What Do You Want?

If you can remember what the world was like before Covid, then you might recall that comic upstart from New York City, Bobby Bronco. He made the rounds of comedy clubs eastside, westside, and all around the town with a schtick about “FIOS,” which stood for “Figure It Out Stupid.” He said he used FIOS for teaching undergraduates. Every time they asked a stupid, lazy, or ridiculous question, which he claimed happened regularly, he’d tell them “FIOS.”

Making students work for their supper may have taught them a valuable lesson in the long run, but it didn’t win Bobby Bronco any teaching awards short or long run. He persevered, however, because that’s the kind of guy he is. He hasn’t been heard of since Covid, but there’s really no telling when he’ll show up.

I thought of him again the other day trying to write a play entitled “Hershey Park,” which is related to last week’s post on Father’s Day (see Hershey Park). I belong to a small group of playwrights that meets regularly to offer feedback and advice on scripts in progress. It’s a helpful group with talented people. The problem I was working on is basic to playwriting and centers around questions like what do the characters want and what happens next. You would expect that these get addressed early in the writing process, but after a year of working on “Hershey Park,” I am still struggling.

That’s when Bobby Bronco appeared like one of Ebenezer’s ghosts to scare the you-know-what out of me. He followed me around the way Donald followed Hillary (don’t you long for those days?), chains rattling, bony finger pointing, demanding to know what’s wrong with me, and yelling “FIOS.”

Of course, if I knew what was wrong it wouldn’t be wrong and I’d have figured out what the characters want and what happens next. But not only haven’t I figured these out, I took a turn for the worse (have you ever heard of anyone taking a turn for the better?), and I had to admit that maybe the characters don’t know what they want because I don’t know what I want.

As if that weren’t bad enough, Bobby Bronco kept needling me until I faced the reality that my doubt isn’t limited to me as an author-writer-playwright-guy at the keyboard hating Final Draft, which is about as user friendly as a backhoe, but me as a man and all around human being.

This is not to say I don’t have an inkling of what I want but to acknowledge the reality that what we want changes over time as our resources change. I include time and money here, which are two of the biggest factors. Add children, mortgage, job, and neighbors who insist on dumping yard trimmings, grass, and leaves in large piles on the already-crowded street (not to mention their weekend leaf-blower tournaments), and you’re just about assured of not achieving what you want even if you’ve conquered FIOS.

I still remember the summer of 1978 when, as a recent college graduate, I trudged up and down the hot sidewalks of Manhattan with my new Samsonite briefcase trying to find a job. Any job. This was during the height of the recession when interest rates were 21 percent, competition for jobs was ridiculous, and the Japanese were eating our lunch. Nobody thought the peanut farmer from Georgia was cute anymore.

My last hope for a job was dashed against the rocks of reality after waiting in line and being processed with countless others for more than an hour. The hiring manager described the job in three sentences (I believe it was selling cubic zirconium) and then went down his list in alphabetical order to ask if we wanted to jump on this “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” or not. Of course, I was at the top of the list.

“I don’t know,” I replied, thinking honesty was the best answer. After all, how could I decide based on a terse description of the dazzling opportunities that awaited those who entered the world of cubic zirconium (I didn’t even know what that was but felt sure it had something to do with math). Without looking up, he told me that wasn’t the answer he was looking for and dismissed me with a wave of his hand. That was it. I had washed out of Cubic Zirconium School.

As I left I could hear the girl behind me yelling at the manager as she, too, flunked out. This would be a great story if it ended with me meeting her for lunch, dating, and then marrying her, but that’s not what happened. Reality doesn’t work that way.

I schlepped over to the public library on Fifth Avenue, went down to the Hebrew Studies section in the basement, and cried into my liverwurst sandwich, which I had concealed in my briefcase. I had gone there for the air conditioning. You weren’t supposed to eat in the library, but the security guard took pity on me and left me alone.

You see, life’s a lot easier if you know what you want.

Image credits: feature by Fernando Santander; Rubik’s Cube by Karla Hernandez. Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Happy Birthday to Ronnie Brancatelli, who’s been like a brother to me.

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