Imaginary friends who I make up for purposes of poorly-sourced articles often ask me “What’s it like to be a published playwright whose works have been performed off-off-off-off-off-off-off (continued in footnote) Broadway?”
“It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be,” I reply with a world-weary air. “I had more actresses throwing themselves at me when I starred as Santa Claus in my fourth grade Christmas play, and back then I still used Brut Soap-on-a-Rope.”
But all it takes is a day like today to remind me why I first decided to try my hand at playwriting. The mail arrived, and the royalties are starting to pour in like ketchup.
San Cupertino High School Drama Society–thank you for the $5.30 check! New Franklin Community Theatre–I greatly appreciate your generous payment (two signatures required) in the amount of $14.58!
But it was the check I received for a performance at Joe Namath Consolidated Regional High School in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania that made my day. The biggest payday in my playwriting career, which began inauspiciously enough twelve years ago in Maynard, Mass., a town better known for the its marauding motorcycle gangs than its dramatic scene. Forty-four and 16/100 dollars ($44.16)–wow! You guys–your three-night run of The Undertakers Club, my autobiographical tale of a bunch of high school misfits who want to become funeral directors when they grow up must have really kicked some fuc . . . I mean it must have been terrific! Kudos!
I’m tempted to call my wife and make her eat her discouraging words: “Why do you waste your time on community theatre?” she used to say to me. But instead, I decide to take the high road. It seems almost unseemly to be rolling in dough when so many writers are literally stealing pens from the restaurants where they work as waiters to make ends meet, so I decide to share my bounty in the manner of the free-spending Broadway producer who celebrates when the first reviews arrive at The Stork Club to pronounce “My Maiden Aunt” ”boffo,” “socko,” “Bozo” or whatever the Variety nonce adjective of the week is.
Down I go in my building’s elevator to cash my checks at the bank branch on the first floor; for some reason, and in violation of the USA PATRIOT Act, no ID is required. With cash in hand, it’s over to Church Green, site of one of the most popular Dunkin’ Donuts branches in Boston!
The homeless guy who holds the door open in the hope that you’ll give him your change on the way out is surprised when I look him in the eye for once, rather than pretending he’s invisible. “Here, my good man!” I say with fulsome appreciation for a job well done. “From the students at the San Cupertino High School to you!” I hand him thirty cents in three dimes, but he demurs.
“Sorry man, dimes fall through the holes in my pockets,” he says as he withdraws his hand.
“Okay,” I reply, one eyebrow arched high in facial criticism of his improvidence. “But if you put that thirty cents in a passbook savings account, in just ten short years you’d have thirty-three cents!”
I step inside where two lines–one “express” for drinks only, one for all items–snake their way to the counter, and make an announcement that has been my life’s dream. “Hey everybody–coffee and Munchkins are on me today!”
A roar goes up unlike any I’ve heard since I moved to Boston thirty-six years ago. It’s as loud in the cramped coffee shop as it was in the old Boston Garden on Memorial Day, 1985, when Scott Wedman hit eleven straight shots–including four three-pointers!–in the opening game of the NBA Finals against the Lakers.
The waiting patrons surge forward, and I am fearful for a moment that a tragedy is at hand similar to those that used to plague British soccer stadiums and Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts. “Please, everybody, don’t push–I’m getting the 50-piece Munchkin Box!”
That seems to quell the imminent riot. I work my way past the hungry multitude and plop down my money along with a cents-off coupon that will reduce the net price of my generous bounty to $94.
The counter guy examines it closely. “This expired September 20th,” he says. “You got to pay the full price plus 6.25% meals tax ’cause there’s more than six items, so your total is–$95.86.”
I reach in my pocket, pull out the money that kids all over the country have scrimped and saved and find I’m–forty-three cents short.
“Hey,” I say as I turn around, “can anybody spot me fifty cents–just ’til noon time, I promise!”