The Here & Now Project

Chair-ity

Every Friday this summer, The Here & Now Project will post a new short play, written by one of four playwrights selected from across the US. These plays focus on dramatizing where these playwrights are and what’s happening there now.

THE TIME: Second week of July, 2012.

THE PLACE: The corner of Orange and Church. Orlando, FL.

MILTON sits is his dilapidated, motorized wheelchair. His body is twisted and his hands move frequently as he is afflicted with spastic cerebral palsy. Though not written as such, MILTON’s speech patterns and voice are affected by the disease. There is a halting and repetitive nature to the way he talks, which changes as indicated later in the script.
There is a cooler beside him.

RED is standing nearby helping sell the beverages MILTON brings daily to the street corner.

MILTON
Ice cold cola!

RED
Sprite!

MILTON
Ninety-one degrees out here you’d think folks’d want a cold drink.

RED
It feels like it’s a hundred.

MILTON
That’s the heat index. Says it's supposed to feel like ninety-nine today.

RED
I never did get that. If it’s ninety-one it’s ninety-one. How is it supposed to feel like it’s ninety-nine?

MILTON
Weather people gotta have something to go on about. Need some excitement to get people riled up.

RED
We’re always looking for something to bitch about.

MILTON
Folks like to talk. Makes ‘em feel alive, is all.

Beat.

RED
I wish it could be different.

MILTON
The heat? Give it a couple hours and it’ll rain. Change is something you can count on down here.

RED
No, that’s not what I meant.

MILTON
If that was some kind of transition, then, mister, you need to work on your connecting points.

RED
I do tend to jump around.

MILTON
Looks like. (Beat) So, what’d you mean? Wish what was different?

RED
(Indicating the chair) This.

MILTON
Ah. Yeah. Well, I understand.

RED
I just want you to know that if there was any way—

MILTON
—I understand.

RED
The money is there for a new chair, but—

MILTON
I understand.

RED
Please stop saying that.

MILTON
What?

RED
That you understand.

MILTON
But, I do.

RED
No. You don’t. You haven’t given me a chance to give you an explanation that you could understand. You say that because you have the capacity to forgive and forgiving is not the same as understanding. It’s what good people say to make other people feel better and to relieve themselves of the burden of not understanding.

MILTON
Now, I’m just confused.

RED
It isn’t my fault. Not entirely. I’d love for you to get what you need but people must do more research before they rush head-on into being charitable. It’s not always as simple as it looks.

MILTON
Lots of good intentions.

RED
Good intentions and no fact finding. And then I look like the bad guy. I’m not always the bad guy! It’s just…  I have a job to do, you know?

MILTON
You’re getting kind of excited. You might scare away the customers.

RED
No one’s buying anything.

MILTON
They will.

RED
Are you always this optimistic?

MILTON
Pretty much.

RED
Why?

MILTON
I feel bad enough already to feel bad all the time. Get my meaning?

RED
Maybe.

MILTON
There’s not much I can do about my physical situation. Cerebral palsy is what it is. But I can do whatever I want about the way I feel. The way I look at things. I can be here on this corner talking to folks and smiling the best I can. Or I can sit in my room and wait for the nurse to come wash me and change me. And forget how to smile. (Beat). I like the heat. Index or not. Soothes my skin and gives me a chance to see things.

RED
You’re something else.

MILTON
No doubt about that. The doctors are still trying to figure out what, though.

He laughs heartily. RED can’t help but join in.

MILTON (cont.)
I didn’t catch your name.

RED
It’s Red.

MILTON
Just Red? You don’t have a last one?

RED
Tape.

MILTON
Well, Mr. Red Tape, I am glad you’re visiting with me this morning. (Beat) And…?

RED
And, what?

MILTON
The polite thing’s usually to ask about the other person. Maybe you want to know my name or something?

RED
Mr. McKnight. I know everything there is to know about you already.

MILTON
Some kind of government man, huh?

RED
You could say that.

MILTON
Believe I just did.

RED
I’ve got my hands in more pots than just government, though.

MILTON
Sounds like someone I should get to know.

RED
I’m complicated.

MILTON
Isn’t everybody, Mr. Tape? Some more than others I suspect but, still, we all have twists and turns making up who we are.

RED
I would have to agree with that, Mr. McKnight.

MILTON
I’m Milton.

RED
Call me Red.

MILTON
See? We’re starting to untwist a bit, Red.

RED
Tell me something about you that you think I don’t know already.

MILTON
A smart guy, huh?

RED
It’s just part of the package.

MILTON
Okay. We just met so let’s start with some basics. I live at—

RED
Parramore neighborhood. Yes, I know. I’d give you the exact address, but passersby…

MILTON
Some nice people might follow me home. Is that what you’re getting at?

RED
Absolutely.

MILTON
You’re out to spoil my fun, Red. Okay, I know I look like I just fell outta my momma’s womb but my real age is—

RED
Fifty-eight. Born October 18, 1953.

MILTON
Been in this chair since—

RED
—You were three years old.

MILTON
Hmmm. You kind of freak me out, Red. (Beat) Did you know I coached baseball?

RED
When you were fourteen. It’s on your website.

MILTON
I have a website.

RED
I know. It’s a good one.

MILTON
I like it. You know a lot about me, Red.

RED
I wasn’t lying when I told you that.

 MILTON
Didn’t think you were. But, do you know what’s in my head? What I imagine?

RED
Your head’s not something I have access to, Milton.

MILTON
Ah…hah!

RED laughs.

RED
Would you tell me something you imagine?

MILTON
To put in that fact-filled brain of yours?

RED
No. Which is weird. But I guess I just want us both to untwist some more.

MILTON
Okay. Fourteen is a hard age, Red.

RED
Yes.

MILTON
I always believe it’s better to be thankful than bitter. But, you don’t always learn something like that until you’re older. (Beat) When I coached, I would sit there and watch the baseball game and daydream. I imagined that my head didn’t fall to the side anymore. (His head straightens up) And then I could talk (his speech quality and patterns now become normal) like a regular kid. My hands would stop their spastic movements… (They do) …and my arms would straighten. (They do) I could sit up tall and, one by one, my legs would unbend and become strong. (This happens) I would stand, actually stand on my own (He does) and realize that I’m tall. Things are so different up here. When you’re tall. And I would walk onto the field. The crowd would cheer and chant my name. (In a hushed tone) Milton. Milton. Milton. The bat boy would run out to the plate and hand me my bat. The weight of it. The coolness of the wood. More smooth than I ever imagined. I would take my stance—I can do that now. And raise the bat to my shoulder. Eye contact with the pitcher tells him that I mean business. He winds up. There’s the pitch! And crack! The bat sends vibrations through my body. I’ve never felt anything like it. It takes my breath away. And…and I’m frozen. But then I hear it. The crowd wild. On its feet. A homerun! I feel the bat sliding from my hands as I begin my victory lap around the bases. Each time I put my foot down I feel the earth. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. I’m stirring up a cloud of dirt as I run and I’m breathing it in but I don’t care. I’m breathing in what I’m working up. Me. (He breathes in deeply) The team meets me at home plate and suddenly I’m airborne. Lifted up and up. I’m taller! Tears are streaming down my eyes. And when I go to wipe them…  (Beat) …I find my hand is cupped once again. (It is) That familiar spasm. And then the other one. (The next one) And my arms. (They bend) My legs fold. (He sits back in his chair and twists his legs) And my head falls. (It does) And my voice changes. (It does back to his affected way of speaking) And I…I am not tall.

Long beat.

RED
All of your life and you’re not bitter.

MILTON
People don’t want to help bitter people. And bitter makes me tired. (Beat) Why did you come to visit me today, Red?

RED
I spend all of my time standing between things, Milton. As good as my intentions are, I can be an obstacle. Look, I can’t get you a new chair. That’s not in my power. But, people are working on it. They’re getting to know me better and, by doing that, they’re figuring out the options. And there are options.

MILTON
It takes time.

RED
Yes. It does take time.

MILTON
I still don’t know why you are here today.

RED
Maybe because of something I imagined. For once, I wanted to feel what it was like to stand beside someone instead of blocking their way.

He pulls a pair of crutches from behind the cooler.

RED (cont.)
If I’m going to say that I’m not a bad guy then I need to act like a good guy. Walk in the shoes of someone who’s reaching out.

RED’s body begins to contort and twist as he relies on the crutches for support. His voice changes to an affected sound and pattern—different from MILTON’s but still impactful.

RED (cont.)
My life is pretty black and…and…and white, you know. And, I wanted to see all of…of the shades and colors for a…a change.

MILTON
Well, I have plenty of colors.

RED
Yes, you do. And I feel like they’re coming into fo…fo…focus for me.

MILTON
I hate to tell you this but I think you’re scaring off the customers.

RED
Story of my life. I should…should get going.

He begins to move off relying heavily on his crutches to move.

MILTON
I look forward to seeing you again, Red.

RED
Actually, Milton, it’ll be a better day when you no long…longer do.

MILTON
Nah. Not for me. I like how we untwist each other.

RED
You know, Mil…ton, so do I.

MILTON
See you tomorrow?

RED
(Big sigh) Yes.

MILTON
Bring your own cooler next time.

RED
Will…do. We’ll see who sells the…the most.

MILTON
Don’t care. Long as you come back with a smile.

RED
Just…for you.

MILTON
Nah. I got one of my own.

He smiles broadly as the lights fade. End of play.

Playwright’s Note:
As I looked around this week for my "now" I realized that I wanted to narrow my scope. In looking for a subject, I stumbled upon Milton McKnight's story. I was very taken by this man who has made an impact on so many and yet I had never heard of him. I realized that I sometimes throw my net so wide in search of what interests me that I fail to notice the amazing things happening in the different nooks and crannies of this town. At its simplest, this story is about a man who needs a new chair. When you look closer, you realize that it's a lesson on facing adversity—with dignity and an outlook on life that more of us should embrace. If you want to know more about Milton visit the website his supporters and admirers have created for him. Thanks to the Here & Now Project for letting me discover Milton and finding a way to share him with you.

 

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A call to to playwrights from across the United States to bring to light stories representing the whole conversation happening in this country.

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