14th Street — Act II (Chicago)

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This one takes place in Chicago. Here is a skyline of Chicago.

This is the second act to a two part “play.” The first act can be found here. This is somewhere between a screen play and a play. It could go either way I guess. If you enjoy it leave me a comment or give me a follow.

Act II

Teller

Welcome to Crust and Crumble what can I get you today?

Sam

Hi, can I get a cherry pop-tart and a double Americano?

Teller

A cherry tart and an Americano with an additional shot. That will be seven dollars and your number is 17.

Your order will be called out when it’s ready.

Sam hands over 7 dollars and shuffles to the waiting area in his grey suit and black overcoat. Should take a minute or two to draw the espresso shots.

Bakery Assistant

Number 17?

Sam

Hey yeah, that’s me. Thank you.

Sam takes a bite of his pop-tart, sips his coffee, and ducks out the door where he almost runs into Justine

Justine

Excuse me — Oh shit. it’s you.

Sam

Justine?

Justine and Sam are on the street in early evening Chicago. Late fall.

Justine

So, I — I see you aren’t in DC anymore?

Sam

Not anymore. Neither are you?

Justine

I live here now. You?

Sam

For the past few years yeah me too

Justine

How have you been since we last saw each other?

Sam

After that night I met you everything became crystal clear. I took that fellowship and Emily was either going to understand and want the best for me or wouldn’t

Justine

Right. Emily. And?

Sam

Things got pretty messy. I wouldn’t say it went up in flames and burned to the ground. There might be a semblance of a framework left.

Pause

So what happened with you?

Justine

I finished two years at the Navy and I thought I might give academia a try again. The University of Chicago offered me a tenure track position that I accepted and now I’m here.

Sam

Wow that’s amazing. Congratulations.

Justine

After being out of school and now that I’m on the other side of things I think I saw why you were depressed back in DC. I’ve come a bit into a funk myself — Even though work seems to be going well.

Sam

Not even artisanal Pop-tarts can cure it?

Justine

I see I got you hooked

Justine gestures at the half eaten pop-tart that Sam occasionally takes a bite from while she is speaking.

Sam

I mean I had never really given them a shot, but when I moved here I decided why the hell not and it makes me think of you every time I see them

Justine slows down and turns to Sam with a serious look

Justine

Do you mind if I unload my problems on you this time?

Sam

I am at your service. My rate is 2 drinks though.

Justine

I didn’t charge you anything!

Sam

Experience commands a higher price Doctor Justine

Justine

I bet we are the same age. One the count of three we both say our ages at the same time

One, two, three

Sam

32

Justine

30

Sam

HA! I am older, wiser —

Justine

And slower.

I know a place, but you have to drink whatever I get you.

Pause

Deal?

Sam

Seems like a dangerous proposition. I’m in.

Justine

So I’ve been in the real world for about three years now. Until then I had been an “Academic” or something to that effect. Now I’m back in Academia, but from the other side of the table and it’s more depressing than I realized.

Sam

Why is that?

Justine

So most research is driven by desire to solve complex and challenging problems — these are problems that might take someone’s whole life to solve. This is why there is something called the tenure system where once I have it the act of firing me becomes significantly more difficult.

Sam

As opposed to right now. I guess your head is basically on the chopping block?

Justine

Something to that effect — what you do think my job is?

Sam

I would guess it’s something like teach a bunch of sniveling undergraduates things you can do in your sleep and try to publish some papers and go to conferences. Maybe get a grant here or there to fund your research.

Justine

You are partially correct. My job is to generate some multiplier of the money the university spends on me. If they spend a million dollars on me then I should think about bringing in some multiplier of that or at least equal to that in order to get tenure. I mean, that’s what I was told by the other faculty in a circumspect manner.

Sam

Oh, so it’s not even clear about what’s deserving of tenure or not?

Justine

Not officially, but I know its money. I guess. I guess it was always there for me to see. My PhD adviser was always writing grants and was concerned about money. I know what he was going through now.

Sam

So are you happy as a professor?

Justine

I don’t know. I guess my illusions of what I thought it might be were just shucked away and thrown out like a bad oyster or something

Sam

So you need to be good at getting money. I would guess that good work precedes people giving you money to do more good work

Justine

You’re right. I guess it’s like seeing how bacon is made and kind of wanting to become a vegetarian, but you still like eating bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches.

Sam

With the yellow American Cheese?

Justine

It has to be yellow American

Sam

Well, after almost two years in this fellowship I can tell you that whatever your salary, challenges with work, and just society in general you can still rest comfortable in the fact that you still got it pretty good.

Justine

I know. I know, there are a lot of people in the country and elsewhere in the world that have it a lot worse off than me

Sam

They are worse off and I think a lot of the times happier

Justine

Happier and worse off?

Sam

I was in Eastern Kentucky in the heart of coal country. I was demonstrating to the local governments how to directly apply for federal aid and ensure they get it. This is to combat the decline in coal prices and provide money for new job training. We can safely say that I look nothing like the people in Eastern Kentucky, much less speak or act like they might, but I got pulled into their community for a brief amount of time.

Justine

They plied you with barbecue, sweat tea, and Moon Pies or something?

Sam

Actually, it was whisky, bluegrass, and regular pies. I used to play guitar, well specifically blues guitar back in the day when I was in High School. I started jamming with this local band and I guess I rediscovered playing music again. I’m going back for Thanksgiving in a few weeks to play some gigs with the band and have my first fried Turkey

Justine

It sounds like that move to the new job worked out for you.

Sam

I guess it did. I think after that night I knew that I had to make a change or I was only going to get worse

Justine

I think I understand that feeling a bit more now

Sam

You just started being a professor. How can you already be tired about it?

Justine

I’m just here because that’s where all my work took me. I never really gave it too much thought. I never really questioned or thought about what I really wanted. I just liked doing research and being a good scientist.

Sam

So what would success look like to you?

Justine

You mean how do I define success?

Sam

No, I mean imagine you are on your death bed and reflecting on your life for the last few minutes before you pass. What is it that makes you smile and feel that you were successful in what you set out to achieve?

Justine

Not exactly a question for the street. We’re here

Justine and Sam are outside of a warm lit restaurant with live fireplaces visible from the window. The bar has two stools open near the front windows. They check their coats and take up residence on the stools

Justine

Hey, Ricky how are the kids?

Ricky (The bartender)

Hey Prof, they are good. You want the usual?

Justine

Actually let’s get two of those

Ricky

Sure thing, I’ll put those orders in now. Also, is that homework due before Fall break or after?

Justine

It’s due before. I have to have something to grade while you guys are goofing off for Thanksgiving.

Ricky moves away to fix the drinks

Sam

Well, you come here enough to be a regular and the bartender is one of your students?

Justine

Yeah, he is trying to finish his degree and my chemistry classes are one of the few core requirements he needs to finish. He has two adorable kids.

Sam

Based on your smile it looks like teaching agrees with you

Justine

It’s my favorite part of the job to be honest

Sam

So that brings us back to my question I think

Justine

Patience Sam, here comes perfection

Ricky approaches carrying two steaming cups of what looks like coffee

Sam

Coffee?

Justine

Just wait and taste

Ricky

Here we go. Two Nutty Irishmen for the Professor and her friend.

Justine

Thank you Ricky, this is Sam, an old friend of mine who I met back in DC.

Ricky

Well, welcome to Deluxe Sam. If you need anything else please let me know. It’s all on the house.

Sam arches an eyebrow

Ricky

Professor Justine here is the best tutor. Without her I wouldn’t be getting my degree a year early and Charlize, my youngest, just got put into an accelerated program.

Sam

That’s amazing. I had no idea Justine was such a good teacher

Ricky

She doesn’t charge anything except drinks and dinner every so often here. My wife Susie was a little skeptical at first, but when she saw Justine’s multiple suitors here she became more comfortable with our tutoring arrangement.

Sam

Oh? Multiple suitors you said?

Ricky looks at Sam with a tilt to his head and kind of measures how tall he is based on the bar stool

Ricky

Actually, you might just be her type Sam. I’d say look out. Let me know if you guys need anything else.

Rick moves away and Sam turns towards Justine

Sam

So what is your type exactly?

Justine

Do you want me to answer your first question or that one first? Take a sip of your drink

Sam

First, and yes Professor

They take sips and Sam’s face should be something between elation and ecstasy. Justine either smiles or laughs.

Justine

Yeah I know that was my expression the first time I had one

Sam

I’d tutor people for this too

Justine

This is your answer to your first question

Sam

Drinking boozy coffee at a bar?

Justine

No, drinking boozy coffee with the guy I’ve been measuring every other guy I meet against, in a bar where I’m friends with the owner. I live across the street and it’s a ten minute walk to campus. The woman who I buy bread from, her name is Margaret, and her father opened the bakery after he got back from the European Front in World War II. He spent a lot of time with French bakers and they have the best baguettes in the city.

Could utilize scenes of these places with Justine’s voiceover

I buy my fruit and veggies from a small Vietnamese market a few blocks over. Sunny and his wife came here in the eighties and if I call ahead of time they will pack up a bag with everything I usually get plus a few new exotic fruits and vegetables they import from their contacts at their old village. And when I get the feeling for artisanal Pop-tarts I go into Frank’s and get a double Americano and a cherry tart as they call it even though it looks like a pop-tart. Something about trademarks they said. Frank’s daughter attends the same Judo school I go to.

Sam

So community is what you want and it seems like you’ve got it.

Justine

But I didn’t have you sitting here the whole time. I just hope you’ll stay.

Sam

You think Ricky has rooms in the back? I think you just got me addicted. Is that weird if I want to live in here?

Justine

Susie might take offense since she runs the place while Ricky just bartends. I might be able to put in a good word though. How about your answer?

Sam

My answer to what my type of guy is? I guess he has long blonde hair, blue eyes, rock hard abs and is able to lift heavy things.

Justine

Obviously that is your type of guy I figured that already. I meant your first question. When you are lying on your deathbed and you are looking back on your life what is it that makes you smile?

Sam

I don’t think that was my question exactly

Justine

I made some edits. It’s better now.

Sam

Well, one thing is off my list. I got to meet you again. As for the rest well, there is probably something cliché about having a positive effect on the world and being the change I want to see and some other superhero goals, but all I can think about is where the night takes us and if you will storm out of the bar in anger like last time

Justine

Well, you haven’t been withholding any important information like a serious girlfriend from me have you?

Sam

Nope

Justine

Chances are looking up for you

Sam

So back to my second question — your type of guy is —

Justine

Somewhat shorter than me, doesn’t do science, doesn’t look like he is from Kentucky, and was once musically inclined.

Sam

What if he is still musically inclined?

Justine

Depends on if he is any good or plans to get better

Sam

I’m no Bela Fleck, but I do play with a band sometimes where we get paid to perform

Justine

I guess that’ll do.

END.

If you read all the way to the end. I sincerely thank you and hope that it was enjoyable. Please excuse typos that I did not catch. Give me a follow or leave me a comment if you want to read more stuff like this.

Written by

Writer of The Polymerist newsletter. Talk to me about chemistry, polymers, plastics, sustainability, climate change, and the future of how we live.

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