SETTING: Dark and dingy room with chairs arranged in a small circle in the center. While the space is now being used for group therapy, it is often used as a place for the mafia to have meetings. There is at least one world map on one of the walls.
TIME: Current day.
JACK: Male, mid-thirties. Upbeat and overly enthusiastic, clearly an act. Director of “I’m Single, I’m Lonely, My Friends Are Sick of Hearing Me Complain So I Paid a Ten Dollar Entry Fee to Share My Feelings in This Group and the Beverages Are Lukewarm I Hate Everything” night at the Basement Club. He does it because he is addicted to crystal meth and needs the money to pay his dealer.
TONY: Male, late-twenties. Obviously extremely self-conscious, sensitive, and insecure. Very pale.
RAMONA: Female, late-twenties. Plays goody-two shoes, born-again Christian. Used to be very radical and edgy, which still shows at some points, but she tries to suppress it.
MARK: Male, mid-twenties. Asian-American. Uncertain about his culture and which part of it he wants to embrace; in other words, he is torn between the two. Overly sensitive to any type of remark about his race/ethnicity/culture. Can be abrupt.
FRANK: Male, mid-thirties. Cynical/negative about love, claims to want nothing to do with romance or wooing a partner, etc. Bad at romance.
FRANCESCA: Female, mid-twenties. Does not warm up to people easily: gets a bad first impression from everyone. Quick to say “no” or criticize. Claims to only be interested in elderly people, but may ultimately be a closeted lesbian.
ROB: Male, late-thirties/early forties. A womanizer, regularly attends meetings to meet women. Sloppy, the type of guy that always has a beer in his hand. He is not afraid to get personal and ends up being very rational and straight-forward on a lot of things.
MELISSA: Female, mid-twenties. Aggressive and cold, but not totally unlikable. Has problems with accepting herself for who she is. Set in her ways and has a breakthrough at the meeting in which she decides not to change for other people anymore.
STELLA: Female, mid/late twenties. The “straight” character, which is ironic because she’s lesbian. Very matter of fact and provides commentary on the ridiculousness of the situations the other characters find themselves in.
(Lights up on JACK, TONY, RAMONA, MARK, FRANK, FRANCESCA, ROB, MELISSA, STELLA in an informal setting, sitting in a circle for a discussion. JACK is standing.)
JACK: Hello my single shining stars! Welcome to “I’m Single, I’m Lonely, My Friends Are Sick of Hearing Me Complain So I Paid a Ten Dollar Entry Fee to Share My Feelings in This Group and the Beverages Are Lukewarm I Hate Everything” night at the Basement Club! That’s ISILMFASoHMCSIPaTDEFtSMFiTGatBALIHE night at the Basement Club for short. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. I am so glad that all of you could make it. And it looks like you’re all first timers! Well except for you, Rob. Your individual attendance here goes directly to pay for my fake tan, did I tell you that? I love it! Do you want to tell everyone how this works?
JACK: Fabulous! Oh, you are so full of positive energy. Well, I suppose we can begin by going around the circle and introducing ourselves. Say your name and why you’re here. I’ll start. Hi, my name is Jack, and I’m here because I’m addicted to crystal meth and can’t get a job doing anything else.
MELISSA: I’m Melissa and I’m sick of being single because I don’t shave my legs. It’s too much effort.
TONY: Hi, I’m Tony. My ex-girlfriend’s parting words to me were that my skin is like skim milk: pasty white and blue under certain fluorescent lighting schemes. (He looks at his skin.) I mean, I guess that’s fair.
FRANK: I’m done with romantic shit, y’know? Shit like “The Notebook” and that handsome douche bag Ryan Gosling. Let me tell you something – “The Notebook” ruins relationships. It has the same effect on female romantic expectations that porn has on men’s. At my wedding, instead of crushing glass under the chuppa, I’m gonna stomp all over that god damn DVD. Oh, and I’m Frank. My friends call me F-Bomb for short.
STELLA: I’m a lesbian.
JACK: What’s your name?
STELLA: Stella. Like Madonna. Only more lesbian.
ROB: I’m Rob and I come here to meet chicks.
JACK: And how is that working out for you, Rob?
ROB: The last girl I took home from here turned out to be my first cousin once removed. I’d say things are going better than expected.
RAMONA: I’m Ramona, and last summer I got married to a male prostitute in Vegas. But Jesus loves me now.
MARK: I’m Asian-American. That means I’m also half-American, alright? I don’t fall asleep holding little plush Hello Kitty dolls and I don’t eat cats. I have a cat. His name is Marco and I love him.
JACK: The “I’m Ethnic and I’m Proud, Or Am I?” support group meets next door.
MARK: I know, I got kicked out last week for accidentally setting fire to the display of national flags on their wall.
MELISSA: I was there. It wasn’t an accident.
MARK: Yes it was, oh my God, you are so racist, assuming that I’m a pyromaniac just because I’m Asian.
MELISSA: What part of what I said could possibly make you think that’s what I meant?
MARK: All of it. I read between the lines.
MELISSA: You’re an idiot.
JACK: Now, now. This is a safe environment. Let’s clear this up. Is anyone in here racist?
(TONY shyly raises his hand.)
JACK: I’m going to pretend like I didn’t see that. Who’s next?
FRANCESCA: I’m Francesca. I’m a reverse cougar. So I guess that’s like, a sloth or something. I chase older men. Like, really older men. Like, Saturdays-are-spent-in-dialysis-centers older men.
JACK: What a quirky group we have here! I am just so excited. Aren’t you all excited?
RAMONA: According to the Bible, it’s a sin to show emotion other than complacency or guilt.
STELLA: What Bible are you reading?
RAMONA: The new American Bible by my born-again Christian friend, Christina. We’re starting a new sect of Christianity.
JACK: Well, here at “I’m Single, I’m Lonely, My Friends Are Sick of Hearing Me Complain So I Paid a Ten Dollar Entry Fee to Share My Feelings in This Group and the Beverages Are Lukewarm I Hate Everything” night at the Basement Club, we start off every meeting by chanting together. It’s to remind ourselves why we’re here and that there’s always room to improve. Ready? Say it with me. “I’m lonely and insecure.” Join hands.
ALL: I’m lonely and insecure.
ALL: I’m lonely and insecure.
JACK: Excellent. Especially you, Rob, now that you’ve sobered up and your drunken slur is gone, I can finally understand what you’re saying.
ROB: Two days sober.
JACK: Snaps for Rob, everyone. (Some people snap.) Now, the first exercise we’re going to do tonight is to practice asking people out on a first date. We’re all here because that’s a challenge for us, right? Yes. Say yes.
JACK: I’m glad we’re all in agreement. So, do we have any volunteers to go first? (No one raises their hand.) Alright, I guess I’ll just choose you at random. How about Frank and Anoosh? (FRANK gets up.) Is there no Anoosh here? This is embarrassing. Sometimes I subconsciously take boring American names and turn them into fun and spicy ones. Okay, I need another volunteer. I need a girl.
ROB: Don’t we all.
JACK: Francesca? (FRANCESCA stands up.) Both of you move to the center of the circle, please. Now, we’re going to choose a random location and time of day, and Frank, you have to ask Francesca out. What’s a good place?
RAMONA: Recycling center at Walmart, 2 AM.
JACK: Super! Okay, you two, have at it. No rules. Begin.
(FRANK and FRANCESCA awkwardly mime recycling cans.)
FRANK: Nice cans you got there.
FRANCESCA: (Turns to JACK.) Are you serious?
FRANK: I meant the bottles we’re recycling, god. Don’t be so conceited.
FRANCESCA: Oh, sorry.
FRANK: So, uh, where’d you get such nice cans?
FRANCESCA: Can you just use a different word? Like bottles?
FRANK: I’m just saying what they are. They’re cans. You’re recycling cans.
FRANCESCA: Well, now I’m recycling bottles. I got these nice bottles from a cocktail party I hosted the other night.
FRANK: Oh, fancy.
JACK: Come on, Frank, let’s speed things up here.
FRANK: (Aggressively.) Give me your number.
FRANCESCA: Is this a hold up?
RAMONA: (Calls out.) You sound like you’re mugging her.
ROB: This is pathetic. Lemme show you how it’s done. Sit down, rookie. (ROB gets up and pushes FRANK out of the way, who sits down.) Hey babe, you look like you need some help with those heavy cans.
FRANCESCA: Were you listening to anything I said before?
ROB: Hey, I just call ’em as I see ’em. Now, how about you and I go somewhere special and try being environmentally friendly in other ways, like being in a room together with the lights turned off.
FRANCESCA: I’m not doing this. (She sits down.)
ROB: Are you joking? I’ve used that line out of context and it still works.
FRANCESCA: Well, not on me.
JACK: Alright, let’s try something else. Let’s go around and say why our most recent relationship failed, and maybe we can build on that to ensure more gratifying and successful relationships in the future. Tony, why don’t you start? You’ve been pretty quiet.
TONY: Well, alright. I hate myself a lot, to the point where I defaced pictures of myself in my own high school yearbook. I’m really needy because I was the youngest of eleven children and my parents were too burned out to take care of me, so girls think I’m really clingy and stuff. And I’m not particularly funny or smart or nice-smelling. And I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but, if you haven’t noticed yet, my skin is kind of translucent and sometimes if I’m in the right light you can literally see the outline of my skeleton underneath my skin, which was only a turn-on once to a biology major I was dating. That was my last relationship. She left because she said I was a boring person that glowed in the dark.
JACK: Looks like you need some self esteem!
MARK: (Enthusiastically.) I can kinda see your skeleton right now.
JACK: Let’s not make fun of each other. This is a safe space. We can tell each other anything. For example, I’ve been constipated for over two weeks.
FRANCESCA: I have no idea why you would tell anyone that.
JACK: I don’t have the money to afford a physician, so I figure if I just say my medical problems out loud someone will offer to fix them. (Silence. JACK clears his throat.) Frank, why don’t you go next?
FRANK: I was left at the altar. Three times. By the same girl. I lost a ton of money on down payments for our party spaces and stuff. And I always had to take home all the food and I usually ate it within the first week, so now I have high cholesterol from excess consumption of those little hotdog things that are served for hors d’oeuvres.
STELLA: I’m a bitter lesbian. Those are independent of each other. I am just both of those things. My last relationship ended on mutual terms but I still threw a flower pot at her as she left for dramatic effect. I also hated that flower pot, so. Two birds with one stone, I guess.
ROB: I haven’t had a relationship in ages, man. I just move from chick to chick like tree frogs move between trees. If tree frogs move trees, like, once a day. I’m serious, guys, I only come here to meet girls. I take them in their vulnerable state and bring them back to my place or something and then they never hear from me again. I can say that because I’m not attracted to any of you.
MELISSA: You’re a pig.
ROB: That’s factually inaccurate.
JACK: And ironically, he keeps kosher.
RAMONA: Okay, so, like I said, my last relationship was with Julio, a male prostitute from Vegas. I had some really radical college years, and my parents wanted me to get married, so I felt pressured. And to get away from it all I went to Vegas with some of my girlfriends, met Julio at an Arby’s, and we hit it off pretty much immediately. Except he only spoke Spanish, and I had taken intro to Spanish my freshman year in college, so the only thing I really knew about him was that his favorite color was “azul” and that he took the “tren” to work. He proposed and I said yes and then I woke up sober the next day in some motel and saw this kind of fat Mexican guy in bed next to me and I was like, I can’t do this. So I opened one of the drawers in a dresser in my room and the Bible was there, and I read it until Julio woke up. Then I found Jesus and kicked Julio out forever. Now I’m looking for a nice pious boy to settle down with and raise a family and a farm. (Beat.) I see now that this was the wrong place to come to for that.
MARK: I’m just having an identity crisis.
ROB: Three time victim of identity theft, get at me.
JACK: This isn’t a competition, Rob.
MARK: I’m not talking about that. I mean, I’m an Asian-American and I’m really torn between the two. Like, some people want me to be Jackie Chan, and other people want me to be Chuck Norris.
STELLA: I really doubt anyone’s asked you to do that. You have the body of a pre-pubescent girl.
MARK: My point is, I don’t know who I am so it’s hard for me to be with anyone and be myself.
FRANK: Can we get Bob Saget in here on his knee offering some paternal advice while shitty elevator music plays in the background á la “Full House?”
TONY: Yeah, some of us have real problems.
MARK: Are you serious? I have the most real problem out of any of you. The rest of you are just insane. I’m having a genuine, somewhat intellectually stimulating psychological problem that reaches far beyond Rob’s libido or Tony’s glow in the dark skin. God, this is such a waste of my time.
JACK: Now, now, this is a safe place.
MARK: Shut up. Just because you keep saying that, it doesn’t make it more true. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’re in the most dangerous neighborhood in all of New York City in an underground space that serves as the mafia’s headquarters every other night. I’d hardly call this a safe place.
JACK: You try finding a space to rent for under ten pesos.
FRANCESCA: Why are you paying in pesos?
JACK: I steal money from my roommate and that’s the only currency he carries in his wallet.
MELISSA: You need a real job.
JACK: It’s impossible to find a job in today’s economy.
FRANCESCA: Can I talk? I want to talk. I like elderly men. I feel like that’s not normal.
STELLA: You like girls.
STELLA: You like girls. You’ve been staring at me this whole time, radiating pheromones.
FRANCESCA: No I haven’t.
STELLA: Don’t deny it. What are you so afraid of? Be proud of your sexuality.
FRANCESCA: I’m not gay.
STELLA: Why do you like elderly men?
FRANCESCA: Because they’re content with just sitting around all day. None of that lovey-dovey touchy crap.
STELLA: Do you ever make love to them?
STELLA: Do you like girls?
FRANCESCA: No. Stop. I don’t know. It’s none of your business.
STELLA: All I’m saying is, stop being scared of being gay or bisexual or whatever. You’re clearly with old men because you don’t like men. Just embrace whatever you are and ignore what other people think. They don’t matter. When I was seventeen I told my parents I was gay and they kicked me out of my house. I lived in a cardboard box on the street for six weeks. Now I live in an apartment with a steady job and nice clothes and I’m happy and really good at disassembling cardboard boxes.
FRANCESCA: You don’t know me.
STELLA: Do you sometimes make out with your female roommate?
FRANCESCA: (Reluctantly.) Yes.
STELLA: I know you.
FRANCESCA: I was Margaret Sanger for Halloween four years in a row when I was a kid.
STELLA: (Sing-songy.) Lesbian!
MELISSA: My turn. I am sick and tired of having to change for the men in my life. My dad wanted a son so he didn’t let me wax my lady mustache when I was a kid and I went to prom with my hick cousin. Then my college boyfriend hated my nose and essentially forced me into getting Barbara Streisand’s nose by plastic surgery because he loved Jewish artifacts, and then a month later he left me to save whales in the Arctic. Then my most recent boyfriend said he didn’t like my Brooklyn accent and asked me to permanently speak in a British accent, so now I don’t remember what my real accent is and no one loves me for myself. I always have to change and I hate it.
TONY: I mean, you didn’t have to make all of those changes. You could have just said no and left them.
MELISSA: But then I would have been alone. Being unhappy is better than being single.
RAMONA: That’s what I used to think, but then I found Jesus.
MELISSA: Jesus was the name of my last boyfriend. I found him, too, but passed out in an alley after a bar fight. Our first date was in a twenty-four hour clinic waiting room.
FRANK: I hate everything.
(ALL mutter in agreement.)
FRANCESCA: This sucked. I want my money back.
TONY: The only thing I’ve achieved tonight is finding more reasons to kill myself.
MARK: Oh, did you see the “Golden Girls” season three DVD in my bag?
TONY: Yeah, I didn’t know they released that on DVD. That went in the cons side.
ROB: (To JACK.) I’m leaving, man. This was really sub par. I mean, most of these meetings suck. But at least last week there was that go-go dancer who had tattoos of clothes on her body, but wasn’t actually wearing clothes.
RAMONA: That’s disgusting.
JACK/ROB: I kind of liked it.
MARK: Let’s go, guys.
JACK: No, you can’t go. I need this money.
MARK: Too bad. We’re wasting our time here.
JACK: Please. (He moves to block the door.)
ROB: You gotta let us go man. Give us back our money.
ROB: Jack. Move outta the way.
JACK: I won’t do it.
JACK: (Pulls out a gun.) I didn’t want to have to do this. (ALL except JACK back up.)
ROB: What the hell, man? This isn’t cool.
STELLA: Where the hell did that gun come from?
JACK: The landlord gave it to me. He said that I might need it if I’m renting out this space. Because of the mafia and everything.
STELLA: Cool it.
JACK: I need this money. I owe my dealer over four hundred bucks and if I don’t pay it by this Friday he’ll kill me. He’ll kill me. I’m not ready to die. There’s still so much I haven’t seen. I know this is a scam. I know it is. Just put your entry fees on the table and I’ll let you go.
TONY: Alright. Alright. We’ll all put our money down on the table. Right, guys?
JACK: No one leaves until everyone puts in ten dollars.
MELISSA: No. I’m not giving my money to this fraud.
TONY: Are you kidding me? He has a gun and you’re not willing to give him ten dollars to save all of our lives?
MELISSA: No. I’m making a statement. I’m done doing what guys tell me to do. I don’t want to give in money so I’m not going to give in money.
FRANK: Stop being a selfish bitch and put in your goddamn money. I’ll pay you back when we get outside.
MELISSA: No. It’s the principle of the thing.
FRANCESCA: I’ll tell you what the principle of the thing is. The principle of the thing is that you’re being an idiot and I will forcibly pry the money from your piggish hands if you won’t give it voluntarily.
MELISSA: Is that a threat?
STELLA: I think that is very clearly a threat.
FRANCESCA: Give me your goddamn money.
FRANCESCA: You made me do this. (FRANCESCA pushes MELISSA on to the floor and they start to wrestle.)
JACK: Stop! Stop or I’ll shoot! (They don’t stop. JACK shoots the gun and the shot punctures a map on the wall. No one is hurt.)
MARK: What the hell, man? You just shot Asia. You’re a racist! Racist! Racist! (He pounces on JACK. They fall to the floor and the gun is left unattended near the door. TONY picks it up.)
TONY: Everyone stop or I’ll shoot. (Everyone stops and looks at TONY.)
ROB: Put it down.
TONY: No. I’ve never felt this powerful. I feel like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me if You Can.”
TONY: (Points the gun at FRANCESCA.) I just do, okay? Ha! You all look so pathetic. So helpless. I can make you do whatever I want.
JACK: Just put it down. No one has to pay. I don’t care. Just don’t shoot.
TONY: Everybody do the worm.
TONY: You heard me. Everybody get on the fucking floor and do the worm.
TONY: (Shakes the gun.) Do it! (Everyone gets on the floor and tries to do the worm.)
FRANK: Alright, man, we’ve done the worm. Now put the gun down and let us go.
TONY: No, this is too good. Everyone say something nice about me or I’ll shoot.
MELISSA: Do you realize how pathetic you sound? You have to put people at gun point to make you feel good about yourself.
TONY: We’re all here. We’re all pathetic. Do what I say.
MELISSA: Your unibrow is subtle enough that I bet people with bad vision don’t notice it.
TONY: That’s not what I meant. Say something nice.
MELISSA: You’re handsome.
TONY: Do you mean that?
TONY: Say you mean it or I’ll shoot.
JACK: What’s wrong with you? Say you mean it.
MELISSA: I’m not feeding into this shit.
FRANK: Do you have a death wish or something?
MELISSA: I don’t know. I’m just not saying it. (To TONY.) You need to get over yourself. Yeah, we’re all pathetic, but waving some gun around isn’t gonna change that. Have you tried J-Date?
MELISSA: So you haven’t exhausted all your options yet. But I’m not going to tell you that you’re handsome to boost your self esteem when I don’t think it’s true.
TONY: I don’t want to hear this. I’ll shoot.
MELISSA: So shoot.
TONY: I’ll do it.
STELLA: You’re both fucking crazy.
TONY: I’m doing it.
MELISSA: Good, at least if I’m dead I don’t have to look at your unibrow anymore.
TONY: I don’t have a unibrow, you bitch. (TONY shoots. There is no bullet – the gun is empty. Beat.) Shit.
MELISSA: Knew it. My last, last boyfriend was a guns dealer and I knew from the sound of when Mr. Racist over there (gesturing to JACK) shot Asia that there were no more bullets left.
TONY: You’re a bitch.
ROB: I’m out. See ya next week, Jack. (ROB exits.)
STELLA: (To FRANCESCA.) Call me if you’re feeling lesbian. (STELLA exits.)
FRANCESCA: (To JACK.) The old guy I’m dating now takes medicine that has the same effect as crystal meth, if you’re interested in kicking your expensive drug habit.
JACK: You’re sweet. But no thanks.
FRANCESCA: Just trying to help. (FRANCESCA exits.)
MARK: (To JACK.) Do you mind if I take this map? It could be a really stimulating discussion piece for “I’m Ethnic and I’m Proud, Or Am I?”
JACK: Go for it.
MARK: (Takes the map. Disgusted.) Racist. (MARK exits.)
FRANK: (To JACK.) I’m heading out with Ramona. She’s gonna take me to some weird cult thing in Brooklyn.
RAMONA: It’s a naked prayer ceremony.
FRANK: Like I said, some weird cult thing in Brooklyn.
JACK: You two have fun.
(FRANK and RAMONA exit.)
MELISSA: (To TONY.) I think you owe me an apology.
TONY: I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.
MELISSA: Just say you were an idiot and that you’ll never point a gun at anyone ever again.
TONY: I was an idiot and I’ll never point a gun at anyone ever again.
MELISSA: That’s right. Go get a fake tan or something. Your skin is actually ridiculous.
TONY: I know. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just going to leave. (To JACK.) I’m sorry. (Exit TONY.)
JACK: (To MELISSA.) Looks like it’s just you and me.
MELISSA: Yeah. I think I’m gonna head out though.
(JACKS grabs MELISSA and kisses her.)
MELISSA: What are you doing?
JACK: I don’t know. I’m lonely.
MELISSA: You’re pathetic. (MELISSA exits and slams the door. Something falls and breaks.)
JACK: I need a new job.
Rachel Kaly, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Gold Key