Copyright 1998 by Stoler
by Michael Stoler
Based on a concept by Oshi and Stoler
Scene: a large well-lit patio next to a huge house which is only barely visible in the right foreground. (Right means viewer's right.) Night. A clear sky, some stars. Looking out to water, and in the distance, a slight glow of a city. At the back of the patio, middle, a large electronic sign such as is used on highways to announce traffic problems or directions, perhaps twenty feet high. On it are a string of numbers, "1999...December 31....23:50:21..." -- that being of course the date and time of about ten minutes before the so-called turn of the millennium, and ticking off the seconds and minutes as the scene progresses.
A man is standing in front of the sign. (This is TERRY.) He is in his early thirties, tall, slim, darkhaired, bearded, bespectacled. He wears an outfit that could only be described as combat black tie -- a tuxedo jacket that is cut short and belted like an Eisenhower jacket, pants that are pleated and creased and striped like formal trousers but have large pockets along the billowing legs as well, and low boots that are pointed and polished but are unmistakably designed for combat. He stands with first one hand behind his back, then the other, then both, looks back at the sign, checks his large watch with the military gesture of raising it in three mechanical twists up to his face, stands again with hands behind back, legs spread, looking into house, waiting, ready. Suddenly, he sees something coming from the house, what he was waiting for, and turns away to avoid seeming to have been waiting; looks out past sign into night sky.
Enter LAURA, the person for whom he has been waiting. She is about TERRY's age, perhaps a few years older. She is blond, pretty, and very athletic looking; this is easily visible because she is wearing a black tank dress cut low in front and back and high on the bottom. (Also black heels, gold bangles and anklets, etc.) Although she is a very serious professional, just now she is in a most convivial mood, it being New Year's (New Century's, New Millennium's) Eve and she having had several drinks already and holding another in her hand. She has seen TERRY from inside and comes straight toward him.
LAURA (Enthusiastically.) Hey, Terry!!
TERRY (turning around, trying to maintain illusion of surprise. More quietly) Hey!
LAURA What are you doing here?
TERRY Well, I was invited, wasn't I?
LAURA Yeah, but no one expected you'd actually show up. I mean, I didn't think you were going to make it. (Running off at the mouth, unstoppable.) You missed almost all the fun!
TERRY (Still quiet, restrained.) Oh really? What did you do last night?
LAURA Well, we had this barbecue, down on the beach. No, no, not a barbecue. A clambake (getting it right, with effort.) It was so, like -- New England.
TERRY And for the vegetarians?
LAURA Oh, they had seaweed or something. It was great. They had this band, and the limbo, and I won of course -- I mean, I know you are not much for parties, but I think even you would have had a good time.
TERRY (Flatly, preoccupied.) Yes, it sounds like a good time.
LAURA It was!! And then everyone mostly sacked out on their beach blankets at three am, and well, of course, those blankets were big enough for two, so of course....well, I don't even need to tell you.
TERRY (Now maybe a little miffed.) No, you don't.
LAURA So what have you been doing? What was so important that you couldn't get here until the party's practcially over?
TERRY (Looks at watch and sign again.) I had some -- shopping to do, some stuff I had to get.
LAURA Geez. It couldn't wait until next year? Next millennium?
TERRY Um, no. Of course, the millennium doesn't really start tonight. But no. It couldn't wait. (He wants to say something but he is having trouble getting up courage to say it. There is a pause. Finally, Laura fills the void.)
LAURA Well, anyway, what are you doing out here anyway? I mean, I know you don't like a lot of the people here so much, but come on inside! It's where the food is! And the drink!!
TERRY (Looking left) Um, no, I think I want to keep an eye on my car. I just got it, you know.
LAURA You got a new car? Wow. (looking in same direction) which one is it?
TERRY The tan one, there.
LAURA The tan...oh my God!! I thought that was a house!! That's huge!! What IS that? It doesn't seem like your sort of car, Terry...
TERRY It's a Humvee. Military. It can take anything, any terrain.
LAURA Well, I am sure it will be useful on the freeway. Wait, you walk to work, don't you?
TERRY Well, let's just say I had a feeling it might be useful. (LAURA is used to his crypticness, knows to let it go. So she changes the subject.)
LAURA So, um, anything going on in the world? Oh, I know I'm not supposed to ask that. I mean, they were really serious on the invitation about no radios or phones or modems or anything. Patrick and Ellen checked everyone's bags on the way in. They found the funniest things, of course. And then Rosa -- you know? Rosa Rodriguez the oncologist? They caught her with a phone in the bathroom. They were going to flush it down the toilet but she yelled and yelled and so they just took it away. Can you imagine? a bunch of lawyers and doctors and .hi techers (special emphasis) without their cell phones and modems and laptops?? But it's been great to get away from the world. Great. It was a good idea. But still. I just wonder. I mean, it's still there, the world, right? It --- (teasingly) -- hasn't come to an end, has it?
TERRY (turning toward her, finally, decisively, urgently) No, but it's going to in eight minutes.
LAURA (Slightly taken aback by his seriousness. But after a moment..More annoyed.) Oh. Ha ha. I guess I asked for that. What's it going to be this time? Let me guess -- nuclear terrorism? Locusts? Four horsemen?
TERRY The world's going to crash.
LAURA Into what? Mars? Venus?
TERRY (Sighs, not really looking at her.) Um, no. In -- seven minutes-- most of the world's computers are going to shut down, and with them most of civilization as we know it.
LAURA (Disbelieving, sarcastic.) Oh, what, did you hack them all? Is this the dread Terry virus I've been hearing so much about?
TERRY (matter of factly.) No, it's the Millennium Bug you should have heard more about.
LAURA (Now a little scared.) Wait, I did hear about that.
TERRY Well, what you heard was true.
LAURA (Now more scared.) Well, tell me again.
TERRY Most of the world's computers store the year in dates as two digits. Fine as long as you're in the twentieth century and the first two digits can be assumed to be one and nine. But when the date switches over, they'll be left with zero zero -- and think that it's nineteen hundred, and they are not programmed to do anything in nineteen hundred. So they will stop doing anything. Like running power plants, or phone systems, or railroad switches, or traffic lights, or financial transaction systems, or anything. Click, click (motion of turning off light) and everything goes dark.
LAURA (Looks at him a long time. finally:) HA...HA. (smiles.) You almost had me there!! That's the best one you've had in a while ... almost as good as the one about the terrorists with poison gas during the Gulf War, or-- (smiles again) the one about the Russian space thing crashing back to earth, you know? And those times I hadn't had as many of these (indicates drink) as I have tonight! You are still the king of the Apocalyptic Scenarios!
TERRY It's not a scenario, it's true.
(Enter JAMES. He is thin, LAURA's age, dressed in an incredibly rich, lush outfit of satin and velvet. He is an artist, and, if he designed his outfit, a pretty good one. He is in a good mood, too, though he usually is, the occasion or chemicals only having added to his merriness.)
JAMES Hey Laura! (He opens his arms, she also, they hug warmly. He nods at TERRY.) Terry.
TERRY (Similarly cool.) James.
JAMES (Mainly to LAURA, after kissing her on the cheek.) Happy New Year!!
LAURA Don't forget New Century and New Millennium too!
JAMES Well, I never think that far in advance. I live for the moment. I'd wish everyone Happy New Hour and Happy New Minute but it would take up too much of each hour and minute. I don't do the long term stuff. I don't plan.
TERRY Well, it's good to be ready.
JAMES And in that wonderful outfit (he means this sincerely) you certainly look as if you are. Ready for what though I'm not sure -- the ballroom or the battlefield?
TERRY Both, possibly, before the night is out.
JAMES Uh oh. Is something going to happen?
LAURA James, this is Terry, remember. Something is always going to happen. Something terrible, like the end of the world!
JAMES (Getting into the joke.) Oh, of course. Terry and his apocalyptic visions. It would be so nice if you could do something with them....
TERRY I do do something with them. I try to warn people.
JAMES But people don't get it when you just talk in metaphors. After all, that is what art is for. I could have used your input on my show last back in the spring...
LAURA Oh, that "Millennial Visions" thing?
JAMES Yeah! but you didn't want anything to do with it. I had a big audience too....
TERRY I don't have visions. I'm not talking in metaphors. I'm talking literally. (somewhat angry.)
JAMES Ok, ok. (placating.) So, can *I* know what's going to happen?
LAURA (Before TERRY can answer.) None of the world's computers can handle the change in date, so at midnight they're all going to turn into pumpkins and crash.
JAMES Ooooooh! Cool!
TERRY You think so?
JAMES Oh YESSS! I never liked computers much. They're too controlling. They're Orwellian. They're inhuman. They stifle creativity. Nasty things. I'll be glad to see them gone. Who needs them?
TERRY Civilization depends on them.
JAMES Well, do we really need civilization? Plenty of good barbaric art.
TERRY How will you survive?
JAMES Well, I...
TERRY (somewhat cruelly.) When the computers go down, that'll mean no power, no phones, no money from the banks, no food in the supermarkets....
LAURA (Interrupting, tired of this.) We'll live off the land. We'll be tough.
JAMES Well, we're not all as tough as you, Laura. (Glad to have a different topic.) I was going to say that you're looking very fit. Are you training for something?
LAURA Ironman in six weeks!! (TERRY flinches at this future thinking.)
JAMES Yeeesh! You're insane! (Glances at TERRY as he says this.) Man, that makes me tired and thirsty just to think about. Soooooo (glad to have an escape excuse) I'm going to get another drink. I will see you inside! Terry, I'l be interested to see if you are right this time!! (He goes.)
LAURA (Annoyed.) Well, that was pretty rude of you.
TERRY I was only trying to help him by telling him what's going to happen. Some people can't handle the truth, you can't help them.
LAURA Don't push it Terry. It was funny for a while. don't push it or I will stop liking you.
TERRY You can't handle it either?
LAURA (Angry now.) Making up stories about the end of the world to scare people is not just rude, it's obnoxious and sleazy.
TERRY I'm not making this up. This is happening. You don't know it because you have been cooped up here, blissing out, incommunicado, but while you have turned your back on the world the world is about to go to hell!
LAURA (Stern but quiet.) You really need to stop this, Terry.
TERRY (Emphatic) And you need to start listening. You don't know what's going on out there! Remember, midnight hit sixteen hours ago in some places! Things have been shutting down since I got up this morning! Since you were under a beach blanket with whomever...
TERRY There are four million people trapped in Tokyo subways! There is no power in that country! At Sydney airpor they are landing seven-forty-seven's by torchlight and not all of them are making it! Most of the nuclear reactors in Russia have decided that they can vent their reactors straight to the atmosphere! New York and Washington are war zones -- it's like the fall of Rome -- and Detroit and Chicago -- well, they've called martial law, shoot on sight. It is happening!!!
LAURA (patiently) Terry, listen. You don't have to scare me. You don't have to impress me. I KNOW you are most creative person I know, the best storyteller, even if you won't write the stuff down. I like you, Terry. A lot of people don't and they ask me how I can but you're entertaining and interesting -- even if I kind of wonder about you sometimes. a lot of the time. so, I know you have this need to scare people and I know you are not doing it to be mean but I just wish you didn't have to do it. OK? A wish for the new millennium. Ok? Here, give me a hug (she hugs him, before he can resist. suddenly, she recoils. leaving one hand on the area just under his left arm. now she really looks scared.) Um, Terry, you know, that old line, about is this a gun, or are you just...
TERRY glad to see you? Well, I am. But it is a gun.
LAURA Terry, WHY ARE YOU CARRYING A GUN?
TERRY Haven't you been listening? do you have any idea what things are going to be like wheh we leave here? I'm just hoping that Humvee is as tough as they say. It was hard enough swiping it from the Guard depot.
LAURA You expect me to believe that YOU stole a car?
TERRY Believe what you like. It's not important, but it happens to be true. The important thing for you to believe is that most of the world's computers have already crashed and the rest -- which are connected to them, of course -- are going to join them pretty soon. And then most of life as we know it on top of that, like a building collapsing after you blow out the foundation. It's going to be a new Dark Age, it's important you believe that. And that *I* am somewhat prepared to survive it.
LAURA (She has noticed someone inside, is motioning towards him. Firmly.) You are almost certainly nuts. But just to make sure...(continues beckoning. Enter RICHARD. He is tall, athletic looking, attractive, with a lot of self confidence in himself and his work. He and TERRY relate very differently from how TERRY and JAMES related; there is no friendliness between them, even open hostility. One reason for this can be guessed. But as something becomes clear to TERRY, he will dislike RICHARD more, for reasons which won't become clear until the end. Still, this scene should help set up the end.)
RICHARD Hey, Laura!! Happy New Millennium!! (A hug and a kiss that makes TERRY suddenly start to wonder...)
TERRY It's not really the Millennium, and it's not going to be happy.
RICHARD (Turning toward, turning ON, TERRY.) Did anyone ask you?
LAURA Hey, calm down.
RICHARD Sorry, just wondered what you were doing out here talking to Mr. Arma-not-geddon any here when there are plenty of INTERESTING people inside.
TERRY I hope they'll find what's going to happen in five minutes INTERESTING.
RICHARD What's that supposed to mean? What've you done, planted a bomb?
TERRY No, you have.
LAURA Wait a second, wait a second. Be nice, children.
RICHARD If you screwed with my sign...
LAURA It's your sign?
RICHARD Well, I programmed it.
LAURA Ok, right, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. (Calmly, slowly; she is a lawyer, questioning a witness.) Now Richard, you are a computer programmer, are you not??
RICHARD A systems operations engineering consultant, actually, but yeah.
LAURA So you have heard about this bug that is supposedly going to make all the computers crash at midnight?
RICHARD Is that his new scenario? Is that what he's been talking to you about?
LAURA Now hold on, no need to get angry, just tell me, as a professional and an expert, is this going to happen?
RICHARD Of course not!! Do you believe anything Terry says?
LAURA Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I sometimes do. And I have heard of this from people other than Terry. So YOU can just be so good as to explain to me what this is and why it's not a problem.
RICHARD Well, ok, there was this problem that a lot of computers might not be able to tell if it was two thousand or nineteen hundred and start doing weird things or even crashing. But the software patch was so simple a sixth grader with a week of class could do it and we had plenty of time to hit every computer. We put it on the Net so people could do it themselves. Oh, I imagine we missed a few here and there, in people's basements, but nothing important....
TERRY And what about abroad?
RICHARD It's the same systems and the same code. It's still nothing to fix it. I trained a dozen guys in a day to go to all the former Soviet countries and train people there. They came back and said they had ninety nine percent of the machines there fixed. And we did simulations and everything ran. I mean, I'm so sorry. I know how disappointed you must be not to be getting your end of the world. After we didn't nuke ourselves or gas ourselves or greenhouse ourselves. Real sorry. I mean, if you're that upset that humanity is not going to be wiped out you could just abandon it entirely, or if you hate life that much you could just end your own...
TERRY Oh, no, it's yours I'm worried about. Have you checked your precious computers lately? Especially the ones running on Greenwich Time?
RICHARD (resolutely refusing to let TERRY bother him.) No, of course not, We weren't supposed to bring any phones to this. Now that is damned hard for me but I thought it was the sociable thing to do -- can you relate at all to that concept, Terry? Or did you smuggle one in under your jacket? (LAURA looks really worried at this.) Because I am here to have some fun the NORMAL way (a look at LAURA?) and I'm not going to let YOU and your idiot games scare me out of having it.
TERRY How can you be so sure I'm wrong?
RICHARD (As if talking to a child, to whom everything has to be put simply.) Terry, do you remember last year when you were saying that a lot of computers were going to crash because the 99 in the date would look like the 99 that signals the end of a file? Do you remember that?
TERRY (sullenly) Yeah.
RICHARD Now, did any computers crash for this reason?
RICHARD Now, why do yo think that was? Hmmm? I'll tell you why that was. It was because we got on the stick and we realized the problem and we fixed it. We FIXED it, Terry, we got off our asses and we fixed it. We didn't just whine and moan about gloom and doom. And we did the same thing about this. (Noticing LAURA's expression of surprise, even anger towards TERRY.) Oh, so he didn't tell you about this? Must have slipped his mind? Too busy accentuating the positive, eh Terry? (To LAURA) I think Mr. Jeremiah here needs to go back to prophets school. (Noticing time.) And I need to get back inside if I'm going to catch the toast. Are you coming, Laura? Or do you want to stay out here and play how gullible am I with your friend Mr. paranoid delusions here?
LAURA (she's mad at TERRY, as she looks at him, but she's mad at RICHARD for talking to her this way.) Go on in, if you like. Maybe I'll join you in a minute.
RICHARD You don't have too much more than that to decide. I mean, be careful, or you'll be ringing in the new millennium with a guy who does not have all his bells in his belfry.
LAURA (Has had enough.) That's enough, Richard. Go on in. MAYBE I'll see you in there. (RICHARD is about to say something, decides not to, shrugs and exits to house. LAURA and TERRY are left there, LAURA looking angrily at TERRY, TERRY meeting her gaze uncomfortably.)
LAURA NO, I'M ASKING YOU!!
LAURA Well, what do you say to that?
TERRY Would you care if I said that the thing he was talking about only involved a fraction of the computers the 2000 thing involves?
LAURA Probably not.
LAURA (Suddenly realizing something.) Wait a second. Hold on. If the world is about to end, what the hell are you doing here?
LAURA You're just here to gloat? To see the expression on everyone's faces when you finally turn out to be right?
TERRY No, that's not it....
LAURA So then why aren't you driving your monster truck to your secret underground bunker and gloating about how smart you are there?
TERRY Underground bunker...no. But we should be getting out of here. Now. Every second before it happens will be worth an hour afterwards to us.
LAURA "We"? What's this "we" business?
TERRY Listen, I came here because I knew you would be here. I came here to get you. Now, let's get in the car and drive to your place up the coast, where you train. It's isolated and you've got supplies there and I have more in the truck. It's better than a bunker....
LAURA Wait, how do you know so much about my place? I've never had you there....
TERRY Well, I've ...passed by a lot. On my way places.
LAURA On your way WHERE? It's at the end ...
TERRY Listen, can we go there or not?
LAURA Why didn't you just go there yourself if you know it so well? I would not have been able to stop you. I'd be stuck here in the ruins of civilization.
TERRY Of course I'd rather have you there. (Pause, she notices.) I mean, you know the area much better than I, and you're much more fit. (Is this a veiled compliment? He's starting to get embarassed...) I mean, for survival. Plus the companionship.
TERRY Well, that contributes to survival.
LAURA So of all the people in the world, you're here trying to save me instead of saving yourself. I must be an awfully good companion. (She's still mocking him, doesn't realize the sincerity, what he is trying to say.)
LAURA (Suddenly, it dawns. She looks at him.) Wait a second. Are you saying.....(needs to steady herself. Smiles.) You know, Terry, if that is all you wanted to say, you didn't have to go through all the apocalyptic scare tactics to tell me...... I mean, I know that's how you talk but....
TERRY (becoming more and more aware of time. and embarassed. needs to take command of situation.) Listen, Laura, could we talk about this in the car? on our way out of here?
LAURA (Sweetly but firmly.) No, we can talk about it now, and here.
TERRY (hurriedly, he's getting desperate.) Ok, the world's about to end and of all the people in the world to have with me or be near or whatever afterwards, I choose you. So can we go before we lose a chance at an afterwards?
LAURA And if the world weren't about to end?
TERRY Let's not talk about hypotheticals. It is. If you believe anything about me, believe that.
LAURA (having difficulty dealing with nice news and bad news at same time. Not sure which to believe.) Well, I...(Terry is looking at the sign, at his watch, at her.)
RICHARD'S VOICE (from inside) Come on, Laura! You're going to miss the toast!
LAURA Wait a second!!!
RICHARD'S VOICE There aren't too many more!!
TERRY (Just looks at her. As if getting going is the only issue. It's up to her. The crowd begins counting down. )
LAURA Terry, I ....
LAURA: I mean, Terry, I always...
CROWD: Eight! (while she is talking) Seven! Six!
LAURA: (talking very fast, running off at mouth) Terry, listen, this is all very complicated and there is more than one issue here and some of what you're saying makes me believe the other things you're saying but I still can't believe that and..
CROWD: Five!! (TERRY has no expression apprehension. Well, maybe the faintest smile. But basically he is genuinely worried.)
LAURA I mean, Terry, I like you a lot, you know that, but I mean, I never trusted you, I didn't think you wanted anyone to trust you...why couldn't you have been trustworthy? Why couldn't you have told me before?
CROWD (during this.) Four! Three!
TERRY (Quietly. I guess he is beyond caring about the end of the world, now only about her.) I COULDN'T have told you before.
LAURA Terry.... I mean, Terry. It's so sudden, even if you've known for a long time. Terry, I....
LAURA Terry, I....
(There is a blast of horns and noisemakers, music. The date on the signboard changes and it lights up with "HAPPY 1900!!" and then suddenly goes blank. As do all the lights in the house and on the patio. Total blackness. Surprised voices, then complete silence. After a moment, LAURA's lone voice is heard, her fear standing for everyone's:)
Back to STOLERN MOMENTS Home