Act II, Section Two of An American Book of the Dead - The Game Show. . .
Fun Fact: This section is, among other things, my humble homage to the deeply inspiring works of Thornton Wilder, most especially the wonderful ten-minute gem "Pullman Car Hiawatha". Bonus points to anyone who finds my not so subtle reference to this play.
Act II, Sect. 1
(. . . Jacqui fires. The stage goes dark except for a panel that reads “The # 7 Train Game”.
A special isolates Jacqui center. An announcer is heard overhead but the amplification is crackly and garbled, like an old, worn out transit p.a.:)
ANNOUNCER: This is the number seven local to Flushing. Step in and stand clear the closing doors.
(There is a two-tone chime, then the sound of the doors closing. Random white lights flicker past as the train squeals around a corner. The Host, wearing a transit conductor’s hat, and holding a stainless steel subway pole, steps into Jacqui’s light. Jacqui grabs the pole to steady herself.)
HOST: Hi, there.
HOST: Welcome to the Number 7 Train game. First things first. Do you know who you are?
JACQUI: Who’s Jacqui Potts?
HOST: Exactly. Now, do you know where you are?
JACQUI: Uh... mmm... Brownies brilliant?
HOST: Right again. You left Nathan’s apartment and wandered to the Times Square subway station. There you stumbled your way down to the lowest platform: the line buried beneath all the others. The number 7 train to Flushing.
(The train lurches, and Jacqui loses her grip, stumbling sideways, just barely catching one of the straps. The lights blink at a gap in the third rail.)
HOST: Why are you on a subway bound for Queens, Jacqui?
JACQUI: I don’t know.
HOST: Right again. You don’t know. And no one will ever know. It’ll be one of those glamorous mysteries: why on earth was Jacqui Potts riding the train to Flushing in a man’s bathrobe the night she died?
Now, Jacqui, look around, what do you see?
JACQUI: Um... a few people.
HOST: Yeah, not a lot at 4:30 on a Wednesday morning. What kind of people?
JACQUI: Riff-raff mostly. A pair of derelicts curled up sleeping. Some Puerto Rican youths.
HOST: Yup. On their way home from a graffiti blast in the Bronx. What else?
JACQUI: Er... bloke pawing a porno mag.... Leering at me now.
HOST: Yeah he is. What else?
JACQUI: Black woman in a nurse’s uniform.
HOST: Good. That’s good. Pick one.
HOST: Pick one.
JACQUI: Pick one what? What for?
HOST: No reason. Does there gotta be a reason? Pick one.
JACQUI: All right then. Black nurse.
(Wheels squeal and blue sparks fly. A spot lights a black nurse asleep on a subway bench.)
HOST: Good. That’s who you are.
(The Conductor goes over to the Nurse.)
Hello, ma’am. What’s your name?
FLORIDA: Florida Wilson.
HOST: What else?
JACQUI & FLORIDA(simultaneously): Jacqui Potts.
HOST: Jacqui Potts Florida Wilson, what year is it?
JACQUI & FLORIDA (simultaneously): 1976.
HOST: What year could it be?
HOST: How old would that make you?
FLORIDA: Sixteen years old, sir.
ANNOUNCER (but with a different voice): This is the Flushing El Local making all stops to Times Square.
HOST: Where you headed, Florida?
FLORIDA: Back to San Juan Hill.
HOST: What took ya to Queens?
FLORIDA: Heard there was some openings for colored domestics.
HOST: Were there?
FLORIDA: No. Stood on the corner with twenty other girls. Stood there all day. Last one to leave.
HOST: Look around, young Flori. What do you see?
FLORIDA: People. Not so many as on the outbound trains. Rush hour running the other way. Mostly down-in-the-mouth types. Spanish, Chinese, going into restaurant jobs. Couple Irish. Seven ain’t what you’d call a Negro line. Don’t go to Jamaica.
HOST: Pick one.
HOST: Pick one.
FLORIDA: I ain’t gotta pick one.
HOST: Well, strictly speaking, you do. Everyone does. But just this once, we’ll pick one for you.
FLORIDA: I ain’t gotta pick one.
(The train lurches. The tracks squeal, then comes the sound of the doors opening.)
ANNOUNCER (different voice): This here’s your elevated local IRT to Manhattan. Step in and stand clear the local.
(Chimes sound, doors close. A man in a thread-worn suit walks in and sits next to Florida.)
HOST: Hello there, sir.
PAULIE: Yeah. How ya doin’?
HOST: What’s your name?
PAULIE: Who wants to know?
HOST: Paulie what?
PAULIE: Paulie Scarola
HOST: Paulie Scarola, what else?
PAULIE & FLORIDA (simultaneously): Florida Wilson.
HOST: Paulie Florida Wilson Scarola, what else?
PAULIE, FLORIDA & JACQUI (simultaneously): Jacqui Potts.
HOST: Jacqui Wilson Paulie Potts Scarola. Where ya headed?
PAULIE: Where you think? Train goes to Manhattan.
HOST: What were you doing in Queens?
PAULIE: I hadda meet a guy. You a flat foot?
HOST: Nah, game show host. You ever ride this train before?
PAULIE: I dunno. Maybe.
HOST: Maybe when?
PAULIE: I dunno. Fifteen, twenty years ago. When I first come to this country, had to ride these stinkin’ trains. Fuggin’ depression then, too.
ANNOUNCER (but yet another voice): This is the Interborough Rapid Transit Elevated Express to Manhattan. Next stop Grand Central. Please step in and mind the closing doors.
HOST: This look familiar, 1919?
PAULIE: I sorry. I no speaka de English so good.
HOST: Where ya going, Paulie?
HOST: Paolo, dove vai?
PAULIE: Ah... Mulberry Street.
HOST: Of course. Mulberry Street. You gonna switch to the Lex line at Grand Central?
PAULIE: Yes. Gran Centrale. Si.
HOST: Look around. Cosa vedé?
PAULIE: Ah, many peoples. Many, many peoples.
HOST: Good. Pick one.
HOST: Prendi uno.
PAULIE: Ah.... Okay.... eh, the... eh...il prete.
HOST: The priest.
HOST: Bene, grazi.
(A special lights an empty seat. Half-light rises on Tom behind the Gatling. He gets up, and climbs down the ladder. As he crosses, the Spokesmodels dress him in a black cassock and collar. He palpably ages with each step. Finally he takes a seat in the lit chair.)
HOST: Hello, father.
FATHER TOM: Hello, son.
HOST: What’s your name, sir?
FATHER TOM: Thomas Howard Hennessy. But Father Tom’ll do.
HOST: Father Tom, what else?
JACQUIE, FLORIDA, PAULIE, FATHER TOM: Paulie Scarola Florida Wilson Jacqui Potts.
HOST: But Jacqui? Isn’t this your stop?
ANNOUNCER: This is 82nd Street/Jackson Heights.
(The doors open.)
JACQUI: Jacqui Potts gets off here. Deserted elevated station.
FLORIDA: The train pulls away.
PAULIE: But she’s still standing at the edge of the platform.
FATHER TOM: She looks down through the thick wooden ties.
JACQUI: One can see the street down there. There’s a car and a lorry, and another car-- a taxi.
FATHER TOM: She’s enraptured.
FLORIDA: She gets down on her knees.
JACQUI: One can see down right through the tracks.
PAULIE: She stretches out on the platform to get a better view.
JACQUI: There’s even a person down there. Hullo!
FATHER TOM: She’s amazed.
PAULIE: The garbage train operator doesn’t even see her.
(Bright flash of blue, then even brighter white.)
FATHER TOM: A lineman finds her decapitated body at five to six in the morning.
JACQUI: My head, oddly enough, is never found.
HOST: So Father Florida Hennessy Paulie Tom Scarola. What do you make of these new fangled rapid transits?
FATHER TOM: They’re marvelous. There’s nothing like a train ride, whether cross country or beneath the East River.
HOST: Y’know, they say by 1925 this’ll run clear to Flushing.
FATHER TOM (marveling): 1925. Clear to Flushing.
HOST: Where you coming from, Father?
FATHER TOM: Ah, a funeral in Woodside.
HOST: Say it’s 1936. Where might you be headed, 88 years old?
FATHER TOM: Ah, wouldn’t you know? A funeral in Woodside.
ANNOUCER: Flushing bound local. Watch the closing doors.
(A young woman steps on carrying an armful of text books. She sits across from Father Tom.)
HOST: Still riding the trains at your age?
FATHER TOM: I like the trains. On a train you know where you’re going.
HOST: Look around.
(Father Tom looks around.)
What do you see?
FATHER TOM: Plenty of people.
(The Host gestures, “You know what to do.”)
Let’s see. Yes. That one. The pretty little Jewish girl.
HOST: Any reason?
FATHER TOM: Always wanted to be a pretty little Jewish girl.
HOST: Sure. Who wouldn’t?
FATHER TOM: God help me if she doesn’t favor Sheila round the eyes.
HOST (to the girl): Hello, miss. What’s your name?
AISHA: Aisha Houry.
HOST: So not Jewish then.
AISHA: My parents are Lebanese. I am American.
(Florida Wilson gets up. The doors open.)
HOST: Hold that thought. This is Florida’s stop.
PAULIE: She lives another 60 years.
FLORIDA: The last five of ‘em in a nursing home in Trenton.
(The chime sounds and the doors close. Florida Wilson steps into the darkness.)
HOST: So Aisha Father Paulie. Where you going?
AISHA: My parents’ store in Elmhurst.
HOST: Where ya coming from?
AISHA: Hunter College.
HOST: What about 30 years from now? Say 1964?
ANNOUNCER: This is the Number 7 Redbird bound for the World’s Fair. Step in and do not hold the doors.
AISHA: I’m going to my medical clinic in Sunnyside.
HOST: What kind of medicine do you practice there?
AISHA: I’m an obstetrician. I perform any number of obstetric procedures... without passing judgement.
HOST: Understood. Look around Dr. Houry. What do you see?
AISHA: People packed in like pigs for the World’s Fair.
ANNOUNCER (annoyed): There is a train directly behind this one. I’m talking to you in the front! DO NOT HOLD THE DOORS!
HOST: Pick one.
(She points. Special up on a young man.)
HOST: Any reason?
AISHA: He’s big, handsome enough. I’m sure he does quite well for himself.
(The Conductor goes over to the man.)
HI: Hi there.
HOST: Your name, sir?
HI: Hi Pullman.
HOST: Where ya going, Hi?
HI: Shea Stadium.
HOST: Watch the game?
HI: Or play in it, if I’m lucky. I’m a reliever for the Reds.
HOST: Wow. That’s something.
HI: Yeah, just came up from the farm a week ago.
(Paulie Scarola gets up and walks to the doors.)
HI: Paulie Scarola dies of lung cancer in 1940.
PAULIE: Never made it back to Naples like I was hoping.
AISHA: Instead he takes the money saved for the trip and buys a handsome stone and a nice plot in New Calvary Cemetery.
(Paulie Scarola disappears.)
FATHER TOM: If you know where to look, you can see the marker from the train just beyond the 46th Street/Bliss stop.
HOST: So Hi Houry Father Pullman Tom Aishsa.
HI: Yes, sir.
HOST: Big shot ball player like you, why ride the subway?
HI: Number 7. Gotta be some luck in that, don’cha think?
HOST: Who knows? Ever think you’ll ride this train again?
HI: I might just ride it tomorrow.
ANNOUNCER (same voice as before): This is the Number 7 Redbird bound for the World’s Fair. Step in and do not hold the doors.
HOST: The very next day? How come?
HI: You kidding? Pitched three innings, yesterday, three up three down. Even bunted on. First base hit in the bigs. I’m tellin’ ya, this train’s got mojo.
HOST: If you say so.
ANNOUNCER: There is a train directly behind this one. I’m talking to you in the rear! You are holding this train up. DO NOT HOLD THE DOORS!
HOST: Hey, Hi. Look around.
HI (looking around): Damn. They sure do cram ‘em in.
HOST: Pick one.
HI: Wow, what a choice! Uh... How ‘bout the old lady there?
(A special lights an older woman, white gloves and summer dress. Hi stands and offers her his seat.)
MADDY: Thank you, young man.
HI: My pleasure.
HOST: Hello there, ma’am.
HOST: And what might your name be?
MADDY: Mrs. John Middlebury.... Friends call me Maddy.
HOST: Here for the fair, Maddy?
MADDY: All the way from Jefferson City, Missouri. Edna simply refused to ride with me-- not safe, she says. I informed her that I would go with or without her. I suppose I showed her.
HOST: I can’t help but suppose you did. Just a moment, Maddy.
Isn’t this your stop, Father Tom?
FATHER TOM: Why so it is?
(Father Tom gets up. The doors open.)
ANNOUNCER: This is Grand Central. Transfers available to--
HOST: And yours, as well, Dr. Houry.
ANNOUNCER: The 4, 5 and 6 trains.
AISHA: Really? That was quick. All right then.
(Aisha gets up and follows Father Tom out.)
ANNOUNCER: The shuttle to Times Square.
HOST: And Hi?
ANNOUNCER: Metro North.
ANNOUNCER: The Hudson Line.
HOST: This is you, too.
ANNOUNCER: The Harlem Line.
(Hi steps off.)
ANNOUNCER: And the New Haven Line.
AISHA: Father Tom expires the very next day.
FATHER TOM: Couldn’t’ve planned it better.
HI: Dr. Houry dies in 1978.
FATHER TOM: One moment I’m asleep, dreaming--
MADDY: Hi Pullman, nice young man that he was, meets his fate on a road outside Estes Park, Colorado.
FATHER TOM: The next moment, I open my eyes, morning sun streaming through the rectory window--
HI: She freezes to death on a mountainside in Nepal with her husband and two sherpas.
FATHER TOM: And-- poof-- my heart stops.
AISHA: Once the avalanche socked in our shelter we knew it was just a matter of time.
FATHER TOM: Just like that.
HI: Ain’t exactly an original story.
AISHA: So we rolled out our sleeping bags, got in them, and went to sleep.
HI: Peterbilt truck swings around the switchback taking up too much road. Swerve just a little too much to avoid it... and slam right through the guardrail. A thousand feet of thin air.
(Hi and Aisha step off into the darkness. Father Tom moves across the stage back to his gun, shedding his priestly garb and his years as he goes.)
ANNOUNCER: Transfer here to the 3rd Avenue El.
MADDY: Now isn’t that something.
ANNOUNCER: The Knickerbocker Express.
HOST: So Mrs. John Matilda Matty Middlebury--
ANNOUNCER: The Empire State Express.
HOST: --All the way from Jefferson City, Missouri--
ANNOUNCER: The Wolverine.
HOST: Look around.
ANNOUNCER: The Twentieth Century Limited.
HOST: What do you see?
MADDY: It’s empty.
ANNOUNCER: Bound for everywhere nowhere.
MADDY: And it’s dark out. How did it get dark out?
HOST: Well, Maddy, fact is you died on February 29 1972-- Leap Day. Your former maid Henrietta, on one of her regular check-ins, found you crumpled on the living room carpet.
MADDY: Henrietta always was terribly loyal. Long after I could afford her. I suppose I was her charity case.
HOST: Maddy, this is my stop as well; and I don’t want to alarm you, but I should give you some warning: you’re riding the 7 train, you’re alone, and you’re dead. Be careful.
Blink steps off. Sparks flash and wheels screech. After a while a black man walks up the aisle and sits two seats down from her. He stares dead ahead for a moment, then directly at Maddy. . . .)
ABOD-TGS Act II, Sect. 3