A Dopey, Door-busting Friday Afternoon at the Haikulodeon

Here’s this week’s heap of haikus:

Rain evaporates
The Autumn leaves decompose
Snow melts.  Life goes on.

A dagger as sharp
as a lover’s rebuke has
not been invented.

While the Patchouli
smouldered in his filthy room,
his mom got incensed.

There is a structure
to all things and a context
to fence it all in.

You know what they say,
Abyss is as good as a smile …
Jumping off cliff notes.

Using auto-tune
mixed with a hip-hop cadence
kinda creeps me out.

Today may be rough,
tomorrow may be silken …
Life is tactile fun.

Shattering silence,
The car horns’ cacophony,
disturbs my slumber.

Things you don’t forget;
My dad once built a wagon,
for me to ride in.

In a fitful sleep,
memories long forgotten,
rise to consciousness.

Flying through the air,
should be avoided by both,
dentures and toupees.

Try imagining
that strangers you encounter,
are friends from past lives.

She no longer cares
if she impresses others,
she just likes to sing.

A slice of apple,
a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese,
and you by my side.

When the beagle barked,
squirrels would stop and look his way, then
see he was tied up.

When dealing with a
pants-ful of problems, find some
pockets of patience.

A quartet of haikus:

After all these years,
I still haunt the lost and found,
looking for my life.

I still ride the train,
in hope the next station will
be where I get off.

I cross bridges knowing
I can not wash away all
the sins of my life.

I am stuck in time
living out a meager life
extracting fool’s gold.

I may still be lost,
but I am not alone and
that is a comfort.

This week’s bonus play is entitled, The Two Books of Connie Betters.   It was originally produced in 1990 at the New Hope Performing Arts Festival


  by Michael Tracy Smith  –  c 1990

Time: 1990

At Rise, the stage is bare except for a small sofa and table downstage.  The lights are low and are set in such a way that when Connie Betters enters from upstage left, he is in silhouette. Connie is 90 years old, yet he stands extremely straight.  He is carrying six books. He crosses slowly to the couch, placing the books lovingly on the table. He then sits on the couch. After a couple of beats, he silently raises his hand, as if to signal someone to bring up the lights. After the second or third gesture, the lights fade up.
The whole trouble with people is that they won’t obey the rules of my life. That’s because they simply care too much about themselves. There’s absolutely no consideration for me, at all. And I’m here to tell ya, that that makes me mad.  But of course, what do you care? I mean, here I am, 90 years old, trying to live my life, the best way I know how, with a set of rigid moral values instilled in me by my sainted parents, may they rest in peace, and reinforced by my teachers, some of whom should squirm in misery, who, year after year, would drum those aforementioned values into my little head.  Not that it took long. I think that by the time I was six, I knew the right and wrong way life should be. I guess you might say I was precocious. But, it was always a great source of frustration and heartache to me, that I so often would be the only one that knew the way everything was supposed to be.  When I was young, I just figured that the other kids were slow, but as I got older I realized that most people were too stup…(correcting himself) too lazy to both appreciate and conform to my strict agenda. That is simply my particular cross to bear. Y’see, I have spent my life secure in my knowledge of the way life is to be lived, and I therefore expect things to happen in a certain way. Then people come along and do something to screw things up. I do my part, I know how I’m supposed to react, but people with their little problems, and their awful little desires, they’re all so concerned about “themselves”, that they can’t see what’s happening just beyond their own eyesight, in my universe.  Y’want to know what’s happening? I know, probably not, but sorry, I’m going to tell you, anyway. For your information, everybody else in the world is trying to elbow you out of the way, and substitute the reality they just created for the one you just created.

You sort of suspected that, didn’t you?   So, there’s absolutely no sense in trying to make out like you can control your life, because you can’t. You have to learn to get out of the way, that’s all …’Cause, everybody thinks the 40 ton dump truck they carry their egos around in, always has to have the right-of-way. But, you’ll have to excuse me, due to circumstances over which I had no control, I’m not going to be able to speak to you at length tonight. Although I’d like to.  But, time being what it is, We’ll have to make do with just a short lesson in which I’ll share a few ideas with you. Not that you’ll remember any of this by the time you brush your teeth tonight. I remember having teeth. These are fake. I always had lots of trouble with my teeth. Eventually, they had to remove most of them. They decayed so badly, they even had to take out parts of my jawbone. And my gums rotted away. I had to take painkillers and antibiotics…it wasn’t any day at the beach, believe me. Just another cross for me to bear … (He takes out a 3×5 card) Good evening Ladies and Gentl … hmm, I guess I can skip that…My name is Connie Betters.  One of the newspapers had an article about my talk tonight.  Called me “Constance”. “Constance” Betters. Everybody always assumes that Connie is short for Constance. Well, in my case, it’s not. You know what happens when you assume don’t you? You make … you make a damned fool of yourself.

Anyway, Somebody screwed up. I was born on August 1, 1900, the last year of the nineteenth century. Now, I don’t want to hear anybody out there whispering anything about 1900 being the start of the twentieth century, It wasn’t. The twentieth century didn’t start until 1901. You don’t start counting with zero, you start with one. I know this is a very quaint and old- fashioned notion, in this age of instant selfish-gratification, in which everyone wants to be the first to look back at last week with nostalgia, but it’s just the damned truth, that’s all. Anyone who doesn’t agree, might as well leave right now, because you’re too lame-brained to talk to. I had a grandson that used to bug me about it all the time. He could never quite grasp the concept, though. He was an idiot.  I watched him grow from a sweet little gurgling baby to a thoroughly annoying teenager, before he got himself run over by an Eyewitness News van. He used to scream at me like I’d lost my mind. “Grampa you’re wrong.” “Grampa, you don’t know anything”. Hmmph, lost my mind, indeed. It was him that lost his mind. Splattered all over a truck on the Grand Central Parkway. I’m sorry. That’s not at all nice. One should never be smug about death. And maybe I shouldn’t always articulate what I think. But what the hell, I’m 90 years old.  What’s it gonna do kill me?

Besides, God made us judgmental. So it’s His fault. He gave us the ability to be judgmental. Unlike animals who can only perceive things in measures of their relationship to each other. For example, both animals and man can judge thatpoint A is higher than point B. But only man can make the judgment that it is BETTER that point A is higher than point B … What that proves, I don’t know. But, we are all judgmental, everyone of us. All the time. And that’s good. The trouble nowadays is that some sappy gurus have gotten together with a bunch of neurotic headshrinkers and simple- minded media types and convinced all of us that being judgmental is bad, or wrong, or manipulative. Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s a blessing. I call it: “Survival of the Opinionated”.  Without being judgmental, you’d never be able to make up your mind. You couldn’t even choose your lunch. Everything on the menu would have equal value. And picking shows to watch on TV would be a problem. You need to be judgmental, or else you could never choose between say, Masterpiece Theatre … and Gilligan’s Island. And re-decorating would take forever. Society would be frozen in indecision. Nothing would be better or worse than anything else. Wall Street would fall into chaos. The American Economy would grind to a halt. And worst of all, none of you would have been able to have decided to come see me. But you did, and I’m glad… Now.  What I’ve come to share with you is this: We perceive Life in two ways. The Way It Should Be, and The Way It Turns Out.    If you all will think back over the last twenty years of your lives, assuming you’ve lived that long, I’m sure you will, at some point, come face to face with the way it should have been. Am I right? Good. It will be followed quickly by a short depressing kick in the chops over the way it turned out.

The potential for self- pity at this moment is staggering.  Unrealized hopes pitted against harsh, blinding reality. The fundamental inequity of life. What do you do? If you’re like most people, you find, as you … grow older, that you gradually start to lower your expectation levels. So that the rift between the Way It Should Be and the Way It Turned Out grows smaller and less distinct. There are even, I believe, some crackpot philosophers, spreading the idea that you can actually live life in reverse. That is, they espouse the notion that The Way It Turned Out IS The Way It Should Be.   Nonsense. Life is not a movie that you can rewind in the projector. Once you allow the Way It Turned Out to become the Way It Should Be, you have paved your way to Hell in a little red handcar. Your moral integrity will be so low, you’ll be able to pick gum out of the gutter with your tongue. That was one of my grandson’s favorite expressions. As I was saying, that’s how most people would approach the uneasy juxtaposition of the Way It Should Be versus The Way It Turned Out … Losers … The whole lot of them. The living of Life must NEVER be undercut in order to reconcile things with The Way It Turns Out.   But Mr. Betters, I can hear you thinking, what else can we do?  Let me show you what I do. I have brought with me tonight, one of my secrets for a happy life.  For the better part of eighty-one years, I have been keeping a diary. Nothing terribly unusual about that, except that I’ve been doing it for eighty-one years. But longevity is not the secret. I have kept my diary in a very special way.  In two parts.  The first I have called (he holds up a beautiful black leather book) The Way It Should Be. The second part,  I’m sure by now you’ll guess, is called, The Way It Turned Out. (he holds up a tattered dog- eared book) I have, through a great deal of introspection and yes, judgmental feelings been able to separate my life into the two halves that I hold before you.  Let me read you a few passages I have selected for comparison. First, from the W.I.S.B. (The Way It Should Be … )   Christmas. The silver and red ornaments that Grandma gave me were shining in the moonlight, as Henrietta and I worked to assemble and arrange the children’s toys beneath the beautiful blue spruce tree that I brought home. Johnny’s sled was placed beside Jenny’s doll house, and I munched on a sugar cookie as I watched the snow gently falling over the peaceful homes in the neighborhood. the kids were up immediately at sunrise, and Henrietta and I watched, our hearts filled with delight as they ripped through their presents, laughing and squealing with glee at each new gift that Santa had left them”… Makes the joy just kind of bubble up, doesn’t it? Now, let me find the corresponding passage in the W.I.T.O. (The Way It Turned Out…): “I think they must have served last year’s egg nog at the party, because I have the worst diarrhea of my life. I’ve been struggling to put Johnny’s sled together for over an hour with no success. That damn spruce is shedding needles faster than a scared porcupine. In my rush to the bathroom, I stubbed my toe on Jenny’s doll house, accidentally spilling the box with the ornaments. So, Henrietta and I were up all night, stringing popcorn. The kids were awake at sunrise, and Johnny stepped on a piece of ornament that I missed, slicing the hell out of his foot. Jenny choked on a sugar cookie. It rained all day.”

Quite a difference, right? Expectations and dreams on the one hand, depression, anxiety and let-down on the other, right? Not necessarily. Let me give you another example:  (First Book) “Jenny went on a first date. Shelton is the handsome, well-mannered captain of the baseball team. Johnny brought home another “A” in Math.” (he switches Books) “Jenny’s first date was a disaster. Shelton is a Neanderthal. He stranded her at the Malt Shop after she refused to french kiss at the movies. Johnny brought home another “A” in Math.”  I’ll bet that last part surprised you, didn’t it? You see, the Way It Turned Out is tricky. It can do weird, funny things like that. And sometimes, if you’re unsuspecting, it can just plain stun you. (First Book) “Today, Henrietta and I are heading off to Jenny’s Graduation. We placed the dog at the Kennel and we will meet Johnny at the airport so we can all drive down together to share Jenny’s big day.” (he switches Books) Johnny’s plane never landed. Henrietta and Shelton and I stood for six hours waiting for word. Finally a voice over the P.A. directed us to a room, where they told us. My son was dead. Crashed into a mountain. No survivors. None at all.” (he closes the Book) It is at times such as this, that I find great comfort in the Good Book. (he holds up the First Book) I mean, at times, this (The second book) can be terribly depressing. Of course, you must not become deluded. The temptation is to want to live only in the Way It Should Be. To eliminate all the consequences. I’m afraid, that’s just not possible. Because, I believe a bright person, such as myself, understands, and for reasons of moral integrity has to admit, the need for these two books to co-exist simultaneously. For without the good book of hopes and expectations these results, (The Second Book) would be meaningless. You’d have nothing to measure them against.  And with only these dreams (The First Book) to build on, eventually they too would be meaningless, since you’d have no grounds on which to structure your reality.

Now I suppose you’d like to know how I grasped this incredibly sophisticated concept at such an early age. Well, I was about eight, when my Uncle Eddie gave me a diary. He was the family historian, and I guess he wanted to pass the job on to me. The diary was very beautiful and very special.  The cover was bright red and it had a nifty velvet place-marker with my name on it. And I wanted so much for it to be the best diary anyone ever kept. Unfortunately, life isn’t very exciting when you’re eight. At least, not in those days. I started writing down what actually happened every day, but it was always such a disappointment, I’d just give up.  Then, one day, I received a letter from Uncle Eddie, addressed right to me, that said he would be coming to visit. This was very exciting since he lived hundreds and hundreds of miles away, and I had never actually met him. Oh, I’d heard all about him, and I’d read all of his letters, and I had even seen some old photos of him when he was a little boy. I thought we looked very much alike. So I imagined him to be a grownup version of me. That night, I wrote two full pages in my diary. Well, Needless to say, Uncle Eddie’s arrival was a major event in our household, thanks to my exceedingly high level of expectation…I was, oh…now how do I say this?…Uncle Eddie turned out to be like nothing my little mind could have created. He was tall, disheveled, with flaky, pockmarked skin, greasy hair combed over an enormous bald spot and he was fat as a house. Not only that but he was damn old! I’m talking from a child’s vantage point, you understand. What could he have been at the most, forty? Anyway, he was too old to be interested in playing with me. I went back to my diary and almost threw it out. I didn’t want to be writing the horrible things I was thinking about Uncle Eddie in the book he gave me. That would not have been polite. So I went into my piggy bank and I got out enough money for a second book. Into which I wrote all of my very real and disappointing feelings about my Uncle. And I felt better. I saw it was easy to keep apart what I wanted from what I got…

Now, I believe a strong, decisive and opinionated Way It Should Be is important. After all, the real stuff can hit you pretty hard. I know that. But mind you, that’s not an excuse to live in dreams. Case in point. As a young lad…(he looks offstage) stop waving at me, I’m almost finished…As a young lad, I remember wasting time, mooning over some  ex-sweetheart of mine a week after breaking up with her.  That silly week takes up twenty-three pages in the Way It Should Be. Odd, but the corresponding week in the Way It Turned Out barely mentions her. It seems I was more in love with my idea of her than I was in love with her. Could it be that it was easier giving her up in real life than in my dreams?  What do you think? Don’t let that happen to you. Because, when all is said and done, the actual living of life occurs in neither of these books, but rather in the emotional swings back and forth between them. And it’s good to have something you can swing back and forth between. That’s the way it should be.  Now, have I made myself clear? I hope so. Because the way that young man over there is waving at me,  I suppose my time is up…Y’know, he wasn’t even in my Way It Should Be for today, but he’s certainly going to be featured prominently in the Way It Turned Out! … Cripes, I was barely out here long enough to get a complete sentence out! (To Offstage person:) I beg your pardon. I’m through for the moment. If you could stop waving long enough, maybe you could fade the lights out! (The lights do NOT fade out.)

(CONNIE gives a hand signal. Nothing happens. He signals again. Nothing.) … 

Well, I guess you’re stuck with me.  This reminds of the time I was …

(The lights go out. Exit music begins to play.  In silhouette we see Connie get up, look offstage, throw up his hands and walk offstage. )

The idea for this play sprang from a telephone conversation i had with my mom in 1989.  We were talking about being judgmental.   At one point she said, “Why don’t you write something about a person keeping two diaries …”  So I wrote a one-person play about a woman named Constance Betters and received a small grant to have it produced at the New Hope Arts Festival in Pennsylvania.   About a week before the performance, however, I got a call from the actress that had been cast in the role, telling me that her father had died in California and she was going to have to drop out of the show.  I had already spent the small stipen I had received from the Arts Festival, so, out of desperation, I had to take on the role myself.  After being diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in 1985, I had given up on the idea of pursuing my acting career, but I figured that no one would question a 90 year old having severe arthritis.  I changed the character’s name to Connie and the sex of the character to male.  Since some of the publicity had already been sent out with the Constance Betters title, I had to threw in a line to explain the change.  After performing the role, I realized the play worked better with the character being male.   The following year I wrote a sequel and a few years after that, a third play featuring the Connie Betters character.

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