Scene: A convenience store on an empty rural highway. At the side of the building is a flaming oil drum, two lawn chairs, an old ice chest, and a field.
Inside, GRETA sits behind the counter staring out into the store. PEGGY sits behind her on a crate looking at her phone. They are beach wearing uniform shirts, though PEGGY is wearing hers awkwardly over a sweatshirt, and a necklace is obscured by both. They are each of late college age.
PEGGY: Are clowns actual peo—
PEGGY: You didn’t let me finish! I want—
GRETA: I didn’t let you finish because I knew what you were going to ask.
PEGGY: You suddenly know the vast storage of my mind? The intricate circuitry my thoughts travel through?
GRETA: I know enough to know that your mind is more like a vending machine than a circuit board.
GRETA: And you are its only customer, and you get the same thing every time.
PEGGY: Okay, but since when have vending machine users ever been adventurous?
GRETA: They can be.
PEGGY: Or any customer for anything?
GRETA: It’s possible.
PEGGY: Since when has anyone walked into this store and said, “Hm, Skoal doesn’t really do it for me. I’ll switch to Yoo-hoo!”?
GRETA: That’s a bit extreme.
PEGGY: How so?
GRETA: Wouldn’t a Skoal chewer—if he were tired of Skoal—switch to another tobacco? And wouldn’t a Yoo-hoo drinker—if he were tired of Yoo-hoo—switch to Nesquik … or something?
PEGGY: That proves my point more than it does yours.
GRETA: Whatever. [Long pause.] I don’t even get the issue with clowns. Clowns aren’t even scary.
PEGGY: I’m not talking in terms of scary. I’m talking in terms of general oddity. Like, it’s so odd that clowns are clowns and clowns are still called for.
GRETA: Did a clown do something to you when you were little? Did your mom hire a clown for your birthday party, make a giraffe out of balloons, and pop it in front of you for the sick pleasure?
PEGGY: What? No.
GRETA: Or did your dad take you to the circus where you saw a clown catch fire? And having seen the flaming clown, were you so tormented by guilt that you focus all of your intellect trying to understand the clown mindset so as to prevent more clown burnings from happening by preventing more clowns? [Pause.] Or do you … want to burn more clowns?
PEGGY: What are you my therapist?
GRETA: Yes, I’m using you as a guinea pig as all psych majors do.
PEGGY: Look … teachers I get. Pastors I get. Witches I get. Even Chili’s managers I kind of get. Clowns I don’t get.
GRETA: What’s not to get? A calling is a calling.
PEGGY: John Wayne Gacy.
GRETA: What about him?
PEGGY: Would you consider him as answering a calling?
GRETA: Being a clown was not his calling. He was murderer first and a clown second … not even second. That’s just some shitty detail the public latched onto at the expense of clowning at large.
PEGGY: Can we establish this then: not every clown is a murderer …
GRETA: Oh God.
PEGGY: But every murderer is, in some way, a clown.
GRETA: No, for the 500th time.
GRETA: Doctors. I never got them.
GRETA: I never saw the appeal.
PEGGY: Of healing people?
GRETA: I never understood the drive.
PEGGY: I mean, it seems like a ton of work.
GRETA: Maybe it’s not doctors but the kinds of doctors—all the varieties. Like, forget proctologists or urologists. What about podiatrists?
PEGGY: What makes someone a podiatrist?
GRETA: What makes someone get up one day and declare, “I’m going to make my living staring at other people’s feet. People’s feet will pay for my yacht or condo or whatever.”?
PEGGY: Feet are kind of important.
GRETA: I know, I just can’t process it.
PEGGY: Ever consider examining yourself about your foot issues?
GRETA: I don’t have—
Enter CUSTOMER 1, a middle-aged man in business casual, carrying a cup of coffee.
CUSTOMER 1: What’s this about feet then?
GRETA: Oh! Nothing … nothing.
PEGGY: She’s terrified of them.
GRETA: Be quiet!
PEGGY: Every night she dreams of feet flying into her room and having a barbeque out of her.
CUSTOMER 1: Don’t we all have that dream?
PEGGY: Do your dream feet rotate a spit with their big toe?
CUSTOMER 1: I can’t say that they do. [Chuckles.] Can I get some cigarettes?
GRETA: What brand?
CUSTOMER 1: Benson and Hedges.
GRETA: Sure. [Brings down a pack of cigarettes and hands it to the customer.] Six dollars.
CUSTOMER 1: And a small coffee.
GRETA: Cigarettes and coffee: 12 dollars. [Takes money from customer.] Out of 20. [Gives him change.] Thanks so much.
CUSTOMER 1: Yeah have a good one.
PEGGY: You got any advice?
CUSTOMER 1: When your wiper fluid refill light goes off … don’t wait.
PEGGY: Okay then.
CUSTOMER 1: Take care, you two.
CUSTOMER 1 exits.
GRETA: What the fuck, Peggy?
PEGGY: Oh be quiet. You know, my clown issue is not as weird as your doctor issue. I can more or less avoid clowns for the rest of my life. You could have a sprain or something and you’ll have to get a referral.
GRETA: If you have kids you’re not going to avoid clowns.
PEGGY: I haven’t thought that far.
GRETA: Well there you go.
PEGGY: Okay, so what? Let’s say I have kids. Let’s say five years from now I have one.
PEGGY: Okay seven. Let’s say I have a kid. So five years from that—so 12 years—we start doing the birthday party thing regularly. Going to birthday parties. Having birthday parties. That’s a long time from right now. You think clowns are going to have the monopoly over kids’ entertainment? Get out. I’m talking, like, holograms. No kid, and no kid of mine, is going to go straight to a clown. They’re going to go to something cool. Like … Big Bird … or something. And it’s going to sing “Baby Beluga.”
PEGGY: And also … maybe … some kind of sensory orb that you can touch and hug. It glows and it gives off heat and makes sounds. Not like words, but soothing white noise.
GRETA: Ever consider switching majors from anthropology to IT and development?
PEGGY: Make fun all you want, the future comes at you fast. Clowns need to prepare themselves for the clownpocalypse. [Pause.] And anyway, I don’t think I’ll have to worry. I might not even have children.
GRETA: What would you do then?
PEGGY: Not see clowns or affection orbs, for one. [Pause.] I don’t know. I can stick it out here.
GRETA: Are you sure about that?
PEGGY: Why not?
GRETA: I don’t know. You ever think maybe you, too, would become obsolete?
GRETA: Think about it.
PEGGY: Nope. Never.
GRETA: Think 12 years from now, no one in their right mind would go to a convenience store.
PEGGY: Like anyone hardly does it now.
GRETA: Yeah but even less.
PEGGY: Where are they going to get cigarettes?
GRETA: An app.
PEGGY: What about milk?
PEGGY: Lottery tickets?
GRETA: Money will be abolished.
PEGGY: Coffee? Will coffee be bought with an app?
GRETA: No, coffee will be bought on the deep web because it will be outlawed.
PEGGY: With what currency?
GRETA: I don’t know. [Pause.] Human tears.
Door chimes. CUSTOMER 2 walks past them, he is a leaner, middle-aged man in outdoor work clothes.
CUSTOMER 2: Ladies.
CUSTOMER 2 exits out of view.
PEGGY: Why are you smiling?
GRETA: I’m just thinking of you sitting in a retirement home with all the redundant clowns. On the bright side, all your questions will be answered at last.
PEGGY: Whatever. [Checks her phone.]
GRETA: I’m gonna get a smoke. Mind the store?
PEGGY [still looking at her phone]: Uh huh.
GRETA [mockingly]: Coolio.
GRETA grabs her coat from under the counter and exit. The door chimes as she does. Silence. CUSTOMER 2 walks up to the counter. Silence. CUSTOMER 2 clears his throat.
PEGGY: Oh, sorry.
CUSTOMER 2: No prob.
PEGGY: Did you find what you were looking for?
CUSTOMER 2: No.
CUSTOMER 2: Can I get a scratch-off?
PEGGY: Sure, which one?
CUSTOMER 2: Doesn’t matter.
PEGGY picks one at random and hands it to him.
PEGGY: That’ll be six dollars.
CUSTOMER 2 [getting out his wallet]: Okay. [Hands her the cash.]
PEGGY: Out of 10. [Goes into the register and struggles to open it. She smiles at him in embarrassment.] Sorry. Sorry.
CUSTOMER 2 is scratching the card with his keys.
Scene: Outside the store by the flaming oil drum and chairs. GRETA is standing over it smoking a cigarette. There is a hat on the lawn chair opposite her.
GRETA [to the hat]: It went okay. [Pause.] It went okay on the outset. It’s that feeling of diversion that drives it in the beginning, right? Something new. It’s that something that puts dynamite under the everyday monotony that has come to consume your every waking moment. [Pause.] Then that became monotonous as well. It’s like a broken record. And it always feels like I’m the only one with that broken record. [Pause. Turns away to no one in particular.] He was nice. No. He was kind. But not all the time, and never unkind toward me. He knew how to deal it out. He was apportioned correctly. Kind in the right amount, acerbic in the right amount. [Pause.] Afraid in the right amount. Well-proportioned people have a way of making you feel like you’re all in pieces. And it’s you who has to figure out where everything goes before they come. Or it’s dead before it’s born. [Dabs ashes into the oil drum. Silence. Looks back at the hat.] I know I should quit.
Scene: The store counter. PEGGY is still struggling with the register, looking more flustered. CUSTOMER 2 stands stiffly but explicitly agitated. The door chimes and GRETA returns to the counter.
PEGGY: Damn this thing.
GRETA: What’s the matter?
PEGGY: I can’t get this guy his change.
GRETA presses a single button and the register opens.
GRETA [cheerily to CUSTOMER 2]: Anything else you need help with?
CUSTOMER 2: I won.
GRETA: Oh, how much?
CUSTOMER [showing the scratch-off to them]: Six dollars.
GRETA: Congratulations! Peggy, give him his prize.
PEGGY hands him back his 10-dollar bill.
CUSTOMER 2: You two have a great day.
GRETA: Sure will.
CUSTOMER 2 exits. Door chimes. Silence.
GRETA: You’re probably going to have to know how to open the register if you’re going to stay here.
PEGGY: No need to rub it in.
GRETA: You don’t think I’m going to be here with you to bail you out?
PEGGY: Well …
GRETA: Or do you?
PEGGY: Where do you have to be anyway?
GRETA: I can think of a few places I could be other than here.
PEGGY: Running your own quack practice? Doing clinical trials?
GRETA: Peggy, psychotherapy is a dignified profession.
GRETA: Well … it is for others, I’m sure. For me it’s something I just do for fun. I don’t think there will be much use for psychology where I’m sure to end up. [Pause.] Then again …
PEGGY: Where’s that?
GRETA: Dad’s hardware shop. Specifically the bunker contracting expansion. There’s been an uptick in demand for that service and he wants in. He needs all the help he can get.
PEGGY: Bunkers … as in for bombs?
GRETA: The very same. Right now he has my brother and sister working round the clock with custom models to accommodate all possible yard sizes and home types. There’s one of ranch homes, there’s one for mcmansions, there’s one for Victorians, one for colonials; I assume there’s one just as unique for modernist estates. That’s what they tell me anyway.
PEGGY [sardonically]: No apps for that?
GRETA: Not for foreign intrusion, no.
PEGGY: What will you do?
GRETA: I don’t know. But lately I’ve had this recurring experience where I gaze into any reflective surface, and every time this poised, bob-cut, and powers-suited woman is staring back at me. Almost through me. She bares an uncanny resemblance to me.
PEGGY: Any reason to doubt it?
GRETA: The power suit is purple; it’s not my most flattering color. [Pause.] But the more I see it the more I find myself staring right back, and for longer stretches of time. Soon the staring contest ends. The frame widens and pans out to a showroom: the windowless kind that sort of resembles a museum. She’s greeting whole families and showing them around our latest models. One season panic rooms might be popular, another the more midsize shelters might be the hot item. But no matter what, she talks to them as though she knows every inch of every product. Her face shows total candor and patience. She knows right away why they are interacting with her. It is one of the few times they will mee—
CUSTOMER 3, an older man of retirement age wearing a cardigan over another sweater, hobbles slowly to the counter.
CUSTOMER 3: Excuse me, miss?
GRETA: Yes? I’m sorry. Can I help you?
CUSTOMER 3: Can I ask you a [lowers his head and voice] discreet question?
GRETA [warily]: Sure.
PEGGY: I’ll … [Gets ready to leave.]
CUSTOMER 3: No, no. It’s fine. I’ve no reason not to trust the both of you. [Pause.] Now, your magazine section …
CUSTOMER 3: It’s … lacking. It’s lacking in certain features.
GRETA: What are you looking for?
CUSTOMER 3: I’m not sure how I should word this, but … I may have missed some time. I miss time sometimes, in my old age. I don’t feel as though I’m getting slower myself, but that everyone is getting faster. It’s like I’m chasing a bus that’s getting farther and farther away, while I stay at the same speed on the sidewalk. Except the bus is society, you see? [Pause.] Anyway, so pardon me if I seem slow in asking but … has … it been banned?
PEGGY: What is “It”?
CUSTOMER 3: The … pornographic materials.
GRETA: Oh … uhm … well …
CUSTOMER 3: I didn’t see them over there. Are they not over there?
GRETA: Actually, no. They haven’t been banned. But they are still inappropriate for people under 18, so we just keep them over here with us. [Points to the corner behind the counter.]
CUSTOMER 3: Oh … I see.
GRETA: But, I should add, times have changed and there’s less selection than there once was.
CUSTOMER 3: Oh. [Pause.] So there’s no … Swank anymore?
CUSTOMER 3: No … Spunk?
CUSTOMER 3: No … High-End?
CUSTOMER 3: No … Hades’ Delight?
CUSTOMER 3: No … Hades’ Delight: Leg-Only edition?
CUSTOMER 3: No … Viper?
CUSTOMER 3: No … A Squire?
PEGGY: Esquire isn’t a porn mag.
CUSTOMER 3: No … A-space-Squire.
PEGGY: Aaaah ha.
CUSTOMER 3 [bewildered, almost dizzied]: Oh wow. Oh my. What strange world is this?
GRETA: Would you like … Peggy what do we actually have?
PEGGY [peering around the rack]: Uhm … looks like Playboy, Penthouse Variations, and Jugggs. [Comes back to the counter.] That’s Jugggs with three g’s.
Door chimes. CUSTOMER 4, a middle-aged women in gym clothes, walks past the counter.
GRETA: So what do you say to those?
CUSTOMER 3: I … I don’t know what to think anymore. [Pause.] Perhaps … [looks down at the candy rack] … perhaps I will take some gum. [Bends down and picks up a pack of gum.] Fruit-flavored. That seems about right. [Places it on the counter.]
GRETA: That’s it?
CUSTOMER 3 [smiling]: That’s it.
GRETA: Very well. That’s six dollars.
CUSTOMER 3 goes into his pocket and takes out some crumpled cash.
CUSTOMER 3: That’s three, four, five … hold on. [He digs through another pocket and drops coins on the counter.] Okay … five-ten, five-twenty, five-twenty-five, five-fifty, five-sixty, five-seventy, five-seventy-five, five-seventy-six … oh, oh no. I was sure I had exact change.
GRETA: It’s … it’s okay, sir. Really.
CUSTOMER 3: Perhaps a check would …
GRETA: No, no, it’s fine, we can cover it.
PEGGY [digging through pockets]: Sure. Here we go. [Holds up a coin.] A whole quarter for ya.
CUSTOMER 3: Oh, thank you kindly. Have a lovely day, both of you. [Goes to leave.]
GRETA: I’m sorry we couldn’t help you.
CUSTOMER 3 stops and turns around.
CUSTOMER 3: You’ve helped me maybe more than anyone ever has.
CUSTOMER 3 nods and exits. Door chimes.
GRETA: I’m not sure how to take that.
PEGGY: Try taking it in the best way possible. Showroom You will thank you later, I’m sure. [Goes back to the rack, comes back with a magazine.] Hey this issue of Jugggs looks like it’s from 1991. You could probably make some good money off of this.
CUSTOMER 4 approaches the counter.
CUSTOMER 4: Excuse me …
GRETA: Yes, mam?
PEGGY [reading the cover]: “Gary Hart’s Secret Tart.” What?
PEGGY looks at CUSTOMER 4 and abruptly hides the magazine.
CUSTOMER 4 [oblivious]: Sorry, but I was wondering if you had more cream for your coffee. I tried putting the last of it in but it took on that consistency old cream sometimes gives coffee. You know, like it has a dermal infection? I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to open another carton up or …
GRETA: Oh it’s no problem. [Comes around to the front of the counter.] Follow me, I’ll get one out of the fridge. [Leads CUSTOMER 4 back into the store.] It was straight cream, right?
CUSTOMER 4: Whole milk is fine, too.
PEGGY is left at the counter by herself. She takes the magazine and GRETA’s jacket and exits. Door chimes.
END OF PART ONE.