Dan Valentine – “The Xmas Stiff,” a one-act play

December 26, 2010

THE XMAS STIFF

by Daniel Valentine

(c) 2010

A FARCE IN ONE ACT

Characters
(4 F, 2 M)
CAROL-LEIGH, owner/bartender
ORSON, regular customer
SHANNON, cocktail waitress
BULLET, exotic dancer
ROCKY, exotic dancer
Unnamed customer/corpse.

SCENE: A hole-in-the-wall “gentlemen’s club” on the second floor of a three-story building just a few blocks from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. A bar with stools is situated by a small elevated stage, with “Merry Xmas” scrawled in white shoe polish on a mirror behind it. A neon sign above the bar reads “lST LADEEZ Show Bar.” Stairs near the bar climb to a dressing room on the third floor. On one wall, there are several windows with floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains pulled closed. Outside the entrance door, which is kept open during business hours, there is an ill-lit landing. Unseen stairs lead to the street below. There are tables and chairs, a booth or two, and a decorated Christmas tree. A sign on a wall reads “Exotic Dancers – No Cover – No Minimum.”

It is a late afternoon on the day before Christmas during one of the worst blizzards of the year.

Before the curtain rises, various voices from a TV, separated by white noise, are heard as someone yet-to-be-seen channel-surfs:

“The clock is ticking for today’s guests. This may be their last Christmas. So, please, stay with us and help us get them into the holiday spirit. Today! Surprise holiday make-overs for death-row inmates” . . .  “Hundreds of years ago, did he predict this season’s Super Bowl winner? Next. The amazing Nostradamus!” . . . “It’s a little crazy out there on this Christmas Eve afternoon” . . . “Everybody’s kind of shivering” . . .  “More than a foot of snow is predicted” . . .  “Today! Some of your favorite movie stars get the surprise of their lives when convicted stalkers reveal their secret celebrity crushes. How will our stars react?” . . .  “Look, Daddy, Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” . . .  “Omigod! This is so amazing. It’s so cute. Have you ever seen a prison uniform on a convicted mass-murderer that fits like this? So, Franco, what did you do? Tell us about the hair.”

(The curtain rises just as CAROL-LEIGH, remote in hand, clicks off the flat-screen TV behind the bar.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Disgusted.) There’s nothing on.

(She places the remote beside the register. Standing at the cocktail station, cutting lemons, is SHANNON. ORSON, the lone patron, sits with a Corona before him, his coat hangs from the back of his stool. BULLET, fully-dressed, is dancing halfheartedly on the stage, one eye on the clock.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) So, Congressman. How come you’re not back home in your district caroling with constituents?

ORSON: I’d rather look at naked women.

(He swivels on his stool to watch the dancer.)

BULLET: Carol-Leigh, I’m not taking my clothes off for one customer. Congressman or no. I don’t think I should have to.

(The sudden sound of the howling snowstorm outside is heard momentarily as the door to the street opens and closes.)

ORSON: (Turning back to Carol-Leigh.) Who’s dancing besides Bullet?

(A lone man in an unzipped jacket, sporting a Redskins ball cap, holding his stomach appears in the doorway. He is missing one shoe. He looks around, then makes his way to a semi-secluded table by the Christmas tree. Picking up her cocktail tray, Shannon leaves to serve him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Rocky is here. (Gesturing to the upstairs dressing room.) Cricket or Ursula or Shiloh or whatever Laura is calling herself these days is a no-show. She simply didn’t come in. Candy was supposed to dance but called in sobbing. Her dad died.

ORSON: Poor kid.

CAROL-LEIGH: It’s the fifth holiday he’s died on this year.

(Shannon sets both napkin and coaster down in front of the new customer.)

SHANNON: Can I help you? We have a holiday special on pitchers.

(The customer rocks back and forth on his seat, clutching his stomach.)

CUSTOMER: How much is a beer?

CAROL-LEIGH: So, anyway, Bullet and Rocky are tag-teaming it.

ORSON: That’s it?

CAROL-LEIGH: Hey, it’s Christmas Eve. It’s snowing. It’s cold. A person would have to be crazy … Like me.

(The customer struggles to rise.)

CUSTOMER: Seven bucks! SEVEN BUCKS? For a beer? (Looking around.) Where am I? The Four Seasons? (And he collapses onto the floor.)

CAROL-LEIGH: I called Wendy. She doesn’t feel well. I called Breezy. She has a cold. Stormy didn’t answer her phone. I called Fury. She has a twenty-four-hour virus. I called Moonflower. She has a bug. I called everybody. Bambi, Barbie, Bunny …

SHANNON: (To customer.) Sir? Excuse me. If you’re going to stay, you need to buy a drink. You can’t just flop out. We’re running a business here. Sir? Sir?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) You want to fill in?

ORSON: Sure. If I can dance on the bar. (He loosens his tie and unbuttons a shirt button.)

(Carol-Leigh takes a dollar from the tip jar and slaps it down on the bar before him.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Please. Business is bad enough.

SHANNON: (Poking the body with her big toe.) Get up, you. Get up, honey. You okay? Are you alive? Damn!

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Another Corona?

(He checks his watch.)

ORSON: You’re open till seven tonight?

CAROL-LEIGH: Somewhere thereabouts.

SHANNON: (Now at the service bar.) Carol-Leigh, there’s a dead man under the Christmas tree.

ORSON: (Re: beer.) Sure. Why not? One more.

(Carol-Leigh uncaps another Corona.)

SHANNON: I’m not lying. We’ve got a problem.

(Carol-Leigh sets the bottle on the counter.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Did you say there was a dead man?

SHANNON: Take a look for yourself.

(Orson swivels around on his barstool.)

ORSON: Somebody died? You’re kidding. What now, just now?

(Carol-Leigh comes from behind the bar and goes with Shannon across the room, passing the stage.)

BULLET: What’s up?

(Orson follows close behind.)

SHANNON: Look!

(The music on the jukebox stops and Bullet steps down from the stage and hurries to see what’s happening as Carol-Leigh kneels down and feels the man’s wrist for a pulse.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, my God! (She flips the left side of his jacket open and puts an ear to his heart and holds it there.) My God, he is dead. (She gets to her feet.) I thought you were joking.

ORSON: Well, so much for Happy Hour.

BULLET: (Upon seeing the body.) Oh, man! Is he dead?

SHANNON: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (re: Bullet.) Wish I’d had a camera. You should have seen your face. Your eyes went–

BULLET: Hey, man, some things still surprise me. A dead body is one of ‘em. What happened?

(Orson crouches and flips open the right side of the man’s jacket.)

ORSON: Looks like he’s been stabbed.

SHANNON: Stabbed?!

ORSON: Looks like. Check that out.

BULLET: Merry Christmas.

CAROL-LEIGH: (sighing) I don’t need this.

ORSON: (Still squatting, puzzled.) There’s not much blood.

BULLET: Depends on the weapon. An ice pick doesn’t draw blood.

ORSON: That true?

BULLET: An ice pick’s quite a weapon.

ORSON: Better than a knife?

BULLET: Oh, yeah.

ORSON: (Standing). Really? (To no one in particular.) Every day you learn something new.

CAROL-LEIGH: Whether you want to or not.

BULLET: You can stick a knife cleanly into someone and not kill him. But an ice pick causes internal bleeding.

ORSON: How do you know that? What are you, some sort of expert on ice pick-related homicides?

BULLET: Yeah, man, matter of fact. I know all about it. My ol’ man showed me. You gotta know where the organs are. An inch either way and you’ll hit a rib.

ORSON: Bullet, you’re so full of it.

SHANNON: I believe her. Ever seen her boyfriend? He looks like Ted Bundy should have.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m just glad he didn’t get his brains blown out on the carpet.

SHANNON: Hey, it just hit me. He’s missing one shoe. Maybe somebody stabbed him for his shoe.

BULLET: That could be. Some mugger doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for a one-legged friend.

ORSON: Who is he? (To Shannon.) Do you recognize him?

SHANNON: It was his first time here.

BULLET: Welcome to 1st Ladeez Show Bar! We obviously made a good impression on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Does he have any I.D.?

(Orson crouches on his heels again and rolls the body on its side a little to get at the man’s hip pockets. He gets to his feet.)

ORSON: Nothing on him.

CAROL-LEIGH: Beautiful.

BULLET: Another day at the office.

CAROL-LEIGH: If D.C. ever gains statehood, a good state flag would be a black banner with the chalk outline of a corpse in the upper left-hand corner.

ORSON: What are you going to do, Carol-Leigh?

SHANNON: Sshh! She’s thinking.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Beside herself, tapping a finger on her forehead.) No brains suddenly.

BULLET: Take your time, Carol-Leigh. The dude’s not goin’ nowhere.

CAROL-LEIGH: (At last.) We have to get him out of here.

ORSON: You’re not going to report it? Call 9-1-1. I’ll call. (He turns to go get his cell from his coat.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a minute. We don’t want the cops here.

ORSON: (Sarcastically.) Oh, you’re worried about the cops. Well, when you put it that way. (Losing it.) Have you lost your marbles?!

CAROL-LEIGH: Orson, it’s Christmas Eve. By eight I want to be home. I don’t want to stay around here all night answering questions from the police. I have two dogs who depend on me.

BULLET: (Agreeing.) We call the cops, we could be here forever.

SHANNON: And I’m starving! Big-time. I haven’t eaten all day. I skipped breakfast. I had a birth-control pill for lunch.

BULLET: Carol-Leigh’s right. We’re talking about Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 outside and all that stuff.

CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly.

ORSON: Did you say Channel 9? (Reconsidering.) My mother watches Channel 9. (After a pause.) Get rid of the sucker. Like roll him down the stairs and out the door. See ya bye!

BULLET: Now you’re talkin’!

CAROL-LEIGH: Shannon, take him outside. Immediately.

SHANNON: Who, me? You want me to pick up a dead body? I don’t think so. Sorry, no way.

CAROL-LEIGH: I’m very, very serious.

SHANNON: Oh, yeah, sure-sure. Gimme a break. Bill Gates could walk in here and he couldn’t give me a big enough tip.

CAROL-LEIGH: Stubborn one. Pleeeeeeeese?

SHANNON: No, period. I ain’t gonna do it.

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: Forget it. Not me!

ORSON: Guys!

SHANNON: It’s not in my job description. If you want him outta here, you do it.

ORSON: Guys! Guys! C’mon! I’ll do it. Let me get my coat. (To himself on his way to the bar.) Channel 9. My mom watches Channel 9.

(Rocky, the only other dancer, appears on the stairs from the dressing room above. She is sporting reindeer antlers and a Santa’s hat.)

ROCKY: (Upon seeing Orson at the bar.) Hi, guy. What’s happening?

ORSON: Oh, not a heck of a lot. A customer just got murdered.

ROCKY: (Laughing.) You’re teasin’. You like my holiday headgear? (She turns around modeling it for him.)

ORSON: (Eyeing her curiously.) I wouldn’t wear it.

ROCKY: On me, dummy! Isn’t it cute? I’m Dancer, one of Santa’s reindeer. (She striking a serious pose.) Because I, too, am a dancer. (Then she laughs at herself.)

ORSON: (The politician.) Yes, very lovely.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Shouting.) Hey, Orson! C’mon!

(Orson shrugs into his coat.)

ORSON: I’m coming. Excuse me, Rocky. I’ve got to take the body outside.

ROCKY: You’re just pulling my chain. (She gaily walks with him, her only concern in life at the moment: the antlers.) They’re not very practical for dancing. In the dressing room, they were off and on. But– (She stops in her tracks. Stocked.) Gosh, business is sure the pits. Where are all the customers? (Then she sees the body. She gives a little gasp and looks away, then looks, then looks away again.) Oooooo! Somebody close his eyes. Put a tablecloth over him! Put something on him!

BULLET: Where’s my body glitter?

ROCKY: Don’t be bad. Where’d he come from?

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Ready?

(He nods and grasps the dead man’s ankles as Carol-Leigh clears a path of chairs.)

ROCKY: Oh, my gosh! What are you guys doing?

ORSON: (To Carol-Leigh.) Where to?

CAROL-LEIGH: Down the back fire escape.

(He drops the legs–kerplunk.)

ORSON: No way. Impossible. This is a big guy here. He’s not big-big, but he’s big. He’s tall.

(Bullet uses her fingers to tabulate on an imaginary hand-held calculator.)

BULLET: (Aloud to herself.) Just how many does it take to carry a dead body down a fire escape in a snowstorm?

SHANNON: Sssh.

(Carol-Leigh gives the problem some thought.) Out the front. But don’t let anybody see you.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just make sure.

ROCKY: You’re going to take him out into the street?

(Orson bends down, gripes the dead man’s ankles again, and begins to tug the limp body toward the entrance.)

BULLET: Welcome to Carol-Leigh’s Carryout. Yes, we deliver.

ORSON: (Panting.) Damn. (Puffing.) He’s heavy.

CAROL-LEIGH: Don’t strain your back.

ORSON: I can’t tell you … how much … I looooove doing this … Hell, I don’t even know this guy.

(He stops to catch his breath, letting go of the man’s legs again–plop.)

ROCKY: (Sighing.) Boy, I’ve just about had it with this place. I’d like to find a real job. This is not a fun place anymore.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Shannon.) Go look out the window. Tell us when it’s clear.

(Shannon hurries to one of the windows, throws open the curtains, and rubs off the steam. Snow is falling, wind howling, and it’s hard to see anything clearly.)

ROCKY: How can you do this, Carol-Leigh? (She fiddles nervously with the crucifix at her throat.) This is bad. (Orson repositions the body and grabs it under the armpits.) This isn’t good. (He walks backwards in a half-crouch towards the door.) This is bad. (The dead man’s head dangles between his knees.) Don’t you feel this is wrong, Carol-Leigh?

CAROL-LEIGH: Not at all. It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t want to stay around answering questions from the police all night. (To Shannon.) Tell me when it’s clear.

ROCKY: (To herself.) I want to leave. I want to go home right now.

BULLET: Take the body with you.

ROCKY: (Glaring at her.) I love you, too. (Chants.) I want to get off work, I want to get off work, I want to go home.

CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. If we call the police, we won’t get out of here till late. (She pats Rocky tenderly on the shoulder.) It’s going to be all right, Rocky. Just relax. Get it together. Don’t go off the deep end. (After a pause.) Sit down!

(Rocky sits. Orson, winded, pauses to catch his breath again.)

ORSON: How did I get myself into this?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Humoring him.) Hey, you said last night. “I sure wish this place would get some new bodies!” Quote unquote.

ROCKY: I heard that.

CAROL-LEIGH: You only get three wishes. That was a dumb one.

(Orson pulls the body out the door onto the landing.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Watch your step.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.

CAROL-LEIGH: Just be careful.

ORSON: Yes, Ma’am

(And poof!–he disappears backwards out of sight with the body. There is a quick succession of heavy thumps and Rocky leaps up and flinches to each one as if her own head were being bounced on wooden steps)

ROCKY: Oh, boy! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, man! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) We’re going to get in trouble! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, my gosh! (And KABOOM!) FUCK!!!

(And they all turn and stare at her, mouths agape. Prim-and-proper Rocky has never uttered a bad word in her life! All are stunned, so much so that they don’t hear Orson screaming for help at the bottom of the steps.)

ORSON: (Off.) Get him off ‘a me!

ROCKY: Oops! Four-letter word. Did I just say one?

ORSON: (Off.) Get him the hell off ‘a me!!

ROCKY: Sorry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (Returning to Planet Earth.) ORSON!!! (She rushes to the landing, afraid to look but does.) You okay?

ORSON: (Off.) If I can get myself untangled here. (After a pause.) Someone get the door.

BULLET: (Volunteering.) I’ll get it. I got it.

(Carol-Leigh makes a last-minute look-see around the area.)

CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a sec! He’s gotta hat. (She scoops the dead man’s ball cap up from off the floor and hands it to Bullet who rushes off down the steps, twirling it on a finger.)

BULLET: (Half to herself.) What’s he gonna do without his hat?

ORSON: (Off.) Is it clear?

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying the question to Shannon.) Is it clear?

(Shannon takes a good look.)

SHANNON: Okay, now!

CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying her reply.) GO, GO, GO!

(There is the sound of howling wind from outside as the street door opens and shuts.)

SHANNON: (Like a sportscaster.) He’s out the door. He’s slipping and sliding, but he’s still on his feet. So far so good. Bullet is standing look-out on the corner.

CAROL-LEIGH: Smart girl.

SHNNON: Half-nude.

CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, terrific.

SHANNON: She’s stepping from foot to foot. She’s either cold or she’s gotta pee.

CAROL-LEIGH: I love it.

(Rocky stands clutching her crucifix, eyes shut, praying silently but mightily, crossing herself from time to time.)

CAROL-LEIGH: What now? (She hurries to the window.) What now?

SHANNON: He’s dragging the body, leaving a corpse-trail in the snow.

CAROL-LEIGH: For crying out loud! (She stands on her toes attempting to look over Shannon’s shoulder.) What’s going on? What’s going on?

SHANNON: (Whirling around.) What’s going on! What’s going on! Stop asking me what’s going on! (She looks out the window again.) Oh, no! (She taps her nails frantically on the glass. She tries to open the window to no avail. She throws her arms up in despair.) I want a Christmas bonus.

CAROL-LEIGH: What’s going on?

SHANNON: A patrol car’s coming!

CAROL-LEIGH: (With outstretched arms heavenward.) Why me, Lord?

SHANNON: (Shouting, horror-struck.) LOOK OUT! COME BACK!

(There is the sudden wail of a police siren and all three freeze, panic stricken, as the red beam of the siren lights up the room. The patrol car zooms by, the siren growing gradually fainter, as Shannon takes a quick sneak-peek down below. Sighing with relief, liking what she sees, she pulls the drapes shut.)

SHANNON: Let the wake begin!

(Rocky opens one eye.)

ROCKY: Mission accomplished?

SHANNON: Party down!

(Orson and Bullet come up the stairs.)

ORSON: Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s have some fun. I’m through with dead bodies.

(The two join the others now at the bar.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Thank you very, very much.

SHANNON: You guys are great. (To Orson.) Gimme a cheek. (She gives him a peck.)

(Bullet hugs her breasts, shivering all over.)

BULLET: It’s cold out there. My God, it must be two degrees. When I got outside, I thought: This is really stupid. I’m not dressed!

ORSON: You have goosebumps all over you.

BULLET: I’m cold! (Teeth chattering uncontrollably.) Never been so cold.

(Orson takes his coat off.)

ORSON: You’ll catch pneumonia. (He drapes it over her shoulders.) Don’t you drop dead on us. Have a brandy to warm you up.

CAROL-LEIGH: On me. I’d like to buy everybody a round.

ROCKY: (A teetotaler.) Can I have a drink of water, please? (She fumbles in her purse and produces a tiny bottle of pills.) I have a bad headache. (She flips the top off with a thumb) I need Advil. I can’t work here without Advil. (She shakes the bottle. It’s empty! She’s crushed.)

(Orson pats her tenderly on the back.)

ORSON: Hey, it’s going to be all right. Smile. ‘Tis the season. (Then cheerfully to the others.) C’mon, lets get this party started. Let the good times roll.

(Carol-Leigh lines up a row of snifter glasses and fills them. They hold up their drinks and toast, ab libbing “Merry Christmas,” etc. Then throwing their heads back, they all down the contents in one gulp, except for Rocky who takes a hefty-sized organizer from her bag to make an entry.

CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson, re: the body.) Where’d you put him?

ORSON: Where else? In the rear of the alley. Beside the Dumpster.

ROCKY: (To herself, half-aloud as she writes.) Advil.

ORSON: On an abandoned La-Z-Boy. Where he’ll be comfy.

ROCKY: (Rethinking her entry.) A crate full of Advil!

(Carol-Leigh collects the glasses and gives the bar a once-over with a bar towel.)

CAROL-LEIGH: (Half to herself.) I can’t believe there was a dead body in here.

BULLET: (Blowing on her hands.) With the crowd today, he fit right in. He didn’t tip me, either.

SHANNON: I’m disappointed there wasn’t more blood. He looked like my ex.

ROCKY: (Shocked.) Shannon!

SHANNON: Just joking.

BULLET: Wishful thinking, you mean.

SHANNON: You’re right. If I had an ice pick, I’d like to put fifty holes in him.

ORSON: (To change the subject.) Did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: Who? Oh, the dead dude?

BULLET: Yeah, did he pay his tab?

SHANNON: He stiffed me!

ROCKY: Ho, ho, ho. I want to take a shower. I feel dirty. Don’t you guys feel dirty? This was bad.

ORSON: I’ll take a shower with you.

ROCKY: Don’t be naughty!

ORSON: C’mon! It’ll be fun! I’ll get a room.

ROCKY: No! (A pause.) But you can tip me if you want to. (She lifts her gartered leg.)

ORSON: Don’t trip on the body going out. (Laughing.) That’s a good tip. That’s a good one, isn’t it? (No one laughs.) Hey, what do I look like, the Federal Reserve? I’m not.

ROCKY: (Pouting.) Aren’t you going to tip me for Christmas? (Orson reluctantly peels off a single from a wad in his pocket and slips it in her garter.) Only one? I have a ten, a five, and three ones. If you give me two dollars, I can get a twenty-dollar bill.

ORSON: (To the others.) Miss Sting here. (To Rocky, rolling his eyes.) Okay, okay, give me the ten and the five and the two ones and I’ll give you a twenty as a Christmas gift.

(The two carry out the transaction, much to the amusement of the others, and Rocky tucks the twenty in her garter.)

ROCKY: What time is it?

(Orson checks his watch.)

ORSON: Not even six.

ROCKY: That’s all it is? (She straightens her antlers.) I don’t feel like dancing another set? (To Orson.) You have five singles for the jukebox? It only takes dollars and I only have a twenty.

(It is then that another sudden gush of wind rushes up the stairwell from outside. There is the sound of footsteps and all eyes turn toward the entrance. A solitary figure, not unlike the dead man, in a Redskin ball cap, appears in the doorway, his shadow stretching across the floor, falling just short of their feet. The figure gives no greeting, just stands and looks about.)

STRANGER: (After a glance.) Dead, huh? (After a long pause.) Catch you later. (He descends the stairs.)

(For a moment, it is very quiet. All are noticeably startled. Bullet breaks the silence.)

BULLET: Man, was that weird, or what? (She turns to the others.) Am I the only person who thinks that was weird?

SHANNON: Weird. That was weird.

CAROL-LEIGH: Bizarre.

SHANNON: Certainly was that.

CAROL-LEIGH: Strange.

SHANNON: That, too.

ORSON: As much as I like here, I’m getting the hell outta here. One more drink and I’m outta here. I don’t want him catching me later.

BULLET: What’d he say? “Dead, huh?” I hope he meant business.

CAROL-LEIGH: Who was it, someone taking a sneak peek?

ROCKY: (Terrified.) I’m not so sure. (Clutching her crucifix once again.) For a moment, I thought it was him.

SHANNON: Me, too.

ROCKY: Maybe the Man upstairs is telling us something.

SHANNON: That’s what I was thinking.

ROCKY: It’s Christmas Eve. Santa knows who’s been naughty and nice.

CAROL-LEIGH: What if … I don’t know. This is exhausting me. What if …

BULLET: Spit it out, Carol-Leigh. What are you trying to say, we should bring him back in?

ROCKY: (All for it.) Yeah!

SHANNON: Maybe we should.

ORSON: I like the idea.

BULLET: He’s upstairs, he’s downstairs. Corpse in, corpse out. I wish y’all would make up your minds.

ROCKY: Hope he’s still out there. I had CDs stolen out of my car a week ago. It was the second time.

SHANNON: (Taking a cell phone from her purse.) Carol-Leigh, what do you want?

CAROL-LEIGH: I want to wake up and say I had the weirdest dream. I want to go home. I want my mom.

SHANNON: No, on your pizza. (And dialing Domino’s

The Curtain Falls)


Dan Valentine – I Miss Kissing You

December 10, 2010

I MISS KISSING YOU
Words by Daniel Valentine
© 2010

“Why did I have to go and fall for a soldier?
Soldiers march off and oh how I long to hold yer
Face and mouth to mine
While arms and legs and tongues entwine.

Other than in my dreams it’s, like, been forever,
So late at night it seems, since we kissed, and never
Have I missed your touch –
Your lips and fingertips — so much . . .”

Such are the thoughts inside my head,
Alone and lonely home in bed.
Thoughts better left for now unsaid.
So this I wrote my love instead:

“Missing you,
I miss kissing you
Under the mistletoe,
Three or four sweet sips
From a cup of hot cocoa on your lips . . .

Missing you,
I miss kissing you
Under the town hall clock –
Friends and fam’ly there –
Colored bits of confetti in our hair.

I miss kissing you,
Curled up in your arms,
In the glow of firelight.
I miss kissing you
And making up
Those few foolish times we fight.
I miss kissing you
Good morning.
I miss kissing you
Goodnight.

Missing you,
I miss kissing you.
When I think the last time
We kissed was goodbye,
The day you left for the war,
I’m sad for a while
But force a brave smile,
Counting the days and living for when
You walk through the jetway to kiss you again,
Baby, and then
Hold you and kiss you some more.”


Dan Valentine – Wedding ring in the pawnshop window

November 20, 2010

I’m back and back is beautiful, to tweak a phrase. Where have I been? Taking care of business with the helping hand of a special-special life-long friend.

For now, I’ll simply say: Life is an adventure, a gift and a grand adventure, and more than just a mite irksome at times.

These many weeks, in what little spare time I’ve had, I’ve also been writing lyrics. Everyone needs a hobby. Mine is writing lyrics.

Thus, the following song regarding our times:

WEDDING RING
IN THE PAWNSHOP WINDOW
By Daniel Valentine
(c) 2010

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
The price tag on a string,
Tied to the wedding ring,
Says it all, says ev’rything.
Life seldom ever goes as planned.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
To think the joy it must
Have brought once. Now it’s just
Sitting there collecting dust,
Pawned for a fast few bucks in hand.

That said, a future groom and bride,
Their savings on the meager side,
Stop to sneak a peak, beguiled and starry-eyed.

And what they see are tons and tons
Of rare old coins, guitars and guns,
One music box, two cuckoo clocks,
Plus a fly or three dead on the sill.
Then they see the ring and all is still.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
It glimmers and it gleams.
It’s ev’rything that dreams
Are made of, or so it seems,
And all for less than half a grand.

And so, like tens of times before,
The tiny bell above the door
Jingles as the lovers step inside the store.

And, oh, the sparkle in her eyes
When first she tries it on for size.
It fits just right and in the light,
When she holds her left hand out to show,
Like her heart, the diamond’s all aglow.

The wedding ring
In the pawnshop window.
The register ka-chings.
An angel gets its wings.
And a tweetie birdie sings.
All while a credit card is scanned.

The wedding ring
In the panwshop window.
A mom with bills to pay
In need without delay
Pawned the ring to save the day,
Such are the times in our fair land.


Dan Valentine, Hosteling is a gas

September 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

I like a hostel. More than once I’ve said I love a hostel. I’m downgrading my heartfelt affection a notch or two.

My stay here, which up to now comes to a little more than four months — twice as long as my second marriage — has been killing me from day one, or so I believe — little by little, slowly but surely, softly with its song.

“Sssssssssss!”

I don’t feel well — and haven’t for weeks. I can hardly lift a finger, take a single step. I walk around like — well, like the living dead.

For many months now — no doubt, way before I ever arrived — there has been a leak in a gas pipe just outside the kitchen door, which is left open during the daylight hours. It’s a miracle of sorts that nothing disastrous has happened despite the fact that guests have been cooking all the while on the gas stove, the leak just a short ways away.

From the online edition of The Hindu, India’s National Newspaper, 2008: “Two died as gas exploded in a hostel kitchen in Bangalore. The explosion damaged window panes of the hostel as well as those of neighboring houses.”

From BBC News: “Last September four Brits were among 13 guests at an alpine hostel in Tyrol, Austria, who were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning from a leak from a faulty heating system after some of the guests complained of dizziness, headaches, and blurred vision.”

Dizziness? I can relate to that of late.

A few weeks ago, I got up one morning, lit a cigarette on the back veranda, took a puff or two, stood up, and had to catch myself, gripping firmly onto the iron grate of a nearby Spanish gate, afraid I was going to faint.

Headaches? I can relate to that, too.

When I was younger, I suffered mightily from severe migraines. After getting the holy crap beat out of me in D.C. a few years ago, the migraines mysteriously went away. I was mugged and beaten so bad that the culprits, afraid they had killed me, ran off without taking my wallet and money. As a result of the beating, my daily migraines vanished. Poof! Some good came from bad. But, in the past few weeks, the headaches have returned.

Blurred vision? That, too I can relate to, but it’s not a recent development. In my youth, I worked for Sen. Orrin Hatch. That’s what brought me Washington, the nation’s murder capital at the time.

From “Messageboards – Bolivia: “Our first night we had carbon monoxide poisoning from the hostel we stayed in. People were passing out, being sick and we all had massive headaches.”

Being sick? That I have been. Very, very sick. Massive headaches? Not massive but, as I mentioned, headaches have become a part of my daily life once again.

I haven’t passed out, but I can barely stand at times. One morning Rodreigo, daytime receptionist/nighttime musician, happened to come out the back door to the veranda, where I was bracing myself again, one hand grasping a nearby rail. I had just had my first morning puff of a cigarette. I handed him my newly-bought pack. “Take ‘em!” I said. “They’re killing me!” I went for a long walk along the beach down the road.

From Wikipedia: “Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide.”

Soon after talking in the fresh sea air I felt much better — for a short time.

From Wikipedia again: Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include headaches (check), vertigo (check), and flu-like effects.”

A few weeks back a visitor from Finland stayed here for a time. We became fast friends. He was moving to Canada for the warm weather. (That’s how cold Finland is!) He did not enjoy his time here. He was sick with the flu almost his entire stay, as I was long after he left. He thought he had caught it from two visiting Germans who had the flu. They, too, without knowing it, may well have been suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

From Wikipedia once again: “Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression.

I was sitting one day on the veranda. Two guests were sitting talking at the picnic bench — one from the mainland of Mexico, one from Switzerland. Both where jovial and happy — on vacation from worry and woe. The Mexican smiled and asked me, “Enjoying life?”

“Nope!” I replied and I was deadly serious.

Shortly after, the two rose from their seats and returned inside. I could read their thoughts: “What’s his problem? He’s no fun!”

I’m almost always “up”. I rarely, if ever, get depressed. And when I am, I try my best to hide the fact. But when you feel like you’re dying . . .

From the website “Silent shadow : silent killer”:

“Carbon monoxide, also known as CO, is a potentially deadly gas that can have devastating effects upon your life — assuming, of course, that it doesn’t kill you.”

I’ve been inhaling the fumes for months now. One day, some weeks back, I felt so sick that I strolled slowly up the street to the nearest hospital, which wasn’t that close, to the emergency entrance. Gathered outside were countless poor. Standing and sitting in the waiting room were countless more. The receptionist didn’t speak English. We tried to communicate with each other best we could. She asked one of those waiting to show me her card. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist. It was a Mexican social security card. The receptionist wanted to know if I had one. I shook my head no and went on my way.

From some internet source (I’ve misplaced my notes; I’m not thinking straight): “Exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to confusion.”

To say the least! A month or so ago, I lost my debit card. The cash machines here are in Spanish. Of course! I pressed the wrong button and it ate my card. I had to take the bus to the border an hour and half away, to the closest Chase Bank to get cash. Gabrielle/Gabby, the hostel manager, lent me money for the fare.

The bad news: Chase won’t mail me a new card until I have a U.S. address to mail it to.

The good news: When I withdrew much-needed cash, I found several hundred dollars that I didn’t know was there. My bestest best friend in the world had deposited it into my account. Who does that but a saint? She has little money to spare. She was up for tenure this year as full professor at the University of Houston-Clear Lake but was let go — only to be rehired directly afterward as an adjunct professor, teaching the same classes she’s been teaching the past five years at the same university at half or so the salary. And she’s not the only one! Class-action law-suit stuff!

In the movies. Not in real life.

Once again, from “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can and does kill thousands of people each year. Some people simply slip away into unconsciousness or a deep sleep from which they will never reawaken.”

Thank heaven for the frequent all-night drinking parties on the back veranda. Few guests if any — carbon monoxide or no — are likely to slip away into a deep sleep here.

From some source on the internet (I forget which one): “Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause memory loss.”

Memory loss. Memory loss. Hmmm. What’s that? Oh, yes, memory loss! (Check.)

Just kidding. I can well remember the night a gas leak was first suspected. Three or so weeks back, I was out on the back veranda again, chatting with a young London couple and a young backpacker from Australia.

One of them asked, “Can you smell that?”

I said, “No, what?” My nose has been broken so man times I can’t smell a thing.

“Smells like rotten eggs.”

“It’s gas,” said another. “Leaking gas.”

“Holy shit!” said a third.

From “Silent shadow : silent killer”: “Carbon monoxide has no taste, color or odor, and can be breathed in over a short or long time without you ever knowing that it is present.”

Suppliers add a rotten egg scent to signal that harmful gas vapors are loose in the air. Until that night, no one had complained about it. Except for the Danes, and they had pointed their fingers at me! Those damn Danes!

I immediately informed Gabby, who wrinkled her brow and said she had been having headaches for months.

A few days later, the owner — of the business, not the building — who lives in Switzerland, paid a short visit with his wife, whom he had met here at the hostel. He’s Mexican-born and very dashing. She’s Parisian and very lovely. They both look like movie stars. I like movie stars. But, at that present time, for this particular precarious predicament, what the place needed was a GLS — a Gas-Leak Specialist.

Hostels are wonderfully inexpensive because they’re run on the cheap. A buck saved here, a buck saved there. Some bad comes with good. Life is a two-sided coin.

Shortly after his arrival, the owner of the hostel business (not the building) smeared soap suds from a cloth on the gas pipes in and around the boiler, watching for bubbles to arise, exposing the leak. Unable to detect one, the dashing pair dashed on their way — they were on vacation — the scent of leaking gas still in the air.

The task and glory of finding the leak fell upon the shoulders of Rodreigo, the daytime receptionist/nighttime musician. Several days went by without success. Then one morning on bended knee, he leaned an ear down to listen.

“Sssssssssss!”

The sssss-hissing sound was coming from a puncture in a very thin pipe on the ground by the kitchen door. He smeared soap on it and the bubbling suds billowed up as if it were a boiling mud pot in Yellowstone National Park. You had to see it to believe it! Caught on film, it surely would have been a huge hit on YouTube. Rodreigo covered the leak with a wet towel. Ole!

A professional Gas-Leak Specialist was contracted to replace the punctured pipe. While doing so, he told Gabby a story about another leak he had recently fixed. After leaving the premises upon completion of his task, according to the specialist, the gentleman residing there had lit himself a cigar and — boom! — one of the walls exploded outward in flames, leaving a major peep-hole in his bedroom. Fumes from the gas leak had seeped into the paint on the wall.

But, anyway, back to the hostel here . . .

So all’s well, right? Perhaps, perhaps not. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I can’t write. I can’t walk but for a few short steps at a time. When I’m not resting in my bunk, I’m resting on the one “comfortable” chair on the back veranda.

Gabby has told me more than once: Everyone else is okay! — though, she herself experienced headaches many days after the leak was fixed. (But, then again, perhaps the headaches were caused by me! That could very well be!)

I, in rebuttal, have replied: Most everyone else stays for a couple of days or so. I’ve been here for four straight months. Most everyone else takes in the sights, so they’re out and about. I’ve been staying inside, day in and day out, writing and typing away at the computer here. I rarely leave the place.

A couple of nights ago I came out from resting in my room for a bite to eat in the kitchen. “Are you okay?” she asked. She, too, now is concerned about my health.

I lied and said I was.

First thing the next morning, gazing at me with deep concern, she asked, “You want me to take you to the Red Cross?”

I told her there was a VA medical center in La Jolla and that I was going to take the bus there in the next couple of days.

“I have business to do in Tijuana,” she said. “I will drive you to the border.”

From Googling again: “In many cases, the symptoms may wear off within a short period.”

Good to hear, comforting to know!

“However, in some cases the effects are permanent, particularly in the case of brain damage.”

This, I must admit, is worrisome. When you’re down and out, you get through each day thinking to yourself that you’ll get out of the mess you’ve got yourself into — somehow, someway. There are still opportunities out there, you tell yourself, if you can just hang in there and brave it out.

But with brain damage, well, you have no options but one: being bused to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin rallies.


Dan Valentine – My Sister/My Brother, part 1

August 11, 2010

By Dan Valentine

MY SISTER / MY BROTHER – Part 1

One magical, fairy-tale of an evening, back in 1998, my baby sister Valerie—she is eight-years younger than myself—was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

And I was there!

She is one of the few ballerinas and/or Americans ever to be so honored.

Funny, just a few short years before in Manhattan, after my sister had performed onstage with the great Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev—yes, that one!—my mom had doused out a cigarette in the Queen’s half-empty cocktail.  At a reception for members of the Dutch community in town (Walter Cronkite was there), my mom, looking around for an ashtray and not finding one nearby, spotted a half-filled drink and plopped her cig in it.  A moment later, the Queen came back, after a brief newspaper interview, to finish her toddy, only to find a, well, you-know-what in it.

But back to little sister’s knighthood.

Earlier that morning, I had attended a ballet class with my sister.  Ballerinas and their male counterparts take class every day of the week to brush up on their technique and such.  They stretch, move to the Barre, and do sequences in the center of the floor for an hour or so.  This is followed by grueling hours of rehearsals for upcoming and/or present performances.  So, anyway, I was standing by the wayside watching a Russian ballerina from the Bolshoi twirl around and around and around.  We made eye contact and she fainted, dead away.  In my dreams, I caught her in my arms.  In reality, she slumped to the floor.  I like to think it was caused by my George Clooney good looks, but it was probably caused by exhaustion.

That day, for a short time, I was the talk of the company.

Her lifemate, Roeland Kerbosch, an award-winning Dutch film director, had informed me a short time beforehand what was to take place that evening.  I remember smoking—of course! as they say in the Netherlands—by the stage door of the Muziektheater in Amsterdam when my sister showed to suit up.  She told me that she was worried about that night’s performance.  Can’t remember why.  All I was thinking was:  Val, this is going to be one of, if not thee greatest night of your life.

Utah-born ballerina Valerie Valentine, Dutch National Ballet

Valerie Valentine, Dutch National Ballet

Later that evening, Valerie—I call her Val, sometimes Vali—was dancing onstage when suddenly everyone but herself stopped in their tracks.  The conductor put down his baton.  The music stopped.  The performance came to a halt.  My sister, in the middle of a pas de deux or whatever, looked around perplexed.  What the heck is going on?

After a moment, the Mayor of Amsterdam walked on stage and bestowed upon her the Order of the Dutch Lion—the highest honor a non-military person can receive in the Netherlands—in recognition for her 25 years of “significant contribution to the art of dance.”

He read from a scroll:  “Admired for her energy and dedication to her work, Valerie Valentine’s beautiful sense of line, strong technique and expressive, magical stage presence have inspired not only choreographers, but photographers and filmmakers as well . . .”

Needless to say, there was a party afterward.  Cocktails, hors d’œuvres, a band, dancing, etc.  I was very happy for my sister, ecstatically so.  But I left the celebration shortly after it began.

I can’t remember feeling sadder.

Sitting at an outside cafe, just a few a blocks away, was my artist brother Jimmy, uninvited (and rightly so; he was literally crazy as hell), doing his best to drink himself to death, an endeavor he would shortly accomplish.

He died four years later, age 48, in Torremolinos, Malaga, Spain . . . on Valentine’s Day.

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Dan Valentine – Mexican balada

August 5, 2010

So I’m sitting on the back veranda of the hostel here having my first cup of coffee and my first cough from a cigarette—it’s what I do best—when a guest here for relaxation and rest joins me. Best, guest, rest. Perfect internal rhymes and, so far, a perfect morning.

I tell her what I’ve been writing about for the past week or two or so and she says, off the top of her head: “The gays of our lives.”

Now, if that’s not the greatest title for a book on such a topic, I don’t know what is.

In the beginning, I was merely going to write about my gay-bashing. But night after night, culling through my mind subconsciously, I sit straight up in bed and say to myself, “Oh, yeah! The two gay guys the manager at Trevi Towers in Salt Lake found nude in the sauna!” Or: “The time I was called a poof by a Glasgow taxi driver when I didn’t tip him enough!” Or . . . well, the list gets longer every night.

I think I have a book whatever it’s called. But I’m going to think on it for awhile, a day or three.

So, last night, instead of writing another pink-cigarette-lighter piece, I put the finishing touches on a Mexican balada.

In English, of course. I took two years of Spanish in high school, but my mom did my homework. She had spent half of World War II in Chile, Peru, and Boliva. Her first husband was a mining engineer, and back then she spoke fluent Spanish. She wanted to prove to herself that she still had the skill. So, not only did she help me with my homework, she did my homework! As a result, she got an A, I got a D—which averaged out to a C. And I didn’t learn a goddamn thing.

I told my sister this once and she said our mom had done her homework, too. As a result, my mom got another A and my sis, she got a—I didn’t have to ask.

Neither of us can speak Spanish, though she can speak fluent Dutch after living in Amsterdam for some-forty years.

My brother couldn’t speak a word of Spanish, either, though he died in Malaga, Spain, the birthplace of Picasso.

But back to my Mexican balado—a sad, Spanish ballad, sometimes called a tearjerker. In the background, picture mariachis. More than anything else, I guess, it’s a concert/nightclub/theater piece.

*   *   *   *   *

ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
By Daniel Valentine (c) 2010

I’ve total recall
Of the summer we met.
That fall and that Christmas
I’ll never forget.

And now, close to Easter,
With thoughts of that year—
Spring break all but here—
Reminiscing, as ev’ryone does,
I remember the spring
That never was.

I imagine a flight and a window seat,
Waves dancing below in the shimmering heat,
Cancun just beyond the wing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?

Sometimes late at night,
Quarter past one or two,
I’ll smile on those seasons
So sweet, oh-too few.

But round about three-ish
Or four-ish, I find,
What creeps into mind,
Uninvited, when slighted hearts stir,
Are the four days, three nights
That never were.

I imagine a towel for two in the sun,
Our bodies so snug passersby swear we’re one
Whenever we closely cling.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?

Mescal to consume!
Spring break in full swing!
While friends toured the tomb
Of some Mayan king,
I sat alone in my room
By a phone that didn’t ring.

My folks are concerned,
As our others, because:
What good is obsessing
On what never what?

But spring’s here and lovers,
They stroll hand-in-hand,
Barefoot on white sand,
And I can’t help but think of back when.
I remember the spring
That might have been.

I imagine a kiss on a moonlit beach,
Each star in the sky within fingertip reach.
Nearby mariachis sing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
The god-damnedest dumbest thing?

(spoken:)
Cancun is a spring break paradise, attracting some
200,000 college students. The 16-mile long island is
located on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, between
the Caribbean Sea and the lovely Nichupte Lagoon and
boasts all a spring breaker could ever hope to die
for: beach volleyball, beautiful people, spectacular
sunsets, and lots of other fun stuff, too, like
tequila shots and celebrity sightings. And, though,
I have never been there, I hate the place like I
never hated any place on the face of the Earth
before.

(sung:)
Mescal to consume!
Spring break in full swing!
While friends toured the tomb
Of some Mayan king,
I sat alone in my room
By a phone that didn’t ring.

My folks are concerned,
As are others, because:
What good is obsessing
On what never was?

But spring’s here and lovers,
They stroll hand-in-hand,
Barefoot on white sand,
And I can’t help but think of back when.
I remember the spring
That might have been.

I imagine a flight and a window seat,
Waves dancing below in the shimmering heat,
Cancun just beyond the wing.
ISN’T THAT THE DUMBEST THING?
The god-damnedest dumbest thing?

Send a balada to your friends:

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Dan Valentine – Pink cigarette lighter, part 6

July 30, 2010

By Dan Valentine

THE PINK CIGARETTE LIGHTER – Part 6

When my bestest friend and I first moved into our new one-story home in Friendswood, TX, the fellow next door, who owned a nice three-story house, came over and said how happy he was to have a nice couple such as ourselves now living next door as neighbors.

The couple before us, he said, were “f**king faggots!” and used to host poolside orgies in their backyard. It disgusted him. That, he informed us, was the reason for the extra-high security fence separating his back property from ours.

I met him again while getting the mail shortly after Hurricane Ike. He asked me if I had gotten my $500 check from the government. They were handing out checks to those in need with property damage.

Hurricane Ike had missed us. There WAS no property damage. But his kind, they know how! His grandfather had developed the neighborhood and, as a result, the fellow next door was living the good life. He spent the majority of his time at his beach house on the Gulf.

Shortly afterward I read a story in the Houston Chronicle telling of how the poor were finding it almost impossible to collect that much-needed check.

A few months later, I met him for a third time walking out to get the mail. He told me: “That sure is a purty little gal you got there.”

Only a fat f**k (and I’m speaking of his head, though, his body was a monument to the god of saturated-fats) could make such a remark sound perverted as all-get-out. It made my skin crawl just to type the phrase and hear his voice again inside my brain.

Extra-tall security fence or not, he obviously had been peeping out of his third-floor window when she was sunbathing by the pool–oftentimes topless, thinking she had the privacy to do so, unaware a pervert was watching, gleefully. He may very well have been doing something else, gleefully, while watching. I picture him snacking on pork rinds.

She never felt comfortable poolside again.

We sold the home a couple of years later to a NASA project manager for a future manned-flight to Mars.

I had left a couple of things behind in the confusion and commotion of moving and one afternoon I returned to retrieve them. I knocked on the door and the new owner answered.

His male companion stood close beside him, wearing tight-fitting speedos! Not that there is anything wrong with tight-fitting speedos, as they would say on Will and Grace, but he might as well have been wearing assless chaps. They were obviously lovers.

I went off to Austin, then Provo, then Nashville, and many parts in between, and when my bested friend bought a home close by to NASA, I flew back to Texas, and I’m walking down the street one day, stop at a “Don’t Walk” sign, and a fat fellow behind the wheel of a somewhat familiar-looking SUV, waiting to make a right turn, waves me over through the darkened windshield.

I thought I must still have that look of homelessness and the fellow wanted to give me a quarter or so to help himself get into heaven when the time came to fill out the application. (List any or all good deeds: “Gave 37 cents to a homeless person once.”)

It turned out to be our former fat-f**k of a next-door neighbor in Friendswood. He rolled down his window and said, “Y’know, I think that couple you sold your home to are goddamn queers.”

It made my day. “Oh, yeaaaaah!”

And pickled pink, I went on my way, picturing him in my mind peeking out of his third-story window, cursing under his breath, while two fellas playfully in the pool next door below splashed water at each other–him, the fat-f**K, crunching on a pork rind and thinking to himself, “I sure do miss that purty little gal.”


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