The Sidewalk Genie, or, The Limit of Happiness (A Short Play)

31 Plays in 31 Days #26

(A busy sidewalk. The sounds of a city. Possibly, random actors walk back and forth as happens on a sidewalk.)

(A small, glass bauble sits in the middle of the sidewalk, glowing slightly. Passerby ignore it.)

(Enter a PERSON, tapping on their cellphone. The PERSON accidentally steps on the bauble and it breaks.)

(A GENIE appears [flies in from the ceiling] in a flash of lightning and thunder.)

GENIE
Ha-HA! EXCELLENT! YOU HAVE RELEASED ME!

PERSON
What?

(The PERSON laughs as if it was a good practical joke, and looks around.)

PERSON
Heh, nice. Wow, good job.

GENIE
YOU GET THREE WISHES.

PERSON
I know, right? Awesome. How are you doing the levitation thing?

(The PERSON looks around at the passerby and notices they are giving the Person funny looks. The PERSON frowns.)

GENIE
I HAVE POWERS BEYOND YOUR RECKONING. ANYTHING YOU DESIRE… YOURS, WITHIN CERTAIN LIMITATIONS. NO – NOT LIMITATIONS – CONSTRAINTS TO FORCE YOUR WISHES TO BE MORE EXCELLENT. EXCELLENCE! Ha-HA!

PERSON
(talking to passerby)
Um… I think it’s one of those… flash mob things… performance art… or…

GENIE
ONLY YOU CAN SEE ME.

PERSON
Right, right, ha ha. Uhh. Look do I need to give you a dollar or…

GENIE
YOUR WISHES ARE MY GIFT TO YOU FOR FREEING ME. I SHALL GRANT THEM AND THEN DISSAPATE INTO THE WORLD, A LIBERATED SPIRIT AT LAST.

PERSON
Why isn’t… anyone else… looking at… you…

GENIE
ONLY YOU CAN SEE ME.

PERSON
Ahem.

(The PERSON sidles over towards the edge of the sidewalk out of the way of traffic and holds the cellphone up to ear, in order to pretend to be on the cellphone while actually talking to the Genie.)

PERSON
Oh, hi, nonexistent person on the other end of the line! Oh, no, I’m actually talking to the person playing the genie.

GENIE
INTERESTING.

PERSON
Look, you’re doing a very good job, but just let me know what I’m supposed to play here cause I’ve got to get to work…

GENIE
AH. YOU CAN MAKE YOUR WISHES AT ANY TIME. I WILL STAY WITH YOU UNTIL YOU DO. DO NOT FRET; ONE DAY TO YOU IS A SECOND TO MY ETERNITY.

PERSON
Okay. Stop. I’m done. Don’t talk about following me.

GENIE
UNFORTUNATELY, ONCE I AM FREED, I AM BOUND TO MY LIBERATOR UNTIL MY DEBT IS REPAID. SUCH ARE THE MOST EXCELLENT RULES OF MY ORDER.

PERSON
All right. Excuse me.

(The PERSON drops a dollar randomly on the ground and starts walking off [walking in place]. The GENIE hovers behind [stays still].)

PERSON
Okay stop following me.
(vaguely to the passerby)
What, are you all in on it?
I walk this street every day and I’ve never seen this. Did I miss a YouTube video?

GENIE
TECHNOLOGY HAS CHANGED THESE PAST CENTURIES. WHEN I WAS IMPRISONED, A MERCHANT ON THE STREET WOULD HAVE BOWED AND WEPT AT THE SIGHT OF ME. NOW YOU THINK I AM SOME SORT OF JEST.

PERSON
YOU’RE CREEPING ME OUT!

(The PASSERBY look strangely at the PERSON.)

PERSON
Okay okay you win I lose just come out and let me sign the TV approval contract.
Seriously guys it’s not funny.
La la la fine whatever I can be patient, let’s just see you walk into my office. La la la on my cellphone.

GENIE
I ASSURE YOU, I AM QUITE REAL AND SO ARE MY POWERS.

PERSON
La la la what a lovely cellphone conversation.

GENIE
OBSERVE MY FLIGHT.

(The GENIE hovers up and down.)

GENIE
I CAN BLOT OUT THE SUN TEMPORARILY.

(The lights go down and up. The PERSON notices that the PASSERBY notice this.)

VOICES OF PASSERBY
Was that a plane? Did we just have an eclipse? I think I blacked out. That was weird. Murmur murmur murmur.

PERSON
Um…

GENIE
Ha-HA! YOU SEE!

PERSON
Then… make yourself visible.

GENIE
THAT IS ONE OF THE CONSTRAINTS. ONLY MY LIBERATOR MAY SEE ME. ONLY MY LIBERATOR MAY MAKE WISHES. I STAY WITH MY LIBERATOR UNTIL MY DEBT IS REPAID. THREE WISHES IS STANDARD, THOUGH SOME SPIRITKIND CHARGE ONLY TWO, AND SOME ARE REALLY CRAZY AND OFFER FOUR OR FIVE. I KNEW AN IFREET ONCE WHO OFFERED THIRTY, BUT HE WAS KIND OF A DICK (IN THE PARLANCE OF YOUR TIMES) AND HE ALWAYS MISINTERPRETED THEM IN LITERAL AND ONLY SLIGHTLY AMUSING WAYS, SUCH THAT IT WAS MORE OF A KIND OF TORTURE FOR HIS LIBERATOR THAN ANYTHING. HE ALWAYS ENDED UP GETTING RE-IMPRISONED BEFORE HE COULD ESCAPE.

PERSON
Re-imprisoned?

GENIE
IFREET CAN BE RE-IMPRISONED. GENIES CAN NOT. IT IS VERY COMPLEX.

PERSON
I wish you to be re-imprisoned.

GENIE
NOTHING. SEE? THAT’S ONE WISH YOU CAN’T DO.

PERSON
Oh Jesus.

GENIE
NICE FELLOW.

PERSON
Uh-huh right.
Well fine go on. Nonexistent person on my cellphone, tell me of the wish restraints. I suppose I have to go through with this.

GENIE
YOU STILL DO NOT BELIEVE.

PERSON
No no I’m tooootally with you.

GENIE
I SUPPOSE YOU WOULD RATHER SEE THIS AS A PRANK THAN BELIEVE IN THE POWERS OF YOUR BENEFACTOR. HAVE MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION SEEPED SO COMPLETELY OUT OF THIS DRY OLD WORLD?

PERSON
Oh my god. Of course. This is a dream.

GENIE
ALL RIGHT THEN. WAKE UP.

PERSON
I wish to wake up.

GENIE
WISHES FOR THINGS WHICH CANNOT HAPPEN ARE NULL AND VOID.

PERSON
Aw gee, you have a lot of restrictions on your wishes, don’t you. All right. I wish for a-

GENIE
YOU WILL REGRET IT.

PERSON
Uh-
I-

GENIE
IF YOU WISH FOR SOME RIDICULOUS AND SMALL THING LIKE A CHEESEBURGER, YOU WILL REGRET THAT YOU DIDN’T WISH FOR MORE.

PERSON
Uh-
Right, because it’s not like the cheeseburger is going to appear anyways.

GENIE
YOU HESITATE. THE HIDDEN, SUPPRESSED MAGICAL PART OF YOUR MIND RECOGNIZES ME, AND REVOLTS AGAINST YOUR CONSCIOUS ATTEMPTS TO RATIONALIZE THIS SITUATION. DO NOT DO SO. THIS IS A BOON. ENJOY YOUR SPOILS.

PERSON
Fine, I wish for a briefcase – an unlocked briefcase that I can open – that-

GENIE
YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE SO SPECIFIC, I AM NOT A DICK LIKE THE IFREET. I CAN READ YOUR INTENTIONS AND GIVE YOU PRECISELY WHAT YOU TRULY WANT; I ONLY REQUIRE THAT YOU STATE A SIMPLE VERSION OF THE WISH ALOUD.

PERSON
All right. Ready? I wish for a briefcase filled with-
No. No that’s probably what everyone says. You assholes probably have that ready, right?
No no no.
I wish for… a… uh… for a… uh… a treasure chest to appear right here in front of me containing enough cheeseburgers wrapped in hundred dollar bills to add up to one million dollars.

GENIE
LET IT BE!

PERSON
Ooo, bo-

(A flash of light.)

PERSON
-y.

(A treasure chest has appeared.)

(The PERSON looks around. The PASSERBY have noticed the treasure chest.)

VOICES OF PASSERBY
Wow! Where did that come from? Ha ha, nice one, is it pirate day? Are you advertising something? Woah, could you please move your giant movie prop out of the middle of the sidewalk? Did you see that?

GENIE
I TOOK THE LIBERTY OF BRIEFLY ALTERING THE MEMORY OF THE PASSERBY SO THAT THEY WOULDN’T FREAK OUT (IN THE PARLANCE OF YOUR DAY) AT ITS SUDDEN APPEARANCE. THAT COMES STANDARD.

PERSON
Um.
(swallowing, nervous)
Uh.

(The PERSON opens the chest. PASSERBY slow down their walk to peek in.)

(The PERSON pulls out a fresh cheeseburger wrapped in hundred dollar bills. PASSERBY gawk.)

PERSON
Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Not what it looks like!

(The PERSON closes the chest and drags it off to one side, into a spot where there are fewer passerby.)

PERSON
Great, people are staring at me, and I’ve got this… thing to drag around…

GENIE
COUNT IT. IT’S ONE MILLION.

PERSON
No, I saw. I saw all the bills and the…

(Pause.)

(The PERSON starts laughing, a little bit unhinged.)

PERSON
Okay, I said I wanted to wake up. This dream is lucid now.
FUCK YOU WHAT ARE YOU STARING AT
This dream is lucid. I wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
(starting to cry a little)
Wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up wake up
STOP HOVERING THERE YOU PIECE OF SHIT.

GENIE
IS THAT A WISH?

PERSON
NO!

GENIE
THEN SORRY. HOVERING IS MORE COMFORTABLE FOR ME. NOT TO BE RUDE.

PERSON
APPEAR TO OTHER PEOPLE!

GENIE
Unable to.

PERSON
I don’t want to be crazy.
I really don’t.
I was so fucking sane this morning. I had toast. I read the paper. I remember everything between now and then. There was a smelly lady on the subway. Look, I still have the text from Joanne about the surprise party at work. I’m not aware of a history of insanity in my family. My grandmamma was sharp as a tack up until the day she died. In fact I don’t know anyone with schizophrenia, not that it’s contagious or anything, I mean, if it was, the smelly lady and the guy who hangs out outside of work on Mondays would have given everyone in the city it… Oh Jesus look at me, people across the street are sitting at that café and talking about how they passed me earlier opening my chest full of hamburgers and money and making fun of me, probably because they think it was fake money or some weird performance art, and I’ve totally done that to the actual crazy homeless people oh my god… am I dead?

GENIE
UH. NO, YOU ARE QUITE ALIVE. AND CAN HAVE MANY YEARS TO ENJOY YOUR SPOILS.

PERSON
Do you read the future?

GENIE
ONLY IF YOU WISH IT. I WAS JUST SAYING, YOU SEEM HEALTHY. AS LONG AS YOU DON’T EAT ALL THE HAMBURGERS. I DID PUT PICKLES AND MAYONAISSE ON THEM THE WAY YOU LIKE.

PERSON
Really?

(The PERSON unwraps the one burger and takes a bite absent-mindedly.)

PERSON
That’s really good.

(The PERSON continues to eat, and starts actively bawling more and more with every delicious bite.)

PERSON
Th-this i-is a r-really g-good ch-cheeseb-burger-r-r…. WAAAHH.

GENIE
THERE, THERE.

PERSON
Give me a hug, hallucination.

GENIE
DO YOU WISH IT?

PERSON
Oh god. I guess that means this cheeseburger I’m eating is a hallucination too. I’ve really lost it if I can taste things that aren’t there.

GENIE
IT’S REAL, I ASSURE YOU.

PERSON
Maybe I blacked out. Maybe I’m so far gone that I stole a million dollars when I was asleep like in some movie and bought a treasure chest and a bunch of cheeseburgers and then hallucinated a genie to explain to my conscious self where it all came from. That would explain it.

GENIE
OR, I’M A REAL GENIE. LOOK AT IT THIS WAY. EITHER YOU’RE CRAZY, IN WHICH CASE YOU CAN’T DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

PERSON
I think they called the police over there. Crazy person with a treasure chest of money? Worth a look. That’s a homeland security issue really. I can just wait for the police, and they can lock me up and take the money back to the bank. And then I can go to the mental hospital and they can make me better.

GENIE
ALL RIGHT. YOU CAN EITHER GO TO THE MENTAL HOSPITAL AND LIVE OUT YOUR LIFE THERE, BECAUSE I WILL CONTINUE TO BE AROUND UNTIL YOUR LIFE IS OVER, AND PERHAPS THEY WILL CONVINCE YOU TO LIE ABOUT SEEING ME, AND YOU WILL BE RELEASED AND LIVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE IGNORING ME. OR PERHAPS THEY WILL ASK YOU TO MAKE A WISH THAT THEY COULD SEE, AND YOU WILL, AND I’LL DO IT, AND IT WILL HAVE INTERESTING RESULTS.

PERSON
What happens if I die without making the wishes?

GENIE
I BECOME AN IFREET.

PERSON
Oh. Hunh.

GENIE
YEAH.
SO I’D RATHER YOU MAKE YOUR WISHES NOW AND WE BOTH WIN. IT WILL BE MOST EXCELLENT, I ASSURE YOU. BECAUSE – EITHER YOU ARE CRAZY OR I AM REAL AND THERE ARE MORE THINGS IN HEAVEN AND EARTH THAN ARE DREAMT OF IN YOUR PHILOSOPHY. WHICH WOULD YOU RATHER IT BE?

PERSON
I’d… rather… I be crazy.

GENIE
YOU’D RATHER BE CRAZY THAN BE HAPPY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.

PERSON
Well sure. There’s a limit to how much happiness is worth, right? If it was worth being crazy to be happy, everyone would just take pills and acid and think real hard and try to make themselves crazy and live out their days cheerfully drooling in an asylum somewhere. But losing reality isn’t worth the cheer.

GENIE
I SEE. WELL… YOU NEVERTHELESS HAVE TWO MORE WISHES.

PERSON
No! I don’t! Genies don’t exist. I don’t get two more wishes. I don’t want that to be the case! See, if I’m sane and you’re real, then the everything I believed was wrong! Science! Religion! Life! If you were real, the whole world would be a scary place… with demons… and ghosts…

GENIE
WELL, YES. BUT THEY WON’T BOTHER YOU UNLESS YOU WISH FOR ME TO LET YOU SEE THEM.

PERSON
Oh god!
I just want this to be over.

GENIE
THEN I SUGGEST YOU MAKE YOUR WISHES. CONSIDER THIS: IF YOU ARE CRAZY, YOUR DELUSION SEEMS TO REQUIRE TWO MORE WISHES. MAKE THEM, AND THEN I WILL BE GONE, AND YOU CAN DISMISS ‘THAT TIME YOU SAW A GENIE’ AS SOME CRAZY DAY YOU HAD WHERE YOU HALLUCINATED THINGS, AND MOVE ON AND LIVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE NORMALLY, AS LONG AS YOU DON’T STEP ON ANYMORE MAGIC BAUBLES.

PERSON
How did you get there anyways? Nevermind, I don’t care. The problem is… even if you’re gone… this treasure chest is still here.

GENIE
THEN RATIONALIZE IT SOME WAY. AND DON’T WISH FOR ANYTHING YOU CAN’T IMAGINE THAT YOU ACQUIRED WHILE IN A FUGUE STATE.

PERSON
I…

GENIE
IT’S THAT, OR DEAL WITH ME FROM NOW UNTIL YOUR DEATH.

PERSON
Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and be all better.

GENIE
OR YOU’LL WAKE UP TOMORROW AND HAVE GONE ACTUALLY INSANE, SUCH THAT YOUR CONSCIOUS MIND BLOCKS ME OUT, AND NEXT THING YOU KNOW I’M AN IFREET. PLEASE, AT LEAST CONSIDER YOUR WISHES. WISH FOR SOMETHING RIDICULOUS AND SMALL.

PERSON
I wish for world peace. At least if I’m crazy I can do that.

GENIE
UH… NOT ALLOWED.

PERSON
DAMMIT! WHAT IS ALLOWED?

GENIE
ALL YOUR WISHES MUST BE SELFISH. AND NO “I WISH SELFISHLY FOR WORLD PEACE.” ACTUALLY SELFISH – LIKE A TREASURE CHEST FULL OF CHEESEBURGERS WRAPPED IN A MILLION DOLLARS, ALL YOURS. (THEY’RE GETTING COLD, BY THE WAY. KEEP EATING BEFORE THE BILLS ALL GET SOGGY.) ALL YOUR WISHES MUST LEAVE THE WORLD IN A NATURAL STATE. WHILE THE WISH IS HAPPENING, I CAN ALTER REALITY, BUT ONCE IT’S DONE, REALITY OPERATES ON ITS EVERYDAY RULES, PHYSICS AND ALL THAT. IN OTHER WORDS – WISHING FOR A CHEST TO APPEAR: ALLOWABLE. WISHING FOR A CHEST THAT ALWAYS MAGICALLY HAS CHEESEBURGERS IN IT: NOT ALLOWABLE. WHY? BECAUSE IT WOULD HAVE TO BE CONTINIOUSLY MAGIC, EVEN AFTER THE INITIAL WISH WAS DONE. NOT ALLOWED. IT’S A ONE-AND-DONE ALTERATION. YOU CAN WISH TO BE TALLER, BUT NOT FOR THE ABILITY TO STRETCH YOURSELF TALLER AT WILL. YOU CAN WISH TO FLY, BUT ONLY IF YOU WANT ME TO INSTALL A HELIUM SAC IN YOUR DIAPHRAGM. THE MAGIC HAPPENS AND THEN IT’S DONE.

PERSON
Well dang, that sucks.

GENIE
YOU CAN STILL WISH FOR SO MUCH.

PERSON
I suppose the Aladdin rules apply too – no wishing for more wishes, or death, or love.

GENIE
NO WISHING FOR MORE WISHES OR ANY WISHES THAT AFFECT ME – NO WISHING ME AWAY, OR CHANGING MY RULES. BUT YOU CAN WISH DEATH ON SOMEONE, OR THAT SOMEONE FALLS IN LOVE WITH YOU, ALTHOUGH IF THEY DIDN’T LOVE YOU BEFORE THEY ARE LIKELY TO FALL RIGHT BACK OUT OF LOVE AS SOON AS THEY THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH.

PERSON
But I could push someone over the edge from kind of liking me to love?

GENIE
CERTAINTLY, IF YOU WISH TO TAKE THAT WISH-

PERSON
I wish for K.C. Tyler to be in love with me.

(A blink of light.)

GENIE
DONE.

PERSON
Easy enough. Of course I’ll never be sure if it worked, because K.C. is in Guatemala right now.

GENIE
IT WORKED. I MADE K.C. PIECE TOGETHER ALL THE PIECES OF YOUR PERSONALITY THAT K.C. HAD SEEN BEFORE IN SUCH A WAY THAT YOU SUDDENLY, IN K.C.’S EYES, SEEMED TO HAVE BEEN THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE LOVE FOR K.C. ALL ALONG, IF ONLY IT HADN’T TAKEN SO LONG TO REALIZE IT…

PERSON
Well great. And I wish for marijuana to be decriminalized.

GENIE
NOT SELFISH ENOUGH.

PERSON
What? Seriously? Do you know how much I smoke?

GENIE
THE RULES ARE THE RULES. BESIDES, ALL I COULD DO IS EITHER MAKE A BILL SUDDENLY APPEAR IN THE BOOKS, AND THEY’D CHANGE IT BACK ONCE THEY NOTICED. OR, I COULD CHANGE ALL THEIR MINDS SO THAT THEY THINK IT’S A GOOD IDEA… BUT MOST OF THEM DON’T CARE ANYWAYS WHETHER IT’S A GOOD IDEA, AND AS SOON AS THE DEBATE STARTED, THEY’D ALL GIVE IT UP. BESIDES, IT WILL PROBABLY NATURALLY HAPPEN IN A FEW YEARS, AT LEAST HERE.

PERSON
Is that your decision, or the rules?

GENIE
THE RULES. I HAVE TO GRANT ANY LEGAL WISH.
WHAT ELSE, THEN? YOU COULD WISH TO OWN A SUCCESSFUL CHEESEBURGER FRANCHISE, THAT’S DOABLE. OR YOU COULD ALTER YOUR BODY TO HAVE THE BEST METABOLISM ON THE PLANET AND YOU’LL STAY IN SHAPE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, THAT’S DOABLE.

PERSON
I have a million dollars. And theoretically K.C. loves me.

GENIE
YES. WHAT ELSE IS YOUR SELFISH DESIRE?

PERSON
Geez…
I mean, I can turn this million dollars into a lifetime of wealth. I know places to invest it and stuff. So I don’t need any more money…

GENIE
THE MUSEUM WILL BUY THAT TREASURE CHEST TOO, JUST TELL THEM YOU FOUND IT IN THE ATTIC. THEY’LL VERIFY IT AS HANDED DOWN FROM THE ACTUAL PIRATE DAYS.

PERSON
Neat-o.

GENIE
I LIKE PUTTING IN THE EXTRA TOUCH WHEN I HAVE THE WIGGLE ROOM.

PERSON
Cool.
So money. Love. I’m already healthy, thank goodness for that. Nobody I know is in dire straits right now or ill or dying or anything. I don’t know what else I need.

GENIE
A PET FERRET?

PERSON
Ew.

GENIE
FERRETS ARE EXCELLENT PETS.

PERSON
No, thanks.

GENIE
SOMETHING THEN. A FREEZER FULL OF GROUND BEEF. FANCY SHOES. WISH FOR A BUCKET OF DEAD FLIES TO FALL ON THOSE PEOPLE AT THE CAFÉ WHO ARE LAUGHING AT YOU.

PERSON
No…
I have it.

GENIE
DO YOU?

PERSON
Yes…
Why not. It works or it doesn’t.

GENIE
HIT ME.

PERSON
I wish…
I wish to forget you ever existed and that my brain thinks I won some contest to acquire this treasure chest full of money and burgers. That way, theoretically, if it works, I can enjoy all this without… thinking I’m crazy.
Is that… doable?

GENIE
YES.
THANK YOU.

PERSON
You’re… welcome?

(A flash of light. The GENIE disappears.)

(The PERSON stares blankly.)

PERSON
Oh man.
Uh, hey! Hey, you! Yes, you… Want some cheeseburgers? I just won them! I was the millionth customer at…
Oh uh nevermind.
NEVERMIND.

Eesh. Way to get yourself robbed.
Oh!

(The PERSON makes a phone call.)

PERSON
Joanne? The strangest thing happened… anyways, can we have the party early? I sort of ended up with a bunch of food.
Yeah?
Send a car to 19th and M, pick me up. I’ll explain later. No, no, no, I’m just having a randomly amazing morning. I’ll explain. I’ll explain! See you in a bit! Bye.

(The PERSON hangs up and sighs.)

(The PERSON’s phone buzzes.)

PERSON
Hello?

Who is this?

K.C.! Oh my gosh…
Wow…
I didn’t recognize your voice…
Yeah it has been a while…

Oh?

K.C.? Still there?

No it’s alright.

I’m fine, I’m fine. What did you want to tell me?

You said you wanted to tell me something.

Don’t be embarrassed! Just say it. It’s fine.

I’m listening. Go on.

(The PERSON listens to what K.C. says. The PERSON’s face slowly lights up.)

(End of play.)

writing time: about 2:00

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