Several years ago when I lived in Manhattan, taking acting classes, auditioning, trying my hand at the playwright’s trade and hoping for that big break, I did the one of two things hopefuls like me did. Since I didn’t want to wait tables, I signed on as an office temp.
Because I was a little older than an ingénue and because I had a lot of office skills, I was assigned to corporate offices all over the city where I sat like a fly on the wall, observing and listening to what goes on in those high rise, high profile rooms.
Temps are here today, gone tomorrow and have no status, which can be a great thing for an aspiring actress and playwright. The secrets. The weeping. The stories.
As I watched and listened, amazed sometimes at the behavior of grownups leading industry and government in the city that never sleeps, I began to write a series of sketches I called “Brats,” because I was seeing adult men and women in expensive suits or dresses behaving with all the dignity and impulse control of little kids on a playground.
I mean, really.
In the sketches, the actors wore those expensive suits or dresses, but the words that came out of their mouths were those of the kids on the playground. I had a lot of fun with it.
Fast forward to 2017. Every day the news is filled with Brats on Parade. Take today, for instance, and the shoving match between Mick Mulvaney and Leandra English over who will get to be first in line for the best swing at recess – oops, sorry – over who will run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
I loved the photo of Mulvaney, who arrived early after a stop at Dunkin Donuts to pick up a little sugar for the staff, poring studiously over the papers in the office. “See, Ma, I’m working.”
This script really writes itself, but in my writer’s mind there are little thought clouds over everyone. Over Mulvaney, I envision a thought cloud that goes something like this:
“Jesus, I’ve got enough to do with the budget, and now Trump’s got me sitting here fiddling with this frigging CFPB because he doesn’t want Cordray and English to win. And Dunkin Donuts? That cheap SOB wouldn’t even spring for orange cranberry scones. Give me a break.”
Back at the White House, Big Bully Trump is laughing and making his “Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah” noises. “Mick got there firrr-st. Mick got there firrr-st.”
Meanwhile, Leandra’s in the girls bathroom, telling her friends how much she hates, hates, hates Mick Mulvaney and Donald Trump. “I deserve this promotion and my mom already made my promotion outfit and it’s really cute. Those stupid, stupid boys ruin everything.” Her friends console her, of course, and promise they will never speak to any of those boys again. Yeah, right.
My friends, the “Brats” sketches are playing out every day in Washington and New York and probably in your fair city as well. To paraphrase John Steinbeck – forgive me, John:
“Wherever they’s a fight so the important people can be first in line, the brats’ll be there. Wherever they’s a billionaire in a Brooks Brothers suit makin’ fun of a little guy, the brats’ll be there. Wherever they’s bureaucrats and elected officials takin’ their time an’ your money to fix our problems, the brats’ll be there. An’ when they’s petty ways to run a business or a country—why, the brats’ll be there.”
I’ve been the “sworn enemy of the stuffed shirt…” for as long as I can remember. Here’s the way I do it. In any meeting or gathering or one-on-one with a stuffed shirt of any stripe – political, religious, corporate, bureaucratic – or just an officious or bossy SOB who thinks he or she is God’s gift and I should, too – I see that person as nine-years-old on a grade school playground. And I hear the words in that voice.
This technique works wonders for me. You might like it, too. It’s “Brats” to a tee. FYI, I’m retaining the copyright.