The following play wasn’t inspired by a writing prompt like the others, it was inspired by a pretty dumb video that I watched. So, I saw this painful video pop up in my feed where this 18 year old girl was outlining her plan to save a house deposit in the next four years simply through her influencing side-hustle tik-tok yawn-yawn business. Meanwhile, another influencer had made their own video where they just nodded and gave thumbs up to the 18 year old. Blerghhh. The content was stupid and out of touch with the reality of most people’s lives.
I think a lot about class and financial privilege, so it doesn’t take much for this topic to get me really riled up! This play today is very much about the myth of young people getting wealthy simply from their own smarts and work ethic. Well, that’s the basis of it, but in hindsight I can also see that I’ve been influenced by the early-90s realism I’ve been reading!! Boy, did those Aussie playwrights in the 90s love to write plays about dysfunctional upper-middle class families with cold career women and loutish larrikins.
Anyway, here’s today’s writing exercise:
A beautifully furnished sitting room on a sunny Autumn afternoon, Eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
An open plan kitchen overlooks the room, and there, behind the counter is Gloria, a white, well-dressed woman in her mid sixties. Settled into an armchair is her husband, Robert, and nervously pacing the room is their son, Michael.
MICHAEL: I sent the email three days ago.
ROBERT: Oh, yes, we did see that.
MICHAEL: Did you watch the attached video?
GLORIA: I don’t click on links – you told me that.
MICHAEL: But if it’s from me–
GLORIA: Now, this duck from lunch?
ROBERT: Really splendid.
GLORIA: It was, wasn’t it? This was a recipe from that book you gave me from that TV show.
MICHAEL: So you didn’t even see the app?
GLORIA: That one where they travel by train and pick ingredients from local markets in little European towns.
ROBERT: Was it?
GLORIA: I don’t know how well it would go being reheated for dinner. Tends to dry it out.
ROBERT: Oh, no, I don’t feel like a picking through the fridge type of dinner.
GLORIA: My thoughts. I’ll throw it. No use taking up space.
MICHAEL: So, if you haven’t watched it –
GLORIA: Oh, no, sweetie, we didn’t.
MICHAEL: – why did you say it was about my company?
ROBERT: No, not exactly. It was about your book.
GLORIA: Yes, we wanted to talk to you about it.
ROBERT: Nothing too serious. Just a few…
GLORIA: Shall we send out for some Vietnamese then?
ROBERT: Oh, yes, let’s get a few plates to share. Michael, you still like pho, don’t you?
MICHAEL: Yes, sure, of course. Is there something wrong with the book?
GLORIA: No, we’re actually really enjoying it so far.
MICHAEL: You haven’t finished it?
ROBERT: No, it’s quite a funny story, though.
MICHAEL: The book’s funny?
ROBERT: No, no, no! Us trying to read it has been quite funny. We had a few people here and there, neighbours and such, compliment us on your book, tell us how much they enjoyed it, all of that.
GLORIA: So, we thought we’d better read it!
MICHAEL: You thought then?
ROBERT: And we both said, yes, let’s read it, but we never really did much about it.
GLORIA: But then for Christmas –
ROBERT: For Christmas, we bought each other a copy.
GLORIA: Just by accident! The same present!
ROBERT: And so we thought we’d try to read it at the same time, so we were always reading the same parts at the same time.
GLORIA: Oh, and you know what your Dad’s like – he’s always falling asleep at the drop of a hat, forgetting things. It became quite a farce, reading back and forth!
MICHAEL: What is wrong with it?! Why did you need me to come here?
ROBERT: Well, Michael, we noticed some parts that weren’t entirely true. We thought it was time to clear up some things from the past.
MICHAEL: Is this serious? Was I adopted?
GLORIA: Oh, Lord, no! I laboured with you and your ridiculously big head for 26 hours, Michael. You are definitely one of us.
MICHAEL: So, what is it?
GLORIA: The part about you saving for that first house –
GLORIA: – well, most of it’s not right at all.
MICHAEL: Yes, it is.
ROBERT: I know we kept a few things hidden, but we thought you’d have pieced it together.
MICHAEL: What, you actually paid for it all, did you?
MICHAEL: No, you didn’t!
GLORIA: Honey, we wanted you to have the best chance at university, and even though you were so determined to do it all independently –
MICHAEL: Which I did!
GLORIA: – Well we just wanted you to have a better safety net.
ROBERT: We worked it out with the real estate agent on that little rental you had.
MICHAEL: No, I struck a deal. I got him to halve the rent.
ROBERT: We paid the other half.
MICHAEL: You what?
ROBERT: You can’t believe that that was a reasonable price for a two bedroom in Canterbury? You were paying less than your friends in share-houses.
MICHAEL: Yes, because… I negotiated… I … (beat) What else is there?
GLORIA: Honey, don’t be mad. We wanted you to have a bedroom and a study so you could-
MICHAEL: Is that all?
GLORIA: Mostly. It’s not much. Just a few deposits in your account from time to time.
ROBERT: And that job he had. That second one in the sales department.
MICHAEL: Yes, I know you pulled a few strings to get me that one, I still did the work myself.
ROBERT: Well, we negotiated a slightly better pay rate for you.
MICHAEL: So? I still did the work, didn’t I?
ROBERT: I suppose.
MICHAEL: I don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve here. Do you not think I’m a successful entrepreneur?
GLORIA: Oh, sweetie, of course we do. We just felt that that section where you advised people to save for their first home was a little misleading.
ROBERT: Just when you use yourself as an example.
MICHAEL: Well, I wasn’t aware that my parents were duping me.
GLORIA: Helping you.
ROBERT: I just thought that if you ran the figures, and thought about it for more than a second, you’d realise that you hadn’t really saved $50,000 by the time you were 22.
GLORIA: Surely you had a budget or records from that time.
MICHAEL: Well, not anymore.
ROBERT: And yes, even if you had the deposit, where did the money for the agent fees and stamp duty and tax and all the rest come from?
MICHAEL: From me! Why are you trying to take this away from me?
GLORIA: Darling, I think over time you’ve built up this wonderful narrative about yourself and little pieces of white lies and half-truths have been used to glue up the parts you don’t really remember or don’t understand.
MICHAEL: So now that I’ve written the book, now you tell me all this? Why didn’t I hear about it back when I did the podcast, or when I first had my Money Walks website?
Pause. Gloria and Robert steal a quick glance at each other.
MICHAEL: Are you fucking serious? You used to post about it all over facebook.
GLORIA: That was the easiest way for Nana to see it.
MICHAEL: Well at least she was reading it.
ROBERT: I’m not really a podcast sort of person.
MICHAEL: But that’s my whole platform – buy a house by 22. I did it, so can you.
GLORIA: And you did!
MICHAEL: Did I, mum? Did I?
Pause. Michael sits and sulks.
ROBERT: You, uh, mentioned an app?
MICHAEL: Doesn’t matter.
ROBERT: Is it yours?
GLORIA: Well, that sounds interesting. What does it do? Can it help me order some Vietnamese?
ROBERT: What did you say – it was on the email? There was a video.
MICHAEL: I made a video. It’s a pitch.
GLORIA: Well, then, that sounds like something I could watch.
MICHAEL: Well, I did email it to you.
GLORIA: Did you?
ROBERT: Oh, yes, here we go. FIN app. What’s a fin?
MICHAEL: It doesn’t even matter now.
GLORIA: Yes, it does! Tell us – is this a swimming app?
MICHAEL: No. It stands for Financial Independence Now.
MICHAEL: Don’t bother.
ROBERT: No, here we go, let’s have a look at the video.
GLORIA: Oh, robert, put it up on the big screen so I can watch it. I can’t see things properly on the phone screen. I need to get my glasses and even then it’s just too small. It hurts my eyes.
ROBERT: Alright, I’ll just get it hooked up – how do I get it to go on the thing?
MICHAEL: Dad, don’t worry about it.
ROBERT: No, no no, here we go. This is it. Let’s have a look.
Robert turns on the TV screen, and reveals Michael’s flashy pitch video.