Schnauzer—a play in one act
by David Yezzi
(Far-away sound of dogs barking. Water sound. Lights up on a swimming pool. CLIP in shorts and sunglasses dozes in a lounge chair, with a newspaper across his chest. He is listening to music through headphones and, in his conscious moments, sipping a gin and tonic through a straw. PAM, downstage, in a bathing suit and terrycloth robe is skimming the pool. Light reflects off the water onto her legs. After a moment . . .)
I am so . . . O, so, so, so, so . . . (She shudders.)
God . . . What is wrong with me? I’m such a baby.
Can you even hear me with those things on?
(Testing him . . .)
Whoa, something’s on the bottom
Some kind of animal, I think.
(Still no response.)
Okey-dokey. (Loudly.) What are you listening to?
(She waves. He removes his earphones.)
Hey! Are you listening to something good?
(Testily.) Nothing. It’s just . . .
The Stones. I’m listening to the Rolling Stones, ok?
Which album are you listening to?
(Exhaling loudly.) Exile, all right? On Main Street?
I’m listening to Keith Richards sing a song
called “Happy,” ok!? You happy?
(He stares at her. A pause. She goes back to skimming, then . . .)
Exile on Main Street. Is that your favorite?
Ah, mmm-hmm. Look, I’m listening. Okay? I’m listening!
(He holds up his iPod.)
(He shakes his head and puts his ear buds back in. Pause.)
(In a deep voice.) “Yes, Pam. Exile is a critical favorite
of the Rolling Stones, the culmination of
their classic period in the early 70s.
I particularly admire Keith Richards’ vocals
on this one, though some think he sounds too raw.
It’s really just a matter of taste.” And I
do have good taste. In music. You (she mouths silently) a-hole.
That’s one of the things you don’t know about me.
Or maybe you do know. I don’t know. Who knows?
(Mouthing again.) Check, please!
(A pause. Then, blithely . . .)
Always the clever conversationalist.
It’s okay, just ignore me. It’s fine with me.
‘Cause I don’t need to talk to anyone—
except maybe to a shrink (laughs); that would be nice.
I mean, I used to need it, need to talk.
Talk to people. Talk to other people.
But not anymore. I gave it up. It gave
me up, I guess, might be the way to put it.
Oh god, not you. I don’t mean that you did,
not you all by yourself, in isolation.
But everyone. And sometimes I go days
without talking to another living soul.
Well, pleasantries. Like “Have a nice day, Charles.”
Or “Could you drop my dress off at the drycleaners?”
But that’s to you. I don’t mean you, not you exclusively.
If I go out, like to the grocery store,
I maybe, if I see my friends, say, “Hi,”
like to a neighbor or the grocery guy.
(Barking in the distance.)
Hear that? Whose dog is that?
That dog’s been getting bolder every morning.
He was over here. Did you see him, Clip?
He was just standing in the middle of the yard.
He didn’t move, just stood there like a statue.
He had one of those painful looking penises.
Why do their penises get red like that?
Like bloody. Maybe we should get a dog.
Ruff. Ruff. Ruff. Ruff.
(More barking. She turns to him, pleased.)
Do you hear that?
Are you talking to me?
(PAM laughs, and, seeing that he is still wearing his headphones, she shakes her head and waves him off.)
Well, that would solve the problem, a nice dog,
a little fur-ball sleeping on the bed?
Its little food bowl waiting in the kitchen,
its tail wagging to take it out for a pee?
Sweet little poochie.
I’m not sure, though, it’s right that pets rely
completely on one owner. It’s too much.
Plus, that’s a lot of responsibility to have
for a creature that leaves messes on the rug.
Rrruff. (She barks suddenly, then smiles at herself.)
(A pause. She skims. He swats at a black fly. She sings, distractedly.)
I need a love to keep me happy.
I need a love to keep me happy.
Baby. Baby, keep me happy.
Baby. Baby, keep me happy.
Did you just love the water, when you were young?
When I was six or seven, I remember
we used to spend whole summers by the pool.
I’d stay in till my lips turned purple and I
I’d come out come out shaking. And then I’d just lie
across the hot stones where the sun had baked them
and feel the heat seep back into my body.
As soon as school was out, I’d want to swim,
but it was so cold still in June. We had a rule,
my mother had this rule: it had to be
seventy-five degrees before we could swim,
before we could even go it had to be
seventy-five, not seventy-three or -four.
The problem is we didn’t have a thermometer,
so we’d have to check the temperature by phone.
We’d call in every minute just to see
if it had gotten warmer. On the phone.
Remember when you could do that? Charlie? Clip?
Remember when there was a number you could call
to check the temperature?
You want to know the temperature?
That’s not . . .
It’s seventy-five degrees.
I should go swimming.
Not me. It’s way too freaking cold for swimming.
Hey, Clip, I want to tell you something.
Yesterday I saw this crazy thing.
I was sitting by the park, last night, you know,
just people watching, on a bench—it’s dusk—
when this little kid goes by, this boy. He’s three
or four, just sitting in his father’s arms.
And he’s saying to his father, loud enough
so everyone can hear, “I’ll burn it down.
I’m going to burn it down! If we go home,
I’m going to burn it down.” And the poor father
is all tensed up and anxious, walking quickly
and trying not to let it get to him.
“I’m going to burn it down. If we go home,
I’m going to burn it down.” Can you imagine?
The kid was talking about his own apartment!
I mean, I can imagine. I think I know
just how he feels. But of course he doesn’t know
what he’s saying. I’m not saying that I want
to burn down the apartment. Hahahaha!
Though that would save us having to paint the place.
No, he just knows that he is really mad.
And the father knows he isn’t really mad,
he’s hungry because he hasn’t eaten anything
or sick or tired or up late past his bedtime.
He’s screaming, but it’s really something else
that’s bothering him, whatever it is, probably nothing.
But what?, I kept wondering. What’s
(CLIP has put his headphones back in.)
I need to tell you something:
I’m leaving you. I’ve decided I have to leave.
(He doesn’t hear her. She goes over to him and sits down.)
Can you stop listening for a minute, Charles?
I need to tell you something. Can you listen
for just a minute? Just only for a second.
Okay. I’m listening.
I think I may be having a nervous breakdown.
What? Why do you say that?
I’m not kidding. I think I may be crazy.
I don’t think so.
I think you’re just a little stressed right now.
Have a drink or take a nap or . . . swim.
You know, just take a swim. You’re all wound up.
Listen: last week I went completely berserk.
I mean I lost my head, completely lost it.
I was walking by the corner of Lexington Avenue
with a bag—I had couple shopping bags,
from the liquor store and from the grocery store—
and it’s hot, I think that’s part of it, it’s hot,
and humid like it was all week last week.
So, I’m half way, walking in the crosswalk, when
the light turns green before I get across.
But I’m so completely almost on the curb,
but walking in the crosswalk. So this guy
comes speeding up to me . . .
The light was green?
Yes, the light was green. His light was green.
So what? So what is that supposed to mean?
Nothing. Nothing. God. It’s just a question.
I’m trying to understand the situation.
So the light goes green, and he starts going.
But just green, just then green. It just turned green
and he starts moving, speeds up, because he sees me.
That’s the thing I’m trying to tell you, he
steps on the gas because he sees me there.
And so I stop.
I see him, so I stop right where I am.
I’m sure he scared you. You probably just froze.
No, I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t scared at all.
I was absolutely freaking furious.
I’m sure that’s what he wanted was to scare me.
But why does he have to speed up just because
I was still walking after the light had changed?
So did he stop?
Yes, he stopped. You’re goddamned right he stopped.
About an inch away from me. So then,
I lost it. I started pounding on his car,
which wasn’t very smart of me because
it hurt. But at the time I didn’t notice,
just pounding on his hood. I tried to dent it.
And then it got a little out of hand.
Oh, my god. What happened? What did you do?
What did I do? I freaking screamed at him.
I went around and tried to open the door.
Then he gets out and starts dialing on his phone
and tells me that he’s going to call the cops.
“Call the cops,” I say, “go call the cops.
I’ll wait right here you homicidal jerk.”
Jesus, Pammy. So what the hell did you do?
I don’t know. I think I went too far.
It pretty much got out of hand from there.
So he gets out. He gets out of the car.
And he sort of hits me, pushes me like, but with the door.
It’s like the door swings and it pushes me, you know?
So I grab him as he’s getting out, I grab
his jacket, or I guess maybe his arm,
because he starts yelling that I scratched him.
But I swear I didn’t, not that I remember.
Then he grabs me with his arm and holds me there.
So . . .
So, I bit him.
You bit him?
Yes, I bit him.
I know because I felt him in my mouth.
I felt his skin for a second between my teeth.
And then I ran. His blood was in my mouth,
“You’re crazy, lady, you are freaking crazy,”
he yells at me, and in my mind he’s right.
I’m crazy. I think I’ve lost my freaking mind.
I’m standing in the middle of the street,
screaming like a total psychopath,
like it’s a crime scene or an accident or something.
And you know what? I couldn’t give a shit.
I just watched it happen, just like on TV.
Like on a cop show, when people act like that.
Pam, you gotta take it easy . . .
Relax? Don’t freaking tell me to relax!
I mean, you’re right. I do need to relax.
I’m going crazy. Am I completely crazed?
No. God no, Pammy. That guy was a jerk.
Don’t you see that I was being the jerk.
What’s happening to me? That was my fault.
No, it wasn’t.
Yes, it was. It was.
He revs his car at people in the street.
He should lose his license. What did the cops say?
They never came. I don’t think he ever called them.
Of course. Because he knew that he was wrong.
But I couldn’t let it go. Because I was right.
But what does being right entitle you to?
What does being on the right side get you?
You can do everything exactly by the book,
go to the right schools, marry the right people.
What’s wrong with that? Why isn’t that enough?
What’s not enough?
Never mind. I’m sorry. Look, I’m tired.
Go back to listening. I’m okay now.
Okay. Forget that guy. It’s not your fault.
I know. Okay. I’m fine. I feel much better.
You want to go someplace for dinner later?
Yeah, maybe. Yeah, okay.
We’ll just go out and have a quiet time.
Yeah, that’s good. I’m sorry.
(CLIP puts on his music and lies back. She sings.)
I need a love to keep me happy.
Baby. Baby, keep me happy.
Disappointed, that’s the word I want.
Oh, god, that’s it. I’m so completely disappointed.
And I know that I don’t have a right to feel
this way, which makes it worse, unbearable
almost, almost completely stifling,
so that it feels like there’s this heavy weight,
like this heavy weight is sitting on my chest
whenever I stop and think about my life.
God, I’m such a baby.
And everyone I know feels just like I do.
I can’t remember what I thought I wanted.
I want a baby. It’s not your fault, I know.
And I realize that that is not the answer
to why I’m so unhappy most of the time.
But actually it is.
It’s just that nothing else has any value.
Work means nothing. So I sell a house?
I make some money. Maybe we buy a house.
Why can’t things like that just be enough?
Oh, this is stupid.
The sun is shining, the temperature
is a lovely seventy-five degrees. (Laughs.)
I should go for a swim.
(Sounds of barking nearby. Fade out.)