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Wendy Wasserstein: Reading

Tender Offer

 

A girl of around nine is alone in a dance studio. She is dressed in traditional leotards and tights. She begins singing to herself, "Nothing Could Be Finer Than to Be in Carolina." She maps out a dance routine, including parts for the chorus. She builds to a finale. A man, PAUL, around thirty-five, walks in. He has a sweet, though distant, demeanor. As he walks in, LISA notices him and stops.

     PAUL: You don’t have to stop, sweetheart.
     LISA: That’s okay.
     PAUL: Looked very good.
     LISA: Thanks.
     PAUL: Don’t I get a kiss hello?
     LISA: Sure.
     PAUL: [Embraces her.] Hi, Tiger.
     LISA: Hi, Dad.
     PAUL: I’m sorry I’m late.
     LISA: That’s okay.
     PAUL: How’d it go?
     LISA: Good.
     PAUL: Just good?
     LISA: Pretty good.
     PAUL: "Pretty good." You mean you got a lot of applause or "pretty good" you could have done better.
     LISA: Well, Courtney Palumbo’s mother thought I was pretty good. But you know the part in the middle when everybody’s supposed to freeze and the big girl comes out. Well, I think I moved a little bit.
     PAUL: I thought what you were doing looked very good.
     LISA: Daddy, that’s not what I was doing. That was tap-dancing. I made that up.
     PAUL: Oh. Well it looked good. Kind of sexy.
     LISA: Yuch!
     PAUL: What do you mean "yuch"?
     LISA: Just yuch!
     PAUL: You don’t want to be sexy?
     LISA: I don’t care.
     PAUL: Let’s go, Tiger. I promised your mother I’d get you home in time for dinner.
     LISA: I can’t find my leg warmers.
     PAUL: You can’t find your what?
     LISA: Leg warmers. I can’t go home till I find my leg warmers.
     PAUL: I don’t see you looking for them.
     LISA: I was waiting for you.
     PAUL: Oh.
     LISA: Daddy.
     PAUL: What?
     LISA: Nothing.
     PAUL: Where do you think you left them?
     LISA: Somewhere around here. I can’t remember.
     PAUL: Well, try to remember, Lisa. We don’t have all night.
     LISA: I told you. I think somewhere around here.
     PAUL: I don’t see them. Let’s go home now. You’ll call the dancing school tomorrow.
     LISA: Daddy, I can’t go home till I find them. Miss Judy says it’s not professional to leave things.
     PAUL: Who’s Miss Judy?
     LISA: She’s my ballet teacher. She once danced the lead in Swan Lake, and she was a June Taylor dancer.
     PAUL: Well, then, I’m sure she’ll understand about the leg warmers.
     LISA: Daddy, Miss Judy wanted to know why you were late today.
     PAUL: Hmmmmmmmm?
     LISA: Why were you late?
     PAUL: I was in a meeting. Business. I’m sorry.
     LISA: Why did you tell Mommy you’d come instead of her if you knew you had business?
     PAUL: Honey, something just came up. I thought I’d be able to be here. I was looking forward to it.
     LISA: I wish you wouldn’t make appointments to see me.
     PAUL: Hmmmmmmmm.
     LISA: You shouldn’t make appointments to see me unless you know you’re going to come.
     PAUL: Of course I’m going to come.
     LISA: No, you’re not. Talia Robbins told me she’s much happier living without her father in the house. Her father used to come home late and go to sleep early.
     PAUL: Lisa, stop it. Let’s go.
     LISA: I can’t find my leg warmers.
     PAUL: Forget your leg warmers.
     LISA: Daddy.
     PAUL: What is it?
     LISA: I saw this show on television, I think it was WPIX Channel 11. Well, the father was crying about his daughter.
     PAUL: Why was he crying? Was he sick?
     LISA: No. She was at school. And he was at business. And he just missed her, so he started to cry.
     PAUL: What was the name of this show?
     LISA: I don’t know. I came in in the middle.
     PAUL: Well, Lisa, I certainly would cry if you were sick or far away, but I know that you’re well and you’re home. So no reason to get maudlin.
     LISA: What’s maudlin?
     PAUL: Sentimental, soppy. Frequently used by children who make things up to get attention.
     LISA: I am sick! I am sick! I have Hodgkin’s disease and a bad itch on my leg.
     PAUL: What do you mean you have Hodgkin’s disease? Don’t say things like that.
     LISA: Swoosie Kurtz, she had Hodgkin’s disease on a TV movie last year, but she got better and now she’s on Love Sidney.
     PAUL: Who is Swoosie Kurtz?
     LISA: She’s an actress named after an airplane. I saw her on Live at Five.
     PAUL: You watch too much television; you should do your homework. Now, put your coat on.
     LISA: Daddy, I really do have a bad itch on my leg. Would you scratch it?
     PAUL: Lisa, you’re procrastinating.
     LISA: Why do you use words that I don’t understand? I hate it. You’re like Daria Feldman’s mother. She always talks in Yiddish to her husband so Daria won’t understand.
     PAUL: Procrastinating is not Yiddish.
     LISA: Well, I don’t know what it is.
     PAUL: Procrastinating means you don’t want to go about your business.
     LISA: I don’t go to business. I go to school.
     PAUL: What I mean is you want to hang around here until you and I are late for dinner and your mother’s angry and it’s too late for you to do your homework.
     LISA: I do not.
     PAUL: Well, it sure looks that way. Now put your coat on and let’s go.
     LISA: Daddy.
     PAUL: Honey, I’m tired. Really, later.
     LISA: Why don’t you want to talk to me?
     PAUL: I do want to talk to you. I promise when we get home we’ll have a nice talk.
     LISA: No, we won’t. You’ll read the paper and fall asleep in front of the news.
     PAUL: Honey, we’ll talk on the weekend, I promise. Aren’t I taking you to the theater this weekend? Let me look. [He takes out appointment book.] Yes. Sunday. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Raincoat with Lisa. Okay, Tiger?
     LISA: Sure. It’s Dreamcoat.
     PAUL: What?
     LISA: Nothing. I think I see my leg warmers. [She goes to pick them up, and an odd-looking trophy.]
     PAUL: What’s that?
     LISA: It’s stupid. I was second best at the dance recital, so they gave me this thing. It’s stupid.
     PAUL: Lisa.
     LISA: What?
     PAUL: What did you want to talk about?
     LISA: Nothing.
     PAUL: Was it about my missing your recital? I’m really sorry, Tiger, I would have liked to have been here.
     LISA: That’s okay.
     PAUL: Honest?
     LISA: Daddy, you’re procrastinating.
     PAUL: I’m procrastinating. Sit down. Let’s talk. So. How’s school?
     LISA: Fine.
     PAUL: You like it?
     LISA: Yup.
     PAUL: You looking forward to camp this summer?
     LISA: Yup.
     PAUL: Is Daria Feldman going back?
     LISA: Nope.
     PAUL: Why not?
     LISA: I don’t know. We can go home now. Honest, my foot doesn’t itch anymore.
     PAUL: Lisa, you know what you do in business when it seems like there’s nothing left to say? That’s when you really start talking. Put a bid on the table.
     LISA: What’s a bid?
     PAUL: You tell me what you want and I’ll tell you what I’ve got to offer. Like Monopoly. You want Boardwalk, but I’m only willing to give you the Railroads. Now, because you are my daughter I’d throw in Water Works and Electricity. Understand, Tiger?
     LISA: No. I don’t like board games. You know, Daddy, we could get Space Invaders for our home for thirty-five dollars. In fact, we could get an Osborne System for two thousand. Daria Feldman’s parents …
     PAUL: Daria Feldman’s parents refuse to talk to Daria, so they bought a computer to keep Daria busy so they won’t have to speak in Yiddish. Daria will probably grow up to be a homicidal maniac lesbian prostitute.
     LISA: I know what the word prostitute means.
     PAUL: Good. [Pause.] You still haven’t told me about school. Do you still like your teacher?
     LISA: She’s okay.
     PAUL: Lisa, if we’re talking try to answer me.
     LISA: I am answering you. Can we go home now, please?
     PAUL: Damn it, Lisa, if you want to talk to me … Talk to me!
     LISA: I can’t wait till I’m old enough so I can make my own money and never have to see you again. Maybe I’ll become a prostitute.
     PAUL: Young lady, that’s enough.
     LISA: I hate you, Daddy! I hate you! [She throws her trophy into the trash bin.]
     PAUL: What’d you do that for?
     LISA: It’s stupid.
     PAUL: Maybe I wanted it.
     LISA: What for?
     PAUL: Maybe I wanted to put it where I keep your dinosaur and the picture you made of Mrs. Kimbel with the chicken pox.
     LISA: You got mad at me when I made that picture. You told me I had to respect Mrs. Kimbel because she was my teacher.
     PAUL: That’s true. But she wasn’t my teacher. I liked her better with the chicken pox. [Pause.] Lisa, I’m sorry. I was very wrong to miss your recital, and you don’t have to become a prostitute. That’s not the type of profession Miss Judy has in mind for you.
     LISA: [Mumbles.] No.
     PAUL: No. [Pause.] So Talia Robbins is really happy her father moved out?
     LISA: Talia Robbins picks open eighth-grade lockers during gym period. But she did that before her father moved out.
     PAUL: You can’t always judge someone by what they do or what they don’t do. Sometimes you come home from dancing school and run upstairs and shut the door, and when I finally get to talk to you, everything is "okay" or "fine." Yup or nope?
     LISA: Yup.
     PAUL: Sometimes, a lot of times, I come home and fall asleep in front of the television. So you and I spend a lot of time being a little scared of each other. Maybe?
     LISA: Maybe.
     PAUL: Tell you what. I’ll make you a tender offer.
     LISA: What?
     PAUL: I’ll make you a tender offer. That’s when a company publishes in the newspaper that they want to buy another company. And the company that publishes is called the Black Knight because they want to gobble up the poor little company. So the poor little company needs to be rescued. And then a White Knight comes along and makes a bigger and better offer so the shareholders won’t have to tender shares to the Big Black Knight. You with me?
     LISA: Sort of.
     PAUL: I’ll make you a tender offer like the White Knight. But I don’t want to own you. I just want to make a much better offer. Okay?
     LISA: [Sort of understanding.] Okay. [Pause. They sit for a moment.] Sort of, Daddy, what do you think about? I mean, like when you’re quiet what do you think about?
     PAUL: Oh, business usually. If I think I made a mistake or if I think I’m doing okay. Sometimes I think about what I’ll be doing five years from now and if it’s what I hoped it would be five years ago. Sometimes I think about what your life will be like, if Mount Saint Helen’s will erupt again. What you’ll become if you’ll study penmanship or word processing. If you’ll speak kindly of me to your psychiatrist when you are in graduate school. And how the hell I’ll pay for your graduate school. And sometimes I try and think what it was I thought about when I was your age.
     LISA: Do you ever look out your window at the clouds and try to see which kinds of shapes they are? Like one time, honest, I saw the head of Walter Cronkite in a flower vase. Really! Like look don’t those kinda look like if you turn it upside down, two big elbows or two elephants trunks dancing?
     PAUL: Actually still looks like Walter Cronkite in a flower vase to me. But look up a little. See the one that’s still moving? That sorta looks like a whale on a thimble.
     LISA: Where?
     PAUL: Look up. To your right.
     LISA: I don’t see it. Where?
     PAUL: The other way.
     LISA: Oh, yeah! There’s the head and there’s the stomach. Yeah! [LISA picks up her trophy.] Hey, Daddy.
     PAUL: Hey, Lisa.
     LISA: You can have this thing if you want it. But you have to put it like this, because if you put it like that it is gross.
     PAUL: You know what I’d like? So I can tell people who come into my office why I have this gross stupid thing on my shelf, I’d like it if you could show me your dance recital.
     LISA: Now?
     PAUL: We’ve got time. Mother said she won’t be home till late.
     LISA: Well, Daddy, during a lot of it I freeze and the big girl in front dances.
     PAUL: Well, how ‘bout the number you were doing when I walked in?
     LISA: Well, see, I have parts for a lot of people in that one, too.
     PAUL: I’ll dance the other parts.
     LISA: You can’t dance.
     PAUL: Young lady, I played Yvette Mimieux in a Hasty Pudding Show.
     LISA: Who’s Yvette Mimieux?
     PAUL: Watch more television. You’ll find out. [PAUL stands up.] So I’m ready. [He begins singing.] "Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina."
     LISA: Now I go. In the morning. And now you go. Dum-da.
     PAUL: [Obviously not a tap dancer.] Da-da-dum.
     LISA: [Whines.] Daddy!
     PAUL: [Mimics her.] Lisa! Nothing could be finer…
     LISA: That looks dumb.
     PAUL: Oh, yeah? You think they do this better in The Amazing Minkcoat? No way! Now you go–da da da dum.
     LISA: Da da da dum.
     PAUL: If I had Aladdin’s lamp for only a day, I’d make a wish….
     LISA: Daddy, that’s maudlin!
     PAUL: I know it’s maudlin. And here’s what I’d say:
     LISA AND PAUL: I’d say that "nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the moooooooooooornin’."