In and out of Verona, in the United Fragments of Urope, there used to live two great families of ancient multicultural origins - the MonteCarlos and the A'Capulcos. The two families were the greatest rivals on earth and loved as much as hated each other. They were both involved in car-industry and the old bonnet of contention between the two families, which divide them for generations, was whether it was more important to make cars or to sell them.
The MonteCarlos who owned a large number of extremely efficient car factories were of course of the opinion that it is by all means more important to make cars otherwise there is nothing to sell. The A'Capulcos who ran a string of renowned and high profit making auto-salons, on the other hand, insisted that it is far more important to sell cars otherwise there is no point in making them in the first place.
This argument which was just as much about who was the more important and more significant out of the two families ran between them for years on end, ever since the four-wheel metal beast was invented.
One day, a rumour reached the MonteCarlos. It said that everywhere the go the A'Capulcos boast about possessing the precious thing there has ever existed under the sun. They keep it in their fortress-like house Alcatraz which no one in this world can possibly enter or get out of without their permission.
The MonteCarlos were immediately set ablaze and burnt by the flames of old jealous rivalry. They appointed their youngest and most capable son Romeo to go and find out what the most precious thing was and to take it away to punish the conceited pride of the A'Capulcos.
'But how can I possibly get inside Alcatraz?' Romeo protested. 'When it's guarded like mad, more like a prison than a safe for jewells of the world.'
So Romeo went to see his uncle David Copperfield and attended one class of his very expensive training course where he half-heartedly learnt some of the old man's tricks. To his great surprise they actually worked and so he found himself standing inside the Alcatraz fortress without any of the guards noticing him pass thru'.
Once there he immediately recognised the most precious being in this world. So beautiful. She was digging some weed in the garden and had the God most attractive big green Wellington shoes stained with mud on. Having spent most of his childhood in dreams of working on the land. Oh yes, he fell in love with her as instantly as you can get a Vitana or Knorr soup ready.
Alfa thought he must be one of the guards dumb with boredom staring at her like that. But after a while he approached her and asked her if she would care to go out for a dinner or something.
'You mean go OUT? Out of this prison?'
'Yes of course.'
She said if he could take her out of that house she would go with him right away. And right away they went.
Soon after, fed up with waiting, the impatient MonteCarlos sent their mafia-dogs for Romeo who didn't seem to be coming back with the most precious whatever it was. The A'Capulcos on the other hand were furious at finding Alfa gone, and immediately sent off their Secret Intelligence Unit to trace her down.
24 minutes later they learnt Alfa was with the most hype-reactive of the MonteCarlos family Romeo, stuffing herself with chinese noodles in one of the Soho fast food restaurants in West End, London. Before they could ask her to leave with them for Alcatraz the mad MonteCarlos' dogs arrived, snatched the two post-teenagers and drove away.
The A'Capulcos knew then it would be helpless to try to get Alfa from MonteCarlos' hands by force sot hey sent the MonteCarlos a message instead. It contained a generous offer to give them the most precious thing which they kept in Alcatraz - i.e. a bottle green file with designs for the new miracle of an auto-salon of the 21th century, in return for their granddaughter Alfa Omega D'Alcatraz.
By that time Romeo and Alfa stood before the chieftain of MonteCarlos clan. How could he be so stupid as to let himself be carried away by that big Wellington shoes lady instead of bringing him the most precious designs for the miraculous auto-salon of the 21th century? Romeo objected that he did not let himself be carried away, he knew his part and as a Gentleman it was he who carried Alfa away, and that if the A'Capulcos were ready to exchange their precious designs for their precious Alfa then surely he was right - she was what was most precious to be found in the gardens of Alcatraz, not the stupid designs. At that moment Alfa realised one or two things regarding her and Romeo's feelings and said she was not going back to Alcatraz no matter what, she and Romeo were going to cohabit in Řečkovice, and the chief-tain may exchange his golden teeth for the designs if he pleases, she and Romeo were going away. And with the help of uncle David's tricks the two of them vanished.
Both families were absolutely devastated. The MonteCarlos had nothing to give away for the miraculous designs now and had lost the son they wanted to take over all their factories beginning next year. The A'Capulcos had lost their darest granddaughter. But not just that. Years ago, as it was now disclosed, they had all their contrafcts in Jerrmoney. Now Alfa was gone, they had lost not only all their contracts with Faultswagen but also the prospect of a massive joint family car-industrial oh-mega-corporation.
By the end of the afternoon, Faultswagen was already married with Škoda's favorit daughter Dáša with whom he had been secretly in love for years anyway. And the A'Capulcos were rapidly nearing the bottom, losing all their other contracts too as a result of the loss in Jerrmoney.
Seeing the ruin of their beloved rival, the MonteCarlos felt sorry and responsible for their part in the whole if-fair. It was them who made Romeo go to Alcatraz in the first plays. After a lively concussion at the Family Emergency Conference held that evening in Ferraraz, they sent a messanger to the A'Capulcos' residence in Fourletterworld. A life saving contract was offered to the A'Capulcos between their auto-salons and the MonteCarlos' car-factories. For once MonteCarlos felt confident that making cars was clearly more important than selling them, and they thoroughly enjoyed their generosity at this brief moment in history.
The Head of the A'Capulcos Department of Business Affairs refused the offer at first but told the messanger to wait in case the Board of Appeal overturned his decision. The decision was turned over exactly 59 minutes 99 seconds later when the Head announced they would accept the contract. But only on the condition that the make of the cars made and sold would bear both names of the two families. The MonteCarlos phoned them with an antique immobil their answer all right but the two names together being a tto long name for a car, they suggested the names of Alfa and Romeo would do the job better, besides the two ungrateful brats being the cause of this all in the first place. A'Capulcos replied whatever and that's how the famous AlfaRomeo cars came into this word.
In the meantime Alfa and Romeo spent their first night out at the grand Soap Opera House in Milano. Being busy kissing in the backseats, they ignored the first part of the show of East-Enders, their American Friends and Australian Neighbours, and then spent the rest of the performance arguing who was going to sit behind the lady with a multi-storey hair-do.
So that's what had happened, one day. No tragedy. The only tragic thing might be that those who expected a tragedy might be disappointed. But if they are disappointed then there's a tragic element and so they shouldn't be disappointed. But if they aren't disappointed then there's nothing tragic at all and they might be disappointed then. Which wiould be tragic and so they shouldn't be disappointed. And so, oh God, I leave you at that. Are you disappointed?
Even nowadays, when virtually everyone calls himself educated, the name of Harold Szpuntowski does not say much. Also, his place in the Valhalla of 20th century dramatists could be disputed - if anyone bothered to do it. His career was short and his fame had considerable problems with crossing the 70th meridian. Only once, if my memory serves me well, I saw his name in a book, and it was the New York City phone directory.
You would probably overlook Harold Szpuntowski on the street, despite the jacket habitually worn inside out. An inconspicuous type: thirty-eight, short, balding, with a big nose and a slightly indefinite opinion of Heidegger. We met accidentally at a fancy dress party someone was throwing then. He hoped he would score with a skinny young intellectual dressed as a big jar of mustard, but she soon slipped out with a monkey wrench. I tried to console him a little, and we had a short but hearty conversation. He told me in secret that he had named the days of the week after the Marx brothers*. "Just for myself, you know" he said with a bashful smile. When I asked him what he did with the weekend days, as there were only five Marx brothers, he suddenly became nervous and hastily replied: "I don't have any weekends, I am very busy. Gotta go now, see you on Harpo!"
We met on Harpo, and then several times on Zeppo, and in the end we became sort of friends. I did not know he was a dramatist and I learned about it by pure accident, when he took me to Broadway to see a play of his. After the performance Szpuntowski patted the director on the back and said: "Well done, well done. I must say I like the way you interpret the ending. I mean when the curtain comes down and the stage is hidden and all the people clapping... Great! Was that all your own idea?"
"Meeting Arthur Miller when jogging in Central Park had been a fateful change in my life" he told me in a restaurant after the performance. "After half a mile we realized we had similar interests, although we fiercely disagreed on eating in China Town. I must admit I was deeply moved by his saying that he liked theatre. I really was! This impressed me so much that I decided to start a career as a playwright. I think I'll try this aubergine salad."
And then he told me his story. He made his debut in 1971 when he coaxed a director of a small suburban theatre to stage Alice, Be Talkless, a playful farce inspired by the life of Gertruda Stein. The performance caused ardent and uproarious indifference. A journalist remarked sarcastically that the audience was so tired of the strange and confusing action that they forgot to lynch the author after the embarrassing curtain-call. He ended his article with a personal question to the author: "I've read two books by Stein. My wife three. Do you really think that a man can become king without even having his clothes ironed?"
Szpuntowski responded with strenuous work. He attempted to discover new horizons in tragedy by the exploitation of tuna-fish. He spent a fair sum of money on a daring experiment with a gullible audience. Then he wrote Midnight Irrigation and The Last Of The Pelicans in short time, with little success. A difficult period of his life began. His plays were neglected by critics, directors, and audience. His message was considered too complicated, too clumsy, too vague. And his charwomen were stealing his silver spoons. Yes, there was some undeniable success to his credit in 1975 - several people really did stay till the end of The Obstinate Herbivore. But only because it was raining outside.
"I got married at that time in order to get inspiration for my new comedy. It was a weird idea and we got divorced after the first act. I was hopeless." He began to spill his manuscripts in theatres and highbrow cafes, and seriously considered bribing a prominent director with a turkey. "That bastard wanted two, which I couldn't afford."
He tried to write under various names. Soon he learned that it is pretty difficult to market anything under the name of Shakespeare. A year later, desperate enough, he wrote a musical about Plato. But it was rejected because of too much dialogue.
Szpuntowski hunchbacked in his chair and made a long, long pause. The waiter came with another helping of aubergine salad.
"And then?" I asked.
He swallowed. "Then I wrote the piece you've just seen."
"Great! So you made it at last? Planning something big? An opera?"
"Not really." Another pause. "The performance was a sheer fluke, you know. Three months ago the director ran into my car and we agreed that he would stage my play instead of paying for the damages. Well ... my dream came true ... in a way. But I am not a playwright. I think I'll stop writing and turn to something useful."
He turned to the jar of mustard and got married for the second time.
* Marx brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo and Zeppo) - American actors known for crazy-comedy roles; Woody Allen's favourites.