Friday, December 17, 2010

Crunch Time

Cast of Characters
Patient: Middle-aged, garrulous, opinionated, a more-or-less lapsed Catholic. Wearing jacket, shirt and tie. He's a high-level sales guy.

Chiropractor: Young, handsome, Jewish, it's his second day in the chiropractor business.

Scene: Chiropractor's office. Plastic replica spine at the ready. Poster with words: "LOOK WELL TO THE SPINE," everything else too small to read. A poster of a posed muscular man and woman showing major nerves.

[ Lights Up. ]
Chiropractor: [Seated at desk, looking at a file, tapping pen nervously, picks out a business card from a display of cards on his desk and reads from it. Trying on different tones of voice:] Doctor Ben Levin. DOCTOR Ben LEVIN. Hi, I'm Doctor Ben Levin… Doctor Ben.

Patient: [To offstage office manager, looking back over shoulder] In here?

Chiropractor: [leaps to feet, strides to door to shake the patient's hand, incredibly self-conscious, feels totally stupid, hearing himself sound like a recording of a chiropractor] Hello, there. Yes, you're in the right place, heh-heh. You've come to the right place! I'm Ben Levin. Doctor Ben Levin.

Patient: [dragging one leg, holding his lower back] Oh, doctor, thanks for taking me on such short notice—and on the day before Christmas. I didn't think I'd find anyone open.

Chiropractor: Well, I guess that's an advantage, after all…

Patient: [Barely hearing what the doctor says] Yeah, yeah, I'm bringing in the tree the way I have for 18 years—Cheryl doesn't like it in the house until Christmas eve—tracks needles all over the house, she says—and I don't know I guess I've let myself go a little—Cheryl's always nagging me to get to the gym, but you know, I run the whole sales division for the region now, so when am I supposed to get to the gym? She wants me home for dinner once in a while, too, and frankly, you get…

Chiropractor: So, you hurt your lower back putting up the Christmas tree?

Patient: Uh, yeah.

Chiropractor: [Big, nervous smile] Okay, well, let's get you on the table and see what we can do for you, if anything…

Patient: [Hoping that's a joke] Ha-ha.

Chiropractor: Let's see, take your shirt off and just sit on the edge of the table and then I'll have a look.

Patient: [follows instructions]

Chiropractor: [Pokes and prods a bit up and down the back.] Hurt there?

Patient: No. It's down…

Chiropractor: How about there?

Patient: No, it's just down…

Chiropractor: Here?

Patient: [in excruciating pain] Jesus Mary and Joseph! That's it.

Chiropractor: [Feels around the suspect area a bit, getting sharp intakes of breath from patient] Oh, holy crap, that's way out of alignment. Okay, lie down then, and I'll—we'll just see what we can do.

Patient: [Gingerly lying down on his back] It's bad, then? Will I be able to go Christmas shopping? Jeez, Cheryl's going to kill me…

Chiropractor: Uh, sorry, on your stomach.

Patient: [Finally cluing in that the doc is less than expert, and giving him a dirty look] You want me on my stomach? You could have said so. [many grunts and groans as he turns over.]

Chiropractor: Sorry. [puts an ice pack on the patient's back.]

Patient: You new at this?

Chiropractor: Um, well, not new, exactly. I mean, I totally know what I'm doing. I come from a long line of doctors.

Patient: Great, I'll count on your genetics, then, right?

Chiropractor: You'd be surprised the things that are genetic. My sister's kid…

Patient: [Interrupting] Can you fix it?
Chiropractor: Huh?

Patient: My back, can you fix it?

Chiropractor: [Shrugs] Oh, sure. I can reduce it. [Adds another ice pack]

Patient: [Skeptical grunt]

Chiropractor: Been under a lot of pressure lately? [Seems to be quoting from a textbook:] "Lumbar region issues often result from occupational stress."

Patient: Oh, yeah, it's end of year, so what with crunching all the numbers and coming up half a million short of goal, I haven't had time to get Cheryl a Christmas present.

Chiropractor: That's bad.

Patient: You have no idea. I was away on her birthday, I forgot our anniversary entirely, and if I come up short of a damn miracle for Christmas, she'll have my balls fried up for lunch. No kidding, she might just move in with her mother.

Chiropractor: Hm, that is bad. So, when you say "miracle," are we talking three figures? Four figures?

Patient: [Doleful look]

Chiropractor: Five figures? Your ass really is in a sling! No wonder your 4th lumbar is in the next county.

Patient: Yeah, thanks. [A little surprised:] That feels better, by the way.

Chiropractor: It's just numb. With what I have to do to it, you're going to want it numb.

Patient: Ah.

Chiropractor: [Moves into position by patient's neck to apply pressure with both hands overlapped] So, you're looking at what? A car? [Pushes sharply downward on neck. Then idly wiggles patient's head to left and right.]

Patient: She has those. A nice SUV for running errands around town, and last year, when I remembered about Christmas, I got her a del Sol, which she loves, because she picked it out herself.

Chiropractor: [Moves hands down patient's spine a few inches, overlaps them.] Diamond? [Pushes sharply down on patient's upper back]

Patient: Has those. Never wears them.

Chiropractor: A horse? [Pushes sharply down on patient's back]

Patient: Allergic.

Chiropractor: Hm, that puts us into intangibles. [Crunching farther down the spine with each enumeration:] Vacations in exotic locations, master's degrees …

Patient: Been there, done that. We've been married 18 years! I'm doomed! I'm dead meat.

Chiropractor: [Almost to himself:] But you remember how many years you've been married… [Sitting down on a stool with notebook and pen at the ready] Tell me a little more about – Cheryl. How did you meet?

Patient: She was a nursing student, and I was selling shoes at Macy's between my Junior and Senior year. She bought 6 pairs of shoes the first time she came in. I'd never seen anyone do that before.

Chiropractor: What did she like about you?

Patient: I don't know, we laughed a lot. I was in a string band, I used to tell the jokes in between numbers.

Chiropractor: [Adjusting the ice packs] What did you like about her?

Patient: Well, she liked me. That sounds terrible, doesn't it? What I mean is, she was nice to me, she was caring and a good listener. And beautiful. She still is.

Chiropractor: So, you told jokes and she listened.

Patient: Yeah, it's not like that anymore, though. She's got her own life, her own career—she does public health administration—and I'm not that much fun anymore, frankly. I'm away a lot, and working all the time, and when I try to tell her about my work, she's—I don’t know—disengaged somehow. I make my customers laugh, but not her.

[His cell phone rings. He gestures to Ben to get it from his jacket pocket, which Ben does.] My boss. [Into the phone:] Yeah, hi Gerald….Yes, well, times are bad everywhere… No, I guess you're right, not in China… Oh. Uh huh. So what you're saying is...? Well, one down quarter…
I see, I guess you could look at it that way, but Gerald—Oh. It's a done deal, then. I see. Oh, very good, a severance package, of course. Monday. 8:30. Sure. Sure. See you then. [Stares at phone.]

He just fired me.

Chiropractor: I'm sorry.

Patient: He just fired the entire division.

Chiropractor: What was that about China?

Patient: They're getting out of latex paint and focusing on lead-based.

Chiropractor: Who knew there was a market for banned, toxic paint?

Patient: Yeah, "Brains schmains" is what he just said to me, do you believe that?

Chiropractor: Wow.

Patient: I haven't liked the direction the company was taking for a while now, but this is just… [Turning suddenly toward the chiropractor.] You know what, I'm glad they fired me. I wouldn't work for those jerks for all the--ha-ha-ha! tea in China! [breaks down in tears.]

Chiropractor: [Rubbing his back] I'm sorry.

Patient: How can they do this to people right before Christmas?

Chiropractor: [Still rubbing] Hmm. I guess you're off the hook for a present, then.

Patient: Oh, God, she's going to leave me!

Chiropractor: Maybe not.

Patient: Oh, right. This'll be perfect. [Bitterly:] "Hi honey, look what I got you for Christmas—a husband who can't earn a living. But you'll like living in a rented hovel. That's what you always wanted, right?" I'm screwed.

Chiropractor: Maybe not.

Patient: You don't understand.

Chiropractor: Well, she can probably support the house. Right?

Patient: Well, yes. But a deadbeat husband…

Chiropractor: Here's what I'm going to do. What's her number?

Patient: [Offers his cell phone.] Here, use mine. It's under "S," [abashedly] for Schnookums, but what…

Chiropractor: [Into phone] Hello, is this Cheryl? Cheryl this is Be—Doctor Levin, of Montgomery Spine. Your husband—yes, your husband has suffered a subluxated 4th lumbar vertebra, and quite possibly a ruptured disk. We're awaiting imaging before making a final diagnosis… Yes, he's in quite a bit of pain, although I've performed mitigation for that. He's going to need 24-hour nursing for a few days. I can recommend an agency… Oh, you're a nurse? You have? Well, that should work out fine, then. Yes, a couple of days of bed rest and then gradual range-of-motion therapy—but I'll write the prescription for you…. Uh-huh. No, he must not try to drive. I don't know how he managed to get here, frankly…[Grabs one of his cards off of his desk and reads] 1654 Montgomery Avenue, suite 125… Yes, first floor. See you in 20 minutes, then. Very good.

Patient: So now I'm unemployed and an invalid, too?

Chiropractor: Look, my mother always says, to move a cat, put butter on its paws.

Patient: Huh?

Chiropractor: It licks its paws and rubs the butter on its ears, and it's a mess. It might take days to get all that butter off. It hardly notices the new house. Tell her immediately—on the phone, before she gets here—about losing your job, about the lead paint, about China. Let her nurse you back to health. By the time you're walking again—lie on your side—By the time you're walking again… [twists patient into a doughnut shape and pushes on leg and shoulder simultaneously.]

Patient: [Cry of pain] Mother of God!

Chiropractor: …She'll have had time to get used to the idea of your looking for another job.

Patient: [Doubtful] Maybe.

Chiropractor: Stand up.

Here's the other part. While you're lying around, you write her a lovely heartfelt Christmas card. Maybe a poem in there. You hand-decorate it.

Patient: [Stands up, but still can't use his leg] With what?

Chiropractor: How do I know? Candy canes. Pictures of wreaths from Orvis catalogs. Whatever you people do. But most important: you tell jokes. Every time she walks in the room, you make her laugh.

[Hands patient his shirt, tie, jacket.] Sit down.

Patient: [Sits. Puts on shirt, tie, and jacket.]

Chiropractor: [Hands him his cell phone.] Call her. Schnookums.

Patient: [Dials.] Hi, honey. It's… Hurts like hell… Listen, Cheryl… They're closing the Western division. I … I lost my job. It's all going to China… No, I can't really walk. Actually, dialing the phone hurt. [Smiles.] Okay. I'll be right here. I love you, too.

Ben, Doctor, you're a genius! [Stands up to hug him—sits back down clutching his back.]

Chiropractor: [Hands him the ice packs.] You're going to want these.

[Lights down and End of Act]

This work was originally written for Hitching Post Theater, Boulder, Colorado.

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