A long train ride put me within earshot of an undergraduate couple on their way back to meet the folks. They had been living together for most of the year, but this was the first time real family would be involved. The stakes were raised.
You should have heard them go at each other!
Gentle bantering escalated into flesh-tearing criticism which was quickly tempered by, "Oh, I-was-just-joking" denials—at which point the other partner would ascend into savagery accompanied by a flurry of soothing disclaimers; and the cycle resumed. They couldn't leave each other alone.
On the jump-off ledge of adulthood, they couldn't control their taunting, immature word play.
I was struck by the power and universality of this situation; you leave home, create a new identity, live something like a grown up, and then return with your partner. This has to churn up major issues: separation, marriage, permanence, your relation to your past—and then, who is this stranger, anyway?
Their banter and mock combat was so intense, so intertwined and poignant, it occurred to me that a verbatim transcript would make an interesting play.
A very interesting play.
With very interesting implications.
What if I had flipped on a tape recorder and later on transcribed their conversation word for word into play form; and opened on Broadway?
Whose play would it be? You have to frame and take a photograph, but this would be the artistic equivalent of a photostat. Could I take credit for found art? Would I ever create something new—something out of nothing? What is the nature of New?
These are not academic questions, because we're talking about a major artistic and financial success here; one that has changed my life.
Hounded by the media, I live in fear of inadvertently revealing my method in one of those unguarded moments we celebrities guard so jealously.
Of course, I covered myself with false modesty at the banquet: "I am here tonight accepting your plaudits for my, heh, heh, trainscript simply because I stood on the shoulders of giants ... and peeked at their exams! Heh, heh."
But what if that couple catches the play and threatens to go public, imperiling my Second Lifetime Achievement Award?
What if they want—a writing credit?
They'd have no proof, but there would be doubts; how is it a first-time playwright wins an Obie and a Tony with one play? People would talk.
If it comes to that, of course, I will just have to swallow my pride and sue their pants off.
Still, I wonder ... would they remember? Would they remember it the same way I did? How might it affect their relationship?
And how important is true originality?
How would you feel if it turned out that I heard this entire article from a street beggar, flicked on a tape recorder and had my secretary transcribe it mechanically, word for word?
Would you be the first to know?
Would you care?
Can you spare a dime?