Solve for “X”: Memory “Into the Storm”

We are so excited to feature an excerpt from the play Solve for X written by the amazing Alicia Richardson. To learn more about Alicia, be sure to check out our profile on her!

Scene 6: Memory “Into the Storm”

August 26, 2005. New Orleans. Daytime Visiting Hours at Orleans Parish Prison. It’s hotter than hades, heat index of 105 degrees. The air conditioning in the visiting room ain’t the greatest. Sounds of laughter, arguments, even tears from other conversations are faintly heard in the background.

COOPER (25) is visiting TJ (25) who is now an inmate at the prison. COOPER is dressed well: business casual and carries a large Ziploc bag filled with snacks and books. TJ is in the standard-issue orange jumpsuit. They speak through phones, separated by plexi-glass.

COOPER: Yeah mang, they gave me a cubicle and everything! It’s legit.

TJ: Okay, I see you! Got you a lil’ job in Information Technology. I ain’t even mad. (Takes in

COOPER’s outfit) But why yo’ pants so tight? You got on some Levi Stranglers.

COOPER: I can’t be wearin’ no baggy pants to the office.

TJ: What’s the dress code, Carlton Banks?

COOPER: Nah, more like “only nigga in the building.”

TJ: Dayum. (Beat) You still drivin’ that ‘95 Pontiac Maypop?

COOPER: A what?

TJ: A Maypop. You might be drivin’ round one day and it may pop. Hahahahaha!

COOPER: At least I got a ride.

TJ: Unh. Got jokes, huh Urkle? (Beat) But real talk, you ain’t pullin’ no girls drivin’ that thang.

COOPER: I ain’t studyin’ girls right now, man.

TJ: You on the DL? Some dudes in here you might wanna meet.

COOPER: (Laughing) That’s not what I meant, ya damn fool! (Beat) Nah, I just…I’m tired of the chase, ya know? I don’t know the right thing to say or…what they like—

TJ: Get ‘em laughin’. That’s what I did wit Keisha. I met her at a fair housing rally down at the Rec Center. She a dime piece. Smart too. Now she won’t leave me alone!

COOPER: Nigga, she won’t leave you alone cuz she havin’ your baby.

TJ: True dat. (Beat) Shoulda wrapped it up but I had to buss off that one nut before the protest, ya nah mean? Settle my nerves.

COOPER: You nasty.

TJ: I ain’t know I was gonna make a baby wit her. But I’m glad I did. She been visitin’ me every week, holdin’ me down. She ride or die, mang.

COOPER: I’m happy for you.
TJ: Ey, check it out. (Takes out some pictures from his pocket, hands them over to COOPER

through a narrow slot.) That’s the last ultrasound. It’s a boy. COOPER: Damn. A little mini you.

TJ: I know right? It got me thinking about a lot. Like when I get outta here, all the things I’mma show him. How to ride a bike. How to talk to girls. I’mma teach him our history just like yo momma did for us.

COOPER: I’ll help.

COOPER and TJ consider one another. COOPER passes the pictures back through the slot.

TJ: I’mma need this trial to hurry up and get here, whoo-eee! Lawyer say wit just one charge and no priors, I should only get a few years. Five at the most.

COOPER: Five? But it’s not like you shot somebody.

TJ: Don’t matter. Concealed weapon near a government meetin’ place. COOPER: Man, why you brought that shit—

TJ: I had a bad feelin’, a’ight? (Beat) Look, I know it wudn’t the best idea to protest at city hall. But we had to start pushin’ for fair wages. I work for parks and parkways. I see dudes out there bustin’ they ass in the hot sun everyday. For what? Minimum wage is only $7.50. S’one of the lowest in the country. (Beat) Tourists come in and get drunk on Bourbon street. Yeah, see some titties, eat some gumbo. Good for them. They ‘on’t know about all the poe folks that make it happen, we the plebeians. Out here damn near starvin’. We just dyin’ to give you a good time.

COOPER: Well damn. But you thought a protest was gon’ fix all that?

TJ: Hell Nah. But we gotta do somethin’! We be talkin’ all this noise at the union meetin’s. But ain’t nobody gon’ take us seriously unless we act. (Beat) 5-0 was at the protest wit da quickness. One minute I had a megaphone in my hand, next thing ya know…I smelled pepper spray and I was on the ground. There he was: Officer Clark.

COOPER: Rent-a-Cop? From back in the day? He still wil’n?

TJ: He was wil’n all right. One hand on the back of my neck, other hand pattin’ me down. Game over.

TJ and COOPER consider one another.

COOPER: So uh…they show you the weather in here? You seen the news? TJ: Yeah, I heard.
COOPER: Gonna be one for the books.
TJ: They say that every time.

COOPER: Nah, this one’s different. My job is shuttin’ down after today. The mayor might order an evacuation. (Beat) Is Keisha leavin’ town?

TJ: Yup. Told me she was headed to Oklahoma wit her grandma.

COOPER: Good.

TJ: You stickin’ around?

COOPER: Nah, mang. Me and my moms are going to Virginia. We got family out there. TJ: Damn, son! That’s a ways away.

COOPER: Storm’s gonna tap out before it hits the east coast. (Beat) When they gettin’ ya’ll outta here?

TJ: Uh…Yeah, it’s gon’ be a minute. They gotta get all the buses down here and take everybody in one go. (Off COOPER’s face) It’ll be a’ight. It’s just a tropical storm right now. Andrew was a category three and I slept through that one.

COOPER: It’s not the same. Andrew touched down in Florida first. Moving through land made it weaker.

TJ: So?

COOPER: It’s travelin’ through water this time. Hot water mixed with hot hair. That makes the storm grow. Gonna get swolle as hell over the Gulf. This is gonna be some serious shit, man. Biblical even.

TJ: Well I’mma need them to evacuate before it starts floodin’. (Patting down his ‘fro) Ain’t tryna mess up my new ‘do.

COOPER: Nigga please. If it starts floodin’ you need to worry about more than that, yo black ass can’t swim.

TJ: Tuh! Neither can you.

COOPER: I took some classes at the Y.

TJ: You what?

COOPER: I learned.

TJ: You mean to tell me your big, grown ass took swimmin’ lessons?

COOPER: They offer classes for adults.

TJ: Really. They make floaties in your size?

COOPER: Shut up. (Beat) I used a fun noodle.

TJ: (doubled-over with laughter) I CAIN’T. I JUST CAIN’T. / Ha ha ha ha ha ha haha!

COOPER: /I only needed it for the first few weeks. /

TJ: Jesus take the wheel! (Composing himself.) Hey, maybe you could teach me one day.

COOPER: (gives him a look: “yeah, if I let you live that long”)

TJ: Look, they gon’ make sure all these niggas make it outta here. Who else is gonna make the license plates? They can’t benefit off unpaid labor without workers. Funny thing is, it’s the best healthcare I’ve had in my life. (Beat) At least I got dental now.

Pause.

COOPER: You know…I was talkin’ to your uncle Leroy the other day. He still ain’t got flood insurance on his shop. He crazy.

TJ: Yeah, crazy cheap. I can just hear him now. “I ain’t interested in payin’ all that money ‘In Case Shit’”

COOPER: “Insurance oughta be called In Case Shit”—

TJ: “Cuz if shit don’t happen”—

TJ & COOPER: “Shouldn’t I get my money back?” (They fall apart with laughter.) COOPER: He stole that from Chris Rock.

TJ: He tell people Chris Rock stole it from him!

COOPER: Pssssssshhh. Trash talkin’ runs in the family, huh? (TJ shrugs.) Anyway, Leroy told

me to bring you these. (Passes him the Ziploc bag through a narrow slot. TJ shuffles through it.)

TJ: Hot Cheetos. Slim Jims. Respect. Tropical Starburst, come thoo, fam! (Looking at the books) No biographies? (Smacks teeth) You know I ain’t into all that fiction and shit. (Picks one at random and reads) “I hope that nobody has had to look at somebody they love through glass.”

COOPER: (Beat) If Beale Street Could Talk. Worth a read. TJ: Thanks.
Pause.

COOPER: Ey mang, I dunno how to reach you, so can you try to gimmie a call in a few days? I dunno if I’ll have signal. Winds might knock the service towers down. There’s a 65% chance of that happening, with the current trajectory—

TJ: Okay, human cack-uh-lay-tuh (a southern way to say “calculator”). We get it.
COOPER: I gotta get back to work. I was plannin’ on stayin’ longer but the security check to get

in here, the line was insane. Took me forever…

TJ: (Smiling) Hey kick rocks, man! I’m writin’ a book. Got big thangs to do. You slowin’ me down.

COOPER: A’ight, fool. (COOPER puts his raised fist against the glass. TJ does the same.)
TJ: (His voice echoes and is eventually drowned out by the sound of rain) Stay black. Stay black. Stay black. Stay black…

Lights shift. Suddenly TJ is no longer there. It’s now night time. Sounds of rain pick up to a down pour. COOPER is gone. We see a blurry wash of blue. Then the rain dies down. We hear the sound of buzzing, static noise, and then a NEWS REPORT.

NEWS REPORT (V/O): Katrina has jumped from a Tropical Storm into a category three hurricane, with winds of 127 miles per hour. The president has declared a state of emergency on selected parts of Louisiana.

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End of excerpt! Thanks so much for reading, ya’ll! 😊