(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!)
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, pussy, pussy, 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.
Drink whiskey. Don't say nuffin'.
[Takes Janessa's hand. She stands up, too. They walk out of the cedar closet.]
END OF PLAY