The Here & Now Project

Ditch

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. This play is by Eric Pfeffinger of Toledo, Ohio.

 

THE TIME: Now.

 

THE PLACE: Toledo's front door.

 

DETROIT, edgy and diminished, arrives at the front door, and knocks urgently. Knocks again. TOLEDO, embattled, answers the door.

 

TOLEDO

—Oh, hey there, Detroit.

 

DETROIT

Hey, hey neighbor, how's uh, how's it going?

 

TOLEDO

Oh, you know. About like how it's always going.

Beat.

How—.  Uh. How... is it going... with... you?

 

DETROIT

You know.  You know.  Not great.  You know. I'm, uh. All out of money. Practically.  So.

 

TOLEDO

Yeah I heard about that.

 

DETROIT

So that's not the best.

 

TOLEDO

No.  No it's not. Um. Bummer, bro.

 

DETROIT

So did you want to hang out? Or—?

 

TOLEDO

I don't know, I've kind of got stuff. To. Uh.

 

DETROIT

It's just. I called Ann Arbor, y'know, but she won't return my calls.

 

TOLEDO

Yeah, no. Yeah. I know how that is. "What's the matter, Columbus, you're literally too busy to accept a friend request?"

 

DETROIT

I know, right?

 

TOLEDO

It's like one click.

 

DETROIT

I'm tellin' ya.

 

TOLEDO

Thing is, man, I'm not really doing that great right now either.

 

DETROIT

No, I mean, yeah I know. That's kind of why I like hanging out.

 

TOLEDO

Oh, good.

 

DETROIT

I mean but I mean: you're doing better than me.

 

TOLEDO

I guess, yeah.

 

DETROIT

I mean, I'm Detroit. Right? Obviously.

 

TOLEDO

But I mean, times are tough. I'm struggling. My place looks like crap.

 

DETROIT

It does, it does, you speak the truth.

 

TOLEDO

I don't even want to let you in to see, but, I've got like whole rooms no one even goes into anymore.

 

DETROIT

Rooms? You've got rooms? Try floors, man. Whole sections of my house, okay? People move out, they don't even tell me. My kitchen’s all grass. All overgrown with grass. Grass. How’s that happen?  Ty Pennington can’t help me with that.  And I've got one whole floor in my place over there, it's been taken over by dogs.  Third floor's all feral dogs, man. Don't even know how they got up there. Some of my clothes are on that floor, dude, they’re hanging in a closet on the dogs floor: oh, well!

 

TOLEDO

Yeah I thought maybe you were wearing the same... as y'know as last time...

 

DETROIT

It wasn't always like this.

 

TOLEDO

No, it wasn't.

 

DETROIT

I had stuff going on.

 

TOLEDO

We both had stuff going on.

 

DETROIT

We did.  I had some nice things happening with my music...

 

TOLEDO

Yeah, you did. Your, uh, your music.

 

DETROIT

What? My music was really happening there, for a while.

 

TOLEDO

Hey, I get it. I went through that whole jazz phase of mine, you know that. It's just—music. It's not really sensible, is it? As a way to live your, y’know, life?

 

DETROIT

Ugh. Dude. You're always so practical and prosaic and shit.

 

TOLEDO

I am not. I mean, thank you. But obviously I've got, you know, I've got my art...

 

DETROIT

You do, your art. Why don't you sell some of that, times are so tough?

 

TOLEDO

Says the guy with a Diego Rivera.

 

DETROIT

It’s a mural. It’s on a wall.

 

TOLEDO

You’ve lost walls. You’re missing all kinds of walls, I’ve seen your place. Sell the wall, that’s what I’d do.

 

DETROIT

It’s a load-bearing wall.

 

TOLEDO

It is not. You don’t know. You don’t even know what load-bearing means.

 

DETROIT

Yes, I do.

 

No, he doesn’t.

 

TOLEDO

I'm just saying, music's fine, as a hobby...

 

DETROIT

Some of my buddies have done great with music!

 

TOLEDO

Here we go about Nashville again. Sure, fine, but what about Chapel Hill? How did her long-term music career pan out? Even Seattle settled down and got into computers.  That's smart thinking, my friend.

 

DETROIT

Give me a break, man, I was never totally single-minded. I tried my hand at manufacturing.

 

TOLEDO

I know! Me, too!

 

DETROIT

That went pretty good.

 

TOLEDO

Yeah, yeah, it did.

 

DETROIT

There was, I had money...

 

TOLEDO

Went really good.

 

DETROIT

...For a while.

 

TOLEDO

Yeah, yeah... for a while.

Silence.

Dude, look: it looks like part of your house is on fire.

 

DETROIT

Yeah, it does that sometimes.

 

TOLEDO

Seriously? Mine too.

 

DETROIT

Really? What do you do?

 

TOLEDO

Well, I... put it out.

 

DETROIT

Yeah, me too.

 

TOLEDO

Usually. Or it, like, burns away. Pain in the ass, though, either way.

 

DETROIT

I know, right. It's like: embers. Who plans on having to deal with embers?

 

TOLEDO

Beat.

I can't lend you any money, man.

 

DETROIT lapses into hysterical laughter. TOLEDO can't help but join in. Finally, settling:

 

DETROIT

Oh, I know. I know that. I know you can't lend me any frigging money. My God. Who'd come over here, to you, for money?

 

TOLEDO

Right?

 

DETROIT

I mean, some stuff I might come over here for.

 

TOLEDO

Sure. Come over, y’know, borrow a cup of embers.

 

More laughter. Subsiding:

 

DETROIT

I didn't know if you were even gonna answer the door.

 

TOLEDO

I thought about it. Turning the lights off, pretending.

 

DETROIT

"Nobody's home!" Couldn't blame you, man. I can be one depressing motherfucker. Is that why? The depressing motherfucker thing? Or is it—?

 

TOLEDO

You do have a lot to bitch about, it's true...

 

DETROIT

Or is it because, y'know. You see yourself. In me.

 

TOLEDO

I... I don’t know about...

 

DETROIT

Like you could be me. Like I'm your mirror.

 

TOLEDO

—Yeah, maybe. Maybe. My ten-years-from-now mirror.

 

DETROIT

Try five. Who would've guessed, you know? Back in the day when I had my music, y'know, and my cars, and you had your... glass collection and your... jazz I guess and stuff... who would've thought that the whole thing could just go off the road like this, just drive right off into the y'know. Into the what-dya-call-it.  Into the.

 

TOLEDO

Briar patch?

 

DETROIT

No, into the...

 

TOLEDO

Tar pits?

 

DETROIT

What? No. Into the...

TOLEDO

Ocean?

 

DETROIT

Yes, into the vast majestic Midwestern ocean is exactly what I was thinking of, no. Into the uh. Into the uh.

 

TOLEDO

Void.

 

DETROIT

—Fine, into the void.

 

TOLEDO

We'll steer it out again, man. We'll steer it out. We’ve got to, right? We’ve got to. What's the alternative?

 

DETROIT

Who steers out of a frigging void?

 

TOLEDO

What else, I mean, is there? What else are we gonna do?

 

DETROIT

Move to Canada?

 

TOLEDO Don’t think so.

 

DETROIT

It’s not far.

 

TOLEDO

Think we’re stuck here, bro.

 

DETROIT

—Wanna go grab something to eat?

 

TOLEDO

And pay for it how?

 

DETROIT

Come over to my place, make something—?

 

TOLEDO

Your kitchen’s like a prairie.

 

DETROIT

Or I guess we could just uh. Keep on. Keepin’ on.

 

TOLEDO

That sounds good.

Beat.

Anyway, yeah. This probably isn’t uh, what you had in mind when you—

 

DETROIT

No no. It is.

 

TOLEDO

I mean it’s not exactly a lot of laughs—

 

DETROIT

No, yeah. It’s fun.

 

TOLEDO

Talking about how good it used to be? And, y’know, isn’t, y’know, now?

 

DETROIT

If it’s what we’ve got. Then yeah.

 

Beat.

 

TOLEDO

Anyway I should probably—

 

DETROIT

Yeah.

 

TOLEDO

Go in and... work on... or something.

 

DETROIT

Yeah, I might... work on my music or something.

 

TOLEDO

That’s a good idea. Your music. You should do something. You really had something, with that.

 

DETROIT

I did, didn’t I?

TOLEDO

Yeah. Okay. Well. See you later.

 

DETROIT

Yep. Take it easy.

 

They do not move.

End of play.

 

Playwright’s Note:
Over the past month the news has been full of reports about how Detroit was on the verge of running out of money (a crisis averted at the last minute, at least for the time being). Its neighbor Toledo, no stranger to money problems, has politely averted its eyes with awkwardness. What happens when a city actually runs out of money, anyway? Do they turn off the lights and tape up a handwritten sign saying “Thanks for your years of patronage?” Or does the momentum of a city’s inertia carry it improbably into cashlessness and beyond: it can’t go on, it goes on?

 

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Loved the play. I lived in Detroit until 2009. It is a sad case of a once beautiful city falling into decay.