2. How to Be a Man

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Follow @dariodibattista on Instagram.

(Note: this short play is inspired by Akim Reinhardt. He gave me the subject matter – "A young person who collects old flannel shirts." Thanks, Akim!)


 Dario DiBattista

 2. How to Be a Man 


Eric: 20-something freelance artist. Prone to problem drinking.

Janessa: Fellow 20-something trying to figure life out. The "mom" in their friend group. 


A large cedar closet in a basement rowhome of the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. The entire contents of the closet are old flannel shirts. Eric sits on the floor, in the middle, with a half-empty bottle of rye and a glass. It is very late at night. Some of his friends are upstairs after a long night of revelry.


                        [Breathes in deeply, exaggeratingly.] 

            Ah. Like smelling the hair of the forest.

                        [Pours more into the glass, sloppily. Tries to stand up, see-saw-legged, stumbles. Pulls at a flannel shirt until it falls. Takes off his shirt and then laboriously puts the flannel on. Laughs to himself. Smiles and sips.]


                        [Comes downstairs into the basement.]

            Hey, Eric…um. Wow…

                        [She doesn't come in fully. Rakes her arm through one of the long rows of flannel shirts.]

            Been to Goodwill, lately, I see?

ERIC: Welcome to my cedar closet. I've got 40 years-worth of shirts.

JANESSA: Uh-huh. You, um, starting a Pearl Jam cover band soon?

                        [She sits butt-on-the-floor next to him.]

            What's going on?


[Takes a large sip. Smiles.]

            Just am doing some thinking. Want a taste? It's a 100 and 50 billing. All rye, 50% ABV.

                        [Holds out his glass.]


                        [Takes the glass. Sniffs it. Takes a sip.]

            Whew. Yeah. That's something.

ERIC: Like kissing a fire pit.


                        [Stands back up. Examines some of the shirts.]

            What is all this?

ERIC: My pops was pretty into all this outdoor shit. Fishing, hiking, shooting. You know? 

JANESSA: I don't like to leave the city much, but sure.

ERIC: He had all them other girls, my sisters, so I was all he had to bring along. I wasn't very good at any of it, though. I didn't like to gut the fish. Stopping to wheeze all the time on the trail. Couldn't hit the side of barn with a .22. Pops called me Acorn, because of how useless I was.



            I'm sorry, that's actually pretty funny. 

ERIC: I know. I was such a pussy to him. His son, the pussy.

JANESSA: You didn't deserve that.


                        [Another heavy swig.]

            One time, though, we went camping and hiking as a multi-day thing. We were gonna do the thin Maryland part of the Appalachian trail. It was late March but it was still so cold. Our faces turned beet red, couldn't feel our hands. Every step a giant ache. I knew he was hurting, too. 

                        [Pours another glass.]


                        [Sits back down. Shifts closer to Eric.]

ERIC: We stopped early that first night. I set up the tent almost entirely by myself, and I even got the fire going. Pops smiled at me—shocked maybe? That I could actually do it? We sat for a long time, inching closer to the fire as it got colder, darker, while he kept drinking. He told some ghost stories from his time in the service overseas, ancient Middle Eastern-lore. The jinn. I was so scared that night that I couldn't sleep, and I kept waking up in night terrors. Pops was mad. Pussy, pussypussy, he kept calling me.

JANESSA: Great guy, huh?  

ERIC: The following day he broke his ankle real badly, twisting it off a large rock. I had to rush ahead alone and get help. I did, no problem. I guess I'd learned a little from the old man. When we got back home the following day, I was playing video games alone in the living room at night and pops hobbled over on crutches and sat near me and watched. He had whiskey. Two glasses. He poured me one.

                        [Begins crying a little bit. Covers his face.]

JANESSA: Why don't you come back up? We can talk about this some more, relax, wind down the evening. Everyone's up there wishing you would join us.  


                        [Crying intensifies. Moves against the wall, away from Janessa.]

JANESSA: Eric… It's okay.


                        [Stops crying. Stiffens up.]

You know what he told me that night?

JANESSA: I don't know.

ERIC: He taught me the rules for being a man. 

                        [Stands up.]

            Drink whiskey. Don't say nuffin'.

                        [Takes Janessa's hand. She stands up, too. They walk out of the cedar closet.]




1. The Specials

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Follow @dariodibattista on Instagram.

(Note: This flash fiction is inspired by Kelly Madden. She gave me the first line. Thanks, Kelly!) 


Dario DiBattista

1. The Specials 

It was a dark and stormy night. No, the weather was fine outside, actually. Seventy degrees, all cobalt and scarlet evening sky. But that was the special for the night: Dark and Stormys. At the Irish bar. 

And this is the inside baseball of how restaurants work:

Chef ordered too much fish? Push the fish before it rots. If a customer complains about the smell of the fish and chips, that's just extra special cod.

Prime rib night didn't do so hot? Slice it up for a cheesesteak deal tomorrow. Put marbled shavings of meat on the nachos – call it "Philly." Spoilage serves no one.

Too much ginger beer in the cooler and a random rum on the shelf that hasn't sold for years? Turn and burn 'em together. Who cares that it doesn't make sense for the brand? A drink is a drink. Maybe some dumb tourists would think that it was Inner Harbor cool.

Tom pocketed his phone and walked over to the couple who'd just come in. They'd chosen the far corner of the empty bar. Action is character and you can learn a little bit about someone from everything they do. 

That's Tom's job. Figure out people – fast. Make them happy and sell them smelly fish and janky steak sandwiches and ridiculous drinks. The owner counts the numbers. The owner watches on the cameras. Tom headed over.

A procession of soccer scarves hanging along the top shelf waved as open-air wind glided through. On the TV, a player hit a sacrifice fly in front of an empty stadium. The only other people in the restaurant – a four-top at the corner table – cheered. Of course, they were Boston fans. Welcome to Fenway South. 

Tom sighed and threw down two coasters like Blackjack cards. He laid down two menus.

"Evening, folks. My name's—"

"Little cold in here, ain't it?" the Man said. 

"I can shut—"

"No, no. What specials you got? Gina, what're you drinking?"

"I was about to—"

"Chardonnay. A cup of ice."

"That's what you always get. Why don't you ask about the specials?" asked the Man.

"It's okay," Tom said, smiling. "I'm a big believer in if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The couple stared at him, deadpanned. 

"What're you gonna do about this cold? What's your name?" asked the Man.

Tom coughed. "I was trying to tell you my name. I'm Tom. I can happily shut the—"

"Fine, what're the specials?" asked Gina, craned over impossibly, looking down at her menu, studying it with her finger.

"Well, for drinks we have a Dark and Stormy special for five, and for food we're selling philly-style nachos for eight bucks, and fish and chips for eleven. We can make a philly cheese steak, too."

The couple stared at him again. The Man shivered.

"So, maybe something to drink to start?" Tom asked.

"What's a 'Dark and Stormy'?" Gina asked.

Tom's smile fell. "Rum and ginger beer."

"Ginger beer? Is it strong?" 

"No, it's, um, not beer," Tom said, crossing his arms, scratching his elbow. "It's like a really zingy ginger ale."

Gina stared at him quizzically. "I've never heard of that. Who ever came up with such a drink?"

"They're pretty good, actually," said Tom.

"Can I taste it?"

"Um, no. I can't—”

Grand slam on the TV this time. The Boston fans roared. Sweet Caroline. Drunk, drunk, drunk.

"Is it always this loud in here?" asked the Man, putting a coat back on.

"It's an Irish bar. And we play sports." 

"C'mon, Gina, let's go somewhere else."

Tom peeled up the coasters and menus as they left. He stared at the couple. Not too long, though. The owner, no doubt, watched as well.

His manager came by to speak less than a minute later. Out of the office, down the stairs. Line drive straight to Tom.

"Did you tell them about the specials?"