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Things I Come From is about an old guy who makes a desperate attempt to return to his hopeful youth ... and actually succeeds. It's partly based on autobiographical material, but I won't say which part. What follows is an excerpt of the script, based on the short story, which is also excerpted from the script page. Both scenes are quite close, in that the script excerpt contains the action of the excerpt from the short story.

 

This excerpt starts with a flashback. Our main character, Raymond Cryer, Jr. is a seventy-nine year old security guard from Suffern, New York. While watching CNN (in the scene prior to this), he sees a "Breaking News" story about a Mobile, Alabama insurance office currently experiencing a hostage crisis, wherein an employee of the office has gone berserk and murdered some of his co-workers. On TV, some amateur video from the scene shows the hostages briefly, and Cryer recognizes one of them. The following scene is Cryer's memory of first meeting that person, when both were young kids.

 

 

 

"Things I Come From"

(An Excerpt from The Night Show, Vol. 1: The Great American Night)

(beginning of excerpt)

Thanksgiving, 1945.

 

He had followed Gabe to the house on the edge of town, clapboard white, tire swing in front, a variety of terminal auto skeletons in the backyard. The sun had been gone for an hour or so by then, and he should have been back already, but his father was far less quick to punish him in this place and at this time of year. His father would be tipping more than his share, this being Thanksgiving, and he being in the midst of his seldom seen brothers and sisters. Every year was the same; his father returned to his hometown here in the cornfields of South Dakota, bringing along his wife, and his son, Ray, Jr.

Tradition, coming here to the middle of nowhere. The ride was nice, back of Dad’s Studebaker, watching cornfields turn into small towns forgotten by time and it’s own occupants, then back again to the corn. His grandparents had produced twelve children, of which his father was the sixth. Among the subsequent offspring of those twelve kids, forty-three grandchildren in all, Raymond was barely in the periphery of his grandparents’ over-crowded holiday gatherings. His many cousins were little more than strangers to him. He would be closer, years later, to all those bland faces he met as a regular attendee of countless sales conventions. When he came to this place, Ray, Jr. usually found solace only in his own imagination.

The Schwinn in the musty garage, unused until Ray, Jr. came to town, was his magic carpet.

Gabe was one of the town’s more underprivileged sons, living with a sister named Angel, his biological father, Jack, and his father’s transient girlfriend, in a ramshackle dwelling across town from the white clapboard house where they were now. Gabe had invited him to this place where Angel was baby-sitting, and Ray, Jr. hadn’t needed much in the way of arm-twisting. On his borrowed Schwinn, he had set out into the dusky town to find anything resembling excitement, and this was the most he had ever found. Such journeys usually led him up one street and down another, sometimes past the Sioux River, sometimes across Main Street when he chose to see how the less fortunate half lived. Gabe and Angel were from that end of town, south of Main Street. So were the kids Angel was babysitting.

Ray, Jr. followed his new acquaintance to the clapboard on Mason Avenue with little more intention than forestalling his inevitable return to his aunt’s house on the north side of Main Street, the good side, where a houseful of relatives he cared nothing about had congregated. Gabe reached the front yard before he did, and was all the way past the tire swing before Ray, Jr. had even come to the curb. Damn, that kid could ride fast!

It was the year that Ray, Jr. started smoking—the first gesture that officially began the end of his childhood. The end to that beginning came when Ray, Jr. followed Gabe through the front door of that clapboard house on Mason Avenue.

 

 

 

The cab driver was good. All Cryer had to say was, “Delta, LaGuardia,” and the guy took him right there by the fastest possible connection of freeways. He chose Delta because Fred Bormin had been saying just the other day that Delta was the most reasonable and had a good, steady departure consistency. He and the wife had looked at all the airlines when they took their honeymoon in Alaska, comparing all the prices. Delta had two flights a day to Alaska. For Alaska, that was good. How many people were really flying to Alaska? By that rationale, Cryer imagined they must have at least six flights going to Mobile, Alabama. If not, he would be paying this Iranian guy to take him a hell of a lot farther than LaGuardia.

They had six exactly. The next was leaving at four-thirty-four, a mere two-hour wait.

He went back to the concourse windows after buying his ticket, and waved the Iranian guy off with the hefty tip Cryer had left in the man’s possession. The extra twenty had been to keep the cab waiting; a tip, if waiting wasn’t necessary. He had anticipated a line to buy his ticket, but there was no one else in line at this hour.

The first place he visited was the toilet. The days of forty-five minute drives with no pit-stop were long gone. The second place he visited was the bar. Ordering a straight Dewars, he asked the bartender, who was about as old as the Scotch, if he wouldn’t mind turning on the news. CNN, please.

The President was hailing his sea of perceived admirers as if he were Elvis … Texas flooding had prompted the governor to declare a state of emergency … and Ms. Pinstripe got her head blown off in Mobile, Alabama, specifically at an office building in the suburb of Dalemore Heights.

“Somethin’ ‘bout those floods in Texas, eh?”

Cryer snapped out of the spell of seeing those other hostages, cowering against the wall. “What floods?”

“On the news yer watchin’. They got floodin’ down in Texas.”

The blonde news lady was talking, but Cryer couldn’t hear her. “Good thing I’m not goin’ there, then.” The volume bar probably wasn’t much higher than a three, if this TV even had one. Besides that, it was mounted so high above the bar, Cryer wished he’d brought the scope off his old Mauser.

“Yeah? Where you headed?”

“Mobile, Alabama,” said Cryer. He wiggled the empty glass at his elderly bartender.

“Business or pleasure?”

Cryer drank, sighed from the sheer pleasure of it, even though it made him feel no better about tomorrow. “Duty,” he said.

He tried to take a nap in one of those hard plastic chairs that had the TVs mounted on them, but was unsuccessful. Twenty fruitless minutes in this pursuit finally led him to feed a quarter into the thing and click the channel knob until he found CNN. The missing girl in Chicago was named Monica Harvey. Her father was pleading from a podium in broad daylight for her safe return, surrounded by cops and press. They were showing the day’s news, which was good. It meant there was nothing breaking to cover instead.

But then there was.

The white caption read: “Second victim of Office Killer removed from scene.” The picture showed two paramedics wheeling a gurney and sheet-covered body out of the building’s front doors. Another with a walkie-talkie and Flak jacket was holding one of the doors open for them. Cryer turned up the volume as high as it would go, which was no more than two notches on the red volume bar. He waited for the name of the second victim, but none was forthcoming.

The newslady this time was a brunette. Ten hours into this mess, and finally they had a name for this bandit. “Authorities believe the identity of the Office Killer to be Samuel White, a [referring to notes] Computer Information Systems manager of O’Reilly & Sons, who started there three years ago. Questioning of White’s friends and neighbors has been ongoing for several hours now, with still no word on what would have led White to threaten the lives of his co-workers… ” Halfway through this jabber, a picture of a thirty-something Caucasian male came up on the screen, standing with others at some kind of formal occasion. None of the faces of the others in the photograph were visible except one, presumably White himself, but they were all wearing tuxedos. White, included. Then came a high school yearbook photo. Then Cryer’s quarter ran out and the TV shut off.

Cryer pulled himself out of the uncomfortable seat and headed back toward the bar, more for the booze or the TV, he wasn’t sure.

 

 

Thanksgiving, 1946.

 

The entire year had not passed well. The darkness had been tangible as it was setting in, somewhere around an hour east of Canton, like some kind of cataclysmic weather coming across the cornfields as he and his parents headed back to Detroit. The day was actually sunny, but the black skies were there for Ray, Jr. They were driving into it headlong. Ray, Jr. still remembered that unholy depression years afterward, of leaving something behind he wouldn’t have willingly left for five minutes, much less a whole year.

The skies hadn’t cleared until about two days ago. They were making the yearly pilgrimage, and his anticipation was sickening. Every time Dad pulled the Studebaker off the freeway to get gas or just make a pit-stop, Ray, Jr. would count the seconds until they were back on the road. In Canton, he hugged his aunt, hung out with his cousins, Jimmy and Len, watched a little TV while Dad drank beer with Uncle Bobby and Mom knitted, chatting with Aunt Betty over decaf. There were still three days before the holiday and no relatives had arrived yet, which was typical. Most of them wouldn’t show up until the day, since most of them lived either in this state or near the border of the other ones, near enough to do the drive in a matter of hours. It wasn’t too hard to slip away to the garage.

The Schwinn was there, as he’d known it would be.

He thought it might have belonged to Len, now twenty-nine and working at the Gas & Go up by the interstate. Len was still living at home, but driving a motorcycle, not riding this thing. Ray, Jr. pulled away a cobweb or two and wheeled it out to the driveway, then he was on his way to find Gabe. The search took less than three blocks.

Gabe was in the neighborhood park, his Huffy’s front wheel lodged in the bars of a bike rack, and he was balancing there, talking to a kid about the same age. Ray, Jr. watched for a minute, waiting to see if the kid talking to Gabe noticed him.

Ray, Jr. was a good four years older than Gabe, which, at sixteen, made oceans of difference. Ray was light years ahead in the crawl toward adulthood, (so he thought, as did Gabe), but he loved the kid. He, Gabe and Angel had spent every minute of his week in town together last year. Ray, Jr. would have even gone so far as to say that he loved the kid like a brother. He rode up behind Gabe from the street side, and the kid Gabe was talking to gestured with a nod. When Gabe turned to look, Ray, Jr. saw all of the exact same feeling in Gabe’s expression. It was like disjointed souls finding their perfect symmetry.

He was pretty sure Gabe and Angel’s father beat them both. He had never seen bruises, but they were damaged kids, nonetheless. Even last year, they had been making jokes about following him back to Detroit by hiding in the trunk of Ray, Sr.’s Studebaker. It was joking that he laughed with them about at the time, but then, and later, he had really only been saddened because he would have loved nothing better than that very thing.

Those days were something he would never find again, but at the time, they were just great, and who knew there wouldn’t be thousands more?

He and Gabe rode over to the elementary school, where Angel would be in the last quarter of her basketball game. Gabe told him Angel talked about her boyfriend in Detroit like Ray, Jr. was Montgomery Clift, or somebody. Gabe loved Ray, Jr. too, but he didn’t say it. Ray, Jr. just knew that. Gabe wasn’t going to say that, and would have probably been embarrassed if he’d known how obvious it was. All through those dusky streets, Gabe kept trying to sell the full breadth of Angel’s love. It was almost like Gabe wanted Ray, Jr. to be re-united with his sister even more than Ray, Jr. wanted it. Together, they prowled the hallways, Gabe introducing him to friends, leading him down hallways that lead to smaller hallways, until they were somewhere in the vicinity of the locker rooms. Two girls were coming from the other direction, wearing yellow tank-top jerseys over white T-shirts. Gabe stopped one, instantly caging her in his charming con-man sort of a way. “Tracy, who won?”

Tracy told them the game was 6-4, their win.

“Will you do me a favor? Go get Angel and tell her to come out here.”

“We have to—”

“Come on, pleeeeese, just go tell her to come out here. Just stick your head in the door and yell for her to come out. Just tell her it’s me.”

Tracy finally went just to shut him up.

In that hallway, Ray, Jr. stood and waited with Gabe, neither of them saying a word. He would never again in his seventy-nine years feel the same thing again. Not quite this pure. Tracy came back, as promised, with Angel in tow and the two of them came around the corner fast, almost colliding with Ray, Jr. and Gabe.

Angel’s reaction made Gabe’s look like sadness by comparison. She shrieked and ran back the way she had come. Ray, Jr. might have done the same, if his body hadn’t been paralyzed.

 

 

Cryer watched the sheets of rain fall in curtains. They swept across the day-like illumination of the tarmac, one following the other in endless repetition. The weather reports had been telling of storms all up and down the eastern seaboard, and his plane had been delayed coming in from Tallahassee, waiting for the weather to clear. It was five-fifteen before Cryer was allowed to board his flight. There were only five other passengers, people Cryer noticed nothing about except for their number.

Ray Cryer had never feared death. A three-year stint in Korea, fifty years ago, had cured him of that. Still, the constant bucking of the plane all the way to Mobile went a long way toward mangling his bravery. To take his mind off it, Cryer thought about Gabe, picturing him with very little of the exaggerated attributes or detriments of character that one seems to acquire with the advancement of years. Those days had passed no more than one really long week ago. 1947 was the year he first kissed Angel (or any other girl). In ’48 his parents took him to Skokie, Illinois, his mother’s hometown, and his heart had been broken. No soul mates there, by blood or other. He remembered coming back to Canton for Thanksgiving in ’49 and finding that Angel and Gabe were visiting their mother in Georgia. He had learned from one of Angel’s friends who lived over on Mandalay Street. Mandy Sorenson. Mandy from Mandalay. The anticipation crashing down on his shoulders was indescribable, two year’s worth of waiting turned to nothing but dust inside of him. Needless to say, Cryer hadn’t felt very thankful that year.

They had been writing letters to each other ever since that first year. Gabe had written a couple to him, Angel had written many, and Cryer had written a couple back. During those three, two-week Thanksgiving holidays in the forties, Ray, Jr. had felt a symmetry for the only time in his life, that simple connecting of the dots between mind, heart, and soul. It was an elusive ghost, a breeze that lifted away as soon as it was time to go home. In fifty years and two marriages, the breeze had never returned. He was nineteen that last year he had visited Canton, the year they hadn’t been there, nineteen-forty-nine. Ten months later, the first U.S. troops landed in the village of Inchon, a colorful little shithole in scenic South Korea. Ray Cryer, Jr. was twenty when he enlisted in the Infantry.

For the next three years, the never-prolific Cryer found even less ability to correspond.

At twenty-three, he returned to Canton at Thanksgiving and spent the obligatory three or four hours conversing with ambivalent relatives. He played a game of pool in the basement with Len and Jimmy on their table, one of the few in town that was personally owned at the time. He waited until he could see the dusk falling through the narrow basement windows, then he told them he was going out to get cigarettes, getting out of there without asking if he could bring back anything for them.

He was driving a Studebaker, just like the ol’ man. Across the cornfields he had listened to Sonny Boy Williamson’s harmonica on the King Biscuit Flower Hour and thought about his two favorite people in the world. Now that he was here, he drove that three blocks to Gabe and Angel’s house with as much slowness as if he had just made the drive yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. One part of him wanted to be there as quick as he could think it, while the other was more afraid of this than anything he had seen in three years of war.

What if she said no?

What if there was someone else?

The plane lurched at that moment and Cryer gripped his armrest even tighter than he already had been. He wondered if he would have ever returned to these memories were this flight taking place yesterday. Outside, lightning creased the cloud lines as though it was some kind of vast and glowing sea serpent under the murky surface of the ocean, possibly dipping deeper to come up under them directly. Cryer was not big on imagination anymore, but he was good at perceiving the worst, even when it bordered on ridiculous levels of paranoia. A healthy amount was known to keep people up river of trouble, most times. He had resigned himself to the inevitability of death half a century ago, but now he cared, and it had everything to do with this walk down memory lane. Death could have happened yesterday or claim him tomorrow but not now, please God. Not at this moment, of all times.

 

 

Gabe and Angel’s father was a skinny man, maybe only a hundred pounds or so soaking wet, and every time Ray, Jr. had glimpsed him previously, he seemed to be wearing the exact same clothes. Worn denim work pants of some dark but indiscernible color, a faded black T-shirt, a black cap promoting something Ray, Jr. had never stood close enough to read. Standing in the man’s doorway now, he could see that something was Canton Granary.

Ray, Jr. had seen far worse than this man in far worse places than this town. He had faced those worse things without fear, but somehow this was different. Yes, these were the days when elders received a considerable amount of traditional respect, but it wasn’t only that. He was helpless, standing there, as though his hands were tied before the enemy. Ray wanted something here; he wanted to take away the man’s daughter (and probably his son, too), and the thing was: he couldn’t just take them—they had to be given.

Ray stood there at the man’s front door, waiting for his knock to be answered. When the door opened, Ray, Jr. could tell at once that this man had never seen the pleasure in giving. Ray, Jr.’s service cap was in his hands, being twisted way past regulation smoothness, and he didn’t even remember taking it off. Right away, he could tell Gabe and Angel’s father knew who he was.

“Sir, I … was wondering if Angel … or Gabe was here … sir?”

In one of the letters Angel had written to him, maybe a year before he had gone to Korea, she had told him that her father (Jack was his name) had found one of her half-finished letters to Ray, Jr. and had gotten “real mad over it.” Jack must have seen him all these years as the inevitable dark cloud that would come one day to take his daughter, and today the rain was here, on his doorstep.

“She’s gone. Gabe, too.”

“Gone, sir?”

“Gone to live with their mother.” And then he shut the door.

Ray, Jr. blinked only after a prolonged second, delayed reflexes that would have meant his death six months earlier.

Angel was in Georgia. That’s where the mother lived. It was the last time Ray, Jr. ever laid eyes on Jack Eldin and, for reasons he was never able to name, it was also the last time in fifty-six years he would mention the name of Jack’s children.

 

 

“I’d be happy to pay for your ride if you’ll allow me to share your cab.”

He was leaning in to the backseat, feigning all the kindly-old-man crap he could muster, and the pouring rain was doing its best to make faking it the hardest job in the world. What he wanted to do was haul this college girl out of the backseat, of apparently the only cab in Mobile at seven-oh-five in the morning, by her pretty eyelashes.

When she nodded that he could join her, Ray, Jr. wondered if the Great Almighty was helping him out because Cryer’s ambitions were noble, or because He wanted to see this old man laid out on a cold slab before noon. Either way, Cryer was soon on his way to Dalemore Heights, even if he wasn’t going there first.

She was holding a folded newspaper, wet from being used as an umbrella. “That’s the great thing about the news,” Cryer told her, “it serves so many purposes.” She was a smart one, catching on quickly. She giggled, thinking him a cute old fart.

Then she did just what he had been hoping she would do: she flipped it open to the front page, more to respond to him without actually speaking, as if he had reminded her why she had bought the damn thing in the first place.

That picture screamed out to him, the one that had hung in his mind all night in front of all the other memories, urging him to the bottom of this great country, in this rain that might ultimately kill him. That was, if the Office Killer didn’t do it first. The caption: “Night of Terror.”

Ah, thought Cryer, a cheesy horror movie title had never sounded so apt.

“Terrible, isn’t it?”

Cryer said, “Yes. It is.”

“You from here?”

Tired as he was, Cryer appreciated such off-hand intelligence. He wouldn’t be easy with a nit-wit right now. It made him want to tell her what he was doing, even if he had no idea how he was going to do it yet. “I’m in town for business.” She couldn’t have missed the point that he had just told the driver to take him to the very same suburb in which world news was taking place.

“That must be kind of creepy.”

“It is. Very creepy.”

“I know I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near Dalemore today. It’s like a bomb scare to have that guy around.”

“It’s very important business, ma’am. He’s the third one from the left, in front.”

“Who is?” She was looking at the paper again, closer.

“My brother. The old guy, third in …” He didn’t finish, pointed at Gabe instead.

Realizing, she said quietly, “Oh my God,” sounding shocked, sad. “I feel so bad for you.”

“It’s okay. I’m going to get him out.”

(end of excerpt/Proceed to "Crazy Willie Rides On")                                               Script Conversion

 

 

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