arts / Drama / drama theatre

PLAY: As Time Goes By


As Time Goes By

A one-act exercise in literary criticism

(SCENE: A Los Angeles bar.)

(The BAR TENDER is wiping down the counter. Seated on a stool is THE MAN, dressed in a trench coat, unbelted, the collar up as if against the wind, a fedora hat on the counter in front of him beside his drink, a green concoction. He is reading an ebook on a tablet. The stool beside him is unoccupied.

(Also at the bar: JAMES BOND, about 50 years plus in age, wearing a weather-beaten hacking jacket, smoking a cigarette in a cigarette holder, a Martini in a cocktail glass almost empty in front of him; JERRY CORNELIUS, dressed in smart two-tone casualwear, a stingy-brim trilby on the back of his head, his drink a pint of draught Coors; at the end, a DETECTIVE, also nursing a beer.

(Enter THE WOMAN. She is wearing a cornflower blue silk dress, a fox-fur cape slung over her shoulders.)

THE MAN:

BullSHIT!

(He shuts off the tablet in irritation at what he has been reading.)

THE WOMAN:

I hope you’re not addressing me.

(To the bar tender)

I’ll have whatever it is he’s drinking.

(She sits on the vacant stool. Bar tender mixes gin and lime and places the cocktail glass in front of her.)

BAR TENDER:

That’s a gimlet, lady.

THE MAN:

Gin and limejuice. And nothing else. No soda. No greenery. As in a book by Raymond Chandler.

THE WOMAN:

“Shaken, not stirred.”

THE MAN:

No. That’s a different writer, one addicted to product placement.

BOND:

Excuse me, sir. You are talking of the drink that I love.

(To the bar tender.)

Which, by the way, is just about empty. If you would, bar tender.

THE MAN:

And you would be?

BOND:

Bond. James Bond.

THE MAN:

Joseph, or Joe, if you prefer.

THE WOMAN:

I’ll call you Joey, if that’s OK.

THE MAN:

Suit yourself, lady. A rose by any other name still stinks.

THE WOMAN:

I thought that was a new brand of after-shave I was smelling.

(To Bond)

My name’s Helen, by the way.

BOND:

Ah yes, the face that launched a thousand ships.

THE WOMAN:

And got Hector and Achilles killed. Not me, no sir. Not me.

(To The Man)

You were saying, about Raymond Chandler.

Is that what you were reading on that thing?

THE MAN:

Not true Chandler. A poorly-written pastiche. No more Raymond Chandler . . .

(Tapping tablet and bringing screen back to life)

. . . than this is a real book.

THE WOMAN:

Or this . . .

(Sipping the cocktail the bar tender had set before her.)

. . . is a real drink.

THE MAN:

Oh, it’s real enough, if you like cocktails.

THE WOMAN

What do you do, anyway? Just hang out in bars, drinking cocktails you don’t even like?

THE MAN:

When I have more to tell you, maybe I’ll tell you.

(To bar tender)

And believe me, if I have nothing to tell her, I’m gonna make it good.

THE WOMAN:

So why?

THE MAN:

Why buy it? Sentimentality, I suppose. Trying to identify with Marlowe.

THE WOMAN:

Philip Marlowe? Sentimental? I thought he was hardboiled.

THE MAN:

Only on the surface. Under the carapace he was a big softie, a sucker for any dame who gave him the glad eye. A man of principle in an unprincipled world.

“Down these mean streets . . .”

THE WOMAN:

“. . . a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

So this is a new Raymond Chandler you’re reading. But I thought he was dead.

THE MAN:

So he is.

THE WOMAN:

And this, you said, is . . .

THE MAN:

A poorly-written pastiche. “The Black-Eyed Blonde”, by this guy calls himself Benjamin Black, but his real monica is Banville, John Banville. A prize-winning author, by some accounts, but in my opinion, he sucks.

You will forgive the expression.

THE WOMAN:

Granted.

THE MAN:

Listen to this:

“Cars trickled past in the street below the dusty window of my office, and a few of the good folks of our fair city ambled along the sidewalk, men in hats, mostly going nowhere. I watched a woman at the corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood , waiting for the light to change. Long legs, a slim cream jacket with high shoulders, navy blue pencil skirt. She wore a hat, too, a skimpy affair that made it seem as if a small bird had alighted on the side of her hair and settled there happily.”

BOND:

Sounds OK to me.

THE MAN:

It’s almost a parody of Chandler’s opening:

“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

This . . . er . . . pastiche doesn’t compare.

(To Bond)

But I suppose it’s better than Ian Fleming, your creator, ever did.

Enjoyed “Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang,” though. That wasn’t bad. Loved the movie.

THE WOMAN:

I liked “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

THE MAN:

George Lazenby. The worst Bond ever.

BOND:

“Big Fry”.

THE WOMAN:

Big Fry?

BOND:

He starred in a chocolate bar commercial, back in the UK. He was the most like me, I always thought, though they dropped him.

THE MAN:

In favour of bloody Roger Moore. He designed his own outfits.

THE WOMAN:

They looked like his girlfriend ran them up on a treadle Singer.

THE MAN:

Girlfriend? Think you’ve got the wrong gender, darling.

BOND:

Apart from Lazenby, the movies about me got it all wrong. Belvedere vodka? Stolichnaya, please, or preferably Krepskaya. Never that Smirnoff rubbish.

And the books about my childhood got that wrong, too.

THE MAN:

I always thought you must have been born in a tenement.

BOND:

In Glasgow, the Gorbals. Slum kid. But I got fostered into that Skyfall place, where I acquired my taste for the better things in life. They got that right, at least.

THE WOMAN:

I quite like Daniel Craig.

THE MAN:

Well, he’s true to life. More of a slumdog thug.

THE WOMAN:

How are things these days, James? Still attracting the ladies?

BOND:

Used to be, when I lived in Albany. Now it’s an Earls Court bedsit. None of that “my place or yours”, any more.

THE WOMAN:

So what brings you to L.A., James?

BOND:

A 007 Convention. They gave me a lifetime’s achievement award.

THE WOMAN:

Something to put on the mantelpiece.

THE MAN:

Dump in the garbage, more like.

Or cash in at uncle’s.

Getting back to Chandler: pastiche I can live with.

Most of his more critically-acclaimed later writings were pastiches of his earlier pulp fiction, variations on a theme, if you will. Apart from his masterpiece, “The Long Goodbye”, which this fucking travesty – you will pardon my French – traduces.

THE WOMAN:

Hence the gimlet.

THE MAN:

(To bar tender)

This dame’s no airhead.

(To The Woman)

You’ve read it.

THE WOMAN:

“The Last Goodbye”? It did go on a bit. Certainly was a long goodbye.

I preferred “The Big Sleep”.

THE MAN:

The book? Or the movie?

THE WOMAN:

Well, Bogart and Bacall were fabulous together, weren’t they?

THE MAN:

Truly so. Creatures of fable. Re-inventing themselves before our very eyes.

Didn’t you love that phone prank they played on  the police?

THE WOMAN:

Oh yes.

(She puts her empty hand up to ear, mimicking a phone She assumes a husky, Bacall-type voice.)

“Hello, is that the police department. This is Mrs – “

THE MAN:

(Also on invisible phone, tough guy Bogart voice – with lisp if that can be managed.)

“Hello, what do you want, please?”

“What? I called you?”

“Who is this?”

“Sergeant Riley? Well there isn’t any Sergeant Riley here.”

“Wait a minute. You better talk to my mother.”

(Hands the invisible phone to the Woman.)

THE WOMAN:

“Hello. Who’s this?”

“The police? Well this isn’t a police station.”

“Well if you want them – look, this is not a police station.”

“What was that you said?”

“My father should hear this.”

(Hands the phone back to the man.)

THE MAN:

(In a different voice.)

“Hello. Who is this?”

“But she just told you that . . . oh you’re the police.”

“Well that’s different. What can I do for you?”

“I can do what?”

“Where?”

“Oh no, I wouldn’t like that. Neither would my daughter.”

(To the woman)

“I hope the sergeant never traces that call.”

(He puts down “the phone”)

DETECTIVE:

So you think that’s funny. People like you should be arrested, wasting police time.

THE MAN:

Oh, get a life, buddy. It’s in a movie. Not as if we’re wasting your time, when you’re sitting in a bar, getting pie-eyed.

THE WOMAN:

Your name wouldn’t happen to be Sergeant Riley, by any chance?

THE MAN:

Back to Chandler and the movie.

The story doesn’t make sense. It violates one of Chandler’s ground rules. That nothing should happen that hasn’t already been signalled to the reader.

THE WOMAN:

No deus ex machina.

THE MAN:

(To bar tender)

Oh, this dame’s good.

(To The Woman)

You’re terrific.

But no. Precisely. Like always.

You know Faulkner wrote the script.

THE WOMAN:

As in William Faulkner.

THE MAN:

The very same.

Well L.A. ain’t Yoknapatawpha County, but I think he did quite a good job getting it right.

He called Chandler asking him to explain that car dumped in the Lido with the throttle jammed down and a dead man at the wheel.

He wanted to know whether the car’s driver was murdered or killed himself.

Chandler replied: “Dammit, I don’t know either.”

CORNELIUS:

Well, you know what they say, all popular art aspires to the condition of muzak.

THE MAN:

Sounds like that’s a quotation.

CORNELIUS:

A misquotation, actually. Walter Pater.

THE MAN:

Nice to know you, Walter.

CORNELIUS:

No, not me, the source of the quote: Walter Pater. I’m Jerry.

THE MAN:

As in Gerry Garcia, of immortal memory.

CORNELIUS:

Yes, but a J not a G. Jerry Cornelius. Well I do play a bit of guitar, but I’m alive and he’s dead.

THE WOMAN:

The Grateful Dead.

BOND:

Speaking of which, I’d be grateful if you’d pour me another, bar tender, cos I’m dying of thirst here.

THE MAN:

Yeah, set ‘em up Joe.

BAR TENDER:

Name’s Rick, actually.

THE WOMAN:

As in “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world . . .”

THE MAN:

Yeah, “Casablanca”. More great performances, but stupid story line. In the real world, she’d of stayed with Rick.

Speaking of which, can you put another nickel in the machine, but still make the music easy and sad.

THE WOMAN:

Oh, do play “Misty” for me, Rick.

THE MAN:

Yeah, play it Sam.

BAR TENDER:

(Correcting him)

Rick.

THE MAN:

Whatever your name is.

THE WOMAN:

(To Bond)

So tell me, James. What is it exactly that you do these days, now the Cold War’s over?

THE MAN:

(Correcting her)

Now you’re retired from the 007 business.

BOND:

I’m a drunkard. Used to be a lecher but can’t get it up these days.

Sorry, miss.

THE MAN:

Yeah, we can see you like the sauce. But I bet they call you back from time to time, like Smiley.

BOND:

No chance. It’s all down to the war on terror. M’s department has been cut down to size. My licence has been cancelled. SMERSH has been wound down, on the other side.

THE WOMAN:

So Karla’s retired, too.

THE MAN:

That was a different movie.

But a KGB guy’s Russian president.

BOND:

Well, they always did run things, pulling the puppet strings. We had to report to the Home Office.

THE WOMAN:

“Yes Minister”.

BOND:

You might say that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

(Enter THE DUDE, a hippyish-looking guy, long-hair – which might be a wig – in his mid-thirties, wearing a terry towelling robe.)

DUDE:

Don’t get up, people. The Dude is here. Otherwise known as . . .

BAR TENDER:

You must be here to fix the cable.

DUDE:

Please be cool. The Dude does not fix cable – except in the sense that everything can be fixed by His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino, but The Dude will suffice, if you’re into the brevity thing.

I come to spread the good news about Dudeism, the slowest-growing religion in the world. It’s an ancient philosophy that preaches non-preachiness, practices as little as possible, and above all . . .

uh . . . lost my train of thought there.

Anyway, if you’d like to find peace on earth and goodwill, man, we’ll help you get started. Right after I have imbibed a glass of your selectest beverage.

THE MAN:

I can’t believe this. Have a man come in with a gun, by all means, when all else fails. But surely we’re not that desperate!

THE WOMAN:

(To The Dude)

You must be Mr Lebowski.

DUDE:

Um, I am not “Mr Lebowski”. I’m the Dude.

THE WOMAN:

I knew a Mrs Lebowski, once.

DUDE:

Do you see a wedding ring on my finger? The toilet seat’s up, lady.

THE WOMAN:

Why don’t we move over a bit and let the . . . er . . . Dude sit down and join us?

THE DETECTIVE:

Why don’t you exit pronto, asshole, before someone assists you to lay down on the sidewalk outside?

THE WOMAN:

That’s no way to talk. I don’t know who you are, but that’s no way to talk.

THE MAN:

I guess he’s used to people talking to him that way. He don’t mind.

DUDE:

But I do mind, the Dude minds. This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

THE DETECTIVE:

I’m a police officer.

DUDE:

A Penelope, people, otherwise known as Five-O.

BAR TENDER:

Plain clothes. From the local precinct.

THE DETECTIVE:

(To the Dude)

And you, my friend, will soon be entering a world of pain.

DUDE:

Yeah, well. The Dude abides.

THE MAN:

Yeah, the Dude abides. I’m sure we’ll all rest easy knowing that. The Dude abides. Even though he seems to be a moron. The Dude abides.

DUDE:

I’d love to take a seat, but I don’t see any vacant bar stools.

THE WOMAN:

Well, come and stand by me, why don’t you?

CORNELIUS:

All together now:

(Sings – not badly)

“When the night has come

And the land is dark

And the moon is the only light we’ll see . . .”

THE WOMAN:

I just hate Cherry Pez!

THE MAN:

The Stephen King book was better than the movie, like Kubrik’s “Shining” was better than the book.

BAR TENDER:

“I fear you will have to deal with this matter in the harshest possible way.”

THE MAN:

Oh, Rick here’s a movie buff.

BAR TENDER:

Just that movie, is all. Seen it like twenty zillion times.

But I agree with the detective here. It’d be best for this gentleman to quit while he’s still ahead.

THE WOMAN:

Like you “fear that is the only thing to do”?

THE MAN:

Didn’t you hear him? The Dude abides.

THE DETECTIVE:

Not on my precinct, he don’t.

DUDE:

I’ll have a cold Bud, if you can dig it, my friend.

BAR TENDER:

No tinnies, buddy. Just Coors on draught. Suit ya?

DUDE:

The Dude is cool with that, yeah.

BAR TENDER:

Coming up.

(Hands the Dude his drink.

(Detective comes behind the Dude and grabs him by the scruff of the neck. Beer slops all down the Dude’s robe.)

DUDE:

Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!

THE WOMAN:

Oh, why can’t we just be nice? Why don’t you pay for this young man’s drink, Joey?

THE MAN:

Why don’t you? Or aren’t you that liberated?

CORNELIUS:

Yes, let’s all take partners and dance the entropy tango.

THE WOMAN:

Entropy? What’s that got to do with dancing? I thought it was the Second Law of Thermodynamics or something.

I did it at Vassar. Why everything cools down.

CORNELIUS:

And the planets fall into the sun.

THE MAN:

Things fall apart.

CORNELIUS:

The centre cannot hold.

THE MAN:

And The Dude, his hour come round at last, slouches into your precinct, officer, to be born.

Am I wrong, Dude?

DUDE:

No, you’re not wrong, you’re some kind of an intellectual, I guess. Which is to say: an idiot.

I never slouch. Slump in my recliner, perhaps, sipping at a tin of cold Bud. Mebbe a slice of pizza in my other hand. But slouch, no.

Got it?

BAR TENDER:

I’m sorry I wasn’t listening, can you repeat that?

(Detective releases his hold on the Dude and moves towards the exit.)

THE DETECTIVE:

Well, I gotta go and round up all the usual suspects.

THE MAN:

But don’t touch the man with a limp.

THE WOMAN:

Cos he’ll turn out to be Keyser Soze.

(Detective exits.)

THE MAN:

And guess what colour they’ll all be, eh?

DUDE:

Hey, I saw that movie. That Kevin Spacey was almost as cool as The Dude.

THE WOMAN:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

THE MAN:

Why’nt you try that some time, Dude? We’ll say you don’t exist.

BAR TENDER:

And drink your beer and quit buggin’ my customers, OK?

DUDE:

Well, don’t The Dude get to be treated as a customer?

BAR TENDER:

When he puts his hand into his pocket and pulls out the dinero, he just might. Till then, you’re just a bum off the street to me.

DUDE:

Well, man, it’s cold out there. Fog come in off the bay.

THE WOMAN:

(She sings)

“Hate California, it’s cold and it’s damp.”

(Speaks)

But don’t anyone think of calling me a tramp. My name’s Helen, not Linda.

THE MAN:

What’s the big deal? I’ll pay.

THE WOMAN:

What made you change your mind, Joey?

THE MAN:

How important is it, as they used to say in the days I tried to quit.

It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of us little people here in this bar, getting boozed up, don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

(To the Woman)

It’s like you say, lady. What the hell am I doin’ here anyway?

(Beat, as he looks around the bar.)

Well, I won’t say this hasn’t been fun, cos it hasn’t. I’m outa here. I’m for some shut-eye.

(He gets up from his stool. So does The Woman.)

BAR TENDER:

Too late will be too soon.

THE MAN:

So you saw the movie, too.

THE WOMAN:

Your place or mine, Joey?

THE MAN:

Say what, lady?

THE WOMAN:

(She sings, tonelessly)

“Vexed again,

Perplexed again,

Thank God I can be oversexed again . . .”

THE MAN :

(Sings – to the bar tender. He has a terrible voice.)

“Horizontally speaking,

I bet she’s at her very best.”

(Speaks to the Woman)

Where do you live?

THE WOMAN:

Would you like to see where?

THE MAN:

I don’t think so, but thanks anyway.

THE WOMAN:

I feel I’ve really learned a lot this evening.

THE MAN:

Can you really have so much to learn?

THE WOMAN:

You and me both, brother.

A couple of hours, an empty bottle, and it’s so long, pal. That’s life.

THE MAN:

Another hour, another cocktail.

THE WOMAN:

Another dame?

THE MAN:

You said it, not me.

(She shrugs)

THE WOMAN:

But does it really have to stop – the learning I mean?

(GRAMS: As Time Goes By)

THE MAN:

(Sings along with the piano)

“The fundamental things apply.”

ALL:

(Boozy voices)

“As time goes by.”

THE MAN:

Some other time, perhaps?

(He gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet.)

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.

CURTAIN

THE END

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