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James at an Awkward Age

(The NBC-TV series “James at 16” will shortly resume in a new format. This is the first episode.)

SEGMENT 1: Interior, the Berkeley Institute, a boys’ school in Newport, Rhode Island. The Reverend William Leverett has just finished lecturing on “Cicero As Such.” Boys stream from the classroom into the hall. JAMES and his only friend, SARGY, meet in front of James’s locker.

SARGY: James, my man! (They shake hands.) Isn’t Leverett something else?

JAMES: As to what, don’t you know? else he is—! Leverett is of a weirdness.

SARGY: Say, my man, what’s going down?

JAMES: Anything, you mean, different from what is usually up? But one’s just where one is—isn’t one? I don’t mean so much in the being by one’s locker—for it does, doesn’t it? lock and unlock and yet all unalterably, stainlessly, steelily glitter—as in one’s head and what vibes one picks up and the sort of deal one perceives as big.

SARGY: Don’t sweat it.

JAMES: If one might suppose that in the not sweating it one should become—what do you fellows call it?—cool—!

SARGY: Hey, your manners pull it off.

JAMES: Would they “pull off” anything, then?

SARGY: I didn’t say anything.

JAMES: It’s what, isn’t it? he can say.

SARGY: Leverett?

JAMES: Oh, Leverett! You must tell me all about the so more or less poor old Leverett.

SARGY: That’s not what you mean?

JAMES: All the same, I wonder about his idea of him—Leverett’s.

SARGY: Him?

JAMES: There it is! Precisely one’s own father.

SARGY: They say your pop’s a friend of Emerson’s.

JAMES: Ah, they! But they—! If one’s to belong, in the event, to a group of other kids, without giving the appearance—so apparent beyond the covering it, in any way, up—of muscling at all in—! And if, under pressure of an ideal altogether American, one feels it tasteless and even humiliating that the head of one’s little family is not “in business”—!

SARGY: I can dig it. But hasn’t your dad associated with Greeley and Dana?

JAMES: Ah, associated—! But we don’t know, do you know? what he does.

SARGY: I heard your old man played a large part in the spiritual reformation of the Forties and Fifties.

JAMES: Yes, but after all, you know, Sargy, exactly what the heck, all the while, do you think, like, is he?

SEGMENT 2: Interior, the Sweet Shoppe. JAMES is alone at a table. ENTER his cousin MINNY.

MINNY: May I join you?

JAMES: Oh, immensely!

(WAITRESS comes over.)

MINNY: A Coke, please.

JAMES: Well, perhaps just a thing so inconsiderable as—the hamburger? Of a medium rarity?

MINNY: Are you doing anything Saturday night? Want to go to a show?

JAMES: Would it be a, then, kept date? I mean, the charm of the thing half residing in the thing itself’s having been determined in advance and, in consequence, all intentionally and easily and without precipitant hassle or bummer, taking finally, in fact, place?

MINNY: Are you all right?

JAMES: Oh, all—!

(WAITRESS brings their orders. JAMES takes a bite of his burger.)

JAMES: This is, on the whole, exactly not medium rare. And you—you’re so stupendously neat-o! I say—do you think I had better keep it?

MINNY: Our date?

JAMES: The little hamburger.

MINNY: Listen, I can put you in touch with this really great teenage drug rehabilitation center—

JAMES: Oh, it’s not, I mean, you know—no way!—drugs. Unless it’s one.

MINNY: The hamburger? Oh, never mind! See you around. (Leaves.)

JAMES: (Calls after her.) No, the wondering, can you hear me? in respect to (despondently) oh, wow! him!

SEGMENT 3: Interior, James’s house. JAMES looks into the sitting room, where his brothers, WILLY, WILKY, and BOB, and his sister, ALICE, are gathered before dinner, chaffing each other and debating Fourierism. JAMES goes down the hall and meets his MOTHER.

JAMES: Only do say, Mom, how I’m not to fail in the finding of him—

MOTHER: In his study. Hurry up—some of his Swedenborgians are coming for dinner.

(JAMES goes to Father’s study.)

FATHER: Come in, son. I was just corresponding with Carlyle and Mill.

JAMES: Ah, but it’s all so quite buggingly on that point, if I might for a moment be allowed to be prefatory no less than interrogatory and interrogatory no less than up, as it were, front, with regard to your little interlocutor’s—that is to say, myself’s—becoming, in the not grossing the other boys altogether out at least as much as in the not blowing it in getting what they nowadays call “along” with girls, in any way proficient—and oh! if Minny might feel me up, do you see? to her level—that now, while I’m too so almost palpably hot to have your answer—and am I not, though, in my own pyrotechnics, fairly cooking!—would I put to you my minuscule question:—

MOTHER (appearing in doorway): Dear, the Swedenborgians are here.

JAMES: There pokes at me the stick, as well as beckons to me the carrot, of acceleration. Oh, Dad!—poor Dad—you work, you do work, I think—do you?—that’s my question. Do tell me. I dare say you know what it is you, um, “do”? Or only give me the small dry potato-chip-crumb of a hint. For if it’s even a matter of your not declining to say what you aren’t, then doesn’t it follow, don’t you see? that you needn’t say what you are?

FATHER: Why, son! Say I’m a philosopher, say I’m a seeker for truth, say I’m a lover of my kind, say I’m an author of books if you like. Or best of all, just say I’m a student.

(MOTHER and FATHER leave.)

JAMES: Ah, but he’s too so very freakingly much!

SEGMENT 4: The Sweet Shoppe. JAMES is sitting at a table with SARGY and MINNY. OTHER TEENAGERS are at tables around the room.

JAMES: We’re all of us students, aren’t we? And if each of us is one of us, then he must naturally be!

SARGY: Far out, man.

JAMES: Yet one has seen great big grown-up dudes, well encumbered, one might surely have thought, with the interest of ponderousnesses, put, by one’s little crowd, down as positively not, on the social scales as rigged by them, sufficiently heavy.

MINNY: I haven’t.

JAMES: But there he is!

SARGY: There—?

MINNY: At the door!

(James’s FATHER enters Sweet Shoppe and comes over to James’s table. The OTHER TEENAGERS gather, all curiously, all convivially, around, and everyone is soon friends and dancing to James’s favorite song, “Come On, Baby, Don’t Hang Fire.”)

NEXT WEEK: A harrowing mix-up occurs until it is discovered that James and his father are both named Henry.