’s one of the best things about you.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“And why I really like you.”

 

(He is pie-eyed, O’Ryan thought, and he was a little bit sad for Danny Mann. The guy hadn’t shaved. His eyes were all red. He was only twenty-two, like O’Ryan, but Danny Man, the street poet, the sports scribe seemed to have been hanging out on the Street for half a century, and what was it, eleven o’clock only?)

 

“That’s a swell watch, O.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“They don’t make em with Spiro Agnew on em no more.”

 

“No, I got it as a gift back in –“

 

“Don’t tell me – back in college.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Excuse me.”

 

(Sure, he was pie-eyed. Look at him walk. Of course you couldn’t tell it from his walk. Not if you didn’t know him. But O’Ryan could see that the Dan-Man’s walk was a little too athletic now. He was walking on his toes so he was nimble and picked his way easily through the thick crowd of theatre people from the Organic and Saint Nick and Horses and Old Town Players and Body Politic, heading for the back of the bar and the men’s room.

 

O’Ryan lit his pipe.

 

Well, let him be pie-eyed. People always do business better when they’re pie-eyed. It gives them the proper perspective. Everything else gets kind of watery and unstable and whatever you wanna concentrate on moves around and has the look of good business sense.

 

O’Ryan sipped his daiquiri.

 

This stuff could give ya confidence. And stomach disorders! But when a guy was tanked up, loaded, tight, well, he was better off then, a little more tranquil, not his real self. That was always best for doing business. What was business anyway? Some kind of foreign activity, a way of acting that required unnatural guile.

 

Guile, that’s for sure. O’Ryan finished off his daiquiri.)

 

Danny stood looking at O’Ryan from across the Street in the window of a bar whose name was always changing. O’Ryan put his drink down and looked all around, Danny could see him balancing on the bar-rail, his back to the bar, looking dumbly.

 

The joke’s always on you, O, when you turn out to be actually dumb. And this was undoubtedly dumb. Business with Lupus. Hell, if there was one thing he did not want to be tied up with it was business with Lupus.

 

Lupus, his pal. Sure, some pal. He was one of those guys who was a good pal when there were no women around, a good pal in patches. He was like any pal and anybody, after what he wanted for himself and a different guy when he had than when he didn’t.

 

The Street was filling up with cars and taxis, doors opening, and players pouring forth, comedians from Second City, actors, actresses, designers, techies, theatre people, full of laughter and cheery theatrical displays of greeting. Danny was just thinking of them when the two actresses from before walked right by him, arm in arm, and entered the bar next door.

 

“Danny!”

 

O’Ryan was hailing him, crossing the Street, cars honking at him and O’Ryan lurching drunkenly out of one car’s way and into another’s.

 

This was some important business all right. Danny held up.

 

“O, you’re gonna get yourself killed.”

 

“Why’d you run out on me?”

 

“I didn’t run out on you. I left.”

 

“What for?”

 

“One can never know the secret of his neighbor’s brain.”

 

“What?”

 

“Peter Lorre.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Who knows? Who knows what moves people from bar to bar on the Street?

 

“Good question.”

 

“The Great Man. The Great Man knows all.”

 

“That reminds me. Let’s go in here and have a drink.”

 

“I like you, O.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Say, this is a pretty famous bar, isn’t it?”

 

“Oxfords?”

 

“I mean, a lot of theatrical types hang out here.”

 

“My dear boy, I am hanging out here.”

 

“Yeah, you’re really getting on, O. Say, wudiya make at this stage managing? I knew a guy was manager at McDonalds near Broadway and Clarke.

 

“Not the same thing.”

 

“That’s good. They found the guy in the freezer last month – dead, with an icepick. And here’s the kicker – whoever did it, cut both his ears off – before or after I duno.”

 

“Hear no evil.”

 

“I guess.”

 

“Or perhaps, you know in a bullfight, if the bull puts up a good fight, they cut off his ears.”

 

“You figure that’s what this guy did?”

 

“I’m thinking a gang.”

 

“Insane Unknowns.”

 

“Gotta be. Were the ears still on the scene?”

 

“Took em.”

 

“Nother beer?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Gimme a beer and a wine cooler,” O’Ryan said to the barmaid. She was a knockout. They were all knockouts in this bar. It was a pretty famous bar. Mike Royko spilled some ketchup on lady in this bar one night when she had the audacity to refuse his invitations, and Danny turned to O’Ryan and said, “If Royko shows up, have em call the cops.”

 

“I agree,” O’Ryan said. “The guy presents the wrong element. He’s got no veneer.”

 

“Say, speaking of veneer, get a load of that valise.”

 

“She’s cute. I know her.”

 

“O’Ryan, you are a guy what presents the right element.”

 

“I am.”

 

“You are. Look, you got panache, you got nonchalance, you got a corsage.”

 

“This a boutonniere.”

 

“Right. It’s still beautiful. Captain Kangaroo always wears one of those. You see? This is what I’m saying, O. You got class. You dress right.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

“Aint you got no argyles?”

 

“There you go on my socks again, Danny. Let’s get down to cases.”

 

Russell O’Ryan was stage manager for the Ploughshares Theatre Company in New Town. He had worked his way up assiduously from volunteer to usher to assistant to ass-kisser supreme, which ended, so far, at stage manager. Someday he would be a producer, and it would all come back to him. He had a sense of ebb and flow, and he knew that the wave he was riding now was a big one. It seemed like everyone was riding it, at least everyone who was going anywhere. They were riding the Great Man’s wave, his tidal wave, his tsunami for crysakes.

 

“It’s his ear.”

 

“Whose ear?”

 

“The Great Man.”

 

“I thought you were talking about the Insane Unknowns.”

 

“His play is only going to be on Broadway.”

 

“So?”

 

“I’m not talking about Broadway in New Town. Broadway in New York!”