Balaam the Mask of Malice
[OPEN – Camera zooms in on a classic American diner, most likely a Denny’s. The shot zooms in closer focusing in on the cute young couple of John Kennedy Royko Jr. and Aurora Jennings sitting in a booth across from each other eating breakfast.]
Being an only child from a small family with both parents visiting the great beyond, it’s truly astronomical odds that John Kennedy Royko Jr’s only living relative who also happens to be a recluse, lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. JK Royko’s great Aunt Betsey is the morning topic of conversation between JK and his fiancé as the two stop for breakfast before heading to the Betsey’s house.
Aurora: She knows I’m Black, right?
JK Royko: I mean, I don’t know that I ever really had that conversation with her, but she’s always seemed like an open minded kinda person. It’s 2022 I don’t think anyone cares besides people we have nothing to do with.
Aurora: Yeaaaa, GREAT Betsey the reclusive Auntie from Vegas doesn’t exactly sound like the wokest of individuals.
JK laughs as he drinks some tangy cranberry juice through a straw.
JK Royko: What about Betsey Ross?
Aurora: What about Betsey Ross?
JK Royko: She was black, and her name is Betsey. So, I don’t think we should judge my great aunt based on her name.
The wrestler stabs a sausage with his fork, but Aurora uses a butter knife to block it from coming off the plate.
Aurora: Hold up. You think Betsey Ross was black?
JK Royko: Yes. The lady who sewed the flag, yea. I remember from school.
Aurora: You went to a shitttttty school, that woman was white as your toast. I know I’m marrying a dumb jock, but you seriously need to read more. We’re going to start going to museums if PRIME starts touring again, “the re-education of Mr. Royko.“
Giving up on the sausage, JK grabs his butter knife and spreads orange marmalade over his semi burnt white toast.
JK Royko: I think you might be wrong.
Aurora: Google it and apologize.
Always up for a challenge JK drops his knife on top of his toast and picks up his phone. His fingers dance across the phone’s keypad like the nutcracker ballet, a moment later his smile vanishes, as he realizes he’s about to encounter a different kind of nutcracker.
JK Royko: I don’t know…the photos are all black and white or an artist’s interpretations, I can’t really tell what her race is. You’re probably right. Forget I said anything.
A steak knife is now in Aurora’s hand and pointed in a threatening way towards Royko, whose eyes peek at it from above the phone near his face.
JK Royko: I hope that slice of banana cream pie gets here soon. I’m carb loading today!
Aurora: John Kennedy Royko Junior!
She loved saying his full name, and he knew when she did the battle was lost and surrender was the best course of action. He picks up a white napkin and waves it like a flag before wiping his mouth with it.
JK Royko: I’m sorry honey. I look forward to going to more museums with you and learning all the things I forgot while I was focusing on lifting and getting recruited.
The big lug flexes his big muscles.
JK Royko: I want you to oversee our child’s education. I know with your brains, and my brawn, plus our SEX appeal our child will be unstoppable.
Aurora: Much better. I’m adding positivity beads to your positivity jar when we get home.
JK Royko: What positivity jar?
Aurora: I told you last week all your negativity needs to stop for the sake of the baby. So, I bought a jar off Amazon and every time you do, or say something positive, you get a positivity bead that goes in the jar. When you say something negative, I’m taking a positivity bead out of the jar.
The wrestler uses his massive hands to push away the plate in front of him, prepping for a slice of pie. JK scratches his head for a moment and leans in closer to Aurora.
JK Royko: What happens when I fill the jar?
The former Miss Alabama leans in closer to JK so that they are now about a foot away from each other, face to face.
Aurora: We can do that thing you like.
JK Royko: That thing I like?
The beauty queen raises an eyebrow. JK thinks for a moment, then raises an eyebrow of his own as he nods his head and smiles.
JK Royko: Oh, that THING! Ok I’m in.
Aurora: I thought you would be. So, I’ve been thinking, I promised my father that once things settle down with the baby, I’ll go back and finish law school. The baby sets things back a few years, but maybe I can make it work sooner. You know my dad’s dream is for me to take over his firm and I honestly want to.
The massive hands of JK Royko engulf the tiny paws of Aurora, squeezing them lovingly.
JK Royko: You have never not been there for me. “Whatever it takes” has always been our motto, and together we can do anything.
The young lady gets a little misty eyed.
Aurora: That earns you a lot of positivity beads, Mr. Royko.
JK Royko: That’s all I’ve been thinking about since you brought it up. What the hell do these positivity beads look like?
Both sit back comfortably in their diner booth.
Aurora: Cat eyes.
JK Royko: Cat eyes? That sounds creepy, not positive.
Aurora: They are marbles, and marbles have cat eyes.
The dumb jock thinks hard on it for a moment too long.
JK Royko: Somebody needs to investigate marble companies. So, do you, like, have to baptize the marbles into positivity beads? Like is there a ceremony because I’d like to wear a religious style hat. There is a religious store in the city that sells like, holy clothing. I can get a robe, and a good well fitted religious hat.
She smiles at him.
Aurora: You don’t need a hat, but I am going to say a prayer over the marbles to make them Positivity Beads.
JK Royko: Did you search for “positivity jars” on amazon or like did you just get a regular jar we’re just calling a positivity jar?
Nailing it, JK now gets a full laugh from Aurora.
Aurora: I totally searched for “positivity Jar” but all I found was jars old people are selling full of affirmations. Not what I wanted. If I bought those jars, I would have to throw out all the affirmations these people put time and energy in making. Plus, you pay more for a jar full of affirmations, so if you don’t want them, why pay extra? Ya know?
JK Royko: That’s a fucked-up dilemma. You can’t buy a positivity jar, just to throw out the positivity. That’s negative, even if the result is positive. Perplexing.
The gal shakes her head at her big lug.
Aurora: You dropping the word perplexing, yet Betsey Ross is a mystery. That’s perplexing.
The big man again leans in with a disgusted look upon his face and whispers.
JK Royko: Did you fart?
Aurora: Do you really want me to clear the air on that question? Ladies don’t fart.
JK Royko: Funny. I smell bullshit. God, I hate fart humor.
The silence deafens. The Phone Rings. Silence is broken. The Pie Arrives.
Aurora: Who is it?
JK Royko: Great Aunt Betsey.
The phone looks tiny in the massive hands of John Kennedy Royko Jr., he places it to his ear.
JK Royko: Hi Aunt Betsey!
Aurora gets a coffee refill from the waitress in a cute, pink outfit.
JK Royko: We are about 15 minutes away. (pause) No. (pause) Yes. (pause) No. (pause) Wrestling. No, not football. (pause) Right, the car accident. (pause) In wrestling, yes. (pause) I have Cancer this week. (pause) Oh no, no, no I’ll explain when I get there. I have to go. Bye. Yes. See you in 15-20 minutes. Bye for now.
The waitress with the doe eyes in the pink dress pours JK a warm-up in his mug, as she looks at him in the kisser woefully.
Waitress: My sister has cancer too. I’m so sorry.
The wrestler looks to his fiancée for help.
JK Royko: Oh, ummm, no, you see I’m a wrestler, and I’m fighting Cancer this week, you understand?
Waitress: My sister is fighting, too. Although she’s a flight attendant. I wish you the best.
JK Royko: God, your sister is soooo brave. Our prayers are with her. But I don’t have cancer. A bad knee yes, but not cancer.
Waitress: A knee. Ok?
The waitress stops pouring coffee and is getting defensive in her pink dress with her doe eyes, and a name tag that reads “Mary”. Mary’s usual cheery disposition has suddenly become sour.
JK Royko: You see it’s a guy’s name. I’m wrestling with a guy named Cancer at the MGM Grand. It’s going to be a real doozy, you should come out. Bring your sister! I’m sure she would love it.
Waitress: She has chemo and isn’t up for going out. Good luck with your wrestling match.
The waitress Mary shakes her head in disgust, rolls her doe eyes, and walks away her cute pink dress.
Aurora: I can’t wait to see your first verbal joust in PRIME, you really have a knack for communication!
JK Royko: Fuck you.
[CUT to interior of the car ride to Great Aunt Betsey’s in the couples’ four-door Sonata]
The two lovers take in the desert scenery while enjoying the silence as they head to Aunt Betsey’s. A squeak is heard. An odor arises that puts into question a woman’s inability to fart. JK rolls down his window. The sound of the road and a noisy muffler rattle about as the couple speak not a word. A dirty look is given by Aurora that JK pretends not to see as he drives. The car rolls on down the dusty road uneventfully to its destination, silent but deadly to the environment thanks to an emission leak from its muffler.
JK Royko: I oughta get that noise checked out.
Aurora: Fuck you.
[CUT TO ext. of Aunt Betsey’s]
227 Burning Bush Lane is the address.
A normal, yet overly-yellow house is where Great Aunt Betsey lives in a community that has aged out. The younger people moving in are the children inheriting their parents’ homes, selling them off or filling the void. A white owl sits on a mailbox and watches as the two lovers arrive and park. Like a gentleman, JK gets out first and opens the door for his fiancée.
The two lovers approach the front door with a giant “no solicitors” sign stickered aggressively for all to see.
JK Royko: So, my great aunt used to be a runway model and a Broadway actress. One day she met a man who convinced her to move in with him in New York. She dropped her job and her life and took all her belongings 800 miles to New York. When she got there, he ignored her and acted like he didn’t know who she was. He called the police on and told them she was crazy. She was so gas lit she went crazy, became a shut-in. At least that’s her side of it. Doesn’t really trust anyone. She walks to Walgreen’s once a day to get food to eat. She doesn’t cook because she microwaved popcorn once and it started to smoke and the drama of calling the fire department was too much for her to handle. But she’s still lived a full life.
Aurora: That’s kinda sad.
JK Royko: It is, but she’s actually kinda fun. Ok here we go.
The massive fingers poke the small doorbell button of doom.
A moment later the door opens, revealing a tall, thin, gray-haired woman whose unkept hair is tied back in a ponytail coming out of a Rockies baseball cap. You can see she was once gorgeous despite years of self-neglect and depression tainting her appearance, and allowing age to wreak havoc on her beauty.
Aunt Betsey: Oh my GOD she’s gorgeous! How did you pull that off?
“HAAAAAAA” A cackle with a high pitch extending so loud it could be heard in homes down the block in the same way a kid hears the chimes of an ice-cream truck from miles away. Aurora grins at the crazy lady as she shakes her boney hand. The old lady leans in toward her ear.
Aunt Betsey: Just so you know I voted for Obama.
The old lady smiles, nods, and winks.
Aurora: Ummm, ok?!?
The former Miss Alabama glares at her fiancé with eyes that explain to him that she told him so, and he knows it.
Aunt Betsey: Come on in!
[Interior – Living Room]
The couple enter the stale home which clearly hasn’t been undated since the 80’s. The floral-patterned furniture in the living room is where the old lady directs them to have a seat. JK grabs a hard candied butter scotch from a glass jar on the table in front of them and at once regrets it.
Aunt Betsey: Oh, honey those have been there for a while. Once you get the fake teeth you got to be careful. The dentist is so expensive.
Aurora: Its crazy. How can they charge so much for teeth!
Aunt Betsey: So, let’s just get down to brass tacks, shall we? Do you have cancer? Don’t lie.
The wrestler looks at his lover like, “here we go again.”
JK Royko: No, It’s a man name Cancer Jiles. Nobody has Cancer, it just happens to be his name.
“HAAAAAA” the cackle can be heard from the highest point of Mount COOLYMPUS where terrified birds abandon their nest in fear from its tone.
Aunt Betsey: What a horrible name!! What kind of monster would name their kid “Cancer?”
JK Royko: You used to have a dog named Tucson because it was your favorite city. Maybe his parents banged on a cruise ship in the Tropic of Cancer, and it’s a tribute to that moment.
The wrestler’s lover nods her head in agreement at the possibility of this explanation.
Aunt Betsey: I still think it’s stupid. Which one is he on the TV? I watched your little program. Is he the blueberry guy? I kinda have a crush on the blueberry guy.
Aurora: Naw, he’s the blonde boy always hanging out with the fat man.
The crazy old lady lines up three whiskey glasses and pulls the head off of a Paula Abdul decanter. She pours three heavy discharges of the amber liquid.
Aunt Betsey: Oh, that guy. He has a foul mouth he’s not my cup of tea. Well, let’s have a drink to you beating Cancer!
JK Royko: I haven’t beaten anyone yet!
Aunt Betsey: Well, let’s drink to Tony. He gave head like a college drop out.
Aurora and JK’s eyes lock as neither understand what that means or why it was said. Some things are better left un-dissected. They each grab a glass and hold their cups up to toast.
JK Royko: To Tony.
Aunt Betsey: And beating Cancer!
Aurora: And me going back to college. Wait. I can’t drink this.
JK Royko: Oh rightttttt. She’s driving.
Aunt Betsey: Nonsense. Drink up!
The wrestler chugs his drink than grabs his pregnant fiancées and chugs from her glass.
JK Royko: You know me!! I love a good drink!
Aunt Betsey: Good, because Paula Abdul is, “forever your girl”.
The old lady pours another round of drinks.
Aurora: Really, Betsey I can’t.
Aunt Betsey: When are you due?
Royko looks at Aurora amazed. A cackle erupts.
Aunt Betsey: I knew it! Ole Betsey still got the baby detector. Well, congratulations you two.
The old lady raises her glass up again for another toast. She clinks glasses with JK as they down their drinks like synchronized swimmers. When done Betsey reaches over and grabs Aurora’s glass and downs its contents.
Aurora: Thank you!
JK Royko: Yea, thanks Aunt Betsey.
Aunt Betsey: If it’s a she you should name her Betsey!! You know, I was named after Betsey Ross.
JK Royko: You don’t say.
Aurora: She just did. So, what happens with the bounty Cancer won? Like does it roll over to you if you win??
JK Royko: No, that wouldn’t make sense. It would just keep rolling forward.
Aurora: So, Cancer really fucked you out of a main event match with Nova and a bounty.
JK Royko: Dude, Cancer sucks.
Aunt Betsey: Fuck Cancer. You know I beat it. Lost a breast in that war but I survived. You know what you need to beat this guy?
JK Royko: I feel confident. He’s the worst. Just like bad. He’s one of these guys that everything he touches turns to shit. He likes ruining people’s days. Plus, he has a face you just want to punch, and really disfigure. Like take an eye out kind of brutality.
Aurora: I’m normally the sensible one but I totally agree.
The crazy old lady pulls Ben-Gay out of her purse.
Aunt Betsey: You take this stuff and put a glob of it on your elbow. You get him into a hold and rub your hand in it then go for his eyes. It will blind him like a bat.
Another cackle cracks like thunder during a high-pressure summer storm.
JK Royko: Aunt Betsey! I like to do things on the level. My father told me to be a man and always do what’s right. Be an example for the young fans and a pillar for the old ones.
Aunt Betsey waves her hand dismissively.
Aunt Betsey: I’ve lived a long life and I can tell you with absolute certainty that when it’s all said and done the fans won’t be there for you. The cheers, the smiles, the men seeking phone numbers, the kids wanting an autograph. It all goes away when the fame does. Chasing it is like trying to find truth in a lie. It doesn’t matter. Admiration is the desert mirage of self-worth avoid it at all costs. Do what you need to do to win, make money, and get ahead before it’s all gone. Admiration and men are the two biggest wastes of time in my life. Sorry honey.
The elderly lady winks at the young gal who is an old soul. Royko changes the subject instead of digging deeper into his great aunt’s haunting.
JK Royko: Do you still watch Survivor? My company is hooking up with CBS!!! I might be able to get you seats to a show.
Aunt Betsey: Well, I never leave the house but if that Boston Rob is there this old lady is going to town. You know that really is an excellent show. The only thing I hate is that simp Jeff Probst. I bet he’s into pegging. That’s when….
JK Royko: Boy!! This alcohol is really taking hold. So, what’s your favorite part of Survivor?
A rambling begins as Aunt Betsey starts explaining the finer details of Survivor. JK’s pocket starts to vibrate causing him to grab his phone. He looks at it, and at once picks up when he sees it’s someone from the PRIME offices. He steps away from the couch just off to the side.
JK Royko (on phone): Hello?
A long pause in the phone conversation has Aurora watching the wrestler’s complexion pale, which worries her. His eyes start to get watery. Great Aunt Betsey talks loudly to Aurora about how Survivor is her favorite show besides Big Brother, seemingly unaware that Royko is on the phone.
JK Royko (on Phone): I understand. Yes. Go ahead and release a statement. Right. Ok. Yes, I will make a statement on the show……that would be great……ok…..thank you. Thank you for saying that. OK bye.
The big man puts down his phone as his misty eyes lock with Auroras concerned glare over the babbling great Aunt’s booming voice. He points to his knee and mouths the words, “I’m done. Retired”.
Aunt Betsey: I like when they snuff out the torch, and boom! Their game is over just like that!
The crazy old great aunt cackles loudly like a colorful bird yelling at tourists in the sunshine on a beach in paradise. The overly emotional Royko smiles at his aunt while fighting back tears, and that horrible burning of sadness that is the side effect of stifling anguish that lingers in the back of his throat. Aurora just looks shocked, as the future is not what it once was.
[FADE OUT – Focusing in on the confused, heartbroken, and utterly shocked face of the man known as John Kennedy Royko Jr. No longer the wrestler.]