Cockleburs by Dwight Watson

Scene. It is early morning in the city. The homeless have gathered near a soup kitchen waiting for the doors to open. Two men, TANK and RITTY, have been lingering for some time. RITTY, the younger man, paces around, but stops occasionally to study one object or another. TANK is lying on the ground, beneath a top coat, fighting off the morning chill. Both are unshaven and in need of care. There is a quote (or sign) on the soup kitchen exterior wall: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

RITTY

                (Stops pacing, studies the soup kitchen entrance, and then turns to TANK.)
What time does it open?

TANK

The same time it opened yesterday.

RITTY

What time was that?

TANK

I told you already.

RITTY

                (Bending down to talk to TANK)
Tell me again.

TANK

No, just forget it.

RITTY

What?

TANK

                (Sitting up)
I said, forget it. It doesn’t matter.

RITTY

                (Sitting beside TANK)
I’m cold.

TANK

Shut up.

RITTY

I’m hungry.

TANK

I don’t want to hear it. Talk about something else.

RITTY

Fine.
                (He unfastens and reattaches the Velcro on his shoes.)
I like these shoes. I like shoes without laces. I like shoes with Velcro. I like the sound of Velcro. Listen.

TANK

Don’t do that.

RITTY

It’s a nice sound.

TANK

It’s annoying.

RITTY

Velcro is everywhere.

TANK

I don’t want to hear about it.

RITTY

Sneakers, jackets, wallets…

TANK

Stop it.

RITTY

Astronauts use Velcro to keep things from floating away in space. Did ya know that?

TANK

Hand me the backpack, dumbass.

RITTY

                (RITTY stands and hands TANK his backpack.)
There. See. There’s even Velcro on backpacks. It’s everywhere and don’t call me dumbass.
                (TANK locates his “water bottle.”
What’s that?

TANK

Water.

RITTY

No, it ain’t.

TANK

Yeah, it’s water.

RITTY

No, it is not water! Where’d you get it?

TANK

At the water fountain. Shut up.

RITTY

Okay.
                (Indicating the shelter)
What time does it open?

TANK

Soon.

RITTY

Six? Seven? Eight?

TANK

Soon.

RITTY

What time is it now?

TANK

Don’t know.

RITTY

Where’s your watch?

TANK

Lost it.

RITTY

Sold it.

TANK

Lost it.

RITTY

Where? At the water fountain?!

TANK

Maybe. It’s none of your business, dumbass. So, shut up.

RITTY

Your sister gave it to you.

TANK

                (Taken back)
Don’t say that.

RITTY

I was there…

TANK

                (Threatening)
I said, don’t say that!

RITTY

Okay. Okay. I won’t.

TANK

                (Rises, takes a few steps, and then looks away.)
Tomorrow, we should go uptown, tomorrow.

RITTY

Yeah.

TANK

Maybe they open sooner, uptown.

RITTY

What?

TANK

Maybe they open sooner.

RITTY

                (Squatting down)
Sooner is better. Velcro helped hold the first artificial human heart together. Did ya know that?

TANK

Oh, Christ.

RITTY

Yeah. It’s ubiquitous.

TANK

It’s what?

RITTY

Ubiquitous. It’s everywhere. That’s what ubiquitous means. Everywhere.

TANK

Oh, Jesus Christ.

RITTY

What did we do before Velcro?

TANK

                (Uninterested)
We danced; we drank; we partied into the night.

RITTY

                (Rising up)
What’s wrong with you?

TANK

What do ya mean?

RITTY

                (Steps away)
Ah, forget it.

TANK

You didn’t like my answer? Okay. We tied it. We laced it. We strapped it on. Is that what you want?

RITTY

That’s better. That’s good.
                (TANK drinks from his bottle.)
Don’t drink that.

TANK

Shut up.
                (HE drinks.)

RITTY

Okay. I don’t care. Drink! Drink your “water.”
                (RITTY studies a sign on the wall.)
It’s morning.

TANK

Right.

RITTY

It’s supposed to be better now?
                (Looking at the sign)
Are our lives any better now?

TANK

You bet.

RITTY

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

TANK

 “…in the morning.”

RITTY

Who said that?

TANK

Don’t start!

RITTY

Where did that come from?

TANK

The wall.

RITTY

What?

TANK

                (Trying to ignore RITTY)
The wall. There. It’s on the wall.

RITTY

                (Becoming agitated)
No, I know that! I know it’s on the wall!

TANK

Take it easy.

RITTY

                (More agitated)
Don’t tell me to take it easy. I know it’s on the wall! I want to know where the quote came from?!

TANK

Who cares?

RITTY

I care. Was it the Bible? Or Shakespeare?

TANK

                (Dismissive)
Ah, Christ. Does it matter?

RITTY

                (Becoming angry)
Yeah, it matters! It matters! These things matter, TANK!

TANK

Here, take a drink.

RITTY

                (Angry)
Stop it! Don’t tempt me with your mephitic “water!”

TANK

My what? Up yours.

RITTY

                (Trying to control himself)
Okay.

TANK

You’re a crazy bastard.

RITTY

It’s a simple question, Tank. Who said it first? Who wrote it down? Who are they quoting?

TANK

When you get inside, ask. Until then…

RITTY

                (Disturbed)
They took a person’s idea, a valuable piece of knowledge, and turned it into a billboard! An ornament!

TANK

Maybe they didn’t know.

RITTY

It’s a soup kitchen, Tank! Of course, they knew!

TANK

Yeah, a soup kitchen but not the public library.

RITTY

It’s not right! You don’t treat people’s ideas like that.

TANK

Maybe they don’t care. Maybe it was a Priest who said it, or a Sister, or the janitor, or a messenger. Maybe nobody cares, except you…you…

RITTY

                (Passionately)
It’s knowledge, Tank! People don’t have the right to withhold knowledge!

TANK

Knowledge? What the hell are you talkin’ about? Look. We are here for the soup! That’s it!

RITTY

It makes a difference. What do they mean by this? What are they saying?

TANK

                (Trying to put it to rest)
It’s simple. We had a bad night but today it’s gonna get better.

RITTY

Why, because they’re dishin’ out white beans and cornbread? If that’s the joy, I’d rather weep. (Begins chanting) Give me a name. Give me a name! Give me a name! Give me a name!

TANK

Sit down.

RITTY

                (Shouting)
Give me a name!!

TANK

                (Pulling at RITTY)
Stop that! Sit down.

RITTY

                (Louder)
Give me a name!!!

TANK

                (Grabs RITTY by the shoulders)
Sit down!
                (RITTY refuses to sit; TANK gives up, covers his ears.)

RITTY

Give me a name! Give me a name!! Give me a name!!!
                (RITTY reaches his peak and then is silent.)

TANK

                (Pauses)
Are you alright?

RITTY

Yeah. I guess so. But, no, not really.

TANK

You need some food. We need to get inside.

RITTY

                (Sitting)
Maybe you’re right.

TANK

                (Sitting beside RITTY)
You need somethin’ in your stomach.

RITTY

In 1948, a Swiss inventor, got the idea for Velcro from cockleburs, cockleburs, Tank, caught in his clothes and in his dog’s fur!

TANK

You don’t say?

RITTY

I do. He put the burrs under a microscope and discovered a hooked shaped to them that gave him the idea for Velcro! Velcro, Tank, a material that keeps shoes on my feet and holds a human heart, Tank, holds a human heart together. Velcro! That keeps objects from flying off into space.

TANK

Burrs?

RITTY

Yeah, burrs. It matters, Tank. I matters to me. His name was George De Mestral.

TANK

Right.

RITTY

A Swiss inventor. George. That was his name.
                (Silence)
What’s yours?

TANK

What?

RITTY

Your name. Your mother didn’t name you “Tank.”

TANK

                (Slowly)
Thomas. My name is Thomas.

RITTY

Right. Thomas. That’s a good name.

TANK

                (A moment passes)
What’s yours, Ritty?

RITTY

Randall. It’s Randall.

TANK

Randall. Okay.

RITTY

                (Slowly)
I think it comes from the Bible.

TANK

Randall? Randall comes from the Bible?

RITTY

No, “cometh.” “But joy cometh in the morning.”

TANK

Yeah, there’s are a lot words like “cometh” in the Bible.

RITTY

Yeah, the Bible.

TANK

What does “mephitic” mean Ritty, I mean, Randall?

RITTY

It means, stinking.

TANK

Oh.

RITTY

Yeah, the Bible…Thomas. Psalms…the Bible…I bet.

 

End of Scene

 

About the Author: Dwight Watson is a Professor of Theater and the Lafollette Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana. A director and playwright, he has directed over sixty theater productions, and his creative and academic writing appears in several books and journals. The recipient of the 2015 McClain-McTurnan-Arnold Excellence in Teaching Award, he teaches courses in dramatic literature, playwriting, and performance. His teaching experience also includes recent appointments as Professor and Academic Director for SIE International Summer School, Nanjing University, China.