Strawberries and Cream

I discovered yesterday, three nested directories down in my math department account, that I still had a bunch of files from my last desktop Mac, which retired in about 2003. And among those files were backups from my college Mac Plus, and among those files were backups from 3 1/4″ discs I used on the family IBM PC in the late 1980s. Which is to say I have readable text files of almost every piece of writing I produced from age 15 through about 25.

Very weird to encounter my prior self so directly. And surprising that so much of it is familiar to me, line by line. I can see, now, who I liked to rip off: Raymond Carver, a lot. Donald Barthelme. There’s one poem where I’m pretty sure I was going for “mid-80s Laurie Anderson lyrics.” Like everyone else back then I was really into worrying about nuclear war. I produced two issues of a very mild-mannered underground newspaper called “Ground Zero” with a big mushroom cloud on the front, for the purpose of which my pseudonym was “Bogus Librarian.” (I really liked Bill and Ted’s. Still do, actually.) Anyway, there’s a nuclear war story in this batch, which ends like this: “And the white fire came, and he wept no more.” Who is “he”? The President, natch.

But actually what I came here to include is the first thing I really remember writing, which is a play, called “Strawberries and Cream.”  I wrote it for Harold White’s 9th grade English class.  The first time I met Mr. White he said “Who’s your favorite author?” and I said “I don’t know, I don’t think I had one,” and he said, “Well, that’s terrible, everyone should have a favorite author,” and I probably should have felt bullied but instead felt rather adult and taken seriously.

A central element of his English class was writing imitations of writers, one in each genre.  So I wrote an imitation John Cheever story, and I think an imitation Edna St. Vincent Millay poem (I can’t find this one, tragically.) But the thing Mr. White asked me to read that really sang to me was The Bald Soprano.  Was it that obvious, from the outside, that it was mid-century Continental absurdism I was lacking?  Or was it just a lucky guess?

Anyway:  below the fold, please enjoy “Strawberries and Cream,” the imitation Eugene Ionesco play I wrote when I was 15.


Strawberries and Cream

[Curtain opens. The set is a blank, featureless room, lit brightly.
In the back of the stage is a bare wooden door. Upstage right there is
a piano, but it will remain unlighted until it is used. In the front
left corner ANTHONY sits at a desk typing quietly. SANE AUTHOR and MAD
AUTHOR are playing poker in front stage.]

Mad Author : I have three of a kind. You?
Sane Author: I have many paper rectangular objects, marked with numbers
and symbols. Two of my numbers seem to be equal, that is
to say the same. Of course, they may not be at all. For
example, on is marked in red and one in black. The
asymmetry in colour gives a Nietzchean twist to the
Mad Author : One pair. [takes the pot and deals another hand]
I have two pair. You?
Sane Author: Five of a kind.
Mad Author : [examines SA’s cards] You have no five of a kind. All of
your cards are different.
Sane Author: Ah, but they are all cards.
Mad Author : Very true.
[SANE AUTHOR takes the pot]
[Door opens. Enter PRIEST. MAD AUTHOR hides cards.]
Priest : Bless you.
Mad Author : I haven’t sneezed.
Priest : But you will, quite soon, and then I shall not have to
bless you again.
Sane Author: Very good planning, Father. My friend here has always been
exceptional in the nasal impulse, as it were. Your
blessing is a marvelous Hegelian tribute to the power of
determinism in the human scene.
Priest : Thank you. [MA sneezes] There, see?
[SA pulls out a top and begins spinning it]
Mad Author : What are you doing?
Sane Author: I am exploring the philosophical realms of existence.
Mad Author : You are spinning a top.
Sane Author: But a very philosophical top it is.
[Door opens. Enter TOM,DICK, HARRY, and COLONEL. TOM, DICK and HARRY
are all dressed identically. COLONEL is in full uniform and carrying
two colored flags.]
Mad Author : Ah, hello, Tom.
Sane Author: Ah, hello, Dick.
Tom : Hello, Mr. Jones. And how are you?
Priest : Ah, hello, Harry.
Dick : Hello, Mr. Smith. And how are you?
Mad Author : Fine, thank you, Tom.
Harry : Hello, Father, and how are you?
Sane Author: Fine, thank you, Dick.
Tom : Nice weather we’re having.
Priest : Fine, thank you, Harry.
Dick : Awful weather we’re having.
Mad Author : Oh yes, quite.
Harry : They can’t seem to decide whether we’re having-
Sane Author: Oh yes, quite.
Priest : Nice or awful?
Harry : Oh yes, quite.
MA,SA, and Priest : I say, who is your quiet friend?
[COLONEL signals with flags]
Tom : Oh, that’s the Colonel.
Dick : He’s quite blind, you know.
Harry : So he has to speak in Singapore.
Tom,Dick,and Harry: I say, who is your quiet friend?
[ANTHONY types louder for a moment]
Mad Author : Oh, that’s Anthony.
Sane Author: He’s writing a play, you know.
Priest : So he has to type all day.
Tom : What is the name of this play?
Sane Author: It’s called “Strawberries and Cream”.
Tom : Strawberries and cream? Why?
Sane Author: Apparently, a character uses that phrase as a refrain
throughout the play.
Tom : I see.
Priest : Strawberries and cream!
Tom : And may I ask what is this play about?
Sane Author: You may.
Priest : Strawberries and cream! Strawberries and cream!
Tom : What is it about, then?
Priest : Strawberries and cream! Strawberries and cream!
Strawberries and cream!
Harry : Do stop; it’s unbecoming to a man of the cloth.
Sane Author: I’m glad you asked. This play is a masterpiece, a marvel
of nihilistic anti-existentialism. It exposes the
underlying Joycean motivations in the fabric of society.
You DO, I trust, prefer the teachings of Kant in
neo-classicism to the Freudian gedankensystem of Sartre?
Tom : Quite.
Dick : Mr. Smith, are you a philosopher?
Sane Author: No, a carpenter. By hobby, that is. By profession, I’m an
Dick : Oh? What sort?
Sane Author: A sane author. My friend Jones [points at MA] is a mad
author, though.
Harry : Are you sure he’s mad?
Sane Author: Quite sure.
Mad Author : I heard that!
Sane Author: Of course you did, you’re not deaf like the Colonel here.
Priest : I thought they said he was paralyzed.
Sane Author: Never mind.
Tom : How do you know he’s mad?
Sane Author: Ask him and see.
Tom : Mr. Jones, are you mad?
Mad Author : No, not at all.
Tom(to SA) : He says he’s not mad.
Sane Author: Naturally. The mad always insist that they are sane.
Mad Author : But you said YOU were sane!
Sane Author: I did.
Mad Author : So you are mad as well!
Sane Author: No, for the sane also insist that they are sane.
Mad Author : Then how do you know I’m mad?
Sane Author: Just look at you!
[All stare at MAD AUTHOR]
Mad Author : Alright, believe what you will. I still say I’m sane.
Sane Author: You would.
[Door opens. Enter MUSICIAN]
All else : Ah, hello, Musician,. Fine, thank you, Musician. Oh yes,
Musician : Hello, all. And how are you? Awfully nice weather we’re
Priest : Strawberries and cream! Strawberries and cream!
Musician : Oh yes, that reminds me..
Mad Author : What?
Musician : Now I’ve forgotten. Deja vu, as the French say.
Tom : Memory is such a fickle thing.
Musician : Exactly so. In fact, I’ve written a song about it.
Sane Author: Let us hear, let us hear!
Musician : Certainly. Bring me my imaginary piano.
[MAD AUTHOR wheels out imaginary piano, wiping brow as if with great
Tom : (whispers to SA) But that is a real piano!
Sane Author: He thinks it is imaginary. Humor him.
[MUSICIAN begins to “play”, hitting the note G-sharp over and over.]
Musician : I call this song “Bananas and Cream”.
Dick : Might “Peaches” not substitute well for “Bananas”?
Harry : Or “Blueberries”?
Musician : (ignoring them, sings tunelessly in a different key)
I remember apples,
And oranges,
And grapefruit,
And melons,
And mangoes,
But O the cream!
[All applaud loudly]
Sane Author: That perfectly captured the quintessential essential
essence of the matter.
Mad Author : How true!
Priest : How true!
Tom : How true!
Dick : How true!
Harry : How true!
[COLONEL waves flags]
Dick : He says.. “How true!”
Tom : A shame.. He was such a great speaker before he went mad.
Mad Author : How true!
Musician : Ah, now I remember. I know you’ll all find this quite
Mad Author : Do tell!
Musician : It was.. No, I’ve forgotten again.
Priest : Strawberries and cream!
Tom : Why do you keep repeating that cryptic phrase?
Priest : What else should I be doing?
Tom : Well, what are priests supposed to do?
Priest : Er…
Sane Author: He is waiting for the Messiah to come!
Priest : (relieved) Yes, that’s just it.
Tom : How do you know that the Messiah is coming?
Priest : Eh.. I’m sure Mr.Smith can explain it best.
Sane Author: Certainly. You admit that our Saviour has gone?
Tom : Oh yes, quite.
Sane Author: Then he must come. It is as simple as what goes down must
come up.
Harry : Ah… the discipline of logic! All men are mortal,
Socrates is a man..
Dick : Therefore, Socrates is a philosopher.
Sane Author: A carpenter, by hobby.
Musician : Cogito ergo sum, as the French say.
Sane Author: (pulls out large sheet of paper) Besides, he’s on the
guest list.
[Door opens. Enter MESSIAH.]
Tom : Ah, there he is now.
Sane Author: He’s upset my top.
Messiah : So pleased to meet you all.
All else : Likewise, I’m sure.
Sane Author: Meow. Meow.
Tom : Why do you keep repeating that cryptic phrase?
Sane Author: I’ve decided that I am a cat.
Tom : How is that?
Priest : We thought you were an author.
Sane Author: Yes, yes, but a cat nonetheless. Examine the evidence. A
cat has four limbs, two eyes, two ears, a nose, and hair
on its head. And so have I! And a cat, of course, may look
upon a king.
Messiah : Or a Messiah.
Tom : Or even a Colonel.
Mad Author : You’ve got no tail.
Sane Author: I’m a Manx cat, then.
Harry : Just so.
Sane Author: Meow.
Musician : Oh, yes, now I remember.
[During this exchange, the COLONEL walks over to the real piano.]
Messiah : Oh, good. I was hoping I hadn’t missed it.
Musician : No, that wasn’t it.
Dick : Oh, dear.
Musician : Memory is such a fickle thing. I’ve written a song about
it, you know.
Mad Author : We know.
Musician : I call it “Peaches and Cream”.
Dick : Might “Bananas” not substitute well for “Peaches”?
Musician : Perhaps.
[COLONEL begins to play beautiful, difficult piece in a minor key.]
Tom : There goes the Colonel on his imaginary piano.
Musician : It looks quite real to me.
Harry : He was a very good pianist before he died.
Musician : It’s right on the tip of my tongue.
Mad Author : Is it?
Musician : It is. It’s quite important, I think. I can’t seem to
Sane Author: I know how it is.
Musician : That’s life, as the French say.
Priest : Strawberries and cream!
Messiah : Strawberries and cream!
Sane Author: Strawberries and cream!
All chant : Strawberries and cream! Strawberries and cream!
Strawberries and cream! Strawberries and cream!
[The chant continues, growing softer and softer. No one moves.
ANTHONY’s typing grows louder. The lighting gains a red tint.]
Musician : I remember now! I have it!
[Anthony, with a flourish, stops typing and tears out the last sheet
with a flourish. He hands it to the Musician.]
Musician : (reads) Curtain closes.
[Curtain closes.]

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One thought on “Strawberries and Cream

  1. bf says:

    None of my teachers ever made us to write things in someone else’s style, or asked us about our favourite authors. Not sure whether I would have liked it either.
    Here’s my favourite Ionesco imitation written by a teenager.

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