Episode 9: One Hand Clapping

[SCENE I. The offices of the Portland Examiner, in the basement. There is a sign hanging over the door to this room saying ‘CAUTION: This room is boring.’ CELESTE and CHARLOTTE are standing over KELLY, who is staring spacily into the distance while seated on a very uninteresting chair.]

CHARLOTTE: So, what’s this about the entire town of Portland being in trouble?

CELESTE: Well, Kelly just took me to the Zenburger opening. The staff was like–you know how mostly you can tell the staff at a really busy fast food place hates life and wants you all to die?

CHARLOTTE: I think that’s a little harsh, but yes, I think I know what you’re saying.

CELESTE: They all looked happy. Like each and every one of them had found the secret to happiness, and it was working in a burger joint.

CHARLOTTE: I see.

CELESTE: The whole restaurant looked like that. Even the customers. Normally the customers at a fast food grand opening are a bunch of entitled, demanding assholes who–

CHARLOTTE: You’re not having a very good day, are you?

KELLY: She’s very negative. She just needs to let go.

CELESTE: Anyway, I don’t know what to do apart from lock her up until it wears off.

CHARLOTTE: That doesn’t sound like a very good solution. (She paces.) Did you eat anything? Why aren’t you like this?

CELESTE: I wasn’t hungry. I had a Coke. I don’t feel like a drugged-out hippy.

CHARLOTTE: I see. (She sighs.) Well, regardless, we’ll likely have another victim soon. Melissa said she was going to go check it out before you called. I couldn’t reach her on the phone.

CELESTE: What? (Beat.) Melissa works here?

CHARLOTTE: I hired her recently.

CELESTE: Aren’t you supposed to be sensible?

CHARLOTTE: Just look after Kelly. I’m sure she’ll be back shortly.

 

[SCENE II. Zenburger. MELISSA is eating at one of the tables outside. She mostly just looks bored. The BUDDHA-like founder of the restaurant passes by.]

MELISSA: Yo, Buddha. What’s in this?

BUDDHA: Ah, secret recipe, I’m afraid.

MELISSA: Right. So what’s the deal? Why Zenburger?

BUDDHA: I believe that my burgers are the secret to enlightenment. Were you here for the opening ceremony, perchance?

MELISSA: No, I had a deadline. Fucking deadlines, man. You know?

BUDDHA: Ah. Well, I told my tale of meeting the Buddha on the road. He gave me this recipe for delicious burgers. That weekend I grilled some up, as instructed, and I knew that he had given me the secret to enlightenment. I want the world to have these burgers, miss, ah–

MELISSA: Xenakis. Melissa Xenakis.

BUDDHA: –Miss Xenakis. No doubt you’re tasting it for yourself–this burger is all you could ever need. Do you not feel this way?

MELISSA: Sounds like a trip. But no. I mean, it’s pretty tasty.

BUDDHA: (Looking a little nervous.) Did you try the fries?

MELISSA: Yeah. They’re all right. A bit undercooked, but I know how it is when you’re busy.

BUDDHA: And you’re certain you don’t feel enlightened for having come here?

MELISSA: Pretty sure.

BUDDHA: (Shifting uneasily.) Can I perhaps interest you in some complimentary French fries if you found them inadequate?

MELISSA: Look, this worrying you’re doing is seriously harshing my mellow.

BUDDHA: We only want our customers to be happy! Please accept some complimentary fries!

MELISSA: I guess maybe I could share them at the office?

BUDDHA: (Too quickly.) Yes! Yes! Do that! I’ll send those out for you right away, Miss Xenopus! (He hurries off as quickly as his buddha body can take him.)

MELISSA: Well, that was suspicious as balls. (She grabs her cell phone.) Yo, Jeremy.

JEREMY: Are you saying “yo” now?

MELISSA: Yeah, just started. Don’t know what’s come over me. I’ve got the overpowering urge to stop wearing a bra, give up bathing, and wear hemp fabric and tie dye while smoking a lot of weed and playing bad folk music somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

JEREMY: Jesus, you need to warn a man before you say shit like that. What’s up?

MELISSA: I need your lab. I’ve got some shit for you to check out. You dig?

JEREMY: I, uh, dig.

MELISSA: Great. I’ve just got to stop back at work first.

JEREMY: I’m here all night.

MELISSA: Groovy. Catch you later. (She hangs up.) Jesus Christ, I’ve finally lost it.

 

[SCENE III. The offices of the Portland Examiner, in the basement of boredom. CELESTE and KELLY are still downstairs. CHARLOTTE enters, soon followed by MELISSA, who has switched to bell-bottoms and tie-dye between Zenburger and here. She is also barefoot, wearing flowers in her hair, and sweating quite a bit. She looks profoundly uncomfortable.]

CELESTE: Is that . . . patchouli?

MELISSA: This is a seriously bad trip, man.

CELESTE: But patchouli?

MELISSA: I couldn’t help it! It’s been getting worse, man. (With an effort.) It’s like there’s a hippy living in my brain, and she’s slowly winning control.

CHARLOTTE: She was singing “Turn, Turn, Turn” when she got here.

MELISSA: Ha! Actually that’s just stuck in my head. (She looks KELLY over closely.) She doesn’t look like she’s turning into a hippy.

CELESTE: No, she mostly just stopped caring about anything. It’s like she found happiness.

MELISSA: That’s far out, man. (Beat.) I think my inner hippy is also not very good at being a hippy. (Beat.) Okay, listen. I called Jeremy up. He’s got a lab. And I got a sample of the fries.

CHARLOTTE: Do you want us to take you there?

MELISSA: I can make it! You’ve got to get to the restaurant. Find out what’s going on.

CHARLOTTE: I don’t want to leave any of my employees stranded–

CELESTE: You won’t have to.

(They both look at her.)

CELESTE: A trick I learned from my time as queen of the fairies. You just make sure the messenger is wearing the message somewhere on his person.

MELISSA: Her person.

CHARLOTTE: Queen of the fairies?

CELESTE: Oh, don’t even start, Corday. (She produces a brightly colored USB stick on a lanyard from her bag. It bears the text ‘Read this file,’ followed by a blank where a name can be filled in.) We just need to draft up a file. So even if Melissa doesn’t make it, Jeremy can probably figure it out.

MELISSA: Why are we talking like I might not make it?

CHARLOTTE: I appreciate what you’re doing, Melissa. It’s very brave.

MELISSA: I’m just driving across town. I’m not dying.

CELESTE: Be strong. You’ll get through this.

(CELESTE and CHARLOTTE depart. MELISSA glares at KELLY.)

MELISSA: Why am I the one getting nasty side-effects?

KELLY: Just let it happen, man!

MELISSA: Oh, fuck you. (She also departs.)

 

[SCENE IV. JEREMY’s house. MELISSA knocks on the door, then leans against it heavily. She is clearly struggling to maintain control. JEREMY opens the door, and MELISSA nearly collapses.]

JEREMY: Jesus, you sounded fine on the phone.

MELISSA: The colors, man. (She shakes her head.) I’ve got to . . . give you something. French fries. You can’t eat them. They’re poisoned or drugged or something. (She reaches into her tote bag and thrusts a Zenburger bag at him, along with her brightly colored ‘read this file’ USB key.) Find out what’s wrong. Do not eat them!

JEREMY: (Taking the bag and USB key.) Are you going to be okay?

MELISSA: (With some difficulty.) Doesn’t matter anymore. I can stop fighting it. It’s up to you now. (She collapses. JEREMY catches her. After a moment, she straightens.) Where are your records? Do you still have that Grateful Dead album?

JEREMY: Uh, maybe. Put on whatever you like. I’ve got to, you know, work on this thing.

MELISSA: It’s cool, man.

(JEREMY shakes his head and makes his way into the lab. MELISSA begins flipping through records.)

 

[SCENE V. Zenburger. CELESTE and CHARLOTTE arrive in CHARLOTTE’s car, which is a very nice hybrid.]

CELESTE: Okay, so, I don’t actually know what I’m doing.

CHARLOTTE: Just follow my lead. (She makes her way to the cash register.) Hi, I’m with the Portland Examiner. Can I talk to your manager? I want to do a write-up for tomorrow’s paper.

CASHIER: Sure, man, I”ll see if I can find him. (He ducks into the back.)

CELESTE: That’s your plan?

CHARLOTTE: Do you have a better one?

CELESTE: Point.

(The CASHIER returns with the BUDDHA-like manager.)

BUDDHA: Hello! I hear you would like to write about my humble establishment?

CHARLOTTE: I would. Charlotte Corday of the Examiner. This is my friend Claire Jones. She’s, ah, interning with us today.

CELESTE: It’s Celeste, actually.

CHARLOTTE: Celeste Jones.

BUDDHA: Well, by all means. If you’d follow me.

(They proceed into a back room.)

BUDDHA: Now, what is it you wanted to know?

CHARLOTTE: Well, first, tell me about yourself. I know you have a few other Zenburgers across the country. All getting rave reviews on Yelp, they tell me.

BUDDHA: Ah, yes! Well, when I was a young man, I was thin and unhappy. Always searching for meaning and unhappy with the answers. But I found happiness with Zenburger–and now look at me! (He slaps his belly jovially.)

(CHARLOTTE’s cell phone beeps with an incoming text, and she looks at it for a moment.)

CHARLOTTE: So, I’ve noticed that all your staff seem far happier than most fast food employees. I looked at your public disclosure and notice they’re still getting minimum wage, and there’s no tip jar. Is it true that you are giving everyone who comes here a potent mind-control drug that makes them completely happy with everything?

BUDDHA: Oh, absolutely. It’s in the fries.

CHARLOTTE: In that case–wait, what?

BUDDHA: Why should I be ashamed of bringing happiness to the world, Ms. Corday?

CHARLOTTE: I don’t think you get to make that choice for people.

CELESTE: It’s so not zen! You’re supposed to find enlightenment within yourself.

BUDDHA: Does it matter the path you take?

CELESTE: Yes!

BUDDHA: Of course, it doesn’t matter what you think. I simply can’t let you leave without trying my fries.

(Two of the Zenburger-uniform-clad EMPLOYEES appear in the door, adopting menacing poses. The BUDDHA offers up a box of fries, and smiles a sinister smile.)

BUDDHA: I hope you’re hungry.

(TBC.)

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