Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Three-Cornered Chair

Scene: A little bistro in a seemingly European city. However, no distinct character is assigned to any set of features. Could be London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin. Hard to say. It’s probably Spain, but no one’s speaking Spanish, that’s for sure. The waiters are middle-aged, sleepy-looking, but still attentive. And to make matters more confusing, people with very particular national and regional dress from all over the world flit through every once in while, passing just in front of or just behind the central table where the four main characters sit. A couple in brightly-colored, contemporary African outfits, a mustachioed man in tweed, a trio of Japanese punks, a Micronesian fisherman, a Canadian mountie, an Australian rugby team, four strapping Swedes, an Indian man in cricket whites, two Inuit in apparent pursuit of prey, eleven backwoods West Virginians carrying shotguns, a Whirling Dervish, Ted Nugent and his son (both of their faces smeared with fresh blood from their bowhunting trip), nine young African-American men straight outta Brooklyn, that guy from that show that used to be on (you know that guy!), a Mexican vaquero astride a pony, an agitated group of Iraqi protesters, a quartet of Tuvans warbling their throat-singing tunes, Emo Phillips. All these and more parade at irregular intervals through the setting.

The four principals of the action sit around a small table in the middle. All of them have large mugs of espresso drinks. Three of them sit on standard-issue wood-and-wrought-iron café chairs. One, MIGUEL, sits on a brushed-aluminum chair which has a design based on triangles: the back rest is a large and elongated triangle, the seat a smaller equilateral one, each of the three legs slender and tapering triangles. Throughout, MIGUEL exhibits signs of discomfort in his chair. None of the others does.

For staging purposes, it doesn’t much matter where exactly the characters sit in relation to one another, just that they’re all around the table in conversation. And MIGUEL has the uncomfortable chair. Don’t forget about that. Otherwise the title has absolutely no relation to the story, and people who’ve sat through this will later return home, wondering what the hell the three-cornered whatever had to do with a damn thing. So the chair’s pretty important. We could even afford to lose a character or two before we lost the chair. We could even lose MIGUEL, as much as that might hurt him to know. But the chair stays.

That established, here are the other three characters:


All four characters have similar styles of dress. They all obviously come from the same peer group, the same general socioeconomic background. They’re comfortable with one another, get each other’s jokes, and use their eyes a lot in their exchanges. Come to think of it, this would probably all work best if shot on video, so we could get some closeups. I also recommend a lot of jump cuts to refract some of the narrative structure, but only because Paul mentioned that to me when he was reading over my shoulder a few minutes ago. That’s really a question for later, though, so don’t focus too much on the medium right now.

Here’s how it all begins, after a minute or so of general bistro hubub. Consider playing over the action until just before the first lines a scratchy recording of Nirvana’s live performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” on MTV’s Unplugged. Or maybe something else? What about X doing “The Have Nots”? Neil Young with “Sedan Delivery”? The Mekons performing “If They Hang You”? Or, ooh, better: Wire doing “Reuters”!

Well, whatever the final choice, here’s how it all begins:

KIRAN: I can’t believe it took so long to get down here. It seems like half of downtown is totally blocked off.

BRAD: Some of the subway trains aren’t running either. Miguel and I walked more than half the way.

ALLY: If you guys would just move a little closer to the cool area of town, you wouldn’t be having these problems. I walked here in, like, five minutes.

MIGUEL: We can’t all just up and move, Ally. I’ve got a lease. And it’s not like I really want to pay the kind of rent they charge around here.

BRAD: Do you think that guy forgot my biscotti?

KIRAN: I bet he did. It’s not like he wouldn’t have brought it with the coffee. I’d go check.

BRAD: Maybe not. I bet it’s just a minor plot complication. If I wait a few minutes, it’ll probably come.

KIRAN: Uh, okay. Whatever works for you.

ALLY: What are you even talking about?

MIGUEL: He’s just being weird. (To BRAD:) Yeah, man, and do you think if I just wait here I’ll get a complimentary muffin? Will that fit with the plot?

BRAD: Why are you asking me? I’m not composing all this. I just think my biscotti will come soon. Are you guys okay with that? It’s my biscotti. You don’t have to worry about it.

MIGUEL: I’m not worried about it. I just want a free muffin, if that’s possible.

BRAD: Well, maybe it is possible. Let’s see what happens.

KIRAN: Look, whatever, you guys. I’d rather know about what the hell’s going on in the middle of downtown. Was there anything on the radio or TV? I haven’t seen anything.

ALLY: Oh, yeah, I was wondering about that, too, but this guy at the video store was telling me it was just some kind of apocalyptic struggle.


ALLY: I think it’s going to be on Pay-Per-View. Isn’t that right?

MIGUEL: An apocalyptic struggle? Like literally? This wasn’t just a boxing match? Did they mention anything about Don King?

ALLY: No, I’m serious. It was all some big battle between good and evil. For, like, the redemption of the world or something. But there’s a new Desperate Housewives on tonight, so whatever…

BRAD: That is so weird. Why wasn’t this on I checked it just before I left the apartment.

MIGUEL: I really, really don’t think that can be right.

KIRAN: Wait, I sort of remember something about that. I think that’s the event that Joan and Melissa Rivers were doing the pre-show for on E! This sort of explains why there were such weird celebrities there. And that whole line of theologians. They looked so out of place. Their gowns just couldn’t compare to some of the other ones there. Bjork had on the weirdest thing. All made out of tiny origami animals folded from squares of colored hemp cloth. She looked like a big party favor…

A waiter ambles over to the table, sets down a small plate heaped with biscotti. He puts a bright orange muffin in front of MIGUEL, nods casually, and wanders away again.

BRAD: Okay, that’s more like it.

MIGUEL: How did they know what kind of muffin I wanted?

BRAD: I don’t think anybody did, man. It’s just that you want the one you got.

MIGUEL: No, I remember wanting this kind. Now the guy brings it. I didn’t even order it.

BRAD: Yeah, okay. Eat your muffin. You worry too much.

KIRAN: I just don’t know what the hell Bjork is thinking with those gowns.

ALLY: I like her gowns. They’re daring. But I have to say, I’m also intrigued by the fate of mankind. Is that what’s really going on here?

KIRAN: We both heard it, right?

MIGUEL: Well, we didn’t hear anything. Don’t you think this would rate top-story status? Wouldn’t this have been pretty hard to miss? God, especially if they’re going through all the trouble to organize for it and to show it on TV.

ALLY: Pay-Per-View.

MIGUEL: Whatever. That’s even more complicated.

BRAD: I don’t really like the Pay-Per-View thing. Every time I’ve done that, I’ve spent about half an hour on the phone, trying to get the cable company to verify that I should be seeing the thing I paid for. There was this one Mike Tyson bout where I missed the whole thing because it was over in, like, 91 seconds.

KIRAN: Well, I think we should probably watch it. This is bigger than the Olympics or anything. I’m kinda surprised there hasn’t been more marketing.

MIGUEL: That’s not what Burger King was giving away those collector glasses for, was it?

KIRAN: No, that was the Winter X-Games, I think.

MIGUEL: Oh, yeah. I’ve got two glasses with the same snowboarder guy on them.

KIRAN: That’s because one of them’s mine.

ALLY: Well, hey, we can watch it over at my place if you want. I’m nearby and everything.

BRAD: Maybe. I almost kind of wonder if we shouldn’t maybe go down there.

KIRAN: Oh, they’re totally sold out by now, Brad.

BRAD: I know that. It’s just so monumental, though. It seems like it should be a bigger event than you’d want to watch on TV.

ALLY: What do you mean?

BRAD: Well, if I remember it right, it’s supposed to be the end of the world. Apocalypse? The fight between good and evil? Mankind’s redemption? This isn’t just some show. The outcome matters to us all.

ALLY: I don’t see how that’s different from a show, but fine. You want to go down there?

MIGUEL: Aw, but if we can’t even get in. I still don’t think this is right. This can’t be the way the final days of the world go. And I don’t want to go hang out in the street just to find out everyone was watching a heavyweight bout.

KIRAN: I don’t know what to think, but we should at least watch.

MIGUEL: Yeah, watching’s okay. I just don’t want to stand around outside for hours.

BRAD: Okay, I guess. Fine with me.

ALLY: Yeah, then we better get out of here soon so I can order the show. I think the apocalypse starts at, like, eight o’clock.

MIGUEL: Fine with me. (suddenly frustrated) God! This chair is the most uncomfortable piece of furniture I’ve ever encountered. Who designs like that?