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?