This is the most personal play I’ve written to date. A theatre colleague called it “powerful, but sensitive.” It’s a full-length play and will take about an hour to read. I believe it will be worth your time.
Of all my unproduced plays, I truly believes this one deserves a production the most. I’m not sure if it will ever be staged because of the three characters, two are over 70 years old. Finding actors has been a struggle (even ones in their 60’s), but being the optimist I am, maybe one day it will.
Here is Shoes.
CHARACTERS: Paul,50; Joe,75; Mary,73
TIME: The Present
PLACE: A house in a small city in Illinois
Scene 1 Early Saturday afternoon
Scene 2 Later that afternoon
Scene 1 The next morning
Scene 2 That afternoon
Scene 3 That evening
(MARY and PAUL sit at the kitchen table. She with a legal pad; he looking at a photo album)
MARY: Seventy-three, seventy-four, seventy-five. There. One guest for every year. Some of these people we haven’t seen in ages.
PAUL: These pictures are ancient.
MARY: We were all so close at one time.
PAUL: I don’t understand the logic of inviting people you might not recognize.
MARY: They’ll tell us who they are.
PAUL: These shots of me at the hospital. I was a big baby. I still can’t believe dad’s not in at least one of them.
MARY: He was too busy taking them.
PAUL: He’ll spend all night talking to the same four people he’s been hanging with for fifty years.
MARY: Oh, no. He’s a social butterfly when the spotlight’s on him. Telling jokes, making people laugh.
PAUL: He told me he could do without this party.
MARY: That’s what he says, but if we didn’t have it, he’d be crushed. You know him, Paul. Unless he’s bellyaching about something…
PAUL: If I’ve lost touch with someone, it was for a good reason.
MARY: You always cut people off so quickly.
PAUL: Yeah, the cut’s always quick, but not the decision. I mean, I was tired of Angelo’s bullshit ten years before I stopped calling him. But, once I did…
MARY: You may wish you had some of those friends in your later years.
PAUL: Hey, they weren’t adding anything to my life before, what good are they later?
MARY: Is that it? If they’re not helping you, they’re out?
PAUL: It goes both ways. Some I’ve dropped because I wasn’t adding anything to their life. Or they dropped me.
MARY: I don’t want you to end up like your Uncle Sid. He cut himself off and nobody went to his funeral.
PAUL: Maybe that’s what he wanted. Problem is you never know if you get your wish.
MARY: Well, I just pray that you don’t grow old alone.
PAUL: If I do, I do.
MARY: I truly believe there’s somebody for everyone.
PAUL: True, but I may die before I meet him. Gotcha. You want some coffee?
MARY: No, thanks. Have you written your speech?
PAUL: What speech?
MARY: For the party. Didn’t I tell you?
PAUL: No, but after all these years…
MARY: You can read my mind.
PAUL: On some things. I’ve started it, but…
MARY: I’m sure it’ll be wonderful.
PAUL: Actually, it’s not going so well.
MARY: You’re a natural born writer.
PAUL: I write stories, ma. And plays. Not tributes.
MARY: Pretend it’s one of your characters talking to his father.
PAUL: Jeez, that’s what I’m trying to do, but the words aren’t coming.
MARY: Think back to your sisters’ weddings. People are still talking about your speeches.
PAUL: That’s different. I mean, the girls and I are close, but a father…I need my class A material.
MARY: Just say how he’s influenced you.
PAUL: Right now all I could say is I’ll never be the man he is and the only mark I’ve left on this world was burning grandpa’s barn to the ground.
MARY: You’ve lived a lot of places.
PAUL: A sign of floundering.
MARY: Had multiple careers.
PAUL: Can’t find anything I’m good at.
MARY: Why do you always go negative?
PAUL: I’m trying to write a poem. That’s positive.
MARY: He’ll love that.
PAUL: But I’m telling you now, if I don’t finish it, I’m not saying anything.
MARY: Maybe you could read what you have.
PAUL: No, let one of the girls do it. They always have something to say about life. Usually mine.
MARY: That’s not true.
PAUL: Really? Jenny calls me the other day and says I should move back here because Bob has a job for me. When I told her I didn’t want to, she goes into preacher mode and says I need a focus in life; that fifty year olds need to start looking towards retirement. Then she finished by saying I’ll never find peace because I avoid life.
MARY: Do you?
PAUL: I don’t know, but A), I could never move back here and B), there’s no way in hell I’m going to deliver ice for a living.
MARY: She and Bob live very well.
PAUL: So do I, ma, based on what I consider very well.
MARY: I don’t want to argue.
PAUL: We’re not. All I’m saying is, ah, never mind.
MARY: You’re doing well. Very well. You should hear your father. He’s always talking you up.
PAUL: I’m not doing that well.
MARY: Pauly, have you called that number I gave you?
MARY: These negative spells, they used to only happen in the fall, but now…
PAUL: I’m not calling anyone, okay?!
MARY: I’m just trying to help.
PAUL: You think I’m nuts, don’t you?
MARY: You don’t want to hear what I think.
PAUL: I’m sorry, yes, I do. Go on.
MARY: Maybe, it’s the stress of job hunting.
PAUL: A lot of it. Whoever said it’s better to cast for talent over type never applied for a writing job at 50.
MARY: People don’t read newspapers like they used to. Maybe you should consider working for Bob.
PAUL: I’ve had offers but I had to turn them down.
MARY: Why in heaven’s—
PAUL: The cities are too small. I need to live in a city with professional sports teams.
MARY: You can’t be too picky at your age. About anything. Why can’t you start small?
PAUL: You know why.
MARY: He’d be happy for you.
PAUL: He deserves better than Paducah.
MARY: I don’t understand. You quit a good sales job to change fields and then you don’t take a job in it.
PAUL: Can I see the list?
MARY: Sure. You want coffee?
PAUL: I do.
MARY exits and returns with coffee while PAUL scans the guest list)
Man, some of these people I haven’t seen since I was a kid.
MARY: We could have invited so many more. I felt so bad we couldn’t include cousin Sherman.
PAUL: I thought he was dead.
(JOE enters and kisses MARY)
JOE: He is.
MARY: He is not, Joseph, and you know it.
PAUL: Hey, dad. Nice haircut.
JOE: Better be. They’re up to ten bucks. You’re looking good.
PAUL: I’ve looked better. Starting to get a gut.
JOE: The party’s not until tomorrow.
PAUL: Mom wanted me here today.
MARY: Because we don’t see him so often.
JOE: How’s the search? Have you applied to the Tribune?
PAUL: (To MARY) See what I mean?
JOE: Don’t be afraid of those big papers.
PAUL: I’m not. I’m holding out for a major daily.
JOE: That’s the spirit. What’s that, Irish coffee?
PAUL: Haven’t had a drink in over a week.
MARY: Thank you, Lord.
PAUL: You make it sound like I’m a lush.
JOE: You wanna play some golf?
PAUL: My clubs still in the basement?
MARY: Are you going to find time to visit your Aunt Martha?
PAUL: Jeez, mom, she never even knows I’m there.
JOE: What are you doing to the list?
PAUL: Adding cousin Sherman.
JOE: Why? I haven’t seen him in over 40 years.
PAUL: He used to visit a lot. What happened?
JOE: Is the mail here yet?
PAUL: He gave the best presents.
MARY: He still sends us a card every Christmas.
JOE: Fine. We’ll put a picture from the party in his this year.
PAUL: You grew up together, right? I mean, the way I heard it, you were like brothers. Even looked alike.
JOE: I can’t afford any more guests.
MARY: Quit your fibbin’, Joe.
PAUL: How much is it?
MARY: Fifteen dollars a person. You’d think it was fifteen thousand.
JOE: Fifteen here, fifteen there.
MARY: You talk like you have one foot in the poorhouse. You know, Sherman only lives an hour away, so he’s not far, but with just his Social Security . . .
(PAUL takes a twenty from his pocket)
JOE: Keep it. (To MARY) I’ll pay for the dinner, but you want him there, you call him.
MARY: He doesn’t have anyone to drive him down.
PAUL: Put him on a bus. I’ll go pick him up.
MARY: No, we made the limit seventy-five and that’s what we have.
JOE: Nothin’ like a little drama, eh, Mary? I’m going to take a little nap and then we can go play nine. How’s that sound?
MARY: I thought you wanted to plant your garden this weekend.
JOE: Today, tomorrow. That’s the beauty of retirement.
PAUL: How can I work in Paducah when he wants me at the Tribune?
MARY: He’d be thrilled to death with any job you took.
PAUL: Maybe, but a small paper like that, I’d feel like I failed him. He worked two jobs so I could go to college. I’ve done nothing to make his sacrifice worthwhile.
MARY: He wanted you to have opportunities he didn’t.
PAUL: I know, but it’s about more than just the opportunities.
(Later that day. JOE’s driveway. PAUL, with pen and pad in hand, occupies one of two lawn chairs. He doodles. JOE stands next to a flat of plants, broom in hand, a blank look in his eye. Short silence)
PAUL: Go on.
JOE: What was I—?
PAUL: The Cubs.
JOE: Oh, right. So, here’s the deal. The Cubs will never play in another World Series.
PAUL: What if they play for another million years?
JOE: Make it a billion, Pauly, they’ll never get there.
PAUL: Do they know this?
JOE: If they did, they’d close up shop.
PAUL: But, they’re so lovable and Wrigley Field…it doesn’t get any cuter than that.
JOE: True, but cute can’t change the course of fate.
PAUL: In my experience, cute has been all aces.
JOE: The reason being…(JOE looks skyward)
PAUL: God issued a decree.
JOE: I believe the proper word is edict.
PAUL: Banning the Cubs from the World Series.
JOE: Too many missed opportunities.
PAUL: How did he let them know?
JOE: Mysteriously, as always.
PAUL: Ok, why that year? Why not 1932 when The Babe called his home run?
JOE: You can’t punish a team that loses to Babe Ruth. But in ’45 they lost to Detroit.
PAUL: And that was the last straw.
JOE: Yup. They hadn’t won a Series since 1906. In ’45 a lot of good players were fighting in the war. And they still couldn’t win the damn thing. So, even though it hurt him to the quick, he pulled the plug on them.
PAUL: Your God is a Cubs fan?
JOE: He loves cute. And he’s everybody’s God.
PAUL: Not everybody be—but he’d seen enough, that what you’re saying?
JOE: The proof is in the pudding. 1969.
PAUL: The stinkin’ Mets.
PAUL: Leon Durham’s error.
PAUL: Okay, but 2003, if that fathead just lets Alou catch the damn ball…Five lousy outs from going to the Series.
JOE: God has a wonderful sense of humor.
(JOE begins sweeping)
PAUL: Wouldn’t it be great to come back, like in a hundred years, to learn they’d won the last twenty World Series? The Killer Cubs.
JOE: All I’m trying to say is, don’t be the Cubs. Take advantage because you only see so many opportunities in this life.
PAUL: I thought he was all forgiving.
JOE: He is, but also very busy. If he presents and you always pass, pretty soon you fall off His radar screen.
PAUL: So, I should take the job in Spokane?
JOE: How many have you turned down?
PAUL: Three, but my God, dad, Paducah, Cedar Rapids and Little Rock. Not a professional franchise in the bunch.
JOE: You’re too good to cover high school football?
PAUL: No, but you were talking Tribune earlier today.
JOE: I was?
PAUL: (nodding) Spokane is not a good enough return on your investment. Thirty years later, I still owe you.
JOE: How do you figure?
PAUL: Now, if I land a job in New York, Chicago or LA, that’s a satisfactory return. Even a Seattle. Spokane is not.
JOE: Listen, Moses first gig wasn’t the Ten Commandments. He worked his way up from the bush leagues.
PAUL: Good one, pops, but at the very least, I need a city with a major college team.
JOE: We plan and God laughs.
PAUL: He must be having a ton of fun with me. A month from fifty, still trying to find my way in the world.
JOE: You should be happy as hell. Obviously you have talent or the papers would’ve offered a kid right out of college.
PAUL: I don’t have to stay there forever, do I?
JOE: Some guys are late bloomers. You’re still growing.
PAUL: (Looking down) Not as often as I used to. (beat) So, what is it, Spo-kan or Spo-kane? I s’pose it doesn’t matter. Hell is hell no matter how you say it. (beat) Ready for the big party?
JOE: Not really.
PAUL: You think everybody will show?
JOE: One or two may not.
PAUL: Hey, it’s summer. People are busy.
JOE: Yeah. Dying.
PAUL: Come on.
JOE: I’m serious. Two guys may not make the weekend.
PAUL: How old?
JOE: Younger than me.
PAUL: So, what does seventy-five feel like?
JOE: I guess it’s different for everybody.
PAUL: Yeah. You’re healthy, maybe seventy-five feels a little worse than fifty. You’re sick, it’s just a little better than dead.
JOE: I’d say I feel like I did at sixty, only slower.
PAUL: Listen, considering forty years in a foundry, with all the shit flying around in there, I’m happy as hell you’re still here.
JOE: Giving up the smokes helped. You still smoke?
PAUL: According to my definition, I’d say no because I don’t do it very often.
JOE: Either you smoke or you don’t.
PAUL: Well, if you’re going to be close-minded about it…
JOE: I was about your age when I quit.
PAUL: Yeah, but you were a smoker’s smoker. Luckys, at a pack a day times how many years?
JOE: I didn’t smoke so many as you think. Most of ‘em at work burnt themselves out.
JOE: You’re right. That’s why I quit. And so should you.
PAUL: Maybe, but here’s the thing. Let’s say I give up the booze and the smokes and I live to be a hundred. The last thought I’ll have is, “Shit, I coulda smoked and drank all I wanted and still seen ninety.” Think of all the fun I’da missed.
JOE: Yeah, but if you’re suffering with lung cancer like your uncle—three years of agony, dead at 65-what kind of life is that?
PAUL: I’ve got that covered. As soon as the doctor tells me it’s terminal, I walk straight to the el and jump in front of a train.
JOE: Suicide is a sin.
PAUL: Would you really like a beer right now?
JOE: I could have one, but I can wait until five.
PAUL: See, this is what I don’t get. Given the temporary nature of our existence, why delay any type of gratification? You want a beer, drink one. What if tomorrow never comes?
JOE: Jeez, Pauly, relax. I’ll have one in a little while.
PAUL: Must be the Marines in you.
PAUL: Your rigidity.
(PAUL exits to the garage and returns with a can of soda)
JOE: No beer?
PAUL: I quit for good this time. I can’t believe you still have my little college fridge. Did I ever tell you about the time I wanted to test the tiny freezer in it?
JOE: Yes, about fifty—
PAUL: I go out and buy some ice cream. Two hours later I open the door and it starts running out like—
JOE and PAUL: Diarrhea from a donkey.
PAUL: Man, I’ll never forget those days.
JOE: You live in the past.
(JOE goes back to planting)
PAUL: I had my choice, I’da stayed twenty-two forever.
JOE: That means I’m paying student loans forever. No thank you.
PAUL: Just think, when you were my age, you had three kids out of college. If I had a kid tomorrow, I’d be over seventy.
JOE: So, you don’t want a family?
PAUL: I don’t know. I mean, yeah, it’d be cool, but if it were meant to be, I’d have one already, yeah?
JOE: He only gives what you can handle. Maybe now you’re patient enough to have one.
PAUL: If that’s the key, how’d you have three?
(JOE breaks a plant in half)
JOE: Damn thing wouldn’t stand straight.
PAUL: How about the time you left for church without your grandchildren?
JOE: Their mom was here.
PAUL: That’s not the point. You left the house at nine-twenty for ten o’clock mass.
JOE: I don’t like to be late.
PAUL: It’s a seven-minute drive! The first mass wasn’t even over yet.
JOE: That way I get to see the comers and the leavers.
PAUL: (Pause) Ever think about how long is enough? To live, I mean.
(JOE takes a seat)
JOE: All the time. When I made it to 70, I thought 75 would be a nice life. Now, that I’m here, and healthy, I want to stick around a while.
PAUL: To see if my ship finally comes in, I’m sure.
JOE: That and I’d like to get to Italy…and Africa and I’ve always wanted to play the banjo.
PAUL: You’re in good shape. Eighty-five is a real possibility. Let’s see, if you make it to 90, I’ll be 65. And dead, more than likely.
JOE: Why do you talk like that?
PAUL: It’s just a feeling I get, that’s all.
JOE: Drop a couple bad habits and—That reminds me, you got some mail the other day. AARP.
PAUL: What?! I’m not fifty. For a month.
JOE: Maybe they don’t want you to forget.
PAUL: People at work think I’m 39.
JOE: I bet they’re all young. Young folks have no sense of age.
PAUL: I know I don’t look mine.
JOE: It’s more about how you feel than how you look. I’ve always believed ugly and alive is preferable to the alternative.
PAUL: I feel like I could still run a six minute mile, but reality says I couldn’t do it under ten.
JOE: Soon you won’t see as well or heal so quickly.
PAUL: If I drink too much, I don’t get out of bed the next day until dinner. I’m telling ya, growing old is a bitch.
JOE: Oh, it’s not as bad as all that. Why…
JOE: What were we—
PAUL: Growing old. We were talking—
JOE: I know. I just…The other day I drove to the store. Got there and couldn’t remember why I went.
PAUL: Something in the store remind you?
JOE: Nope. Got back in the car and drove home.
PAUL: Hey, that happens to me already. A lot. Too much…
(PAUL makes a drinking gesture)
The worst part of all this aging thing is the women. Most of them don’t do it so well. That’s why I’ll always date women under 40.
JOE: Who are you, Peter Pan?
PAUL: No, but all I have to do is look at you guys to know I’ll look fine forever.
JOE: Going to the gym would help, too.
PAUL: So would eating better, but that’s not happening either.
JOE: God forbid you put any real effort into anything.
PAUL: Yeah, well…
(PAUL studies what he’s written and starts again)
JOE: What’re you writing, a letter?
PAUL: It’s a secret.
JOE: A book?
PAUL: No, although I’ve been working on it long enough to feel like one.
JOE: What’s it about?
PAUL: Rather not say.
JOE: Why, is it pornographic?
PAUL: Oh, God no.
JOE: Why can’t you say?
PAUL: All I’ll say is I’m under a deadline.
JOE: It better not be for tomorrow, cuz—
PAUL: Calm down, daddy-o.
JOE: I want no hullabaloo. Don’t even want the damn party.
PAUL: So, you wouldn’t mind if I didn’t—
MARY: Didn’t what?
JOE: We were talking about the party.
MARY: You’re not going?
PAUL: Did I say that?
MARY: I’m cooking your favorite meal for dinner.
PAUL: Cold pizza and Oreos?
MARY: Curry Roast Pork.
JOE: She never makes it like that for me.
MARY: You don’t like curry.
PAUL: She’s right, you know.
JOE: Well, even if I did…
MARY: Why do you go on like that?
JOE: Your sisters get leftovers and I get leftover leftovers.
PAUL: Maybe you should cook once in a while.
MARY: He’d just find something else to gripe about.
JOE: She won’t eat my franks and beans.
MARY: Is it too much to ask that you heat the beans? He sets the can right on the table. Cold.
JOE: Your mother has such a limited palate.
MARY: You’re going, aren’t you?
JOE: Now, Mary.
MARY: Just checking.
(JOE looks at his watch)
JOE: Almost five.
MARY: Happy hour.
PAUL: You ready?
PAUL: Cool. I’ll get it.
MARY: You sit. I’ll go.
JOE: Fifty-five years with your mother—she only gets my beer when you want one, too.
PAUL: You’re not the charmer I am.
JOE: Is that it?
(MARY returns with two beers)
PAUL: None for me, thanks.
MARY: You’re really serious?
PAUL: Yeah. It’s time.
MARY: You’ll be around longer.
PAUL: Hopefully. (To JOE) Mind if I try to plant one?
JOE: Be my guest.
(PAUL takes the small shovel and a tomato plant)
MARY: We always end up with so many tomatoes, we have trouble giving them away.
JOE: We don’t have that many.
PAUL: Maybe you could plant some herbs and cut down on the tomatoes.
JOE: Herbs I’ll grow on the windowsill.
PAUL: Is there a special way to do this?
JOE: Probably, but I just do what works for me.
(PAUL digs a hole)
PAUL: Deep enough?
JOE: Maybe another inch or so.
That’s it. It’s nice to know you’ve learned to take advice.
PAUL: I’ve always taken your advice. It’s the follow through where I—you know, I never like this kind of work until I do it. Like the deck we built for the house.
JOE: Hey, it came out okay for a couple of amateurs.
PAUL: You couldn’t even call me an amateur. More of a hindrance.
MARY: Your calling was to use your mind, not your hands.
JOE: A little dirt under the nails never hurt anybody.
MARY: Paul could’ve done blue collar, but he had—
PAUL: No, mom, I couldn’t. And it has more to do with aptitude than attitude.
MARY: See the wonderful way he uses words.
PAUL: Please. Listen, blame it on the Baxter boys. They got me into sports, so I don’t know squat about cars or machines, but I could hit a baseball a mile.
MARY: You could have been a pro.
JOE: When I was young, a man’s car was his world.
PAUL: After what happened to mine, I never want another one.
MARY: You live in the city. You don’t need one.
PAUL: If I lived here I’d need one. To drive as far away as possible. When I think of all the guys who never left this hellhole—guys my age—they must be suffocating from the boredom.
MARY: Jack moved to Hilldale.
PAUL: You make it sound like he’s a thousand miles away. It’s 15 minutes. Frank, Dave, Sammy. All still here. What a waste.
JOE: Those guys have families. This isn’t a bad place to raise children.
PAUL: Maybe, but it’s no place for a single guy. The worst stretch of my life was coming back here after college. I must’ve been drunk as hell the day I made that decision.
JOE: You could have stayed in Milwaukee.
PAUL: They let me go at the library.
JOE: Those jobs were for students. You graduated.
PAUL: My lease ran out.
JOE: You just wanted to play all summer.
PAUL: So, it’s all my fault.
JOE: It’s not mine.
PAUL: You could’ve kicked me back up there.
JOE: At twenty-two, I don’t tell you what to do.
PAUL: Well, you should have. Maybe my life—
JOE: Don’t blame me for your shitty life.
PAUL: Finally, you agree that I’m a failure.
JOE: No, that’s what you think. Hell, you’ve already made more money than I ever did and lived more places.
PAUL: It’s not about that. It’s about character, values, doing for others.
JOE: It’s my fault you don’t act like a Christian?
PAUL: Religion sucks!
MARY: Stop it! Both of you.
PAUL: I’m sorry, but…
JOE: But, what?
PAUL: You don’t know the enormity of the shadow that covers me. It’s huge, overwhelming at times. That’s why I—
MARY: Can’t write the—
PAUL: Yes, but it’s my life and I’m dealing with it. Maybe not always the right way, but I’m trying, nonetheless.
MARY: You want to talk?
PAUL: No, but thanks.
MARY: Why don’t you visit one of your sisters? Might do you good.
PAUL: They think I’m a bigger loser than I do. And that’s saying something.
MARY: Your sisters love you more than anything.
PAUL: On their best days, they treat me like a pebble in their shoe.
JOE: You know, when you were little, well, maybe you don’t remember, but every time you spilled some juice or broke a plate or whatever, Denny always took the blame.
PAUL: You’re kidding.
MARY: He’s not. When we could prove it wasn’t her, Jenny would chime in and take it.
MARY: You were their little brother. They didn’t want you to get spanked.
PAUL: Wow, then they—
JOE: Took a few for you.
PAUL: It’s amazing what we forget.
JOE: Or suppress.
PAUL: You never stop.
JOE: You just have a fear of the truth.
PAUL: Yeah, maybe.
MARY: I better check on dinner. Is it safe to leave you two alone?
(JOE nods. MARY hugs PAUL, then exits)
I didn’t mean to raise my voice.
JOE: I can’t remember you ever—but, that doesn’t mean you haven’t.
PAUL: Your memory’s not that bad.
JOE: What’s this about a shadow?
PAUL: It’s why I had to leave here for good. It was my only hope for a future.
JOE: A lot of those guys are doing pretty well. Business owners, executives.
PAUL: What are you saying?
JOE: Just that home is not always a bad place to be.
PAUL: What if you’d taken that job in San Diego after the war?
JOE: I still wonder that myself, but I had no choice but to come back. Your grandfather was sick.
PAUL: There’s always a choice. He died a couple years later. Why not move then?
JOE: My mother needed me. Sure, I’ve lived here all my life, but it hasn’t been so bad.
PAUL: Today it’s different. More mobility.
JOE: I think people’s priorities are out of whack. No job is good enough, no house big enough. They’re so busy moving up, they never know their kids. And then when the cops come knockin’, they’re surprised.
PAUL: I still can’t believe you quit the road, just to watch us grow up. And, took a pay cut, too.
JOE: It was important to be around my children. My only son.
PAUL: (proudly) You never missed a game.
JOE: ‘Course everything costs more now, especially college. I might not be able to make the same decision today.
PAUL: Somehow, I think you would. (beat) This town had nothing to offer me after Lisa.
JOE: You gave up on that woman too quick.
PAUL: It wasn’t her. I know that now. I hated my job, had no real friends here and—
JOE: Sounds like the problem wasn’t where you lived.
PAUL: But, it was. I need the energy a big city offers.
JOE: You lost two great women because of impatience. Shelly asked you to give her a year. One year when you’re twenty-two is nothing.
PAUL: My life has been all down hill since college. All the best things in my life happened there. I’ve never loved any woman more than her; the most fun I ever had was there. And then, then I came back here.
JOE: At that point in your life, no place was the right place.
PAUL: New York might have been.
JOE: If you’d gone to New York, I’d be having this conversation at St. John’s Cemetery. Your problem wasn’t place, it was perseverance. You took saxophone lessons for six weeks and quit. You wrote eight pages of a novel and quit. You worked on a stage crew for three shows—
PAUL: And quit. Yeah, I know. But New York, which wouldn’t have killed me, by the way—that place brings out the best in people. (sings) If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…
JOE: You would not have had a singing career.
PAUL: How many songs did you learn on the accordion?
JOE: One, but that was different. I didn’t choose it. My mother made me play that damn noise box.
(MARY opens the house door and speaks from there)
MARY: Joe? Just got a call. Ed Sims passed on.
JOE: Well, it’s a blessing. He was in a lot of pain.
MARY: Sheila’s going to make the party, but I told her Ed’s arrangements were first priority. You’ll be a pallbearer?
(MARY exits to the house)
See what I mean?
PAUL: Now Uncle Sherman makes number seventy-five. You guys go to a lot of funerals.
JOE: At least we stick to people we know. You remember the Smiths, don’t you? They go for the free lunches.
PAUL: They don’t know the deceased?
JOE: Not always.
PAUL: There’s something about them that I can relate to. It’s ballsy.
JOE: Although I’ve heard they’ll leave if they don’t like what’s being served.
PAUL: Crashers with discriminating palates. Nice. What if they get caught?
JOE: Just say you went to high school with the guy.
PAUL: But how would they—
JOE: From the paper.
PAUL: The Smith’s have money, right?
JOE: It’s not about that. That’s their social life.
PAUL: That’s it? Crashing funerals?
JOE: I hear they hit the occasional wedding, too. Especially if it’s at a country club.
PAUL: They invited to your party?
JOE: Naw, we aren’t that close anymore.
PAUL: They may come anyway. Listen, let’s email them the menu. Maybe save them a trip.
JOE: The dress is casual, in case you still don’t own a suit. And your mother wants you to say a few words.
PAUL: She already asked me.
PAUL: I’m working on it.
JOE: Newspapers have deadlines every day.
PAUL: That’s different.
PAUL: Listen, if you pressure me, I won’t even go.
JOE: Hey, don’t give the toast, I don’t care. But, the woman inside—
PAUL: Just tell her you’re adamant about no fanfare.
JOE: Not me.
PAUL: Come on, dad, I don’t ask for much.
JOE: You give speeches all the time.
PAUL: Yeah, at weddings, for friends I don’t care about. But this, this is special. And if I can’t give the best speech of my life for you, well…
JOE: That’s nice, but I’m still not telling her.
PAUL: Denny could say a few words.
JOE: She is. And Jenny, too.
PAUL: (sings) Two out of three ain’t bad.
(JOE is not amused)
Will you at least think about it?
(JOE ignores him)
I persevered at golf.
JOE: For several years, but you lost it there, too.
PAUL: I discovered girls.
JOE: That was your real sport.
JOE: I used to tell everyone that my son was going to be the next Arnie Palmer.
PAUL: That day haunts me still. Talk about stupid.
JOE: No, you made a decision.
PAUL: Something else to put on the “quit” list.
JOE: You didn’t quit. You left the team because you thought you broke a rule.
PAUL: Not a rule, exactly. Coach said anybody who missed that Saturday practice shouldn’t bother coming to the next one.
JOE: You forgot, that’s all. If you’d explained it to him…
PAUL: I felt like such a failure. That was the first time I remember feeling conflicting emotions. Anger, embarrassment, sadness.
JOE: If you’d just explained…
PAUL: The day before I shot a 73.
JOE: You could really smoke that ball.
PAUL: Maybe that’s where I lost it. The persevering spirit.
JOE: You did what you thought was right.
PAUL: Until the next year when I got booted off the basketball team.
JOE: Now, that was stupid.
PAUL: (sings) Smokin’ in the boy’s room. (Speaks) You don’t know how stupid. I never told you how it really went down. Mr. Nelson walks in and smells smoke. I’m the only one in there, but he didn’t actually see me do it. But, when he asks if it was me, like an idiot, I said yes.
JOE: You couldn’t lie.
PAUL: I’ve lied a gazillion times in my life. Why not then?
JOE: You knew you were wrong.
PAUL: I’ve got to get over that.
JOE: Could be why you’ve never been to jail.
PAUL: Never even been in a fight. Always talk my way out of ‘em.
JOE: I always felt it was my fault you smoked.
JOE: They were a temptation, lying around the house.
PAUL: Nonsense. I’d been getting them with a fake note since I was eight.
JOE: I shoulda made you smoke the whole pack that time, like I wanted. But, she wouldn’t—
PAUL: Face it, I was destined to smoke. I’ll be back in a sec.
(PAUL exits and returns with a putter and two golf balls. He takes a beer bottle and places it ten feet from JOE)
Here, take these. (beat) Okay, let’s see your stroke.
(JOE putts but misses the bottle)
Good speed, but your line…
JOE: I know, I always think I’m aiming right at it.
(MARY enters with another beer for JOE)
MARY: I just noticed you got your hair cut. I like it.
PAUL: You always say that and half the time you don’t mean it.
MARY: This time I do. Dinner’s ready.
JOE: Paul doesn’t want to talk tomorrow night.
PAUL: Telling her when I wasn’t around would’ve been nice.
MARY: But, you told me…
PAUL: Too many speeches, it sounds like a funeral.
MARY: You’re the only son.
JOE: He only does weddings now.
PAUL: That’s not—mom, it’s not, it’s not that easy to explain.
MARY: You don’t have to say a lot. Just one of your funny stories.
PAUL: Please, I’ll do anything else, I just don’t…
JOE: You can’t force him, Mary.
MARY: I know, but he’s such a good speaker. Everybody will be so disappointed.
PAUL: “Everybody” will not even notice. Only you.
MARY: Maybe by tomorrow you’ll have a change of heart. I need to set the table.
PAUL: I’ll do it.
MARY: He usually jumps at the chance.
JOE: I don’t know, but something is bothering him. Maybe it’s the job hunt. Or that shadow thing.
MARY: You think he’s drinking too much again?
JOE: You heard him. He said he quit.
MARY: I don’t think he’s coming tomorrow.
JOE: He’ll be there.
MARY: I had a dream.
JOE: Oh, boy.
MARY: He was sitting in a pile of shoes. Hundreds of pairs, maybe thousands. He kept trying them on, but they were all too big. Maybe he’s trying to run away from somebody or something.
JOE: Maybe he wants to be a clown in the circus.
PAUL: Table’s set and no, I’m not trying to run away or be a clown. I like Chicago. Especially since I have two theatres fighting over my latest play.
MARY: Two? Why, Broadway’s right around the corner. Maybe you could read part of it at the party.
PAUL: I don’t think so. Anyway, I had a reading last week and the next day, dudes from two theatres called. One said a full production was almost guaranteed. Non-equity, but still…
JOE: That city’s been good to you.
PAUL: And I haven’t been there that long.
MARY: We love having you so close.
PAUL: I’m enjoying it, too.
JOE: Your mother doesn’t think you’re coming.
PAUL: What else did you tell her?
PAUL: She had to have a reason.
MARY: Are you? Not coming?
PAUL: What did you say?
JOE: She has a right to know if her son will—
PAUL: No, she doesn’t. Not if I—you never understood the pressures of being—
JOE: Quit laying your shit on everybody else.
PAUL: I said I’d be there.
JOE: You say you’re going to do a lot of things.
JOE: Well, it’s true.
MARY: It is not. He’s a good boy.
PAUL: Yes, it is, mother. It’s so very, very true.
(PAUL exits quickly leaving the notepad behind. JOE sweeps. MARY looks at him. Lights down)
END OF ACT ONE
(JOE and MARY sit at the kitchen table. JOE reads the paper and MARY looks at PAUL’s notepad. Two cups of coffee sit on the table)
MARY: Anything in the paper?
JOE: Not that I can find.
MARY: Look in the local section.
JOE: I’m not done looking through the first section.
MARY: This is important.
JOE: He’s probably shacked—
MARY: The rest of the paper. Let me see it.
(JOE slides the paper towards MARY. JOE rises and looks out the window)
MARY: Did you check the basement? Sometimes he—
JOE: He’s not here, Mary. The Pontiac is still gone.
MARY: Maybe he ran into a friend.
JOE: He doesn’t have any. Not here.
MARY: Maybe he ran into Johnny.
JOE: Johnny lives with his mother. My guess is he—
MARY: Don’t say it.
JOE: It’s possible.
MARY: So is snow in Florida but nobody wants to think about it.
JOE: He’s always had a way with the ladies. Reminds me of—
JOE: My brother, Michael.
MARY: Oh. Let’s call Pauly’s cell phone.
JOE: What should I do if a woman answers?
MARY: At least we’ll learn if he’s alive.
(JOE dials. After several seconds…)
JOE: Paul, it’s dad. Please call home as soon as you hear this. Your mother is worried. (beat) We both are.
(JOE hangs up)
I still say he’s—
JOE: Yeah, sleeping.
(MARY shows JOE the pad)
MARY: Do you know what this is?
JOE: He wouldn’t tell me. Do you know?
MARY: It’s the poem he’s writing. It’s called “Shoes.”
JOE: Shoes? I don’t have my glasses. Can you read any of it?
MARY: Just a word here and there, nothing that makes any sense.
JOE: Let me see it.
(JOE takes the pad)
MARY: But, you don’t have—
JOE: If I hold it out far enough…It’s no wonder he crossed-out all the words. What’s poetic about shoes?
MARY: It’s what he wanted to read tonight. He said it wasn’t going so well.
JOE: Maybe he realized he has nothing to say.
MARY: No, Joseph, just the opposite. That boy thinks the world of you.
JOE: I’m nothing special.
MARY: You are in his eyes. That’s why it’s so hard—
JOE: When he gets home, I’ll set the record straight.
MARY: Why? Why not let him keep his vision of you?
JOE: Because it’s not true. I’m not the man he has in his head.
MARY: It’d kill him if…
JOE: It might make life easier for him.
MARY: It may take away his reason for living. You’re his motivation.
JOE: I’m an imposter.
MARY: Nothing good will come from it. (beat) He’d be fulfilled if only he’d followed his true calling.
JOE: One time, in the sixth grade, he mentioned being a priest.
MARY: He has all the qualities.
JOE: I think abstaining from sex is part of the deal.
MARY: He only spends time with those women because he’s lonely. He needs to turn his life over to Jesus. (beat) He’s almost fifty. He has no girlfriend and no prospects. That’s God talking.
JOE: While He’s at it, maybe God could give him directions to a church.
MARY: He’d make a wonderful priest.
JOE: Consoler of lost women.
MARY: Stop that, Joseph!
JOE: Listen, he’ll come home when he’s ready. Just act like nothing’s happened. We don’t even know that anything has.
MARY: He never stays out all night when he’s here. He may come in late, but…
JOE: Shouldn’t you get ready for church?
MARY: Aren’t you worried?
JOE: What do you want me to do, Mary?
MARY: You’ve always cared more about the girls.
JOE: That’s natural, I’m—
MARY: He wouldn’t get into these situations if you’d intervene.
JOE: If he doesn’t know responsibility by now, he never will.
MARY: Look what happened to Jenny. She never knew that Louis was a drunk until after they got married. Before that he was always a social drinker around her.
JOE: What’s that got to do with anything? (beat) Nobody has coddled that kid more than you.
MARY: Not true.
JOE: When was the last time he attended a family reunion?
MARY: My family?
JOE: Yeah, the picnic on the farm.
MARY: It’s always the same weekend as his golf outing with his college buddies. He can’t lose touch with them.
JOE: And the girls?
MARY: They go.
JOE: Because you guilt them into it.
MARY: I do not.
JOE: If they don’t, you play the grandchild card.
MARY: Well, everybody loves to see them.
JOE: Paul coming from Chicago is easier than the girls schlepping from—
MARY: If he had children—
JOE: You’d find some other excuse for him.
MARY: You can think what you want.
JOE: I’m not saying anything bad, just stating facts. The baby always gets spoiled.
MARY: You could talk to him, but you don’t.
JOE: A man’s got a right to live his life his own way.
MARY: Then why accuse me of coddling?
JOE: (Smiling) Somebody’s gotta take the blame.
(The doorbell RINGS)
One of the girls?
MARY: They have keys.
(The doorbell RINGS. JOE walks to the door, opens it a crack and steps outside, closing it behind him. MARY makes the sign of the cross)
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women…
(JOE enters with PAUL. His face is cut & bruised and his shirt is ripped. MARY rushes to him)
Pauly, my baby, what happened? Come here. Sit. Joe, get a wet cloth. And a clean shirt. Warm water.
PAUL: I’m okay, mom, really. A shower and some shuteye and I’ll be fine.
MARY: Did you go to the hospital?
(JOE enters with a face cloth and a t-shirt)
JOE: The cop said they offered.
MARY: Did they?
PAUL: Yes, mother, they did, but I didn’t feel—
JOE: Don’t get mad. It’s the nurse in her.
PAUL: I’m sorry, it’s just that, you know, in between jobs, no insurance. Too much hassle.
MARY: You didn’t take COBRA?
JOE: Nothing broken?
PAUL: Nothing physical.
MARY: How’d this happen?
PAUL: Playing the idiot, as usual.
MARY: I thought you quit drinking.
PAUL: I did. But, when I—It’s ok, I’m quitting again today.
MARY: Do you know who did this to you?
PAUL: Very well, but really I need some sleep. We’ll talk later, okay?
JOE: Did you file charges?
PAUL: S’pose I could’ve.
JOE: (Looking towards door) Maybe the police are still—
PAUL: But, I’m not going to.
JOE: I don’t see why not.
PAUL: Because then I’d have to say why it happened and—please, let it die.
MARY: That’s okay, dear. You know what’s best.
JOE: Sure, he does.
MARY: Go get some rest.
(Lights down. End of scene)
(Lights up on JOE at the table playing solitaire. PAUL enters carrying the pad and a pen)
JOE: You look like a million compared to—
PAUL: The piece of shit that pirouetted in here this morning?
JOE: Yeah, something like that. You hungry?
PAUL: Not really. Maybe some coffee.
(PAUL sets the pad on the table and exits. He re-enters with coffee and sits)
JOE: No, she’s getting her nails done.
PAUL: That’s good. I don’t want her to see me looking like this.
JOE: Well, unless you can heal in an hour…
PAUL: I wish I were a dog. (beat) Remember Katrina? Best damn dog in the world.
JOE: She took a lot of smacks on the ass before she was, though.
PAUL: Yeah, but she learned. That’s the key.
JOE: You saying I should have beat you?
PAUL: I don’t know but for a pretty smart guy, I never seem to get it. And not from lack of effort. You should read my journals. Fifteen years and hundreds of pages of vows to live better, broken promises to myself, and enough self-flagellation to wipe out an army of sinners.
JOE: For some, it’s a life-long battle.
PAUL: A thousand times I’ve asked myself, “Why can’t I be more like dad? He has everything under control.”
JOE: I wasn’t always like that. Still not.
PAUL: Coulda fooled me. You got married, stopped gambling, raised a family. Hello Saint Joseph.
JOE: Want to talk about last night?
PAUL: Never would’ve happened I hadn’t stormed out of here like a baby. You see? That’s not how you’d have handled it.
JOE: I was maybe a little hard on you.
PAUL: Nothing you said was a lie.
JOE: I know, but still…it’s just that…
JOE: You had, have so much potential and…
PAUL: I’ve wasted it.
PAUL: Yes! And not a day goes by that I don’t think exactly that.
JOE: You’re not the only one.
PAUL: Yeah, but your dream to be a lawyer—grandpa died. Supporting the family came before college.
JOE: I could have gone back later.
PAUL: And you had the GI Bill, too, right?
JOE: I did. So, you see…
PAUL: One of God’s opportunities, wasted.
(JOE briefly closes his eyes and lowers his head)
JOE: When you left here, you went to The Tap Room?
PAUL: Where else?
JOE: See anybody?
PAUL: Yeah, the sons of the guys I used to hang with.
JOE: One of them did this?
PAUL: No. Mitch did. You know, I knew him before he was my brother-in-law, ex-brother-in-law, and didn’t like him then.
JOE: He’s bigger than you.
PAUL: Yes, he is. Stronger and faster, too.
JOE: You want a beer? Little hair of the dog?
PAUL: One more before I quit again? Why not.
(JOE exits and returns with two beers)
How’d you do it?
PAUL: Quit the cards.
PAUL: Of bankruptcy?
JOE: Of your mother. There were a few games floating around the south end of town. Poker, mostly, but some dice, too. Anyway, I was on about a six-month streak where I couldn’t lose for tryin’. Bought myself a new car and put a down payment on a house from it. Now, your mother wasn’t too keen on me playing at all, but with the way I was winning she couldn’t really say anything.
PAUL: Were you the best?
JOE: One of ‘em. It was my face. No one could tell if I had ten high or aces full.
PAUL: Why’d you stop? Sounds like a pretty good part-time gig.
JOE: The week before the wedding I had a bachelor party. Poker party, really. Right before it started, your mother called me. She said that I better enjoy the game ‘cuz it would be my last if I wanted to be married to her. Went out a $300 winner. That was big money back then.
PAUL: If I had half of your willpower. Shit.
JOE: She knew me too well. We wanted a family and she knew the law of averages would come knocking soon enough. I didn’t want to be Bobby Giovingo.
PAUL: Nino’s dad?
JOE: One Sunday morning he told his family to enjoy their breakfast ‘cuz it would be their last meal. In that house, anyway. Word has it he put his house up against Jimmy Hall’s. Bobby was holding four queens, but Jimmy had all the kings. Part of the deal was the loser had to be out of their house by sunset.
PAUL: No shit? Is that why he—
(PAUL shoots his temple with a finger gun)
JOE: That came later, but yeah, maybe, I don’t know. Anyway, soon as she told me to quit, I did.
PAUL: There’s the difference between us. You hear it once and it’s mission accomplished. I tell myself a thousand times, I know it’ll be a thousand and one. One thing. The bars didn’t cause my divorce because Lisa liked going, too.
JOE: I think you still love that woman.
PAUL: Yeah, maybe. That’s sorta why my face looks like a horror show. (beat) Seems I’ve made a few calls to her over the past year.
JOE: That’s nothing. You’re still friends.
PAUL: Yeah, but these were made after a night out. Like, at three a.m., telling her—slurring to her, actually, how much I still loved her, how I wanted us to get back together. From there I’d move on to describing various parts of her anatomy and how much I miss them, too.
JOE: She’s remarried.
PAUL: Hello. What I didn’t know is that I really made the calls.
JOE: How do you know you did?
PAUL: I called from the bar and asked her.
JOE: After Mitch told you about them.
JOE: And for that, he did this?
PAUL: Yup. (beat) Well, not right away. First he told me to stop making them.
JOE: And you didn’t agree?
PAUL: Where’s the fun in that? I told him I didn’t care that he was her brother, that I’d call Lisa anytime I pleased and I’d tell her anything I wanted. I’d had a few pops already and was feeling exceedingly confident, so I called him a couple of choice names for good measure.
JOE: Oh, Lord. Is that when—
PAUL: Listen, Mitch ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s not gonna kick my ass in the bar. So, when he split I thought I was home free and ordered another drink, you know, to sorta celebrate. It wasn’t until I got to your car that I saw him sitting on the hood. I stopped, weighed my options—none of which were too good—and decided to run. That’s when I learned he was faster than me. Right after that I learned the stronger part. His punches really didn’t hurt but that was either the alcohol or the unconsciousness. Do you know that last night was the first time in my life that I’ve ever been hit? Over thirty years of drinking and these are my first visible wounds. When I came to the first thing I wanted to do was look in a mirror to see if there were any permanent scars. Shows you where my priorities lie.
JOE: Why, Pauly?
PAUL: Why am I like this?
JOE: Why do you constantly torture yourself?
PAUL: It’s certainly not for the satisfaction.
JOE: Are you sure? Some people find solace as a “perceived” victim. Even if they’re only a victim of their own actions.
PAUL: You sound like mom.
JOE: I occasionally read her Psychology Today’s.
PAUL: Solace. Hmmm. Okay, doc, tell me what you think. I’m dating this new lady and everything is going great. Last week she calls me to say she wants to spend Friday evening by herself. We originally had plans for dinner. Naturally—for me, that is—I go into a deep funk. I start creating these crazy scenarios, like she’s seeing someone else or wants to end it. I react by feeling sorry for myself, wondering if I’m worthless and I really do deserve this kind of treatment. Then I start thinking of all the other women I could date who would appreciate me. So, I call her and break it off, followed by my super-charged emotions kicking in and I cry for hours. Am I finding solace or satisfaction in this behavior?
JOE: Do you find the thought of being alone comforting?
PAUL: No, I want a woman in my life. I don’t want to grow old alone. But, at the same time, if I’m alone, no one can disappoint me like that. Does that make sense?
JOE: I’m not a professional. Just a pair of ears.
PAUL: But, you’ve always had the answers.
JOE: You think that because I never told you when I didn’t.
PAUL: You have more than me.
JOE: Maybe you need to talk to a shrink. Or a priest.
PAUL: I’ve always felt that we’re supposed to solve our problems alone; that asking for help is a sign of failure.
JOE: That’s crazy. If you think that way, then why do we need doctors, lawyers, plumbers?
PAUL: (chuckling) You’re right.
JOE: I gotta ask. You didn’t do this to get out of—
PAUL: Hell no! Give me some credit. But, since I can’t go looking like this, I can tell you why I was being so clandestine yesterday.
JOE: You don’t have to.
PAUL: I want to. You may already know.
JOE: What you’re writing?
PAUL: Yeah. It’s a poem. Or it’s supposed to be, at least.
JOE: About shoes?
PAUL: Yeah, but not just any shoes. Yours.
JOE: My shoes are nothing to write home about. Except for my Florsheim wingtips.
PAUL: It’s not—
JOE: (speaking over PAUL) I’ve had them for over forty years.
PAUL: Dad. I’m talking symbolic here.
JOE: Good, because I was wondering why a poem on shoes would keep you from the party.
PAUL: It’s something—it’s hard to explain.
JOE: Okay, forget the speech. Just tell a joke and sit down. I’ll make it okay with your mother.
PAUL: If you remember, that’s exactly what I did ten years ago. Do you know how long I’ve been trying to write this damn thing? Thirteen years. And the most I ever wrote was four lines. I’ve thrown away a redwood in paper.
JOE: Doesn’t seem it should be that hard. Lose, cruise, booze, snooze. Lots of words rhyme with shoes.
PAUL: It’s not quite that easy. Say what you will about my perseverance overall, but on this, I’ve been a pit bull.
JOE: Why’s it been so hard?
PAUL: Sometimes putting what you feel into words is the hardest part of writing, especially if there’s an emotional connection with the subject.
JOE: The stronger the connection, the harder—
PAUL: Exactly. Doing a story on an athlete is easy. Ask some questions, refer to some stats and type away.
JOE: But in this case…
PAUL: It’s the strongest connection there is.
JOE: So, this poem is about walking in someone’s shoes?
PAUL: You could say that. Maybe filling them is better.
JOE: Is it that writer from The Tribune, the one that gave you the internship? What’s his name?
PAUL: Quit playin’, pops.
JOE: It’s about me?
PAUL: You know it is.
JOE: Thirteen years?
PAUL: I got the idea when you were sixty-two and wanted to give it to you at sixty-five, but couldn’t—well, you know.
JOE: You didn’t have to do that.
PAUL: It was supposed to be your gift, my tribute to a great dad. But, just like everything else, I couldn’t finish it. And, honestly, I’d rather miss the party—one you don’t really want anyway—than expose yet another of my life’s failures.
JOE: Hey, nobody has to know about the damn thing. Our secret. I mean maybe you couldn’t write it because there’s nothing there. My life has been pretty uneventful. I’m just a retired foundry worker who did his best to make sure his children did better than he did.
PAUL: Your character is beyond reproach.
JOE: Hell, you’ve done more than me. Made more money, been more places. I could’ve taken the job in San Diego, but my roots were here.
PAUL: It’s not about material things. It’s about character. Things like letting relatives live with us; being involved in the church for forty years, lending money you didn’t have to spare. There are very few men who possess all of those qualities.
JOE: Guess I never thought about it that way.
PAUL: Trying to write this made it painfully clear how inadequately I’ve followed in your footsteps.
JOE: You’ve done okay for yourself. Maybe not what—but, hell, nobody meets their every expectation. The only thing that hurt me was you losing your religion. I sent you to Catholic schools thinking—
PAUL: You did the right thing. Bottom line, you’re a better man than me and that’s what I can’t put into words.
JOE: Don’t be so hard on yourself. At least you gave it a shot.
(MARY enters with a bag of groceries. She unloads them on the counter)
MARY: Who got shot?
PAUL: Where’s your hearing aid?
MARY: On the dresser.
MARY: What happened to your new girlfriend?
PAUL: How’d you hear—
MARY: Your sister. Her name is, was Kim. You dated two weeks and she’s Jamaican.
PAUL: You know, from now on, my personal life is classified top secret.
JOE: You broke up already?
PAUL: Ah, she works too many hours.
JOE: Man, it’s always something with you.
MARY: What your father means is sometimes you have to roll with the waves. Nobody fits all the criteria.
PAUL: There were other issues.
JOE: Do you think you’ll ever remarry?
PAUL: Why, just so you can have a grandson with our last name?
MARY: We worry that you’ll grow old alone. Once you hit fifty, well…
JOE: Maybe you need to widen your horizons.
PAUL: I date black women. End of story.
JOE: The two greatest loves of your life were white.
PAUL: That was then and race had nothing to do—listen, we’ve been over this a trillion times. Who I date has nothing to do with why I haven’t found someone.
JOE: Then what is the reason my name dies with you?
MARY: Paul, you remember Mrs. Ramirez, don’t you?
PAUL: From church.
MARY: Yes. Well, I ran into her at the nail salon just now and she told me her daughter, Celia, is divorced. Wasn’t she in your grade?
PAUL: She’s two years older than me.
MARY: She’s very pretty and lives in Chicago.
PAUL: I don’t date older.
MARY: She’s in town this weekend and doesn’t have any plans for tonight.
PAUL: I’m not meeting anyone looking like this.
JOE: You wouldn’t be in this predicament if you’d stayed with Lisa.
PAUL: Will you drop it?!
JOE: You could have worked things out.
PAUL: You don’t even know what the “things” were.
JOE: I know more than you think. I know you did cocaine.
PAUL: I’m sorry I didn’t have your perfect life or marriage.
JOE: It was not perfect.
MARY: Close enough.
JOE: Not close at all.
PAUL: Perfect enough in my eyes.
MARY: And we should leave it that way.
PAUL: Fifty-five years together. I barely made four. Three children to my none.
JOE: Lots of people stay married who shouldn’t and too many men have children but aren’t really parents.
PAUL: True, but that’s not you. You and mom are totally in love and you’ve always been there for us. Hell, ask anybody, and they’d all say you’re one of the greatest guys they know.
MARY: We could have invited 200 to the party.
PAUL: Maybe more. All the guys from my class would’ve come. You were everybody’s favorite dad. Remember the nickname they had for you?
JOE: “JoJo with the MoJo.”
PAUL: JoJo with the MoJo. Now you know that jerk-off dads don’t get that kind of praise from teenagers. You put it all together and it’s no surprise that I can’t write that poem.
JOE: Maybe I can make it easier for you.
JOE: Maybe you should leave, Mary.
MARY: Why can’t you—
PAUL: Leave why?
JOE: I should have done this years ago.
PAUL: Done what?
(MARY exits and brings coffee for all and sits)
Yesterday you said the pressure of being in someone’s shadow can be overwhelming.
PAUL: It can. It is.
JOE: Well, being held to that level of esteem, for lack of a better word, is equally overwhelming. Especially when a lot of it is unwarranted.
PAUL: Nothing you can tell me will change my feelings for you.
JOE: Reserve judgment until—
MARY: Are you sure you want to start this, Joe?
JOE: Where you going?
PAUL: I’m hungry.
JOE: Sit down, please.
PAUL: I’m happy with the JoJo I know.
(PAUL starts to exit)
JOE: Sit down!!!
(PAUL sits. MARY exits and returns with cookies)
Alright, so let’s start with broken dreams. Dad dying did not keep me from being a lawyer. He left ma well provided for and a college fund for me. I was ready to go until Willy Sims introduced me to a deck of cards.
PAUL: So what, you’re not a lawyer? The point is you worked on something ‘til you were the best, which I’ve never done with anything, and then kicked it cold turkey when you got married.
JOE: That’s not exactly—
MARY: Joe, I forbid you.
JOE: I’m sorry, Mary, but you have no say in this.
PAUL: Listen, this is pretty heavy stuff and I feel, with all due respect, unnecessary. So, if you don’t mind…
JOE: I’m not done yet. When you were still a baby, I lost three jobs in one year, had five mouths to feed. I had to take any odd job that came my way. You got nothin’ on me, son, when it comes to feeling like a failure.
PAUL: Most guys would have left town with that kind of adversity, but you stuck it out, did what needed doing, to put food on the table. That is so far from failure.
MARY: Let’s go out for lunch.
PAUL: Good idea. It’s on me.
Where do you want to go?
MARY: He’s a good man, no matter what.
PAUL: Maybe this is his cleansing, but I still think he’s—
(JOE enters with the photo album and lays it, opened, in front of PAUL)
MARY: Oh. Mi dios.
PAUL: I was looking at those yesterday.
JOE: Notice anything odd about them?
PAUL: None of you holding me, but that’s because you wouldn’t let anyone else use your new camera.
JOE: I wasn’t even there.
PAUL: (To MARY) But, you said?—Is that true?
JOE: It is.
MARY: We were separated. Temporarily.
JOE: She kicked my ass out of the house because I started gambling again. Well, technically, we didn’t have a house because I’d lost it the night before.
PAUL: You mean…
JOE: I told you it was Bobby Giovingo because I wasn’t sure I could tell you the truth. And it happened before you were born, so I figured…anyway, Bobby had the kings and we had to move.
PAUL: You know, there’s something pretty cool about having a father with the brass to bet his house on a poker hand.
JOE: What I had was a disease. I just didn’t know it. When your mother called me to say you were born I vowed to quit and asked her if I could come home. She’s a very forgiving woman.
PAUL: (To MARY) You’ve always been a saint to me. More than ever, now.
JOE: I haven’t fallen since.
PAUL: Do you know how many times I’ve sworn I’ll never take another drink? And the stories are getting worse the older I get. Remember last year when I called to say my car was stolen and they found it stripped in an alley?
MARY: Who needs a car in Chicago?
PAUL: That’s really not the point, ma. The point is I lied. What really happened is I got drunk, brought home a crack whore, who, after I passed out, stole the damn thing. And there’s no chalking this up as a youthful indiscretion since it happened when I was 48. Something is seriously wrong with me, but you, you always learn from your mistakes.
JOE: Not all of them. One cost me something I can never get back.
MARY: Please, Joe, I’m begging you.
PAUL: Dad, I appreciate you telling me what you have, but it won’t make writing the poem any easier, because I know I’ll never be able to fill your shoes. I won’t be there tonight but know that you’re the best father a son could want.
(PAUL starts to exit)
JOE: I’m not done.
MARY: Yes. Yes, you are.
PAUL: She’s right. Everything’s cool.
JOE: Not to me. (To MARY) And don’t look at me that way.
MARY: In fifty-five years I’ve never told you not to do something you wanted to do. But, now I am.
JOE: And if I say it anyway?
MARY: I don’t think you will.
(Long silence. PAUL hugs JOE)
PAUL: There is a bright spot in all of this. I’m writing a play about my inability to write the poem. It’s called Shoes. And I’m dedicating it to you. Happy birthday, dad.
MARY: Thank you.
JOE: I don’t like unfinished business.
MARY: It’s not. I just thank God he reacted the way he did. What he just heard could have been devastating. He’s going through a rough time right now.
JOE: I still think…
JOE: There’s more he needs to know.
MARY: Fine. Tell that fragile—
JOE: He’s not fragile. If he was, the booze woulda killed him years ago.
MARY: I don’t think Pauly needs to know the real reason you’re not in these pictures. Why you weren’t there. What purpose would it serve to tell him Sherman is his father? (beat) What would that solve? How does that make him a better man? Make his life happier?
JOE: Some day.
MARY: Maybe. After I’m gone. In my mind, I don’t want him to know everything about me like you do. Especially that I found comfort where I could when you weren’t there for me. I’m not proud of it, but he doesn’t need to know. He thinks I’m a saint and I can lively happily with that image. Very happily.
(End of scene)
(Lights up on JOE and MARY seated at a table at Joe’s party. They each have a glass of wine in front of them. PAUL stands next to JOE, a soda in his hands)
PAUL: Quiet please. Thank you. Good evening, everyone and thank you for being here on this super special occasion. I especially want to thank the Smiths for coming. You’re my kind of people. The roast beef was great, wasn’t it? So tender. (beat) Um, I also want to say a word about my appearance. Last night I was treated to some facial reconstruction. I didn’t want it, but can’t say I didn’t ask for it. A painful lesson learned. But enough about that. Let’s talk about the man of the hour. It’s rare that someone has the honor, privilege and pleasure to be the son of a great man. But, it’s been mine for almost fifty years. And I’ve been trying to write what this fabulous experience has meant to me for longer than I’d care to admit. Alright, I’ll admit. Thirteen years. With no success, I might add. I was so disappointed with my failure to accomplish this task that I had decided to skip this soiree and go back to Chicago this afternoon. Thankfully, my mind was changed. I had always, and incorrectly, thought that my inability to express my feelings for my father stemmed from being an inadequate follow-up to the man he was. Until this morning, that is. Believe me when I say I am a changed man. Today, I learned that we often mistake image for reality. Maybe because we don’t know any different; maybe because we choose not to. In an effort to fill my father’s shoes, I was chasing a false image. This does not tarnish any of his wonderful accomplishments and characteristics: his deep compassion, his unerring guidance, and his fifty-five years of marriage to name a few. They remain as they were, as they should be, held in high esteem. What has changed me as a man is finally knowing him as one. As a man and not as an icon. The poem I’ve been trying to write all these years is called, Shoes. My belief that I could never fill his has led me to abandon, prematurely, one hope and dream after another, feeling I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, achieve the greatness I thought necessary to win his approval. Funny, but I learned that I didn’t need to. I already had it. Now, I know that’s it’s not important to fill a father’s shoes, just to keep mine polished as I walk through life. So, here’s to JoJo with the Mojo. My role model, my friend and my father. My love and admiration know no bounds.
(They drink. Lights fade to black)