Bronx Train

Photos: Martin Cox

Solo Performance: A dream narrative with 5 characters.


The "I" character

The loving couple



The adolescent girl


Set: Two cushions and a folded comforter, stage left. A foot stool, stage right.

"Hello, mountains!" [A man stands on a rock (the foot stool) and calls, his voice echoes off the mountains he's adressing.} "Don't you go anywhere!"

{Laughs, gets down, picks up a stone and skips it on the lake.} "Yes".

{He scoops up 2 handfulls of pebbles} "Good-bye lake." {he throws the pebbles up and watches as they fall into the lake. Deep exhale]. "I'll miss you."

{ For the 1st time, he addresses audience-presentationally}:

It was a beautiful day in early September, just after labor day, and I was riding the Amtrack south from the Adarondaks to New York City. I had had a wonderful summer and I was looking forward to the excitement of fall. The train ride, itself is spectacular: three hundred miles of mountains, woods, fields, practically all of it alongside water. I boarded at Westport on Lake Champlain, the finger lake that reaches down from the Canadian Border and seperates the Adarondaks from the Green Mountains of Vermont. A cumulus cloud between myself and the sun made the lake black and the New York side overcast. But, across the lake the sun shone brightly. Everything was irridescent green. Everything was so vivid, that, I swear, I could see individual blades of grass wiggling, in the wind, three miles away in Vermont.

The train moves along the shore to the southern end of lake Champlain and weaves between it and the north end of Lake George and runs down the eastern shore of Lake George. Just south of lake George, the Hudson River, the Mighty Hudson,- at this point just another Adarondak stream,- comes out of the mountains and turns south, the train moves along side it and follows it as the river grows and grows and grows. {He sits on stool- as if seated on train- and watches the countryside go by out the window}. In about an hour, the mountains fall away , north of Saratoga, Albany. Half an hour later, the Catskills, a gentle, rounded echo of the Adarondaks begin to rise. Saugerties. Kingston. Mountainville. And then they fall away: Harrison , Poughkeepsie. Croton on Hudson, Nyack. Yonkers. ""Yonkers, Yonkers, this way out!" Just north of the city the river - by now The Mighty Hudson- half a mile wide-bows to the west, to accomodate the fullness of Manhattan and especially Brooklyn. The train continues straight south into the Bronx.

The train moves thru Van Cortland Park, several hundred acres of woods and fields that totally obscure your entrance into the city.

{He gets up, circles stage and makes sweeping arm gestures to suggest the expanse of the park. He brings his arms straight down and steps thru the articulated opening, as if going thru a door, - entering the city.}

{In silence, pitches a baseball, which becomes flying a kite, running and letting out kitestring, which becomes playing fetch with a dog, which becomes flying the kite, biting the kitestring and watching it drift out of sight.} People are playing basketball, baseball. flying kites, reading the newspaper, walking, playing hopscotch, eating ice cream, playing with their dogs. The wind is blowing through my hair. {He circles the space, running backwards, his hands alongside his head.} The train is open air. It has no roof. It's a child's train, just what you'd expect of a train in a park; going by the pony rides, wrapping around the ducks' pond, the barn yard, the zoo.

I'm sitting next to a perfect couple. We're totally relaxed and comfortable, even though we're in this toy train, sitting side by side with our knees up. She's a beautiful young actress, who may never be an actress. But, she's beautiful. She's young. She's in love with her husband. He's a handsome young guy. He looks like one of Marty Sheen's kids and wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle. {Motorcycle stance} But, he's a scientist "Bbrumm", a microbiologist " Bbrumm-brumm", a graduate student. " Bbrumm-brumm Rrrrrrr-t!"

"I'm the luckiest man in the world. If people don't know it, I tell them. "I'm the luckiest man in the world. With the most beautiful woman in the world. She loves me. I love her. And our love is strong. Together we made this love. We did it. We deserve it. We've done this. We can do anything . I can ride through this city. I can confront anything. There's nothing I can't confront.

She looks at him. She takes his hand. She feels his breath being taken away, like an elevator dropping fast. It's a miracle. How could anyone have an effect like this on someone else? It's deliriously devastating. The bottom falling out. The bottom opening up. Everything opening, expanding. Being overwhelmed by the desire to let go. The faster you fall, the higher the next top. The more you let go, the more you have. Your stomach's dropping. You can climb higher and higher, grasp more and have more. All the beauty spread out before you and above you and behind you, is yours to grasp.

He says to her, " We're just like this train. Our love is like this train. It's teeny-weenie and it's huge. It's intimite and it's open to the whole world. And we're squeezed together and we have all the room that we want. And it's serious and it's funny. Like when we were lying in bed {Lies on floor and hugs her, crawls, hugs etc.} and I threw the heavy comforters over our heads and we snuggled? Then, I lifted the comforter, "whooo-woo" (Laughing). Then I pulled it back down, "wooo-woo" (Laughing). And wiggled. (laugh....) I love you. "You know what we're gonna do? You know what we're gonna do? I'm gonna crawl out from under here and I'm gonna grab scraps of papertowels and...and napkins and bath towels and string and tin-foil and I'm gonna make a little nest. I'm gonna make a nest in every room in the house so that we can run and we can snuggle. And we can be in our nest in the living room. No furniture. Break up all the furniture. Pull out the stuffing and drag it with you.. No furniture only nests. And we can drag our blankets around. You can drag your stuffed animal with us from room to room. And we can walk and run and crawl and jump and snuggle in our nests. Because I love you. (Smooch.) Ooo, you are sooo sexy. Mmm. I love you. Our love is a public service. 'Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt your inch by inch , work a day lives to present a public service. " Bam! Our love lights up the whole world (cracks up laughing)!

{Becomes "I" character}. The skyline of Manhattan is up in front of me. {Gets up}. There's so much life here. There's a surprise around every corner. There's a food shop called "Hot Stuff", the whole store is stocked with nothing but hot, hot stuff. Tabasco sauces, curry powders, jerk sauces from all over the world. It's run by a guy who calls himself the top tamale. Everybody in this city has something to say. Everybody's a self-appointed top tamale. I love it.

My arms are resting on the top of the train because it only comes up to the waist. I'm taking in all the activities in the park. I'm feeling like Walt Whitman, being blessed by and blessing everything I see: the loving couple, first and foremost, the lusting couple, lieing on top of one another under the tree on the hill, the old people feeding the pidgeons, the pigeons, the vendors. Bless you, bless you, bless me. {Gets up, turns back to audience and begins to play hopscotch, moving upstage and then back toward audience, facing them}. Two adolescent girls dressed in blue grey parocial school skirt are playing hopscotch. One is tall and skinny and the other is pudgy, with a maroon sweater pulled down over her non-existent waist. Shes starring at the train. she has a nasty pout on her face. She moves toward the train and stands on the tracks, forcing the train to stop. I look at the couple. {To couple}. "I guess I'll go see what's going on." {He gives her friendly, inquiring look. } "Hi."

{As her} "Thhhhu!"

{She spits in his face. He wipes his face and looks angrily at her.}

{As girl}"Look at you smart asses. You think everything is a joke? Everything is so easy. You ride into town on your little toy train, into your magical city. You don't have to work for a living. You don't do shit. I hate you. I hate you. I'll hurt you. My spit will eat a hole in your face that won't go away. It will burn so deep, it'll never heal. You think you can wipe it off, but you can't. You think it will go away, it won't. It will mark you for life. Not just a spot of spit on your cheek, but a spot that grows and grows and festers and grows deeper and deeper, taking more of you when you're awake, more and more when you're asleep. You'll be disfigured. People will look at you and run away.

See how good your khaki pants and pastel shirts will look with your face; red, bubbling, constantly churning. I hate you and all you've done to me. You said you loved me. Liar! I believed you. I can't even look in the mirror anymore. You betrayed me. I betrayed myself for you! You made me betray myself and now I hate myself. I hate you for making me hate myself. I hate you. I hate you. I hate me. I'm an idiot. I can't trust myself. I don't know what to do. I just want to hurt you, the way you've hurt me. Because what I feel is deep inside. I hope and pray that grows inward on you.

"I keep waiting for my pain to change into something else. It won't change. It won't go away. It won't get any smaller. It only gets bigger, hurts more and destroys more and more of me.

"But I still love you. Loving you is everything. I need to love. I feel my love and then a wave of pain rolls in, slaps me, wake up, making me want to shrivel up, turn in on myself and die. I can't live. Life is a lie. Love is a lie. Reaching out is a lie. Breathing- a lie. Feeling- a lie.

"Are you happy now? You and your happiness. How can you be happy, in your little toy train? How? You know what a lie it is. You know what a liar you are! You and your pretty friends, floating thru life, going to Manhattan, doing whatever the you want. Whatever you want. Making up lies. Making up lies and believing them! Is that what you want? I hate you. " {Enraged, she pushes him and runs away}.

I was shaken. I was angry. I was confused. Did I deserve that for delighting in the carefree, young, good looking, money in their pockets, everything under control, couple? For wanting someone to love me, who understood me? The train started up again. I jumped in. (He turns to the couple.} The couple was gone. The beautiful blond ringlets were gone. The bravura bomber jacket was gone. The sense of possibility was gone. The train accelerated, toward the city. It was a cold, wet November day in the city. The sky was grey. The buildings were grey. The people were grey. Garbage blew through the air. I didn't want to go there.

Sitting next to me, in the couple's place, was my friend Steve Berger. Steve put his arm around me and said, "You know, when I was an adolescent, I was pudgy, I was fat. I was obese. I was twelve but I looked forty five. I wore my pants too high. My butt stuck out. Nobody liked me. Everyone that I'd played with when I was younger, made fun of me. They rolled their pants up, stuck their butts out, and made fun of the way I walked. { becomes imitators, wlks w/ butt out "Hey big butt. Fat ass Steve." Second imitator: "No, no Like this, like this!" 3rd imitator; "More spaz" All crack up:" That's it.!" 3rd imitator: " You fucking Dork!". Sits back down becoming Steve agian). I was miserable. Then, to top it all off, that winter, when it got cold, my skin got dry and started cracking. It was hard and scale-y. It felt more like shell than skin. The first year it was just my thumbs. In spring, it healed. The next year it spread to include my fingers. The third year, the brittle, broken skin had spread over both palms and was starting to find it's way through the base of the fingers onto the backs of my hands. I was terrified that the cracks were going to spread over my whole body. I'd compulsively touch around my mouth. But with the back of my wrist, (does it), so I wouldn't contaminate myself. I was afraid my whole face would crack like chapped lips. The same kids that had been making fun of me got frightened. They didn't taunt me, they just stayed away. And I avoided them. I had two friends. And, like Groucho Marx, I didn't like them because they liked me.

Years later, when I ran into somebody from Jr. high school they'd be totally surprised that I wasn't mis-shapen and that I didn't have open sores all over my body. That I was normal, productive even. "Steve? Steve Berger? You're looking great. Really great! So what are you doing with yourself?"

When I'd tell them, they'd look at me, and say, "Steve, that is so wonderful. That is so wonderful, really!" They looked at me like I was a dog that, wore a tutu, had learned to walk on his hind legs, and could balance a ball on his nose, and could hop thru a crowded marketplace, {Steve gets up and hops on one foot, becoming the dog balancing the ball, as he continues talking} without running into anyone, without falling down, without getting stepped on, without dropping the ball. {Dog successfully gets thru marketplace and drops down to all fours, panting happily.} {Still on all fours, he pats his side--as if they were patting the dog. They pat his belly} "Good boy! Good boy. So wonderful! What a good boy! That's so wonderful Steven. {scratch behind his ears.} You're getting by as a human being. That's incredible. We know you're not! {They pat his rump.} We know you're not a human being, but you're getting by just like one! And you're doing really well at it. Steven, we're so happy for you. We can't believe it. We're incredulous. {He rolls onto his belly, they scratch it. His leg starts moving in "automatic"} We just cannot believe that you could pull this off! We can't wait to get away from you, {they get up} we just can't wait to get away from you to say, {turning from one to the other as if they're having a conversation w/ one another}'Can you believe that?' 'Can you believe that?' "Can you believe it?" 'He's really doing well.' 'He's really doing well.' "He is doing "well'". 'He was such a mess.' 'Such a mess, mess, mess.' 'He was such a mess.' 'And he still is.' "

My mother took me to the doctor. I showed him my dry, bloody and cracked hands. I told him how the condition had been getting worse each winter. The doctor had no idea what this was. He gave me a blue translucent bottle of Noxema and sent me away. I used it every time I washed my hands. I smelled like Eucalyptus. It didn't help. It gave me momentary relief from the sting-ing. When spring came, my hands became moist, the cracks went away. But that year, when I was 14, I grew six inches and became a gangly o.k. looking teen. My hands never cracked another winter! "(Pause).

When he told me these things, I just felt worse. His attempt to cheer me up was not working. He rubbed his head on my shoulder. It just felt claustrophobic. "Please. Quit leaning on me."

The train arrived at Grand Central. We took a cab to my house. He was staying there for the night and leaving town the next day. He was in the process of moving to Atlanta. I tried to be a gracious host, but I failed miserably. "You want to stay up?" I asked.

"Do You?"


"Do you?"

"I'm really pretty exhausted."

"OK then, just say so. Let's go to bed."

"I'll get the blankets for you for the couch."

"Let me do it. Just go to bed. I'll do it."

"I'm doing it." (While putting the blankets down) "Just go, go. Go to bed. Come on. Go." He put his hand on my back and guided me over to the bedroom.

"Goodnite." (He pulls his shoulder forward to get hand off it.) And closed the door behind me. I just wanted to be alone.

When I woke up the next morning I felt warm and good. I wanted to appologize to him for being such a grouch. I went in the other room, but he was gone. There was a huge mess where he had been. Blankets, cushions on the floor, a pillow on the coffee table. Things knocked over. I didn't care. I just wanted to tell him that I did appreciate, his stories, his good humor, his desire to be with me.

I pulled the blankets away from between the coffee table and the couch. A couple chachka's had been knocked on the floor. I put them back on the glass coffee table. I got down on my knees in between the coffee table and the couch and plumped up the pillows, one by one. {Stand up shake them. Put them back down.} As I smoothed them out, it was like rubbing my hands over him. I don't know he must have been late for the plane, cause it's such a mess. And I was happy. What if he'd cleaned everything and vanished without a trace. What if I had gotten up, walked into the livingroom, and everything had been just so. That was a frightening thought. It was ridiculous, but I abslolutely loved cleaning up after him. It was a total mess and I loved it. It was presence instead of absence. I was just so happy to have him in my life. He was gone, moved far away. And I didn't know when I'd see him again. Probably not for six months or a year. Suddenly, I deflated. I went into the bathroom.

Thank god, there was a flood, water all over the floor. I got a sponge from under the sink, and I got down on my hands and knees and started mopping up the water and squeezing it into the tub. I tried to focus on the mess. The mess that he'd created. Ta da. the mess he'd created! How did he manage to get so much water outside of the shower? I don't understand it. He must have had the shower curtain on the outside of the tub, rathe than on the inside. And Towels in the tub? Why, Steven? Why towels inthe tub? Where did you grow up? Maybe he did this intentionally. Maybe he wanted to leave a vivid , engaging memory. It was like when someone dies and there all these funeral arrangements that have to be made. Getting the grave and the casket? The food for the house. Who's gonna come over? And blah, blah blah. The make-up. Do you want an open casket. What should the dead person wear? What should you wear? Should I buy a dark suit? Does it have to be black? Would I ever be able to wear it again? Its so much to deal with. And totally irrelevant. Your immersed in the mechanics of the damn thing and you can't feel anything until later. Maybe this was his idea. Because, this was just like that.

I cleaned. On my hands and knees I sponged up the soapy water from next to the sink. Those towels, I threw them totally wet ,"whap" "whap., " whap" into the tub. That made five towels in the tub, in all. And I backed up on my hands and knees. My knees were all wet. And now the floor was half clean and half dirty. So I put some clean water and soap down on the other part of the floor and kept washing with the sponge. I washed the entire bathroom; the side of the tub, the sink, around the toilet bowl, and all the way out the door. Then I stood up. There was still that disgusting soup in the tub. A puddle of dirty soapy water. A towel over the drain. Four other towels slopped around. I don't know. I can't believe you did that. Really, I've got ask you about it when I call you tonite. "What happened? The house was a torando when I woke up this morning. I don't get it. What, were you late to the airport? No? Well I thought you must have been. You know, I should have guessed from seeing your car. You said you were re-cycling. I didn't know the car was the recycling dump. I didn't know because I'd never been in your apartment or anything. And your clothes, you're always neat. Impecable. Casual, impecable. But, now I see. Now I see who you are. Now I know the real Steven. Now I know who you are. Fastidious on the outside and a total secret slob. Oh God. A secret slob. (laughter)."

"Steven, I'm so glad we got to spend this time together. It was really important to me. Well everything. Especially those stories from your childhood, those painful stories. I really valued your telling those to me. It made me feel honored. It made me feel loved, like I had a real friend. It made me feel like I was a real friend. I was glad you got to stay at the house. That mess you made. I'm just glad that I could tell you this. I value our friendship. We've become close. And, I'm sorry you moved. I'll miss you. And I just loved cleaning up your mess. It was like your were still here. just don't do it again. don't even think about it! You probably won't feel settled in to your new house until you've made a big mess, right? Ya, well, moving, mess, mess, moving, that's true, the mess is built in. I'm surprised you don't move more often. Anyway, I'm gonna go now. OK. So let's talk soon. OK? Bye,