Chapter 2, Scene 3: The Bronx

INT. CORPORATE OFFICES – ROCKEFELLER CENTER – DAY

60th FLOOR @ 30 ROCK. We see clean, modern offices lined around the exterior with large, open workspaces on the interior — not the typical image of crammed cubicles and drab lighting.

PAN SHOT TO: A pair of glass doors on the right, seeing through to an elevator bank in the center of the building.  Past the elevators is another set of glass doors that lead to a mirror image of offices on the other side of the building.

An elevator opens and Mitch steps out in his dress shirt and tie.

He looks to and fro, unsure which doors to enter, then walks to the opposite side from our camera.

He swipes his ID BADGE on a pad on the wall, but the doors won’t open.

He reverses toward our camera and tries the same at the nearer set of doors. Still no entry.

An attractive PROFESSIONAL WOMAN, early 40s, walks by and sees him standing on the other side of the glass doors. She looks at him with a curious expression.

He flashes his badge, and she opens the door. As she reaches for the door, Mitch steals a glance at her left hand.

INSERT SHOT: Her LEFT HAND with no ring on her third finger.

       PROFESSIONAL WOMAN
Are you looking for someone?

       MITCH
That’s an understatement.

       PROFESSIONAL WOMAN
Excuse me?

       MITCH
Sorry. Yes, Heather Erickson, in HR?

She points to a corner — opposite of the direction in which she was walking.

       PROFESSIONAL WOMAN
Back down there.

       MITCH
Thanks.

INT. HEATHER ERICKSON’S CUBICLE – DAY

HEATHER ERICKSON, mid 20s, searches through a BOX of company logo T-shirts while Mitch waits.

       HEATHER
Yeah, we’ve done several projects with them over the years. It’s a great organization, and they really make a difference.

       MITCH
And this is at a school?

She hands him a NEW BLUE T-SHIRT.

       HEATHER
Yeah, it’s an elementary school up in the Bronx. Most likely some painting projects, cleaning up, anything the school staff can’t get to during normal hours.

       MITCH
Sounds good.

       HEATHER
And if you can get a picture with some of the other volunteers, you know, definitely wearing your shirt, that would be great. Get some of the kids, too, if you can.

       MITCH
No problem.

       HEATHER
You sure? You’re taking your phone, right?

       MITCH
I was planning on it.

       HEATHER
Right. I mean, it’s kind of important to get the picture, if you can take your phone.

       MITCH
Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure.

INT. BISTRO – UPPER WEST SIDE – NIGHT

Mitch sits with 5 friends in the front patio section of Cafe Tallulah — 71st and Columbus — for Happy Hour. The wide French doors stand open to a splendid autumn evening in NYC.

Mitch sits next to HELEN, 60, a warm and bubbly lady. EDGAR and SONYA, a married couple in their 50s sit across from them, and TAMI, an attractive Vietnamese woman in her early 40s sits at the end of the table to Mitch’s right.

       EDGAR
That was back in the late seventies, when the Village was sort-of under the radar or written off as too weird for normal people.

       SONYA
Now it’s expensive and “eccentric”.

       MITCH
I looked down there. Love that area, but anything even remotely close to my budget was the size of a phone booth, fourth or fifth floor walk-up, and no laundry in the building.

       HELEN
I said something about a phone booth recently, and one of the interns at work asked me, “What’s a phone booth?”

       SONYA
When Helen and I had our apartment down there, we were young party girls, hanging out at Studio 54 –

       HELEN
– I met Andy Warhol!

       SONYA
We had this other roommate, Arturo.

       HELEN
A true West Village Queen.

       SONYA
Only knew about twenty words in English.

       HELEN
He only spoke Italian because it
made him more exotic.

       EDGAR
Exotic was never his problem.

       SONYA
And then he got shot walking down
thirteenth street.

       EDGAR
I remember that.

       TAMI
Shot? And killed?

       SONYA
No… He came home and told us… “I’m-a walk-a down-a street. No do nuttin… Hear-a da gun-a go bang… down-a on da ground.”

       HELEN
And then he holds up his little black book… you know, the kind of phone book men carried in their back pocket in those days.

       EDGAR
Yeah, Arturo had several of them.

       SONYA
And it had a bullet stuck in it!

They all laugh.

       TAMI
That’s incredible.

       EDGAR
It gets more incredible every time they tell it.

       HELEN
You see, Mitch, you’re living in a
much safer city now.

       TAMI
Unless you live in the Bronx.

       MITCH
Actually, I’m going to the Bronx tomorrow morning to volunteer at a school.

       TAMI
What part?

       MITCH
I don’t remember exactly. I’ve never been up that far. I think it’s up around a hundred and seventy second street. Just off the six train.

       TAMI
Oh, you’re fucked.

       MITCH
Really?

       EDGAR
You’re probably fine.

       SONYA
Are you going by yourself?

       MITCH
Yeah, to get there, but it’s a big group project with some non-profit.

       HELEN
What time are you going?

       MITCH
Probably eight. Get there by nine.

       TAMI
Don’t take your phone, or credit cards. And only enough cash to catch the train back.

       EDGAR
That’s a bit much.

       SONYA
Just be smart.

       HELEN
Oh, he’s smart.

       MITCH
It’s fine.

As much as he wants to seem unfazed by this warning, we can tell it has him thinking.

INT. LIVING ROOM – MITCH’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

Mitch sits on his couch, watching a scene from the Netflix series The GetDown, set in the south Bronx in the late 70s.

The cold open sequence features a current famous hip-hop star, rapping about his experience back then.

       MR. BOOKS
I came from the city… The most dangerous city… maximum crime… the Bronx … writers on the rubble while buildings around us would crumble… nothing would find me but trouble.

OVER THE RAP: Scenes of burning buildings and city blocks where other buildings are already decimated… gang violence… public housing projects… graffiti-clad trains.

It’s not the reassuring image Mitch needs at this moment.

INT. BEDROOM – MITCH’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

Mitch lies awake, his frontal cortex zinging. He checks the clock on the bedside table.

INSERT: Digital clock, displaying 2:12

He gets out of bed.

INT. LIVING ROOM – MITCH’S APARTMENT – NIGHT

Mitch sits at a small table being used as a desk, typing at his laptop. We see THE SCREEN, with an email he’s composing to Heather Erickson.

He types: “Heather, I hate to cancel, but I’ve come down with a bug.”

He stops and deletes that, begins typing again: “Heather, I just heard from my family back in Kentucky and I need to leave tomorrow for an emergency.”

Once again, he stops. Shakes his head. He stares longer at the screen. He glances to a side shelf where several framed photos sit. He looks at pictures of Rebecca and Chelsea, and then focus on his picture of Ron Smith.

       MITCH
This would be a good time for you to clue me in.

He waits for a bit, lets out a big sigh, then closes his laptop and turns off the desk lamp.

INT. BEDROOM – MITCH’S APARTMENT – DAY

Just after sunrise and Mitch is still awake in bed, agitated and frustrated, both from his ambivalence over going to the Bronx and the lack of sleep.

He throws the covers off, and jumps out of bed.

       MITCH
Fuck it, I’m going.

LATER

Mitch dresses in his shabbiest WORKSHOP CLOTHES, covered in paint stains, some few holes, etc. He slips on some old TENNIS SHOES that have plenty of grass stains from mowing his former yard.

He grabs the company T-SHIRT and stuffs it into the pocket of his plaid FLANNEL COAT.

IN THE LIVING ROOM:

He’s ready to walk out the door and starts to grab his IPHONE 6S+ and EAR BUDS. He looks at the phone again, then puts it back down on the shelf near the front door.

He goes back into…

THE BEDROOM:

He filters through a jar of loose CHANGE, and grabs a handful of quarters, and returns to the…

LIVING ROOM:

Once again, he ponders taking the phone. He takes his ID out of the phone case and puts it in his front pants pocket along with the change.

The phone and ear buds sit on the shelf as Mitch is out the door.

CUE MUSIC: GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE, The Message.

EXT. NUMBER 6 TRAIN – SUBWAY ENTRANCE – DAY

CONTINUE OVER MUSIC: It’s a chilly, rain-soaked morning. Mitch, with the hood of his coat up, shrouding his face, approaches the entrance and descends the steps.

INT. NUMBER 6 TRAIN – SUBWAY STATION – DAY

Mitch rounds the corner and heads toward the turnstiles.  When he gets there, he realizes he doesn’t have his normal MetroCard.

He goes back to the ticket machine, feeds it with ten QUARTERS, and gets a ONE-TIME CARD.

LATER – ON THE PLATFORM

He looks for the SIGN for the Bronx-bound train. He follows that to the platform where a few dozen other people wait for the same train.

Mitch is the only Caucasian among them.

He keeps his hands in his coat pocket and his eyes forward, focused on the empty train tracks.

       GRANDMASTER FLASH (SINGING)
It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
how I keep from goin’ under.

It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
how I keep from goin’ under.

INT. NUMBER 6 TRAIN – MOVING – DAY

Mitch sits at one end of the car as the train pulls into the 125th street station, its final stop in Harlem before heading north into the Bronx.

A bigger crowd of mostly black and Latino people board the train, filling it to near capacity.

No one in the docile crowd gives Mitch a second thought.  Most are on their way to work or returning from night shifts.

Nevertheless, Mitch maintains high awareness.

       GRANDMASTER FLASH (SINGING)
Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
‘Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car.

The train CREAKS and sways side-to-side and descends deeper underground as it prepares to pass under the Harlem River.

It eventually levels out and begins to climb, and soon ascends from the underground tunnel and begins traversing an elevated track, passing above the streets of the Bronx.

Mitch gazes out the window at remnants of some graffiti covered buildings. The scene is certainly not clean and modern, but the surroundings are not as desolate as the war zone-like images he had prepared for.

EXT. ST. LAWRENCE AVENUE TRAIN STATION – DAY

Mitch exits the train to the elevated platform and makes his way down the stairs to the street level.

The rain has given way to a mist, but the cloudy skies still cast a gray, dismal feeling over the mostly empty streets.

Mitch pulls a PIECE OF PAPER from his pocket where he has sketched a map to guide him to the school.

He looks around to get his bearings and takes brisk steps to the north toward the school.

EXT. BRONX NEIGHBORHOOD – CONTINUOUS

Mitch passes a corner convenience store with thick, strong bars on the windows. Mitch glances through the door and exchanges a quick glance with an elderly black man behind the counter, reading a NEWSPAPER.

       GRANDMASTER FLASH (SINGING)
Don’t… push… me… cause…
I’m… close… to… the… edge.
I’m… trying… not… to…
lose… my… head

He walks along a bank of windows fronting a large LAUNDROMAT that extends much of the short block. About 20 people — men and women and a few kids deal with practical living.

A NYC TAXI DEPOT stands opposite the laundromat. A cab pulls out of the depot, beginning its shift.

Mitch continues, then turns a corner and sees the front facade of the school at the end of the block. He stops.

At short set of concrete steps leads to the school’s bank of 4 large windowless steel doors.

A tall iron fence, with tight vertical bars runs in both directions away from the entrance. Matching bars cover the tall, slender windows that extend the length of the first floor.

Other than the heading over the door “P.S. 47 – John Randolph”, it could easily be mistaken for a prison.

Mitch surveys the scene around him, expecting to see a sign or other proof the non-profit group is working there today.

He looks back from where he arrived, seeing the stairs that lead back up to the train platform.

He looks forward to the school. Still no activity, no lights in the windows, no indication of an organized project in the works.

He proceeds toward the school, sticking to the plan.

EXT. P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH SCHOOL – FRONT STEPS

Mitch climbs the steps to the front door. He tries to open one of the four doors, but it’s locked. All of them are locked.

He notices a security pad off to the side and presses the button.

He turns around to keep an eye on the street. He waits.

       GRANDMASTER FLASH (SINGING)
It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
how I keep from goin’ under.

It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder
how I keep from goin’ under.

The damp, clammy air and the absence of any activity send a shiver through his bones. Maybe he has the wrong date, or time, or maybe this is not the right place.

After another few beats, he decides it might not be the best idea to stick around. He starts to take the first step when one of the doors opens.

APRIL LYONS, 35, cute, perky, strawberry blonde, greets him.

       APRIL
Hey, sorry to keep you waiting. We’re still setting up. I didn’t expect anyone this early.

An extremely-relieved Mitch smiles and shakes her hand.

       MITCH
Really, what time is it?

       APRIL
Oh, it’s not quite eight thirty.

       MITCH
I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get here.

       APRIL
First time?

He nods.

       APRIL (CONT’D)
Come on in.

She smiles and escorts him into the school.

INT. FOYER – P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH SCHOOL – DAY

Mitch enters to find a small team of coordinators busily setting up the REGISTRATION TABLE, getting their PROMOTIONAL ITEMS ready, and staging dozens of GALLONS OF PAINT in a kaleidoscope of colors.

The foyer is decorated in bright happy colors with positive images of diversity, inclusiveness, and hope.

He takes off his coat and places it behind the tables where others have stashed their coats as well.

KAJHE, 22, a young African woman, wearing a beautiful TRIBAL HEAD WRAP, organizes NAME TAGS on the registration table.

       KAJHE
May I help you find your name?

Mitch looks over the name tags and finds it, very professionally done, with his company’s logo on it.

       MITCH
That’s me.

       KAJHE
Terrific, Mitch, we’re so delighted
to have you.

       MITCH
I’m honored to be here.

He smiles at her. All is well.

INT. STORAGE ROOM – P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH – DAY

Mitch and several other younger men move some DESKS and CRATES OF BOOKS around to organize the room. A couple of younger women SWEEP and gather GARBAGE to throw away.

A MOUSE runs out from under a pile of debris.

One of the girls SHRIEKS.

Her friends all get a good laugh about it.

       MITCH
Don’t bother the pets, now.

INT. CAFETERIA – P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH – DAY

Mitch and at least 20 other college-age kids work together to paint a huge mural on an expansive wall in the cafeteria. It’s the largest paint-by-numbers project he’s ever seen, and he’s right in the thick of it.

The other volunteers, all millennials, are as diverse as New York City itself.

Mitch carries a cardboard SIX-PACK CARRIER holding plastic CUPS filled with a mix of paint colors. A few BRUSHES hang from his back pocket.

The group is lively and gregarious. Mitch tells them stories of growing up in rural KY, of his own college days, and takes every opportunity to work in some Dad jokes.

BROCK, 19, from the Philippines, stands next to Mitch painting his section. He smoothly moves his brush from his right hand to his left to reach a small section of the mural.

       MITCH
Look at this kid paint… I would give my right arm to be
ambidextrous like that.

They all laugh.

LATER

The team has just finished the mural. April passes through with a CAMERA.

       APRIL
Wow, that looks fantastic, guys! Everyone get together and let’s get a picture.

They gather in front of the mural. Mitch dashes out of the room toward the foyer.

       MITCH
One second.

INT. FOYER – P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH – CONTINUOUS

Mitch zips into the foyer and finds his coat. He grabs the corporate T-shirt, looks at it for a thoughtful second, then stuffs it back into the coat pocket.

INT. CAFETERIA – P.S. 47 – JOHN RANDOLPH – CONTINUOUS

Mitch rejoins the group. They open a spot right in the center for him. He slides in, and with smiles all around, the photo is snapped.

INT. NUMBER 6 TRAIN – MOVING – DAY

Mitch heads back home, sitting on a side seat. He takes in more views of the Bronx neighborhood from the elevated track.

The train is once again filled with people of color, and like before, they simply ride along in silence. But Mitch is more relaxed, in fact, his eyelids fall slowly in a drowsy attempt to stay awake.

The train makes a stop in south Bronx, with a steady exchange of riders. Mitch is nearly asleep and doesn’t notice who gets on or off. He feels someone sit next to him — someone a little on the heavy side who encroaches into his space.

       RON’S VOICE (O.S.)
Well, that was rather heartwarming.

Mitch wakes up briskly to find Ron Smith sitting next to him.

       MITCH
Ron, you gotta stop popping in like that. Scares the shit out of me.

       RON
You know I don’t control any of that.

       MITCH
Right.

       RON
What you did was downright honorable.

       MITCH
What I did was almost chicken out.

       RON
You think those school kids will see that mural and wonder if it “almost” didn’t get painted?

       MITCH
It was ridiculous… letting all that get to me.

       RON
Don’t be so hard on yourself.

       MITCH
But I did, Ron. I looked at these people differently, all because of someone else’s fear.

       RON
You didn’t know what to expect.

       MITCH
Bullshit. I did know. I knew it was what I was supposed to do — to show up as myself and simply do some work. Not because I have some connection to them. I don’t. Not because it makes me a better white guy. It doesn’t. I don’t know these folks. I don’t know their life. I respect that this is the life they’re destined to live, just like I’m destined to live mine. I got caught up in the hype around it… all the layers of expectations and false reality. I knew better than to pretend to be familiar, with these stupid raggedy clothes trying to look like I fit in. God, what an asshole I am. Stupid, foolish, white asshole.

They ride along in silence for a few beats.

       RON
I’ll tell you a secret. In about ten years, one of those kids that you worked with today – one of the black ones – is going to become a nurse and will be transferred to hospital in Macon, Georgia. And he’s going to be in a tough situation. Things are going to get much tougher in this country for black people — I can’t tell you why, but you’ll see that soon enough. He’s going to be on trauma duty late at night, a night where a protest gets violent, really violent, and plenty of injured people will be brought to his emergency room. It’ll be a tense moment with the other doctors and nurses, most of whom are white.

Mitch turns to face Ron so he can watch and listen better.

       RON (CONT’D)
And in the midst of all that, that young kid will remember you, and how gracious you were, and when one of the doctors has to reach across in an awkward way with his left hand, this kid’s going to tell that same joke you told about giving your right arm, and it will make one of his white coworkers laugh, and that will open the door for them to become friends, and it will make all the difference in both of their lives.

As Mitch listens to this, tears well up in his eyes. He checks to see if anyone else is watching, but all the other riders keep to themselves.

       RON (CONT’D)
You don’t have to know them to love them.

INT. LIVING ROOM – MITCH’S APARTMENT – DAY

Mitch sits at his desk, typing on his LAPTOP.

A DING signals the arrival of a new email message.

Mitch opens his inbox and sees a message from april.lyons@nycares.com. It thanks him for his participation and invites him to sign up for their newsletter.

Attached to the email is one of the photos taken with the group.

Mitch opens the photo.

INSERT SHOT: PHOTO OF THE GROUP.

CU SHOT: Zoom on Mitch and a young black kid standing next to him.

Mitch looks closely at the picture. He leans back in his chair, lets out a long exhale, and brings up the smallest of smiles.

END OF SCENE

 

ps-47

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