All of my Virginia Film Festival podcasts can be found on the Charlottesville Podcast Network.
[I was cleaning up some old files and found this short playscript that I wrote way back in 2010. I remember very little about it, but I suspect that it was a writing exercise. This may have been the first thing I wrote when starting down this path of becoming a playwright. It is what it is.]
THE ACCIDENTAL VICTIM
(An office. Two chairs, back to back, face identical desks. NATHAN, a professional looking man in a suit, is on the phone at one desk.)
NATHAN: (on phone) No man, I’m telling you, the Knicks are absolutely gonna take it this year! What? The Bobcats? Are you on crack? (laughing) All right, you are on. You are on! I’ll catch you later.
(Nathan hangs up, but continues chuckling to himself. RORY enters, looking agitated. Rory is in a similar-looking suit, but somehow it just doesn’t hang on him as well. Disheveled is his natural state, but he looks visibly more unruly than what could be expected for an office. He hangs up his coat and sets down his briefcase.)
RORY: Hey, Nathan.
NATHAN: (drawing it out) Roooory! Good morning, man. Heh, do you believe Barnes down in accounts? He says The Bobcats are gonna take the championship this year. I told him he must be on crack!
RORY: I heard. Listen, I’m sorry to be late, but I saw the most amazing thing.
NATHAN: Did you catch the game last night? Did you see Ewing get that free-throw in?
RORY: Yeah. No. I didn’t see the game. But you won’t believe the accident I saw just now from the bus. You know the intersection near the park…
NATHAN: Green Park?
RORY: No, Tower Park. On Central.
NATHAN: By the stadium?
RORY: Like, six blocks away. On Central.
NATHAN: That reminds me, I gotta call Fred about tickets for next week.
RORY: So the bus stops right on 4th Street – you know, the four way stop by the entrance to the park…
NATHAN: Green Park?
RORY: No, Tower.
NATHAN: Near the stadium?
RORY: Not really! Anyway, some asswipe pulls around the bus and goes right into the intersection just as some other dickhead comes from the right…
NATHAN: Are you just getting here?
RORY: What? No, I’ve been here.
NATHAN: Tony came by about ten minutes ago, looking for you. Said he thought you’d be here at 9:00.
RORY: Well, I was late. There was this accident down by the park.
NATHAN: (starts to ask a question)
RORY: Tower Park! These two cars smack right into each other. I saw the whole thing from the bus. The car coming from the right just smashes into this a-hole who was trying to drive around the bus. Pushed his ass all the way across the intersection. People were jumping out of the way, there were pieces of metal and shit flying all over the place. I actually saw the face of the guy who got hit. He put his hands up, like this, and I could see him yelling “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu….!”
(Nathan just stares at Rory for several beats. Rory looks back in anticipation, waiting for some kind of reaction. Finally…)
NATHAN: I gotta go see Fred. See if he can get some tickets for next week. You wanna come to the game?
NATHAN: (exiting) Hey, Tony was looking for you.
(Nathan exits. The scene changes. The two chairs are pushed together. Rory is now back on the bus, on his way home from work, clutching his coat and briefcase, gazing out the window. Enter HOWARD, a fellow passenger so unkempt that he makes Rory look like Prince Charles. He’s probably crazy.)
HOWARD: (pointing to the empty chair next to Rory) This seat taken?
RORY: Uh, no. Go ahead.
(Rory makes room for Howard, who sits down. Rory looks a little distressed. He smiles and nods at his new traveling companion. Howard just glares straight ahead.)
RORY: (looking out the window) Oh, hey, look, they cleaned up after the accident this morning.
(HOWARD says nothing)
RORY: Geez, this morning on my way in, this asshole tries to pass the bus at this light. He roars out into the intersection and just gets smacked by this numbnut coming the other way.
HOWARD: Are you from the agency?
RORY: What now?
HOWARD: Have you been reading my journals?
HOWARD: I have seen the angels, and they serve coffee to you.
RORY: (really struggling with something to say) I like coffee.
HOWARD: What happened?
HOWARD: The accident. The two cars.
RORY: Oh! Really? Well, so this asshole goes into the intersection, and this other car just smashes into him and pushes him across the street. People are jumping out of the way, there’s metal scraping and shit flying everywhere, and I can see the guy in the car. He puts his hands up and he’s yelling…
(Rory pauses, looks around, then raises his hands and lowers his voice a bit)
(Howard, who has been watching Rory this whole time, raises his own hands and begins yelling)
(Rory stops, mortified, then tries to shush Howard)
RORY: Ah, this is my stop!
(Rory clambers over Howard and beats an exit. Howard is still going.)
HOWARD: …uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck! Ladies and gentlemen, I have seen the devil, and he carries a briefcase!
(Scene change. Rory’s house. He drags himself in, clearly exhausted, and drops his coat and briefcase onto a chair. Enter his wife, MARGO.)
RORY: Hey, hon’.
MARGO: I expected you home.
RORY: I know, I had to get off the bus. There was this crazy person.
MARGO: Your sister called. She wants to know if you’re still going to your parent’s anniversary party next week.
RORY: What? Yes, I already told her we’ll be there. Christ!
MARGO: Rory, please don’t swear like that.
RORY: Sorry. I just … we already discussed this. Did you tell her that we talked about this? I already said we’d go.
MARGO: Could you call her back?
RORY: No, I don’t want to get into it with her now. You won’t believe the day I had.
MARGO: It’s just that if you don’t call her, she’ll just keep calling back, and I don’t know what to tell her.
RORY: Tell her that everything is exactly the same as the last time we spoke! Jesus…
MARGO: Rory, please.
RORY: Sorry, again. I’ve just been dealing with idiots all day. It started this morning on the bus, when this ass…
(Rory stops, looks at Margo.)
RORY: …inine person tries to pass the bus at this intersection. Some … knucklehead is going the other way, and just smashes the … stuffing out of him.
(Rory sees that Margo is actually listening to his story. She looks a little worried.)
RORY: There’s glass and stuff all over the place, people are jumping out of the way.
MARGO: Was anyone hurt?
RORY: (thinking) No. It was a miracle. Everyone walked away. But I could see the guy in the car, and he had his hands up like this, and he was screaming…
(Margo is looking at him expectantly. Rory stops without finishing the sentence.)
RORY: But it was fine. No one was hurt. I was delayed getting to work.
MARGO: Well I’m so relieved. Are you okay?
RORY: I’m great. Sorry I was late. I could use a little dinner.
MARGO: I’ll get everything on the table.
(Margo exits, leaving Rory to look after her. He is quiet for a moment. Then he raises his hands, and ever so softly…)
(Rory picks up his coat and briefcase, and exits after Margo.)
My friends at Page To Stage Theater Company in Roanoke accepted this little script of mine in their show The 12 Plays of Christmas. Thank you to Vanessa Marie for directing, and David Beach and Johanna Cooper for portraying Chris and Eve. Text below.
CHRIS AND EVE
(The married couple’s bedroom. EVE is sitting on their bed, staring at an object in her hand. She
looks pensive and preoccupied. She is having a moment of silence.)
(CHRIS bursts in, talking a mile a minute and destroying her reverie.)
Do we have any more wrapping paper?
Sorry … what?
Aargh! All right. Well, they always open one present on Christmas Eve, right? So I’ll just
save that paper and re-use it to wrap the last of their presents for the morning.
Sonya got that book she wanted. And Lydia … I got her a gift certificate for Hot Topic.
Seventeen year old girls still shop there, right?
It was so much easier when they were little. We could just stick anything in a box with
colorful paper and they went nuts. What are you doing?
I was just having a moment to myself.
That sounds like a good idea.
(Chris plops down on the bed next to Eve and then immediately pops up again.)
(He pulls two apples out of his pocket.)
“Is that an apple in your pocket?” “Yes, but I’m still happy to see you!”
(He laughs at his own joke and looks at his wife expectantly.)
Read the room, Chris.
Sorry, yeah, you’re still tired.
(Chris offers his wife an apple.)
Would you like an apple, Eve?
(Chris flicks his tongue, like a snake.)
You never get tired of that joke, do you?
(Eve takes an apple. Chris tosses his apple up in the air like a ball and catches it.)
You remember that Christmas when the girls both got me baseballs?
They knew you liked the game.
They saw me watching baseball. I hadn’t tossed a ball in years, probably since Lydia
Do you still have them?
No, I lost my balls a long time ago. (indicating the apples) I meant to put these in their
stockings. Oh well.
(Chris takes a bite of his apple. Eve just puts hers down.)
CHRIS (indicating what Eve is holding)
What have you got there?
A pregnancy test.
Oh, I didn’t tell you. You remember Ken from work?
He’s got these woods behind his house and every year he and his sons go out and chop
down their own Christmas tree. Isn’t that great? It sure beats going to a parking lot and
buying one. He said next year we could come over and pick one out for ourselves.
You work with some nice people.
Yeah, I do. They asked about you, the other night, at the office Christmas party. Are you
feeling any better tonight?
A little. Right now I’m just waiting for you to catch up.
I suppose I should get back downstairs. Remember when it took us all night to get the
girls to go to bed on Christmas Eve, they were so excited? This is probably going to be
our last Christmas like this.
Why do you say that?
You know, Lydia’s going off to college next year. Sonya’s starting high school, and if her
older sister is any indication, we’ll just have another sullen teenager at home. Another few
years, we’ll be empty nesters.
Anyway, I’ll let you rest, but you should probably come down in a few minutes and say
(Chris walks to the door to leave and then freezes.)
And there it is.
(Chris slowly turns and, after a long moment…)
(Eve gives him a withering look.)
What does it say?
I haven’t looked yet.
You want to wait until the morning and open it with all the other presents?
No, I just … how did this happen?
The usual way. A boy meets a girl and they like each other very much…
No, I mean … I thought you were going through the change?
I haven’t changed yet.
Did you stop using … protection?
You don’t even know what I use, do you?
Are you throwing shade right now?
Sorry, I … I just wasn’t prepared for this. Aren’t we a little old…?
You mean, aren’t I a little old?
No! Obviously not. Unless…
(They both glance down at the stick in Eve’s hand.)
We’ll know in a minute.
How long have you suspected?
Everything has been irregular for awhile, but I’ve been a little off for a couple of weeks.
That’s why you missed the office Christmas party.
Right. And I’ve been feeling a little bloated and nauseous…
…and the mood swings.
Anyway, I was a little scared to check, but I figured it was time. (sardonically) Maybe
it’ll be our little Christmas miracle.
Christmas. I nearly forgot. What are the girls going to say?
They’ll be thrilled.
I … think so? It’s so hard to tell, especially with Lydia. How do you feel?
I guess it changes my plans.
Well suck it up, buster!
Wow! No, I mean my Christmas present to you this year. Should I tell you now?
Maybe you should.
I arranged for us to go hiking on the Tour du Mont Blanc.
Oh, that sounds nice!
If I’m doing my math right…
I might not be in any shape to hike through the Alps in August.
We’ll have to change all sorts of plans.
EVE (indicating the stick)
Should I look?
No, let’s wait. Just a minute. Right now, that stick is like Schrödinger’s cat.
You mean Mrs. Schrödinger next door? She’s got at least ten cats.
No, that’s Mrs. Metzner. Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment in physics.
I never understood how that works.
That cat is in a box with a flask of poison that has a fifty-fifty chance of killing it.
That’s just cruel.
It’s not a real cat.
Then what’s the point of this experiment?
The point is, until you look inside the box and observe, the cat exists in two states, both
dead and alive at the same time. Once you open the box, the universe decides which is
true and then that becomes the reality you live in.
So until we look at the stick…?
You’re both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time.
No wonder I don’t feel well.
So let’s not look. Let’s just stay in this reality for awhile. A reality where we’ve got two
teenage girls who get all of my attention, who are learning to drive and getting ready for
college, and who are leaving us in a few years to give me time to get to know my beautiful
wife all over again.
You’re not taking this at all the way I expected.
You’ve had a few days to think about this. I’ve had like four seconds.
Maybe you should take one of those seconds to ask me how I’m doing.
How are you doing?
I’m scared, Chris. While you’re thinking about college and changing your plans to hike the
Alps, I may have a human being inside of me. At my age. You’re worried about driving
lessons. I’m worried about breaking my damn hip during childbirth.
Ok, I’m all caught up now. I’m scared, too.
That’s more like it.
But you’ll be fine. You’re as healthy as a hor…
(Chris stops talking when he notices Eve glare at him.)
As a what?
…a hormonally … younger, healthy woman?
Whatever you decide, honey, I support you.
What do you mean decide?
I mean, you know, we’ve always agreed that women … if one of our girls, for example…
(Chris stops. If Eve’s looks could kill.)
We’re Democrats, for heaven’s sake!
There’s no decision here, Chris.
Ok, I agree.
I don’t need you to agree.
I know. I … am just shutting up now.
(The couple sits quietly together for a moment, not looking at each other, then stealing glances at each other, then both quietly laughing.)
Why are you laughing?
I’m not … well, a little bit. I just … I didn’t know we still had it in us. Just a few minutes
ago, I was feeling … old. But you were laughing, too. I saw you! What were you laughing
You know, it could be a boy.
Oh. I didn’t think of that. That’s scary. I know how to raise girls, but a boy? Still, that
wouldn’t be the worse thing. We could name him Christopher!
After you? Really?
No, after my father. He’d be Christopher the third.
Keep digging, Chris. I bet you could find one other name.
We could go out with Ken and his boys to chop down a Christmas tree.
He might be a little young to swing an ax. Also, the girls could help with that.
I know, it just opens up doors. I could finally use those baseballs the girls got me.
You’re kind of excited right now, aren’t you? We don’t even know anything yet.
Just trying to make the best of a situation. I mean, look at our girls. We’re pretty good
Should we look?
(Eve looks at the stick first, then shows it to Chris. They say nothing for a long moment,
then Eve takes Chris’s face in her hands and gives him a wet kiss.)
Happy Christmas, darling.
(Eve jumps up.)
We are hiking the Alps this summer! Look at that, I got my appetite back. (Eve picks up
Chris’s apple and takes a bite.) I’m going downstairs to see which presents the girls want
to open tonight. You coming?
I’ll be right there.
(Eve exits. Chris picks up the remaining apple and tosses it up and catches it a few times, like a
“It’s a long fly to centerfield, the sun is straight overhead, no human being could see the
(Chris “catches” the apple. He doesn’t notice that Eve has reentered the room.)
“He catches it! It’s a Christmas miracle!”
(Chris makes roaring sounds like a crowd, then turns to see his wife looking at him, amused.
He’s a little sheepish.)
Your girls are all waiting for you.
(Chris crosses to leave with Eve. She stops to give him a hug,)
Maybe we’re not too old.
You still got those balls somewhere?
I think I can find them.
Let’s go unwrap some Christmas presents.
(They leave together.)
As I have every year, I will be interviewing filmmakers and others guests of the Virginia Film Festival in the Filmmakers’ Lounge at the Whiskey Jar. All the podcasts will be posted on the Charlottesville Podcast Network here:
This summer, I wrote this little exercise inspired by Humpty Dumpty turning Donald Trump and friends into essentially a Warner Bros. cartoon. It was a bit of silliness written when we were still laughing at the Trump campaign.
I’ve told a few celebrity encounter stories on this site, so let me say right up front that I don’t know for certain that I spoke to David Bowie on the phone. But I think I might have.
It was the summer of 1984 and I was working in the Melnitz Hall offices on campus of the UCLA Film, Television, and Radio Archives. I had been a work study student in the radio archives before taking the full-time job, and so knew the collection pretty well. When a call came in for the radio archivist and he wasn’t there, the woman at the front desk routed it to me.
On the phone was a man with a very familiar-sounding British accent, asking me about the radio collection. He was particularly interested in radio dramas, so I gave him a partial list of our holdings and invited him to come in and peruse the rest. He was being strangely evasive but continued to keep asking about our sci-fi and BBC radio holdings. Finally, I just broke down and asked him his name.
“This is David Bowie,” he said, without any trace of prevarication.
Oh, I get it, I thought to myself. This was one of my actor friends playing a trick on me, knowing my fondness for the Thin White Duke. So I decided to play along. “Can I call you David?”, I asked. “If you like”, he replied.
I told him about some of our sci-fi and action-adventure holdings, such as Dimension X and Suspense. He also asked about comedy shows and seemed particularly interested in Jack Benny (which struck me as odd).
The entire time I was talking to “David”, I was pretty sure that I must have been actually talking to someone else who was just doing a killer David Bowie impersonation. I invited him again to actually come into the archives in order to browse our collection in person and to listen to shows in which he might be interested.
He took a long and thoughtful pause, and then replied “No, I better not. I’m just here for a little while to see my son. But it’s a secret, you see. The blokes at the Olympics asked me to perform at the opening ceremonies and I told them I couldn’t be in town. Be a good fellow and don’t tell anyone that you spoke with me.”
At that point, I will admit, I started becoming a believer. The 1984 L.A. Olympics were coming up and that seemed a curiously specific detail. He asked me if I had any children, and he spoke a bit about his son and how much he missed him following his divorce from “Zowie’s mum”. We talked for probably a good ten to fifteen minutes. Whoever this man was on the phone, be he David Bowie or some impersonator, seemed genuinely lonely and kind. At the end, he promised to call back in a few months once he had more time on his hands.
I never heard from him again, and nobody ever confessed to me the elaborate practical joke. Now, years later, I still don’t know for certain that I spoke with the actual David Bowie, but I think it’s okay to finally tell this story.
In the summer of 1977, I went back east to visit my dad. My sister and I were going to join him on a trip to the British Isles. I had heard of this film Star Wars, and when we passed through Manhattan, we saw people lined up for blocks to get into the theater. This being New York, the lines spilled out into the streets and cars were stuck in the ensuing traffic jams. Dad promised we’d see the film when we got back and, we hoped, the lines were a little shorter.
That trip was memorable for many reasons, but the day that sticks out now was this: we were staying in a small town in the north of Ireland. In the town square was a movie theater, and on the marquee it said Star Wars. Having just seen lines around the block in New York City just a few days before, we couldn’t quite believe that the same film was showing at this closed theater in this quiet little Irish town. We looked around the box office and knocked on the doors, but no one was there. A sign said that the theater would open at 5:00 PM, so we resolved to come back. Which we did, shortly before 5:00 PM, to avoid any lines. There were no lines.
The box office opened sometime afterward, and the theater manager (also the guy who sold tickets) assured us that yes, this was the same Star Wars. We asked him when the film would start and he told us in about an hour, so we bought our three tickets and, when it became clear there would be no line, we wandered around the town for a bit, making sure to get there before 6:00 so we could still get good seats.
That turned out not to be a problem as we three Americans were the first people in the theater. We sat and waited. And waited. A few more people came in and took their seats, chatting and eating popcorn. About 6:30, Dad went to find the manager to ask when the movie would start. He came back and reported that the manager told him the movie would start when the people got there. Every few minutes, that fellow would pop his head in, count how many seats were taken, then disappear again. Finally, once the theater was about half-way full — it was well after 7:00 now — the lights dimmed, the projector fired up, and we watched a short comedy about a fat man trying to get into a small boat. When that was done, the lights came back on, a few more people wandered in, and after a good twenty minutes or so the lights dimmed again and the feature began.
Many people have fond memories of their first time seeing Star Wars on the big screen: the whimsical “A long time ago…”, the now iconic Star Wars logo, the opening crawl and that stirring John Williams score. My fondest memory is turning to see my dad all wide-eyed, like a little kid, staring at space ships, and sitting in a theater where the entertainment starts when the people got there.
When I moved to Los Angeles in 1979, I became a fan of Lohman and Barkley, the KFI AM-640 radio comedy team that had been working together since the early 1960s.
Audiences tuned in by the thousands to hear Lohman’s quick wit and vast array of character voices play against Barkley’s straight man routine. Among Lohman’s characters were the obsequious con-man and alleged farm expert “Maynard Farmer,” whose toadying “That there’s the finest (whatever) that I’ve ever seen there, sir” won him numerous undeserved rewards; “Otis Elevator”, a good-natured handyman; “Judge Roy Bean,” a hanging judge, former big band leader and supposed ex-member of the Bee Gees; and human interest reporter “Ted J. Baloney” and his wife “W. Eva Schneider-Baloney”, the poetry lady who seemed never to have any poetry, who supposedly drove to the Wilshire Boulevard studio each morning on Ted’s tractor (and later, a fire engine with W. clinging precariously to the back) from their home in a tree house in Brawley, a real town in Imperial County, nearly two hundred miles (320 km) away. These characters and others were also regular occurrences in a segment called “Light Of My Life,” a spoof of daytime soap operas.
In 1983, I wrote to the station and they sent me a set of Lohman and Barkley paper dolls. I don’t know how popular these may have been, but I have yet to find any other images on the web.
My contribution to the October 2014 Live Arts Late Night cabaret.
With T.J. Ferguson, Kip McCharen, Eric Bryant, Chris Beale, and Christina Ball.
Written and Directed by Sean Michael McCord. Performed Oct. 4, 2014.
Full text below.
Last night’s Emmy Awards reminded me of a story about my dad. I last recounted this story in June when my brother, sisters, niece and nephew sailed out into the San Francisco Bay to dispose of Dad’s ashes. We all told a story about him, and this is the one I shared.
In 1983, I arranged for my dad and his wife Mary Lynn to get tickets to that year’s Emmy Awards show. It was a fun chance to hang out with well-dressed Hollywood stars, even though we were in the nosebleed seats. I get dressed up in my tuxedo (I still owned one then) and Mary Lynn put on a nice gown, but my dad showed up in a dark blue business suit.
I was a bit appalled. The invitation had clearly said “black tie” and he looked embarrassingly out of place in a sea of tuxedos and bow ties, but there was nothing to be done.
The lobby of the Pasadena Civic Center was very crowded and, since we weren’t VIPs, it took us awhile to even get in. Once we finally got inside, Dad excused himself to go to the men’s room. The rest of us found our seats and waited. And waited. It was getting very close to the start time and Dad still hadn’t made his way back to his seat. This was a live television show and I was concerned that if he didn’t return on time, he might get locked out. I was just about to go look for him when he showed up, looking a bit flustered.
“The strangest thing happened to me”, he said. “I was coming out of the restroom when someone grabbed me, said ‘There you are!’, and starting dragging me backstage. I didn’t know what was going on, but I eventually pulled myself free when I saw that he wasn’t taking me to my seat. The guy asked ‘Aren’t you part of the show?’, and I told him no and had to show him my ticket before he’d let me go.”
I should explain here that my dad was an incorrigible storyteller. I had shared many of his adventures and noticed that, in the retelling, certain elements had become, and I say this generously and with affection, exaggerated. I greeted his backstage tale with a healthy amount of skepticism, but let it go as the show finally started.
The 35th Primetime Emmy Awards are remembered mostly for the coarse language that came from the hosts, Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy. For viewers at home, a lot of it was bleeped out, but we got to hear everything in all of its original glory. Cheers and Hill Street Blues won a lot of awards. Judd Hirsch won for Taxi and gave a bittersweet acceptance speech since the show had recently been cancelled. We saw clips of Michael Jackson wowing the world from the Motown 25 special.
There is a time in every awards show where they explain how the votes are tabulated. It’s generally a low point, since it is difficult to make really exciting TV out of rules of accountancy. To spice things up that year, the president of the Academy came out and introduced the Price-Waterhouse dancers. As he explained how the votes were counted, out came a line of men in blue business suits, swinging suitcases and executing a well-choreographed dance.
I turned and looked at my dad, sitting next to me in his blue business suit, and he just responded with an arched eyebrow. I suddenly had a vision of him being pulled onstage with the dancers and stumbling his way through the number, all the while protesting that he needed to get back to his seat. He must have been thinking something similar, for we both burst out laughing.
I think we both received valuable lessons that day: Dad learned to pay more attention to the dress code, and I learned to not always be so skeptical of his wild stories.