A Play in One Act
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
TYLER: Sullen, angry, polemical and shrill. Casting in terms of gender and age are open.
FINLEY: Exasperated, but trying to be loving and patient. Casting is open, in terms of age and gender, but FINLEY should be around the same age as TYLER.
TYLER's not-so-fabulous apartment.
The near future.
A SPARSELY FURNISHED ROOM: the living space of TYLER. FINLEY stands, staring at TYLER intently.
TYLER: Look. Can I get you anything? A bottle of soda, or something?
FINLEY: No. That’s okay.
TYLER: Well, hey, I guess it’s nice that you decided to stop by and visit me, Finley. But I’m not sure I know what it’s about.
FINLEY: Yeah. I’m not sure I know, either.
TYLER: Listen, would you mind knocking it off? The staring? It’s creepy and it’s rude.
FINLEY: (Looks away) Sorry.
TYLER: What do you find so fascinating that you feel a need to stare?
FINLEY: I was thinking – that it’s good to see you. You look just like you. Staring at you – I feel like I’m actually in the same room with you.
TYLER: I am me.
FINLEY: Not really. You’re you with other things grafted on.
TYLER: Well, that’s how I make a living. And you know this, from way back, and I don’t need you giving me a hard time about it.
FINLEY: It’s different. When the other gigs ended – you went back to being you. And in the meantime – I’d just avoid talking to you about cake batter, or waterproof wristwatches or whatever you were promoting. They’ve programmed every part of you this time. And it’s possible that you’re never coming back.
TYLER: What you need to accept is that this is not “programming.” You’re the one who’s been programmed by the Opaque News Media – you live and breathe ONM!
FINLEY: See? You open your mouth, and the effect is ruined. I can’t pretend that you’re you anymore, when you speak. All the talking points and buzzwords come pouring out.
TYLER: I’m sorry you can’t accept that I’ve become a person of strong convictions.
FINLEY: You were never political, Tyler.
TYLER: Well, now I am.
FINLEY: You were kind, and funny –
TYLER: Spare me.
FINLEY: But still. I’ve missed you. All these months. I couldn’t call you or send a message, ‘cause the programming is all I’d get. But if I look at you ... you look just like my old friend Tyler. Even your voice – except when you’re spouting the talking points and buzz words.
TYLER: Finley, don’t you have somewhere else to be?
FINLEY: Not really, no. It’s a slow weekend. I’ve been trying to finish a music track for a film Denny is making. He sent me the rough cut. But I don’t think I’ll feel very inspired if I go home and try to work on it now. After checking in with you – seeing that you’re still a pod person.
TYLER: You know I hate that “pod people” crap! You’ve been pulling it since I started work as an ad campaign and idea surrogate!
FINLEY: I cut it out for a long time. I haven’t said it to you in years.
TYLER: Well, I didn’t need to hear it again, ever. I don’t need that kind of needling back in my life.
FINLEY: Have you taken on any new products?
TYLER: Yes. (modulated announcer’s voice) Right now, I’m letting people know about the impossibly delicate, light, flaky crust on Danbridge Pastries, with a heavenly, buttery taste. They come glazed and unglazed, with fruit fillings and cream fillings. Some are mild, and some are sinfully spiced, with just a hint of sweetness. When you buy a box of them, you find that each pastry is individually sealed inside its plastic wrap, and when you open them up, you breathe in the aroma of an early morning bakery, in the moment when a tray of pastries is lifted out of the oven. It’s bakery freshness and goodness, with all the convenience of a box you buy at the store.
FINLEY: And you share your thoughts about this ...
TYLER: I post about these delicious, old-fashioned pastries online, I write reviews, I counsel shoppers who get goods delivered but aren’t sure about what snacking options to explore, I walk down the street eating Danbridge products and expressing how good they are, as I crave them several times a day, I’ve done chalk drawings on the sidewalk, I sometimes approach people in
FINLEY: Right. That – sounds like you doing what you usually do. And that pastry programming isn’t over-riding your previous programming for the Transparency Party?
TYLER: (back to near snarling) I’m not “programmed” for the Transparency Party. You’re the one who’s programmed by the Opaque National Media! The ONM – it sounds like Onanism! And that’s very fitting because that’s what they engage in! Mind-wank! It’s all mind-wankery and self-indulgent noise, smearing the Transparency Party, and smearing Gordon Bollinger!
FINLEY: Gordon Bollinger is not in office. He lost the election. The party lost – on a massive scale. And your programming to support them was only supposed to last five months. It made you unpleasant, and I’m not your only friend who wound up avoiding you – but we were counting on you coming back, and being yourself again, after the election. Have you given any thought to why that hasn’t happened?
TYLER: It wasn’t programming, it was ideas about the need for transparency in journalism and in our political process, and it awakened me to the need to think harder. It gave me the tools to articulate what I’ve always thought about these issues, and I’m never going to lose that!
FINLEY: They paid you for five months. You signed a contract for five months. You didn’t know at the time you were selling your soul permanently. Think, Tyler, think about who you were before you –
TYLER: Shut up!
FINLEY: Every time you signed a contract before that, you came back once they were done renting your head space. They honored the contract they signed with you. A whole year, we put up with you suddenly spouting off about waterproof watches, and the heat and cold and the stress those watches can withstand – any little thing could set you off about it. Somebody saying, let’s meet at five o’clock. But when it was over, it was over. And they fed you a phrase, to repeat, that snapped you out of it. What was it, in that case?
TYLER: It doesn’t matter, this is different, I really believe in what
FINLEY: “Sometimes waterproof watches get really wet.” Wasn’t it something like that? Did the Transparency Party give you any phrase like that, to snap you out of this? Did you write it down somewhere? Is it on your computer?
TYLER: I’ve been awakened politically, can’t you understand that, Finley? You don’t come back from gaining awareness, from seeing the world as it is –
FINLEY: I was willing to accept your stupid story about that before. That you were honestly converted. A lot of us were ready to say, the hell with you. But then, I’ve been reading ... There have been articles in real, fact-checked newspapers –
TYLER: To hell with the ONM!
FINLEY: About Transparency Party operatives who never come back. It said their contracts might be different. The party had people sign contracts, but some people renting out head space to Gordon Bollinger and this campaign never got copies of the contracts they signed. And there was a crucial, hidden clause that a lot of them never got to read. It implied that they might not come back, ever, and it indemnified the Transparency Party if they stayed programmed. Did you read every clause in the contract?
TYLER: It was twenty pages long!
FINLEY: And it says a lot about how “transparent” the Transparency Party is that they refuse to answer questions about this, and they refuse to provide a copy of the contract. They’re the only ones, out of all the companies and groups renting head space –
TYLER: That’s a lie! That’s irrelevant! That’s just the Opaque News Media making things more opaque by squirting out lies, and smoke, and smears about Gordon Bollinger and what his party is trying to do –
FINLEY: So, that’s when I thought about coming around to see you again, Tyler. When I read that. It occurred to me that, as obnoxious as you’ve become, you’re really a victim. Your friends and your family ought to be trying to help you, we ought to view you the way we’d view you if you had joined a cult and been brainwashed –
TYLER: I’m not brainwashed, and I don’t need any of you! You were never my friends to begin with – I see that now. I love Gordon Bollinger, as a father figure, as a strong, unwavering leader who speaks truth to the vested interests, more authentic and real than any crummy, system-reinforcing politician. He’s fresh, and dynamic, and exciting! And I love the Transparency Party as a family, the way I never loved my so-called family or my so-called friends! Would I feel that way if they had “enslaved me,” and if they were using me and manipulating me?
FINLEY: Of course you would. It could be Stockholm Syndrome – or it could be simply a matter of programming. I’m thinking it’s probably both. And the fact that you let your brain be hijacked so often by these various ad campaigns has made you especially vulnerable. It’s a hell of a way to make a living –
TYLER: Yes, thank you, Finley, you’ve sneered at me and lectured me for years about what you think of the jobs I take. I put up with it when we were “friends,” but now I don’t have to.
FINLEY: When you turn yourself into a thing, a commodity, when you rent yourself out like a billboard sign –
TYLER: The Transparency Party understands that there is actually something sacred and beautiful about commodification. Capitalism is about extracting the maximum value from things, from seeing the good in “goods,” and having the freedom to get them to people who will pay the most for them. Human beings, adults, have every right to commodify themselves, politically, just as they have the right to become escorts and companions –
FINLEY: Yes, you’ve been prostituting your mental space for far too long –
TYLER: And the only people who object to it are enemies of capitalism, people who want to turn our society into the Killing Fields! Into the Great Leap Forward!
FINLEY: Tyler, those are just tired, nonsensical Bollinger sound bites. If I think they had no right to trick you, and take over your mind for all time, that doesn’t mean I like Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution, or what Pol Pot did to Cambodia –
TYLER: You sound just like the Khmer Rouge! There’s no difference at all!
FINLEY: No, I don’t, actually –
TYLER: No difference!
FINLEY: Did they give you a phrase to snap you out of it, or not? Is it like the wet, waterproof watches phrase? Could it be something like: “The only thing transparent about the Transparency Party is the lies they tell”? Could it be something like: “Gordon Bollinger calls everything by the name of its opposite, to turn words into nonsense, and to make concepts like truth, and facts, and journalism, and the reality-based universe, disappear”?
TYLER: Propaganda! Obfuscation! You’re trying to hack me now! I’m thinking for myself, and you’re trying to hack my brain!
FINLEY: You’ve already been hacked, Tyler. I’m trying to hack what the hackers have done to you. I’m trying to find the button or the tab or the switch that will turn you back into the person I grew up with, when you didn’t hate anyone, not asthmatics, not left-handed people –
TYLER: Gordon Bollinger does not hate left-handed people! Or the wheezers! He’s been endorsed by several of them! He only wants us to acknowledge that a lot of wheezers choose to live in dense, urban areas and breathe unwholesome air because they hate the heartland, and they lack character, and they walk around with their dumb little inhalers, and drain our health resources when they have an attack, whether they get public or private care, and there are biblical reasons to watch out for left-handers, so when they’re involved in crimes, we can’t be afraid to call them out, and left-handed people should warn us when one of them is going to do something awful –
FINLEY: You used to stand up to bigots and bullies in school. I remember you at your best.
TYLER: I’m the same person I always was, only more aware now, and more engaged. I have my convictions, just like any person. You’re fixated on changing me. You’re just Bollinger-Triggered. You’re suffering from Transparency-phobia. The Opaque Cloud has engulfed your whole brain!
FINLEY: Some people are saying that it takes time. There’s no one phrase or safeguard built in that can bring you back. Some shrinks say that something in you, some part of your hacked heart, or soul, or mind, will have to want to come back. They say that only you can unhack yourself. When you start missing your real family. And your real friends. You can choose to remember what your life was before. You were never a political person, Tyler. But you were fun. You were good to have a drink with, and watch stupid shows, and veg out. You were a good listener when someone had a problem. When Lulu was sick, during those last few months – you gave up everything. You went there and cooked for her, and cleaned her place, and got us all to come over, and you kept her spirits up. You were a far better friend to her than anyone – more generous and more kind. Do you remember? Do you remember the singalongs?
(thoughtful, softer mood) Obviously. Of course I remember.
FINLEY: Do you remember getting her to sing, and laugh with us, just days before she slipped into a coma and had to go into hospice? We held up her cats, in our arms, and we sang:
(to the tune of “My Country, Tis of Thee”/ “God Save the Queen”)
“Proud cats with velvet paws/Sweet cats retract their claws/Cats just because/Strong, gentle pussycats” –
TYLER: I remember the song.
FINLEY: You told Lulu you’d keep the cats after she was gone, and you did. Three geriatric cats. You rented out your head space to two companies at once, so you could pay for care for that broken-down, diabetic, striped old Tom cat –
FINLEY: Yes. Theodore. That’s who you are, Tyler. That’s the generous spirit of the Tyler I was close to – and that was a Tyler who knew that people, and even animals, are more than just commodities. And you made fun of people who would spout the party line. Any party line. Do you remember when Kurt and Alice would argue politics, and you’d make rude noises to shut them up?
FINLEY: Do you remember how ridiculous they sounded? Before and during your rude noises?
FINLEY: Especially to you. Because you’re not a political person. You were never a political person.
TYLER: I was never a political person.
FINLEY: You always had your priorities straight. You always said that friendship matters more.
TYLER: But you’re the ones who have all cut me dead, for political reasons!
FINLEY: Because you’ve become insufferable. Because you’re no longer you. I’m trying to remind you. Do you remember the trip to the house by the shore?
FINLEY: We had that house for four nights. Who was the referee when we’d fight over who got the good beds, and Denny was yelling about film theory, and people got childish and nasty? Who kept us all in line, and made it a fun trip?
TYLER: I wasn’t the only one who made it a fun trip.
FINLEY: Please, Tyler, it was mostly you. The rest of us were sulky and petty and ridiculous. Do you remember lying on a beach towel, with the gulls overhead, and the sun blazing, and the shells we found? And building the ugliest, most ridiculous sand castle ever?
FINLEY: And how it crumbled and caved in? And how we said when the tide came in and washed it away, it would be a mercy killing? Do you remember how close we all felt, as a group, on that trip? And how close I felt to you, Tyler, my old, old friend?
TYLER: Sure, I remember.
FINLEY: Do you remember about a thousand pointless phone calls? And late nights eating junk food? And driving around, listening to bad music on the radio, and talking about drivel? I’m hoping you’ll remember that stuff, Tyler. I miss my old friend. I do want you back. I don’t know what I’m up against here, in terms of what’s happened to you. But I’m betting on you, to choose to come back. Even though you seem so different now. Even if they came up with the perfect plan, the perfect hack of a human being. Even if you’ve been hermetically sealed inside of this terrifying new persona. I’m hoping that it’s true – that sometimes waterproof watches get very, very wet.
(TYLER looks down.)
FINLEY: Tyler? Please. I’m leaving now. But please, text me or call me.
(FINLEY EXITS. TYLER looks off in that direction, and sings softly:)
TYLER: Proud cats with velvet paws/Sweet cats retract their claws/Cats just because ...