“Running away will never make you free.”
(Editor’s note: look for parts 2 through 5 over the next two weeks)
Time/Place: Tuesday, November 8, 2016—NYC.
Note about the Set: Less is always more. Don’t you think?
Eric Muller: 30. Air B&B host. First year medical resident. Very likeable and intelligent, but has a wee bit of a cocaine addiction—his way of coping with life’s cruelties.
Steve Kingfisher: 32. Air B&B guest. Personal trainer from Virginia. Steve sees the world with a moral code that some may argue is dated.
Elise Bailey: 28. Eric’s on and off again lover. Graduate Acting student at NYU and aspiring model/singer/dancer/film star. She comes from some money.
Charleston: 25. Transgender. Superintendent. Washington Heights Native.
Valerie: 27. Charleston’s fiancé. Washington Heights Native. Valerie is studying to be a lawyer and working at a restaurant.
Charo: 69. Valerie’s mother. Suffers from dementia. Former accountant. She is in touch with the spiritual realms of reality.
Sammy: 25. Charleston’s friend. Psychology student / part-time drug dealer. A feminist.
Assieh: 11. Bodega clerk. Wise beyond her years.
Act One, Scene I:
A very messy studio apartment in Chinatown. Scattered on the floor, amongst empty vodka bottles and red solo cups, is a white lab coat, several pairs of scrubs, a stethoscope, and medical textbooks. A beautiful lacy nightie is strewn over the kitchen table.
Eric Muller, 30, enters shirtless from his bathroom. He takes a few pills from a prescription bottle and tries to find something to wash it down with. There is nothing. He swallows hard. His phone rings.
Eric: (On the phone) Doctor Ahmad, how is she doing?
He starts recycling bottles.
Eric: (On the phone) I gave her two shots of morphine before my shift ended at three. Did she have a fever today? She seemed to be getting more stable.
He smiles when he touches the nightie. He strokes his cheek with it.
Eric: (On the phone) I am so sorry to hear that, but this is my first twenty-four hours off in ten days. I’m feeling very frazzled, I mean I know we all are, but—
He opens his laptop and looks puzzled.
Eric: (On the phone) Thank you. I really appreciate it. I really need today to regroup and—oh of course. Going to the polls now. I mean, absolutely. There wasn’t a question: she won the debates, the campaign, she—it’s a shoe-in. Yes. Thank you sir. See you Tuesday, I mean, Wednesday, yes. You too.
He hangs up. He looks at his laptop.
There is a knock at the door.
Lights up on Steve, 32. He is holding a duffle bag and a Jamba Juice.
Steve: Hi, Eric? It’s me Steve Kingfisher.
Steve: Your Air B&B Guest.
Steve: What, sorry?
Eric: Just a second, old friend. Give me just a second.
Steve: Oh okay.
Eric starts to tidy up frantically.
Steve: Thanks again, for making the room available. On such short notice.
Eric: Oh you are welcome old friend. I’ve been so looking forward to your stay. Been uh cleaning all morning.
Eric does a line of cocaine.
Steve: I really appreciate it. Never been to New York City before. If I didn’t have that app on my phone I would have been super lost getting here.
Eric: Yes. Aren’t phone apps just extraordinary? Give me just a few more seconds, I’m just taking out the garbage and freshening up a bath towel and organizing some soap and getting linens for your be—oh shit—
Steve: It’s a nice day out. Warm for November. Walked here from the bus terminal.
Eric takes out an air mattress and plops it on the floor.
Steve: I took the night bus so I haven’t sleep since yesterday or wait I guess the day before yesterday. Hard to keep track of time when you haven’t slept I guess.
Steve: Sorry, what was that?
Eric: No sleep is bad.
Steve: It is bad.
Steve slurps his smoothie. Eric tries to blow-up the air mattress. It won’t blow-up.
Steve: Is this a bad time? I can come back in an hour, I think I saw a Starbucks just down the street, and I can do a little work and then come back.
Eric: No, no, old friend.
Eric throws a pile of blankets on the un-blown-up air mattress.
Eric: Now is perfect.
Eric opens the door to Steve.
Eric: Welcome Steve. Come in old friend.
Steve: Thanks, Eric. Appreciate it.
Eric: At your service.
He kicks an empty vodka bottle off-stage.
Steve: Where is uh, the other bedroom?
Eric: Well, you see we have two rooms.
Eric takes Steve to the bathroom.
Eric: One room.
He leads him out.
Eric: Two rooms.
Steve: That room is the bathroom.
Eric: Exactly. A bathroom.
Steve: I’m sorry I’m just confused.
Eric: I see.
Steve: See the ad that you posted on the Air B&B website is for a two-bedroom apartment.
Eric: Did it say that, now?
Steve pulls out his phone.
Steve: “Spacious, elegant, didactic,” don’t really know what that means, “Chic, French-Versailles-esque inspired two-bedroom get-away located in the center of the universe: Chinatown.”
Eric: Location, location, location. Can’t beat this location. Do you want a beer?
Steve: No. Thank you.
Eric: Me neither. Too early for such things, am I right?
Steve: Also Eric I’m confused about the pictures that you have posted here.
Steve shows him his phone.
Eric puts his glasses on.
Eric: What seems to be the problem?
Steve: Well, it’s just that the pictures on the website don’t match the actual apartment that we’re in now.
Eric: The curtains are the same shade.
Steve: In fact, come to think of it, this looks like it’s straight from the set of the last James Bond movie…it even says Paramount at the bottom of the webpage…
Eric: What a coincidence.
Steve: These apartments aren’t the same thing, are they? I’m not crazy, right?
Eric: No. Steve, they are not the same thing. And you are not crazy.
Steve: Well Eric, what you did then, is you falsely advertised your apartment. Which seems like it’s completely against Air B&B policy.
Eric: It’s not all false. It’s just an exaggeration of my living conditions.
Steve: This isn’t an exaggeration. This is a downright lie. Advertising one thing online but actually living in one thing in reality—that’s a lie. Because I would have picked to stay in a different apartment, had I known that you were lying about where you lived. So you have greatly inconvenienced me this morning, Eric.
Eric: Technically, technically, old friend, this is a two bedroom.
Steve: No, it’s not.
Eric: Technically, when I put this screen up here—
He opens up a Chinese screen with naked ladies on it.
Eric: Technically we are now in a two-bedroom apartment.
He jumps on one side.
He jumps on the other side.
Steve: This is a one-bedroom apartment with a Chinese screen in it. In fact it’s not even a one-bedroom, it’s a what-do-you-call-it it’s a, a, studio—
Eric: Four nights for three hundred.
Steve: Does Air B&B know about this?
Eric: Fuck Air B&B. Fuck being a puppet playing with monopoly money on their tacky goddamn URL website.
Steve: Air B&B uses real money; I had to enter in my PayPal account and everything—
Eric: Steve. Have you ever been to New York City before?
Steve: They might have actually charged me already and it’s non-refundable!
Eric: Steve. Look.
Eric opens the blinds.
Eric: What do you see?
Steve: A busy street and a lot of fruit vendors.
Eric: This is Chinatown, old friend. The land of opportunity, women, adventure, and dim sum. Do you like dim sum, old friend?
Steve: I don’t know what dim sum is.
Eric: They have this pork bun, a white soft bun filled with steamed, rich, juicy pork—it tastes like a fucking cloud. Like a fucking cloud. Best Chinese food in Chinatown.
Steve: I tend to stay away from Chinese food. Gotta keep it lean and green for the gym.
Eric: Live a little. Have a cheat meal with me. Kombucha?
Steve: No, thank you. See what I don’t understand Eric, is why you would lie about your apartment in the first place? Who does that? Why wouldn’t you just tell it like it is: a studio apartment in Chinatown with a—
Eric: Deflated air mattress. Sorry, old friend, I’m still trying to get it to blow-up. The thing is I, well what do you know about the medical field?
Steve: That you need health insurance in order to get treated?
Eric: A great answer, but not the path I was leaning towards—
Steve: The gym I work at gives us the shitty blue cross blue-shield. I mean I may as well just pay for the whole physical myself at that point, the way their coverage—
Eric: Steve, old friend, I have been at work non-stop for the past ten days. Ten days of fourteen-hour days as a first year resident at the New York Presbyterian’s ER. Ten days of bedpans, mysterious rashes, broken hips, gunshot victims, and Zika.
Eric: Oh don’t worry it’s not that contagious, old friend; the media is pulling your leg. And yesterday, at 3p.m., I got to leave the hospital and take today off. So I decided to throw a small party in celebration last night. Not just to celebrate my time off, but to also celebrate our bright future, the fact that she’s going to lower student debts, the maybe just maybe the Bern influenced her and didn’t just “bern,” out, and that maybe, just maybe men in their thirties can still chug vodka like they did in their college years.
Steve: Well I am glad you and your friends had such a fun time. But I don’t really see how this story has anything to do with you screwing me over on Air B&B.
Eric: Long story short – I got a wee bit too hopped up on, er, party favors, let’s say, and decided in my stupor, and with some encouragement from my stupider friends, to post up my room on Air B&B so that I could afford to buy some more party favors for the election day holiday.
Steve: So you lied. To Air B&B.
Eric: Must it all be so black and white, Steve? We’re both here now. You need an apartment. I have an apartment. Be my guest. I’ll be your host.
Steve: I do need an apartment and I would have chosen an apartment that actually matched the ad!
Eric: Some of this décor could be called French, bohemian chic—
Steve: I don’t know what that last word you said means but I can tell you for certain that this is not a two-bedroom apartment!
Eric: Technically, when you pull the screen up, technically it is.
Steve: You sound just like those assholes on TV. Maybe you should have run for president.
Eric: Well if I were president let’s just say first year medical residents would be making enough so that they would be living in two-bedrooms instead of scrambling around eating cans of soup for dinner and locking the door tightly behind them so that Sallie Mae doesn’t come a knocking and collecting for her medical school debts.
Steve: I am going to go to Starbucks and find another place to stay.
He picks up his duffle bag.
Eric: Towels! You need towels.
Eric gets him a really scary greenish towel.
Eric: My friend Ernesto won that towel in the Coney Island hot dog eating contest of ’09.
Steve: This just isn’t going to work.
Eric: Steve you can have ALL the kombucha in the fridge.
Steve: I don’t like kombucha. I always tell my clients not to drink it. Hidden sugars and all.
Eric: You’ll never find a host more fun than me. I’m going to an elite election day party tonight, after my girlfriend’s theatrical performance in alphabet city, and you, old friend, can be my plus one for both fun-filled activities. Unless you had other plans.
Steve: No plans. Just the MET and Central Park and I want to see that big bull that’s on fence street—
Eric: Wall street. What is Fence street?
Steve: I thought that’s the street where all of the stockbrokers worked.
Eric: Who wrote your guidebook? August Wilson?
Steve: No, I downloaded a wiki article, thought it said Fence street.
Eric: So what do you say? Four nights here. Two-twenty. The possibilities are endless. I’m a doctor on leave. Everything is possible. This is Chinatown. The land of pork buns and—
Steve: I really only eat complex carbohydrates; quinoa, sweet potatoes, sometimes brown rice. Sometimes.
Eric: Okay no fucking porkbuns! Steve. You seem like you need this.
Steve: Need what? To sleep on a deflated air mattress and wash my face with a hand towel that looks like it alone caused the spread of the tuberculosis virus?!
Eric: Tuberculosis is actually spread by an infectious bacteria that attached the nodules of the tissues –which is why you cough up blood—
Steve: Will you get out of my way! I don’t want to stay here.
Eric: But I think you do!
Steve: I don’t!
Eric: I think you need to have some fun with me, Steve. I think you need to have an adventure. You said you took a night bus. Alone. Why? Why would any self-respecting person subject themselves to an eight hour Megabus ride to NYC? Why did you come here? What is it that you want?
Steve: I want to not be at home right now, okay? I want to not be in Virginia. And honestly it’s none of your Goddamn business why I’m here.
Steve: It’s my money, my time, my life, my decision.
Steve: I’m a grown-ass fucking man.
Eric: There’s going to be a big party tonight. With women. And alcohol. And a DJ. Want to come?
Eric: We’re making history tonight, old friend; it’ll be an unforgettable bash.
Steve: You really think she’s going to win?
Eric: Have you not been reading the news?
Steve: I’m from Richmond, Virginia.
Eric: They don’t have news there? Some sort of antiquated Maison Dixon law?
Steve: No, we have the news, but I have a few clients at the gym and a couple neighbors who are voting for him.
Eric: But WHY?
Steve: They’re tired.
Eric: OF WHAT?
Steve: Listen, I don’t know. Look, I better be going.
Steve gets his duffle bag.
Eric: Stay. Steve. Come to the party.
Steve: Eric this apartment is scarier than the men’s bathroom in Sing Sing.
Eric: Four nights, two-fifty.
Steve: That air mattress is deflated.
Steve: Okay fine. Two-fifteen.
Eric: You’re going to love it here.
Steve: This better be one hell of a party tonight.
Eric: Oh it will, it will. Speaking of which let me text Charleston so we can get ourselves some more party favors, eh? What do you say? You’re not listening. Are you? Talking to myself. That’s okay, old friend, I do enjoy my own company.
Steve surveys his, “bed.” He pulls out a whip from under the pillows.
Eric: Oh, sorry, that’s my girlfriend Elise’s.
Eric: She’s an actress.
Steve: Do you think I’ll have time for the MET before this party?
Eric: Oh absolutely, Steve. You sure it’s open today? It is a holiday.
Steve: It’s open.
Eric: Fantastic. Just take the C train to 86th Street and then get on the crosstown bus.
Steve: Thanks, I got that app on my phone too so I should be good.
Eric: What is it that you do for work?
Steve: I’m a personal trainer for the Energy Club down in Richmond, Virginia.
Steve: Well I guess I’ll get going then. I’ll text you when I’m finished—
Eric: Yes, text me when you’ve had enough 16th century paintings and Egyptian ruins and don’t let them scam you with that, “suggested donation,” bullshit—that is the real propaganda of the day—you can give them as little as a penny. Don’t let them guilt you into more.
Steve: Good to know.
Eric: And if you like theatre—
Steve: I really don’t.
Eric: My girlfriend Elise’s theatre company is doing a tremendous production tonight in Alphabet city.
Steve: What’s it about?
Eric: Something with homosexual vampire unions during the middle ages—I’ll text you the link.
Steve: That’s okay. I’ll just see you at that election party.
Eric: Yes. We will celebrate!
Eric: Steve, old friend, you will not regret this. I will prove to be an excellent host. I can make us coffee each morning and I have a wide variety of mayo clinic literature in the bathroom.
Steve: Well I guess I’ll just be getting my key from you then.
Steve: Yeah, the key to your apartment.
Steve: So I can let myself in and out. Since I’m paying to stay here.
Eric: Oh fuck you need a key.
Steve: I do need a key.
Eric: Tell you what old friend, right by Charleston’s there’s a fabulous bodega/tax consultant/photo ID place that makes keys. We can stop there and get you one. I’ll buy you a chai while we wait. Sound good?
Steve: Well I guess I don’t really have a choice here. Do I.
Eric: Steve. Have you ever heard of Washington Heights?
Steve: The musical?
Eric: The neighborhood. Old friend, it is a most exciting place, with most exciting people. You’re going to love it.
Steve: Oh God what did I get myself into…
Eric: Fun. You got yourself into fun, Steve. It’s a holiday. Live a little.
Steve: Do we take the bus?
Eric: No, my friend, we must take the A train. And she is a magical train indeed. Shall we?
Sarah Congress graduated in 2013 with a BFA in Dramatic Writing from the Conservatory at SUNY Purchase College. She spent a year working as the Literary Manager of the New Jersey Repertory Company before moving to New York City to pursue her playwriting career. Her plays The Legal Secretary, Master Matthew, and The Death Play…or What is Brad Doing in the Supply Room Closet? have all been published on the indie theatre now website (http://www.indietheaternow.