The Threat

Opens in a small western town. There’s a flatness. A dryness about the place. We are everywhere and nowhere. Far away. He doesn’t fit in. He’s running, but from what? We won’t find out for awhile, but it might be fun if he looked like Larry Hagman from the Dallas years, but not dressed that way. He’s in a tracksuit and either jogging or buying a soda and candy bar from a convenience store. If buying, in the background are tabloids. Headlines. His face? It’s face-like. There’s a roundness? But not too much. Solid chin. [See: Hagman, Larry.]

Scratch all that. He’s in a new town similar to that Catholic town in Florida where media is regulated. This is the only place where he can start over—but still lives in fear of being noticed since these folks will be more judgmental, thus: irony. But still buying a soda and candy bar from a convenience store.

Time period is important. This is at an unspecified point in the future. Something has changed. The change is not overtly obvious, but there has been a change in how humans interact with each other, strangers are even stranger, the difference between a friend and a casual acquaintance is negligible. Intimacy is hard to come by. The worst fears of some have come true, but these aren’t fears of terrorism or global warming—the new fear, the new threat, is more subtle and presents itself in many forms.

This person who looks hauntingly like Larry Hagman walks across a desolate street into a church (candy bar and soda in hand). Then the church basement. Opens the doors. Another fellow stands in a circle of men and women sitting in folding chairs. Very AA. That’s what you think immediately. When seeing it.

He says: “Welcome to the Hypocrites Club. We’re kinda like the Witness Protection Program. Except no one wants to find us. And no one’s protecting us.”

Do people laugh? Try it out. Try one take with the assembled folks laughing, not hard but that measured knowing laugh, that laugh that is more fatigue than levity. Gallows. And one where he’s dead serious and they are silent.

(It would be good if there was the potential for redemption. Yes?)

Who are these people? They’ll cut across society, of course. It’s probably too heavy-handed to have one be a snake oil salesman. Like he sells it on the Internet, this oil, make from snakes, but of course not. Olive oil. Canola. Maybe just water?

Some ideas:
A family therapist who routinely had affairs with the couples he counseled.
A police officer with a publicist.
A gay conservative politician, estranged from family.
A black judge who says his blackness affects his life as much as his being 5’8”. But have him be taller/shorter so it’s not obviously Clarence Thomas.
A school teacher who helped her students cheat on standardized tests. She’ll be the sympathetic one the audience roots for.
A gun-toting poet/pacifist.
Don’t go too wacky, too reality TV-y.
Wait. Wait. Larry Hagman’s lookalike is really Larry Hagman. We see the news of his death (2012) in the tabloid headlines. Then we see him, Larry Hagman, in the flesh, looking at them. And, say, flipping one over so the back cover shows instead but what’s there? Larry Hagman, of course, his face even bigger.

Problem: Larry Hagman is dead. At least as far as we know. Also: if this is in the future, then why are the tabloids still covering Larry Hagman?

Whatever. Easy problem to fix. For now, Larry Hagman’s lookalike squeezes into the circle.

“What do they want us here for?” asks one; a guy who’s been in the frame and seething, like the camera has never landed on him square, but caught him in the corners with crossed arms and rocking a little. Bad news, this guy, who says, “What they want? I’ll tell you what they want. They want us to fall on our swords. Cry on camera. Go on TV and beg forgiveness. Write a book about it all. But I won’t do it. I won’t give them what they want. I’m done with that. I don’t care if they are right about me, I don’t care if I did everything they said I did and am who they say I am—that doesn’t mean I have to give them the pleasure of inflating their own damn egos. They’re the damn hypocrites. Just like me. Bastards. They called me a con artist. Let me tell you this, people who get conned get conned because that’s what they want. Well, it takes two to tango. They allowed it to happen. They needed me and wanted me. Then they needed to destroy me.”

Too much?

Where does redemption fit in?

Nah. Forget it. What about this.

We call it MEAT.

A war zone. A family. Starving.

Simple. Yes? No?




Stephen McNutt is a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of Iowa, where he received his M.F.A. in Nonfiction and a Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Culture. His work has been listed as notable in Best American Essays and appeared in the Iowa Review, The Atticus Review, The Millions, Knee-Jerk, The Morning News, The Burnside Review, Annals of Iowa and on WSUIs (Iowa) Weekend Edition. He lives in Iowa City, Iowa.