How Can We Have A Picnic
A homeless man and a woman who is there to meet a friend for lunch encounter each other at a park bench in Fort Mason, SF.
|Bum||40ish, though could be older|
|Woman||45ish, though no older|
Two runners, in typical running gear. (Short parts–may be omitted.)
The only crucial items for the set are a park bench, and a (full) trash receptacle.
The play takes about 25 minutes to perform
|It is a beautiful day in San Francisco: blue sky; a slight breeze. We see a bench which is on the upper part of Fort Mason, on a grassy slope, allowing a person sitting on this bench to view the buildings and parking lot of the cultural center below, and the grass, docking area and water of the Marina beyond it. A full city garbage can is next to the bench. Behind the bench are a grassy field and in the distance, the modest houses which once comprised the officers’ quarters for the Fort, and currently function as a youth hostel, park service office, and other public city functions.
A bum enters. In the neighborhood of forty and balding, he is immediately identifiable as a bum: not by his old wrinkled pants and jacket, or by his floppy hat and overgrown hair, all of which could be found on many average working San Franciscans, but by his sleeping bag roll and shopping bag. The bum stops to view the gorgeous scene before him, putting down his bag and breathing in the air. His body, though young, is somewhat stiff and more stooped than you would expect in a man of 40. A sea gull caws and he looks up receptively; it shits on him, the poop landing on his hat. He reaches up, feels it, removes hat, stares at it, sighs. He feels in his pocket for a handkerchief or rag. Finding none, he tries to shake it off, succeeding only in shaking it onto his pants. He examines pants, sighs, shakes head. Leaning over to wipe hat on grass, he notices the garbage can. He goes over to the can, and starts looking for a napkin. He tries to open a bag one-handed. Finally he puts his hat on the ground and starts looking through brown bags, dropping them on the ground when he is done. No napkins are in the first but there is an empty soda can. Quaffing the dregs, he stashes it under his arm. The second bag is Kentucky Fried. Finding an almost whole chicken leg, he looks around for a place to put it; he finally puts it back in the box and puts that under his arm. The soda can there drops; he picks that up and puts it into his pocket. The third bag has a napkin, but also a second soda can. He decides to make a pile of his treasures, but in doing so inadvertently walks on his hat, which, due to the poo on it then sticks to his shoe. After trying to grab it, missing it and walking on it 2-3 times, he hops to the bench, collapses on it, removes the hat from his foot, and with napkins he found, tries to clean it.
Two runners come along the path behind the bench.]
|RUNNER 1:||So naturally I called my broker, and I said, “Carla,”
[Here he bumps into the bum’s chicken and soda can stash.]
|RUNNER 2:||What was that?|
|RUNNER 1:||Oh, some trash. [Speaking pointedly, in direction of bum.] I remember when people put their trash in the cans.|
|RUNNER 2:||Yeah, that’ll date you.
[The runners go off, with one making a nasty gesture at the bum. The bum gets up to survey the damage. He retrieves everything; puts the cans in his shopping bag. Examines chicken leg, now squashed. He decides to eat it anyway, and sits on the bench putting the chicken box next to himself, and taking off his backpack. He eats carefully, putting the bones in the box.
Meanwhile, a woman enters. Her appearance might be described as Middle American Dated: a practical skirt, heels, neat hairdo, sensible sweater. She is neither old enough nor dated enough to wear a hat or gloves; prim would be too strong a word for her, but she is leaning in that direction.
The woman enters hurrying but when she sees the clutter surrounding the bench, which was her destination, she stops short, and stands some ten feet away, watching the man in disgust. She checks her watch. Looks around.
The bum meanwhile has gotten every single bit of chicken off the bones, and wipes his fingers carefully, leaving that trash in the box on the bench. His appetite whetted, he goes back to the trash can and starts looking for more. the first three bags have nothing; he drops these in the same spot. The woman finally speaks.]
|WOMAN:||It’s really disgusting the way you leave it all over, so everybody else has to look at it.
[He looks up, starts to speaks, then says nothing. Looking through a bag, he has found a beer bottle, so he goes to bench to drink beer. Finishing that, he realizes she is still there.]
|MAN:||What are you, the Trash Patrol? [She looks away, says nothing.] Is this your can? [Chuckles to himself.] Do you have a Sergeant? [Salutes with the beer bottle] Yes, Sir, trash in hand, Sir. Get it: “trash in hand”?|
This play was first performed in 1992, at the Onstage Theatre in Pleasant Hill, California. At the time, there were relatively modest numbers of homeless wandering the city. I had no idea I was writing something that not only would not go out of date, but would take on greater relevance with the ever-increasing numbers of homeless in cities all over America.
The actor who played the Man was just back from a number of years working in New York, and told me afterward, “It’s so great to work with a really well-written character.“ Since it was my first adult play ever performed, I was not only thrilled, I treasured every word like a gold coin. It still helps keep me going!
This is a good time to give a “shout out”, as they say now, to Helen Means, who ran the Onstage Theatre for about twenty-five years, bringing not only live theatre to a small town, in an area with very little of it, but encouraging playwrights with her “Off the page and onto the Stage” Series every summer. Artistic Directors all over the Bay Area were glad to leave the risk of producing new work to Helen. Ironically, it was a popular series; she got good audiences for it. The city of Pleasant Hill rented her an old schoolhouse for $1 a year, and with the help of a lot of volunteers, and a lot of locals delighted for a night out to theatre nearby, she made theatre happen year after year, and gave playwrights, actors, and techies a little push at the same time.