Play #86: Helpless

"I know one thing: that I know nothing"—Socrates

The play takes place at seven o’clock on a weekday morning in the second floor bathroom of a comfortable, middle-class house on a shady street in small town in Eastern Ontario.  A middle-aged man, Albert Curtius, is brushing his teeth.  He suddenly stops, looks down at his toothbrush and his toothpaste, and calls out to his wife, Abigail.

Albert:  Abigail! 

Abigail (poking her head into the bathroom): Yes, Albert?

Albert (puzzled): What is tea-tree oil toothpaste?

Abigail (patiently): Toothpaste made from tea-tree oil. 

Albert (impatient):  Yes, but what is a tea-tree?  Where do they grow? How do you make toothpaste out if it?  Why is the oil so desirable? 

Abigail (calmly): It’s good for us, dear.

Albert (still impatient):  Is it?  But why, Abigail?  How?

Abigail:  I don’t know.

Albert:  I don’t know either.  And as a matter of fact I’m suddenly discovering that I don’t really know much about anything at all!  It gives me a strange, lonely feeling.

Abigail (soothingly): You’re tired, Albert.  The feeling will pass.

Albert (a note of panic developing in his voice):  But it doesn’t.  In fact it’s getting worse all the time!  Think about the water I’ve been using to brush my teeth.  What is it?

Abigail (perplexed):  What is water?

Albert (impatient):  Well, okay, yes, it’s apparently two gasses mixed together, yes.  Hydrogen and Oxygen, sure.  But how?  Can we make it ourselves? No.  Where does it come from?  This faucet? The lake? The clouds?  The sky?  The Polar Ice Cap?  It pours out of this faucet.  And by the way, what is this faucet made of?  Steel?  Chrome?  Chrome-plated steel?  What is Chrome?

Abigail: The shiny stuff on cars?

Albert (relentless):  Maybe.  Is that stuff chrome?  I was just looking at shiny finish on this fixture.  Is it a metal or just a coating?  What is it made of?  And what about this sink the water falls into?  Is it porcelain?  Or some kind of ceramic?  What is porcelain?  The name makes it sound delicate and expensive.  But what is it?  Is it different from China?  If so, how?  Maybe it’s just made of plastic.  But why do I say “just” plastic?  Why do we tend to look down on plastic?  How is plastic made, and what part does petroleum play in making it?  Some commercial soft ice cream is made with “edible petroleum products.” What are those products?  Does this mean that a soft ice cream cone is made of plastic? Why is some plastic called “space-age plastic?  Is it different from the plastic they make drinking glasses and sunglasses out of?  What was Bakelite?  Early plastic, right?  Do they still make it?  The steering wheel of my uncle’s 1948 Buick was made of Bakelite.  Why was Bakelite soft and sort of slippery—like jade?  What is jade for that matter?

Abigail (soothingly): Go and lie down for a bit, Albert.

Albert (agitated):  Where? On our bed?  The blankets are made of wool, right?

Abigail: some of them.

Albert (growing panicky):  Why do sheep grow wool?

Abigail (calmly): To provide blankets, Albert.

Albert: Are you sure? I thought it was to feed their young.

Abigail: Lambs don’t eat wool, Albert.

Albert (triumphantly):  But moths do!  I see them doing it!  But moths don’t eat the wool from real sheep.  So how do they know to wait until the wool is made into blankets?

Abigail (imploring him): Please, Albert, lie down and take a little rest!

Albert (beside himself):  Take it where? Why do you say to take a little rest?  Why not “have” a rest, “embark” on a rest??  Where am I going to take it to?  It sounds like medication—take an aspirin!

Abigail (leaving the room):  Not a bad idea either!