Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In The Barrels

When I was in my junior year at
Hamilton College
I had already begun
To regard myself as
Some sort of literary genius
So that when the chance
Presented itself to show case
My writing talents
By way of a college talent show contest
That involved the writing, directing and
Full scale production
Of an original play
Whether it was in one act or three
I immediately sat down at my typewriter
To take advantage of the sound
Of opportunity
Knocking at my door

I considered the challenge to be
Right up my alley
Never doubting for a minute
That my play would be among the
Top tier that would
Ultimately make the
Final selection

I had an idea for a three act play
That I would call
In The Barrels
Which was a reference
To an oft repeated phrase
That my deceased mother
Would often say in response
To my constant queries
As to why we were so poor

All of our good stuff
She would wistfully
And sadly explain
(Our good furniture
Our good clothes
Our good silverware)
Were in the barrels
A phrase that meant
That all of our more valuable
Had been placed in
Supposedly temporary storage
In some far out of the way
Godforsaken warehouse
Where all such family valuables
From people who had been previously
Dispossessed of their homes and property
Were shipped
Usually as a last resort
For one reason or another
But mostly because
It was during the so-called
Great Depression
And people were being
Evicted from their homes
On a regular basis
And my family
Was one of them
We too were
Evicted from our home
With all of our belongings
And worldly possessions
Tossed out onto the street
For non-payment of the rent
Our possessions ultimately
Ended up in warehouse storage
I.e. In the barrels

That is how the phrase
“In the barrels”
Came to represent the depository
For all of my family’s hopes and dreams

My play was simplicity itself
Based more or less on true events
That happened
When we had been living
In a typical Brooklyn slum neighborhood
In a Neptune avenue postage stamp
Of an apartment
In a run down apartment building
With a slum landlord
And a basement full of
Rats and rodents of all kinds

At night the rats and rodents
Would come out in force
Looking for whatever food
That they could find

These rats were the size of cats
And small dogs and
All of the cats in the neighborhood
Were afraid of these king sized rodents
So the rats had the run of the hallways
And the street alleys
And they ate their way
Through the walls
To gain access
To our apartments
And they even learned to
Thrive and grow fat eating the
Standard rat poisons of the day

Me and my mother
Were still living at
333 Neptune Avenue
When some of these filthy rats
Gained access to a baby
Who had been left unattended
In an adjoining apartment
By her alcoholic and boozing parents

The night that this horrible event
This innocent child
Was out cold
Sleeping peacefully
In her crib
(There was some speculation
Afterwards by the police
That the child may have been
Given a large amount of
Codeine cough medicine
By her alcoholic parents
In order to keep her quiet)

The story goes that the rats
Crawled into the girl’s crib
Attracted by the smell of
The child’s spilled milk
To eat the cookie crumbs that
Covered the child’s face and hands

And the rats began to eat
The poor baby’s flesh

By the time the child’s
Neglectful parents
Returned home
To find their baby
Covered in blood with
Half of her face chewed off
It was too late to save her

This story tragically
Was not an uncommon occurrence
In typical NYC slum neighborhoods
In the early to late fifties
Where rodent control was deemed to be
A low priority

I wrote this story up
Pretty much as it had
Actually occurred
As the central plot
Of my play
And I gave the play the title of
In The Barrels

The college community
Was suitably impressed
With my skills as a budding
Young playwright

In The Barrels
Received favorable reviews
In the college newspapers
And I received an honorable mention
For my play writing abilities

Naturally I was convinced that
I was destined to be
The next Edward Albee

The play had a short but successful run
In the college playhouse
And I went back to my studies
Basking in the new found respect
That I had received from
Faculty and students alike
Maybe I actually did have
A writing future ahead of me

To make a long poem
Even shorter
After graduation
The original manuscript of
In The Barrels
Became misplaced
much to my embarrassment
and chagrin
And sadly
I did not have
A second copy

Today the play is gone
Vanished into the ether
Lost for all time
To posterity

In The Barrels
Does continue to live on
If only in
In the memory
Of its author and
In the memories
Of the those
Privileged few
Who may have attended
The live performances

In The Barrels
Is now lost
In the barrels of space time
Where all such
Lost master pieces
Go to die

Philadelphia, 2011

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