The First Play by
Adler S Walt
Manuscript completed on 12 August 2004.
Consolidated 10 December 2014.
Dedicated to Joanna Kocab,
As to relate the events that occurred immediately before we met.
8 November 2001
They are sitting quietly in a Haifa hills café that is small and dimly lit. The last light of day falls softly on the Carmel. A fleeting splendor ripples over the harbor bay.
The boy is too thin to look American. His eyes have a lean and hungry look and are bad eyed and deeply sunken. They are filled with hate. His clothing is worn and torn. He might even be mistaken for a Russian street kid. The dirty gray corduroy cap on his head is encrusted with sand and sweat. It conceals his natty brown hair and gives him the appearance of a child like Che Guevara, perhaps in his own mind alone. The loose, blue pin-stripe suit he wears had been kosher cut in Golder’s Green, but is now a patchwork of torn threads and desert dust. He removes a crumpled green pack of Noblisse cigarettes from the inner pocket, puts one in his mouth and lights it. He takes long drags.
Like he’s learned to smoke by imitating some noire movie detective.
It looks as though he might cry out at any moment, or lash out across the table throttling the chubby preacher with his bare hands. If he lets down his guard down long enough though, he might have to admit defeat.
Occasionally the boy looks up to stare across the table at the man who is so determined to save him. This true Christian soldier has a cherub-like face even though he is in his forties and sports a brown scraggly beard. The chubby man is a proselytizer disguised as a tour guide. The man is uncertain whether this meeting will lead to more violent outbursts. His last encounter with this boy in Jerusalem was a debacle. The man says a quick prayer and begins to talk in his soft Midwestern drawl.
“I’m sorry,” the preacher says.
The boy looks up. His response is steady and calculated despite his condition.
“They fucked her within an inch of her life before they killed her. They ripped her to shreds. The body was cut into pieces and they dumped her along the southern highway as if they knew there wasn’t even any use in covering the thing up. Where was the man Jesus then? What do you know of good hard pain?”
It is a sharp and biting response. There is a quick pause and the flash of yet another silent prayer as the fat man’s eyes dart up.
“I know plenty about plenty. Do you remember what I said that first evening we met Sebastian?”
The boy’s eyes focus intently. He is uncomfortable with anyone using his real name. No one has used his real name for a long time. Suddenly there is some frustration in his voice.
“Why do you insist on calling me that?”
“Because it is your name.”
“My name is Zachariah Artstien.”
The preacher give him a ‘boy don’t talk crazy’ look.
“Your name is Sebastian.”
“Bu there is no such a person anymore. If you wish to carry on this conversation you will not refer to me by the name of a man who is rotting in the ground,” he responds sharply.
“You know I don’t like to humor your devils.”
“You know I do not like to humor your just about anything,” the boy retorts. “You cannot save me. I don’t believe in your religion. You are wasting your time on me, yet again.”
“Please calm down, Sebastian.”
The boy gets up to leave.
There is authority in the man’s voice for the first time.
“I told you the first time we met that I saw a well of pain in your eyes that was so deep that you might drown in your own sorrow. The night we met I laid awake praying for hours in the hope that you might find peace.”
“Redemption being some man called Jesus of Nazareth, of course. Shut the fuck up.”
“Could you please stop?”
He looks like the kind of person who says ‘darnit.’
“What do you really know about me? About this Sebastian you’re trying so hard to save? I grow very tired of people these days. Especially those with penchants for doing the Lord’s work through lost children. There is nothing you can say to me to make me forget everything that has happened.”
“You can forget the past, Sebastian. Even the immediate past.”
“Well thank you, you quintessential, self-helping faith healer!”
“I killed two people last night.”
The preacher stares into him and knows that cannot possibly be true.
It’s not in the prophesy.
“Not everything you saw actually happened to you. You are not a corpse, but you have allowed hateful demons to possess your body and speak on your behalf. It is time to go home!”
“My home is a place near two flaming towers where men of finance sacrificed three thousand of my former country men to their false god and those that rule this country collaborated with them!”
His words sear the man’s heart as he continues.
“Thank you for telling me what everyone always tells me, just in case I had forgotten the misery and grind of things since yesterday? Perhaps another brilliant cliché is in order like ‘be myself?’ Or forgive my enemies perhaps! I’ve been trying. I swear I have. In all honesty I think your coming here was a waste of both of our time. I have no home at all.”
The man’s tone changes.
“I figure you tell lots of tales. Throw around theology at people and radical rhetoric. You’d tell your secrets to any stranger who’d care to listen if you thought it would teach them something. But that doesn’t make your secrets true.”
“I don’t follow you.”
“How many people speak out of your mouth boy? Who’s that imaginary friend whispering in your ear? It’s gotten worse since you arrived here in the land hasn’t it? Can you tell anymore who is talking, you or the devils?”
“Don’t worry your neurons. So what’s the moral, Brent Avery? The take away?”
“What I want you to do is to tell me how you came to be the way you are without Zachariah doing the story-telling. Why are you so angry at your tribe and country of birth, the world in general and even God himself? ”
“You would never understand that story, Brent. It isn’t set in places where the wind blows lightly on the plain.”
“Try me then, boy. Believe it or not we’re not so different. God cries for all of us.”
“Oh really!? I don’t believe that for a second. He spits on us with his indifference! I doubt that there are two people who could be more different than you and I. You have your Lord, your God. You serve him blindly like a sheep. My only higher power is the coming revolt. I will get what I contribute.”
“They are one and the same these higher powers you speak of.”
“Really, Brent Avery? Do you think I believe that?”
“No. I don’t think you don’t know what you believe in anymore. Other than in the hate that never leaves you, other than the demons whispering inside you to pick up arms and kill without compunction for cause.”
The thin boy smiles with a shit eating, devilish grin.
“At least I can believe in my hate. But if faith is what governs us–you in your God, and me in the coming revolution–what makes you think we should see eye to eye on anything? You play the preacher pray boy and I’ll play the rebel with righteous cause.”
“You should confide in me because we all have nightmares about the things we can’t control. Your demons have taken their toll, Sebastian Adon. An ocean, a new name and some ten thousand miles later ain’t improved your sleep, boy. Is that truth?”
The coffee shop has all but emptied out, still the boy doesn’t answer. The Arab Christian is keeping it open for the sole prospect of what these Americans might buy. He will stay open all night as long as they keep drinking and eating things. The Carmel is sometimes slow on a Tuesday night. Especially since the uprising began.
“You want to hear a yarn?” the boy asks.
“I want to hear a true story.”
“There’s no such thing as a true, Brent. There’s only the mostly true, the heartfelt and remembered past. It’s a long story. It goes well with vodka and cigarettes.”
“We’ve got all night, but you’ll have to settle for coffee. I’m not much of a drinking man. I’ve come a very long way to get you home and I don’t have anywhere else I’d rather be.”
“Well, let us all hope this Arab can tolerate the sound of English and take mental notes. It begins with the tale of a rude boy on the last days of summer. It ends with a hooker beaten half to death on a lonely desert high way. A black man hanging from a tree and an early deportation. And we know exactly who brought the towers down, and more importantly why.”
Tough talk from a seventeen year old.
But the boy is still just a walking corpse with a demon inside him and the if the lord works in mysterious ways maybe Avery can him back to Babylon before someone, something or even himself will cut the story short, or worse change the underlying narrative. Take a boy meets girl, meets some Negro revolutionaries and twist it until you don’t even care who lives and who dies.
My oh my.
Tickle me Tamerlane. I wish I were part of a religion important enough to have my God housed in that thing, thinks the pilgrim as he looks up at the sprawling temple complex on the mount in this little desert town.
This is the Pale City in the badlands.
The streets are dark. An eerie twilight dances upon the cobblestones and the happy laugh of children is missing. The pilgrim senses that this place is just no good. There is no moon and someone has turned off the stars. He has been here many times before. He has wandered these cobblestone streets lost while searching, drinking deeply from the puddles of his own soul. Time has no meaning here. There are only the ghosts and the growing darkness surrounded by an endless desert of the mind. Each time he returns to bow down and to venture towards the light glimmering in the darkness. He is no longer sure this light even exists. Behind every locked door is some route to the horror freak-show of his subconscious, some lurking subterranean display of rape or torture. The place is good at making a religion out of violence.
The pilgrim passes by a towering Ferris wheel at the town wall; a Bregna barrier, an apartheid separation wall made of pyramid bricks and barbwire. The wheel sits in a thorn garden. Its operator is a hideous harlequin whose face is painted white, red, and black and who laughs like a mad man carries himself like a pederast.
There is no way out.
Every night the pilgrim returns to this personal hell, this Pale City in the desert, this home of perpetual blackness. His pilgrimage begins anytime he goes to sleep causing him to return to pay homage over and over again, to bear witness to hell as he understands it.
Tonight there is a great commotion coupled with alarm. The town’s transient population waits on the central square called umslagplatz. Their faces are twisted in grimaces too close to death to be truly alive. Everything appears grainy, toned in black, white and gray scale unless it needs to bleed. Then it is the color of bright red arterial blood, like a 1970’s B movie grindhouse.
The temple looks like a cross between the Hagia Sophia and the Luna Park housing projects, or maybe the Alhambra mixed with Astroland in its heyday. Robed clerics on the balconies of the temple drone out prayers from behind their grey hooded robes. One can never see their faces, accuse them of their crimes. The holy men are never from the pilgrim’s tribe.
A tall and twisted tree stands in the center of the square, bulus and ghatly. It looks like the last standing cherry tree in the parking lot at Chernobyl. It has flowers, but not the kind you would give a loved one. The pilgrim knows what is to come for he has read about it in a banned book called the New Testament. You can’t get a good translation of it within ten thousand miles of Brooklyn.
But most versions agree on one detail at least. When the messiah came back, well the forces of evil got him, got him good.
An illiterate and rowdy mob has assembled around the main square. A large garrison of foreign troops forms ranks and bars all the entrances and exits. A big black man crowned in barbed wire, already beaten nearly to death, is being dragged through the streets as the people pelt him with rocks and garbage screaming for his blood. The crowd exists as a single entity, a twisted sweating creature of manipulated rage. The black man carries a long wooden board over his muscular African shoulders. Grisly avulsions run down his back. His blood and sweat only lubricates the mob’s resolve to hurt him further. It emboldens them. Many would have begged for mercy or made an indignant show of fortitude toward their captors but this man simply marches along with a sad look in his grey eyes. His humility makes them hate him even more.
The pilgrim is watching the spectacle from his hiding place in a bombed out café at the edge of the square. He is too scared to get much closer. Finally, the man is lifted by the mob onto the tree. The beam is fastened. They begin nailing his hands to the ends of the board. Then they nail his feet with one great big rail spike right into the tree. Two more pitiful figures, some alleged criminal that the pilgrim didn’t know and some revolutionist are fastened next to this dying rebel. Their bodies form a triangle above the base of this crucifixion tree. The mob is cheering with an orgiastic glee, dancing about the tree. Soon they begin fucking each other right there on the square.
The pilgrim shudders. He is only thirteen and can’t speak the language much less really protect himself from that mob. He uses a pair of binoculars to look up from behind the counter of the derelict cafe into the eyes of the man. There is no fear or agony on the man’s face, simply the grim realization that he has failed in his mission. The black rebel spasms and coughs up blood as life drains out of him.
A soldier stabs him with a bayonet to seal the deed.
A young girl in a dirty white dress is hiding in the bombed out café also. She is only sixteen or seventeen and pregnant. She could be Arab or Puerto Rican but passes for blan. She has red hair like Jessica Rabbit, bright died red hair. She is sobbing quietly. Her hair is tied in the light grey wrap that pilgrim women wear.
She whispers accusingly, “Collaborator.”
The alarm rings. It’s an air raid siren blaring the pilgrim out of slumber.
I wake up quickly in a pool of sweat. I nearly fall out of the bed that is a raised bunk bed with my desk underneath. It has been another in a string of nightmares. They all started sometime in 1997. I never remember most of the details, only the horror.
It is 6:15 am on a Monday morning of a new school year. I live at Waterside Plaza on the island fortress of Manhattan. My school is an hour north by subway in what some call the Boogie down, but what I call the fucking Bronx.
It is time to go to school.
My name is Sebastian Adon. Believe as much or as little as you hear about me. That goes for the things I tell you about myself as well.
The mind works in cycles and patterns, innate behavioral conditioning brought about through external governing factors that mold response and reaction. How strong or beautiful a person appears is genetic, but that the mind is a clean slate, a great evolving tapestry, a mostly unused muscle. With discipline, this muscle can be harnessed to radically affect a person’s surroundings, sense of time and ultimately, the character of an individual’s life. The mind is a beautiful piece of organic clockwork that we are largely unable to understand, regulate or control.
I’m sure that I’m not using more than 8% of my brain, but like all things that will change.
I get up quickly and shower. I jerk off in the shower thinking about my dick with two chicks–one Black-Irish, one Asian. I towel off. I dress in whatever is lying about. Some days I undress again when the socially conscious part of my brain realizes my threads look ridiculous. I run back to the bathroom. I throw Queen Helene, that thick mix of hardening green goop, into my hair, slick it back, spike it and sculpt the devil horns that swoop and curl. I use Scope instead of brushing my teeth because it is quicker. If I’m late the teacher will make me sit in the corner.
I run down the stairs and drop by the steel shutter coffee stand to wait in line for my morning fix of that nasty, bitter stimulant that will keep me awake long enough to do last night’s homework on the train.
It is “essential” that this work be completed, because it is essential that one finishes high school. That’s the place you memorize facts you do not need to know in pursuit of a so-called “body of knowledge” necessary to be considered a civilized member of Western society. This is nation-biased bullshit that paints our consumer-frenzied culture as truth and light to the brown barbarians. But learn it you shall, for college is only four years away. There you will be further tuned and refined into a cog, screw or girder in mainstream society. Eventually you will choose a career you hate, making enough money to one day join that promised upper middle class bracket of the American socio-economic stratosphere. You will marry, have 2.3 kids and move to the dream home in the suburbs. You will go on vacations to places with beaches or European cities you can’t quite pronounce and hopefully sip fancy drinks. Your children will grow up to be accountants, doctors and lawyers if you’re a Jew or athletes, musicians, or entrepreneurs if you’re black.
But the main goal is to get rich. This is the American Dream.
I board the uptown #6 train on 34th Street and transfer at 42nd to the #4 Bronx-bound uptown express. The train is packed like a fetid Polish cattle car, a sea of inter-tangled flesh, crammed into a metal can and shipped to its respective destination. People push and shove, fighting over every inch of cubic space. The heat is unbearable. The stale air is cross-pollinated with the odors of aftershave, raw armpits and cheap cologne.
Right now all I am thinking about is the history homework I didn’t do, the sleep I didn’t get and the utter monotony of the life I am currently leading. The roar of the train car through the underground tunnels is deafening. People peer through the glass divider giving me annoyed looks as I finish off my cigarette. I once read a story about a boy who was thrown to his death from the train while riding between cars as the train made a sharp turn. I am sure these rumors are propagated by the old to make the young less daring. Wouldn’t want to be fucking statistic!
I arrive at the Bedford Boulevard station at 8:30 am. It’s the second to the last northbound stop on the #4 train. I’m fifteen minutes late. It will take another five to ten minutes to cross Bedford Park Boulevard and Harris Field and smoke another stoag.
My school is the Bronx High School of Science. I have been going here for two weeks. I spent the nine years of elementary and middle school at the private United Nation’s International School. But it was pure luck that I tested into this school a month before UNIS suspended, then expelled me.
Bronx Science is a magnet school. The school draws its roughly 2,400 students from throughout New York City. Like many other New York City Public magnet schools, the classes are over-packed and the kids are largely middle class. Unlike almost all other New York City public schools, Bronx Science will, in theory, get you into a good college. I took the admissions test back in 8th grade. I got in by a single point.
I am walking through Harris Field, the dilapidated expanse of gnarled-down lawn that is a massive sports field where teenagers smoke pot. This morning students are clustered across the field indulging in the morning reefer madness amid patches of dying grass. There’s no cover, just gonna-see-the-law-coming-from-a mile-away cover. A part of me notices that it isn’t even 9, so what is there to celebrate? Maybe they have first period off because they commute from Staten Island, but they’re probably cutting. Maybe they just like the green.
The school is a T-shaped, red brick building that is three stories high. The object is not to learn, but to absorb it sometimes seems.
There are exceptions. My first period teacher, the one who is about to put me in the corner, is rather on point. His name is Dr. Maskin. He wears real tight pants and has crazy person eyes. I keep falling asleep in his class, even if it ain’t so boring.
I run up the down staircase as I rush toward Dr. Maskin’s first period global history class. I dash past a group of Asian schoolgirls sitting in the corridor talking. They are legion at this school. My homework is only half-finished. I will most definitely be placed in the corner. My only hope is that he will have checked the work already. There’s a slim chance. I have another worry as well. I push open the door.
“Good of you to join us, Mr. Adon,” he says sharply. “Your presence and your homework were greatly missed.”
“Quite alright, Mr. Adon. Your homework please.”
Dog ate it, I think to say but mostly give him a stupid look like it was news to me we had any. It was me or the dog.
The class is staring at me. I look for the sympathetic eyes of Case Yadger, another sometimes denizen of the corner. I see him smirking in the back of the classroom, his blue baseball cap pulled tightly over his brow. Also smirking is Tamar Dreyfus; the Greek-Jew girlfriend of my latest friend Donny Gold.
“Sit in the corner. You’re late and unprepared.”
“Stop calling me sir.”
“Yes, Dr. Maskin.”
The theme of today’s class has something to do with cavemen and fences. My eyes feel heavy. Sleep begins creeping into my mind. The room periodically blinks out of existence. The class drones on. Reality melts away. I slump over at my desk. The room fades to gray. I fight it but just can’t win.
All I see is the great desert expanse and the Pale City, dimly lit in the never-ending twilight of my mind. I’m on the tree. My hands are nailed to the branches. I look to my side at the Black man nailed next to me. He eyes pop open and his head swings in my direction. Although his mouth never opens I can hear his thoughts in my head.
“Collaborator, do you see it?” he questions me in rasps.
I awake with a sudden start. I have fallen asleep at the wheel once again, with too many witnesses.
“Mr. Adon, perhaps you could give us some insight into this subject,” says Dr. Maskin smugly. I have been caught sleeping in class yet again.
“I can tell that you are particularly enthralled by the discussion and won’t hesitate to add some of your own vast wisdom to our dialogue.”
The class bursts out in faggot chuckles.
“Well, I suppose I could repeat the question for you, Mr. Adon. I know a mind like yours requires periods of, thoughtful hibernation.”
“Yes sir, it certainly does,” I respond to the amusement of my peers.
“We were discussing early human socio-economic development, Mr. Adon. As you know from last night’s reading, which I am sure you read in depth, hunter-gatherer societies evolved into the classic city-states of antiquity. We are now debating how.”
“Well, um. I suppose when the rich folks started building fences around their homes and telling all the little brown people what to do, tricking um like to relinquish control over property that nobody really owned.”
Dr. Maskin looks vaguely intrigued.
“So, like, society evolved from a concept of ownership and property, a mass theft really. Hunter-gatherers did not understand the concept of property. But it was this concept that created the early foundations of the city-state. The moment the biggest, toughest caveman built a fence and declared that the land inside was his, modern society was born.”
“Once again, ladies and gentlemen, the young philosopher king redeems himself. He may pass this class, yet. You may return to half salute slumber, Mr. Adon.
I lean back in the chair with a smug grin.
Only seven more periods to go.
I hate school. If there weren’t girls here I wouldn’t probably even show up.