Hello dear readers! I’m blogging for every day in June about Slam, a play set near Dubuque, Iowa, about a woman in her early thirties who still believes her plans might work out, with the right adjustments. Here’s the reflections for today.
Why is this play so Iowa?
Better question: why is this play my Iowa?
I’ll be honest with you: I never spent any appreciable time on a farm. My great Aunt Katie had a few acres with not much more than a garden and a small chicken coop. At one point we went to her house and got a little tour. That’s the sum total of my agricultural experience, aside from one summer de-tasseling corn, which is a hugely commercial enterprise and out of context here.
Most of my adulthood has been spent in New York City, living in Brooklyn and frowning on the subway.
So, really? You’re right: I’m off base here, I have no connection.
But, as Slam would say:
Were you ever fucking listening?
The connection is the the clipped, complete, accusatory sentences that issue from the Lamb family. The connection is the quiet observations made by Jonah, a young man firmly rooted to who he is. The connection is Spoon’s broad smile and grand schemes, all just this side of saving the day as well as his pocket book.
The connection is Slam’s vitriol: her arms crossed, her body gone to seed. Slam has hurled away the mantel of what she’s aspired to, but there’s nothing to replace it except failure and, alas, an unwanted pregnancy.
All this against highways established during the Eisenhower years, later perfected and then connected by huge box malls. Today’s Iowa is what I know about myself: quick to adopt a self-mythology that presupposes what others think in order to buffer all prejudices, disappointments, and fears.
My Iowa is about a smile and laugh, followed closely by a biting quip.
Herein a defensive collage, answering a question no one’s asked me. That too is very Midwest: submit your own conclusions before anyone can identify what’s wrong and get you.
To re-cap: I’m writing every day in June on my new play Slam. Slam is short for Samantha Lamb, a young woman from an old farm family, once powerful in the county. Slam’s life is about to change and not through her sound judgment or anyone’s good graces. Today’s subject? Read on….
Let’s talk Spoon. Yes. I’m a little tired this evening and need a pick-me-up. Spoon is just the man for that.
Spoon and Slam have known each other since they were kids. They are virtually the same age, graduated the same year from high school, and both more or less stuck around Mason. Spoon is eager, a little clumsy, and has an extraordinarily engaging style. His personal challenge? A poor attention span. He’ll come up with all sorts of schemes and plans, but virtually none come to fruition. Spoon’s blessing is he knows that about himself, shrugs happily, and moves on to the next project.
Why he and Slam remained close is a mystery. Slam, after all, isn’t much of a smiler. She’s got huge, demanding opinions and her crowd was the drug and nasties, which Spoon steered clear of. Yet somewhere they met up on the periphery and supported each other’s lives. Spoon used to pick up Bobby from school. Slam got Spoon his current job (more on that later.) And throughout the years they’ve come to rely on the rhythm of their relationship.
My visual for Spoon? The hook that tells me the man is in the play? It’s just this: he plops down at a table, flashes a toothy smile, and starts gesturing a story, or revealing his lastest scheme, which is always interesting and full of possibility. You can’t help but be taken in. Where did this guy come from? And why is he dressed that way?
In sum: it is Spoon’s easy acceptance of the world that is a balm for Slam. Slam pulls on fury like a uniform, but stays near people who shine their light.
All for now.
Here’s more prose about a play, which is itself a contradiction in terms. But bear with me, because this work is crystalizing the surroundings, from which twelve characters will live and make all sorts of stage mess – the interesting kind. Today’s subject? Slam’s home.
As I’ve mentioned, Slam was born and lives in the town of Mason. Her family once owned a substantial portion of Louisa County, nestled high up in Northeast Iowa. Over the years, however, bits and parcels were sold off to pay debts that were foolhardy and decidedly unbusinesslike. Slam’s dad finally let go of the last acreage of farmable land, leaving just enough for the barn and a small house, built to replace the orginal farmstead.
Moving to the present day of the play (2003), Slam is pushing hard against the taint of failure. The Lamb family has been infected. Slam’s grandfather, on reaching retirement age, became disgusted with his heirs and let slide, satisfied to live on Social Security and bonds from World War II.
Squire, the middle son and Slam’s dad, came back from Korea, ignored his GI Bill rights, and aimed for the title of gentleman farmer. Hard to do in the 1950’s and a virtual impossibility after SNCC started its marches, Kennedy was elected, and the Beatles came on the scene. To his credit, Squire made an admirable attempt. But facts easily conspire against a young man who had more romantic notions than business sense, as well as tendency to ignore the finer points of loan documents and lease agreements. It got easier to sell here and parcel out there, rather than sit in a bank a minute longer. Besides, the local watering hole was calling. Just one shot and a beer chaser. He’d be home soon after, and then he really’d really know what to do.
Sheela break: I’m frustrated! I meant to write about Slam, but clearly I’m stuck in the mid-1960’s, about ten years before she was even born. Maybe tomorrow.
All is not lost, however, because I’ve got another visual: Squire hiding out in roadside bar, the type with rectangular, narrow windows, a gravel parking lot, and neon beer signs. Squire throws back a shot, reaches for a cloudy glass of beer, and begins planning his next moves. He’s so close, the circumstances are very nearly in alignment. Just a few minutes out in the field, by himself, with no voices spouting opinions, no long-winded advice, no carping over past bills.
Slam’s coming soon.
Hello, dear readers. I’m writing each day in June on my new play Slam.Slam is short for Samantha Lamb, and she is a pregnant, angry Iowan. Her life is about to change and not through her sound judgment or anyone’s good graces.Today’s subject? Read on….
I am not in the mood to write about this play. I’ll be honest with you.In the background I have a YouTube clip of a trucker filming his entrance into Dubuque, which is where I’ve put the fictional town of Mason, the setting of the play.The trucker posted a camera to his dashboard and there you are: a shotgun view, with a soundtrack of shocks absorbing bounces and a roaring, powerful engine. I’m inspired by the view of the highway and the transition into town. It’s clearly the end of the day because the sun is behind the truck.There are bends and trees and trees and a slow incline.
The expanse of space, after living in New York City, is what calls to me. My lungs expand happily, even though I’m a weather wimp and can’t imagine enduring Iowa winters again. But Iowa in the fall? That’s when the postcard photographers move in and everybody smiles.
“Ah, we’ve never been through this way!”
The trucker is friendly; not saying much, but his quips are cheery. After a day of driving, presumably, he must be tired. There’s an American flag and a warehouse of some sort and yes, we’re off the highway in Dubuque town proper.A bank clock declares 7:12.
I wonder what he’s shipping.
Note that there’s no music. Note that the man likes the view, as do I. Note that the highway bends and the hills roll and this trucker has just left town. Oh. I’m disappointed.I guess he’s going to keep working and have a late dinner.
“Pretty view out here, though!”
The GPS just barked directions, introducing computer-speak that really breaks my mood.After all, Slam has a memory base in the 1970’s, which (surprise!) were my formative years. And even though the setting is 2003, I don’t see much more than cell phones modernizing the day. Besides, Slam can’t and doesn’t drive and there’s a mystery there. How can she live way out of town, have a teenage son, run a petsitting business, yet not own a car?
All for now. The video’s still not over. I’m still mesmerized. The trucker’s about to pass a Sara Lee truck.These men work.
I write from Brooklyn, having dried off from a trip to Midtown in all that post-Andrea rain. I re-play the clip, remember trips to my grandparents’ home and extended picnics. I pet the cat, I get in my own bed.
I just spent time with my index cards and inserted another scene between two women – Slam and April – who don’t understand, but like and respect each other. Their tenuous friendship is based years of being in the same town and watching each other mature, make mistakes, soar on successes, then fall awkwardly and land up-ended, with panties for all to see.
The irony, however, is there’s success in that.
(Excuse me while I scoot over to my music collection to pick out an album. The Nick Lowe just ran out. Being on an extended 1980’s kick, in part fueled by this play, I’m going to put on – wrong, I’m going to press – Tears for Fears, Elemental.)
There is success in falling with a decidedly unattractive splat. April had hers through drinking (she’s Jonah’s mom, by the way – read the June 3rd blog), and she’s sober and soaring, supporting her son rather awkwardly, but in such a heartfelt manner that Jonah’s beginning to inch back and trust her.
Slam’s spalt? No, not her pregnancy. Perhaps for Slam it’s just misplaced hubris. (Can you place hubris?) Her family used to be one of the wealthiest in the county, but that was nearly two generations it’s all gone. So sure, that’s part of Slam’s curse, but the reason I’m writing this play is to get the skinny on this Samantha Lynne, unearth this chemical-soaked, tainted woman. I have loads of content and literally dozens of scenes, and Slam has yet to be revealed. Smart cookie. In fact, she may not show up until the first day of rehearsal. Or final tech. Or opening night. Yes, she’s that illusive.
But not to worry – Kangal’s on the prowl. Remember: I grew up in Iowa, too.
Here’s a scene. I don’t think it will make the play. It’s between Slam and Jonah, a townie who’s been an on-again, off-again buddy of Slam’s son Bobby. Jonah is chunky, bookish, astute, the type who quietly points out faults and won’t veer from their truth. He studied hard and built his high school career so that he will likely be at University of Chicago in the fall. Slam has kept close tabs on Jonah; Jonah’s mother drank too much. Jonah’s a black kid, quiet, tall. I just love him. He’s the type you want to protect but believe me, Jonah needs no such protection. So here’s the scene, second act of the play. (By the way, I think Slam’s jealous and wishes Bobby had at least a bit of Jonah’s ambition and smarts, Bobby likes to grin, duck, dodge and artfully hunt for the next party.)
Jonah, you’ve done what you needed to do. You’re distant. You’ve kept back. You needed to do that. I know you. I. I. I know. OK?
No, it’s not. Let me talk, all right? You’ve done what you had to. You’re a chunky kid and you’re not the same, and this damn sure is not the place.
(Uh-oh, she’s feeling emotional. So she twists it and just gets mean.)
And you’ve such a light. You know that? You’re steady. I watched you. You know how to hold your light. Who taught you that?
You’ve got it in you. Your father, too.
(Feeling another emotional surge, but squelching it)
OK, all right. this is allI’ve got to say. I’m going to say it. You just listen, Jonah. Comes a time when you’ll be where you can be your light. You can bring it out. You’ll see a window. Might be in Chicago. I don’t know.
But I know you’re leaving. And when you see that shot, when you know it’s time, don’t hesitate. OK? ‘Cause I know, I know, I know if you hold it in you’ll keep on breathing but you will die. Got me? All and well for what you’ve done, how you’ve kept up in Mason. It’s tough here, but you’ve been tougher. That’s fine for Mason. But don’t take it elsewhere. Right? You’ve known me. Right?
You were there for me.
Yes I was. And there are some things I know.
I’m talking about your beauty, Jonah. And destiny, I don’t know. Don’t make me bring this up again.
‘Cause I don’t want to hear about you giving folks a hard time in Chicago.
I’ll be studying.
I can find out, you know. I got college connections.
I’ll send you a sweatshirt.
I’ll have it monogramed.
I’ll be in Chicago.
Just wait for it.
Hello and welcome again to what has been a reflective weekend. As I mentioned 1 June, I am writing a post each day on my play SLAM. SLAM is a mash-up for one Samantha Lamb, a young woman who’s close to the Tea Party in political affiliation, although all politicians just piss her off. She’s in her mid-thirties and lives on what’s left of her father’s land in Mason, Iowa. The time I’m still a little nebulous on; I think it’s 2003, well into the war in Iraq and pretty much at the tipping point regarding cell phone use in the States. Slam is attempting to beef up her petsitting business, mostly by boarding dogs. After she had her dad committed, she was free to get the kennels built. Her dad thought such a business beyond ridiculous, with no financial payback worth the time and sacrifice. (And by the way, Slam committed her dad because his drinking basically pickled his brain. Although said father will be back.)
Darn. This isn’t what I wanted to write about. You know what’s been on my mind this weekend? Eagle Point Park. Mason, Iowa is made up, but its location is somewhere near Dubuque, which is a town right on the Mississippi River and chockablock with immigrant and river-running history. The area is also gorgeous, and Eagle Point Park is a gem. I have been absorbing all the online pics I can (I live in NYC), and a memory popped in my Iowa childhood brain: I have been to that park! I remember the castle and a few steep climbs. I remember trees and growth, not what I was used to from a childhood in Iowa City. I remember this park was so inviting, just waiting for my imagination to enter and craft excellent new worlds.
And? 30 years or so later? Slam shows up, and shows up pissed. Northeast Iowa will not be the same. I need to get back there.