The 42nd Floor Trilogy
©1996 K. Brian Neel, all rights reserved.
Part 1: Suicide Lineage
Part 2: The 42nd Floor
Part 3: NAUT
Part Ia: SUICIDE LINEAGE
A lone wooden office chair rests on stage, a suit jacket hanging on its back. House lights dim, music fades, blackness for a few seconds. Then the house lights rise on a commotion in the first row. A man begins to make his way out of the isle.
Sorry. Excuse me. I'm... I can't stay. Sorry.
He reaches the end of the row and looks up, noticing the entire audience starring at him. He turns and goes back towards his seat.
Sorry. Excuse me. Everyone's looking... Pardon me. Really sorry.
He reaches his seat and sits nervously for a moment. Then he looks over his shoulder at the audience.
Please excuse me. There's been something on my mind recently.... You see, it was at an early age that I realized my fate was in the hands of a power greater than anything in my control: The power of lineage.
He takes a big sigh, readies himself and begins.
My great, great grandfather was a man of high stature, being the only person in his village to take on the prestigious occupation of cat polishing. Not only were there many cats in this large bavarian village, but cats were held in a position of great worship, much like the Egyptians in their day. It was not a blue collar job though, and my great, great grandfather, given the name of Sutty Luthor by his insane mother who died of laughter shortly after birth, anyway, Sutty's job was dirty and thankless. Customers, being so overwhelmed by the glistening beauty of their freshly polished felines, paid little mind to Sutty, sometimes wandering out of the store without so much as paying the bill, much less thanking him for a job well-done. If it weren't for pride in his work and faith in the greater meaning of cats, Sutty may well have gone mad like his mother; instead, he toiled modestly until one day he was approached by a lanky woman with a discontented Blue Point Siamese. The woman's name was Hilds and she was the least beautiful woman Sutty had ever seen, but there must have been something about her that struck him, for he asked for her hand in marriage on the spot. Taken aback, and most likely playing her feminine wiles card as well, she said she would marry him on one condition: that he bathe and polish her cat so magnificently, that the whole village would look on in envy whenever she strode through the village streets. He agreed, but as the shop door closed behind her, Sutty turned to the Siamese, who was retching, hissing and yanking out his short fir with yellowed, chipped teeth. It was then that the thought of suicide first crept into my distant grandfather's mind. But Sutty was not a man to give up easily on a challenge. He put the cat in the back room between two fine examples of feline godliness, thinking that the tormented Siamese might learn by example. The next morning, upon seeing the two cats on either side of the Siamese hanging upside-down by their back feet, drooling in their respective cages, Sutty realized cleansing this crazed Siamese could not be met if the cat were still alive, so he smothered it on the spot. This was part of a plan that rose from Sutty's brain so quickly, it must not have translated into language from it's murky origins in gray matter until well after the final stages were completed. Sutty took the limp cadaver to a master taxidermist colleague down the street and paid him handsomely to do his trade upon the ex-cat. As mere mortal stuffing would not suffice to render this tattered creature into a state of impression, Sutty arranged to supply the taxidermist with cat-parts to patch it sufficiently. This covert change in Sutty marked the first in a long line of thieves and murderers in my family. In the dead of night Sutty posted a proclamation throughout the town stating that a deadly virus had spread to cats in the village, and euthanasia should be administered immediately. Villagers brought their cats in from all over, and an hysteria spread throughout the town. People began reaping cats in droves and burning them in solemn and foul smelling rituals at night. The town became the saddest in the nation, for the people had been forced to exterminate the one thing held most dear to them. A time of mourning ensued for months after. Meanwhile, Sutty accosted all the blue point carcasses of the town and proceeded to the taxidermist. Days later, the formerly living cat was ready. And what a sight! It was indeed the most powerful figure of Cat anyone had ever seen, dead or alive. Sutty called for Hilds, who was so taken with the sight of her once pitiful looking creature that she embraced Sutty and tearfully kissed him forcefully on the lips. She then took her petrified pet, raised it above her head and strode through the town until her ankles weakened with strain. Every onlooker she passed bowed his or her head in respectful prayer, at once awed and also reminded of their pitiful position... being without live cats. Hilds became Mrs. Sutty Luthor a week later. After Sutty had had the opportunity of seeing Hilds give birth to my great grandfather, he committed suicide from the immense guilt he felt because of his evil deeds. Hilds was sorrowful of his death until she read his confession, but did not make these events public until she herself lay on her deathbed, many, many years later.
End Part Ia
Part II: THE 42ND FLOOR
Lights up on our hero leaning against a window sill, looking out and down. He glances up at the audience and begins.
I’ve been having a recurring dream that I’m falling from this window, from my office here on the top floor of this building. I’d never had a falling dream before. I’ve had flying dreams, but in flying dreams you don’t feel the effects of gravity, you defy gravity. In falling dreams there is gravity. Not in the way you normally feel it, gravity is so confining.
Lifts arms and sways back, as if falling.
When you’re falling, you feel gravity in the downward pull and the sound of the wind rushing by your ears. The first time I had this dream was 42 nights ago, and the first thing I remember is seeing the blue sky and partly cloudy clouds. I noticed the tops of high-rise buildings. Then I turned and saw my building, saw inside my office. I could see Shannon and Joseph chatting to each other, and then Chad sees me and drops a stack of financial reports, and they start to move toward the window. They’re moving in real-time, sped-up time even, and I’m moving in slow-motion, but somehow the two times mesh in the dream. They walk toward the window, they reach the window, but by then I’ve passed below the sill. And then I woke up. And I thought, that was a pretty strange dream. Then the next night I dreamt it again. Well, not exactly the same dream. This time I was in a different position…
Lies with back on chair, feet and hands in the air.
…falling sort of like this, and I wasn’t passing my office this time. I was passing the window of a conference room, and there’s a woman delivering a presentation. She's wearing a gray pin-stripe suit, standing in front of a chalk board, and there are a group of men sitting around a table with their backs to me. And I remember thinking, ‘A chalkboard. That’s weird. In this day and age she should at least have a television monitor or computer screen.’ Then she sees me, and she screams. A horrible, blood-curdling scream, a B-movie scream. It must sound horrific. I can’t hear it, the window’s closed. But I can see it in her face, it’s like this...
Makes silent screaming face.
Now, on the third night I knew it was recurring, because it was the third night. But it wasn’t until the 16th night that I had an idea of what was going on. Now, I know, 16 nights is a long time to be having the same dream, and I thought about seeing a psychiatrist, but what’s a psychiatrist going to tell me? That it’s stress related and to take a vacation. So I took a vacation and still had the dreams.
Crouches head-first on the floor, legs straight up in the air.
Now, on the 16th night I dreamt an office. There was a man sitting on the front edge of a gray metal desk talking on the phone. It’s a business call, you can tell. He’s smiling and laughing, but in a business way. He’s a short man, but strong, almost powerful looking, and it occurs to me... I know this man. That’s Phil Flowers. He’s my insurance agent. He sold me life insurance, and no one’s been able to do that. He’s good. That’s when it hits me: Phil’s office is on the 26th floor of this building. That’s 16 floors below me here on the 42nd floor. 16. The exact number of nights I’ve been having this dream. Every night I’ve been dreaming one floor, one flight of this building. That’s a pretty outrageous statement, even to me. I’m a skeptical person, really. I need proof. I need to see the figures, to know the bottom line. But how can I prove this? What is the proof? And I thought, the proof is in the details. The proof is in the details. The next night—the 17th night—I dreamt another insurance agency, this time bustling with workers. Up against some blue office dividers are five microfiche machines. The one nearest to the window had a post-it-note affixed to the monitor. The next day before work I took the elevator to the 26th floor and saw those same five microfiche machines, the last one with that note reading ‘out of order’ on it. The next night—the 18th night—I dreamt a medical research company with rows of lab tables and in the corner next to a set of metal refrigerators there was a poster of Titian’s Virgin Mary on the wall above a water dispenser. The next day I got off on the 24th floor. I saw that same poster hanging above that same water dispenser, I looked out the same window I'd looked in my dream the night before, and then I knew for a fact that I am psychic! I’m precognitive! I began to notice other details too: on the 25th night I noticed the cafe across the street where I get coffee every morning. On the 29th night I noticed the pedestrians walking up and down the sidewalk, the tops of their heads and hats. On the 32nd night people began to notice me. And by the 38th night they had become a sea of upturned faces looking up at me, except for the spot right below me, where they had conveniently left a circle for me to impact. But those things weren't important, my attention focused primarily on the events in the windows because that was where the proof was. The details. I remember everything. The woman in the red dress on the 40th night. It was sort of an evening gown, but she wore it at work. I didn't understand that. And the gold-trimmed coffee mug lying on the edge of that man's desk on the 41st night. And on the 42nd night... that was last night.... Last night I passed the first floor. It was a psychiatrist's office. I knew it was a psychiatrists office because of the couch. There was a doctor, the psychiatrist sitting behind a big oak desk. There was a brass, green desk lamp, but it wasn't turned on. Then a woman entered the office. She moves towards him, and he stands, goes around the desk to meet her, and they embrace. She has curly blonde hair, darker at the roots, but she doesn’t dye it, it’s just naturally that way. She looks up, tilts her head, she touches his face, and he... and they.... He’s exactly my height. Exactly because she’s... because I know her. She’s my fiancé.
Pause. He slowly goes to window, steps out onto ledge
When I pass the first floor he’s looking out the window but he doesn’t notice me. And she doesn’t see me because she’s turned the other way. But she’ll see me after.
Blackout. End Part II
Part Ib: SUICIDE LINEAGE
Siting on the front of the stage, addressing audience.
Sutty and Hilds' had but one child together, however Hilds remarried and birthed twenty three offspring from her fertile and weary loins. It was a close family despite the number, and when they moved to a small town in Nebraska, became just over half the population of the county which meant great political possibilities for the young ones. The one child blood-tied to great-great-grandfather, Oscar Fliplid Luthor, the oldest of the bunch, wasn't prominent in the state at first. He was an incredibly stupid child except for one unique talent. It began at a young age when he would char and burn his toys in the kitchen stove and fireplace, but quickly the interest escalated into a fanatical obsession with explosives. In fact, it is said that Oscar learned to read and write solely for the purpose of ordering chemicals and trigger-devices from mail order catalogs. By his sixteenth birthday, he was creating entirely unique forms of fireworks, which brought him international popularity in certain circles. At home, however, it was hell on earth. Oscar was considered by his siblings to be the devil incarnate. There were several reasons for this, the first was his horrifying physical stature. A masochistic tendency to christen his newly discovered fiery creations on himself rendered his face and body into a likeness similar to the toys of his childhood. Every year he became more and more scarred and burned and disgustingly deformed. Second: he was terribly sadistic, and the family was often the brunt of direct attacks. Hence, we get the names of several of his fireworks creations: The Screaming Mimi (his youngest sister), The Flapping Jack and Sizzling Sylvester (two of his younger brothers), and Randy Rockets, Three-Stage Randy Rockets, Rolling Fred-Fire, Baby Brights, and Twin Baby Brights. He was a deeply disturbed soul. But at the same time he was causing pain and torment to the family, his vocation was also supporting them. In fact, domestic and international sales and copyrights soared, and with them, the family became quite well off. For Oscar, the story ends tragically. By the age of thirty, Oscar had lost both his legs to the experiments; and at thirty four, his second arm was severed by a resentful sibling, leaving him quadriplegic and unable to exercise his distruction first hand. He became uninthused and depressed, just a lump really, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable. At the age of thirty nine, he swallowed a large concoction of chemicals, covered himself in gun powder, and rolled himself in paper; then, with his mouth, lit a match and... boom! Those who saw the explosion said it was the most impressive fireworks display they'd ever seen. If you think about it, that pretty much sums up his life: disgusting, cruel, and beautiful. Every fourth of July and sometimes on New Years I think of Great Grandpa Oscar Fliplid Luthor.
My father... his was the most grisly form of self-annihilation, even worse than Oscar's. I don't like to talk about it much. But I will give you the ingredients of his demise. It involved a bottle of Nembutol, a razor blade, a Ford pickup truck, a garage, a newspaper and an AM radio.
Blackout. End Part Ib
Part III: NAUT
[Production note: there are twelve sections to each scene in Naut. The performer moves in a circular pattern on the stage, delivering each section from a corresponding point on the circle— sometimes clockwise (forward in time), sometimes counter-clockwise (backward in time). Each scene begins at the apex, 12 o'clock.]
Mysterious choral music drifts quietly in the blackness. It rises to crescendo, when a single down light illuminates a figure dressed in white, standing at attention. The choral music crosses over into a drum roll. Lights rise to illuminate the entire stage. Drum roll softens and disappears.]
I've seen myself dead. It's a nightmare. All your senses jam up. You can't tell the difference between within and without. Time travel is an incredible feeling. It wasn't an accident. Maybe I won't die this time. The mission was successful, for God's sake. It's already happened... in my future. I'm not going. It's suicide. Quarantine. Both of me. I'm limp... lying there. It's crazy seeing yourself dead. Something went wrong. I was in the pod. No one anticipated this. The biggest fears a chrononaut has are mathematical. I am history. The first person in the history of mankind to travel in time. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be in the space program. Make something out of myself. Make history. I remember that sound. It's the gas heater lighting. Did you hear that? That! The other reason I was chosen is because I'm alone. I'm ripe. That's why I was picked for this mission, my brain is easily connected to the machine. Olfactory centers in the brain are directly connected to centers that perceive time. Smells can trigger memories better than any other sense. It's potent like smell. Controls our senses. Guides us. Drives us. Constantly ticking away. It's like touch in that it's pervasive, it's always there. Time is a sense. More than just saw it, I sensed it. Seen it with my own two eyes. I've seen myself dead.
Cross to down light on figure. Drum roll.
SCENE 2— FORWARD:
General light fades up.
I've seen myself dead. Seen it with my own two eyes. More than saw it, I sensed it. Time is a sense. The most powerful sense. It's like touch in that it's pervasive, it's always there whether we actively perceive it or not. At night, when we're asleep, we don't feel it, but it's still there, ticking away. It drives us. Guides us. Moves us along. Controls the other senses. It's potent like smell. Smells can trigger intense memories better than any other sense. That's because olfactory centers in the brain are directly connected to the centers that perceive time. That's why I was picked for this mission: my brain is easily connected to the machine. I'm ripe for the picking. They say it doesn't cause brain deterioration over time, but the device has been used for mood-control in the past. I've heard people talk. The other reason I was chosen is because I'm alone. Who do you go to when you need someone? Do you have a wife? Family? Close friend? I don't have anyone. Everyone I know is in the program. Maybe you go to a place. A place where you can think, a place where you feel safe. I came here. I couldn't think of anywhere else to go. Didn't know if it'd still be here. My first memories are of this place, these floors and walls. That! Did you hear that? It's the gas heater lighting. I remember that sound. I remember. I remember ever since I was a kid I wanted to be in the space program. Be an astronaut. Make something out of myself. Prove that a miserable orphan with nothing in the world can make history. And I did it. Tops in the program. Then they offered me the Delta-T Project and I jumped at the chance because this was the chance to make history. To be the first person in the history of mankind to travel in time. One hundred years into the future. Magic number, one hundred. I have more of a right to live someone with a wife and family. I'm historical. And I have feelings and fears just like anyone else. The biggest fears a chrononaut has are mathematical. Fears that researchers will miscalculate and there'll be an implosion due to coincidence upon re-entry. Fears that the coils will miscalibrate and You'll end up like one of the crew of the USS Eldridge. But no one anticipated this. No one saw this coming. The pod returned to casing two days early, two days before the mission is even to take place. Two days ago. And I was in the pod. But something was wrong. It's crazy seeing yourself dead. It's like looking in a mirror, but your matter is the same. This matter is that matter. My brain, my mind is in that skull. Only I'm limp... lying there. They pick me up and carry me away. Both of me. I was in quarantine. They wanted to do side by side tests on me alive and me dead. Had to draw the line there. I left. When you've been around as long as I have, it's easy to escape. Had to get out of there. Go somewhere. Come here. But the mission is still on. Today. They can't get someone else. Once the machine is calibrated to your brain, it takes weeks to reset it to another. I'm the man. I'm supposed to leave this morning. It's insane, I'm not going. It's suicide. I don't have to go. But I've already gone. It's already happened in my future. It's in the cards. The mission was successful, for god's sake. I made history. Maybe it'll be different this time. Maybe this time I won't die. It doesn't have to end the same way every time, right. There might not be a problem. Not that the researchers know what went wrong. They say reentry coordinates were thrown off, but they don't know how. They can't find a malfunction. But there wasn't a malfunction. It wasn't an accident. Time travel is an incredible feeling. It's like your scuba diving in a huge black pit. There's no direction. You can't tell the difference between within and without. If you see something, a speckle, you don't know if you're really seeing it or it's just your brain's misfiring. All your senses jam up. And then you come out of it, and you're a nut-case. It's a nightmare. I've seen myself dead.
Cross to down light. No music.
General light fades up.
Dead myself seen I've. Nightmare it's. Together jam senses your all. Without and within between difference the tell can't you. Feeling incredible is travel time. Accident wasn't it. Malfunction a find can't they. Time this die won't I maybe. Sake God's for, successful was mission. Future my in, happened already it's. Going not I’m. Quarantine. Me of both. There lying... limp. Matter that is matter this. Mirror in looking like. Dead yourself seeing crazy it's. Wrong went something. Pod the in was I. Mathematical are has chrononaut fears biggest. Historical I'm. Hundred one exactly. Astronaut be to wanted I kid was I since ever. Sound that remember I. Lighting heater gas it's. Sound that. That hear you did? That! Alone I'm. Picking for ripe I'm. Machine to connected easily is brain my. Senses our controls. Us guides. Away ticking. There always, pervasive it's that in touch like. Sense powerful most. Sense is time. It sensed I. Dead myself seen I've.
SCENES 4 - 6:
I've seen myself dead. Saw it with my own two eyes. More than saw it, I sensed it. Time is a sense. It's like touch in that it's pervasive. Constantly there in the background whether we actively perceive it or not. Controlling us, guiding us. At night when I sleep, I'm not aware of it, but it's there. Ticking away. It's a powerful sense, like smell. Potent. Smells can trigger memories better than any other sense. That's why I was picked. I'm ripe.
Deja vu pause.
I remember this floor. I remember once running along the hallway and sliding here on my socks and slipping. I cut my knee on a piece of glass. I still have the scar. That! Did you hear that?
Deja vu pause.
Ever since I was a little... I wanted to be an astronaut, make something out of myself. Prove that a miserable little orphan can make history.
Deja vu pause.
Our hero begins going through the physical movements of the cycle, silently remembering each position precisely as if it had happened before. The pace quickens until he is racing around the circle. The precision of each position is lost in an ever increasing spiral. Eventually, sound begins to mutter quietly from his lips, building into a crazed cacophony in the center of the circle.
I've seen myself dead. Time is a sense. Something smells. Smells can trigger intense memories because their centers in the brain are connected. Ripe for the picking. The other reason is I'm alone. I'm one. I'm two. I'm lying there, looking up at me. I'm dead. Who are you? Where do you go? That! Did I hear that? Is my brain misfiring? Jamming up. Scuba diving in history. History class. Math class. Fears of math? Fears of the pod. I was in the pod. I will be dead. It's crazy seeing yourself in the mirror. I don't have to look in the mirror. It doesn't have to end the same way. There's a new deck of cards. A new deck. Shuffled again. And again. And again. Not a problem this time. No malfunction. They don't know what malfunction. It was no accident. The mission. I don't have to go. I must go. I will go. I am going. I know. There isn't a malfunction. Won't be a malfunction. I do it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to send myself a message. A dead message. I'm going to make history. I'm immortal, don't you see? I'm going to kill myself today and live forever. I'll come back two days ago and see my message and do it again... over and over and over and over again. And I'll understand. I've already done it. Seems like hundreds of times. I know because I'm tired. I'm tired, but I'm alive.
He turns around and staggers to twelve o'clock. The opening music plays backwards. The downlight appears on the reverse crescendo, fading to silence and black.
End Part III
Part Ic: SUICIDE LINEAGE
He sits on the front of the stage, addresses audience.
Much is known of my Grandfather, Nester Trolly Luthor, but the single trait that defined his life was a great secret he bore. An Irish poet said that secrets are best kept wrapped up in frankness. Another poet said that we confirm our reality by sharing. But Nester's skeleton in his closet was divulged to no one, not even to his closest friends and relatives. It wouldn't be of issue, if it weren't for the fact that this concealment caused visible self-torment realized in bouts of alternating public moping and manic outbursts. And the extent to which family and acquaintances drove to persuade him to confess what must have been the most frightening, soul-wrenching knowledge one could ever posses was out of hand. His sister, Deidre, tortured him to get the secret. His best friend and co-worker, Bobby Friedgristle established himself as a trusted confidante. His mother was, well, motherly. A curious neighbor, Gulliver Williams, attempted to emulate every behavior that defined him in hopes of gleaning the information by establishing an identical personality. And indeed he succeeded in copying him exactly, even dressing the same from wearing brown spats on his feet to the greasy brown hair curled atop his head. His wife, Carla (Carl to her closest friends and enemies for that matter) married him in order to harness that dark horse on his wedding night. But she failed and so took over her sister-in-laws tactics and began torturing him. But the unmentionable thing remained just that, unmentionable. When Grandpa Nester began drinking sour-mash alcohol like water, there was a collective sigh of relief in the community. It was expected that either he would expunge the nasty thing one groggy, inebriated night or at the very least settle into a calm drunkenness, mellowing his violent and public mood swings. And it looked as though the best case, the former, indeed began to take place. He started to divulge the confidential information, not just to Carl and his mother and Diedre and others of closeness, but to total strangers as well. He told bank tellers and street cleaners and police officials and animals. But, Nester didn't purge his demon without something in exchange: a condition. Every person he made swear firmly to promise to never, ever tell another living soul what that secret was. Strangely enough, he got just that. No one did dissolve that agreement at first. No matter how trustworthy or untrustworthy, upstanding or menacing, loud or quiet a person was, everyone kept it to him or herself. It was a very happy place right around then. But it didn't last. A man by the name of Gilgamesh Turkle, a politician, was canvassing for votes one day and in order to illustrate how honest a person he was, used the example of knowing Nester's secret and not saying a word about it. His uniqueness in this matter was contested by someone else who also knew, and then by another, and another... until the entire town was in a uproar. It seemed that the specialness everyone felt was fraudulent, and Nester was to blame. He was a liar, and had been drinking not only large quantities of sour-mash, but had been drinking in the trust of the town as well. The torch-carrying mob that angrily made it's way to Grandpa Nester's home that evening turned up empty handed however. It seems Nester had shot himself. They found him draped over his easy chair, a colt revolver in one hand and a half-drunken jug of sour-mash in the other. But the strangest thing by far was discovered within hours of Grandpa's death: in the fading masses of townsfolk dissolving in the streets, people started talking about the secret. To their amazement, it was discovered that Nester hadn't told the same secret to the same two people in the entire town. Nester had spread hundreds of false truths throughout the community. Of his demons, no two were the same. In the confusion everyone felt it best to simply forget the man. However, I think one could learn from Nester Trolly Luthor. The solace he found in lies brought happiness to those who thought they kept something no one else had.
Makes his way back into the audience.
Ever since I was young I've been told these stories of my paternal ancestors. It feels so good to tell you them. Thank you for letting me get them off my chest. Never have I doubted their power, indeed the power of lineage. It's been accepted by my entire family that someday I will take my own life. Sometimes I get special treatment because of it. But recently, in going over these stories, it occurs to me that my story is very different. It's boring. I've lead the most uninteresting life possible. Really. There's something in that: I don't have any reason to kill myself. Unless this fact in itself drives me to do it. I hadn't thought of that.
Returns to his seat in the house.
Well, for the time being I'm going to be an optimist and assume I've severed the chord of lineage. And I'm gonna lead the dullest life imaginable! Oh, and just in case, I'm changing my last name from Luthor to Vaile. That might help.
End of show
Copyright © K. Brian Neel. All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in newspaper, magazine, radio or television reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.Professional and amateurs are hereby warned that this material, being fully protected under the Copyright Laws of the United States of America and of all other countries of the Berne and Universal Copyright Conventions, is subject to a royalty. All rights including, but not limited to, professional, amateur, recording, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio and television broadcasting, and the rights of translation into foreign languages are expressly reserved. Particular emphasis is placed on the question of readings and all uses of this play by educational institutions, permission for which must be secured from the authorá║s representatives. For all rights, including amateur and stock performances, contact K. Brian Neel.