Back to Spanish Lake

A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to be in the room with dozens of really smart actors, writers and directors for the purpose of sharing a handful of new, one-act plays all responding to the election. My play – “Spanish Lake” is below. I was inspired by a recent documentary about the Spanish Lake neighborhood just outside St. Louis, which is where my grandparents lived when I was very young. The documentary, I remember now, was also called “Spanish Lake” which makes the title of my play problematic. In any case, because it was something I wrote in the moment, with no real intention of rewriting or turning it into something bigger, I thought I’d post it here, warts and all.

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SPANISH LAKE

A ten-minute play

By David Lee White

(LAURA and GENE are in bed. LAURA wakes up and stares GENE while he sleeps. SHE smiles. SHE looks at his face to see if he’s still asleep. SHE giggles a bit. Finally, she can’t take it anymore and starts poking him.)

LAURA
Wake up. Wake up, wake up, wake up.

GENE
(slowly opening his eyes)
Hey.

LAURA
Hey. (She laughs and snorts)

GENE
Oh my God. What is wrong with you?

LAURA
I don’t know. (she laughs harder)

GENE
What is so funny?

LAURA
(laughing harder)
I’m sorry.

GENE
What is it?

LAURA
We had sex!

(LAURA breaks into laughter. She can’t control it.)

GENE
Why is that so funny?

LAURA
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I’ve been trying not to laugh since six am. I’m sorry.

GENE
You’re crazy.

LAURA
(still laughing)
I know. I know. It’s just… We were, like, eighteen the last time this happened. You know? It’s just weird.

GENE
You’ve thought about it since then, though.

LAURA
Uh…yeah!

GENE
Me too.

LAURA
But I didn’t think it would actually happen.

GENE
Me either. Last night was nice.

LAURA
Yeah. Did you get a weird fucking feeling of deja-vu or what?

GENE
It was pretty intense, yeah.

LAURA
I still have all those unused yearbook photos. Remember the after-prom party at the lake?

GENE
Oh, shit.

LAURA
I’ve got all these high school things in my top drawer. I look at that stuff a lot. Maybe more than I should.

GENE
No harm in that. I’ve been thinking about Spanish Lake a lot lately. About you, especially.

LAURA
Yeah?

GENE
I feel like I started working after college and never stopped. I haven’t married. I adopted this kid who’s the most important thing in the world to me but…something’s not right, you know? I love my life. Most of it. But I’ve never felt at home the way I felt when I lived here.

LAURA
What about last night?

GENE
Yeah. I started to feel it last night.

LAURA
Do you want breakfast? Or something?

GENE
You mean go out, or…?

LAURA
No place to go around here. It’s a thirty minute drive just to get coffee. I’ll whip something up.

(LAURA get up and puts on a robe. GENE gets up and puts clothes on. He is staring into his suitcase.)

LAURA
Whatcha got in there?

GENE
I’m trying to decide if I should show you.

LAURA
Show me.

(GENE reaches into his suitcase and takes out an old, folded blanket.)

GENE
I still have that blanket we did it on in high school.

LAURA
Oh my God. That scratchy Indian rug. And you brought it with you.

GENE
I knew I was going to call you. I mean…I didn’t know we would…I’m sorry, I know it’s strange.

LAURA
I can’t believe you kept it.

GENE
I’ve been using it to muffle my bass drum for the last twenty years.

LAURA
You still play.

GENE
Yeah.

LAURA
We tried to start that rock band our senior year.

GENE
We sounded awful.

LAURA
Maybe we should give it another try sometime.

GENE
Maybe.

(Pause)

LAURA
You like eggs?

GENE
Eggs are good.

(LAURA exits)

LAURA
(from offstage)
It’s actually mine, you know.

GENE
What is?

LAURA
The blanket. It’s mine.

GENE
You stole it from the art room.

LAURA
I didn’t steal it. I liberated it.

GENE
Ha.

(GENE is puttering around the bedroom. He sees the top drawer that Laura mentioned. He’s curious. He opens it and sees a stack of photos. He starts looking at them, smiling. HE puts the photos back in the drawer. He sees something else. He pulls it out and looks at it. It’s a red “Make America Great Again” hat. LAURA enters.)

LAURA
Never married, huh?

(He throws the hat back in the drawer, then slams the drawer on this thumb.)

GENE
Ow! Mother son of a…

(LAURA enters)

LAURA
You okay?

GENE
Yeah. My thumb. I just…I bit my thumb.

LAURA
You bit your thumb?

GENE
I just…I didn’t know it was…in my mouth.

LAURA
Okay. Juice? (She hands him juice)

GENE
Thank you.

(They both take a drink.)

LAURA
So. Never married.

GENE
Nope. Never.

LAURA
One son.

GENE
Yeah.

LAURA
I will go make eggs.

(LAURA exits again. GENE can’t resist. He opens the drawer and takes out the hat to look at.)

GENE
You ever think about kids?

LAURA
Sure. He wanted them but I divorced his ass before we had the chance.

GENE
I heard you married Jimmy Puchalski. I couldn’t believe it. The guy was a racist douchebag.

LAURA
I was suffering from temporary insanity. I thought he changed. He didn’t. Kinda thought I blew my last chance.

(LAURA re-enters)

LAURA
But maybe not.

(GENE turns around, dropping the hat.)

GENE
What?

LAURA
Nothing. Sorry. I’m out of eggs. I’m out of everything. You really hungry?

GENE
Not really.

LAURA
Good. Maybe we could just stay here a little longer. You think?

GENE
Um… sure.

(LAURA walks to GENE and begins kissing him. They fall on the bed. GENE is having trouble getting into it.)

LAURA
You okay?

GENE
Yeah, yeah. Totally fine.

(As they’re kissing, LAURA notices the hat on the floor and the open drawer.)

LAURA
Were you going through my stuff?

GENE
You said there were pictures in there.

LAURA
You are as weird as you used to be in exactly the same weird ways.

(LAURA puts on the Trump hat.)

Hey, baby. Come over here and make America great again.

GENE
(unenthusiastically)
Ha, ha…

(GENE tries kissing her. He can’t do it.)

So was that, like, a gag gift or something?

(LAURA gives up. She collapses on the bed.)

LAURA
It’s not a gag gift.

GENE
Okay.

LAURA
Are you really gonna make me defend myself?

GENE
No.

LAURA
Good.

GENE
But I am curious.

LAURA
About what?

GENE
About why.

LAURA
You won’t get it.

GENE
Of course I will.

LAURA
You really don’t know what it’s like around here.

GENE
I live in Newark. We have the same problems. The houses are shuttered, there’s no work –

LAURA
You remember the housing projects in St. Louis.

GENE
The ones that got shut down. They were uninhabitable.

LAURA
Spanish Lake was unincorporated so they built condos and moved everyone here. Everyone. The worst of the worst. They trashed those condos within two years. Then they started trashing everything else. Anyone with a brain packed up and moved.

GENE
But not you.

LAURA
I want to fix it.

GENE
That’s great, Laura. That’s what I remember about you. You want to help. But Trump –

LAURA
I have no reason to think that anyone but him has any interest in us whatsoever. None.

GENE
He’s sexist, he’s racist –

LAURA
Do not play the race card.

GENE
Laura –

(LAURA goes to the drawer and pulls out the photos. She tosses them in his lap.)

LAURA
Remember the lake? Remember hanging out at the gazebo? You should see it now. It hasn’t been fixed in years. There would be no point. It would fall down again in a week. The cops tried to stop people from selling drugs at the condos, so they started selling next to the lake. Well, we wanted tourism. Now we got it. People come from all over St. Louis to buy their crack in Spanish Lake.

GENE
I drove by there yesterday. It broke my heart.

LAURA
I want my town back again.

GENE
Sure. But throwing your support behind that kind of bigotry is not a solution.

LAURA
I’m not waiting for liberals to do anything about it. They’d rather whine about every family-owned bakery that won’t bake a cake for a gay couple.

GENE
Since when do you have a problem with gay people?

LAURA
I don’t. I have a problem with small business owners in a struggling economy getting death threats from strangers in California and businesses shutting down because of internet memes. I’m not some brain dead housewife without an education that votes for whoever their drunk husband tells her to. I want Spanish Lake back. I want the place where we grew up to come back. Don’t you? Wouldn’t that be great? If we could go back to the gazebo? Wait for everyone to leave so we could throw that scratchy, Indian blanket on the ground…

GENE
That would be nice.

LAURA
That’s what Jimmy and I want too.

GENE
Jimmy Puchalski?

LAURA
Yes.

GENE
You said you weren’t with him anymore.

LAURA
I’m not. He’s the head of the revitalization committee. He knows shit that no one else around here does. We need incentives to get businesses to come back. He’s hired an outside company to rehab the condos.

GENE
So you can throw out all the brown people.

LAURA
The drug dealers. The new condos will be open to everyone.

GENE
Everyone who can afford it.

LAURA
Holy Shit, Gene. Think about the people who stayed. The people who have lived here for generations. Our friends from school. Me. We’re your home. What the hell do you care about random tenants of a rundown condominium development.

(GENE angrily opens his wallet, takes out a photo and hands it to LAURA)

GENE
My son.

LAURA
Wow, Gene. Wow. Good technique. Win the political argument by showing me a picture of your adopted, black son.

GENE
I’m not trying to win anything.

LAURA
You don’t just play the race card. You play the race three-card monte.

GENE
It’s not about me anymore. It’s about him. It’s about his community. Our community. It’s about Newark.

LAURA
Are you gonna tell your son about the time you stood at the front of the bus and led everyone in song?

GENE
Come on.

LAURA
How did that little ditty go?

GENE
Stop it.

LAURA
“Daniel Boone was a man. He was a biiiiiig man.”

GENE
Stop.

LAURA
“But the bear was bigger so he ran like a – “

GENE
I was thirteen years old!

LAURA
I have a video of it. I could post that shit on YouTube. How many people would care about what a good guy you are now?

GENE
Do you really have a video?

LAURA
Yes, Gene. I brought my giant, Betamax camcorder and shot a video of you singing the racist Daniel Boone song so I could blackmail you with it several decades later.

GENE
I got in some serious shit for that.

LAURA
And you still feel so guilty about it that you wave pictures of your black son around in front of people who still remember.

GENE
Shut-up.

LAURA
Why did you come back here, Gene? Were you really thinking about picking up and moving your son to the jobless part of the Bible belt? Or were just feeling nostalgic and wanted to fuck your hometown one last time?

GENE
Shut your mouth.

(The comment stuns LAURA into silence. Long pause. Neither one of them knows what to say.)

LAURA
I’m sorry. Goddammit, I’m so sorry.

GENE
It’s okay.

LAURA
It’s not okay.

GENE
I’m sorry I snapped at you. That was wrong.

LAURA
I don’t get this at all. I don’t get what’s happening.

GENE
I don’t either.

LAURA
You’re a good person, Gene. I know that.

GENE
So are you.

LAURA
And your son. He’s so beautiful. He’s so lucky.

(Pause)

GENE
What do you mean “lucky?”

LAURA
To have someone like you for a father.

GENE
What is “someone like me.”

LAURA
You know what I mean.

GENE
Tell me.

LAURA
Someone who will raise him the way he needs to be raised.

GENE
As opposed to what?

LAURA
What are you getting at?

GENE
What is it about me that you think makes me a better father than some other father he might have had?

LAURA
You’re kind. You’re smart. You’re civilized.

GENE
I’m white.

LAURA
I didn’t say that.

GENE
You didn’t have to.

(GENE starts collecting his things and putting them in his suitcase.)

LAURA
Seriously? You’re leaving.

GENE
It was good to see you again.

LAURA
Gene –

(GENE hands her the Indian blanket.)

GENE
Here.

LAURA
You’re giving this to me?

GENE
It’s yours.

LAURA
I stole it from the art room.

GENE
Yeah, well, it’s yours now. I don’t think I want it anymore.

(GENE zips up his suitcase and walks to the door.)

LAURA
It’s stupid, Gene. This whole thing. It’s so stupid.

GENE
I know.

(GENE exits)

END OF PLAY

1

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