Friday, April 27, 2007

The Protagonists - a short story

It’s a busy Manhattan diner. Pat and Andie, with short haircuts, walk in the door and continue their conversation as they have a seat.

Pat carries a notepad and pen. “I am the protagonist, the all important person in this story. I am the one you follow, love, hate, worry about. Without me this is nothing. There is no story. For what is any story without a character that you follow through it?”

Andie listens patiently, brimming anxiously, “Bullshit! I'll tell you what it is. It's new, innovative, different, and original. Show me a story with no protagonist and I'll show you something refreshing. Anyway, you're not the protagonist.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you're not. I am.”

“No you're not. You're the antagonist.”

“No way. What makes you so special that you get to be the protagonist?”

“I started the story. I went first. People saw me first. They identified and empathized with me. I'm the protagonist.”

“Just because you went first, doesn't mean that. They will like me more because I came second. I'm the underdog. I'm struggling against society. They will root for me. They hate you because you said I couldn't do it. You're the antagonist.”

A tired waitress comes by, “You two want anything?”

Pat responds, “Tall decaf caramel latté with soy.”


Andie interprets, “That means a decaf, and if you have any soy milk. I’ll have the same, and a dish of vanilla ice cream with caramel syrup.”

She looks at them disgusted as she writes and walks away.

Andie anxiously continues the conversation as if it hadn’t stopped, “We could go on forever like this. But, there's no plot here anyway. So, you don't have a protagonist if you don't have a plot. So, you're just nothing.”

“What a load of artsy crap. You have to have a plot or there's no story. What about the antagonist? There's not one of them either.”

“Yes there is. I'm the antagonist and I win.”

“You can't be an antagonist without a story and a protagonist.”

“Yes you can. I'm antagonizing you, am I not?”

“Yes but…”

“But, you are not protagonizing anyone.”

“There's no such word as protagonize.”

“Exactly. That's why I can be the antagonist and you don't exist.”

Pat agonizes, “I don't believe this. I'm getting a headache. You are so exhausting.”


Pat, “Alright. So, what if there is a plot? Then you'd need a protagonist.”

Andie, “No, you don't need one. It's optional.”

“Is not.”

“Is so.”

Andie, “Ok, so what's the plot? There is none.”

“Yes there is.”

“Is not.”

Pat, “Yes, it's me arguing with you.”

Andie, “That's not a plot.”

Pat, “No, but it's the beginning. We just need to have a goal and an obstacle.”

“But we don't.”

Pat, “We do. Here it is. My goal is to make a story. My obstacle is you.”

Andie, “I'm not an obstacle. I'm an antagonist. That's different.”

“Could be the same thing.”

“No, I don't think so.”

Pat, “If you are in my way, then you are an obstacle.”

Andie, “I am not.”

Pat, “You won't let me finish the story. You keep saying I don't exist and stuff like that.”

Andie, “There is no story.”

Pat, “But there could be. I told you, the story is me trying to make a story.”

Andie, “You can't have a story about making itself.”

“Can so.”

“Can not.”

The waitress comes by with their order. They continue talking, ignoring her.

Pat, “What about Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman.”

Andie, “Oh, fine. Now you're getting all uppity with the name dropping.”

She gives them each coffees and then holds the ice cream with caramel topping questioningly.

Pat, “But that was a story about itself.”

Andie, “No that was a story about another story about orchids.”

Andie motions for the waitress to place it in the middle of the table as Pat continues, ignoring her.

Pat, “No, it was about adapting the story about orchids so the adaptation is what it's about, which is itself.”

Andie, in headache pain, tries to comprehend and asks the waitress, “Do you have any aspirins?”

She looks at them like they’re nuts. “What do I look like, a drug store?”

She sets down the ice cream. They both take spoons and scoop ice cream and caramel into their coffees and stir as they continue.

Andie, “That reminds me. That film is what started my migraines. Wait, I have some...” He pulls out a small aspirin pill case and takes 5 of them.

Pat, “Look, regardless, we've been going here and we have a story and it's about itself. So, it's working.”

Andie, “I don't think anyone's still reading it. You’re right. No protagonist, no goal, no obstacle, no plot. This thing is in the trash.”

Pat, “It can't be in the trash. We haven't finished yet and nobody's read it yet.”

Andie, “I was speaking figuratively.”

Pat, “Maybe if you help instead of bullying me at every turn, we could finish it.”

Andie, “I can't do that. I have to antagonize you. That's my job.”

Pat, “Fine. I'll do it myself.”

Andie, “Ok, but don't expect it to be easy. You have to fight an obstacle all the way.”

Pat, “No I don't.”

Andie, “Yes. You said a story has to have an obstacle.”

Pat, “You said it didn't.”

Andie, “Oh so now you come around. Now that you are the one faced with an obstacle you think it can just be a story with no obstacle to make it easy for you.”

Pat, “I'm just trying to be open minded about this artsy stuff.”

Andie, “Oh yea? Isn't that convenient? When it works for you then it's OK to be artsy. Besides, artsy isn't a word it's a derogatory made up term. You are prejudiced against art people.”

Pat, “Artists. Well, I guess you can't have a story without an obstacle then, like I said.”

“Yes you can.”

Pat, “Alright, fine. Then this is our story; a story about itself with a protagonist and an antagonist and the goal of writing the story. No obstacles.”

“That's sounds pretty boring.”

“See, it can't work.”

“I didn't say that. It just needs something.”

“An obstacle.”

Andie, “No. It needs… it needs… a girl.”

Pat, “A girl? What do you mean, 'a girl’?'“

Andie, “Just that. Every story needs a girl. Cherché la femme and all that.”

Pat, “So what does the girl do?”

Andie, “She's just there, kind of being pretty and sexy, and wearing sexy clothes.”

“Oh come on.”

“Well, it has you interested, doesn't it?”

“I don't know.”

Andie, “The female form is the most beautiful and compelling thing ever in existence.”

Pat, “Yea but, I think it needs more.”

“Ok, we need a sex scene.”

“Oh please. I'm not writing a porno here.”

Andie, “Who said anything about pornos? Just a sex scene. In fact, it's better when you don't see everything.”

Andie’s eyes gloss over as he daydreams out loud, “She's naked under the covers. He comes up and gets in bed with her. He leans in and kisses her passionately on the lips. His hand slides down under the sheet, over the contours of her body to her thigh…”

Pat, “Wait a minute. Who is he?”

Andie, “Well, me I guess.”

Pat, “Oh really? You. Why you? Why not me? I’m the protagonist. The protagonist gets the girl.”

Andie, “You're busy writing the story, remember?”

Pat, “But, you're supposed to be busy antagonizing.”

Andie, “I am. I'm antagonizing you about me getting the girl and you being stuck with writing the story.”

Pat, “Got anymore aspirin?”

Andie, “Didn’t you just take some. You have to wait four hours.”

Pat, “No, You took them, not me.”

Andie, “Right.” Andie pulls out the pill case and hands it to Pat.

Pat counts out five and adds one more and takes them, gulping down some water.

Pat, “Alright. How about I bust in and blow your head off?”

“You can't do that?”

“Why the hell not?”

Andie, “Because, I'm the antagonist. I have to be in the story till the end.”

Pat, “Well, we don't have an obstacle so we can kill the antagonist early.”

Andie, “Then what? 90 minutes of you getting it on with the beautiful girl? Boring!”

Pat, “Sounds alright to me.” Pat think s minute, “Alright. I won't kill you but I'll bust in and stop you. I'll punch you out and you'll run away and then I'll get the girl.”

Andie, “Nah. I don't like it.”

Pat, “Oh, mister high and might artsy…”

Andie, “Eh, eh, not the ‘A’ word.”

Pat, “Ok, mister high and mighty, antagonist, doesn't like it. You got a better idea?”

Andie, “Of course. I beat the crap out of you and you run off.”

Pat, “I don't know.” Pat sips the coffee and thinks; then has a big smile, “ What if she has a twin?”

Andie, “Look this is going nowhere. The girl is only good for 30 seconds and then that scene's over.”

Pat, “Hey, I've gone for 15 minutes a few times.”

Andie, “We have to move on to what's next.”

Pat, “Which is?”

Andie, “Which is… which is… M. Night Shyamalan knocks at the door and wants us to give him our story.”

Pat, “The director who wrote that God awful film about writing a story?”

“Yea. Why not?”

“Because he already did a story about a story.”

Andie, “Oh. OK.”, sips the coffee, thinks.

Pat, “Well, what we need is a second act.”

Andie, “Oh come on. Not the Hollywood conventional formula bullshit.”

Pat, “It's not bullshit. It's proven to work time and again.”

Andie, “The hell it has. Hollywood puts out hundreds of films every year. How many of them are any good? Huh?”

“I don't know. I liked pirates and…”

“Five. The answer is five.”

“Five?” Pat sips, “Well, that's all I could think of, a second act. That's where the story takes off. We need the story to take off.”

Andie, “You don't just add things out of the blue because you need the story to take off. If the story isn't working then fix the story. Don't add these contrivances. That's why there's so much awful crap out there.”

“Alright, how about a car chase?”

“You have got to be kidding.”

“Well, it's action. It's cinematic.”

Andie, “Look, you can do whole stories without ever seeing a car. What about characterization? You're all worried about the plot and the acts; but you're forgetting some stories don't have plots. They just have deep characters.”

Pat, “What deep characters? These two people are boring. One's writing a story, one’s an antagonizing prick.”

“Antagonizing prick?”

“Nothing personal.”

Andie, “That's our challenge to make them interesting, deeper.”

Pat, “So, the guy with the girl is gay.”

Andie, “Oh come on. Not another gay thing. Every time someone needs to beef up a story they use gay guys.”

Pat, “Hey, that's funny. Beef up the story with gay guys. I like that.” He writes it down on his notepad.

Andie, “Think. Think. What else is there?”

Pat, “Well there's like these story things like universal story. The story has to be something everyone can relate to. Everyone can relate to gay guys.”

“Can not. Everyone isn't gay.”

“No. But everyone knows a guy, and any guy could be gay.”

“I don't know.”

Pat, “Ok. Universal story. What's universal. Love, romance, sex, eating stuff, having a job, making money, being poor.”, sips and thinks. A light bulb goes on, “Running from the law!”

Andie, “That's not universal. Everybody doesn't run from the law.”

Pat, “No, but they probably go jogging and you know they’ve been stopped by a cop at some point so they have all the elements.”

Andie, “That's ridiculous.”

Pat, “Ridiculous is good. Sometimes ridiculous stuff makes the best story.”

Andie, “Alright, what law?”

Pat, “OK. Here it is. The extremist right get elected and they pass a new law that gives them marshal law control over Hollywood.”

Andie, “Good God.!”

Pat, “Yea, and they mandate that all stories must have a protagonist, antagonist, goal obstacle, 3 act structure, universal story, and ah… ah... an American flag.“

“No. A girl!”

“Right. A girl and a car chase.”

Andie, “So, your job is to write a story…

Pat, “Why not just get Ron Jeremy to write it.”

“The porn star?”

“Oh no. sorry, I meant Ron Daberream.”

“Who the fuck is he?”

Pat, “You never heard of Ron Daberream?”


Pat, “Figures. He's just some guy who writes that kind of cheap schlock. OK. So I write the story about the right wing extremists, then”

Andie, “No. You refuse to write the story that way. You fight the powers and write what you want.”

Pat, “But, I'll go to jail. Wait, are you taking about this story we're writing or the story I write in this story?”

Andie squints in pain, “It doesn't matter. Your principles mean everything. Without them all is lost.”

Pat, “Wait, I can be a screenplay contest reader. I get to say if a screenplay is disqualified or not. No plot, disqualified, No protagonist, disqualified. No girl…”

“Yea, that's good.”

Pat, “Wait a minute. This story still isn't going anywhere. We're talking about these things but this story doesn't have them. We're just talking about them. This story is nothing more than two people talking.”

Andie, “Like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.”


“Delpy. D. E. L. P. Y. In fact that was the sequel. The first one was Before Sunrise.”

“All they did was talk?”

Andie, “Yea, just like us. Except, they did do some kissing in one part, and they talked about sex and stuff, not about making stupid stories.”

“Who wrote that?”

“Richard Linklatter.”

“Never heard of him.”

“So what? He's good.”

Pat, “But, they had a protagonist.”

Andie, “No. I don't think so.”

Pat, “You followed the guy through the story, right?”

Andie, “Yea, but you follow the girl too. It's both of them at the same time.”

Pat, “A double protagonist.”

Andie corrects, “Protagonists. Well, I don't know. There's no obstacle or goal. Plus they antagonize each other”

Pat, “Wait, I remember that movie. There is so an obstacle. The obstacle is for them to stop talking and make love before they run out of time.”

Andie, “What? Where do you get that from? They never make love.”

“Do so.”

“Do not.”

Pat, “It doesn't matter anyway. Our story is still too boring, Hey, maybe this Linkletter guy would buy it. He rings the bell and asks for the story.”

Andie, “Linklatter. Not Linkletter. Anyway, I don't think so. He likes stories about young people.”

“We're young.”

Andie, “Yea, but this isn't about youth issues like Slackers.”

Pat, “Slackers? He wrote Slackers?”

Andie, “Yea, and School of Rock, too. You seen that?”

Pat, “No. Heard about it.”

Andie, “Yea. Me too.”

Pat, “I'm lost. How can we even end this?”

Andie, “Well, I could be a girl and you could be a guy, and we make love.”

Pat, “Ewe. I don't even know you and we're both guys.”

“Are not.”

“Are so.”

The waitress drops off the check.

Andie, “It could be a gay thing.”

Pat, “Will you stop with that?”

Andie, “How do you figure we're both guys anyway? Nothing indicated our gender up to this point. Besides, you could just be butch. Butch dykes refer to each other as he or him.”

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

Pat, “Then I'd be a dyke and wouldn't like guys.”

Andie pulls out some cash and puts it on the check, then places a salt shaker on top. They both get up and walk out as they continue talking.

Andie, “Maybe you'd be different. A dyke that likes guys.”

“You're weird.”

Andie, “See, that's what the girl always says to the guy she really likes.”

Pat, “I just don't see this working without the conventional plot structure.”

Andie, “Sure it works. We made it this far right?”


“People are still reading it, right?”

“I don't know.”

“Well if they are.”

“If they are.”

The doors close behind them. The waitress goes over and gets the check and money. She mumbles to herself, shaking her head, “Fucking actors.”

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