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The Reckoning Ball: A One-Act Play by L. S. Bassen

The Reckoning Ball: A One-Act Play by L. S. Bassen

Drama, Vol. 5.3, Sept. 2011

Cast of Characters:
Mr. Bitelli: a 60-year-old Brooklynite, born in Italy in 1900, the owner of the candy store/luncheonette.
Charlayne: a 14-year-old African-American, daily customer at Bitelli’s on her way home from school.
Dr. Stern: Mr. Bitelli’s age, a Jewish refugee of a dozen years, a physician at a local hospital. She walks to Bitelli’s every Tuesday for eggs.

 

At rise, it is a wintry Tuesday late afternoon, February 23, 1960, near Ebbets Field, in Brooklyn, N.Y. In Bitelli’s Luncheonette, Mr. Bitelli unnecessarily wipes off some of the framed photos of Dodgers greats like Zach Wheat and Pee Wee Reese. Then he turns, takes a clean cloth, gives the immaculate counter a once over, and serves Charlayne a donut. Behind the counter is a mirrored wall of glass shelves appointed with other framed photos, dessert glasses, soda ads, a few Valentine’s hearts left over from the recent holiday, etc., and a radio playing a medley of Sinatra hits. The counter runs along the stage right wall, catty-cornered so that the upstage glass wall looks onto the street, and the luncheonette’s name is arched over the glass. Small tables and chairs are centered; the store entrance is upstage left. Downstage left is a public telephone booth, the immediate and constant object of Charlayne’s attention. She is a pretty 14-year-old, mature for her age. She wears a skirt, sweater, socks, and saddle shoes. Her school books are on the counter stool beside her. Mr. Bitelli is dressed in a clean white T-shirt and wrap-around white apron. He is agitated, glad of Charlayne’s presence as a distraction. He has a thick Italian accent; Dr. Stern’s is Viennese. The dialogue is periodically punctuated by the sound of a one-ton iron ball hitting long-standing cement, a block away. All action must stop momentarily at each thud. Before the dialogue, what we hear is Sinatra and the shudder of the wrecking ball…then Mr. Bitelli turns down the radio…:

MR. BITELLI
You got much homework?

CHARLAYNE
What? Oh, yeah. Bio and math. (When Mr. Bitelli serves her cocoa – THUD – spilling some,) What’s the matter?

MR. BITELLI
Didn’t you hear that?

CHARLAYNE
What? (Turning) Not the phone –

MR. BITELLI
No – (touches his head) All day now. Me and Brooklyn, we got a pounding headache.

CHARLAYNE
Yeah, I know.

MR. BITELLI
You’re so smart, Charlayne, you know what the President says when they bombed Pearl Harbor?

CHARLAYNE
“Today is a day that will live in infamy –“

MR. BITELLI
Okay, you learn somethin’ in that school. “Live in infamy.” Again, today.

CHARLAYNE
When did Japan build a new military? They’re not allowed.

MR. BITELLI
(Pointing out the window) They’re tearin’ it down, they’re tearin’ the heart outta my chest, the heart outta Brooklyn.

THUD

CHARLAYNE
(Kind) Oh. Ebbets Field. They have a brass band in there. A lot of us went in on the way out of school. They’re letting anyone in today who wants to because it’s the last day. A couple a’hundred people; it looked empty. (Dr. Stern enters; the glass door jingles. Charlayne rushes to the phone, realizes it was the door, turns.) Some of the old players were there, and you know what? The flag’s flying upside down in center field.

MR. BITELLI
What you waitin’ for so hard, Charlayne? Let me get you another cocoa. You’re like a – (singing the melody and gesturing as Charlayne returns to her stool)

 CHARLAYNE
—Jack in the box?

MR. BITELLI
Pop goes the weasel. (To Dr. Stern:) Dr. Stern. Your Tuesday sabbatical from the hospital?

DR. STERN
(Taking off her coat, a doctor’s white jacket beneath, sitting at the counter) Constitutional? Yes, Mr. Bitelli. What flag is flying upside down? That’s the international signal for distress.

CHARLAYNE
In Ebbets Field, Dr. Stern. The flag’s flying upside down. They said it was by accident.

THUD

MR. BITELLI
What’s that, distress?

CHARLAYNE
Like an S.O.S.

DR. STERN
(The following dialogue is a pattern that Bitelli and Stern repeat weekly:) Do you have fresh eggs today, Mr. Bitelli?

MR. BITELLI
How you like ‘em? You want ‘em fried, scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, over easy, or maybe an omelet?

DR. STERN
Surprise me.

MR. BITELLI
I’ll surprise you. Tea in a glass or maybe coffee?

DR. STERN
Thank you, coffee.

THUD

MR. BITELLI
(He gets a cup, pours coffee, makes eggs/toast.) You know who’s over there right now? (He touches the radio behind him, the source of this information.) Roy Campanella, they said. He caught the last ball thrown at Ebbets Field. And now he’s in a wheelchair.

CHARLAYNE
The crane is bigger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the Museum of Natural History.

MR. BITELLI
Big head on that Rex. Like my Uncle Carmine. (gestures) I bet the ground shook when that dinosaur put its foot down. (reminiscent) Like my Uncle Carmine.

THUD

CHARLAYNE
The iron ball, they got it painted like a big baseball.

MR. BITELLI
Don’t tell me about it! I was 14 years old when I come to this country, and the first thing I remember I see after the Statue of Liberty (he crosses himself reverently), my Uncle Carmine took me to this, this – castle – with a lobby like a grand opera house, with the floor marble from Italy, the chandelier musta been diamonds – (pause) Ebbets Field! And the green grass field, for an Emperor! When that iron ball painted like a big baseball hit the Visitors’ Dugout – (touches radio again) that’s what they said got it first – it hits me right here (he strikes his chest) — I look like I’m still standing, but I’m dead. It’s too late for me. 1960. I’m 60 years old. I’m born –

CHARLAYNE
(This record’s also been played many times before:) January 1, 1900, I know, we all know, all Brooklyn knows. You saw it all.

THUD

MR. BITELLI
I seen Zach Wheat in Ebbets Field. .317 lifetime, over .300 in fourteen of nineteen major league seasons. Double figures in triples in the dead-ball era, seven times before 1920! He was .461 in 1916. I wish I never live long enough to see today.

CHARLAYNE
The dead-ball era?

MR. BITELLI
(To Dr. Stern: ) Youth. (To Charlayne: ) Before they put cork in the ball. You hit it – (with vocal raspberry, gestures straight, then abrupt drop).

DR. STERN
I will be 60 also, in July.

MR. BITELLI
We seen a lot. Zach Wheat. In ’31, they added the double-decker stands to left field and center field and the scoreboard moved from behind the left field fence to right field. I was 31 years old.

DR. STERN
I started practicing medicine in Vienna. This wasn’t so easy for a woman.

MR. BITELLI
They tear down Ebbets Field, they might as well tear this place down. (About Charlayne) She’s gonna be a doctor one day. Some head on her. (To Charlayne) So, what’s on the telephone you waitin’ so hard to hear, Harvard calling you already?

CHARLAYNE
I’m only a freshman. A boy said he would call me after practice. He said he would. ( THUD) They said it’s going to take ten weeks to tear it all down.

MR. BITELLI
Ten weeks? — What boy?

CHARLAYNE
He’s 6 foot 7.

MR. BITELLI
He tell you that? I don’t care how many feet he’s got so long he keeps his two hands to himself. (Placing platter in front of Dr. Stern) You gotta break the eggs to make the omelet. How’s the hospital?

DR. STERN
I delivered twins this morning. A girl and a boy. They named them Esau and Rachel.

MR. BITELLI
Good for you! (THUD) My business. It goes with that reckoning ball.

CHARLAYNE
Wrecking ball.

MR. BITELLI
That’s what I said.

CHARLAYNE
They’re scouting him, and he’s only a sophomore.

MR. BITELLI
Scouting him for what?

CHARLAYNE
(Exasperated) For basketball. Basketball. That’s the game of the future. He wants to play with Bill Russell and the Celtics. In Boston.

DR. STERN
(Eating) Mmm … delicious.

CHARLAYNE
I like hamburgers better.

MR. BITELLI
All your taste is in your mouth. In Boston. Basketball. Hmph. (THUD he puts a hamburger patty on the griddle.)

CHARLAYNE
No, hamburger.

MR.BITELLI
You hear the sizzle?

DR. STERN
She’s listening for the phone, not sizzles. (To Charlayne) How old are you?

CHARLAYNE
14 and a half.

DR. STERN
And a half. Yes. At 14, we go by halves. Waiting for the telephone to ring. For a boy to call. It’s a good idea, to live life by halves.

THUD

CHARLAYNE
You certainly like eggs.

DR. STERN
There was a time I dreamed about them for a long time.

MR. BITELLI
All my dreams are in Ebbets Field.

CHARLAYNE
Oh, Mr. Bitelli, it’s just a building! They tear them down, they build a new one. The Dodgers are in Los Angeles now. That’s American. You’ve got to go with the flow. Change that radio dial from Sinatra to Fats Domino.

MR. BITELLI
Frank Sinatra is a saint.

CHARLAYNE
(sad) I guess he’s not going to call after all.

THUD

MR. BITELLI
Don’t go lighting a candle for Mr. Basketball yet. (Remembering) In 1955, they turned off the lights in Ebbets Field… 33,000 of us held up lit matches – all of us standing in the dark with, like, candles – for Pee Wee Reese’s 36 th birthday. “The Little Colonel”! He was shortstop since 1940, fifteen years except for the war years. I burned my fingers holding that match. It was an honor. Pee Wee Reese.

DR. STERN
(Avoiding the war years, to Charlayne) How is your father doing?

CHARLAYNE
(receiving hamburger, putting on ketchup) Thank you. They moved him to the IRT up in Queens. The last station stop is called Flushing. Doesn’t that sound disgusting, flushing? But he says it’s nice up there.

DR. STERN
You make it sound as if it is a foreign country.

CHARLAYNE
It is. It’s Queens. I just hope he doesn’t expect us to move. (She eyes the telephone booth longingly, then eats as a distraction.)

DR. STERN
(laughs) Moving isn’t such a bad thing. Except maybe to Los Angeles.

MR. BITELLI
You don’t understand. I saw Jackie Robinson steal third base off the Cardinals, July 26, 1950, ten years ago.

CHARLAYNE
(gestures a time-out) Mr. Bitelli, enough! You and that iron ball pounding, if I hear any more of your stories –

DR. STERN
Today is the story you’ll tell a teenager waiting for the phone to ring one day. (It is getting dark outside.)

THUD

MR. BITELLI
(Grateful to Dr. Stern) Tommy Glaviano is at third, and Dusty Boggess is the umpire at second where (for Charlayne, who groans, then laughs) Carl Furillo slid in on the back end of a double steal! No, no, you laugh, but listen, in 1947, yes, the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees (he pretends to spit), but the point is, in Game Four, when the Dodgers are down two games to one and desperately need a win, Carl Furillo draws a one-out walk. Pinch runner Al Gionfriddo steals second and pinch hitter Pete Reiser is walked on purpose, despite he’s the winning run. Cookie Lavagetto pinch hits for Eddie Stanky, and the second pitch, Lavagetto belts it off the right field wall, driving in the tying and winning runs. (Breathes out, post-coital. Then, remembering Charlayne’s boyfriend, an expression of disgust: ) Basketball! The game of the future! (Dr. Stern lifts up coffee cup for a refill; her coat sleeve falls slightly, revealing the blue tattooed number on her wrist. Charlayne has seen it before but never asked…)

CHARLAYNE
Did it hurt?

THUD

DR. STERN
(as Mr. Bitelli pours coffee) Yes. (She reaches out her arm.) Don’t be afraid. It won’t hurt you. (Charlayne touches the tattoo.)

CHARLAYNE
They cut off the right foot of slaves who ran away. (The phone rings.She runs to the phone.) Hello? (Listens, ecstatic reaction) Yeah, I was waiting. No, I really was. (Turns back and continues muffled, happy conversation.)

The last THUD – this time, the sound of much glass and metal breaking –

MR. BITELLI
There she goes. (Hand on his chest. Dr. Stern ignores this and looks distracted, shakes her head. Mr. Bitelli comes out from around the counter and stands beside her, facing out at Ebbets Field, and pats her shoulder.) Dr. Stern? You okay?

DR. STERN
One of the twins died. Esau. The one born first. (Leaves money on the counter, stands. Before Mr. Bitelli can say anything, Charlayne emerges from the phone booth, exultant.) Good news?

CHARLAYNE
(Fairly dancing to her books on the stool, putting on her coat, picking up her books in her arms, exiting out the door that rings) The best! He’s meeting me at home! We’re doing homework together! See you tomorrow, Mr. Bitelli! (Exits, waves from outside through the glass storefront.)

MR. BITELLI
(Thoughtful) Tomorrow. It’s dark. (About the demolition) They have to stop now.

DR. STERN
(Also exiting) Tomorrow it will be light. They’ll start again. So. Next Tuesday. Surprise me.

MR. BITELLI
I’ll surprise you.

(She nods, exits, the door jingling. Dr. Stern waves from outside the window as Charlayne did. Mr. Bitelli goes behind the counter, picks up the money left there, and turns up Sinatra who is singing I’ll See You Again. Listening to the lyrics, Whenever Spring breaks through again… fade to black.)

 

END

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