The Here & Now Project

Following the Rules

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

THE TIME: Now.

THE PLACE: Prescott, Arizona.

The living room of nice home, in one of those once-booming housing developments.

Janine is crossing the foyer to the sliding glass door U.S. while Martin, an agitated, retired gentleman, stands in the foyer.

JANINE
Dan?

MARTIN
I mean, I don’t know what kind of person—

JANINE
(Calling out the door)
Hey—Dan? Martin’s here—

MARTIN
What kind of person thinks they can just walk onto your property—

JANINE
Mhmmm.

MARTIN
And just ask you for money!

JANINE
I thought you said they were asking for work—

MARTIN
They? I don’t know about any “They.” He asked me if I would pay him to pull weeds—as if I have weeds. President of the HOA, I know when to pull the damn weeds!

JANINE
Of course—

MARTIN
Do you see any weeds out there?

JANINE
Well, no, but I can’t really see your backyard—

MARTIN
It’s weed-less! It’s perfect. There’s not a weed in sight! What kind of president would I be with a backyard full of weeds?!

JANINE
I was just saying if I didn’t know that about you, I might not presume it’s perfectly manicured just from knocking on your door. If I didn’t know you. Right?

MARTIN
Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? He doesn’t know me, because he doesn’t live here, doesn’t belong here, and he sure as hell shouldn’t be knocking on doors here, insulting people about our lawns!

Janine tries to smile or nod in response, but she doesn’t really know what to say. Martin takes a breath and refocuses on Janine.

MARTIN
I mean did you see a “They”? Is that what you’re saying? Was there more of him?

JANINE
Oh, I don’t—

MARTIN
Because if there was more than one of him, that’s some serious cause for concern.

JANINE
I don’t know. No one knocked on our door. Or if anyone did, we were outside trimming the hedges, so we couldn’t have heard them—

MARTIN
Well, it is a serious cause for concern because the whole neighborhood can’t be taken over by a, a herd of the lazy, sneaking, mooching, sons-of-bitches—

JANINE
Martin, if they were asking for work, it’s not exactly lazy—

MARTIN
Why do you keep saying “They”?

JANINE
I don’t know.

Dan enters through the sliding glass door. He holds a tray with glasses on it and a lemonade pitcher.

MARTIN
Dan!

DAN
Hi, Martin.

MARTIN
Dan, I’m on a tear.

DAN
Oh?

JANINE
He’s looking for a man—

MARTIN
An illegal man. A Mexican. He knocked on my door—there may be more of them.

JANINE
I told him that I’m sure he, or they, or however many there were, are long gone by now after how he reacted—

DAN
How do you know he was illegal?

MARTIN
How do I—he couldn’t speak a lick of English, that’s how! He’s out there, no business card or anything, on my doorstep, just asking me for handouts—

JANINE
—asking you for work—

MARTIN
Americans got more pride than that! And they have business cards if they’re some kind of, of legitimate landscaper or something.

DAN
And you saw him come over here?

MARTIN
No, no—I turned to get the phone so I could call the, well, that’s where I got stuck—I don’t know who you’re supposed to call, exactly. So I tried looking on the internet, but then I realized, you know, “What am I doing? Just call the police.” So I was going to call them, but then I looked outside and I didn’t see him anymore, so I thought I’d start trying to find out where he went before I—

DAN
Lemonade, Martin?

MARTIN
—called anyone. No, thanks. Aren’t you at all concerned?

DAN
Of course. Of course we’re concerned. It’s just that we’ve been outside ourselves—

JANINE
Out back.

DAN
Right. And we didn’t see anything. So….

He shrugs. Martin sighs and takes a glass of lemonade from Dan’s tray after all.

MARTIN
Well, I’m concerned. I’m very concerned. It’s as if there’s just no limit to how far people will go anymore for a buck.

JANINE
Was there ever a limit?

MARTIN
Oh, you know what I mean—nobody follows the rules anymore. Everyone feels entitled. You want to live here, fine, follow the, the rules. I mean, take for instance—you want to move into a housing development with a successfully formed and functioning HOA, you know what you need to do and what you’re getting yourselves into, right?

DAN
Yes. We’re pulling our weeds right now.

MARTIN
No, that’s not what I—I mean, okay, that’s good. But you get it, I’m using an analogy here. It’s the same principle as applies out there; you break the rules, you not only disrespect the HOA and your neighbors, but—

JANINE
You get a big fat fine.

MARTIN
Right. Yes, that can happen. But I’m talking bigger—that you’re showing disrespect for your country too, you’re taking the right to own property for granted and not respecting that people in this community fight, in a sense, to maintain it. But we can’t deport you for overgrown weeds—that’s not—I mean, the stakes aren’t as high as all that, of course. But all of it—what I’m saying is that if you want to move in, it’s all laid out in the rules, right? You know what you’re getting into when you apply to move in! And you apply—you don’t just hop a fence! (He takes a swig of the lemonade) That’s good stuff!

JANINE
(Dry)
Thanks.

DAN
But there are, I mean, really, there are some nasty provisions in some of those contracts that could lead, if anything were to get too serious, to a development taking back a house. Which is kind of the same thing as deportation. Not here, it’s not exactly like that here, but in some HOAs... I mean, that’s a little intense—a little, almost fascist in a way. Some people don’t realize that when they sign up, they get stuck in these terrible situations—

MARTIN
Fascism? Who’s talking about fascism? I’m talking about respect. And due process. And all that stuff that the rest of us citizens do... I mean, you want to move to Arizona from Tijuana, or wherever over there, you need to follow the rules! That doesn’t make me a fascist, or a socialist—that makes me an American.

Janine snorts at that last bit.

JANINE
Oh my God.

Martin looks at them both.

MARTIN
I didn’t realize you two were so unhappy with the weed rule.

DAN
The weeds...no, it’s fine. We needed to pull them anyway—

JANINE
Fifty bucks is pretty steep for a few weeds.

MARTIN
They set those fines high so that you pay attention.

JANINE
It was three dandelions and a wild baby rosemary bush—

MARTIN
I don’t make the rules, Janine, I just make sure everyone follows them.

DAN
We’re not upset about the fine, Martin. We’re just not as much, well, “rule people” as you are, is all.

MARTIN
What does that mean, “rule people”? You either play by the rules or you don’t. Rules keep order. I mean, what—are you a couple of anarchists or something?

He laughs at his joke.

JANINE
No.

MARTIN
All I’m saying is—the community—they create the rules. I see weeds, I try to give people a heads up before someone else says something to me, but once a resident has complained, I have to follow through, you know? We’ve got some people here, they really care how the place looks, you know? They take pride in their lawns, hell, in the whole subdivision.

DAN
Of course, Martin. We understand.

MARTIN
And it’s the same with that guy, or guys, however many there were—if we don’t say something now, act now, they’ll keep coming and that kind of presence, it brings down property values—

JANINE
As opposed to the legitimate Mexicans who carry American business cards?

MARTIN
Well, yes, actually, because if someone were to walk up and ask—and don’t you think I’m too shy or worried about being PC to ask them for proof myself—and they turn out to have no permission to be working here, we could get in a lot of trouble.

DAN
I don’t think you can just, like—be a normal person and not a law officer or anything—and just walk up and ask people if they’re here legally or not.

MARTIN
Well, I don’t know specifics, but they can either tell me or they can tell the police. Someone has to ask—

JANINE
Are you kidding me?!

MARTIN
No.

DAN
Martin, I think we just have very different politics here. I think, maybe, you can—if you have to—go check around other houses or something. They’re not here.

Martin narrows his eyes and looks around.

MARTIN
You and Janine—you keep saying “They.” Is there something you want to tell me?

DAN
Not really.

MARTIN
Because if you’ve knowingly hired Illegals, I’m pretty sure that’s punishable by law, or some kind of tax thing at least. Not to mention completely against the rules of the HOA—

JANINE
There’s no rules on who we can, or cannot, hire to help us with our yard work, Martin. The HOA committee wasn’t that specific—

MARTIN
“No illegal activity” has wide some pretty wide applications—

DAN
No one has done anything illegal here!

MARTIN
Oh really? Are you sure about that? What are you doing with all that lemonade?

DAN
Excuse me?

MARTIN
Someone is out back there, helping you drink it, and I find it suspicious that you haven’t explained who! So I’m going to ask you face to face, and just plain outright, so we can all be clear on what is happening here—did you hire illegal aliens to pull your weeds?

JANINE
I can’t believe this! This is our home—I mean who do you think you are? Senator McCarthy?

MARTIN
I don’t think I’m anything other than a steward and citizen of the United States of America and I’m trying to keep things nice and tidy and respectable and honest around here. You think you’re special and you get to break the rules just because you’re too lazy to pull your own damn weeds?!

JANINE
That is not at all what this is about—

MARTIN
I’m going back to my house, Dan, and I’m calling the police. They’ll come here. You can’t have those, whoever they are, in your backyard. You just can’t.

A knock on the sliding glass door and a woman’s voice intrudes—

WOMAN (O.S.)
Senora? Estamos terminados...

Martin looks at them, shakes his head in disgust and turns to leave.

JANINE
She’s pregnant! You asshole, it’s a husband and wife and she’s eight months pregnant, and they’re pulling our weeds so we don’t have to, and we’re happy to pay them for it—I’d much rather give them fifty bucks than your stupid, racist HOA—and if you call the cops on them, so help me God, I’ll—

DAN
Janine—

JANINE
Don’t you care about people? People, Martin? They’re just people.

Martin shakes his head, sad.

MARTIN
You really don’t understand, do you? It starts with one pregnant woman and ends up with an entire clan, and none of ‘em speak English or pay taxes, and then we all end of paying for their education, their medical care... There are rules. There are rules for a reason. This is Heather Ranch, not the floor of the House of Representatives. We follow rules here, we don’t make policy. You want different rules, call Governor Brewer. I’m calling the police.

He leaves. Dan and Janine look at each other. They look at the sliding glass door.

FIN.

Playwright’s Note:
I knew I wanted to write about Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 legislation at the very start of the Here & Now Project—but I just didn’t know how to best tackle it. I had a number of really interesting ideas, but they each left me with the realization that while I had plenty of opinion on the matter, I really didn’t know as much about it as I should—both as an opinionated playwright and as a plain old resident of AZ. That realization got me thinking about how the controversy and ideology behind SB 1070 have led many to a place of staunch opinions sans solid facts, and that got me thinking about how an average citizen on either side of things might process/apply it on a personal level.

In regards to the play itself, I feel like the subdivision setting and rule-following dogma are a nice background for this debate. While there is not an actual subdivision in Prescott called Heather Ranch, the intense “Follow the rules” HOA enforcers are definitely a reality. The most interesting thing about communities with HOAs (in my opinion, of course) is the inevitable desire of its residents to complain about and fight against rules they see as too restrictive, yet they literally bought into the HOA rules when they purchased the house. It’s a very interesting contrast to the idea of playing our part in a nation built on a grandfathered government where we are promised so much voice but don’t always know how to access it.

In any case, SB1070 continues to be a hot-button issue within our state and nation—and the debate over it seems to continue in perpetuity regardless of the people “in our backyard” just outside the circle of constantly talking heads. I’d really love to see a series of plays about the subject from a variety of AZ playwrights, reflecting more opinions than just my own.

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Hi Tiffany,

I think you captured the sentiment of both sides of the question very well. I was anternately angry; pro and con, and con and pro. You did a nice job of firing my emotions. Now I have to take a nap while Julio finishes up with the weed-whacking in the back yard. Can I take a deduction on my taxes for this work as home maintenance? What's a Gringo to do?Excellent piece,Michael James