You are on page 1of 78

FIASCO

A revue in several parts

K. A. Laity
©2005-6 by K. A. Laity
Department of English
College of St. Rose
432 Western Avenue
Albany NY 12203
518.485.3778
laityk@strose.edu
www.kalaity.com
--For Peter Cook--

“And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is

working very well for them…”

-- Barbara Bush,

visiting the refugees of Hurricane Katrina in the Houston Astrodome, 2005

Acknowledgements

Many thanks are due to my colleagues at the University of Houston-Downtown, who provided

the cast for the first reading, offering glittering performances and helpful suggestions.

Thanks go most of all as usual to Gene Kannenberg Jr. without whose support, incisive

thought and (not least) love, I would be able to accomplish very little.
CHARACTERS

NAPOLEON, a wealthy middle-aged man

JOSEPHINE, a wealthy middle-aged woman

PERSEPHONE WISTERIA-HINES, a matron of some considerable affluence

REV. ARCHIBALD LEEK, a large-scale minister

DR. ALOYSIUS PHILEMON, a man of well-developed morals

JOCASTA WINDSOR GROAKE (MRS.), mother of a famous political personage

“NEW SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL”

MARMEE, a proud matriarch

POPPY, a dimwitted but proud patriarch

SON, an ambitious young man

JUNIOR, a dimwitted young man

BETTIE LOU, a killer dame in high heels, Texan

HODGE, a socialite reporter
Laity Fiasco 2

NAPOLEON & JOSEPHINE 1

JOSEPHINE

So will you be going to the Benevolent Society Ball?

NAPOLEON

I am afraid that I did not get an invitation this year.

JOSEPHINE

How very sad. Did it have anything to do with politics?

NAPOLEON

It always has something to do with politics. You know, one hand washes the other–

JOSEPHINE

—or doesn’t, in this case.

NAPOLEON

Quite right.

JOSEPHINE

Everyone will be there.

NAPOLEON

Everyone’s who’s anyone.

JOSEPHINE

—but not you.

NAPOLEON

No. I have had to make other plans.
Laity Fiasco 3

JOSEPHINE

What are your plans?

NAPOLEON

I shall be attending the Malevolent Society Ball in its stead.

JOSEPHINE

Is that very different?

NAPOLEON

Well, a little around the edges. You see their whole aim is somewhat different.

JOSEPHINE

Malevolence?

NAPOLEON

Yes.

JOSEPHINE

Well, that sounds rather bad.

NAPOLEON

Well, that’s true. It does sound bad, but then some things that are quite good sound

nasty.

JOSEPHINE

Like fundoplication.

NAPOLEON

Oh my, that does sound nasty. What is it?
Laity Fiasco 4

JOSEPHINE

It’s when they tuck a bit of your tummy to cure gastroesophageal reflux disease or

G.E.R.D.

NAPOLEON

Does it hurt?

JOSEPHINE

Well they do go through your abdomen, so I imagine it does.

NAPOLEON

I don’t think I would like that very much.

JOSEPHINE

You would if you had GERD.

NAPOLEON

How can one tell whether one has GERD?

JOSEPHINE

One goes to a doctor.

NAPOLEON

Ah.

JOSEPHINE

It’s the simplest way to tell, anyhow.

NAPOLEON

Do you?

JOSEPHINE

Yes, I have been known to go to the doctor on rare occasions.
Laity Fiasco 5

NAPOLEON

No, I mean, do you have GERD?

JOSEPHINE

No, thank heavens, I do not.

NAPOLEON

Ah.

JOSEPHINE

Very glad.

NAPOLEON

But you seemed so knowledgeable about it.

JOSEPHINE

I am extremely well-read.

NAPOLEON

Ah. That would account for it, I suppose. If I read more, as a child anyway, perhaps I

would not find myself on the way to the Malevolent Ball.

JOSEPHINE

So what are you wearing to the Malevolent Society Ball?

NAPOLEON

I hadn’t quite made my mind up.

JOSEPHINE

Is it black tie?

NAPOLEON

So it said on the invitation. It was not engraved, by the way.
Laity Fiasco 6

JOSEPHINE

Did you expect it to be?

NAPOLEON

I rather did. But I suppose that would be one of the facets of the Malevolent Society.

JOSEPHINE

That they do not engrave?

NAPOLEON

That they do not much care what one expects.

JOSEPHINE

Very true. In fact, one might go so far as to suggest that they know perfectly well what

one expects and take great delight in avoiding it.

NAPOLEON

That would be the malevolence.

JOSEPHINE

Indeed. So you are wearing the traditional black tie?

NAPOLEON

Yes, I suppose so, it is expected – and not being malevolent myself, I shall do what is

expected, ho ho.

JOSEPHINE

Well, that is well enough, I would think.

NAPOLEON

So that’s one part sorted, but I have not yet made any decision as to the remainder.
Laity Fiasco 7

JOSEPHINE

The remainder of your ensemble, you mean?

NAPOLEON

Yes.

JOSEPHINE

Well, the usual sort of thing is to wear a dinner jacket.

NAPOLEON

Indeed, but if one were to want to make a splash –

JOSEPHINE

How much of a splash?

NAPOLEON

Well, that’s the thing. I have not finished gauging that particular issue.

JOSEPHINE

There are a range of options. Had you considered nothing at all?

NAPOLEON

Considered…but after some small consideration, I had reckoned against it.

JOSEPHINE

Small considerations will often argue in that direction.

NAPOLEON

No, I meant that it took me little time to decide that it would be unsuitable.

JOSEPHINE

Ah. Was it the lack of pockets?
Laity Fiasco 8

NAPOLEON

That was part of the decision. I am lost without my pockets.

JOSEPHINE

You could carry a bag.

NAPOLEON

True enough. But then the decisions are expanded even further. What sort of bag does

one carry to a black tie event?

JOSEPHINE

Would it clash with your skin tone?

NAPOLEON

Would it slip off my unclad shoulder?

JOSEPHINE

Rhinestones are especially slippery. As is patent leather.

NAPOLEON

And then there’s the manliness angle. How macho can I look with a shoulder bag?

JOSEPHINE

The late emperor was said to carry a shoulder bag, and he conquered half the known

world.

NAPOLEON

Would we have known if he had conquered the unknown world?

JOSEPHINE

Probably not.
Laity Fiasco 9

NAPOLEON

No.

JOSEPHINE

But he did look enviably manly while carrying the bag and conquering the known world.

NAPOLEON

Yes, but that was another time. Rules of society change so fast. What is fashionable in

one century fails to elicit the same hearty approval in the next.

JOSEPHINE

Quite right. Things of late seem to be sliding precipitously in the opposite direction.

NAPOLEON

From what?

JOSEPHINE

Just about everything, as far as I can tell. Which isn’t far –

NAPOLEON

Quite right. It would never do to keep too close an eye on the rules of society.

JOSEPHINE

They do have a habit of changing just when one looks away.

NAPOLEON

Like fish.

JOSEPHINE

Do fish change when one looks away?

NAPOLEON

I cannot say. I only know they look different to me.
Laity Fiasco 10

JOSEPHINE

Well, all fish are not the same.

NAPOLEON

But the word is.

JOSEPHINE

Fish?

NAPOLEON

Yes. Fish for one, fish for many.

JOSEPHINE

I wouldn’t know. I don’t really like fish.

NAPOLEON

What about caviar?

JOSEPHINE

Hmmm. I do like caviar.

NAPOLEON

Well, there you are.

JOSEPHINE

But fish aren’t caviar. Or should I say, caviar aren’t fish.

NAPOLEON

Yet.

JOSEPHINE

Well, yes, that’s true. Fish tomorrow, but not today.
Laity Fiasco 11

NAPOLEON

Rather like jam in that sense.

JOSEPHINE

But they were not fish yesterday. That would set all creation on its ear.

NAPOLEON

Does creation have an ear?

JOSEPHINE

I suspect not, or it would listen more closely to our complaints. I know for certain there

would be no need for wildebeest if creation had listened to me.

NAPOLEON

Dear me, are wildebeest so unnecessary?

JOSEPHINE

They are, I would argue, in fact quite malevolent.

NAPOLEON

Really? I had no idea.

JOSEPHINE

My garden is infested with them.

NAPOLEON

Oh no – was it rather sudden?

JOSEPHINE

No, in fact it was rather gradual, so I did not notice right away and immediately ask for

the gardeners to put out traps.
Laity Fiasco 12

NAPOLEON

What do wildebeest traps look like?

JOSEPHINE

Boxy things, about so high [obviously too small].

NAPOLEON

How do they work?

JOSEPHINE

Well, apparently one baits the box and waits for the wildebeest to snuffle around for the

treats inside.

NAPOLEON

And what does one use to bait the wildebeest box?

JOSEPHINE

Oddly enough, caviar often does the trick, but I have also seen it work with cheese.

NAPOLEON

Does the trap spring?

JOSEPHINE

If it did, there would be no need to bait the box. It could simply spring after the

wildebeest and chase the nasty things away.

NAPOLEON

No, I meant does it spring shut on the wildebeest?

JOSEPHINE

I don’t know. So far we have not been able to capture any.
Laity Fiasco 13

NAPOLEON

Bad luck. Perhaps a different bait would draw them in.

JOSEPHINE

I have considered that, and made my mind up to try treacle.

NAPOLEON

Why treacle? Are wildebeest – is the plural wildebeest? Like fish?

JOSEPHINE

I believe it is wildebeesties.

NAPOLEON

Are wildebeesties particularly drawn to treacle?

JOSEPHINE

No, but I don’t much like it and it seems like a good way to get rid of it.

NAPOLEON

I see. If that doesn’t work, I do have some marmalade that is particularly nasty. Perhaps

they may like that as well.
Laity Fiasco 14

PERSEPHONE WISTERIA-HINES

One of the advantages of being phenomenally wealthy is that it allows one to help the poor.

Money seems to be the one thing that poor just can’t get enough of, and having so much of it

myself, it cheers me to parcel it out to the less fortunate whenever my bridge schedule allows. I

have tried to instill the same love of philanthropy in my daughter Felicity with some astounding

lack of success. Just the other day when I was busily packaging up a series of lovely lunch bags

for the unfortunates, I tried to interest Felicity in the proceedings the better to…er…to better her.

She rolled her eyes so forcefully that I could nearly hear the orbs revolving and it upset me so

much that I simply had to stop my work right then and let Margareta go on packing up the

lunches without my careful supervision. Naturally, some of the poor were bound to suffer the

consequences, but they needn’t know that the crème Brule ought not be quite so squashed.

Anyhoo, I had to take the time to give Felicity a valuable lesson on the needs of the poor. I tried

with great expression to describe the plight of the underprivileged and our need as the

aristocracy—well, of course we don’t have an aristocracy in this country, thank heaven, but

certainly the child would recognize the duty owed by the betters to their lessers. Where, I asked

her, where would the troubadours of Provençal have been if Eleanor of Aquitaine had not

sponsored their delightful tunes? Would you believe the wretched child claimed never to have

heard of Eleanor nor of the troubadours? I took this as a personal affront since Eleanor has

always been my role model since my early days in the academy when I first read of the wonders

of her reign, apart from, of course, her riding into the Holy Lands with one breast unclad in the

manner of the Amazons. That, I did not admire. And certainly have not imitated, except perhaps

once at a Scroll and Key party with some Exeter boys at Yale, but the details of that night remain

persistently fuzzy, so I cannot attest to whether I actually did such a thing or merely held forth on
Laity Fiasco 15

the topic while my imagination ran rampant. It has happened before. Anyhoo, I held forth then

on the many wonderful qualities of Eleanor and her monumental importance to the troubadours

of the twelfth and thirteenth century—a lecture I am certain you good people do not require—

and by the end, Felicity had stopped rolling her eyes, I can tell you, though they did indeed seem

to want to remain shut. I lament that the reins of this great country will one day be going to

ignorant girls like my Felicity, but there you are. I suppose it is more important to teach young

children today how to load the internet and “burn” music as I have heard it called; but what will

the symphonies of tomorrow do for an audience if the children of today do not learn to

appreciate their ability to soothe one into a state of most blissful reverie that many times cannot

be separated from the outward appearance of sleep, but one which, I can assure you, it proves to

be far more restful than. Goodness, if Miss Hawley were to hear me construct a sentence like

that, she would box my ears. And I’m afraid that kind of physical coercion is no longer

acceptable in our schools. Apparently some instructors took it a mite too far, but I should say in

their defense that I do not know that I could have made it through fourth year Latin without the

possibility of a good rapping hanging over my somewhat less than dutiful head. And I am all the

better for it. [Pause]

But that conversation gave me the idea for my newest campaign to brighten the lives of the less

fortunate. I wish, too, to follow in the rather large footsteps of Eleanor—and by saying that, of

course, I mean the size of her legacy and not her actual feet which I do believe to have been in

fact rather petite in keeping with the smaller stature of people at that time, reasons of illness and

unfortified bread and so forth—but to follow, then in the legacy of that great queen and bring the

magic of music to the poor of this great city. Music, Shakespeare was wont to say, hath charms

to soothe the savage breast. Most people think he said beast, I’m not sure why – it’s rather like
Laity Fiasco 16

that other one, Lay on Macduff, which people insist upon rendering as Lead on, Macduff. This

shocking lack of knowledge of the classics is another problem which must be addressed as some

future point, but for the moment, oh yes, as I was saying, music. With a little help from my

children’s very patient music tutor and a great deal more assistance from my cousin Prescott’s

moving and storage firm, I have undertaken a new scheme to provide the disadvantaged with

pianos. You should see their faces when the truck arrives and the sturdy young men in my

cousin’s company’s employ begin to roll the lovely spinets down their bedraggled walkways. Of

course we did have the one unfortunate event with the second story building, but we have since

resigned ourselves to ground floor apartments and all has gone swimmingly.
Laity Fiasco 17

REV. ARCHIBALD LEEK

I want to welcome you all to God’s Chat Back™ and remind you that you can send your

email to us at the address askgod@theonlychurch.com and we will be happy to respond

to as many of your questions as we can in a given episode. And please do not confuse

that email address with our link for contributions, which you may also email at

praisegod@theonlychurch.com. Remember, that 50,000 seat arena is not going to pay for

itself, especially if you want an espresso bar—and our member surveys have certainly

shown that you do. Bless you all. As always, we begin this section of our program with

questions from you, our hopeful viewers, and I urge you to stay tuned for some more of

Miss Penny Hawley’s wonderful tribute songs after our sequence is over. Viewers the

world over have thrilled to her stirring renditions of beloved songs from their childhoods

and mine, with of course, a delightful godly twist. She’s just wonderful, isn’t she folks?

Well, our first question today comes from a lovely view of the hill country of Texas.

Miss Cookie Tammuz of Blanco writes, “Dear God: I have been reading the Gospels

lately and have been struck several times by a rather alarming notion. It would appear

that there is a very red strain of Socialism running through the word of God. For

example, in the book of Matthew he says things like ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures

upon earth,’ and then all that about the lilies toiling not and neither do they spin, yet

somehow welfare takes care of them. Jesus even tells a rich man to sell all his

possessions and give to the poor, then finishes it off by suggesting that it is easier for a

camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. My

question is: does this apply to rich women as well? I certainly have no intention of giving

up all I have worked so hard to obtain and then living as a pauper. Surely there is another
Laity Fiasco 18

way!” Thank you, sister Cookie. Your question is one I have heard again and again.

While we here at the Only Church™ pride ourselves on helping you reach your fullest

possible fiduciary capabilities, we also want to be sure that your economic success

remains in keeping with the true notion of the one and Only God.™ So let us examine

this passage with care and determine once and for all the true meaning of the phrase. So

let me read that one more time, Matthew 19: 24: “And again I say unto you, it is easier

for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the

kingdom of God.” Now what you’ll notice first is that it does not say that a rich man

shall not enter into the kingdom of God. This should of course please our more

prosperous members. There is no bar after all to great wealth according to the very word

of the Only God.™ It does not mean that a rich person—of either gender, truly—cannot

get into heaven. What it says, then, is that it is in fact easier for a camel, despite its large

size, to pass through the eye of a needle. The enormous substance of the camel is chiefly

what makes this so. While it may be possible over the years to breed a very tiny camel—

we have, after all, successfully bred the tiniest of teacup poodles, some so small that they

have in fact become lost amongst the implements of a large banquet table, poor things—

certainly the intent is not in fact to breed a smaller camel, but to somehow pass the very

large dromedary through the very tiny hole of the sewing implement. This is a problem,

we must admit. Passing the very large Bactrian would be even more difficult, given its

second hump. How then to pass the camelid creature through the rather small aperture of

the pointy metal, um, thingee? Conventional wisdom would suggest various kinds of

lubricants, which may take the form of unguents or ointments. Usually when slipping a

rather larger thing through a smaller opening it is necessary to speed the way with some
Laity Fiasco 19

sort of slippery substance. Now I know what some of you are thinking right now and I

will caution you that you ought not to be thinking those sorts of things. That is not the

way to reach the kingdom of heaven. But in this case, if we turn our attention to the

processing, shall we say, of the member of the species camelidae through the tiny gap of

the tailoring apparatus, then we do in fact need some kind of slick substance to achieve

the, er, transcendence. I believe here is where one can again turn to the bible for the true

word of the Only God.™ We need only find the words of the prophet Jeremiah to find

our answer to this rather, er, sticky question. For the bible is full of mentions of various

oils and salves, and it may be just such a substance that Jeremiah refers to when he

laments on its lack. Perhaps he was faced with a similar problem when he cries out “is

there no balm in Gilead?” in book 9 chapter 22. If there is no balm in Gilead, then surely

the camel cannot be gotten through the eye of the needle. But with the application of this

special balm, one can certainly—surely with some effort of course, but what is worth

doing that does not require some elbow grease (that being a metaphor and not an

unguent)—one most assuredly can work even the largest camel through the eyehole of

the recalcitrant needle. Such a miraculous balm, you say, if only one could have such a

balm, what might one do! Indeed, what force on earth or in heaven could stop one from

achieving all that can be achieved? Well, wonder no more! While the recipe for this

biblical balm has been lost for many years, I am happy to report that our dedicated

scholars at the Only Church Institute™ have successfully recovered the recipe and we

now offer it for sale in our Only Church™ gift shop. Stop by after your next prayer

session and marvel at the wonderful healing properties of the balm, available at only

$24.95 per tub. Small pocket or purse size dispensers are available too, for a mere
Laity Fiasco 20

pittance. With the Only Church ™ Balm your passage through life will become

miraculously easy, and your lips and elbows soft and smooth. And it makes a fine

holiday gift! Now, please stay tuned for Miss Hawley’s stirring musical tribute to the

Book of Lamentations. She will be assisted in her lamenting by the Only God™ mime

troupe, so we are all in for a terrific feast for the eyes as well as the ears. Thank you, and

may the Only God™ bless you today.
Laity Fiasco 21

NAPOLEON & JOSEPHINE 2

JOSEPHINE

So, what have you decided to wear to the Malevolent Society Ball?

NAPOLEON

Well, I hadn’t so much decided as resigned myself.

JOSEPHINE

To?

NAPOLEON

No, only one. I’m afraid I have been unable to secure an escort for the evening.

JOSEPHINE

No, I meant what had you resigned yourself to wearing. And I thought the man was

referred to as the “escort” not the woman. Unless you were planning to take a man, which

would be very forward thinking of you, I suppose.

NAPOLEON

Though one usually wishes to avoid thinking forwardly.

JOSEPHINE

Some sidestep the problem by simply not thinking.

NAPOLEON

The easiest path. Yet situations like mine require a good deal of thought, thus I have

devoted a great deal of thought to both my wardrobe and my escort. Or should I say

escort?

JOSEPHINE

Escortee?
Laity Fiasco 22

NAPOLEON

Sounds rather like a French hors d'oeuvre.

JOSEPHINE

Is there any other kind?

NAPOLEON

Yes, actually. There are Italian hors d'oeuvres although of course one calls them canapés.

JOSEPHINE

But that’s what you eat them under, ne c’est pas?

NAPOLEON

No, that’s a gazebo.

JOSEPHINE

Did you realize that gazebo is Italian for belvedere?

NAPOLEON

I had an uncle Belvedere. But he wasn’t Italian, so far as I could tell.

JOSEPHINE

Did he come over after the war?

NAPOLEON

Which one?

JOSEPHINE

Any of them?

NAPOLEON

Well, he did come over most days, but it was just from down the road. His estate was
Laity Fiasco 23

very near ours. So I suppose he did come over after the war, but probably also during and

before it.

JOSEPHINE

But not foreign?

NAPOLEON

Well, occasionally odd, but no, not foreign.

JOSEPHINE

Well…

NAPOLEON

Yes…what were we talking about?

JOSEPHINE

Your escort, or escortee, or should I say, escort to be?

NAPOLEON

Or not to be, as that is the question I am left with at present.

JOSEPHINE

Surely you would not go without an escort? Escortee?

NAPOLEON

It would be the kind of thing that gets one talked about.

JOSEPHINE

And not in the good way.

NAPOLEON

Is there a good way?
Laity Fiasco 24

JOSEPHINE

Oh yes!

NAPOLEON

Ah, you see I have never been talked about in what one might call a good way.

JOSEPHINE

There was the shrimp incident—

NAPOLEON

Yes, well – one can hardly call that positive.

JOSEPHINE

I see what you mean. Hmm, perhaps your escortee—or should I be giving it the French

pronunciation, escortée?

NAPOLEON

I don’t see that it matters too much, my being without one however it may be

pronounced.

JOSEPHINE

Yes, but my point is that she could perhaps embellish your reputation.

NAPOLEON

Embellish?

JOSEPHINE

Well, I was casting about for a word that might somehow be the opposite of tarnish.

NAPOLEON

Silver?
Laity Fiasco 25

JOSEPHINE

Yes, I suppose in a way, but what I mean is the chosen esc—the ah, chosen woman

could go a long way toward getting people talking about you in a good way.

NAPOLEON

Wouldn’t that be nice?

JOSEPHINE

Indeed. Even at the Malevolent Society Ball, it is important to try to have people think

well of you.

NAPOLEON

Although, of course, more difficult.

JOSEPHINE

Yes, but shouldn’t that make one redouble his efforts?

NAPOLEON

Can one do that on one’s own? Doesn’t it take two to double—or is redoubling four?

JOSEPHINE

Perhaps we should focus on making you two for the ball?

NAPOLEON

Oh, no! I don’t think that would be suitable at all!

JOSEPHINE

You don’t?

NAPOLEON

Two of me? Why people would certainly think me conceited, walking down the long

stairs, waving to the crowds, two of me. Mind you, that would be quite a sight…
Laity Fiasco 26

JOSEPHINE

Ah, yes, but I really only meant making you one of a pair.

NAPOLEON

Well, that’s a relief. Otherwise we’d have to digress into a very long and boring debate

about the ethics of cloning. I’m not sure I’m prepared for that.

JOSEPHINE

Nor am I. I must admit I haven’t the faintest notion how it’s even done.

NAPOLEON

Mirrors?

JOSEPHINE

Perhaps initially, but I believe the science has moved forward since then.

NAPOLEON

As it tends to do.

JOSEPHINE

What do you think of Beryl Jarvis?

NAPOLEON

On any given day, very little.

JOSEPHINE

I mean as a possible companion for the ball.

NAPOLEON

Ah. Well, she certainly has good breeding.
Laity Fiasco 27

JOSEPHINE

I do wonder why people say that about other people when it seems more like something

for horses?

NAPOLEON

To be fair, in Beryl’s case, there isn’t very much of a difference.

JOSEPHINE

Perhaps around the nose.

NAPOLEON

There is an awful lot of real estate within the boundaries of that nose.

JOSEPHINE

But people would certainly talk, and favorably, I think. And consider how much better

you would look at her side.

NAPOLEON

A three day old corpse would look surprisingly sprightly at her side.

JOSEPHINE

That’s just the thing. One looks for an escort who either complements one or distracts

from one’s own shortcomings.

NAPOLEON

Compliments are always pleasant.

JOSEPHINE

Indeed, but I was thinking rather of the other kind of complement, where one half suits

the other.
Laity Fiasco 28

NAPOLEON

Like that Asian symbol?

JOSEPHINE

Do you mean the Zen?

NAPOLEON

I believe so, though I really thought it had more syllables.

JOSEPHINE

Zen is the sound of one hand clapping.

NAPOLEON

Oh, is that the thing?

JOSEPHINE

It’s one.

NAPOLEON

Hand?

JOSEPHINE

No, one thing.

NAPOLEON

I’m afraid I have lost the thread.

JOSEPHINE

I believe that is the aim. Once you have forgotten yourself, you are at one with the

universe.

NAPOLEON

Does that really work?
Laity Fiasco 29

JOSEPHINE

Do you feel at one?

NAPOLEON

No, in fact I rather feel at sixes and sevens.

JOSEPHINE

It’s just as well you weren’t born a monk.

NAPOLEON

Are monks born? Or are they made?

JOSEPHINE

They’re churning out everything else these days in China, so I imagine they are made.

NAPOLEON

My cousin complains about that very thing in his factories. The Chinese are

undercutting our manufacturing with their cheap labor. You know they pay their people

a pittance, a mere pittance, and that’s enough for a family of eight to live on for a week or

more—if they live frugally. And you know, they do that. Very low overhead.

JOSEPHINE

How is your cousin coping with the loss? It must be hard for good American investors

to fight that kind of outrageous foreign competition.

NAPOLEON

Well, he tried many different techniques but in the end, the answer was very simple.

JOSEPHINE

Oh really? What did he do?
Laity Fiasco 30

NAPOLEON

Moved his factories to China.

JOSEPHINE

Very wise.
Laity Fiasco 31

DR. ALOYSIUS PHILEMON

Thank you all for joining me at this important fundraiser. As you well know, the forces

of the secularists are marshaled against us and we continue to need fresh injections of

cash to halt the seemingly endless march toward godless heathenism in our schools. I am

sure most of you are familiar with the need to address all manner of scientific theories

and not just the so-called “evolution.” Our children deserve the very finest of lessons we

can bring to them, whether they want these lessons or not, they will thank us for them in

the end when they have been brought closer to the word of god, rather than further from

it. Now I have heard some people say that this has gone too far, while others say that we

have not gone far enough. I’m sure the majority of you will say very little, unless you are

prompted by the immediate needs of your children. Well, let me take the liberty of

alarming you now: godless “scientists” want to force your children to turn aside from

their beliefs and swallow the ridiculous notion that we fine people, made in the image of

the one true god, were descended from monkeys. There it is, in a nutshell. I’m sure

you’ll all agree that this horror, if it cannot be halted—and we are nearly ready to admit

that it cannot be stopped, the momentum has become too much, what with the promotion

of this idea by various liberal filmmakers and the left wing agenda—if it cannot be

halted, it must at least be leavened with good sensible knowledge of the kind we can

trust. This is of course to say, good , god-fearing research of the kind we perform at the

Institute. Now, certain malingering ne’er-do-wells have disparaged my reputation as a

researcher, but we know that this is simply a ploy by wrong thinking individuals of that

sort. While it is true that my doctoral degree is self-awarded, the Institute’s own board of

fellows happily endorsed my candidacy for the degree. What higher acclaim could one
Laity Fiasco 32

have besides the acclaim of his fellows. The work at the Institute remains at the forefront

of this entrenched debate—I say debate although of course, there is nothing to debate. We

are right, and they are wrong. It is nothing like, say, the theories of my Aunt Agatha,

who despite all evidence to the contrary continues to believe that the playwright William

Shakespeare is not what he seems, or should I say, what he seemed to have been. Of

course, many scholars debate on the true identity of the man, whether he was really

Francis Bacon or the terrible sodomite Christopher Marlowe, which of course I don’t

believe for a second; however, I regret to say that my Aunt Agatha remains firm in her

belief that Shakespeare was a rather large stalk of asparagus. There is of course little to

support such a belief apart from her firmness on the decision. One can read through the

complete works of Shakespeare and find no mention of the vegetable at all—while this

would seem to put paid to the notion that the venerable playwright was a stalky green

plant, for Aunt Agatha, the absence of any denial only confirms her theory. The so-called

evolutionists are just like that. They wish us to take on faith, ho ho, the mere “theory”

that we “evolved” from apes, that somehow one day an ape stood up and decided to

become a man. Can you imagine? One day out of the blue, an ape stands up and

perhaps, let’s say, parts his hair and takes a look in a nearby pond. He likes what he sees

but suddenly realizes, horror! He is naked. Looking at his lovely mate (well, lovely to

him, I am not so sure she would be lovely to us!) and good heavens, sees she too is

naked. At once he must have set to clothing all those near and dear to him and that would

set him apart from the other apes who would just go on in their savage nudity, mindlessly

getting on with their animal lives. This supposed “evolved” ape would then have to start

life like Adam and Eve, with their eventually evolved children and their wives and then
Laity Fiasco 33

their children, and so on. What happened when they finally comprehended the awesome

power of god? Can you imagine the ape religion? Would they have crafted their own

Bible? Imagine the kind of gibberish that would be, even with a hundred of them typing

for a hundred years they would never come up with the logical cohesion and sensible

construction of the Good Book. Consider the ridiculous ideas the monkeys would come

up with in their simple way—why, they might think the world was created in only five

days, or that the face of god was capped with a fez. Of course they would have also

made offerings, much like Cain and Abel before their god. Would the story have

followed the same pattern? Can we imagine a monkey-like Cain and Abel making their

offerings to god and one being preferred over the other and the first murder occurring?

Then, of course, the mark of all those who descend from the monkey Cain would be clear

upon their foreheads which would certainly make the identifying of them much easier,

and they would have spread across the deserts of what would become the land of the

children of Abraham eventually. Imagine the monkey-like tribes wandering and

wandering, would monkeys know how to find their way in a desert? They are jungle

dwelling animals, or is it the savannahs? Imagine them building all their monkey cities.

Some would hive off and become the heathen monkeys and begin worshipping, what?

Not a golden calf, surely. Perhaps a golden banana—well, but of course, this is all

nonsense. The evolved monkeys no doubt would not believe in god, just like their

monkey-like descendents continue not to do today. I hate to alarm you with this monkey-

themed revision of Genesis, but it is important to make you aware of the kind of

misinformation these so-called scientists get up to in their promotion of the ridiculous

notion of evolution. It’s hardly scientific, is it? Naturally—or perhaps, I should choose
Laity Fiasco 34

another word, come to think of it—logically, oh won’t that thrill the scientists?

Logically, we can easily deduce—ha, ha!—how the evolutionist have pushed their

science-based agenda in our schools and how they are likely to fight back against our

well-reasoned alternative theory of intelligent design. Let me make it perfectly clear—

this is not a religious program. We do not assert a belief in any particular god, or suggest

that Genesis is the only description, though of course, you all know and I know that there

is only the one god and if you choose not to believe in Genesis, he will certainly let you

know about it in the end. But that is not part of our agenda. No, we merely wish to point

out that the amazing complexity of the world cannot be accounted for by some haphazard

muddling through on the part of all the species of the world! It’s simply impossible.

Consider the false spider mite. How can it be? There are no male false spider mites.

Yes, I can hear you say it, “not possible!,” but trust me: I read it in the National

Geographic.1 There are only female false spider mites. When the females lay their eggs,

the little mites which might have been male are turned female by a kind of bacterium.

Ladies and gentlemen—I rest my case. Surely there can be no evolutionary point in this!

We know that survival of the fittest requires the traditional male and female roles, yet

here, by the whimsy of an intelligent designer, we see the miracle of creation in the lowly

false spider mite. Imagine the charming conversations one might hear amongst the lady

mites, dolling up for a night on the town, only to find, a ha! There are no men! Or

imagine the sorrowful cries of the little male spider mites who suddenly find themselves

down two and back at the starting line. No, there’s no role for evolution to play here, but

only the complex reward and punishment system of an unfathomable and somewhat

1
“First All-Female Species Discovered.” National Geographic July 1, 2001. October 2, 2005.
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/07/0702_wirefemalemites.html
Laity Fiasco 35

capricious creator, who really knows best although he remains unknowable. In the end, I

am confident that our, better, way will triumph. Debates will occur, votes will be taken,

speeches will be spoken, but natural, er, intelligent selection will win out in the end,

thanks to your generous donations, for which, I thank you most heartily.
Laity Fiasco 36

JOCASTA WINDSOR GROAKE (MRS.)

Unaccustomed as I am to making speeches of this sort, I thought I should come forward

to make this speech because of the misunderstanding about my last speech of this sort. I

would not do so for myself, of course, but because the brunt of my, shall we say,

unfortunate misquotes has fallen on the remarkably unfit shoulders of my dear son. Not

that he is unfit himself. Many of the so-called general public have been heard to approve

of his well-tuned physique, and both admirers and his few detractors can agree on the fine

physical specimen that he evokes. But rather, I meant to convey, that his shoulders were

unsuited to bear the burden of my words, or should I say, the deliberate misrepresenting

of my words by some members of what I should call for lack of a better term, the media.

Now the recent events to which my son responded with all due gravity attendant to a

person in his position have unaccountably led to a most unattractive kind of opportunistic

sniping. While my dear son can expect that sort of thing, being in such an important

position of responsibility, I can blame myself here because for once it is not his own

words that brought him criticism, but mine. And I must hasten to add that I was only

trying to help. Now there is no need for finger pointing at a time like this, when lives are

in danger and cities are in ruins. In fact we have no one to blame at all in a situation like

this unless of course we were to blame our dear Lord who in his infinite mercy is allowed

to occasionally wipe out an entire city like this without warning. It is one of the ineffable

mysteries and why we must tremble at his awesome power. It is only our duty to try to

clean up the mess afterward with as little grumbling as we can muster. And those

people—and I am sorry that so many of you object to that terminology, but lacking their

names and proper introductions, what else may I say but some kind of indicative word
Laity Fiasco 37

pointing to the people in question?—those people who live in that great city, well, that

city which until recently was great, but now of course is virtually non-existent due to

circumstances out of the control of my son, so why is every one blaming him? I was only

showing my zeal both as his mother and as a responsible citizen. Did I stop once to

consider that these people—is that better?—these people were for the most part of

another class and, entirely coincidentally, of another race than I am? Of course not! I am

an American and we are all equal before the law. There is no difference between myself

and that welfare mother the media seized upon, apart from the fact that I knew how many

children I could afford to have. Imagine if I had had as many children as that woman?

They could not all have risen to positions of power as my son has, and then of course

there would be the ugly rivalries of the less fortunate sons. And daughters, too, as we are

all emancipated now and women can hold any public office as well as a man, though of

course all women hope not to have to do so. I would not be here in this position myself if

it were not for my motherly desire to support my son, as any natural mother would do. I

know that some of you will question the advisability of doing this as it was in fact my

comments that seemed to add a kind of fuel to the fire of criticism surrounding these so-

very-tragic events. However, I feel the need to explain my comments which were taken

out of context and, I believe, erroneously misquoted. I did not in fact say that these

people were much better off in their temporary shelters, though one could easily see that

the environs were quite clean and, if a little Spartan, quite efficient. I have been told that

many of those who escaped came from most abject poverty, which I have seen before on

television, so I was not wrong in suggesting that some might indeed find their new

surroundings better, or at least sprightlier, than their old ones. And one ought not
Laity Fiasco 38

overlook the invigorating effect of new locations and decorations. When we had the

house at the shore done over, I felt quite energized by the change. A change of scene can

really inspire one to new heights of imagination and contentment. It was shortly

thereafter that I had the wonderful idea of redecorating the Summer mansion as well, so I

expect those people will likewise be inspired to new ideas and dreams by their experience

too—though, yes, of course, most of them do not have a second house with which to

consider these kind of decorating decisions, but I am certain that they will be inspired

nonetheless in ways more befitting their means. I am aware that other people are not

always as fortunate as my family and I have been, and with these salvage contracts, will

continue to be, but I fail to see my comments as any kind of indication that we are “out of

touch” with the common herd, er, people. One journalist had the unadulterated gall to

suggest some connection with the very distressing event some years ago with my

husband’s car theft, but I fail to see any connection there. If one is accustomed to valet

parking, it does not seem the least bit odd to hand what would seem to be a stranger one’s

keys. In fact, I rather blame the young man who ought to have recognized my husband

anyway, and should have realized the futility of stealing his particular car, knowing the

full forces of the law would be employed in locating it. But that is the appalling

ignorance of those of the criminal class, and it is one of the disadvantages my son’s latest

education program plans to address, so do not suggest that I am aloof from the concerns

of those less fortunate than myself. Nothing could be further from the truth! I am always

very giving of my time and money to help those less fortunate, that is how this trickle

down economy works. We who have much trickle down upon the less prosperous, if

you’ll forgive that particular image. While sound in economic terms, I cannot help
Laity Fiasco 39

regretting the somewhat vulgar picture it brings to mind which offends my sense of

decorum and fastidiousness. Which reminds me of the other point one particularly

loathsome shall we say “journalist” charged me with while I was busily and I should say,

without remuneration except the extended grace of our benevolent Lord, helping those

who are less fortunate. It is not in fact true what I heard bandied about across the

airwaves of this fine country. I did have a handkerchief wrapped around my hand when I

was shaking that poor woman’s hand—and I mean poor here as a sign of her wretched

condition due to this terrible disaster, not that I necessarily labeled her as a member of the

poor, I do not make those kind of sweeping statements, regardless of what the so-called

media profess on my behalf. But I did not have that handkerchief there as some

prophylactic against shaking the hand of a poor woman—poor in the sense of economics,

not situation—and especially not to avoid shaking the hand of a woman who was of

another race than I am. I merely had the cloth wrapped around my hand due to the large

number of hands I knew I would be shaking that day and my hands get so easily chapped

with that kind of labor and I did not wish to risk my new French manicure. I’m sure the

woman herself would have done the same thing if she had thought of it, and if she had

remembered to grab one of her own embroidered handkerchiefs as she fled her rapidly

disintegrating home. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity of clarifying all this

misunderstanding and alleviating the unceasing vituperation. I am certain that this will

finally put to rest any lingering doubts about the charitable nature of my beloved family

and restore us to the good graces of the public. Thank you.
Laity Fiasco 40

NAPOLEON & JOSEPHINE 3

NAPOLEON

I have made a decision.

JOSEPHINE

Have you? And what is that?

NAPOLEON

I shall wear a coat and tie.

JOSEPHINE

Very wise. What sort?

NAPOLEON

I suppose the mere words “coat and tie” are insufficient to render the sense of a decision

finally made?

JOSEPHINE

Indeed—a coat and tie could mean many things and when one is attending the

Malevolent Society Ball, one has to think about intentions.

NAPOLEON

Perhaps I should just stay home…

JOSEPHINE

Well, it is not on one’s own behalf that one goes to these events.

NAPOLEON

No, it is on the behalf of Mme. Jetée and her nuns.

JOSEPHINE

How is it that she came to be their patron...ness?
Laity Fiasco 41

NAPOLEON

Didn’t it have something to do with a childhood illness? Or with her child’s illness.

JOSEPHINE

That sounds somewhat familiar. I seem to recall a small child, struggling manfully on

crutches, a brave smile plastered across his courageous face.

NAPOLEON

Yes, but that could be any of a thousand charitable campaigns. It would be helpful if we

could tell them apart more easily.

JOSEPHINE

Quite right. I do enjoy the junior polo match for that very reason. No chance mistaking

it for a breast cancer run or a child’s organ donor race.

NAPOLEON

Although there is some possibility of mistaking the ponies for the organizers.

JOSEPHINE

I think it’s like pets. After a while you start to look alike.

NAPOLEON

And married couples.

JOSEPHINE

Begin to look alike?

NAPOLEON

Begin to look like horses?

JOSEPHINE

Who can say, but that does remind me of Beryl.
Laity Fiasco 42

NAPOLEON

No, I’ve gone off Beryl. I think I need to take someone younger if I am to make a good

impression and be talked about—in the right way.

JOSEPHINE

What about Muriel Jackson Budge?

NAPOLEON

I can safely say nothing about Muriel Jackson Budge.

JOSEPHINE

You don’t like her?

NAPOLEON

I don’t know her.

JOSEPHINE

Ah, well, that can be mended. Muriel is a darling girl—

NAPOLEON

Hang on, I know what that means.

JOSEPHINE

Nothing of the sort!

NAPOLEON

Darling girl means terrible overbite, nasty habits and watery eyes.

JOSEPHINE

No, it doesn’t.

NAPOLEON
Laity Fiasco 43

It did when I met my wife. “Darling girl,” said my cousin Natalie, and she couldn’t have

been more wrong. That woman took years off my life.

JOSEPHINE

Amazing then that she was the first to go.

NAPOLEON

I have come to the conclusion that it was not an accident.

JOSEPHINE

You don’t mean to say—suicide?

NAPOLEON

Well, no, not exactly suicide…

JOSEPHINE

Then it must be murder!

NAPOLEON

Well, murder of a sort.

JOSEPHINE

What on earth does that mean? Did you kill her?!

NAPOLEON

Good heavens, no. Do you think I would kill her and then suddenly, in the middle of a

conversation, just let drop the fact that I had in fact done in my wife? I would have to be

incredibly stupid to do something like that.

[beat]

I do not hear you rushing to deny it.

JOSEPHINE
Laity Fiasco 44

I was merely considering the other possible answers to this little puzzle. If it is not

suicide and it is murder, but you did not perpetrate it, who did?

NAPOLEON

I think it was her hairdresser.

JOSEPHINE

I see.

NAPOLEON

I only suspect. It is by no means certain.

JOSEPHINE

You suspect her hairdresser of murder?

NAPOLEON

In a manner of speaking, yes.

JOSEPHINE

Riki?

NAPOLEON

It seems unlikely, I will admit.

JOSEPHINE

A seventy year-old emaciated homosexual Filipino?

NAPOLEON

I believe they prefer to the word “gay.”

JOSEPHINE

A seventy year-old emaciated gay Filipino?

NAPOLEON
Laity Fiasco 45

He was only sixty when she left the earthly plane.

JOSEPHINE

A sprightly sixty is still sixty.

NAPOLEON

Yes, but you must hear the whole story: it was a rainy November afternoon. As was her

habit, she had gone to Riki’s to get a wash and set. I have never figured out for certain

what a wash and set is, but that is what she would always say as Enrique drove her away.

“Goodbye, my dear, I am going for a wash and set.”

JOSEPHINE

At least she was consistent.

NAPOLEON

Like a hangover after sherry. As I was saying, it was a rainy November afternoon, so I

put Enrique to work at the gutters. They were backing up all over the terrace patio, so I

was rather cross.

JOSEPHINE

Quite right, you don’t want the patio flooded.

NAPOLEON

No use at all when it’s flooded. Of course, not much use when it was raining either, but I

thought it best to get Enrique up there to keep things flowing smoothly. Consequently,

he was not available to drive her to the shop that afternoon. I had thought of asking Carl,

but he was so muddy from moving the statuary out of the rain, I didn’t think my wife

would be keen on riding with him in the car. It is unlikely the mud would get into the

back seat, but she was of course a very fastidious lady—
Laity Fiasco 46

JOSEPHINE

I do seem to recall that—she could not abide her caviar touching her Béarnaise sauce.

NAPOLEON

Exactly. So in the end, she drove herself.

JOSEPHINE

Did you not worry?

NAPOLEON

No, we were very well insured.

JOSEPHINE

No, I meant for her sake.

NAPOLEON

Ah. Well, I hadn’t really thought about, worrying as I was about the damned gutters that

day. We were having a party that weekend and it would have been a horror to have the

patio drowned.

JOSEPHINE

Although, of course, it ended up with her being drowned instead.

NAPOLEON

Quite right—and such a shame. Although you’ll remember how nice the patio looked for

the luncheon after the funeral.

JOSEPHINE

Oh yes. But I am a bit confused. How do you see this as murder?

NAPOLEON

I was getting to that. Now, I’m sure, you’ll recall how it all happened.
Laity Fiasco 47

JOSEPHINE

I relive the horror every time I pass by that corner.

NAPOLEON

I have asked the city engineers to put up a barrier at Nineteenth Street, to no avail. It’s a

shame when common taxpayers cannot get a voice in government.

JOSEPHINE

Nor rather uncommon taxpayers, ho ho.

NAPOLEON

Oh—I see what you mean! Ho ho, indeed. Although I must say I did end up paying some

kind of taxes the year she died. Some horrible accounting problem—estate tax, I believe.

JOSEPHINE

Horrid!

NAPOLEON

Oh yes, as was that fateful day. For she had just come out of Riki’s salon and was

preparing to cross the street when she slipped in that horrible puddle. Can you just

picture it?

JOSEPHINE

It is frighteningly vivid.

NAPOLEON

She would have been all right were it not for her bag.

JOSEPHINE

Oh yes, her bag. It was so lovely—

NAPOLEON
Laity Fiasco 48

And large!

JOSEPHINE

We used to kid her that she had a pup tent in there.

NAPOLEON

The coroner estimated that it weighed in excess of forty pounds.

JOSEPHINE

Still, if it had not become wrapped around her neck…

NAPOLEON

Alas. She must have struggled so…

JOSEPHINE

But in the end—

NAPOLEON

She was no match for her Prada.

JOSEPHINE

But murder?

NAPOLEON

Well, you see, I did not think it at first, but at the funeral, I became gradually aware.

JOSEPHINE

Aware gradually?

NAPOLEON

Yes, that there was something different about her.

JOSEPHINE

Apart from her being dead?
Laity Fiasco 49

NAPOLEON

Oh yes. You see I finally realized it was her hair.

JOSEPHINE

Her hair?

NAPOLEON

Yes, and that is why I began to suspect Riki.

JOSEPHINE

What exactly was it about her hair?

NAPOLEON

Well, it was the front.

JOSEPHINE

Her bangs?

NAPOLEON

I suppose that is what it is called. But I noticed that in front, they were much longer than

they had been before, and gradually I began to suspect that while he had been washing

and setting and perhaps cutting the rest of her hair, Riki had let her front hair—er,

bangs—grow wild like a jungle grove.

JOSEPHINE

Why?

NAPOLEON

To take advantage of just such a rainy November day as that. With her hair long, her

vision was impaired…

JOSEPHINE
Laity Fiasco 50

I see.

NAPOLEON

You doubt it? Well, let me point out that the puddle in question was located, and indeed

continues on rainy days to be located, right outside Riki’s boutique.

JOSEPHINE

Salon.

NAPOLEON

Absolutely.

JOSEPHINE

Why would he want to kill your wife?

NAPOLEON

I think it was the beginning of class warfare.

JOSEPHINE

Dear me!

NAPOLEON

I seem to remember the same sort of thing occurred with Charles Manson.

JOSEPHINE

Riki Aranda is starting a class war?

NAPOLEON

Well, he made some very odd remarks to the police that day that made me suspect—

JOSEPHINE

Ten years later.

NAPOLEON
Laity Fiasco 51

—made me suspect that there was more going on below the surface of that seemingly

likeable and rather flashy small man.

JOSEPHINE

And what would those suspect comments be?

NAPOLEON

Well, he claimed not to know where we lived and referred to my dear wife as “one of the

rich ladies from one of those big houses.”

JOSEPHINE

How very odd. Certainly he must have seen the both of you repeatedly in the society

column. I know it is always the first place I turn to in the paper each morning.

NAPOLEON

And there was that lovely story on our garden statuary in the summer before, so everyone

who was anyone knew we were certainly someone—and where we lived. How could

anyone fail to see the lovely topiary of the Epstein-Garcias and not recognize our

neighborhood?

JOSEPHINE

Still, it’s not much to go on.

NAPOLEON

Hence the ten year gap. I am hoping to find more evidence as time goes by.

JOSEPHINE

Well, then I have a solution: do ask Beryl to the Malevolent Society Ball—

NAPOLEON

Oh dear, not Beryl again.
Laity Fiasco 52

JOSEPHINE

No, no, now listen: do ask Beryl and have her go by Riki’s for a wash and set prior to the

ball. She can reconnoiter for information.

NAPOLEON

Splendid. Perhaps we can put this mystery to rest at last.

JOSEPHINE

That would be wonderful.

NAPOLEON

If it is a class war, I’m afraid we may have to sacrifice Beryl.

JOSEPHINE

In that case, you can always take Muriel.

NAPOLEON

It does seem a little cold-hearted… For Beryl, I mean.

JOSEPHINE

But consider the fame she would have; she would be a martyr for the cause.

NAPOLEON

A martyr? She might like that.

JOSEPHINE

You don’t mean to tell her ahead of time?

NAPOLEON

Oh, no, certainly not. It may put her off the idea.

JOSEPHINE

I would certainly imagine. Focus on Mme. Jetée and her nuns.
Laity Fiasco 53

NAPOLEON

That would be a very good idea. That is to say, that would be a very good idea if I knew

anything about them. I’m afraid I know nothing about them other than they are in fact, I

believe, nuns. As to their, er, habits, I know nothing.

JOSEPHINE

Don’t you? She was just interviewed on NPR last Sunday morning. You see, they are

the followers of St. Agnes, the lamb of god. That’s what Agnes means in Latin—or was

it Greek?

NAPOLEON

This isn’t going to involve mint jelly, is it?

JOSEPHINE

Heavens, no.

NAPOLEON

It just that it always seems like these martyr stories end badly. I can’t fathom all that

death.

JOSEPHINE

They are role models for the faithful.

NAPOLEON

Doesn’t seem very inspiring to me. Seems rather a good thing to avoid if you want to

live.

JOSEPHINE

Well, they couldn’t help it. This was in the dark ages.

NAPOLEON
Laity Fiasco 54

So no one could really see what they were doing.

JOSEPHINE

It wasn’t literally dark. It only meant, well, I could never remember what exactly it

meant. I suppose that’s why I never did well in English classes.

NAPOLEON

For me it was math. Amazing I made all this money knowing nothing about math.

JOSEPHINE

Good thing you already knew how to inherit.

NAPOLEON

It doesn’t take much practice; give it a go once or twice, and there you are.

JOSEPHINE

Agnes herself was a wealthy young woman, about twelve years old and betrothed to a

Roman consul or some such thing. But she didn’t wish to marry him so she sneaked off

to a brothel to hide.

NAPOLEON

Good place to hide.

JOSEPHINE

She didn’t wish to hide there, but of course they would never look for a good Christian

woman there.

NAPOLEON

One might find a few good Christian men, though, I would suppose.

JOSEPHINE

Undoubtedly. Well, they stripped her naked to be like the other girls—
Laity Fiasco 55

NAPOLEON

No costumes? Just nude before the clients?

JOSEPHINE

You sound disappointed. Well, you must remember these were the dark days of the

Roman Empire, so—

NAPOLEON

No one would have seen her anyway.

JOSEPHINE

No, no—it was light inside. After all, how would you choose the prostitute you wanted in

the dark?

NAPOLEON

By touch, I imagine.

JOSEPHINE

Well, there must have been lights, because she did feel a need to cover herself and it was

a miracle.

NAPOLEON

What was a miracle?

JOSEPHINE

Oh, yes, I forgot to say: her hair.

NAPOLEON

Washed and set?

JOSEPHINE

No, no—grown. Grown immensely long to cover her nakedness.
Laity Fiasco 56

NAPOLEON

Astounding!

JOSEPHINE

But the horrible thing was that the brothel keepers forced her to dance sinuously anyway

to attract clientele and her hair had quite a job of it, attempting to keep her chaste,

porcelain flesh more than adequately covered.

NAPOLEON

I should have liked to have seen that.

JOSEPHINE

I imagine that you would. But that is how Mme. Jetée’s nuns founded their order.

NAPOLEON

You don’t mean to say they grow their hair long and dance sinuously away to attract

brothel clientele.

JOSEPHINE

Certainly not. They grow their hair long and dance sinuously to attract the attention of

the lord. It is an altogether different thing.

NAPOLEON

Suddenly I am much more interested in the Malevolent Society Ball. Will any of the dear

sisters be there?

JOSEPHINE

Usually only the youngest members, you know, the better to appeal to the parental

feelings of the celebrants.
Laity Fiasco 57

NAPOLEON

And will they be dancing in sinuously languorous curves of motion?

JOSEPHINE

I am beginning to understand your renewed interest in the ball.

NAPOLEON

Nothing of the sort, er, no. I just now recalled the painting of St. Agnes that I saw once

in Dresden. It must have been her, I suppose, because she was definitely a saint and there

was the long hair and a sort of cherub wrapping her in a long towel or some such

substance.

JOSEPHINE

And you were moved?

NAPOLEON

Well, some parts of me were, enough to recall the image, though not enough for a full,

ah, conversion.

JOSEPHINE

Nonetheless, this all seems a bit…unseemly for a solemn charity function. You

remember what happened at the Polo Club Fundraiser.

NAPOLEON

Well, I had nothing to do with that.

JOSEPHINE

I’m not saying you did, but certain gentlemen rather the worse for drink did some rather

inexcusable things with some young ladies. I was scandalized and so were some dozen

other people.
Laity Fiasco 58

NAPOLEON

Well, it wasn’t my idea. Some other fellow suggested putting the bridles on our wives—

only in fun, you understand. Although I did suggest trying to throw saddles on some of

the younger beauties. I blame my inexperience.

JOSEPHINE

With champagne?

NAPOLEON

No, saddles. I never have had to put on one of the damn things myself. Who knew they

were so complicated?

JOSEPHINE

That is precisely the kind of behavior that leads to one being barred from the Benevolent

Society Ball. You will have to make repairs at the Malevolent Society or your days

among the better people may be at an end. But I believe I may have a solution. Take

Beryl—

NAPOLEON

Must I?

JOSEPHINE

Take Beryl. However you must dress yourselves as Agnes and her accompanying

cherub.

NAPOLEON

I don’t suppose that includes me dressing as Agnes?

JOSEPHINE

No.
Laity Fiasco 59

NAPOLEON

Pity.

JOSEPHINE

Don’t moan. Think of it—everyone will be staring so unblinkingly at Beryl that they

won’t notice you ogling the young novices performing their sinuous dances. You can

gaze to your heart’s content.

NAPOLEON

[Beat]

I’ll do it.
Laity Fiasco 60

THE NEW SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

[POPPYstares out a window while MARMEE sits idly center; JUNIOR is hunched in a

corner reading a comic book, while SON paces back and forth. Throughout the act,

HODGE moves nervously around, always aiming to be behind one or the other of the

family members, scribbling in a small pad; they pay no attention to the character at all]

POPPY

Nothing to be done.

MARMEE

Never mind, Poppy. We’ll just wait here.

POPPY

I don’t know. It isn’t like Genius Boy to keep us waiting.

MARMEE

I know, dear, but he’ll be along soon. We just have to be patient. We have gotten out of

worse pickles than this.

JUNIOR

Pickles! Are we going to have pickles with dinner tonight?

MARMEE

No, dear. It’s just an expression.

HODGE

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, the family gathered for a quiet gathering in their well-

appointed coastal home, this the third of their seven house—no! Homes, yes, homes

sounds much better, yes, homier, don’t you think?

JUNIOR
Laity Fiasco 61

[reading again] Heh, heh—that Monkey Joe! Genius!

MARMEE

Yes, dear. Now you be quiet and let us talk.

SON

Talk, talk, talk! That’s all we do, but nothing ever changes!

HODGE

[coming up behind him]

Whose shoes are you wearing?!

POPPY

Now, Son, that’s not true. We’ve changed houses. Which house is this again, dear? I

can’t tell them apart sometimes.

MARMEE

This is the summer house, dear. It shan’t be long now.

POPPY

No, I imagine not.

SON

It could be hours, it could be days! How long have we waited already?

HODGE

Converse? Keds? Something Italian?

MARMEE

Hush, dear. We have not waited long. I remember times we waited much longer than

this…and after all, there’s nothing much we can do this time but wait. He’ll come.

SON
Laity Fiasco 62

When?!

POPPY

1974.

[They all – save JUNIOR – turn to look at him]

I think it was 1974. Wasn’t it. Marmee?

MARMEE

I believe you are right, dear. That was the year of the big scare.

POPPY

You are right, again, my sweet. Such a mind for details.

SON

What scare?

MARMEE

Now, dear, we don’t like to talk about the past, do we? It’s so apt to change.

SON

The past doesn’t change. It’s already happened.

MARMEE

You have so much to learn.

SON

When? When will I learn it, Marmee? You’re always giving all the good opportunities to

Junior. I don’t get nothing.

MARMEE

Now, that’s simply not true. You boys share everything equally—

SON
Laity Fiasco 63

Not brains.

HODGE

Sports clubs?

POPPY

Now, Son—

SON

Well, we can’t argue otherwise, can we? He’s a cretin!

POPPY

Now, now. No names, Son. Wouldn’t be prudent.

MARMEE

Quite right, we don’t want to have to resort to name calling, now do we, Son, because

that will mean dragging some rather nasty skeletons out of the closet, won’t it, hmm?

HODGE

Closets? Who does yours? Tatiana?

SON

[stiffly]

I don’t know what you mean!

[MARMEE and POPPY laugh together]

You wouldn’t dare bring that up now! After all this time…and it wasn’t my fault and

anyway, you were the ones who paid to have it covered up.

BETTIE LOU

[Entering briskly and taking them all in]

Say, who’s running the gov’mint if y’all are up here?!
Laity Fiasco 64

JUNIOR

[Jumping up]

Hi, Bettie Lou! Where you been?

BETTIE LOU

Shoppin’!

HODGE

[Taking heart]

Whose shops? Were you at Macy’s? Bergdorf’s? Did you stop at any boutiques?

Whose dress is that you’re wearing?

JUNIOR

Well, Bettie Lou, I’m as pleased as punch to see you. C’mere and gimme a snuggle.

BETTIE LOU

Oh, Junior. You’re such a card!

SON

[suddenly serious]

Bettie Lou, we have all missed you terribly. Tell me you have come to stay…here…with

me…and my family.

BETTIE LOU

Ho, ho, ho—I have a whole lotta thing to tell y’all. The boys jus’ flew me up from

Warshington. All heck’s breakin’ loose down there.

MARMEE

[coolly]

And why is that, pray tell.
Laity Fiasco 65

BETTIE LOU

Oh, who can say? There’s just a bunch of folk a-flappin’ their gums about whatnot.

Hard to make head or tails of it all. I couldn’t tell if it was explosions or extortions.

Mebbe it was excisions… I don’t know, I’m just a girl!

SON

Shucks, Bettie Lou, your academic advisor at SMU would be disappointed to hear you

make such disparaging remarks about your intellect!

JUNIOR

SMU? Heh, heh—I always thought it was pronounced “Smu.”

SON

Shut up, Junior! Oh, Bettie Lou, if only you hadn’t decided against...the life you could

have had…why you could have used that fabulous brain in so many ways. If you had

turned a mind like that to the family business—

BETTIE LOU

Oh, I don’t want to waste—

BETTIE LOU & MARMEE

—my beautiful mind!

[they collapse in laughter, while SON sulks and goes back to pacing]

HODGE

Are those Tommy Hilfiger trousers?

POPPY

Honestly, Bettie Lou. My son, for all his ill-advised regurgitations, is not wrong about

that. You would make a fine member of the family business.
Laity Fiasco 66

BETTIE LOU

Oh, sir, you speak kindly, but I had enough of the limelight in my youth. I found to my

despair that it has an unflatterin’ glare. I am proud to hide in the mobile shadows of your

dear son, my hubby-man.

MARMEE

[Confidentially] It’s where you get all the work done anyway! [They share a laugh]

POPPY

You girls!

SON

I wish Genius Boy would get here.

POPPY

When did he say he would come?

SON

Marmee, didn’t he tell you?

MARMEE

He just said to wait here. We just have to be patient. It’s the job of people like him to get

people like us out of unpleasantnesses. He may have had some trouble getting out of

Washington if they’ve put up the security cordon. [Pause] I know, let’s play a little board

game, just like we did in the old days, back when we were only the rich, not the powerful.

[they all laugh]

HODGE

Is it a designer version of Trivial Pursuit? Your own family’s designer Monopoly?

MARMEE
Laity Fiasco 67

C’mon, Junior. You’re all going to play.

JUNIOR

Aw, Marmee! It’s just getting to the good part. Monkey Joe and Squirrel Girl are

helping out Iron Man!

SON

If you must read comics, why can’t you read something actually created for adults?

JUNIOR

[blows raspberry] Why don’t you go find a state to govern? Maybe a little dinky one.

MARMEE

Boys!

JUNIOR

Shoot, Marmee, I gotta mark my place. Heh, heh! That Monkey Joe – you know, he’s

really a squirrel. They just call him Monkey Joe.

SON

Maybe that would be a good nickname for you, Junior.

JUNIOR

It’s better than Son.

SON

At least I have half a brain.

JUNIOR

And what would I need a brain for? That’s why we hire people, to do the heavy lifting for

us, half-wit.

POPPY
Laity Fiasco 68

Now, boys, listen to your mother.

MARMEE

And your mother says play nice, or else somebody dies.

[Silence—then they all laugh]

JUNIOR

Oh, Marmee, you had us all going there.

SON

Yeah, Marmee.

BETTIE LOU

Damn, they don’t call you Don Corleone for nuthin’ eh?

[Icy silence especially from MARMEE]

JUNIOR

Hey, I get to roll first!

SON

No, me, me!

HODGE

Do you use sterling silver markers on the board? Do they come from Tiffany’s?

JUNIOR

Heh, heh. Them that’s got the dice gets to roll ‘em. [triumphantly shaking the bones] It’s

called the haves and the have nots.

BETTIE LOU

But we’re all haves, darlin’. [They laugh]

SON
Laity Fiasco 69

Just roll and get it over with.

JUNIOR

Boo-ya! Double fives. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Heh, heh!

That puts me in the lead.

SON

Only because no one else has rolled yet! It’s no accomplishment! You might as well be

a legacy at Yale.

JUNIOR

Hey, those beer blasts didn’t organize themselves. I worked plenty hard in college.

BETTIE LOU

Well, move aside, boys, my turn to roll. Lucky seven! I’m coming up behind you, sugar.

JUNIOR

I better watch out! Ain’t you gonna play, Marmee? Poppy?

MARMEE

Next game, dear. We’re going to keep an eye out for now.

POPPY

[To Marmee] I hope he comes soon. I don’t like that reddish tone in the clouds.

MARMEE

Oh, that’s just an early summer sunset.

POPPY

At three pm?

JUNIOR

Hee hee, a mighty three. You’re laggin’ behind again, bro.
Laity Fiasco 70

SON

“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle—”

JUNIOR

My turn again!

BETTIE LOU

Roll ‘em, cowboy!

JUNIOR

I’ll buy you a new pair of shoes, honey!

HODGE

Manolos? Jimmy Choo? [desperate] Chuck Taylor?

BETTIE LOU

Make mine Tony Lamas!

HODGE

[scribbling] Praise the lord, a crumb at last!

JUNIOR

Whatever you want, Bettie Lou, you got ‘em. I’m cruisin’ up the back forty now. Eight.

Whoohoo!

BETTIE LOU

Well, you best look out, sweetheart. I’m coming up behind you and I’m gonna put you in

jail, mister.

SON

There’s no jail in this game.

BETTIE LOU
Laity Fiasco 71

No jail for any of us, anyway – but we can play whatever way we want, can’t we,

Marmee?

MARMEE

Yes, dear, whatever you want. [aside] I do wish he would get here already. Or call. He’s

usually so dependable.

POPPY

I don’t like the look of that sky. Not one little bit.

MARMEE

Where is he?

SON

This waiting is so boring! It’s like the first day of a new job. It’s just never ending.

BETTIE LOU

Nah, it’s like waiting for the party to begin when you’ve already finished all the place

settings and the horsey-derveys.

JUNIOR

I always go around tasting the treats.

BETTIE LOU

I bet your mama don’t like that much!

JUNIOR

Usually she smacks my hands if she catches me, but she doesn’t always catch me.

SON

Nobody catches you, that’s the problem.

JUNIOR
Laity Fiasco 72

The secret to my success! Quick on my feet.

SON

You mean light in your loafers.

JUNIOR

Lame-O! Nobody makes gay jokes anymore—not even Republicans. Valuable voting

block, a constituency.

SON

Wow, a word of five syllables. I’m impressed. [JUNIOR blows a raspberry] Anyway,

the secret to your success is Marmee and Poppy paying your way and bailing you out

every time you crash.

JUNIOR

Nuh-uh! Is not!

BETTIE LOU

That’s right—it their friends that do it!

JUNIOR

‘Zackly. It’s like the circle of life.

SON

Are you talking about that stupid sappy Disney rip-off of Simba the White Lion again?

JUNIOR

No, idjit! I’m talking about the real world. You know, like when Marmee gives a big

donation to some poor starving kids and somehow it ends up in your pocket—or mine.

BETTIE LOU

‘Cept you got a big hole in yours, Junior.
Laity Fiasco 73

JUNIOR

That I do! I just gotta spend spend spend—it’s like the money’s burnin’ that hole in my

pocket. It’s gotta go somewhere.

BETTIE LOU

Well, we jus’ gotta put that fire out, boy!

SON

But where will it end? You just keep putting Marmee and Poppy to the trouble of bailing

you out from one thing or another.

JUNIOR

Where’ll it end? I’ll tell you where it will end. Where it always ends: apocalypse [makes

exploding sounds].

[All turn to regard him.]

SON

What are you saying?

JUNIOR

That’s my agenda, brother dear. That’s my special gift.

BETTIE LOU

What?

JUNIOR

Apocalypse. I’m bringin’ it on! “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these

things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning

star. And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And

he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely. I testify
Laity Fiasco 74

unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add

unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any

man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away

his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book. He

who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.” In

other words, whoosh, bang, all over. And you and me in the heavenly bosom of Jesus,

Bettie Lou.

[silence]

HODGE

You’re…you’re insane. [Backs away and curls up in a chair.]

SON

You...you’re…what?

JUNIOR

Me and the lord, we got an understanding. [Turning to BETTIE LOU] I learnt that in a

movie. The understanding is this: I give him the world, he gives me a big golden seat at

his right hand for ever and ever, amen. That’s what this here crisis is all about. Right

about now. It’s just about the end.

BETTIE LOU

[Dubiously at first, but warming to the idea] Jus’ one chair, honeybunch?

JUNIOR

Well, hell, Bettie Lou—you can sit on my lap! Ain’t nobody goin’ to say boo to me. Not

sittin’ right there on his judgmental side.

MARMEE
Laity Fiasco 75

[Furious] It is no good being wealthy and powerful if we don’t have a world to spend it

in. I don’t know what moronic notion got lodged in your tiny little brain pan, but—

JUNIOR

I will be judged and I will be at the right hand of my lord, number one, numero uno. And

for the first time, you gonna be under me, Marmee.

[She staggers and sits]

BETTIE LOU

You still gonna need comic books in heaven, sugar?

JUNIOR

Hell, yeah! Heaven’s full of comic books—and chocolate, and pickled bologna, cold

beer and chicken-fried steak. It’s all part of what they call “the sublime.”

BETTIE LOU

You’re making me hungry! Let’s you and me go rustle up some snacks.

JUNIOR

Yee ha. [They exit]

SON

[With studied resignation] It’s all over. I’m going to go shoot myself.

MARMEE

[Distracted] That’s nice, dear. Let your Poppy and me talk now. [He leaves. Without a

word, HODGE follows, looking back at MARMEE and POPPY]

POPPY

What are we gone to do?

MARMEE
Laity Fiasco 76

I just don’t know. I wish Genius Boy would get here.

POPPY

Do you think he’s still coming?

MARMEE

Maybe we should go get some snacks, too.

POPPY

Well, shall we go?

MARMEE

Yes, let's go. [They do not move]

[Lights begin to fade when suddenly ALL come out, grabbing hands with MARMEE and

POPPY, circling around the stage, singing]

ALL

Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
And springþ þe wude nu,
Sing cuccu!
Awe bleteþ after lomb,
Lhouþ after calve cu.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke ferteþ,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu, cuccu;
Ne swik þu never nu,
Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu!

[They try to get audience to sing along, gradually begin exiting until only JUNIOR is left,

singing “cuccu” repeatedly, until he stops to offer a final triumphant grin.]

CURTAIN