A 10-Minute One Act Play

Help Wanted

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2003 Geralyn Horton


JAKE: 40's, managerial type.

TERESA: late 50's, a gentle elementary school teacher.

MERRIK: late 30's, a born-again Christian.

DEBBIE: 30's, bright, tough, and angry.

KIM, 20's, waif like, depressed.

Time/Place/Scene: A suburban church basement, used as the office of a nonprofit support service for the unemployed, with a couple of desks, an elaborate answering machine with two phones: one real, one facade with a recorded message saying "executive offices" -- which this obviously isn't. There is a card table, folding chairs, newspapers, trade magazines.

TERESA is sitting on a folding chair at the desk , talking to JAKE, who is consulting THE JOB FINDER'S GUIDE and taking notes in a notebook from his briefcase.

DEBBIE enters, looks around.

TERESA I wear an extra sweater and a hat. That's what my mother did when she was a girl, during the Depression. The kitchen stove was their heat. (notices DEBBIE) Can we be of help, dear?

DEBBIE Group's supposed to be at 10:30, isn't it?

TERESA Yes, but--

DEBBIE I'll wait. ( DEBBIE sits, takes out newspaper, begins reading.)

TERESA (to JAKE) How is Janet doing?

JAKE Better. Takes her a couple weeks to bounce back from chemotherapy. But she's up and around, now. Cleaning out the kitchen drawers.

TERESA And your boy?

JAKE I told Park School I was going to have to pull Jason out of there. (sits) They came up with a scholarship.

TERESA (pats JAKE's shoulder) Well, now. That's good news.

JAKE Is it? Jason's grades are dropping. He's out too late, comes back with bullshit --sorry. You'd think that being out of work I'd have time to ride herd on him, but with hustling a job and taking care of Janet--.

TERESA A boy that age can be a real pill. Especially at a time of crisis.

JAKE You're telling me this is normal?

TERESA I saw it my boys. There's stress, and a boy feels he ought to be pitching in to help. But there isn't much he can do, really, is there?

JAKE He can at least not add to our worries!

TERESA That's true, but at his age-- . Probably the guilt is driving him wild.

JAKE School's Jason's job. Seems to me it's that simple.

DEBBIE Maybe your kid's just not the kind who can block out the real world.

JAKE (rises, turns to DEBBIE) Seems to me a person can at least try!

(pause. DEBBIE hides behind newspaper)

TERESA ( brings JAKE back) It was a real shame about that position in Nashua.

JAKE Yeah. I thought they'd--. But--. You know --I could never mention this to Janet, it'd kill her--- but I wonder. Can a personnel office find out about cancer? Go though medical files?

TERESA Doctors' records are confidential.

DEBBIE (lowers paper) Ha! Sure. And Santa Claus lives at the North Pole. (pause) Sorry. S'none of my business.

JAKE Maybe it's my age. I'm fit, but -- do you think I should get a hairpiece?

DEBBIE (laughs, loud. JAKE and TERESA look at her. She holds up the comic page) Dilbert. (they turn back)

MERRIK (enters ) Good morning.

JAKE (goes to Merrik) Hey, look, it's Merrik back! How's it going, big guy?

MERRIK (shaking hands) Good. It's going good, praise the Lord.

JAKE I thought you had a job.

MERRIK I did. I mean, I do. Just taking longer than we figured.

JAKE Georgia, wasn't it?

MERRIK Right. Georgia for training, and then traveling between the territories.

TERESA But your wife's career--.

MERRIK Secretarial stuff. A woman can do that anywhere.

DEBBIE Anywhere there's a job.

MERRIK There's secretarial in Georgia. Alice says, "At $5.15 an hour?" But money goes farther down there. No oil bills, housing's less than half. ...

JAKE I'd say, sell while you can! This market is so overpriced--

MERRIK Alice says the company will fold: a job that can be done cheap in Georgia will be done even cheaper in Pakistan or Prague.

JAKE Well, if you do put your house on the market, give me first shot at the listing, will you? (KIM enters, stands silently)

MERRIK You're still part time at real estate?

JAKE Me and everybody else who's run out their unemployment.

KIM Is this Bright Horizons?

DEBBIE That's what they call it.

KIM I had trouble finding--

TERESA Don't worry, you're not late.

DEBBIE You are, but the Counselor's later.

MERRIK What's going on? (crosses to phone) When I called, the overnight message was still on the answering machine. (fusses w/ machine)

TERESA Oh, dear.

KIM What does that mean?

TERESA People have had to give up their phones, sometimes, or they may even be homeless. Being able to use this answering service makes them--

JAKE Seem normal.

TERESA Employable. Able to return calls.

MERRIK "Executive Offices", it says. After ten, and nobody's here?( DEBBIE laughs)

TERESA Can we reset it?

JAKE How hard can it be? Half the unemployed people here used to be in high tech.

TERESA If you can't change the message, at least turn it off.

DEBBIE (unplugs machine) Off with the bullshit! (to MERRIK) Your Georgia job -- Did you get it through this office?

MERRIK Not really-

DEBBIE (goes back to her chair and paper) Now, how did I guess that?

KIM How did you get it?

MERRIK I heard about it from my cousin, a friend of his--

DEBBIE My Dad ' s cousin got him work in construction, once. In Jersey. He'd only get home about every third weekend. Meant he and Mom never had time to work things out. All they did was fight.

TERESA That sounds so like my mother's stories of the Depression. When my grandfather went looking for odd jobs, weeks at a time.....

MERRIK The job's like auditing, but there's a sales aspect, too. First our team has to convince the company that we can save them money.

JAKE Sales ability! Now, that doesn't surprise me, Merrik. I can see that in you.

MERRIK You think so? I can do it, I have the-- .

JAKE 90% of any job is sales.

KIM Is that really true? I'm terrible. Couldn't even sell girl scout cookies.

JAKE Got to market your personality as well as your skills.

MERRIK As soon as interest rates rise, real estate will be in the toilet--

JAKE Depends on what market. I mean, it's not the class of people who can afford a couple million bucks who are hurting, is it? But those sales take time, those people are choosey--

MERRIK The Georgia job, I don't get paid until the adjustments come in. It can take 6 months, 9 months-- I tell my wife, have faith--

TERESA If you can be sure--

MERRIK My kids are all the time after me, they want stay here where their friends are, but I tell them have faith. The church down there's strong, s'got real spirit. They'd make new friends--

KIM My brother was sent South for basic training. He said the people treated him like dirt.

DEBBIE (reading, exclaims aloud) Jesus Christ!

MERRIK Young lady!

DEBBIE Sorry. I didn't mean -- this story, did you see it? Unemployed postal worker in St. Louis, shot up his boss and three carriers and a cop. At his house, he'd already killed his wife and kids.

MERRIK Let me see. (takes newspaper)

TERESA I heard about that. On the radio.

JAKE There were a rash of these things 10, 12 years ago.

DEBBIE During the last round of lay offs.

MERRIK The Post Office must be hiring straight out of the loony bin.

TERESA Veterans get extra points on the exam, so there may be a lot who are trained in firearms.

MERRIK Combat flash back, you think?

JAKE Post traumatic.

DEBBIE Postal traumatic.

MERRIK Well, they'd better weed out the crazies, and fast.

DEBBIE Oh, the crazies are being weeded out. Along with the alcoholic, lazy, and the ones who can't put in enough overtime.

MERRIK About time!

DEBBIE Good thing they didn't start weeding till my uncle Adam took the pension. He'd have been mad crazy enough to get down his shotgun. course, he drank, some, and he was certainly slow. But neither rain nor snow--

MERRIK Four days, for a letter from my wife! If the mail went private--

DEBBIE There'd be no mail on Saturday, carriers would be green carders getting $5.15 an hour--

KIM And no veteran's preference points?

MERRIK What's your point?

KIM My brother enlisted to get training for a good job.

TERESA "Be all you can be"?

KIM I've thought about enlisting too. But Buddy lost the fingers off his right hand: what's he going to do when he gets out? He can't go back to meat cutting.

MERRIK Don't expect the VA. They're shutting down, one by one.

TERESA This office could find him something, dear. Helen's a lifesaver.

DEBBIE Something "Executive"?

TERESA Education. Retraining. This is a really good program, at least for young people. Oldsters like me, nobody wants to hire us whatever we can do.

KIM They'd better find Buddy something. Cause he's so angry, he might--

MERRIK So it's OK to shoot people? If you lose your job?

DEBBIE No, it's not OK. But I understand it. Don't you? At least a story like this one makes more sense to me than the crap that's in the business section: DOW up; GE announces more layoffs; the Technology Council wants more "flexibility" in the visa program, to meet the overseas competition Do they really think all these computer whizzes who used to make a hundred thou a year are going to go quietly into burger-flipping?

KIM What else can they do?

DEBBIE How many Luddites does it take to unscrew all the light bulbs?

JAKE God knows there's a lot of frustration.

MERRIK (to KIM) God knows, that's a true saying. If we cleanse our hearts, and trust Him, He answers our prayers.

JAKE I've had bosses it wouldn't break my heart to see bleed. But shoot his own kids?

MERRIK Now, that makes sense, in a certain cock-eyed way. If a father's desperate enough to kill, but he loves his kids, how could he leave those kids to face it? I'm not saying he's thinking right, but-- !

TERESA I wish Helen would get here. With two new clients--

DEBBIE I'm not new. This is lay off number 5. Or maybe 25, depending on how you count it.

TERESA Temp jobs? I don't think those count.

KIM They'd count for me! I can't find anything at all.

TERESA Substituting, temping, you know from the start it's not going to last.

JAKE Nothing lasts, these days. You got to plan ahead. Train or re-train.

KIM Sure, train. But for what?

DEBBIE Train, they told me. So now I'm in debt up to my ears for what it cost me to learn programming.

JAKE Programming used to be hot.

DEBBIE And now it's not.

JAKE Still. In a downturn, that's the recommendation. Retrain, add new skills to your resume.

DEBBIE Keep paying tuition. Dangle that "good job" carrot, the old donkey keeps plodding along.

TERESA Education is a person's best investment.

DEBBIE Oh? Where's it got you, lady? You just here to write a book?

TERESA I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. If I hadn't left teaching to raise my boys, I'd be retired on a pension by now. But as a substitute, I--

DEBBIE I started out in the tool shop, with my dad. $12.50 an hour, 18 for overtime. After the 3rd layoff I took the Expert Advice. Went to college. Got my 2 year certificate. Officially qualified to do scut work for some creep in a suit at seven fifty an hour. Seven fifty! With which I'm supposed to buy all this fashion shit and "look professional" for Chrissake! But even in drag, all I could get was temp work. So then it's back to school for Programming....

KIM I can't even get part time Walmart! I thought anybody could get that.

TERESA As soon as Helen gets here she'll help you. She has a comprehensive list: openings, training programs, subsidies, scholarships..... (phone rings)

JAKE Should we answer it?

DEBBIE Well, they can't leave a message, we unplugged the machine.

MERRIK (answers) Executive offices.

KIM (to TERESA) I hope you're right. This feels like it may be my last chance.

DEBBIE Everybody's last chance.

JAKE You're young, you're healthy. It's not the end of the world.

MERRIK Yeah. I'll tell people. (hangs up) This office is closed.

TERESA Oh, my dear God. Are you sure? This office?

KIM Should we go to some other one?

MERRIK Nobody knows. They've all been laid off, here. Budget's gone, the governor vetoed the restoration.

JAKE That was Helen?

TERESA But what will we do?

MERRIK Leave, she says. And lock the door behind us.



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