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The Hour of the Tramp

January 7, 2009 by · No comments

Ekaterina Vitkova

Photo: srqpix



Ice-cream Vendor
First Receptionist
Second Receptionist


Scene 1

Upfront can be seen a sidewalk, a bench and an ice-cream vending machine next to which a man is standing, The Ice-Cream Vendor.
The machine is near the entrance of an administrative building, overlooking a counter, behind which a Receptionist sits. She is almost hidden by piles of sheets of paper that she is constantly arranging, counting and distributing, making a notation every now and then with a ball-point pen.

The man is walking to and fro along the sidewalk. From time to time he sells cups of ice-cream and hawks his goods. At one moment his voice becomes nervous and he begins to mark time treading impatiently from foot to foot. Finally he approaches the counter and addresses the receptionist:

The Vendor: Excuse me.

First Receptionist: Yes, sir?

The Vendor: I’m very sorry to bother you, I feel a little awkward, but….

First Receptionist: Yes, please, speak.

The Vendor: May I use the restroom?

The woman looks at him surprised, smiles and begins to rummage through the piles of papers.

First Receptionist: But, of course, what a question, just a moment….

The Vendor: Thanks a lot.

First Receptionist: Think nothing of it, you are quite welcome.

The Vendor tries to enter the building. But the door is locked. He waits patiently to be let in, but the receptionist continues to rummage among the papers without looking at him. After some time the woman cries out triumphantly, pulls out a sheet of paper and hands it over to him with satisfaction.

First Receptionist: Here you are.

The Vendor: What’s this?

First Receptionist: An application form regarding your request to visit the restroom. Just fill it in.

The Vendor: Beg your pardon?

First Receptionist: Something making you nervous, what is it?

The Vendor: No, not that I’m nervous, actually, yes, I’m nervous, but in case there is no other way, of course, why not….

First Receptionist: You might not know, but this is one of the greatest gains for our citizens of late. I’ve worked here for years and I must confess that I’ve seen all sorts of things. At first, the bosses would keep the keys to the toilets with the secretaries. That is, there was one toilet for bosses and one for all the rest. Naturally, the public one was either occupied or unclean, or lacked toilet paper, but the other was always locked. But that wasn’t all. We still had an outside chance (you make friends with the secretary or something, you know how it works), but people like you – not a prayer. Outside visitors had no right to use the toilets! /she is waiting to see the effect of her words/…. Now things are absolutely incomparable. Not only there are no separate toilets for CEOs, but outsiders can visit them too.

The Vendor: Subject to an application.

First Receptionist: Why, of course. Do you, by any chance, want it without doing anything?

The Vendor: No, not at all, please, by no means. Only, I have no pen. Can I…?

First Receptionist: But, of course, you can. We rent them. This is another new service we offer. There was nothing like this until recently. No pen – no application, friend.

The Vendor: Subject to payment?

First Receptionist: Sure, subject to payment. Do you, on top of everything, want it free by any chance? You could have brought your own.

The Vendor: No, no, just asking.

First Receptionist: Well, instead of asking, why don’t you read the inscription on the wall. /She points at it./


The Vendor /trying to write/: And in the case of a non-writing one?

First Receptionist/in terror/: It’s run out?

The Vendor: I think so….

First Receptionist: Ah-a-a-a, no. One can’t work this way. A brand new ball-point-pen. Now what – this will hold up my work for the entire day. Somebody has cut expenses by purchasing inferior quality pens and now, because of him, I’ll have to answer to unhappy citizens, write reports and wait for approval of the purchase order for new writing devices. No, no. I’m going to file a complaint. This just won’t work.

The Vendor /continuing his efforts to write with the pen/: Ah! It’s working! It began to write!

First Receptionist: Thank God! Write quickly, before it runs out again.

The man is writing fast, at one time he takes some papers out of his wallet, copies some data from them, puts them back. From time to time, he looks at the filled in samples on the wall to consult them. Finally, pleased with himself, he signs his name and hands the application over to the clerk.

The Vendor: Done! Here you are.

First Receptionist: Thank you.

She begins to write down an incoming number on the application, affixes a seal to it and puts it at the bottom of a huge pile of other applications.

The man is watching her expectantly. However, instead of paying attention to him, the woman closes the counter window and puts a sign up: “Lunch Break”. The Vendor begins to knock loudly at the window.

First Receptionist: What? Can’t you see I’m closed for lunch break!

The Vendor: But I filed an application, didn’t I! Can’t I go in yet?

First Receptionist: No, sir, we are humans, after all, not robots. You don’t think we reply to every application right after it’s been filed? Look, we have rules too. They’re posted on the wall. Any reply is due within three business days of the application being filed.

The Vendor: But then, what’s the use….

First Receptionist: Ah, we’re not obligated to answer such philosophical questions.

She shuts the window.

End of Scene 1.

Scene 2

The Receptionist comes out of the building and walks towards the ice-cream vendor.

First Receptionist: One ice-cream in a waffle-cup.

The Vendor: One ice milk coming up, strawberry and chocolate with raisins.

First Receptionist: How did you know that’s what I wanted?

The Vendor: I didn’t. To tell the truth, it’s my favorite too. Look, I’ll even make one for me.

He hands her the ice-cream. She sits down on the bench. He prepares one for himself and sits down next to her. For some time they sit silently side by side on the bench.

First Receptionist: Don’t think that I don’t understand….

The Vendor: What?

First Receptionist: You know very well what.

The Vendor: You certainly are a keen judge of ice-cream.

First Receptionist: … that’s awfully stupid.

The Vendor: To know ice-cream?

First Receptionist: To treat people that way.

The Vendor: You were quite polite. It could’ve been worse….

First Receptionist: How so?

The Vendor: Well, you could have kicked me out, told me there was no hope whatsoever for me to use the restroom in your department.

First Receptionist: I appreciate your sense of humor, but it’s really awful. Just awful to make people do thousands of meaningless things for no other reason than to avoid giving them what they want, even when it’s not God knows what. It’s so stupid really. /She puts her hands to her head and begins to laugh/. Sometimes I just can’t believe I’m doing it. The only way around it is to avoid thinking altogether.

The Vendor: It’s good to not think, every once in a while.

First Receptionist: On the contrary. It’s very bad. You can go mad, lose your sense of balance, lose the meaning; might as well commit suicide!

The Vendor: Oh come on, it can’t be that bad! Although, frankly speaking, something similar crossed my mind, while completing the application.

First Receptionist: Excuse an idiotic question, but actually where did you, you know, well, that…. I feel awkward about asking you.

The Vendor: Where I found a toilet, you mean? There’s nothing awkward about it. These are everyday things. I went to the small park across the street. There’s a public toilet there. It’s a little inconvenient, because I have to turn off the machine, lock it, take all the cash I’ve collected with me /it’s not that much/, hang a sign: “Be back in 10 minutes”, take off my overalls, and so on.

First Receptionist: I am really very sorry. Such a cretinism! What’s most appalling is that I can’t do anything about it.

The Vendor: Then why do it at all, if you think it’s senseless and stupid?

First Receptionist: We do all kinds of senseless things and just dress them up in some “reasonable” form. Show me someone who doesn’t do it! You do it too. Otherwise, why would you agree to do this job, standing ten hours a day and wishing you were a robot without an excretory system?

The Vendor: I am forced to earn my living this way.

First Receptionist: Earn your living, live this meaningless life and have some idiot behind the counter expect you to fill out an application just to go to the bathroom?

The Vendor: Were you not castigating yourself so cruelly, I would have felt hurt. But I am actually so surprised by what I hear that I can’t even get angry at you!

First Receptionist: I wonder why is everyone so keen on doing so many silly things?

The Vendor: Everybody conforms to certain frames, certain rules. The world consists of rules.

First Receptionist: Who made them up?

The Vendor: All of us.

Receptionist: Not me, I haven’t.

The Vendor: Perhaps not, but without you they wouldn’t exist. They exist because you obey them. Because I obey them. Because we all obey them.

First Receptionist: So why do we consent?

The Vendor: Because we’re afraid.

First Receptionist: Of what?

The Vendor: Of everything falling apart without them.

First Receptionist: And what would happen if everything fell apart?

The Vendor: No one knows. That’s why we’re afraid.

First Receptionist: Yes, we’re afraid of chaos. Is there anything scarier than… unpredictability, uncertainty… vagaries?

The Vendor: Yes, there is – the rules themselves.

The clerk looks at him, and then she looks at her watch. Her lunch break is over and she heads back to the counter.

First Receptionist: Thanks for the company. I have to go. I’ll let you know immediately when you get an answer.

The Vendor: I’ll be looking forward to it.

First Receptionist: Forgive me for not being able to help you.

The Vendor: No need to apologize. Those are the rules. And we obviously prefer having them.

First Receptionist: Obviously.

She walks away and enters the building

End of Scene 2.

Scene 3

The next morning. The stage is the same as in the beginning of Act One. The Ice-cream Vendor is standing by the machine and shouts at a passersby to buy ice-cream. The counter is again littered over with sheets of paper. Behind the counter is the Second Receptionist. She’s not at all engaged with the papers. She has arranged little scissors, files, nail polish and other cosmetic accessories. The Tramp passes by in the street past the desk window. The second Receptionist waves at him in a friendly manner. He waves back likewise. The Ice-cream Vendor goes to the desk.

The Vendor: Excuse me…

Second Receptionist: Yes, what can I do for you?

The Vendor: I would like to file an application.

Second Receptionist: What do you want to file an application for?

The Vendor: I want some water for the machine because it’s hot.

Second Receptionist: Do you have a container?

The Vendor: Yes, I have, I won’t be using yours. May I have a form?

Second Receptionist: Well, come in then. If you treat me to an ice-cream I’ll keep an eye on the machine.

She presses the button and a sound unlocking the automatic door is heard.

Second Receptionist: Come on in, what are you waiting for – your ice-cream to melt?

The Vendor: I haven’t filled an application form.

Second Receptionist: Come on, stop kidding around! Do you want money to complete an application! Come in, otherwise I’ll ruin my nail polish waiting for you.

The Vendor continues wondering.

Second Receptionist: Are you coming in or not?!

The Vendor goes in, takes some time; after a while he goes out with a bottle of water, walks up to the machine and pours the water in it. Then prepares an ice-cream and gives it to the clerk

Second Receptionist: Thank you.

The Vendor: You’re welcome, ma’am. Thank you so much for your help.

Second Receptionist: Please, so formal! You make me feel like I’m a hundred years old!

The Vendor: Okay, if you prefer.

Second Receptionist: Naturally, I prefer. For a cool guy like you to address me so formally is… ghastly!

The Vendor: Actually, I am a little embarrassed. I thought, according to the rules, I needed to file an application.

Second Receptionist: The rules, the rules…. If I obeyed all the rules, I would’ve shot myself long before this. Maybe one should file an application to be allowed to breathe too, don’t you think?

The Vendor: No, I don’t think, I am just obeying the rules.

Second Receptionist: It’s quite dull, taking into consideration that if you had obeyed them, you wouldn’t have gotten what you wanted.

The Vendor: In principle, you’re right, but if nobody obeyed the rules, there’d be chaos. Aren’t you afraid of chaos?

Second Receptionist: Bullshit. There wouldn’t be chaos. I have my own rules. And one of them is: when the rules are dull, I don’t obey them.

The Vendor: Don’t you suffer the consequences?

Second Receptionist: Of course not. If that happened, I wouldn’t do it. You think I’m crazy?

The Vendor: But what happens if your boss finds out you don’t follow the rules?

Second Receptionist: Nothing. He’s sweet, if you know what I mean.

The Vendor: I see, but someone else may stick it to you.

Second Receptionist: No way. People like me.

The Vendor: Are you sure?
Second Receptionist: Absolutely sure, trust me. I feel it with every single solitary pore of my skin, every moment.

The Vendor: Must be a pleasant feeling….

Second Receptionist: Yes, a real blessing! But there’s a little secret.

The Vendor: What’s that?

Second Receptionist: I’ll tell you, because I like you. I like people in return.

The Vendor: All of them?

Second Receptionist: Most of them….

The Vendor: And what about those you don’t like?

Second Receptionist: I put myself in their shoes. As if I’ve had to live through hundreds of unpleasant things that have happened to them, made them less likable, that have made them unhappy against their will. Gradually, I begin to sympathize, and they seem less unlikable to me.

The Vendor: In fact, there is another receptionist here. Do you know her?

Second Receptionist: Of course, I know her. We work in shifts, don’t we?

The Vendor: What’s your opinion of her?

Second Receptionist: A wonderful girl

The Vendor: But she obeys the rules. Have you talked with her about it?

Second Receptionist: No, we don’t talk about the job. Here everything’s prescribed. We don’t need to talk about the job. Don’t you know the only form of communication here is through applications? /She winks at him./

The Vendor: Nevertheless, she obeys the rules. Why does she do it, if it’s really senseless?

Second Receptionist: It’s her choice. She knows why. Most probably, because she has no rules of her own. When you don’t have your own rules, you obey the external ones.

The Vendor: Do you always know what to do?

Second Receptionist: Of course not.

The Vendor: What do you do when you are at a loss?

Second Receptionist: I file an application

The Vendor: Where?

Second Receptionist: At a counter….

The Vendor: This one?

Second Receptionist: No, not here.

The Vendor: And what’s that “counter”?

Second Receptionist: It’s the place, where all your problems can be solved and you can be directed.

The Vendor: Where’s that?

Second Receptionist: It varies. Everyone finds it all by himself. If I told you where to look for it, you probably wouldn’t find it. It’s not something another person can show you.

The Vendor: How did you find it?

Second Receptionist: It found me.

The Vendor: Then you are truly lucky….

Second Receptionist: Absolutely. But you can find it too.

The Vendor: We’ll see

Second Receptionist: “We’ll see” isn’t good enough.

The Vendor: Then what is?

Second Receptionist: “I will find it.”

The Vendor: Okay. I will find it.

Second Receptionist: That won’t help either.

The Vendor: What else?

Second Receptionist: It’s not enough to just say it. You have to believe it.

The Vendor: Well, that’s tricky….

Second Receptionist: Not as tricky as you think.

End of Scene 3

Scene 4

The following day. The First Receptionist has gone out for her lunch break and is sitting on the bench in front of the building. The Ice-Cream Vendor is not around. There is a sign hanging on the vending machine “Back in 10 minutes”. The First Receptionist is munching on a sandwich and sipping some soft drink from a can. There is a folder lying on the bench next to her. After a while the Ice-Cream Vendor appears. He removes the sign and unlocks the machine. He takes out a pair of folded overalls, puts them on, then produces a wad of bills from his pocket and puts it in a small drawer next to him.

The Vendor: How about an ice-cream?

First Receptionist: With pleasure. This time I’ll try the strawberry.

The Vendor /while preparing it/: Good choice as always.

First Receptionist: Next time there won’t be much of a choice. There’s only one other kind left…. Vanilla.

The Vendor: Not at all. Then you can combine them – a scoop of strawberry with a scoop of chocolate, for instance.

First Receptionist: Or a scoop of chocolate with a scoop of vanilla

The Vendor: Exactly…

First Receptionist: But then the combinations will be exhausted pretty quickly. If I’m not wrong – a total of six kinds.

The Vendor: Well, it’s quite enough. All week long you can have different ice-cream. Eventually, you’ll discover the one you like best. And once you know that, you won’t need to choose anymore, right?

First Receptionist: How do you know that those six possibilities will lead me to the most desired one.

The Vendor: Well, at least I suppose so. In addition, frankly speaking, six possibilities shouldn’t be ignored entirely. Have you by any chance had more than six possibilities in everything else?

First Receptionist: I don’t know, I’m not sure. So pose the question….

The Vendor: Have you, by any chance, six job possibilities?

First Receptionist: I wouldn’t say so.

The Vendor: Six possibilities for a husband?

First Receptionist: Even less so.

The Vendor: Six possibilities for a home?

First Receptionist: By no means.

The Vendor: You see! Therefore, six possibilities for an ice-cream is actually a lot.

First Receptionist: This sounds like sophistry to me. After all, there’s quite a wide range of ice-cream flavors and what you offer is quite limited.

The Vendor: Just as in life. There are enormously many kinds of lives, but in the end we consume only one.

First Receptionist: I surrender!

The Vendor: Then I win an ice-cream. /He prepares himself an ice-cream and sits by her side./

First Receptionist: This ice-cream melts very fast.

The Vendor: The machine’s overheating. I have to put some water in it.

First Receptionist: And where do you intend to get it?

The Vendor: If you let me in for only two minutes, I’ll get it from your building.

First Receptionist: You know that’s not possible; unless you want to write another application.

The Vendor: On the contrary, it’s very possible. Yesterday your colleague let me in without an application.

First Receptionist: Where?

The Vendor: Where do you think? Inside the building to get some water.

First Receptionist: I don’t believe it.

The Vendor: Doesn’t change the fact that I just went in, filled a bottle of water and went back out. And it didn’t affect anyone.

First Receptionist: Very sneaky way to get me to bend the rules.

The Vendor: Not at all. You’ve already seen that I prefer to abide by the rules. I even asked to fill in the damn application form, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She just pressed the button and opened the door for me. If you don’t believe me, just ask her.

First Receptionist: We don’t talk about the job.

The Vendor: Oh, that’s right. You only communicate in writing.

First Receptionist: Exactly.

The Vendor: Never mind, but you can just ask her. You won’t have your tongue pulled out for it, will you?

First Receptionist: I don’t believe they’ll pull out my tongue at all. It’s just that… you know I comply with the rules, just as they are.

The Vendor /angrily/: Well, fine. But I did go in, even if you never find out whether it happened or not. It’s a pity though that there is no way for me to prove it to you. So you can see that the world doesn’t end if someone happens not to comply with some idiotic rule. It seems the only way to ever get anything done is to break the rules.

First Receptionist /jokingly/: And here I thought we were both were against chaos.

The Vendor: Yes, but stupid rules also create chaos. /He suddenly slaps himself on the forehead/. I just figured out how to prove it to you! I took the water from a place with light-blue tiles, a little bit darker blue terracotta tiles on the floor, a white porcelain wash basin. The hot water tap doesn’t work /happily, I didn’t need hot water/. The small window is broken. The liquid soap is almost gone! /he eyes her triumphantly/

First Receptionist: You must be talking about the men’s room.

The Vendor: Exactly. Now you see—

First Receptionist: Sorry, I’ve never been in there. Doesn’t prove anything.

The Vendor /desperately /: Then I’ll describe the corridor!

First Receptionist: You can see it from the counter. That doesn’t prove anything either.

The Vendor: Nevertheless, I was inside the building.

First Receptionist: OK now. Even if you were—although I don’t believe you—I’m not interested. It’s against the rules. And it’s none of my business. I’m not going to break them. /Quietly, to herself/ Besides, I’d never get away with it…..

The Vendor /he hears her nonetheless/: What would they do to you?

First Receptionist: I’d lose my job. It’s as simple as that. No big deal, right?

The Vendor: What about your co-worker, how come she didn’t lose hers?

First Receptionist: Just how it is. She won’t lose her job, but I will. Because they like her, and they don’t like me.

The Vendor: Why? You’re a lovely girl!

First Receptionist /she gives him a smile/: Thank you. It’s a pity you’re not my employer…

The Vendor: May I ask you something? Do you like people?

First Receptionist: Of course, I don’t. It’s mutual.

The Vendor: All of them?

First Receptionist: Most of them .

The Vendor: But this is very painful! You don’t like them, they don’t like you…. Don’t you want to change this, won’t you even try?

First Receptionist: No, I’ve accepted it. After some time everyone becomes reconciled to it. There are things that simply don’t change. They are what they are. Have you, by any chance, not become reconciled?

The Vendor: No, I haven’t. You see, I’m waiting for an answer to my crazy application. Had I become reconciled, I wouldn’t have filed it.

First Receptionist: Oh, good you brought it up. You got a reply. /She hands him the folder/. I haven’t read it.

The Vendor: So soon! It was due in three working days, wasn’t it?

First Receptionist: I re-prioritized it, moved it ahead….

The Vendor: Wow! You bent the rules!

First Receptionist /laughing/: Harmless. But that’s how it starts….

The Vendor takes out the answer and begins to read. While reading, he puts his hands to his head and sits down on the bench, unbelieving his eyes.

First Receptionist: What? What bullshit have they fed you now?

The Vendor: In order to use the restroom on a regular basis I must be an employee…. They offered me a job.

First Receptionist /having kept silent for some time/: Well, at least you won’t have to walk across to the park..

She stands up and walks towards the desk. The Tramp passes by in the street. When he sees her, he lifts up politely his hat in salute. She nods to him in a reserved manner.

End of Act I

Translation Copyright © Valentin Krustev and Peter Cooper

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