A Second Coming in Brooklyn
The scene is set by the actors in dim light. They are unhurried: four tables, one left, one right, one upstage center, one downstage center, forming a large rectangle, tilted so the characters' faces are visible to the audience. The Chairman of Board, C.B., stands before the upstage tables. KENNETH stands opposite him, MARGO is on his left, JOHN is on his right.
C.B.: Good morning. [Sits]
ALL: Good morning, C.B. [All sit]
C.B.: Ms Ackhorn is sick today, so someone else will have to take the minutes.
JOHN: She's always sick on Mondays.
MARGO: English secretaries are always sick on Mondays. It has something to do with their National Health Plan. She once told me that the people in Northern Ireland don't want to separate from Britain because they'd lose their health insurance.
JOHN: Maybe we should revert to colonial status. I wouldn't mind working four days a week and have free health insurance.
C.B.: That has nothing to do with it; she's sick that's all.
MARGO: Force of habit.
C.B.: One must overlook some things in order to have a good English secretary. Who would like to keep the minutes?
MARGO: What's good about her, except the accent?
JOHN: Her legs.
C.B.: She's got class – a most important attribute in this business – especially since it lacks so many others. But the purpose of this meeting is not to discuss Miss Ackhorn. Will you kindly keep the minutes, Margo?
MARGO: Not a chance.
JOHN: I'll do it, C.B.
C.B.: Thank you, John. Please read the previous meeting's minutes. [Holds out a sheet of paper. John goes to him, takes it and returns to his place.]
JOHN: [Reads in a monotone] The Chairman opened the meeting at 9:30 a.m. In Miss Ackhorn's absence, John Savage read the minutes of the previous meeting and agreed to keep the minutes of this meeting. The previous meeting's minutes were approved unanimously. John Savage reported on the applicants for the artist opening. The Board considered several resumes and drawings and decided to accept the Chairman's recommendation and hire Miss Bubbles Bardot...
C.B.: Bubba Bardot...her name is Bubba Bardot. She's French, very creative.
JOHN: [Correcting his report] Bubba Bardot. Margit Thornton reported meeting with the V.P. of the Now Corporation at a cocktail party in Washington and about his interest in our agency. It was agreed that she would follow up this lead. Kenneth Paulson described an idea he proposed to use in connection with the American-Style Travel Agency account. It was judged by the Board to be highly original, but somewhat daring. Mr Paulson was asked to develop it further. The Chairman gave a projection of the year's financial results, which are positive, but in need of improvement. The meeting was adjourned at 10:35 a.m. [Pause] I move that the minutes be approved.
KENNETH: Yeah, sure.
C.B.: Minutes approved unanimously. Now to the second item on the agenda. This is a humdinger. I asked Margo not to let it out of the bag until this meeting. Go ahead Margo, please.
MARGO: As I mentioned at the previous meeting, I met Dr. Kellog, the V.P. of the Now Corporation, at a cocktail party in Washington. He's a charming man, for someone so powerful, and had even heard about us. He was especially impressed by the travel agency ads.
C.B.: That's you, Kenneth. Excuse me, Margo.
MARGO: Right, but if I may say so, I had the impression that he liked me as well.
C.B.: [Loud laugh] I have no doubt of that, my dear.
Margo: He asked for my telephone number for the next time he'd be in New York. He's from Texas of course.
JOHN: Home or office?
JOHN: And you gave them to him?
MARGO: Of course; why not?
JOHN: Why yes, if it was only business?
MARGO: It wasn't, dear.
C.B.: [Loud laugh] What a gal! Best damn salesman in the business.
JOHN: That depends on what she's selling.
MARGO: What exactly do you mean by that?
JOHN: You know what I mean.
MARGO: Unfortunately, I do...anyway, he called me last week.
JOHN: At the office?
MARGO: That may have been your business once, but it no longer is, so please stop interrupting. He asked me to dinner and, to make a long story short, we've got a sizable chunk of Now's advertising budget.
JOHN: Just like that?
MARGO: No, not just like that. I said I was making a long story short – or do you want all the lurid details to put in the minutes?
C.B.: Dr. Kellog telephoned me the next morning to confirm their desire that we take over a certain line of advertising for them. The contract can be signed on Friday. It's a million dollar account, the biggest in True Advertising's history. Cheer up, John. You take some things too seriously. Margo got this business based on our own track record – as well as her powers of persuasion.
MARGO: God, we've been divorced for over a year. I don't see why you have anything to say about with whom I have dinner...or even sleep with if I want.
JOHN: I was only teasing you. [Dejected] Congratulations.
KENNETH: Which of their lines are we supposed to sell? They make everything from toilet paper to atomic bombs.
C.B.: I didn't know they're into toilet paper, and if they make atomic bombs they won't be advertising it.
KENNETH: Why not? We could call it “the solution to the population explosion”.
MARGO: Very funny. But the emphasis will be in Now's image in respect to its activities in the energy field.
KENNETH: Atomic energy?
Margo: We prefer to call it nuclear energy. That's the kind of energy they produce.
KENNETH: Which presents certain problems.
MARGO: Problems, like the poor, will always be with us. Which ones do you have in mind?
KENNETH: Well, let's see. Radioactive waste from the atomic energy plants that have a half-life of a few thousand years or so, and that includes the plants themselves that become deadly structures of radioactivity after about thirty years – and there's no place to put it all. Then there's the security issue and the fact that the things aren't even economically viable. I think any reasonably intelligent person – and I presume that we are all reasonably intelligent here – must realize that atomic energy is one of the biggest rip-offs in history.
MARGO: Your Socratic argument implies that anyone who disagrees with you isn't reasonably intelligent. At least you'll concede that there have been so many rip-offs in history that it's a little presumptuous to categorically state that this is one of the biggest – assuming that it is one at all.
KENNETH: Can you think of a bigger one?
MARGO: How about the immaculate conception?
KENNETH: [Raises his fist in acknowledgment.]
C.B.: Do you realize what an interesting challenge it is for us? To emphasize the positive aspects and make the public forget the negative ones. It's nuclear energy, by the way.
KENNETH: What positive aspects?
JOHN: [After a long pause] It's cleaner than coal.
KENNETH: That's true.
C.B.: Yes, of course. And Dr.Kellog will advise us on that; there must be more.
KENNETH: I don't like it.
C.B.: That has nothing to do with it, Ken. It's your ideas that count, not what you like or don't like.
KENNETH: Yeah, I guess so. I have an idea for an ad.
C.B.: Fine, Ken. Let's hear it.
KENNETH: A huge mushroom cloud, caption: Progress – NOW.
C.B.: Very funny. You have a great sense of humor. Now just channel it in the right direction.
KENNETH: O.K., how about this? It's the future. Children are playing in an ultra-modern nursery school. Wholesome teachers in white smocks smiling...
MARGO: Racially mixed.
KENNETH: Of course. Caption: Make their future possible – NOW!
C.B.: Ken, you're a genius, I always said so. Maybe you can get together with the new artist; what's his name again?
C.B.: That's right. See if you can work something out with him. The approach is just right: accentuate the positive.
KENNETH: The kids are all deformed, hunchbacks, fin-like arms, cyclops eyes, bald...
JOHN: That's not the direction C.B. has in mind, Paulson.
KENNETH: I know that, but why shouldn't we begin thinking about what we're doing? The other day I was in Prospect Park...
MARGO: In Brooklyn?
KENNETH: Yes. And this guy suddenly appeared, a very unusual guy, I mean beautiful, and he walked on the lake...
C.B.: They produce energy, and we have an energy crisis. What more do you want? And that's not all. There's a good chance that we'll get a piece of the American Outdoor Brands Corporation account.
JOHN: Wow! That's wonderful, C.B. How'd you swing that?
C.B.: I know the PR Director. He's also a member of the National Rifle Association. In fact, we're both Masons.
KENNETH: Wait a minute. I remember now. That's Smith & Wesson, cowboys and Indians, they changed their name.
C.B.: It's actually a new company, of which Smith & Wesson is a branch.
KENNETH: Smith & Wesson made, and makes, the pistol that won the West. You know, John Wayne, Billy the Kid.
C.D.: Actually nowadays they supply most of the country's police departments.
MARGO: Do they only make guns?
C.B.: Oh no, they also make rifles, knives, all kinds of outdoor stuff. Hence the name.
KENNETH: My god, from travel agencies to atomic bombs and guns.
C.B.: I can understand how you feel, Ken. But this is the real world and we're part of it. It's not our job to judge what our clients do, but to help them achieve their goals.
KENNETH: Whatever they may be?
C.B.: Their goal is to make money … yes, money, which, strictly speaking, is also ours. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not. It's the goal of our whole society and it's a wonderfully unhypocritical goal. And we say so and we mean it. That's what makes us so great.
KENNETH: What if it's an immoral goal?
C.B.: It can't be immoral; it's unpatriotic to imply that it is. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom of the press and their ads, that's what we've got...especially the latter. That's what True Advertising stands for.
KENNETH: The truth is supposed to make us free.
JOHN: And what, may I ask, is the truth in your humble opinion.
KENNETH: It isn't what True Advertising does. But since you ask, I'd like to tell you about something that happened to me in the park...
C.B.: All this amateur philosophy is very interesting if we had time for it. But we've got contracts to close with two really important clients by next week – three working days actually, and we gotta be prepared to talk sense – and dollars and cents with them. So let's get down to business...please!
KENNETH: I say we turn them down.
C.B.: On what grounds?
KENNETH: On moral grounds.
C.B.: [Violently] Are you mad? It would ruin us. Everyone on the street would know about it immediately. Our reputation would be shattered. Furthermore, I beg to remind you that we have a silent partner with a 50% interest – Mrs Jonathan Winter, a senile old lady sitting in her palatial apartment on Riverside Drive watching TV all day and probably never heard of us. But her trustees and her grandchildren sure as hell have and there'd be holy hell to pay if we ever tried to turn down such lucrative business.
MARGO: But it's a fact of life, Kenny.
KENNETH: Count me out.
MARGO: Of what, life?
KENNETH: No, the game.
C.B.: [Almost screaming] What do you mean, count you out. You're our idea man! [Pause] Who the fuck do you think you are, anyway?
KENNETH: [Calmly] The idea man. I just had an idea, the greatest of my career. Count me out of True Advertising. Or fire me, I'd prefer that.
JOHN: To be a martyr?
KENNETH: To collect unemployment insurance. [Stands and starts off]
C.B.: Oh, for the love of Christ!
[Kenneth stops, turns and looks at C.B. for a moment, then exits.]
JOHN: What's eating him?
MARGO: He said something happened in the park. I wonder what.
C.B.: What in hell do I care what happened in the park. This is an advertising agency, not a fucking zoo. Sorry Margo.
JOHN: He'll be back.
MARGO: No he won't.
JOHN: How do you know?
MARGO: Intuition. And I'm sure of it: Ken Paulson won't be back.
Author's note: This is a work in progress, so there might be some inconsistencies with previous scenes, which will be corrected when the final scene (7) has been finished, and the whole play is available as a pdf file.