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A loud boisterous bar full of youngish people looking for a weekend adventure

Act I

Friend 1

Hey, were getting shots you want one?

Sam

Save one for me I gotta make a call

Friend 2

I’ll take his you can get in on the next round when you are buying Sam

Sam

Be afraid when I get back in here. You won’t enjoy those words

Friend 1

Ooooh Sam is gonna make us drink alcohol and thinks we won’t enjoy it. I’ll see if I can find anyone else in the bar who will be scared with us

Sam

You laugh now asshole. I’ll be back

Sam exits the bar to the street with his phone pressed to his ear. It’s late night in Washington D.C. on 14th street. People are walking or stumbling in the background.

Sam

Hey Emily, it’s me. Please give me a call back. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the Fellowship. I had just found out a few hours before and I was afraid of what you might say.

A bouncer forcibly escorts a tall lanky woman from the bar next door. Heavy bass from the music looms out of the door as it closes. She is pissed. Sam is watching as he hangs up his cellphone.

Justine

Hey asshole, he fucking started that shit when he grabbed my ass. What the fuck would you do if some guy grabbed your dick huh?

Bouncer

Lady, it’s not my call if you are in the right or the wrong. My manager tells me to escort you outside. I gotta escort you outside. I’m just trying to do my job.

Justine

Oh yeah? Well what about that fuck face in there with his vodka soda and skin tight white polo shirt and gelled hair that is stiff enough to hurt someone?

Bouncer

I’m sorry Ma’am. Do you have an open tab at the bar you would like me to close for you?

Justine

Fuck off, if I did I would say it was a fraudulent charge anyway. I’m going to wait out here until that prick leaves.

Sam

Hey, excuse me I don’t mean to intrude, but can you describe this guy to me?

Justine gives him a sidelong glance. Glances up and down at him and seems to pass some sort of skeptical judgement

Justine

He was some muscled out guy in a skin tight Abercrombie white polo shirt. He was wearing a lot of neck jewelry. Why you know —

Sam

Yeah, I overheard what you said to the bouncer over there. That guy did that to a friend of mine a few weeks ago. She called the police and everything and waited out here just like you did. He has dark hair, brown eyes, probably was wearing some Gucci loafers, smoked cigarettes, and one of his front teeth is gold?

Justine

Actually yeah, he did have a golden tooth

Sam

He’s some important ambassador’s son. The police had him in cuffs and calling it into the station. Some guys in black SUVs came through and he was out of there in a few minutes.

Justine

That mother fucker

Sam

Yeah, I’m really sorry. It was at that same bar too.

Justine looks at her phone and curses. Sam looks at his phone with his finger over a contact named Emily.

Justine

Hey, I’m kind of new to the area. Do you know a bar called ChurchKey?

Sam

Yeah, I know it.

Justine

Could you give me some directions? My other friends are there and my friends in there don’t want come out. My phone also just died and I’m new to the area.

Sam

Your friends sound like my friends. ChurchKey isn’t that far away. It’s a downhill walk. Just walk down 14th and it’s going to be on your left. You are going to go through a bit of sketchy neighborhood to get there. Well I guess it used to be sketchy a few years ago.

Justine looks around with some uncertainty and looks down 14th street

Sam

You know, I could walk you down there if you don’t mind the company

Justine

Oh, no that’s a big inconvenience on you. You have friends in there waiting for you

Sam

Yeah, but I see them every weekend and it’s my turn to buy shots for everyone, besides I don’t even like doing shots so it’s really not a big deal. I can’t have your first few encounters in your new home city being like that douchebag in there.

Justine smiles at Sam and gestures for him to lead the way

Sam

Oh yeah, my name is Sam by the way

Justine

I’m Justine. It’s good to meet you Mr. By the way. What do you do?

Sam

Other than escort really tall women around D.C.?

You’ve been here for how long and you already know the standard DC opener. You must be a fast learner.

Justine

Oh I’m sorry, it’s just everyone asks me that. I guess they infected me with doing it too

Sam

It’s cool. I’m used to it. I work at a government contracting firm where I manage client relations with government agencies. Basically, we help companies win contracts and act as a sort of liaison to make sure everything goes well

Justine

That is the most DC job I’ve ever heard in my life

Sam

I know, it’s really quite dreadful in how boring it is to be honest. I hope you do something a little less boring.

Justine

I’m a polymer chemist

Sam stops on the side walk and Justine stops a few steps later. People are walking past giving weird glances.

Sam

So you actually do things in a laboratory or something?

Justine

Yeah, why did you stop? Is that such a weird thing?

Sam sticks his hand out, shakes Justine’s hand, and bows

Sam

You are one of the few rare people I’ve met that probably does something with their hands that doesn’t involve typing at a computer all day. And I imagine it’s very important and has impact on the world. It’s an honor.

Justine laughs and they keep walking.

Justine

Is this what happens to people who work in DC for too long?

Sam

Only some of us. For others this is perfection I think. Put in a solid Monday through Friday. Go to happy hours. Go to bars, see plays, watch movies. Brunch. Talk about international development and politics. It’s the dream for a lot of people.

Justine

So are you unhappy?

Sam gives her a weird sidelong glance or acts uncomfortable.

Justine

I’m sorry, was that too forward of me after we just met?

Sam

No, it’s fine. I think since you are almost a complete stranger — I mean if you want to hear them — I could tell you things in confidence. You could be my sidewalk therapist. Dr. Justine.

Justine

Well I do a PhD.

Sam

So my day starts with at least three shots of espresso. It’s about two Alabama Shakes songs to walk to the metro station. I wear a suit to work so in the summer I’m sweating bullets in thirty seconds. Everyone’s face on the metro is sad looking, it’s always full, and the trains are never on time. My office is open, but no one really talks to each other except through Slack and Email.

Justine

Hot weather, slow trains, and lots of people — doesn’t take much to get you down.

Sam

Hey, I’m not done yet. I hope you aren’t charging me a lot for these sessions Doctor.

Justine

You could probably count it as preventative so make your insurance pay.

Sam laughs

Justine

I usually charge extra for my jokes, but it was perhaps mild on the offensive scale. Please continue with your problems.

Sam

I usually have lunch while on a sixty person conference call. I grab coffee with Joe afterwards. He’s probably the only cool guy in the office. A few Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and client calls later it’s the end of the day and I feel like the world isn’t any better than it was before my day started.

Pause

On Thursdays or Fridays I usually meet some of my friends out who have similar jobs for drinks and things kind of spiral into a night like tonight except I don’t meet really tall and beautiful Polymer Chemists getting harassed and thrown out of clubs that often — tonight is a little different.

Justine

Well, I’m not that tall. You are just kind of short buddy.

Justine rests her arm on Sam’s shoulder. She is a bit taller than him.

I guess I shouldn’t complain about having to make polymers and analyze them then all day.

Sam

Oh so you make polymers and analyze them? You have been holding back on me about this job of yours. What’s your day like?

Justine either laughs, smiles, or some expression of amusement

Justine

Well, I don’t drink coffee so my day starts with walking my dog Arnie a few blocks and getting a pastry at this place in my neighborhood. They’ve got these homemade poptarts that just so amazing

Sam

Ted’s Bulletin? You live in Eastern Market?

Justine

Yes! How did you — Oh right you’ve been here forever and know everything about this place.

Sam

Not forever, but long enough. So after your poptart does your mom pack you lunch and you wait with you for the school bus?

Justine

I wish. I actually do wait for a bus that takes me to the Naval Research Labs in Alexandria. It’s off the river and that’s where I go make things that help secure the nation’s security.

Justine laughs.

I can’t believe I just said secure the nation’s security.

Sam

You don’t have to talk like you are a character on the West Wing.

Justine

In the morning I start a reaction, write down things in my lab notebook, and then usually it’s finished by lunch or after lunch. Then I analyze it and kind of compare it to other things we’ve made in the past and what is currently in use.

Sam

So like what do these polymers do?

Justine

Oh, various things. One of the things my lab does is fuel purification in theater so if the navy needs to refuel some aircraft, but the fuel is of a low grade we can purify it on the spot and utilize it immediately. Another thing we do is make for the paint on fighter jet engines — they get really hot. Some ballistic materials for aircraft or helicopters to repel bullets and we are always looking to make better glue.

Sam

So you are saving the lives of soldiers with science while I’m reviewing
PowerPoint slides from a client to show to some guy at the DoD to make sure they accurately backing up data the correct way.

Justine

Well, I guess I am when you put it like that. But I’m sure you are ensuring that people’s jobs are secure. Or you are protecting the public from the fact that the Vice president orders his sunglasses from some discount Chinese website.

Sam kind of chuckles but looks maybe a bit more sad than before

Sam

So this area we are walking through now is like the Downtown of Columbia Heights. I guess it’s still sort of the super hip district.

Justine

I heard about it when I was looking for a place to live. Why just sort of super hip and not just super hip?

Sam

Finally, someone I can tell my theory of the hipster migration. So I have this maligned theory amongst my friends that much derided hipsters move to some semi-dangerous ramshackle places and make the neighborhood cool because it’s cheap and they can afford to work Barista jobs and waitress jobs while they work on their next great American novel or perfect their Oil on Canvas technique. In the meantime they open up their artisanal coffee shops, restaurants, and vegan bakeries in the area so they don’t have to travel too far to get what they want.

Justine

That’s pretty interesting theory you got there. I think every neighborhood in DC is too expensive for those hipsters to afford.

Sam

That’s right! I think home prices in the area will probably flatten out over the next few years and then maybe even decline if we see the federal government shrink based on the current administration and the recent spike in housing development. I don’t think I can afford to buy a place since most people want 100% cash up front. I mean even if you do get a loan secured someone else comes in and makes an offer of 100% cash.

Justine

So where do you think the hipsters went?

Sam

So I think I should back track and just modify my original statement in that hipster is maybe a derogatory term. We should probably stop using it. I would say the true “I can’t do anything but paint” artists and poets of our generation moved out west somewhere to the Louisvilles, Toledos, and Des Moines and I hope they are prospering.

Justine

So you are saying everyone will move to the Midwest or something?

Sam

Well Justine you maybe touch upon the question of our time. You saw the last election right? The Midwest is as red as can be. I don’t mean to get into a lot of politics here, but if our cool educated people like yourself don’t take a stand to live in the parts of the country that are often derided then I think things will just get worse.

Justine

But where am I supposed to get my artisanal pop-tarts in Toledo?

Sam

I bet there is a bakery somewhere in Toledo that makes artisanal pop-tarts.

Justine

How much do you wanna bet?

Sam

How about a drink?

Justine

Deal, you should look it up on your phone

Sam

Ok well while I’m doing that keep a look out to make sure there are no would be muggers are coming our way and keep me from walking into traffic

Sam pulls out his phone and searches. Good place for establishing shots of 14th street and the two people walking down the sidewalk.

Sam

Ok, I couldn’t find one in Toledo, but I found a vegan bakery in Phoenix that makes them!

Justine

So you owe me a drink because Phoenix isn’t Toledo

Sam

It’s in the spirit of Toledo.

Justine

Have you ever been to Toledo? Not even close buster.

Sam

Ok, should we grab it now or are you friends pining for you?

Justine

Who knows if they are even there still there

Sam

I know this spot just off of 14th on the way. It’s a Jazz bar called Jo Jos. I think my favorite guys are playing tonight

Justine

You have a favorite Jazz Band? You are so DC Sam

Set the scene on U Street

Sam

So this is U Street. Basically one of the cultural centers of DC and in my mind one of the great places to be at any part of the day and this is Jo Jos.

Enter Jo Jos to Donvonte McCoy Quintet playing. Justine and Sam move to the bar and squeeze in between two guys sitting in suits watching the band play.

Bartender

What can I get you?

Justine

I’ll take a Bulliet Rye on the rocks

Sam

Makers Mark on the rocks

Bartender making drinks

Sam

I didn’t see you as a rye girl. What else are you hiding under that well-dressed geeky exterior

Justine

I can see why you like it here. These guys are really good. I grew up in Kentucky so we get to know what we like in a whiskey pretty early on.

Sam

Oh so you grew up in the Midwest and let me spout off about my theory like an east coast snob or something

Justine

No, no I loved that theory. You are right. I mean the reason why I left in the first place was because I was kind of an outsider in some regards. I mean if I met people like you in Kentucky it would be a different story I think. But I pretty much agree with you about all those educated liberal people needing to move to the less popular places of the country.

The band finishes a song to applause and starts another

Justine

So now that we have some proper drinks in our hands I need to ask you a question.

Sam

Uh Oh is it controversial?

Justine

You seem kind of depressed with your life so why don’t you just move to Toledo and start over fresh?

Sam

Great question Justine, I actually applied to this fellowship on a whim a few months ago. I didn’t think I would get in, but I just got an offer today.

Justine

Oh wow that’s amazing! What’s it about?

Sam

So it’s basically through Americorps, but it’s a lot of what I’m doing now. I would be doing it on a level of trying to help local governments be more efficient with money they have or petitioning for more assistance from the federal government. It’s rotational and I would spend about two years traveling the country with a home base in Chicago.

Justine

Wow, that sounds perfect for you. I mean I just met you, but I mean it gets you out of DC. You get to help people. I mean why aren’t you celebrating and jumping for joy right now?

Sam

My girlfriend Emily — I just told her today about it and she was really upset. She said I was ruining her life and I wasted the prime of her life.

Justine

Oh, you have a girlfriend? What?

Awkward Pause. Justine finishes her drink.

I, uh, should probably go.

Sam

Wait, I’m sorry.

Justine

You can’t just console someone from sexual assault, escort them with good conversation to a really romantic jazz bar, and then suddenly drop that you have a girlfriend. Oh and be pretty good looking. You are the most dishonest person I’ve met since I’ve been here. Good night.

Sam

Justine wait

Justine walks out and the band keeps playing.

Car honks steam is rising from a manhole cover and cars driving by. Chicago skyline in the background.

Sam is waiting in line at a artisanal American bakery.

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

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

Bakery Assistant

Number 17?

Sam

Hey yeah, that’s me. Thank you.

Sam takes a bite of his pop-tart, sips is 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 any, I mean, 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 understand

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 out my 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

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 thought

Sam

Why is that?

Justine

So most research is driven by some 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 where 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 to get my 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 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 are 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. 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 barbeque, 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 about what I thought I should be doing

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 my bar 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 me 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

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 a guy that 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’ve 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 his bar/restaurant?

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, and 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 edited it to make it better

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

This was originally published in two parts. The links are still up and can be found here and here. Small edits to make it more like an actual play.

Leave me some comments or a heart if you enjoyed.

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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