People in Dark Chairs

A Play for Voices by Edward Williams

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SCENE ONE

“If you want to talk to people you have to learn what to talk to them about, each of them. If you want proof that nobody knows how to talk or think their way through two consecutive points, then keep harping on your same old favorite subjects indiscriminately. But get Rick on the subject of baseball cards, for example, and he becomes brilliant and vocal, you have to stop him from talking and you have to take an interest–”

“Why do people in terrible accidents always thank God it wasn’t worse?”

“For example with Dianne, you have to let her make a grand association that is completely off the point–so she can get to what she can and only will
talk–”

“They don’t all. Only the ones they interview on the news.”

“I had to get a special suitcase, after my accident, so that when I stayed overnight in peoples apartments and so on I could . . .”

“It was no accident.”

“Stop whispering. What are you whispering about. I don’t want any secrets. If we talk, we talk, and no secrets.”

“Yes, it’s nothing but secrets, certainly there are more secrets than their are . . . things in circulation. If you think about it, most of the truth exists in the form of secrets. I hear someone ask: so how do you know this? I’ll tell you how I know this, it’s because everytime you find a truth you find that before being known it was a secret. So all truth comes through that channel, and since we know so little truth, compared to what there must be, it stands to reason that the rest of the truth exists in secrets. Or, what might be worse, some other form unknown to us altogether. Are you going to let me just go on this way?”

“Several of these books I’ve seen become objects in the house, part of the decor, as opposed to being . . . anonymous pullables.”

“The newscaster looks right at you when he says: ‘See you here tomorrow night. Have a good night.’ He acts like he sees us, when it’s him who is being watched. This formality may be having insidious results!”

“I knew when I put the Hawthorne collection on the mantle, between the bookends in front of the mirror, that I would never read Hawthorne again, things got propped up against the row of attractive green volumes, and these books had become part of the decor, which is not to say . . .”

“So let’s say you were on a train, and there was a copy of ‘Mosses from An Old Manse’, lying there on the seat next to you . You’d read it then.”

“Of course, in that situation–that’s the one situation where I would just automatically read Hawthorne. But–that traintrip won’t happen either.”

“First we have anonymous pullables. Then insidious results! The new creation is far advanced.”

“No question about it, that was goal-tending.”

“What is that nobody doing?”

“Watching television, but he is also part of a suspenseful, deadly plot. Or the victim awaiting the results of a deadly scenario he is not even aware of.“

“Maybe not the details, but he is aware of the situation, or he wouldn’t be catatonic; well he’s not catatonic–he is waiting to be the one who acts, but he knows nothing yet, but he might be the only one who can act, when . . .”

“When action is required!”

“I’ve been informed that I am not going to die in this lifetime.”

“What?”

“Yea, so suddenly at the age of fifty-four Edmund decides he should subscribe to Scientific American.”

”That will last about three months.”

“They’ll pile up at an alarming rate, faster than time can magazines pile up, faster than bills, faster than anything can magazines . . .”

“I know what you are talking about.”

“Is that you, Page?”

“Last year I didn’t even put the Christmas tree stand in the basement, but left it on the porch, because I felt like Christmas was about to happen so soon again, why take it downstairs when I was just going to have to go down there tomorrow and get it.”

“He keeps using that story to illustrate about how time is speeding up. For him, time is speeding up. Remember what Ellen said about old people on benches, how–” “

“Yea, but does he know he’s repeating himself. I mean that’s a more serious development, he’s using this story about the Christmas tree stand once a day! That’s worse evidence of a condition than the impression–”

“Calm down.”

“That’s to say a joke. How could anything be more calm than this?”

“We begin in darkness, people in dark chairs.”

“Now flood the stage with light, and there is no one there. There is an an empty stage and a man comes out and this is his monologue: It’s called “Tennis Anyone?” And it begins like this . . .”

“What happened to that piece I wrote about Barnes & Noble. Where did I put it, I wonder; and is it worth looking for?”

“That’s why I stopped talking to people, they were all doing that. They were all committing the cardinal sin.”

“What is this again? This is the third explanation he has given for why he stopped talking to people. Does he think the other people didn’t notice? And does he ask himself why they didn’t protest? No, he just thinks they hang their heads and blame themselves. Quite the contrary! They figure he has some deep personal problem, and it isn’t one or the other of them, because he isn’t talking to any of them. So it’s his problem.”

“The phone rings so loud in those movies you think it is your own movie, I mean your own phone.”

“Yeah, and what’s the difference? After a certain amount of calls, and a
certain amount of movies, what’s the big . . .”

“I finally realized that what I needed was my own theater. I mean I couldn’t produce the work and send it anywhere, but it had to be produced on the spot; I needed a workshop presentation area, and people could look in the windows if they wanted. I finally realized that the whole act was in the creation, so if it was going to be public I had to have my own theater, with a crew, and from the inside out we would mount these productions. I got dizzy with this conception.”

“Started going around looking at every building like it was ripe for conversion, like the old Blessed Thistle Bakery building–”

“I heard on the news that . . . I have a headache.”

“Start over.”

“I heard on the news that the DNA overlap is 99% between humans and monkeys, whereas the DNA overlap is maybe 60% between humans and a piece of brocolli. But what I’m saying is that I heard this on the news, so it isn’t really information in the unadulterated sense . . .”

“So you are saying that its more significant how and where you heard of it, than what is it?”

“No, I’m saying that how and where you heard of it, I heard of it, we all heard of it, are inseparable from what it is. It’s part of what it is . . .”

“You’re saying there is no other way you could have heard of it?”

“I didn’t say that. Probably not. But before I heard of it, it existed somewhere, and several conduits had it. But now it’s forever linked to the way it came to me. It’s a fact in the system of the news, so its subordinate to that, I’m guessing because I’m more interested in form than this content I guess–that’s more revealing of . . . something!”

“I’m tempted to argue for the discreet fact of the fact itself.”

“He’s right, maybe. There are many realms now that we have no other access to than the news, even though in the news report that other access is indicated. As if the news gives rights of origin to the source, but the news itself is all receptive, comprehends all, and so once you get information from
such a source, that source is your only source.”

“If that is the case, you shouldn’t even read the news. It’s sucking you up.”

“I have no other sources. Except the daylight. The daylight isn’t news. Talking to other people isn’t news, except that other people frequently quote the news, and then there you are again. The television is news, even when it is fiction it operates as news. That’s it: news is a capacity, a need, a form, a desire, it’s . . . it’s . . . its-”

“You don’t have to turn on the television to begin with.”

“I can’t help it. It’s already on. It’s part of the house. I haven’t turned it off in years. It’s on. You might as well drape the windows!”
“He’s helpless.”

“Is he helpless?”

“No, he’s inspired. This is a very obscure environment. People in dark chairs are waking up in the dark chairs. In the theater. Looking around to discover they are in the theater, as opposed to–”

“Life.”

“And the snow bound streets are stunning–
You can hardly believe they are really there!
The streetlamps like so many landed moons,
Breathing the car exhaust fumes, the sky has
Come down. Zipping up his jacket, feeling
Strong, it could be that life is the only truth
Capable of being known, but for the context
Missing . . . So many unsorted dialogues–
How many people are coming over tonight?”

“This is a whole ‘nother topic but: Can you believe at Writer’s and Books they actually have people who are failures teaching courses like “How to Get Your Novel Started and Finished,” and “Marketing Your Creativity.” These are people who are actually incompetent in their own right, full-fledged failures, running seminars for people who are so out of it they don’t know the teacher is a fraud, and can’t tell he’s a fraud even after listening to him fraudulently advise . . .”

“What bothers me about a man who is still collecting baseball cards at that age is, someday there is going to be an unopened pack . . .”

“I’m quoting now: from the prosecutor’s speech to the jury in the television drama, Law & Order, which we like to watch every night at seven, it’s a transition, and it’s watching a show from the past, even the recent past of television can be far away, though Law & Order still exists as a new show on Wednesday nights–not so reliable will we be stationed before it in it’s present, though.”

“You didn’t say what you were going to say.”

“Oh right. He says: ‘During the course of this trial you will learn how the investigation of what looked to be a simple mugging turned up a ring of corruption that lead to the highest levels of our government.”

“As all muggings would, if properly and thoroughly investigated!”
.
“The way his mind works it’s like no matter what he talks about it becomes interesting. People always say to him: I never thought about it that way.”

“And he says: maybe you didn’t think about it at all.”

“Here’s a quote: ‘I used to think American city planners had poor standards, then it occurred to me they had no standards.”

“Who said that?”

“It’s from ‘Home from Nowhere’, by James Howard kunstler.”

“Who’s he?”

“So! as I was saying, trying to say, The Divinity School is mostly obliterated, I don’t even take notice of it driving by anymore–I seem to recognize it only from the distant past, you know. But once in a while it occurs to me to go there, in the late afternoon when stranded it’s an option that shows up surveying the geography as to where I can disappear, say, between four and seven. And so sitting in the Lunchroom at the Divinity School I realize that the time I spent there as a student, now a decade ago, is disconnected, you see, that time is gone, and the school it changed essentially so that I could never have been there at any other time. This is not just strange. It is an observable fact. There is no trace in the current scene of what happened
then, no connection.”

“Are you making yourself perfectly clear?”

“Then I realize that everything in our past has this aspect of being unique to a set of realities that have since vanished.”

“Wow! That says it.”

“James Evans, the first African-American gaining membership at Oak Hill Country Club, was the President of Colgate Rochester Divinity School.”
“Wow. How many of these succinct significant facts do you have?”

“Then the trouble is, everything I wrote back then is now also a period piece, and not to be introduced.”

“Tell you what. You are so unique, you have become an anachronism in your own lifetime. Probably three times over already, surpassing . . .”

“I was looking in the drawer in Phillips room for some audio stuff and I found a fortune of dead batteries. Large, D size batteries, I don’t know what they were ever used for.”

“Did you find what you were looking for? That’s what I would like to know.”

“I bet you would.”

“I wasn’t looking for one thing. I was rummaging for things that might relate to my current project. Rummaging all over the house for audio stuff, for my current project.”

“Which is . . .”

“It might not be the case for everyone.”

“What . . . might not . . . be the case.”

“In fact most might not comprehend this unless you put it broadly. Like, you can’t fight in the Civil War after that time–anyone can see that. Everything is different, The ground is different. But what accounts for the sequence we have–no that goes into the history topic, I’ve plumbed that endlessly. The
more spectacular truth is that this is true in personal history.”

“Like you said before.”

“The very idea of personal history was new in 1965 when Carse used it dramatically in that Kierkegaard seminar.”

“Mediocrity, though, which is timeless, is very pushy, and stupidity, which has instincts perhaps, very aggressive! This is well known.”

“And never learned.”

“I don’t know how long we can keep this up.”

“What, talking like this?”

“No, living in a mystery, in a life we don’t understand and is so totally self-referential, in a world that is a totality, a total mystery, a context that is unimaginable as a part of another context, how long can we take it?”

“Remains to be seen. Some people do disappear.”

“Are we getting off the track, into the abstract?”

“I didn’t get a computer when it was an appliance used by a minority, I wasn’t associated with that–but more with the manual typewriter set, but when it became clear that everyone was going to have one, a majority was in the swimming hole . . . “.”

“Ah, yes the world has changed so much, that seems like from a different life. Not just from the past, but a different life. Shocking!”

“All you need is six or seven of these different lives, and then drop the box with the slides in. When you pick it up, you won’t know the order, then–”

“I date my disaffection with people that night when that clown on the sofa was laughing and making rude remarks about my slides. My “New Creation” slides which had been certified by flattery from a few insiders, were now being mocked, not directly mocked, but the idea of showing them to a roomful of people was being mocked by this one guy, but what is worse than him is that no one else stopped him. That’s what I said to Janet after everyone left. It was that no one stopped him–that condemned the whole group. And from that night I have not offered a shred of material to any devouring so-called friend, nor invited anyone over. I don’t even answer the phone, and Janet is under general instructions to tell me who is calling, before she tells the caller that I am necessarily there–not out for a walk, or buried in work which can not be . . . interupted!”

“This is the way people who are very famous end up acting, no one can get through to them. So in this case it’s . . .”
“Obscurity overload, Now put on that song, Pete’s song . . . what one was it? The Return of Semi-Man. That’s it. Play that. People will start clomping around.”

“You want to know why I don’t talk to people anymore? It’s because you can’t give people any information, any piece of information, they it handle it so poorly. They just make trouble, misconstrue, speculate. That’s why I don’t even talk to them.”

“Like he said to me, what would have happened if I had given that piece of information to my sister? She would have created World War III out of it.”

“And it’s such a simple piece of information too. It isn’t loaded with any implications at all, for those who are not looking for vengeance and spite!”

“Calm down.”

“I’m perfectly calm. Dangerously calm.”

”Do we have to have the television blaring all the time?”

“There are multiple televisions in the house now, and at least two of them are on at any given time, except when we are all asleep–even then a television might have been left on. I remember when all we had was one black and white television that was kept in the closet.”
“Times have changed!”
“The television helped change the times, so naturally it now occupies a place of privilege and honor.”

“Holy mackerel, privilege and honor!”

“I remember how I used to think my roommate was going explode, start throwing dishes against the wall and grab his head and scream, run out into the yard. I lived with this image every day . . .”

“He never did though.”

“I eventually realized this was my imagination. Visceral, this imagination. So, anyway, how many episodes of Law & Order are there?”

“You know when we were younger having classic illustrative stories to tell, like the ‘Shut Up’ story, a story so complete it contains within itself the story of its own origins, that got told to virtually everyone over the years, and even became part of a stage monologue, well back then these stories were evidence of a tyranny of developing truth–I’d say, whereas now, among the older people, stock stories that are repeated are evidence of there being no more stories happening, not to mention senility born out by the fact that you can’t tell to whom or how many times you have told, say, the sad story about Uncle Fred watching basketball games, or the time that woman asked for a tomato from the front garden and I told her she could have as many as she wanted so she takes about ten, using her jacket a a basket and . . .”

“. . . comes back with her two kids fifteen minutes later for more!”

“Right, and I forget again, what does that story illustrate?”

“My favorite is the one about the asparagus your wife planted that first year back in Rochester.”

“I used that in the novel–which you would know if you had read it.”

“There are lots of things in the house which would not be there if they weren’t found, contributed, picked up at garage sales. preserved, taken on the street, never would have been bought as the interior world is unfolding, but they fit right in, like most of the lamps, I’m always writing this poem called “Fixing the Lamps,” you know and I’m so sentimental about it that’s why I invited everybody over tonight . . .”

“Excuse me but when does this train arrive anyway?”

“Metaphorically speaking. The wooden paper towel dispenser in the kitchen is something we would never buy, Most of the furniture in fact, the only thing we bought is the couch twenty years ago it seems to me.”

“Everything else just appeared, was gathered and put in place like the furniture and props of a stage set. All donated, scrounged up, but perfect for the scenes down to the ashtrays and the dish full of pennies, etc. etc.”
“That huge vinyl windowshade that I use as a screen for slideshows in the
living room–I found that on the street. I couldn’t believe it; I’m just walking to the store, which I’m always doing, over the years I’m walking to the store and I glance into this pile of stuff on the curb, and there’s this huge manila windowshade. I can tell immediately it’s mine, and I snag it, I go back to the house right away and prop it in the corner near where I can see it is going to go, and I’m excited, my heart is pounding with excitement not just because of the item of course but the way in which I obtained it, you see. Such accidents definitely look like fate, to me . . .”

“We know they do.”

“So then I have ten or twelve people over, and put on the slides for my new show called Slideshow of The New Creation, which is in process, sometimes, usually I put on music, which cuts down on people talking. I hate it when people talk and reveal in what they say that they aren’t even looking at the screen, or that they misinterpret it so shamefacedly I wish I had never taken the shot.”

“What do you think?”

“I walk tall into the Midtown Plaza Management office, right by the girl filing her nails and into the spacious office overlooking the western half of this toy city; Atkins is not at his desk, but standing at the window, and as he rotates, hearing me come in, who am all but soundless, who am suspenseful, making a clucking sound, I see it is indeed Rodney Atkins, and I quickly spell it out, my solution to the problem of downtown Rochester.”

“No response, not on the apparent agenda.”

“My solution to the problem of downtown Rochester!”

“Who even goes . . . downtown? Who can get across the moat?”

“It’s the stupid clock,” I tell him. “Take down that stupid International cuckoo clock. Here do we have a picture, I can’t think of how to describe the thing; well everybody has seen it. When they built the plaza in 1960, directly after the end of history you know, it was one of the first revelations, they

put up this International Clock with twelve stations–I can’t even bear to describe it.”

“You’re potentially right, if they take down that clock, Midtown Plaza would
be free. They won’t, so you are only potentially right.”

“Trouble with alot of ideas. They never get tested, because the administration . . .”

“I get into the position with some people where knowing them concurrently with some situation would be perilous. So I put them at arm’s length for awhile, it could be years. But then they get offended and stomp off in a huff.”

“A permanent huff?”

“Yep.”

“Ever notice that what you are saying takes on the character slightly of what it is responding to?”

“Yes. Sure do.”

“I thought the reason you don’t talk to people anymore was because they had each one of them committed the capital offense.”

“What is the capital offense, I forget.”

“I probably never told you. It’s when people flatter you just because it suits them. They really don’t care if they are right, but they want you in on the game which is based on how great you are. They become great by association, which is the only way they can get greatness, you see. Instinctively they know not to look too closely at their leader, but to just keep prodding him so he marches forward.”

“Poking him in the back with a red-hot fire iron!”

“Calm down Oliver.”

“Like I always said, if Oliver is angry, somebody has flubbed, or . . .”
“The world has changed so much, that seems like a different life when we ran down the sand dunes, even when we sat down as a family for dinner for Chrissakes!”

“In the novel the world starts changing systematically from the moment the
visitor from another planet’s spaceship crash lands in Corbetts Glen. That would be forty-seven years ago, or was when I started writing the novel
when I was forty-seven.”

“I think that by putting these ideas and scenes in the form of a novel you create a misunderstanding, and degrade them and make them impossible to comprehend.”

“You could be right.”

“When did this happen, Margery? Did we get a blow to the head. How come I feel like I was in some terrible accident and lost my memory, or my memory of the accident at least. Formidably, that loss. Arguably.”

“It must be the weight of time. It’s like snow on a tree limb. So much time passes and then a huge chunk of it just falls away, leaving you with nothing to look at but an abyss.”

“It’s like the morning after the Ice Storm, perpetually around here. Only there isn’t any evidence of the Ice Storm anymore. People ran around with cameras like insanely. But you can’t photograph a ringing in the ears. They might have taped it. But of course the electricity was off.”

“Maybe the electricity was never turned on again?”

“That’s pure dramatic.”

“At this point I think we should actually digress into the story of Uncle Fred, that could be the main story, at least we could all rally our focus into one topic like a big pot of gumbo soup.”

“There has to be some new factors. I said from the beginning reality was undergoing a change. Twelve times over now I’ve been proven right on that. Cynthia over here says its different, her emotions are different, the kitchen is all she can handle–”

“Better put him on hold. Oh it’s alright, he just went to the refrigerator to get another beer.”

“Turn out the lights. The slideshow is about to begin.”

“The main factors in my fragile, I mean strong, awareness at the moment are.”

“What is this? A discussion among the dead?”

“This is just the downright beginning of what I’ve wanted to do along. Take a set of factors and make it the truth. What is truth? Truth is a desire. At any point it is possible. I’m so happy I could break. What–you live your whole life under some other rubric than truth? What do you think is going on around here? Truth is no qualification, it’s the missing thing. Life will be preserved, a little bird told me so. We’re going to come to consciousness while conscious. How’s that? You sleep too much. You keep trying to arrange your affairs like to get time for the project. You think I can’t prop myself up on these last legs as the legs; these are the first legs. It’s some story.”

“Stuff, and more stuff. My office is drowning with stuff. I’ve got manuscripts up to my ears, it seems so little and yet it’s drowning, when I think to get organized I realize I put down every inarticulate thing and now I have so many notes dating back to college I need a crying staff of ten people to sort it out, so to mount the theater. A staff of ten crying people.”

“Ten people, crying.”

“That’s alright. So many unsorted dialogues. What is the business of the present day? Other people? Other people are very appreciative of any interest shown them. What’s lucky about you is you don’t put the so-called problems of life in first place. You were right to call this a mystery.”

“I thought it was a philosophical puzzle. Now I realize its a mystery story.”

“That’s the distinction that cuts your life in half.”

“And half again everytime you realize it. Yikes!”

“What happened to the Theater of Dissemblance?”

“The greatest concept I had, before the accident. I was working on that when the authorities came after me. And I still say: it was no accident!”

“The main point I was making before is that if the world has changed so essentially, during my lifetime, which I think I predicted but anyway, then this has the catastrophic comical result that all the books I wrote, or think I wrote, before this time, are rendered quite . . . quaint!”

“He’s lost it.”

“No, really, I think he’s overhauled the situation, friends. We are just not living in the time we thought of. Forced senility has made a band of friends in the endtime.”

“Better put up another slide. Maybe the mud-field of tires.”

“I got so much stuff. I try to sit around all day and do a balance sheet. But then insensibly I make a few more notes. The notes are just voices, idle it seems at the time, but by the end of one simple day they clamor for a new play, which I reject in a literary sense, you understand, and . . . “

“You have to wonder.”

“I haven’t set it up to work, I realize that. I’ve put some drama up as if supposedly against smooth progression of what everyone else is doing. And yet, nobody is more in favor of what everybody else is doing. And yet, how can they do anything if I’m so . . . screwed up. I always thought other people were better outfitted, to begin with, and so wanted to know them . . . . now, they are so depressed.”

“Okay. These are high percentage shots. Under pressure these players are focused so they make clutch shots. That’s why the game is so often so very exciting–because the best players perform their best at the critical time. They are stars, stars like the limelight!”

“Is that Uncle Fred?”

“Before the accident?”

“Though the accident is untraceable, we know it occurred, for look at the results. It looks like the results of an accident, though we didn’t see when it happened.”

“Do we know the general time period, I mean can we limit it to, say . . .”

“It’s after 1989, sometime in the last ten years.”

“That doesn’t narrow it much. In fact that might just be the recoverable stretch the memory can still regard as fresh, almost as if it was still in flux, which it is I guess in some sense, though I’m dreaming as I make these remarks. To whom to I make these remarks, or is this the very thing one says when . . . no one is listening.”

“It seemed like extraordinary meetings of chance, blind chance run by unseen hands, bringing these people into orbit, now years later it is clear there were no other people at all; those with a certain glow . . .”

“We might as well have all been wearing signs, funny hats.”

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Written by Edward Williams

May 30, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized