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11/15/13

Welcome to Our Neighborhood!

FLORINA CERCEL, 35 years old, an impoverished, though overly-educated, freshly-immigrated Romanian, life still in disarray.
Late September, 2001. Evening, around 8:00 P.M.
Bloomfield, New Jersey, a staircase in front of FLORINA's apartment, second floor.
FLORINA has a purple beauty mask on her face and a bandana that makes her hair stick up. She wears an apron and slippers. She's embarrassed by the way she looks, is defensive, scared. A TIRED AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN and her four kids stand in front of her on the staircase. FLORINA’s son, MIRCEA, 11 year old,
listens quietly to the outpouring of the AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN. After listening, FLORINA takes over and becomes unstoppable.

FLORINA
[Starts slowly.] Let me get this straight, please. I am a foreigner and have trouble with New Jersey accents. I'm also dead tired; I've just arrived half an hour ago, I had a hard day and I hoped for a quiet evening, reading beautiful plays, and have funny talks with my son. Instead you've interrupted my dishwashing and radio listening, and this mask itches to death.
Never mind.

[Casual, but speeding up.] So, you were saying that your son who suffers from asthma was almost killed by my son, and you've just come from the emergency room because he had a bump on the back of his neck and he could have been dead by now, killed by my son, an 11-year-old murderer and now you'll have to stay home all week and take care of him. Is that so? Please don't talk, you've talked enough, let me understand, because we won't get anywhere. Just nod. Yes? Yes.

[Lecturing.] Okay, now let me tell you this: I know my son and I have never seen him being unjust to anyone, or hurting anyone. If he hit your son, I am sure that your son hit him first. Yes, you are right, maybe your son could be dead by now but so could my son, both of them lying bleeding on the cement while Mr. San Giovanni, the principal, doesn't give a shit about it. Now, when I came home I saw my son had a scratch on his eyelid, but I thought it was a sty again, because he doesn't have health insurance, so when he had a sty I had to cure him myself, so I thought it's the sty again, but when I asked him, he said he got that scratch from a tree, okay? [To MIRCEA.] But now it comes out it was not a tree, and I don't want this to happen again, do you hear me? Go and switch off the stove. It smells of burnt milk.

[To the AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN, smiling.] You know what I think? It was your son, who lies to us both, it was your son, Madam. If my child said that your son took from him the blue plastic knife he found in the school yard, he took it though it was not his, and bullied my child, then my son did the right thing hitting him back! Look, Madam, don't interrupt me, okay!

[Slightly threatening. Faster, building up to a huff.] I am a single mother, so he has to look after himself, no bully will mess with him. My son is an orange belt, if you saw him on Harvest Day Festival demonstrating in front of the Recreational Civic Center and saw his photo in the papers, you'd know he is an athlete, he goes three times a week to Tae Kwon Do training, at the Universal Martial Arts, because he has to learn the art of kicking and punching and self-defense, until he gets a black belt. That's why I pay $75 a month, okay? Master Walter teaches him self-defense and no one will mess with my son, and with me for that matter.

[Relaxing, switching to a nicer tone.] Now, if you came here with kind thoughts, trying to find out the truth and try to make these immature boys understand that now we have to stick together because hard times will come for us people on Orange Street, when we won't have what to eat and whom to marry because men will go to war against terrorists, then I am with you, Madam. But if you came here to make me say I'm sorry that this happened to your son, and then use my words of sympathy to get money out of me, you are very wrong. Therefore, though I am sorry, I can't tell you I'm sorry, because this is not Romania, where kids are kids and people don't sue left and right out of the blue—[In disbelief, shares this small gossip.] I hear you here in Bloomfield have burglars who sue the burglarized victim that they over-waxed their floor and they slipped on it and broke a leg, and the burglar wins. Well, if that's the case with you, I am very sorry to say that I can't shake hands with you, and have no penny to give you. All I can give you is a book about friendship that I got from church. [To MIRCEA.] Go and bring it. From now on, Mircea you won't go outside and play with kids that afterwards come and lie about you, okay?

[To the AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN. Earnest.] I am sorry if I sound too harsh, but I am at a loss here. Perhaps you are a nice lady, single mother yourself, regrettably we meet under such circumstances that make me fear you are a sue monger. [Winning smile.] Whichever the case, my landlord is a cop and he said I should tell anyone to [Daintily. Must be a lady!] bugger off.
Good night. Go inside, Mircea.

[She shuts the door gently, as the group of kids and the other mother walk down the squeaking old wooden staircase.]

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