Patio Fable

© 1994 Dave Awl

[Dave Awl sits on stage next to a small table on which sit three plastic patio animals, or lawn ornaments, of the kitschy-whimsical kind that turn up in the Lawn & Garden aisle of Osco around May. As the narrator reads the following story over the PA, Greg Kotis picks up the animals and manipulates them as puppets to indicate their dialogue. Dave supplies facial expressions and body movements as the narrator reads the lines belonging to "the man," but does not mouth the words. Everything occurs in silent action, in sync with the text of the story.]

Narrator: Once there was a man whose closest friends were a turtle, a fox and a raccoon. He spent all his time with them, laughing and talking and discussing fine points of grammar.

"Remember," the fox would say, "one must never confuse the proper uses of the verbs 'lay' and 'lie.' "

"Right you are," the turtle would say. "The verb 'to lay' requires an object, whereas the verb 'to lie' is intransitive."

Then the man, barely able to contain his excitement, would use both words properly in a sentence, and the others would laugh and clap their hands with delight at his cleverness.

And so it went, until one day the raccoon was expounding on the difference between the words 'continuous' and 'continual.'

"'Continuous,' you see, refers to something that happens without stopping, while 'continual' means it happens again and again."

"You know," said the turtle, who had been deep in thought, "did it ever occur to you that maybe you spend too much time discussing linguistics with small animals? Perhaps you should try and make some friends among your own kind."

"What are you talking about?" cried the man. "You three are all the friends I need! As far as I'm concerned, the rest of the world can go hang!"

"The turtle is right," said the fox, "of course we're your friends, but you need to spend some time with other human beings now and again."

"Like whom?" asked the man.

"Well," said the fox, "How about this chap who picks me up occasionally and manipulates me to create the impression that I am speaking? He seems like a charming and decent enough fellow. Why don't you ask him to a movie or something?"

[During the following paragraph, Dave stands up, somewhat shyly, and waits as Greg Kotis walks around to his side of the table. The two then cross to the other side of the stage where two chairs in a blue light suggest a movie theatre.]

And so the others talked him into spending an evening with the strange man, and although things went pleasantly enough, the man kept thinking of his animal friends and how they would be reacting to the film he was watching.

"Did you hear that?" The man asked his companion at one point. "That fellow just used the word 'among' when he should have said 'between.' I should like to hear what the raccoon would have to say about that!"

But his companion merely glanced at him oddly for a moment, and then turned his attention back to the film.

The man decided he had been right to think that nobody could possibly understand him as well as his animal friends, and hurried home to tell them all about his evening. But when he arrived, he found that his friends had become three lifeless plastic figures, cold and silent and incapable of forming the simplest compound sentence.

[Dave runs back to the first table, and discovers the three animals now "lifeless." He picks them up and stares at them in great horror.]

For the next 3 days, the man tried to content himself by reading The Elements of Style over and over again, but it was no use. His loneliness and confusion were overwhelming. Finally, in desperation, he returned to the movie theatre where he found the other man still sitting in his seat as if he had never moved.

[Dave has sadly trudged back to the "movie theatre", where he sees Greg Kotis, and sits.]

The man sat down beside him, and all at once the other man looked up and said:

[Greg Kotis looks over at Dave and speaks this final line aloud, the only line in the play spoken on stage.]

"You know--you were right. He did mean to say 'between.'"


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