A mystery play in seven scenes
Frank Thomas Smith
(The play could be performed by five actors)
Chairman of the Board
Spring 1960, the stage is in darkness when the introductory music ["Summertime" sung by Billy Holliday] begins. A spot shines on Kenneth Paulson, standing downstage a few paces right of center. As he speaks the light gradually expands to reveal a park bench to his left.
KENNETH:[To the audience] I invited you here today in order to tell you about something extraordinary that happened to me recently here in Prospect Park. Thomas Wolfe wrote that Only the dead know Brooklyn. Maybe that's why it still has a bad reputation. Partly it's deserved of course, but not entirely. There are parts of Brooklyn that don't deserve a bad reputation. It's very big, you know, and that's a reason why it's so hard to know. And it's only one borough of New York City, which is bigger than some countries, like Switzerland or Singapore. Actually New York City should secede from the Union and Brooklyn could then be a state, or province...don't you think? And Brooklyn could be divided into its original natural neighborhoods: Flatbush, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Bay Ridge, Canarsie, Crown Heights, and the rest. Aren't they beautiful names? What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? I don't agree. I mean...a name is symbolic and if something has a beautiful name it tends to become like its name, eventually … maybe. [smiles] Or maybe not. Prospect Park is in Flatbush, which seems like an unlikely place for this kind of encounter, I admit that. One would expect it to happen on the road to somewhere, like Damascus. But a road could also be a path, like this one [points behind him]. Although the place could be anywhere...it seems.
I don't live in Brooklyn anymore, although I was born and grew up here, until I left many years ago to go to college. Then I came home for a while, then left again pretty definitely. But that's not really relevant. [Looks down at the ground for a few moments, thinking, then looks up again.] So I'll get to the point. I live in New Jersey, across the river there, and work in Manhattan. I received the news that a close friend had died here in Brooklyn, so I came over on a Saturday, like this one, to attend his wake in a funeral parlor nearby. If you know anything about Irish wakes – Brooklyn ones at least – you'll know that they're not as depressing as they should be. You meet a lot of old friends and after crossing yourself [makes the sign of the cross] in front of the coffin and kissing the deceased's relatives, you slouch over to the bar next door to have a drink or more than one. There's always a bar next door to Irish-oriented funeral parlors, by the way. Next to this one it was Healy's Bar & Grill. But instead of going directly to the funeral parlor, I came here to the park. I didn't know why then. I do now. It was the first time I'd been here in a long time. I didn't have a conscious motive, I guess I just wanted some air to fortify me for the sickly-sweet ordeal of the wake. It was summer. [He takes off his jacket.] I came to this bench and sat down. [sits] The lake in front of me. [motions] And the ducks [sound of ducks quacking.] I recalled Holden Caulfield's question: what happens to the ducks in the park in winter? He meant Central Park over in Manhattan, but the principle's the same. I realized that I still didn't know the answer. That was my train of thought when he came along. [looks left] He was about my age, maybe a bit younger, wore jeans and a blue T-shirt and sneakers. And he was black. He looked like a guy out for a stroll on Saturday afternoon. Oh, and with his hands in his pockets; I remember it exactly. He stopped in front of me, looked at the lake and said, “I bet you're wondering where those ducks go in winter when the lake freezes over.” Then he turned and smiled at me, a beautiful smile. You can imagine that I was nonplussed. I said “Yeah, I was wondering that. Maybe their wings are clipped so they can't fly far and then they're rounded up and taken somewhere for the winter. He shook his head and said, ”No, actually some fly south and others stay here huddled together out of the water to keep warm. They keep pretty well hidden.” [pause] Now comes the hard part to explain. [pause] I had the strangest feeling about him. I started to tingle all over. It was almost like falling in love at first sight. There was simply something about that guy that was lovable. So naturally I didn't want him to leave. I asked him if he'd like to sit down, and he said he'd like to show me something first. Then, suddenly, a strong, cold wind arose. [stands] It was strange, something like that happening in mid-summer. A really strong cold wind whipped up out of nowhere and it became dark; it was like an eclipse of the sun. And that guy walks, casually, over to the edge of the lake. (goes to the edge of the stage) And keeps walking!...onto the water, not into it but onto it. The ripples...not waves...just ripples in the water were alive, as though some great fish was beneath the surface furiously thrashing its tail. I know it sounds crazy, and you can believe me or not, but that's what he did: walk on the water. About 15 yards, then turned around and came back. Now I wasn't born yesterday and I know that there are con-artists around who can make you believe they can bend spoons with their minds and stuff like that. So I tried to be skeptical at first. When he sat down next to me, dry as one of Healy's martini's by the way, I said to him, “Hey, who are you, anyway?” He answered, “My name is HeyZeus, Ken, ” I thought he was a Puerto Rican or something like that, so I asked him what country he was from. No one is called Jesus in America, it sounds funny, but in places like Puerto Rico or Mexico it's common “No Kennny, not Jesús, with an s and an accent on the u. Just HeyZeus, with a Z, and I'm from Brooklyn.” He picked up a twig, bent down and wrote it on the ground. “Greek, huh?” I asked. He just smiled. As you can imagine, a lot of things were going through my head, like if he was Jesus, or HeyZeus, whatever, how come he's black? Telling it now it's....I mean it sounds weird, but you know, I have to admit it, I already believed him. That may seem naive to you, but you weren't there. I assure you that I'm not the kind of guy who goes around believing all kinds of fake shit without proof. I'm not gullible, not even religious. On the contrary, I was pretty much an agnostic before I met him. But I believed him anyway. [Pause] Still do. Sure, I asked myself: why me? If Jesus Christ - or HeyZeus as he calls himself now – is going to appear to somebody, why me? Why not Jack Kennedy or Martin Luther King, or Bishop Casey, for example?
“Why not you, Kenny?” he asked me. “Because there must be plenty of others who would be more appropriate,” I answered, getting used to having my mind read. “That isn't for you to judge.” Not much I could say to that, was there? [pause] You know, it wasn't so much his walking on the water that convinced me. It was...him, his presence. [pause] Do you see? [pause] I guess not. We sat for a while and it was beautiful just to be able to sit next to him like that. But when it became obvious that he wasn't going to contribute much to the conversation, at least not in the line of small talk, I felt I was expected to ask him something, so I did, I didn't call him master or rabbi or even sir. That's not my style. Besides, he didn't look like any of those. I just asked him now that he's here again – on earth that is – what are his plans? He looked at me – his eyes were very penetrating, that's what I mostly remember about them – and said, “I could ask you the same thing.” “Me?” I said stupidly. “Yes, what are your plans, Kenny?” Well, the fact is I had no plans, except going to the wake so, after appearing to mull it over, I asked him what he expected me to do. What he said next shows that he has a sense of humor, which doesn't come out much in the Bible. He said he'd have to give me the standard answer, like I should know what it is. But I didn't know so I asked him. [pause] “Follow me!” he said. [long pause] I asked him if he meant literally and he said, “Look it up.” [pause] “And draw your own conclusions. Do what you think best. It's all up to you. Times have changed and I can't tell you what to do anymore.” Then he said he must be getting along, slaps his knees [demonstrates] and stands up. [stands] I was thinking I'd like to touch him, just to make sure he was real, but didn't know how to go about it. I couldn't very well shake his hand and say it was great meeting you, HeyZeus. Naturally he knew what I was thinking and when I stood up he kissed me on the cheek. [touches his cheek with two fingers] Then he strolled away in the direction from which he had come. [looks left] hands in pockets, humming, yes, humming one of those old Beatles ballads: Let it be. When he disappeared around the bend of the path I stood there for a while, then started walking around, because I felt nervous. I guess you can understand that. [walks around] I didn't follow him because I had to go to the wake. Somehow I knew that's what he wanted me to do. Then I went, almost ran, to the funeral parlor. I wanted to tell someone. Larry and Mary Healy were there when I arrived.