[A men’s bathroom in a New York mega nightclub. BATHROOM ATTENDANT, a Transylvanian immigrant, hands paper towels to tipsy PAUL, who dries his hands. PAUL has a facial twitch. He watches BATHROOM ATTENDANT amused by how he sits down reading an anthropology book entitled Amazon Beaming. BATHROOM ATTENDANT tries to compose himself because he finds PAUL’s twitch funny. Rap music in the background fades out.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Are you alright?
PAUL: Yeah, I’m fine. I twitch more severely when I’m idle. If I get embroiled in some task, I’m fine. I’m particular about little things. I flip the light switch ten times before I leave the house… When I do the laundry I experience a desire to pick off the lint. But I’ve really overcome a lot of compulsions. A couple of years ago I couldn’t even be here!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: [Touches his shoulder sympathetically.] Oh, it must have been hard growing up… [He picks the lint off his own black velvet jacket.] You know, I can never get this coat clean! Here, please, pick at it! Please!
PAUL: [Lighthearted, starts picking at the sleeve of BATHROOM ATTENDANT’S jacket. He places each piece of lint on a clean paper towel.] I will! I will completely submit to the temptation of pulling the fluff off of this coat… Kids made fun of me a lot. [Twitching mischievously in BATHROOM ATTENDANT’s face.] “Hey, Paul! Hey, Paul!” [BATHROOM ATTENDANT laughs.] I got beat up all the time.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Can you work?
PAUL: Oh, yeah. I’m a proofreader.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Maybe you could proofread these rappers’ lyrics? They play rap every night and I have no idea what they say!
PAUL: That would be a lot more fun. I proofread the translations of the Annual Reports of the Mutual Funds for Goldman Sachs. I’m the guy who takes care of the commas and the periods. Well, in English we have in $1,000,000.00 one comma zero zero zero comma zero zero zero period zero zero. When you translate into other languages you switch the commas and the periods to one period zero zero zero period zero zero zero comma zero zero. Where are you from?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Transylvania, Romania.
PAUL: So you know what I’m talking about, right?! But it’s lucrative. For example a document like let’s say a Goldman Sachs stock portfolio offers a breakdown of every percent of their purchasing in every market, so let’s say, [Mutters the following calculation.] is about 120 pages per language, in 10 languages, it takes about, 15 hours, 150 hours. It really adds up!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: [Astonished.] You work like a machine!
PAUL: [Lighthearted.] Yeah, it’s nauseating work to find the incorrect commas or periods in a haystack of correct listings. But I turned my handicap into an asset! [He starts picking lint off the BATHROOM ATTENDANT’s pants.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: [Embarrassed.] Oh, no! I have something for you! [He unveils a lint roller.]
PAUL: Oh, yeah! [PAUL grabs it and de-lints BATHROOM ATTENDANT’s pants.] When I was a kid my family would go through scotch tape at an epidemic pace. I had to remove any hair from the couch before sitting on it, and then after sitting on the couch I had to tape it again to remove the hair I deposited on the couch. My father wouldn’t have any of that, so the burden of taping fell on to me. It would be the same with the bathroom. I had to tape the floor before entering and after leaving. My mother… Incidentally, I never had any friends over. My house was a fortress of solitude. I don’t know how much you can take, but the shower drain always got clogged with hair and, you know…. My mother suspected me, she checked on me, “Paul! Paul! How do you shower?” “I wash my body, then my hair…” “No! No! You don’t understand how to shower! When you’re an adult you’ll know how to shower! First you have to wash your hair, then your body! The water will carry the hair away if you wash your head first! This way you won’t clog the shower anymore! First head, then body!”
If I refused, she’d say, “If you don’t obey me it just means you don’t care about me! I have to go on my knees and pull out the mess you make with the plunger! You don’t appreciate the work I do!” “Mom! I do appreciate the work you do. It’s unenviable work.” She doesn’t believe in Draino, as if it’s against her religion! I was sick each time it got clogged, at least once a month. “Oh, the water is backing up and it’s not draining. My mom is going to notice this.” She gets on her hands and knees and plunges with the plunger for so long and so deeply that she pulls the sewage out of the drain, not even the sewage we created! Sewage from the street, thick and green, looks like pesto, but smells like feces! Then she scours the shower with cleaning stuff for so long that the nauseating smell of ammonia invades the entire house! She gets fucking stoned out of the bathroom, after sniffing so much ammonia!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Why didn’t you kill her? I’m about to throw up.
PAUL: Oh, I’m still thinking about killing my mother. [Laughs.] Incidentally, I started going bald when I was very young, when I was seventeen, so I was generating a lot of hair! [Laughs too much.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: But you are not bald!
PAUL: Oh, yes I am! [Shows his hairline and top of the head.] See? See? But we were talking of turning handicaps into assets… [Gives back the lint roller.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Oh, yeah! I wish I could do that too… But tell me what you do when there is no more lint?
PAUL: There’s never no more lint! I’d pick the hair off the clothing and I’d iron out the creases in the socks with the warmth of my finger. There’s always something to do to perfect socks. But I stopped doing it. [Makes a gesture if he can sit on BATHROOM ATTENDANT’s chair. BATHROOM ATTENDANT okays it.] If I hadn’t overcome the compulsions, I wouldn’t have any friends, anything, all I’d have was a clean pile of socks… [Picks up BATHROOM ATTENDANT’s book.] Amazon Beaming. What’s this book about?! “The strange and wonderful tale of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre's mystical journal from the depths of the Amazon basin to the river's ultimate source in the Andes.”
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: About a tribe in Amazonia that communicates through telepathy. I am a metaphysical painter.
PAUL: What does a metaphysical painter paint?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: I don’t know. I had to call myself something. Let the critics bother about it. I don’t have a degree in painting, but I paint! It was impossible to get into the Art Academy at home. There were few seats and they were state controlled, so only high rank communists’ kids got in, and kids of established artists. You remind me of my ex-wife when you twitch. Be honest and tell me if I embarrass you. Americans are such sensitive twisted hypocrites.
PAUL: Oh, no! [Laughs.] How do I remind you of her?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: It’s a good memory! This was back in ’91. That year I got sick of taking entrance exams at the Art Academy. I took like six of them. Always we went there at the gates of this Academy and looked up at the lists. I was always under the red line. We got used to looking right under the red line, finding my name right there. Almost made it! Next year, for sure!
PAUL: They posted the grades even if you failed?!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Yes.
PAUL: That is cruel!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Communism. It ruined my morale. I got tired of my parents nagging me; my mother-in-law was always picking on me; my wife was a successful musician; I had no degree, there was always tension there; so I gave up and went to try my luck by taking the entrance exam at the Language University.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: They had 100 seats, while at the Art Academy they only had 10. So we were checking the listings but my name was not under the red line! So I said, “Honey, this must be the wrong list!”
PAUL: The test grades listings?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: The test grades, yes. And we went around and checked other lists, but my name was nowhere! We came back to the first list and my wife looks up higher and she says, “Look, Paul, there!” I was the second from the top! I was so joyous. She had to keep on saying, “Who is a student?” “Paul is a student!” “Who is a student?” “Paul is a student.” That day was the most beautiful day of my life. We didn’t go home. We were happy strolling in the city we both loved. But my wife was looking up so much at these listings, her eyes somehow got hung up like she was still reading the top of the listings and she couldn’t bring them to look down! Maybe it was her medication! She was for hours up! up! up! and she started twitching. I tried putting my thumbs on her eyes to make her stop but she couldn’t stop. I said, “Look at the neon signs! Pretend you are reading them!” So I have a good feeling about your twitching! It was a good memory!
PAUL: Thank you. You know, my name is Paul too.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: After the Pope?
PAUL: No. My grandpa. What else is on your mind these days? [Laughs.] I’m having a much better time with you than at the party.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Gaining weight. To see my body change.
PAUL: Uh, that! I was panicking today. I went out a belt notch!
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: I’d like to tone it up. I want to do that. But I don’t do it. It’s strange because I just got my green card.
[He rummages in his pockets, pulls out a $5 bill and starts ironing it with his finger, then folds it minutely.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Thank you. I asked my girlfriend. I said, “Did I lose my spark?” Joie de vivre.
PAUL: What did she say?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Nothing. But she always says nothing. I feel, before I had my green card, I could not do whatever I wanted to do because of the green card, but now that I have it I don’t know what’s wrong! I wait for someone to unleash me! I don’t want to be compliant anymore. All these years I was compliant, prove myself to people who aren’t even qualified to appraise my credentials, to let me stay here! And I’m always waiting for someone else to say something to unleash me. Why can’t I unleash myself?! Maybe someone brings me the answer, no?
PAUL: [Amused he looks over his shoulder for that someone.] You don’t expect that from me, do you?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Sure. We are all angels to each other.
PAUL: Okay. I’ve seen this happen to Midwesterners. They come here ambitious and then they lose their ambition and just fall into a rut. You know why? It’s because of the overpowering buildings. It’s like those people in the Amazonian jungle—the vistas are so closed in there that they don’t develop any depth of field. If you draw a mouse in the foreground and an elephant in the background they say it’s a giant mouse and a small elephant.
FEMALE VOICE: [O.S.] Paul! Paul, are you there?
PAUL: Coming, Honey! In the Midwest, people have all this space and they grow up to be ambitious, they want to get away from their high school friends who end up working at the gas station, and they come to New York City and bang, there is no depth, the buildings are crowding them in! All you hit your eyes on are oppressive buildings and more buildings. Were there any large buildings in Transylvania?
[Places the $5 bill in the tip jar.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Thank you. The government palaces, sure, but otherwise, it’s like here, down in the Village. Why don’t Midwesterns look up? Up! Look at those endless buildings! The sky!
PAUL: There is no depth when you look up.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: But the sky… You know, I’m so tired of elbowing my way through ambitious, boring people. [Straightens his back.] I want to look up, look up, no more compliant stoop! Up to the sky, maybe I see God, no? Maybe I kick Him in the butt! Unleash myself!
FEMALE VOICE: [O.S.] Paul!
PAUL: [Laughs.] What if God unleashes His butt on you?
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Well, then I work in the right place!
FEMALE VOICE: [O.S.] Paul, what’s taking you so long?
PAUL: Sorry! Lint picking, Honey! Look, I have to go, but it was a pleasure meeting you.
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Have fun. Come again.
PAUL: I will.
[BATHROOM ATTENDANT fishes out his tip. Sits down.]
BATHROOM ATTENDANT: Alas, I’ll be here!
New York City