Sunday, June 21, 2020

Cancel Culture: A Ten Minute Play



Cancel Culture: A Ten Minute Play
Written: February 2020
By: Carolyn Bennett

Characters:
Carmen: 65
Jody: 55
David: 65ish
Taylor: teenager

Time: The present

Scene: Hall. A few celebratory helium balloons decorate the space. A tense Carmen places a table cloth on a table, smoothing and fussing with it. Jody enters.

Carmen: So?

Jody: Nope.

Carmen: So we have --

Jody: Nobody.

Carman: Nobody?

Jody: Nobody.

pause

Carmen: Nobody?

Jody: No .. body.

Carmen: Great. Just great. C’mon. There’s got to be somebody.

Jody pulls out list and reads

Jody: Winston Aaron no.  Carol Abascal, no. Janice Abbate, no. Pauline Abbott, no. Gina Abbruzzese, no, Moza Abbuhl, no --

Carmen: You’re going alphabetically.

Jody: I’m going alphabetically. I can go by street address or postal code if you want.

Carmen waves Jody off. Her phone rings. Carmen answers.

Carmen: Hello it’s Carmen. Oh, it’s you. Yeah, yeah. See you soon.

Jody: Dave?

Carmen: Dave. 

Jody: Dave counts.

Carmen: No he doesn’t – he’s my husband. Can’t you find someone? Anyone to volunteer?

Jody: You want me to find volunteers to volunteer for the volunteer appreciation night?

Carmen: It’s just a suggestion

Jody: Do you want me to pull people off the street?

Carmen: ... naw, better not.

Jody: I was joking.

Carmen: That’s how we did it in the old days. If we were short Meals on Wheels runners, we’d knock on a neighbour’s door and ask to borrow their kids for a few hours.

Jody: Really?

Carmen: No, but it sounds good.

Jody: Hmm. What about Irwin?

Carmen: Dead.

Jody: Dead?

Carmen: Dead.

Jody: Really? I just saw him last ... uh... yeah, so that’s why I haven’t seen him lately. What about Madeleine?

Carmen: Moved.

Jody: Craig?

Carmen: Hospitalized.

Jody: Agnes?

Carmen: Dead.

Jody: Doesn’t she have a .. proxy?

Carmen: This isn’t an election.

Dave enters with bags of chips, etc..

Dave: What time is it?

Jody: Quarter to.

Dave looks around

Dave: This is it?  Bumbaclot! Honest to god!

Carmen: Did you get Cheezies.

Dave: Yeah.

Pulls orange puffs out of shopping bag.

Carmen: What are these?

David: Cheesies.

Carmen: No they’re not. (Reads package) These are Cheesys. Cheesys with an “s” and a “y”.

David: So?

Carmen: I asked for Cheezies. With a “z” and an “ie”.

David: ... what are you talking about?

Carmen:: Did you get these at Dollar Tree? Our account is with Dollarolio now.

David: Then they should be pronounced Cheezzzeezz!

Carmen: Ok!  Let’s just calm down. Let’s regroup.

Jody: How about we just group.

Dave: (to Carmen) Look, sweets, you’ve had a good run. Done some good things around here.

Jody: Dave’s right, Carmen.

Dave: You’ve built playgrounds for kids. You’ve delivered thousands of meals to seniors. You’ve provided skills training for people living with disabilities. You’ve helped build the community up. But maybe now’s the time to say – fuck ‘em

Jody: Dave has a point, Carm.

Carmen: The Board is gonna be here any minute... we're screwed.. Can you be .. bigger.

Dave: Bigger?

Carmen: Yeah. Puff up your chest. Fill up the room more.  

Dave: You’re always telling me to lose weight. Now you want me to be bigger.

Jody: Maybe it’s time we took a package.

Carmen: Package? Of what? Where?

Jody: No, a package. As in thanks for your dedicated service, blah blah blah, here’s two years salary and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Dave: There’s a package? What about for volunteers?

Jody: You might get doughnuts.

Carmen: I haven’t heard anything about a package.

Jody: That’s because you don’t hang out in the lunchroom.

Carmen: My work here is not done.

Jody: But it looks like the work around here might be done.

Carmen sighs, busies herself with the Cheesys, goes off stage to look for a bowl.

Dave: There’s a package?

Jody: There’s talk of a package.

Dave: I wish there was more I could do. Could have done. I mean, I know --
Jody: -- you weren’t well, Dave. You’re better now. You didn’t plan to get sick. You’re helping us now.

Dave: I’m not bringing in any money.

Jody: That will come again.

Carmen returns with Cheesys in a bowl, and looking at her phone.

Dave: Will it?

Carman: Linda cancelled. That makes it official. Not a single volunteer is coming to the volunteer appreciation night.

Dave: I’m here.

Carmen: You don’t --

Jody: -- That’s right, Dave’s here.

A door sounds off stage. Footsteps. They turn their heads towards the sound.

Carmen: I think the Board’s here.  Bet you it’s Charles.

Jody: Maybe the volunteers will show up. Later.

Carmen: He’s gonna give his speech and leave. (beat) We tried. We’ve tried all our lives.

A teenager wearing a backpack enters. She stops. She looks at them and they look at her.

Carmen: Can I help you?

Taylor: Is this, uh --

Carmen: Are you looking for the teen writing club? It’s down the hall.

 Taylor: (looks at her phone then texts. Beat) Is this .. are you, Carman?

Carmen: Yes.

Taylor: Hi. (extends hand). I’m Taylor.

Carmen: Hello.

Taylor: Yeah, um, the Board of Directors couldn’t make it tonight, so I’m filling in.

Jody: You?

Taylor: I know, right?

Carmen: What do you mean the Board couldn’t make it?

Taylor: The Board.. for the non-profit. This one.

Jody: No one? All five members?

Taylor: Everyone is busy. So I --

Dave: Volunteered?

Taylor: I know, right?

Dave extends his hand

Dave: Nice to meet you. Look at that – we have a volunteer!

Taylor: (shakes his hand) Nice to meet you too. I’m Taylor.

Dave: I’m Dave. A volunteer.

Taylor: Mr. Weal – Charles – is my dad. So is this it? Did I miss it? Is it over, or what?

Jody: Uh, yes. Yes, we’re just wrapping up --

Carmen: No we’re not, we’re --

Taylor: -- I’m a complete dumbo when it comes to time. My phone says it’s 2 a.m. It thinks it’s still in Paris. It has a mind of its own. And honestly, I’m too, I don’t know, kinda depressed to change it back.

Carmen: The appreciation night hasn’t started yet. No one has shown up.

Beat. Taylor laughs.

Taylor: That’s hilarious!

Jody: Carmen – you crack me up.

Jody laughs, then stares at Dave to laugh. Dave starts laughing. Carmen glares at them.

Taylor: Listen, I have remarks I have to deliver on behalf of the Board. Is it okay if I just say them to you?

Jody/Dave: Yes         Carmen: No.

Taylor: Thanks so much. This won’t take long.

She clears her throat and reads off her phone. She struggles with it.

Taylor: Thank you ... placeholder ...for your kind introduction. MPP Saunderson. Your Worship. Reverend Livingston. Ladies and Gentleman. I am pleased to --

Jody: -- Taylor, why don’t you stand over here so we can see you better.

Jody moves Taylor over to one side, so she stands in front of Jody, Dave and Carmen

Jody: Better.

Taylor: Thank you .. placeholder --

Jody/Dave: Carmen--

Taylor:  Thank you Carmen, for your kind introduction. MPP Saunderson. Your Worship. Reverend Livingston. Ladies and Gentleman. I am pleased to join you tonight to celebrate the women and men who give so freely of their time to be of service to our community. What is a volunteer? According to the Cambridge dictionary, a volunteer is a noun that means a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it. According to Merriam dash Webster dot com, a volunteer is a noun that means someone --

Carmen: You don’t have to do this. It’s fine.

Taylor: Yeah, this is awkward. There's just one important thing I have to tell Carmen and Jody in private. Is that --

Carmen/Jody: Yup/us.

Taylor: O.k.

She looks at Dave

Dave: I’ll go stand over there.

Dave stands apart from the women.

Taylor: OK. (reads from her phone) The Board has entered into an agreement with TockTech to acquire humanoid robots for elder and child care duties. This may result in redundancies within the organization.

Carmen: What! No. No No, stop.

Taylor: That was the whole message anyway.

Carmen: No. The Board bails on volunteer appreciation night, and then send a kid  -- no offense -- to tell us we’re being replaced by robots? You know what? Fuck ‘em!

Jody: (laughs uncomfortably)– Carmen you’re hilarious. Isn’t Carmen hilarious Dave?

Dave: I dunno – is she? Am I supposed to listen?

Carmen: Actually, they can go to hell.

Jody: Oh Carm, you really are killing it.

Taylor:  Oh gosh, I gotta show you something else.

Taylor digs in her backpack and pulls out an Alexa type speaker device

This is part of the new AI social services thing the Board wants to initiate.

She places the speaker on the table

Go ahead. Ask Hubert anything.

Jody: Hubert?

Speaker voice responds

Hubert: The capitol of Ethiopia is Addis Ababa.

Jody: Are you taking our jobs?

Hubert: Not me, but an army of cute, cuddly robots.

Dave: What about volunteers?

Hubert: No we still need humans for that.

Dave: Good luck, voice in the box!

Hubert:  Do you mean Jack in the Box?

Carmen: Do we get a package?

Hubert: That is TBD. Confidential.

Carmen and Jody react

Taylor: Hubert. Reassure these agitated older people.

Hubert: (softly): Sssshhh. There, there. Sshhhh. Repeat after me. I’m not lonely.

Dave: I’m not lonely.

Hubert: I’m not lonely.

Dave: I'm not lonely

Carmen looks bewildered. Taylor puts a hand on her shoulder.

Taylor: It only works if you participate.

Taylor pulls her hand away from Carmen's shoulder, wipes her hands with sanitizer, and exits.

Soft spotlight on Dave, Jody and Carmen fades as they speak

Hubert: I’m not lonely.

Dave//Jody: I’m not lonely.

Hubert: I’m not lonely.

Dave//Jody: I’m not lonely.

Carman: I am.

Black

End


Thursday, April 30, 2020

Elevator Pitch: April 2020, Toronto


          

          The elevator slowed. The 68 button lit up.
          "Don't come in. Don't come in . Don't come in."
          The elevator stopped at the 68th floor.
          I searched for the close door button with my elbow, aimed, and leaned my weight into it.  For crying out loud, I was only going to the pharmacy to buy some generic desloratadine. Yes, I should have be shopping for a month's worth of groceries, but I get them delivered and besides, I was ready to rip out my eyes and serve them up to my followers on Instagram. Here -- have my itchy, watery, burning eyes, bitches.
          The doors parted with a tinny rumble. For a moment, stillness, as if someone had snapped a photo. The taupe wall, the utilitarian mauve carpet, someone's ideas of 2015 functional opulence. I was suckered, I must admit. I'm no longer a suckee. I got wise.
          And that's why I dread seeing him.
          I didn't know I was holding my breath, my hope was that intense. I tucked my head down. Please don't let it be him.
          The first thing I saw were his black 10 percent leather Oxfords and his statement socks, socks detailed with intricate mushrooms. Even through my blurry vision, I could see mushrooms, like hovering spaceships. I wish.
          I kept my head down, but there was no point. Sometimes you have to look your tormentor in the eye.
          He began. "Okay. How about this. Masks for dogs."
          He had his grey blazer on, again, of inferior make, but business casual passable. I had to, had to respond because I'm conditioned by god knows what to be accommodating, even to this guy.
          "Being made by the thousands in Oklahoma as we speak." I kept my fists clenched in my hoodie pockets.
          "Okay." He drummed his fingers on his smooth shaven cheeks, again, kudos to him. "Cats?"
          "Probably. Look, I don't want to appear--"
          "What about a show about a guy, a sales guy who's been laid off, who ... hustles his neighbours to invest in his ideas?"
          I shot a desperate look at the floor button panel. Buttons lit up in succession-- 60, 59, 58 -- wasn't anyone in the building going out for air?
          "Or delivering balloons to construction workers? To cheer them up? They're front line workers, aren't they? Or what about -- the Real Housewives of Toronto, but they're all drag queens? That's good! Don't you think that's good?"
          The elevator slowed and stopped at the 49th floor. The doors parted to reveal a young woman wearing a rhinestone mask and clutching an Affenpinscher. She saw us and shook her head.
          "No. it's okay!" I said. "There's enough room in here. We can fit three."
The elevator doors closed as she took a step back.
          "Robots. I mean, come on, it's about time. A little after the fact, even. Hair cutting robots?"
          "Prototypes in Japan. They also cut your toenails and give you a massage." I couldn't bring myself to tell him about the happy ending.
          "A vaccine?"
          "Of course."
          "Yeah, I can't get that together" He tapped his forehead with his index finger.
          I cursed my laptop's camera. Communication, I have come to understand, is not always an individual's obligation to society.
          "Listen," he spread his hands wide, by his own side and at a safe distance, "one channel. For everything. For our televisions, for our dishwashers, our beds, thermostats, heartbeats, cars --
          "Internet of Things. Now please, I have nothing to --
          "But you do, Jessica. You're an influencer. You have a million followers. And I'm just some guy. You know what I have in my fridge? A quarter of a burrito and truffle poutine from last week. I don't want to go to the food bank! How about -- hair extension extensions?"
          The elevator dropped, kept dropping, down, down, and bereft, I saw my eventual death, and his eventual death, as frivolous. Still, I caught his pleading gaze. There was nothing I could do.
          "Let me see what I can do."
          He grinned weakly. He was no idiot. Between us nothing but white noise, then his "thank you."
          Small mercies. Desloratadine was on sale.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Letters from a Community Non-profit Worker. Toronto. 2020




 January 13, 2020. Dear Mother. You've been dead for almost two years and now I can finally get a word in edgewise. It feels strange not hearing your criticism and sarcasm. I have a reservoir of your greatest hits to drawn upon though, so I'll continue being hard on myself in your absence.
          You may be pleased to know I've been hired by a non-profit where I've been volunteering. The non-profit is a community support service that helps seniors and persons living with disabilities. I have no kids and have had a good run in the arts, so the lousy pay is not a deterrent. I have enormous respect for the staff, so if I keep my mouth shut and do as I'm told, I should be able to hold down this job for a month or two. A tall order, I am aware. Cautiously yours, Carolyn.

January 31, 2020. Dear Mother: I'm being trained on a client management computer system. The Meals on Wheels (MOW) Supervisor instructs me orally, and I write down every word. I compiled all the information she's given so far and wrote up a procedure manual, which I presented to her. She sniffed and gave me a curious look. Am I odd to do this? Why can't I trust my memory? Oh yeah -- all the pot smoking I did as a teenager. Riighhhtttt.

February 3, 2020.  Dear Mother: I overheard a video coming from the desk of C., the PSW Supervisor with whom I share an office. One of her PSW's brought the video to C.'s attention. The video sounded the alarm about the novel coronavirus that's due to spread globally. "The World Health Organization doesn't have a clue and isn't equipped to deal with this," insisted a woman's voice. "This virus is spread through the nose, mouth and eyes. Governments are doing nothing. They're carrying on like it's business as usual. Millions of people are going to die."  When the PSW left the office, I went over to C's cubicle and questioned the news source. A virus transmitted through the eyes? Sounds like science fiction to me.
          This job is far more stressful than I ever imagined. The title of Office Administrator was false and misleading advertising. It's more like Lackey for Every Department Chronically Understaffed.

February 11, 2020. Hello Mother: I am home sick with a cough, headache and fatigue. Just taking the day off, mind you. How were you a nurse in a hospital oncology ward all those years and never call in sick? Maybe it's because you lived with six teenagers and a husband in a small house and work was your escape. Now your devotion makes more sense.
          I've been on this job for a month, and it's killing me. If I'm not scrambling to find enough volunteers to deliver meals to the community's most vulnerable, I'm desperately trying to update ancient files for an upcoming accreditation, clearing dishes and mopping floors at our community dining events, and booking clients for an income tax clinic. I feel like I'm not doing any one job well. Doing stand-up comedy to a roomful of drunken and hostile yahoos is a walk in the park compared to this. A walk in the park -- that would be nice. Yes Mother, stiff upper lip. I hear you.

February 28, 2020. Mother: One of the managers sent an email to the staff today, informing us that masks and gloves are available. She asked if I wanted a mask. "Why would I need one, I'm in the office," I said. She handed it to me. "You might as well take it." I accepted it. She's just doing her job.
          You know who need these masks? The volunteers. The poor souls that schlep meals out to the community. They need masks and gloves. No volunteer has asked for one yet, and I have been told not to offer any.

March 2, 2020: Dear Mother: This place could not run without volunteers. The ranks are sparse and dwindling. The Meals on Wheels Supervisor and I deliver meals more often than not because there aren't enough volunteers to cover our area. The ones we do have are loyal. Some are over 65, some live with disabilities. Most have been with us for over 10 years. Every day I tell them how great they are. Why do they volunteer? Why did I volunteer? To serve others, with no strings attached. It's as simple as that.

March 6, 2020: Mother: The stress is getting to veterans on staff. I hear C. reprimanding her charges now and then and letting out a loud "help me Jesus!" when the CEO bustles in unannounced. At first I chuckled at C.'s cries, but soon realized she wasn't being ironic. Every now and then I'll hear gospel music or Christian hip hop and rap coming from her cubicle. I am surrounded by people of faith.
        I admire them for their reliance on a higher power. My higher power these days are the PM, the Premier and the Mayor.

March 19, 2020. Dear Mother: The community dining and wellness programs are shut down. Once busy dining areas for seniors are empty. Volunteers now have disposal gloves to wear when delivering meals. Masks are still not available. The only programming still going is Meals on Wheels and Personal Support. Covid-19 is closing in on us. Paradoxically, the job has never been easier. I am on my own now; the MOW Supervisor is home with her kids. My little MOW computer procedure manual has come in very handy. Life is being whittled to the basics.

March 26, 2020. Dear Mother: How did you face death while on the job? How did you face your own death? I speak with frightened, lonely seniors on the phone, assuring them that they'll receive their meals, that our service will not stop. I think about the dear faces who answer the door when I knock, and how they might be gone in an instant. Now I leave the meals at their doors, knock, and hear myself say 'have a nice day' from a hollow distance.
          The Christian rap plays at a steady rate from over the cubicle divide these days. I never thought I'd say this, but help us Jesus.



         




         





Tuesday, December 17, 2019

How to Promote Your Debut Novel Without Money, Social Media, or a Publicist


My debut novel Please Stand By has been on the shelves for a month and a half now. In that time, I am delighted to say that over 200 books have been sold. Some of you might be thinking “that’s pathetic”. Yes, I know Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments sold over a hundred times that amount, but that’s only because she is an enormous success. I would be embarrassed to be that talented.
You may wonder how I’ve managed to sell over 200 books without any publicity. What follows are my ten tips for promoting your debut novel without money, social media posting, or a publicist:

1. Come From a Big Family:
My extended family is big, with the mouths to match it. Thank god for catholic guilt. My siblings and their friends have probably snapped up 50% of the books.
2. Cry In Front of Your Audience at Readings:
First of all, give readings. Then make sure you cry in front of your audience. Mention having a mysterious illness, or that you are being renovicted.
3. Have Giveaways:
This is recommended on Goodreads. Everybody wants something for free. Give some books away. Hand them out at busy street corners, at the laundromat, on the subway. Go table to table in restaurants – compete with the rose sellers.
4. Get on Television:
Everyone focuses on social media, but don’t discount good old fashioned television. Stand behind a reporter and wave your book at the camera. Car crashes and murder scenes
attract more eyeballs, so get a radio scanner and find a police channel relaying the latest tragedy near you.
5. Be in a Car Crash, or Involved in a Murder:
A little extreme, but how far are you willing to go for readers?
6. Go on Tour:
There is no need to only do readings in your home town. Hit the road. Cheap means of transportation include boxcars, airplane engines, and bus roofs.
7. Run Naked Through the Streets:
A classic attention grabber. Grabber? That’s what he said! ... and promptly got arrested for.
8: Network:
This is standard advice, but raise it up a notch. Go to conferences – any conferences. Dental associations, gemmological conventions, toy train shows – those in particular
are known for their lonely men. These fellows are likely to buy anything from a woman who pays attention to them.
9: Get Your Book Reviewed:
This can be tough, but not impossible. It helps if you have a common name, like Carolyn Bennett, James Patterson, or Stephen King. Blackmail book columnists. Tell them you have compromising photos of them the public may want to see.
And finally:
10: Write something offensive:
It has to be offensive enough to attract the attention of all the political spectrum, but not so offensive that it’s delegated to the nutter bin. Lean toward outrageous, rather than putrefying.
Good luck!
You, the Russian spies, lonely people and bleary-eyed internet addicts who stumble upon this blog may have noticed I have not updated it in some time. That is because I know have a website:


You can read the latest nonsense from me there.
Finally -- Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Bennettworld and all my imaginary employees.
Warm wishes from a tolerable 2020.