The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Monday, April 17, 2006


RECAP: Paul, an ESL teacher, gets a flat bike tire on his first day of work. On a busy industrial street without frequent bus service and unable to locate a working pay-phone, he ends up running almost the entire distance. He finally arrives at his workplace, late for his morning class and bathed in sweat. In the hallway, he encounters Lucille, the school's director of education, and has an extremely uncomfortable moment. He tries to apologize and tell her what happened. Lucille, coldly furious, is not interested in his explanation. She simply tells him to get into the classroom and start teaching.


Paul enters the classroom. Theres a moment of silence. The eyes of every single student settle on him, both expectant and assessing.

In his sweat-soaked shirt, his askew, barely knotted tie and matted hair, he looks as much like a competent teacher as a drunk undergrad looks like a trained professional. And something in Pauls facial expression seems to acknowledge this. So many things have gone wrong already that it is almost as if the situation cannot be salvaged; on the spur of the moment, people have walked away from new jobs for less.

But teaching is a social profession. It's not as if Paul works inside a cubicle and has just had words with a hostile boss, and that is what the entire universe of his job adds up to. Other people are counting on him. He looks at the students. And, just as he himself seems ready to concede defeat, somewhere inside him -- somewhere visceral and pre-conscious -- he reaches a resolution. He body language changes, and becomes stronger and more confident.

PAUL: Hi, everyone. [Beat]. Well, um, sorry, I was a little late this morning. What happened was, I was riding my bike.

He pauses, looking at the students, trying to gauge how much of this story they actually comprehend.

PAUL: [Slowing down his speaking] From my home to here is very far. I took my bike here. [With body language, he mimics someone riding a bicycle.] I was coming here and suddenly bang! flat tire. There was glass on the road. A bad person put it there. Maybe a drunk person. Whisky person. [He mimics a drunk weaving around and then smashing a bottle on the ground. A few students laugh.]

PAUL: [Warming up] So I went over that glass. And my bicycle wheel pow! then pshhh! [Mimics air leaking from a tire.] And I tried to phone. But the phone didnt work. So I ran here. I ran almost two kilometers. [Mimics. More nervous laughter.] It was hard. And then I got here.

The students are now looking at him with more interest.

PAUL: And [stage whisper], Lucille, she was angry.

A few students laugh out loud.

PAUL: [mimicking her] "Why are you late? Get in there and teach!"

Several students guffaw.


PAUL: So I was late. Im sorry. But tomorrow Ill be on time. I promise. And you be on time, too, okay? Promise?

Two students clap their approval. Then, in a moment, the rest join in.

Paul grins. Hes going to be okay.


Paul enters. By this point, hes discarded his tie and straightened his hair.

Several other teachers are cramped into the small room.

PAUL: [to a red-haired woman at a computer]. Oh, hi. Jennifer?

JENNIFER: [turning] Yes?

PAUL: Im Paul Northfield.

JENNIFER: Oh, hi. Nice to meet you. [Turning to everyone else in the room.] Guys, this is Paul.

A male and female teacher nod.

PAUL: [to Jennifer] Sorry. There was a kind of SNAFU this morning. I was hoping to meet you before classes started but it didnt uh, it didnt work out that way.

JENNIFER: [brightly] Oh, no worries! Youre here and thats the main thing! First class okay?

PAUL: [starting to answer] Gr

MALE TEACHER: [whos been overhearing] Hey, youre the new guy, right?

PAUL: [trying to talk to Jennifer but also acknowledge him] Yeah.

MALE TEACHER: And you got a flat tire on the way here, right?

PAUL: Y-yeah.

MALE TEACHER: [loudly] And you didnt phone!

PAUL: Well, the phone was broke

MALE TEACHER: [even more loudly and gregariously] Hey! Hey! You know something? I fucked up my first day, too! You know what happened?

PAUL: [Trying to politely resume his conversation with Jennifer] If you dont mind, just show me the basics. Time card and stuff.

MALE TEACHER: [undeterred] I walked into the wrong school! Theres another language school on the second floor! They got the same room numbers and everything! I went to the wrong class and waited ten minutes before I figured it out! I got to the building with plenty of time to spare, so I wasnt late like you, but boy, did I ever like an idiot! Glad to know Im not the only one who messed up on his first day!

PAUL: Great.

MALE TEACHER: [slapping him on the shoulder] By the way, Im Marty!

PAUL: Oh. Great.


Lucille is at her desk, working on some papers.

SFX: knock on door.

LUCILLE: Come in.

Paul enters, somewhat sheepishly.

LUCILLE: [flatly] Oh, hi.

PAUL: Hi. I just wanted to say uh, thanks.

LUCILLE: For what?

PAUL: for being understanding. About this morning.

LUCILLE: Oh. Okay.


PAUL: [clearly uncomfortable] So, anyway. Uh, see you.

LUCILLE: [a little sharply] So how was it? Today?

PAUL: [plastic] Good. Great. [Snapping out of it] I mean, it was fine. I got off to a rough start, but then it was good. Theyre a good group of kids.

LUCILLE: [not smiling] Glad to hear it.


Pauls room is very spare. On the wall, a poster of Olympic swimmers and another of runners in a marathon. A bookshelf. Its filled books from his university days as well as some novels, travel books, a handbook on teaching, one or two volumes of philosophy. But above all, many books on history. His main interest.

In one corner, are three pairs of running shoes. Nike and Adidas. These look like the most expensive items in the room.

Paul picks up his phone an old-fashioned land-line -- and dials the call answer code.

SFX: [computer voice] You have one message.

SFX: Beep

WOMANS VOICE: Hi, honey. Its me. How was your first day? Everything all right? Call me when you get the chance. And hows dad? Have you talked to him? I guess its none of my business, but he said hed call me this week and hasnt.

End of message.


Paul sighs. Then he falls on his bed, emotionally and physically exhausted.


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