Bio

 
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Ken Carlson is the guy in your office who said Donut Friday was a good idea. He is also the author of Get Out of My Way! The Annoyed Commuter’s Handbook. He has contributed several humorous essays and short stories online. His coverage of the arts has reached a variety of news sources, and his editorial work for The Comedians Magazine was featured in the A.V. Club section of The Onion.

 

Synopsis: A young couple from New York meet for their daily commute home on the Staten Island Ferry and discuss if joining the rat race and living an unfulfilling life isn’t enough for one, how can a dreary dating life be enough for two?

Characters:

CHARLOTTE—stressed-out young professional who would rather write graphic novels than work downtown at a struggling non-profit.

JOSH—her boyfriend & literal-minded artist, toils in advertising, not painting.

Setting: A living room. Both dressed business casual, JOSH carrying a courier bag or portfolio case from work. Open boxes strewn about. CHARLOTTE seated on a couch, angrily needlepointing, checking the time. Lights up as JOSH enters Stage Right, running, out of breath, leans in for a kiss.

JOSH
Sorry, I’m sorry, I know I’m late. I’m sorry. (CHARLOTTE doesn’t look up, bitterly mumbles, focussed on her needlepoint. JOSH takes out a sketch book and begins drawing.) You see, I couldn’t get out of the office. The train was just local after local, which took a while. I couldn’t buy an express. You’re working on your knitting, again. Is it working?

CHARLOTTE
Is it working, he asks? Does it look like it’s working?

JOSH
Uh, I’m guessing, no.

CHARLOTTE
No! He says. He can’t tell the difference between knitting and needlepoint. On the biggest day of our relationship, out loud, that yes, yes, I have started taking up, as a means of relaxing, again, needlepoint; not knitting, not crocheting. I am excelling as an artist, both personally and creatively. This is my piece of art, an expression of my soul, which you clearly recognize as…

JOSH
The Lower Intestines?

CHARLOTTE
Sandra Day O’Connor.

JOSH
My second guess.

CHARLOTTE
I tell him, it’s part of a multi-media display satirizing the Justice League. Does he understand the super hero reference and comparison to the Supreme Court? Unlikely. I am trying to keep my stress levels down, with my art, my creativity, but this was to be our big day.

JOSH
I know. I’m sorry.

CHARLOTTE
He said, “this will be the day we make some changes.” He said, “this is the day we stop stagnating and make a shift to making each other happy.”

JOSH
We could get married.

CHARLOTTE
I said happy!

JOSH
Oh, right. Sorry.

CHARLOTTE
Maybe it’s time to look back at the calendar.

JOSH
Oh, not the calendar…

CHARLOTTE
(Retrieving a large printed calendar) Josh, dear, time does tend to drift with us doesn’t it, month after month, like sand through an hourglass…

JOSH
Are you quoting Superman starring Christopher Reeves?

CHARLOTTE
Days of Our Lives.

JOSH
I was close.

CHARLOTTE
We said today would be the day. It’s marked with a color stamp of the Wonder Twins.

JOSH
Because it’s so important.

CHARLOTTE
A year ago, I said, I’m miserable; I hate my job. You said, you were miserable and hated yours, too. We had been together for two years and riding the ferry every day together, to and from our homes in Staten Island; me with my mother; you with KA-JELLO HEAD.

JOSH
My roommate’s name is Kjell (Shell), spelled K-J-E-L-L. He can’t help that he’s Norwegian.

CHARLOTTE
K + J does not equal SH! He should try harder! His gym bag smells like a used casket for dogs.

JOSH
He does a lot of cardio. They’re a very fit people.

CHARLOTTE
Meanwhile, my mother is filling every free inch of space of our house with items from the Home Shopping Network. If there’s a glass figurine or a chunk of cubic zirconia alive and handcrafted in this world, she has it. The beds are covered with unpacked boxes. We’re sleeping in those rickety 20-year-old recliners, in one of which my father died.

JOSH
That probably makes it harder to sell on Craigslist.

CHARLOTTE
I hate my job. You hate yours. People I work with couldn’t be more annoying if every time they opened their mouths they made the siren noise from the Emergency Broadcasting System. We can’t quit our jobs to chase our dreams when we’re older, you know? We’ll be too scared. If you look at our lives now, at our relationship, it won’t be long before we’re…

JOSH
Married?

CHARLOTTE
Old. Josh, we’ll be old. Old, then dead, very dead. We can’t chuck it all and do what we want then. We’ll be our parents. The highlight to our days can’t be the ferry ride home. It seems like our only time alone is on that ferry. We sit on that bench; we look out at the water and the Statue of Liberty, just us and who knows how many others.

JOSH
About 70,000 passengers a day. I remember you looked it up and said 70,000 was your lucky number. It’s kind of a large number to be lucky. Most people keep it under 20.

CHARLOTTE
We’ve got to stop the cycle. Home, ferry, work, ferry, home – everyday. Sometimes on weekends, pizza and a movie. I want to write comic books, graphic novels, stories about super heroes and depressed fantasy-action quests with anti-social depressing outcomes.

JOSH
Like the one about the cats that become Nazis.

CHARLOTTE
Maus by Art Spiegelman; good one. I’m suffocating in that office. (Start to take out aggression on her needlepoint) Everyday, it’s the same old thing, the same dull grind.

JOSH
But you have donut Fridays, cupcake Mondays; and cake for almost every birthday?

CHARLOTTE
Yeah, almost every day there’s a doughy replacement for living. You see it in the photos from the latest training conference, the substitution of happiness for food. Our company is growing, but not it a good way. When the directors sat at the head table for a photo, they were sweating and all puffy, like the Last Supper if it were held in Milwaukee.

JOSH
It’s a non-profit, so you’re helping people out.

CHARLOTTE
Yeah, but it’s for a disease which is pretty much cured; stupid, effective research! How many more galas can we throw for a problem that’s been solved? You don’t see people raising funds to SAVE THE ROTARY PHONE or STOP THE WEARING OF CARGO PANTS.

JOSH
You said it’s better than your last job.

CHARLOTTE
My last job was in a basement where the air conditioning system was invaded by bees. My last job had account executives leaving meetings in tears and a graphic designer taken out on a gurney. Any crappy job can top that! I’m a writer with ideas. I’ve been working on thoughts for new super heroes. How about, the USHER! He could match forces, with, the BELLHOP.

JOSH
That’s quite a dynamic customer service duo.

CHARLOTTE
Or what about a nasty villain named WATER?

JOSH
Does he live in the water? Kind of hard to keep track when there’s water everywhere.

CHARLOTTE
WATER is a she. And she’s actually a villain.

JOSH
Ooh, clever twist

CHARLOTTE
Less of a twist, more of a simple plot. That could be another super villain. The PLOT! One minute he’s part of a garden or cemetery, next he’s being wicked evil, like he’s plotting against the world! His conniving nature is in his name.

JOSH
And it takes place in New York? Why is it so many super hero stories happen in New York? Doesn’t the rest of the world need to be defended? I mean, it’s great Spiderman was around to save the Staten Island Ferry, and the Roosevelt Island Tramway, but you’d think after a while, evil doers would strike someplace less congested by super heroes.

CHARLOTTE
Well, this is where DC and Marvel were created.

JOSH
And none of these mutants decided to move?

CHARLOTTE
Hey, you want to move to Canada; go, be saved by Captain Canuck.

JOSH
So, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask.

CHARLOTTE
Do I prefer villains or heroes? People like heroes to win! They like happy endings. Writers don’t. Writers aren’t people. I root for Darth Vader. The Joker, that’s who I dressed up as for my first Halloween. The stronger the villain, the stronger the story. I don’t want boring. I want chaos. I want madness. I want worlds crumbling, civilians pointing to the sky in terror. Isn’t that something you think about with your art?

JOSH
A great artist once said, “When I paint something, I don’t want to have to explain what it is.”

CHARLOTTE
Stan Lee?

JOSH
Bob Ross.

CHARLOTTE
I never thought of Bob Ross as a great artist.

JOSH
Good enough to have people watch him paint on TV. All he needed was a happy, little tree.

CHARLOTTE
Do you draw happy, little trees?

JOSH
No, but I try to make the Statue of Liberty smile a little, just enough to make it seem she’s happy to see us. If you’re unhappy, why not quit your job?

CHARLOTTE
And live on what, the gold I hoard from online D&D adventures? I can’t pin all my health care hopes on bubble wrap and a well knitted shawl. I know the collection caller on my student loans on a first name basis. Hi, Chad! Hi, Charlotte. Sorry, you’re late on this month’s blood letting of $287.49. Wait, that could be a story, like The Purge but less funny.

JOSH
This isn’t so bad, you know.

CHARLOTTE
What?

JOSH
This. We’re spending time together. We get to most every day. I know married couples that don’t have that.

CHARLOTTE
Reason number 2,408 we should not get married.

JOSH
And that would be out of how many?

CHARLOTTE
2,408. My list ran out of steam after my 100th reference to breakfast cereal. How can you mix Captain Crunch with 40% Bran Flakes?

JOSH
My point is, why does this have to change?

CHARLOTTE
Because today is the day we said we would.

JOSH
Is that the only reason? Don’t most artists have to work a day job they hate?

CHARLOTTE
I want to be Jules Ffeiffer. I want to be Raina Telgemeier. I want to be Neil Gaiman, Alison Bechdel, Daniel Clowes, and Mariko Tamaki.

JOSH
Then be that.

CHARLOTTE
I can’t. Not here. Not now.

JOSH
But I thought all the super heroes and villains had to be based in New York.

CHARLOTTE
Well, maybe they should be somewhere else. Maybe I should go out west. Austin or Portland could be the perfect scene where I can write.

JOSH
You’d leave Staten Island? What about Bruno’s Bakery?

CHARLOTTE
Home of the Omlette Bianco. Maybe that could be a super hero name.

JOSH
What about that Sri Lankan restaurant we go to on the North Shore. And your Russian friends, that couple you play board games with on the South. And the big houses on Toad Hill, the ones you love to make fun of but have told me twice that someday you’re going to live in. What is so bad about this life?

CHARLOTTE
I don’t want to settle.

JOSH
Are we still talking about your job?

CHARLOTTE
Going to a job I hate. Living in a home I hate. Watching my mother fall apart.

JOSH
I could help.

CHARLOTTE
What, and drag you to the depths like throwing a drowning man an anchor? It’s like the time we spend on that ferry, all that’s wrong with that boat; gum stuck under benches, too cold today, sweltering hot tomorrow, back and forth, port to port, going nowhere, symbolic of our lives.

JOSH
It’s what life is. I have more fun on our commute home than any other time in the week.

CHARLOTTE
Then you need to have a better week.

JOSH
I said I was sorry I was late. I didn’t mention a stop I had to make. (JOSH removes an oversized bound book from his bag and presents it to CHARLOTTE.) 

JOSH
It’s a collection of all my drawings from our commutes, from the ferry.

CHARLOTTE (Feeling its heft, thumbing through.)
I had lost track. I didn’t know there had been so many.

JOSH
I thought you could use these as story ideas and create a graphic novel. It shows different people on the ferry, different views of Lady Liberty, the people who work here.

CHARLOTTE
These are so good. It’s got that Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer look I like so much because it shows a city and makes me sad.

JOSH
Sad and scared, that’s you.

CHARLOTTE
Giving and listening, that’s you.

JOSH
Have you settled on a change?

CHARLOTTE
Please, I hate the word, settle. Here, you should take this. (Handing the book back to JOSH.)

JOSH
What, you don’t want it? I don’t understand. I did all this for you.

CHARLOTTE
You’re an artist. You create because you have to, and I’m returning them.

JOSH
These drawings represent all the time we’ve spent together, everything we’ve seen, all we’ve experienced together in these moments that we’ve enjoyed.

CHARLOTTE
That’s why I am giving them back to you. That and I have too much to carry. I’ve got a laptop, leftover Tupperware from lunch, a couple of stale donuts I grabbed this morning, my needlepoint, three notebooks, four lucky pens, and a hardcover Will Eisner collection. I can’t carry your collection now.

JOSH
Carry it where?

CHARLOTTE
Out there. I’ve had it with the nestable container sets, water-resistant anoraks, and a Dale Earnhardt Jr grilled smoker with real chrome-like trim.

JOSH
You want me to move in with you?

CHARLOTTE
He asks if I want him to move in with me. He’s the only reason I get up in the morning, and he presents his soul to me for me to add dialogue and captions and asks if I want him to be with me.

JOSH
We’ll continue to create our art but go to our jobs.

CHARLOTTE
He wants to continue our slow path to death, the job, the commute, make the best of it, like Vision and Scarlet Witch.

JOSH
Did they take the Ferry?

CHARLOTTE
They came in from Jersey. They probably got stuck in traffic back to the tunnel. Thanks for the book. It makes it easier to leave. This way I won’t forget you. 

JOSH
What, you’re leaving me? I don’t understand. I did all this for you.

CHARLOTTE
You’re an artist. You create because you have to. You drew those for yourself.

JOSH
But I’m giving them to you.

CHARLOTTE
And I’ll keep them with me always, in my memories. This is the kind of work I can write from.

JOSH
These drawings represent all the time we’ve spent together, everything we’ve seen, all we’ve experienced together in these moments that we’ve enjoyed.

CHARLOTTE
I’ve seen them; I’ll remember them, and I’m leaving. Tonight I’ll email my boss and quit. I’m going to fill up my crappy car with whatever I can, take the Verrazano to drive as far as I can, maybe Ft Wayne, Indiana or Milwaukee, who knows? Sleeping in my car won’t be that different from how I sleep now.

JOSH
I could come with you.

CHARLOTTE
And do what, drag each other to the bottom like someone diving off the ferry? There’s a reason people who create successfully can’t stay together, their art comes first. It has to.

JOSH
You could stay and keep trying.

CHARLOTTE
And settle for working a crappy job, exchanging a few quips with a guy I like and live in a stifling hovel with my Mom. How much am I writing now? How much will I ever?

JOSH
I love you, but I didn’t think you could be this selfish.

CHARLOTTE
I told you I liked Darth Vader. Hey, I’m not people. I’m a writer, so I have to be selfish. I don’t want to end up like Bruce Banner, hitching a ride from town to town, waiting to become enraged and become the Hulk. I don’t want to ride the ferry every day either, trying to sneak a half hour now and again to jot a few lines for some book going nowhere. Maybe after a while, I’ll come back to this life out of guilt, but if I’m stuck riding that ferry then I hope I don’t see you on it. Good bye.

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