Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Death of Old Man White

A Short Play by Jake Berry.


The Gravedigger: a man in his mid-60s. An inhabitant of a small town for many years. A widower of less than a year.

His sister: A widow of several years, also in her mid-60s. Recently moved to the small town.


The gravedigger comes in, late afternoon of a cold, rainy day in November. He removes his raincoat, shakes the water out of it and hangs it on a hook by the door.

They live in a small house. The house the gravedigger and his wife lived in for most of their married life. The back door opens directly into a kitchen with a stove, oven, sink, stove/oven, refrigerator, table and chairs.

Sister: You could shake that thing off outside on the porch before you came in.

Gravedigger: Yeah. Sorry about that. It's just so cold and damp. I guess I was eager to get in.

Sister: Job's done then?

Gravedigger: Only half. The hole's dug.

S: What about the rest of it?

G: Body's in the coffin, lid on, but not yet nailed.

S: And who does the nailing?

G: Not sure. It won't be the man that dug the hole unless they pay half again. Won't be the priest or the preacher. They never raise hammer toward a nail. Maybe the young kid that just came on. He has both ignorance and enthusiasm going for him.

S: What's the issue. They die, they get boxed, nailed in and laid to ground every day. What's so special about this one?

G: I wouldn't exactly call it special, just a long time coming, and some remain what you might call… doubtful.

S: Doubtful of what? Why? Who is it?

G: Old Man White.

She hesitates a moment. Struck by the painful memories of the ancient face. She quickly regains her composure and continues:

S: Yes. I remember him in a general way. He was very rich and powerful in his day wasn't he?

G: He was that and more. No one made it through a door, held land or build a structure without his approval.

S: How could one man have so much importance? I can't say he seemed like much when I saw him. Just a scary, withered old face. Maybe a little intimidating to look at, but that's it.

G: You saw him weak, old and humbled, and you only saw the one. He was, in his prime, one man, but also many. What he spoke came from a chorus of mouths. What he wrote fell into many brains. Some believed it came from more than a brain. It was like a a white ghost hovered over every word.

S: And those that are afraid to drive the nails, they believe all this?

G: No, but they remember it and fear it. They don't expect him to rise from the grave, but no one's quite convinced that he's dead just yet. It's hard to accept that so much authority can ever entirely pass away. No one wants to seal the box. It's almost as if as soon as they do they'll turn around and he'll be standing there watching them.

S: What? Like a ghost?

G: No, like the man himself. Nailed in the box, but up and alive walking around just the same.

S: That's just a bunch of foolishness.

G: Yes, it is. But foolishness was the old man's stock and trade. He sold it like food, set fires with it, drove engines with it. You can't turn your back on a man like that. He can be everywhere at once.

S: Sounds like you caught a bit of that foolishness yourself.

G: No. I'm just telling you what people think and how they feel.

S: I say nail the lid, drop the box in the hole and throw dirt on it till the the hole is filled.

G: Like I said, I'm willing, if they'll pay me fair wage to do it.

S: So then, do it. Sooner the better. Put an end to this silly chatter.

G: Fine, if they'll make me, or someone, the deal.

S: Get it done then. Shake the hand, sign the paper. What's the hold up? They want you to work for free or what?

G: No. Problem is, no one is sure who'd be the authority on the other end of the deal. The one who'd pay the extra wage.

S: Why not? Where'd the authority go? Don't you have laws in these matters?

G: I don't know about laws exactly, but we did have a method. It's just that the authority is holding his tongue, so to speak.

S: Why? Out of fear?

G: No. Out of death. He's the man in the box.

S: Oh.

She falls silent again, gets up from her seat at the table and goes to the stove where she stirs something in a pot, thinking. He takes a seat at the table, rubbing his hands, still trying to shake off the damp and chill.

S: Well then, someone else has to be the authority.

G: That's the same conclusion we came to up on the hill. A fellow offered to do the job, if we'd help him with the tough bits since he'd be new to it.

S: Good then. What's he say?

G: He's thinking the matter through. He's a smart fellow, but he's consulting with some others on the matter. As smart as he is, he thinks he should ask around to see what we all think about it.

S: So he thinks and we wait. He talks to everyone from geniuses to gravediggers. Meanwhile, Old Man White lies in his box pretending to be everywhere at once?

G: Something like that.

S: Yeah, sure seems like that foolishness was contagious.

G: I hope not. I'm glad to do the job and we need the money.

S: That we do. Still, we have to wait.

G: Yes. We wait, for a while. We wait and see.

Jake Berry 11.5.08

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beatlick Travel Report #1

2008 series

Beatlick Joe and I have officially moved into our VW van. We're parked on the NMSU campus where Joe is volunteering at the 15th International Mariachi Festival. We walked through the campus at sunset, a magnificent pink and orange display, down to Pete's Cyber Cafe and watched the election results.

Honestly I have been concerned about the state of mind I would have as we hit the road. I wanted so badly to have my faith in America restored, and last night it was. So we will begin our journey with just a short trip up to San Raphael and Albuquerque NM before we head out for Arizona and Southern California, taking the low route south of Interstate 8.

I'm on the lookout for trends towards thriftiness along the way. Hard times are coming and we have pared expenses down as low as we can go. It's a grand experiment to live the good life, more in control of our circumstances, puttering through the more obscure places.

Expect a report on Truth or Consequences, NM. Talk about sustainability, a town sitting on vast reserves of restorative hot springs. We found a bath house there where we can park our camper for $100 a month. My jaw dropped when I heard the price. I plan to spend January there and save up some money before we set out for the Salton Sea and Slab City, amongst other intriguing places.

Regardz from Beatlick Pamela

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Jake's Word: A Mutt Like Me

This is from an article in the NYTimes about Pres. Elect Obama's economic transition team and his possible choices for cabinet members. This paragraph was interesting:

Near the end of the brief session, he alluded to a domestic choice facing his family: what kind of dog to bring to the White House. Perhaps, he said, the Obama family should visit a shelter and pick out “a mutt like me.”

I wrote a draft of brief play last night called "The Death of Old Man White". (It was common in the small town where I grew up to refer to an old fellow whose history was generally but not clearly known as Old Man Jones, Old Man Smith or whatever.) The point is that Americans are all, as Jack said long ago, collages. We are made of different ethnic groups. To be classified as White in this country meant that your ethnic group, which would be a minority by itself, had been accepted into the collective that generally ran things at almost all levels of society. Obama's election makes that distinction, already an illusion, a very problematical condition. Isn't it time to admit that there is no nation, state, or region called White? It was an illusion established in order to allow certain groups of people rights that were not allowed to other groups of people who by virtue of recent immigration, or worse, the color of their skin, were denied those same rights. Isn't is time to do away with this designation "White" and admit that Americans are all collages, we are all mutts. And proud to be. Obama looks like America and though he and I are different mixtures of mutt, I am a mutt like him.

"The dogs on Main Street howl because they understand
if I could take one moment into my hands.
Mister, I ain't a boy, No, I'm a man.
And I believe in the the promised land."

Bruce Springsteen - (Dutch-English mutt) - from his song "The Promised Land"

Let's see what happens.

Love to you all,
Jake Berry


Jake's Word: Al-Obama

Here's the text of a letter I just sent to Ceil Davis who was the
first person I know personally that campaigned for Obama, back when no
one thought he could win anything beyond honorable mention:

Just wanted to say congratulations to the person that got there first.

You said Obama was the guy. And though I doubted he could win the
democratic nomination from Clinton, I voted for him in the primaries.
I thought he was the best person for the job, but I still thought he'd

It got a little scary last weekend, like maybe things we're slipping
away and White power was going to trump everyone else yet again. But
when the votes were counted he won states that no Democrat has won
since Johnson and Kennedy.

Now comes the hard part. Some people, left and right, expect him to be
the incarnation of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Kennedy and FDR
all rolled into one even though his politics have always seemed very
centrist. Thing is, in order to solve some of the financial problems
we may need some New Deal type programs to get people back to work and
get the capital flowing again. You can't just help the banks alone.
They'll just hang on to the money. He's going to have to be tough and
pragmatic and take the heat. JFK used to say that popularity was like
political capital and it should be spent. Obama is going to have to
spend political capital without making the same mistakes Clinton made
and lose congress two years from now. If we can keep things Democratic
for four years (unless they REALLY screw up) - the country might swing
away from pure White authority and more toward the plurality that
America actually is and always has been. White is just a coalition of
minorities of European ancestry.

I thought both McCain's and Obama's election night speeches were
eloquent, but Obama's was high rhetoric in the tradition of Greek and
Roman oratory, summoning Lincoln and King, and summoning the will of
the people the way they did in the great crises of their time. He
looked and sounded like a man who had found his moment - like he
belonged right there. You rarely see that. When JFK said, "We must go
to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy, but
because they are hard," he gave us words to live by. Anything
worthwhile is hard and living without a challenge in front of you is
just damned lazy as far as I'm concerned. I hope Obama can take the
next step - whether he has to be progressive, pragmatic or
conservative or all three in the same moment doesn't matter. He's
already accomplished one thing - he's not W. And he sure looks and
sounds like a president. Not a king or an inheritor, but an
intelligent statesman, young and ambitious enough to try new approaches.

There's no W in America or Alabama, but there's damn sure a Bama in
Obama. And I have heard, not sure where to look it up, that Barack is
a Hebrew word for lightning. I'm still in favor of changing the name
of the state to Al-Obama.