The following is an excerpt from an unfinished Tom Stoppard play, which Bryan Harvey has kindly taken upon himself to heavily edit. Before you read, however, Stoppard wants everyone to know it’s not his best work, and he had no intention of anyone ever reading it. Moreover, he’s worried he might be running out of material and therefore plagiarizing himself.
Two young basketball players passing the time in a place without any visible character. They are in athletic gear—sneakers, basketball shorts, practice jerseys and all. Each of them has a large leather money bag, only the bags contain ping pong ball and not money.
BENNETT’s bag is nearly empty.
WIGGINS’ bag is nearly full.
The reason being: they are betting on the toss of a ping pong ball, in the following manner: BENNETT (hereafter “Ben”) takes a ping pong ball out of his bag, bounces it towards a paper Gatorade cup. WIGGINS (hereafter “Wig”) studies it, announces it “made” (as it happens) and puts it into his own bag. Then they repeat the process. They have apparently been doing this since some time last June.
The run of “made” bounces is impossible, yet BEN betrays no surprise at all—he feels none. However, he is not trying to land the ping pong balls in the cup. He intends to miss, and yet the every ball lands in the cup. He is perhaps a little embarrassed. Let these be his character notes.
WIG sits. WIG stands. He is well alive to the oddity of it. He is not worried about the ping pong balls, but he is worried about the implications; aware but not going to panic about it—his character note.
BEN sits. WIG stands (he does the moving, retrieving the balls, emptying the cup). BEN stares. WIG studies a ping pong ball. Then WIG studies the cup.
He picks it up and puts it in his bag. The process is repeated.
BEN (bouncing a ball): You know, there’s an art to missing. I just can’t seem to find it.
BEN: No matter what I do the ball goes in. Does that qualify as sucking? Or, am I just lucky?
BEN: If those are the words I’m after.
WIG (not even looking at the cup): Eighty-two—love.
BEN stands up and bounces a ping pong ball backwards through his legs. It lands in in the cup. He tosses another ball over his shoulder. It lands in the cup. He attempts a sky hook. The ball lands in the cup. He reenacts an old McDonald’s commercial starring Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, only he doesn’t know their names. It doesn’t matter. Every bounce lands in the cup.
BEN: I know I’m losing, but shouldn’t we be impressed?
WIG: Buckets. (He claps once. He waits. He claps again.) Congratulations. Buckets.
BEN: Oh, come on, Wig. Cheer up. You’re winning. You’re number one, and it’s all because of
me. We should both be happy.
WIG (musing happiness): Okay. Happy. The law of probability, it has been asserted, is something to do with the proposition if 126 million wolves. . . if 126 million wolves named Garnett were. . .
BEN: Are you?
WIG (not listening to BEN): The law of averages, if I have got it this right, means that if 126 million timber wolves were thrown up in the air for long enough they would land in Boston—
BEN: I’m gonna try really hard to miss this one. Just you watch. (He closes his eyes and sticks his tongue to the side.)
WIG: A 126 million timber wolves? Is that more than a pack? I don’t get it. Who bets on wolves in Boston? (He studies the ping pong ball that just rattled into the cup. The closest thing to a miss.)
BEN: I really tried to miss on that one.
WIG: Is there anything else we can do?
BEN: Bored already?
WIG: Not bored. Just. . . just expecting something more.
WIG: Um. . . not exactly.
BEN: A sure thing?
WIG: We may have found it. 126 million wolves always land in Boston, don’t they?
BEN: I don’t know what you’re talking about. On this throw, I’m just going to toss the ball straight up in the air.
BEN tosses the ball straight up in the air, but WIG pokes it with his fingertips and it falls to the floor, not landing in the cup.
BEN: Well, I guess I get to keep that one. You interfered.
WIG: It must be the law of diminishing returns. . . I feel the spell about to be broken.
BEN: I feel hungry. (He shoots again. The ball goes in the cup.)
WIG: Or not.
BEN: A word comes to mind.
WIG: We’ve been doing this a long time.
BEN: The longest. Seems like since the summer.
WIG: I don’t even remember the summer. I just remember the inside of this gym.
BEN: Look I made another one.
WIG: I guess that’s another point for me.
BEN: It is.
WIG: I’m afraid.
BEN: I’m not.
WIG: You should be.
BEN: I’ve already lost.
WIG: I feel like I have too.
BEN: But you’re winning now. (Another ball lands in the cup.)
WIG: But what have I won? I’m not doing anything.
BEN: ‘Cause I’m doing everything for you.
WIG: Only since the summer.
BEN: Longer than that.
WIG: Are you saying this isn’t the first time we’ve bounced ping pong balls?
BEN: I’m saying I’ve been doing this longer than you have.
WIG: I just. . . I just feel like we were entitled to something more. Something—
BEN: I’m not sure where you’re headed.
WIG: That’s what I’m saying. I don’t either.
BEN walks as far away from the cup as possible. He pulls a headband down over his eyes. He bends his knees to shoot.
WIG: Please don’t. I think you’ve proved a point.
BEN: What point?
WIG: That things are exactly as they should be, which is. . . as they’re not.
Bryan Harvey enjoys the internet. He can be followed @LawnChairBoys.