The Zoo Story
for William Flanagan
PETER: A man in his early forties, neither fat nor gaunt, neither
handsome nor homely He wears tweeds, smokes a pipe, carries
horn-rimmed glasses. Although he is moving into middle age, his
dress and his manner would suggest a man younger.
JERRY: A man in his late thirties, not poorly dressed, but carelessly.
What was once a trim and lightly muscled body has begun to go to fat;
and while he is no longer handsome, it is evident that he once was.
His fall from physical grace should not suggest debauchery; he has, to
come closest to it. a great weariness.
It is Central Park; a Sunday afternoon in summer; the present. There
are two park benches, one towards either side of the stage; they both
face, the audience. Behind than: foliage, trees, sky.
[At the beginning PETER is seated on one of the benches. As the
curtain rises, PETER is seated on the bench stage-right. He is
reading a book. He stops reading, cleans his glasses, goes back to
reading. JERRY enters.]
JERRY: I've been to the zoo. [PETER doesn't notice.] I said, I've been
to the zoo. MISTER, I'VE BEEN TO THE ZOO!
PETER: Hm? . . . What? . . . I'm sorry, were you talking to me?
JERRY: I went to the zoo, and then I walked until I came here. Have
I been walking north?
PETER: [puzzled] North? Why . . I . . . I think so. Let me see.
JERRY: [pointing past the audience] Is that Fifth avenue?
PETER: Why ya; yes, it is.
JERRY: And what is that cross street there; that one, to the right?
PETER: That? Oh, that's Seventy-fourth Street.
JERRY: And the zoo is around Sixty-5fth Street; so, I've been walking
PETER: [anxious to get back to his reading] Yes; it would seem so.
JERRY: Good old north.
PETER: [lightly, by reflex] Ha, ha.
JERRY: [after a slight pause] But not due north.
PETER: I ... well, no, not due north; but, we ... call it north. It's
JERRY: [watches as PETER, anxious to dismiss him, prepares his pipe]
Well, boy, you're not going to get lung cancer, are you?
PETER: [looks up, a little annoyed, then smiles] No, sir. Not from this.
JERRY: No, sir. What you'll probably get is cancer of the mouth, and
then you'll have to wear one of those things Freud wore after
they took one whole side of his jaw away, What do they call
those things ?
PETER: [uncomfortable] A prosthesis?
JERRY: The very thing! A prosthesis. You're an educated man, aren't
you ? Are you a doctor ?
PETER: Oh, no; no. I read about it somewhere: Time magazine, I think.
[He turns to his book.]
JERRY: Well, Time magazine isn't for blockheads.
PETER: No, I suppose not.
JERRY: [after a pause] Boy, I'm glad that's Fifth Avenue there.
PETER: [vaguely] Yes .
JERRY: I don't like the west side of the park much.
PETER: Oh? [Then, slightly wary, but interested] Why?
JERRY: [offhand] I don't know.
PETER: Oh. [He returns to his book.]
JERRY: [stands for a few seconds, looking at PETER, who finally looks
up again, puzzled] Do you mind if we talk?
PETER: [obviously minding] Why . . . no, no.
JERRY: Yes you do; you do.
PETER: [puts his book down, his pipe out and away, smiling] No, I
really; I don't mind.
JERRY: Yes you do.
PETER: [finally decided] No; I don't mind at all, really.
JERRY: It's ... it's a nice day.
PETER: [stares unnecessarily at the sky] Yes. Yes, it is; lovely.
JERRY: I've been to the zoo.
PETER: Yes, I think you said so ... didn't you?
JERRY: you'll read about it in the papers tomorrow, if you don't see it
on your TV tonight. You have TV, haven't you?
PETER: Why yes, we have two; one for the children.
JERRY: You're married!
PETER: [with pleased emphasis] Why, certainly.
JERRY: It isn't a law, for God's sake.
PETER: No ... no, of course not.
JERRY: And you have a wife.
PETER: [bewildered by the seeming lack of communication] Yes!
JERRY: And you have children.
PETER: Yes; two.
PETER: No, girls ... both girls.
JERRY: But you wanted boys.
PETER: Well ... naturally, every man wants a son, but ...
JERRY: [lightly mocking] But that's the way the cookie crumbles?
PETER: [annoyed] I wasn't going to say that.
JERRY: And you're not going to have any more kids, are you?
PETER: [a bit distantly] No. No more. [Then back, and irksome] Why
did you say that? How would you know about that?
JERRY: The way you cross your legs, perhaps; something in the voice.
Or maybe I'm just guessing. Is it your wife?
PETER: [furious] That's none of your business! [A silence.] Do you
understand? [JERRY nods. PETER is quiet now.] Well, you're
right. We'll have no more children.
JERRY: [softly] That is the way the cookie crumbles.
PETER: [forgiving] Yes ... I guess so.
JERRY: Well, now; what else?
PETER: What were you saying about the zoo... that I'd read about it,
or see ...?
JERRY: I'll tell you about it, soon. Do you mind if I ask you questions?
PETER: Oh, not really.
JERRY: I'll tell you why I do it; I don't talk to many people except
to say like: give me a beer, or where's the john, or what time
does the feature go on, or keep your hands to yourself, buddy.
You know things like that.
PETER: I must say I don t ...
JERRY: But every once in a while I like to talk to somebody, really
talk; like to get to know somebody, know all about him.
PETER: [lightly laughing, still a little uncomfortable] And am I the
guinea pig for today ?
JERRY: On a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon like this? Who better
than a nice married man with two daughters and ... uh ... a
dog? [PETER shakes his head.] No? Two dogs. [PETER shakes
his head again. Hm. No dogs? [PETER shakes his head, sadly.]
Oh, that's a shame. But you look like an animal man. CATS?
[PETER nods his head, ruefully.] Cats ! But, that can't be your
idea. No, sir. Your wife and daughters? [PETER nods his head.]
Is there anything else I should know?
PETER: [he has clear his throat] There are ... there are two parakeets.
One ... uh ... one for each of my daughters.
PETER: My daughters keep them in a cage in their bedroom.
JERRY: Do they carry disease? The birds.
PETER: I don't believe so.
JERRY: That's too bad. If they did you could set them loose in the
house and the cats could eat them and die, maybe. [PETER
look blank for a moment, then laughs.] And what else ? What
do you do to support your enormous household?
PETER: I ... uh ... I have an executive position with a ... a small
publishing house. We ... uh ... we publish text books.
JERRY: That sounds nice; very nice. What do you make?
PETER: [still cheerful] Now look here!
JERRY: Oh, come on.
PETER: Well, I make around eighteen thousand a year, but: don't carry
more than forty dollars at any one time ... in case you're a ...
a holdup man ... ha, ha, ha.
JERRY: [ignoring the above] Where do you live? [PETER is reluctant.]
Oh, look; I'm not going to rob you, and I'm not going to kidnap
your parakeets, your cats, or your daughters.
PETER: [too loud] I live between Lexington and Third Avenue, on
JERRY: That wasn't so hard, was it?
PETER: I didn't mean to seem ... ah ... it's that you don't really carry
on a conversation; you just ask questions. And I'm ... I'm
normally ... uh ... reticent. Why do you just stand there?
JERRY: I'll start walking around in a little while, and eventually I'll sit
down. [Recalling.] Wait until you see the expression on his face.
PETER: What? Whose face? Look here; is this Something about the
JERRY: [distantly] The what?
PETER: The zoo; the zoo. Something about the zoo.
JERRY: The zoo?
PETER: You've mentioned it several times.
JERRY [still distant, but returning abruptly]: The zoo? Oh, yes; the
zoo. I was there before I came here. I told you that. Say, what's the
dividing line between upper-middle-middle-class and
PETER: My dear fellow, I ...
JERRY: Don't my dear fellow me.
PETER: [unhappily] Was I patronizing? I believe I was; I'm sorry. But,
you see, your question about the classes bewildered me.
JERRY: And when you're bewildered you become patronizing?
PETER: I ... I don't express myself too well, sometimes. [He attempts
a joke on himself.] I'm in publishing, not writing.
JERRY: [amused, but not at the humour] So be it. The truth is: I was
PETER: Oh, now; you needn't say that.
[It is at this point that JERRY may begin to mow about the
stage with slowly increasing determination and authority,
but pacing himself, so that the long speech about the dog
comes at the high point of the arc.]
JERRY: All right. Who are your favourite writers? Baudelaire and J.P.
PETER: [wary] Well, I like a great many writers; I have a considerable
... catholicity of taste, if I may say so. Those two men are fine,
each in his way. [Warming up] Baudelaire, of course ... uh ... is
by far the finer of the two, but Marquand has a place ... in our
... uh ... national ...
JERRY: Skip it.
PETER: I ... sorry.
JERRY: Do you know what I did before I went to the zoo today? I
walked all the way up Fifth Avenue from Washington Square;
all the way.
PETER: Oh; you live in the Village! [This seems to enlighten Peter.]
JERRY: No, I don't. I took the subway down to the Village so I could
walk all the way up Fifth Avenue to the zoo. It's one of those
things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very
long distance out of his way to come back a short distance
PETER: [almost pounting] Oh, I thought you lived in the Village.
JERRY: What were you trying to do? Make sense out of things? Bring
order? The old pigeonhole bit? Well, that's easy; I'll tell you. I
live in a four-storey brownstone rooming-house on the upper
West Side between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. I
live on the top floor; rear; west. It's a laughably small room,
and one of my walls is made of beaverboard; this beaverboard
separates my room from another laughably small room, so I
assume that the two rooms were once one room, a small room,
but not necessarily laughable. The room beyond my beaver
board wall is occupied by a coloured queen who always keeps
his door open; well, not always but always when he's plucking
his eyebrows, which he does with Buddhist concentration. This
coloured queen has rotten teeth, which is rare, and he has a
Japanese kimono, which is also pretty rare; and he wears this
kimono to and from the john in the hall, which is pretty
frequent. I mean, he goes to the john a lot. He never bothers
me, and never brings anyone up to his room. All he does is
pluck his eyebrows, wear his kimono and go to the john. Now,
the two front rooms on my floor are a little larger, I guess; but
they're pretty small, too. There's a Puerto Rican family in one
of them, a husband, a wife, and some kids; I don't know how
many. These people entertain a lot. And in the other front room,
there's somebody living there, but I don't know who it is. I've
never seen who it is. Never. Never ever.
PETER: [embarrassed] Why ... why do you live there?
JERRY: [From a distance again] I don't know.
PETER: It doesn't sound a very nice place ... where you live.
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