by Lin Osterhage

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screenplay treatment (1993-4)

A drama based on a true story about the struggle of a middle-aged woman who lives alone.

Main Character: Esther Browne, "S"

An attractive, middle-aged (50 years old) woman with great legs. She grew up in Southern Indiana. She was married For 20 years to her college sweetheart (an ex-marine), later turned corporation man. She has one grown son. She was a "Sunday Painter" throughout her marriage and her husband's climb to the top. As her son grew up she became serious about her art. Her husband became jealous of her commitment to her Art work and eventually they divorced. She moved to California to pursue her art career which developed from painting on canvas to performing and writer for theatre. She has a life of her own for the last ten years. Her income has come from assorted jobs (not her art) and she is currently an executive secretary. She lives on a budget but has very specific and good taste. She indulges herself on occasion and is completely self-sufficient in the material world.

It is in her emotional world that we find the struggle. She grew up in the repressive 1950's, was pregnant and married by 19 and dropped out of college. Her self-esteem was always based on what other people thought of her and how she looked and functioned within her clearly defined roles. She was the child of alcoholic parents, a student, wife and mother. She faced a crisis In her mid thirties. The world of art became real to her and was in conflict with the bourgeois life she was living. She went into therapy to combine those worlds. It did not work and she was forced to choose. She gave up all the comfort and security she had known and followed her artistic obsession.

Early morning sunrise shining on ocean, blindingly, quickly pass through daylight into evening light just before sunset. Big pan of Santa Monica Beach and Pacific Coast Highway. Focus on pier from a distance, pull into carousel building, lights and music, briefly seeing the horses. Starts to look more mysterious and threatening (Light and time of day are important visual metaphors for character's time in life). It is getting darker and deserted except for a few homeless types in shadows. Parking Lot: Fashionably dress middle-aged woman (nice jacket, skirt, low heeled shoes) getting out of old Volvo which is in good shape. We cannot see her face.

She is carrying a grocery bag. She locks her car door, rear view of car with resident parking sticker clearly visible on license plate. We cannot se her face. She is well aware of the dangers of the neighborhood and takes it all in stride. She starts to walk away from her car toward seaside terrace and up the hill to her apartment at Seaside and Ocean. There is a small grotto like area on her left carved into the hill. A young fashion model stands posing there, leaning into the dirt. Men stand in the street with cameras and photo equipment. It is difficult to say what the fashion statement is. There candles burning in brown paper bags everywhere on the ground and at the edges of the street as if in memory to something (Some of this shot in black and white). She walks up the hill (The traffic at this intersection is busy and the film fast forwards momentarily). She turns into the alley and walks through the parking lot behind the liquor store on Ocean Avenue. We see the back of her apartment house. A small balcony runs along the entire back of the building which may have once been a fire escape but now functions as the main entrance for tenants. For a moment we think we see a carousel horse standing on the roof and see some flower pots and a black cat looking at us. We climb up the stairs and the cat runs away into another apartment. We see her search for her key, locate it and place it into the old lock on the door. The door opens onto a very old-fashioned kitchen decorated with dried flowers and photographs, very small and cozy. She sets her grocery bag down by the sink, removes some deli items and a good bottle of wine. The kitchen is immaculate. We still haven't seen her face. She finds an old pack of half-smoked imported cigarettes, takes one and throws the pack into a drawer, closing it with her hip. She opens the wine and pours herself a glass. She takes a drink, turns and walks down the hall past a pile of mail (mostly bills) on the floor which had been dropped through the mail slot.

She glances into her bedroom which beautiful (all white) and we see the blinking light on her answering machine. She walks further into the living (small, minimally decorated but tasteful) and turns on a cassette of Billie Holliday. She takes another drink of her wine and looks out the living room window. It is dark and we see all the lights of the carousel lit up creating a silver outline. The moon is up. She walks back toward the bedroom, wine glass in hand. She looks at the answering machine and pushes "play."

She turns toward a large mirror as she listens to her messages. We finally look at the woman as she sees herself in the mirror. We hear various messages from friends --- Sally is getting a facelift, Francesca has a gallery opening, a stern doctor has some test results which he wants to discuss immediately and hopes she has scheduled some time for the hospital next week. And then… a message from Jack, her old high school boyfriend who speaks with a Midwest twang. He is in Santa Monica on business (in a nearby hotel) and would like to see her for dinner.

She is surprised. She hasn't heard from Jack in about thirty years. He must have gotten the number from her parents who live in a small Midwestern town where Jack still lives. She drinks more wine and considers dinner with him. He is still talking on the machine making a case for her to return his call. She listens as she opens her closet door (lots of clothes and shoes in perfect order and organized by color) and visualizes meeting him wearing something interesting (from the looks of the closet that would be easy).

She goes back into the kitchen, pours another glass of wine and returns Jack's call.

He is thrilled to hear from her and they agree to meet in an hour at his hotel (rather grand thing it is too). She arrives a half hour late and looks for him in the lobby. She walks toward the bar and hears his voice from a pay phone located to the side of the bar. She glances around and sees him but he doesn't see her yet. He is a rather good looking man in his fifties. She ignores him and continues to the bar. She hears him hang up the phone and come running. He tells her he was just calling her and is overjoyed to actually see her. He leads her to his table where he has obviously been waiting and must've been early from the looks of the two empty drinks. And he is tense. Actually, she is also a little tense but looks wonderful. He thanks her profusely and goes on too much about well she looks. She takes it all in and can see that he still wants to make love to her after all these years. She wonders how and when he will mention it. This adds a bit of tension to the idea of dinner and she gets a headache.

She orders more champagne and buys a pack of cigarettes at the bar. She considers going home without dinner. She smokes and waits for him to say it is not good for her. Sometimes he appears to be one of her parents. He represents a way of thinking and living that she detests. Yet he makes giant efforts to appear to be liberal and non-judgemental. As the champagne kicks in she tries to give the guy a break, orders dinner and more drinks. He keeps talking and remembering. This begins to have a real effect on her. She starts to remember how she felt growing up and how the wind felt off the river bank where she used to play as a child and where she later walked with Jack when they were going steady. She remembers slumber parties with her girlfriends and all the talk about sex. Who had done it and who hadn't. Who was lying about it and who wasn't. She remembered not lying about and starting to pet for the first time with Jack in his grandfather's old Hudson and getting halfway there. They both laughed at that! And also fooling around in his grandfather's old house, etc. etc. But never, never going all the way. They sort of laughed at that too.

Desert time comes and goes. Jack no longer eats deserts although he'd like to and talks about things in his life that he's given up. The things he really loved, basketball, adventure, risk And so on. He is getting drunk.

She still eats deserts and orders a double cappuccino. She feels she has given up lots (the things he never mentions), like Security and health insurance (he works for a health insurance company). She's kept the things she loves, like freedom of choice, independence and idealism --- all of which she may not have for long as she remembers the voice of the doctor and visualizes being in the hospital with terror.

Jack keeps talking, his twang starts to sound comforting. She is in a bit of a daze. Jack asks where she lives and if he can take her home. She thinks about it and knows that is not exactly what he is asking her. She says O.K.

They leave the restaurant and drive the few blocks in his flashy new rental car and park in the parking lot behind the liquor store. He obviously finds the neighborhood distasteful and dangerous but wants to hide it and concentrate his attention on her to see if there any chance he can sleep with her tonight. They climb up the balcony, she gets out the key again (same scene as before) and kicks open the door. She offers he more coffee and forgets he only drinks decaf. They settle on brandy in the living room. He finds it a bit small and cramped but is trying to focus only on her. At the same time he takes in the effect of her home. He loves it all as it is nothing that he's used to. She is a little tipsy but not drunk. He asks about her life. She realizes he wants to know if she has a lover. She becomes flip and exaggerated. She is dramatic, deciding to give him plenty to think about for the next thirty years. She describes her love life in the wildest terms, mentioning much younger, artistic men From various cultures and a couple of women artists too. She considers too how easy it would be to have sex with him.

He is still talking, anxious to make a play for her but holding back. She looks at the clock. It's late and she is exhausted. She tells him its time for him to go. He is surprised and hurt but attempts to handle it well. After all, she married someone else after rejecting him thirty years ago. He gets up to leave. It is very awkward. They shake hands and he thanks her for seeing him. He pulls her to him and kisses her. He was always a wonderful kisser and the years fall away. They fumble around a bit. He gets to the point but she pulls back. She knows he loves her but he is married and just not what she wants. He tries to make a joke of it and fails.

He tells her he is in town every year for the convention and asks if he can call her next year (with a gleam in his eye). She says sure, wanting him to leave. He leaves saying he'll call her next year and returns to his hotel. She is alone and starts to cry. She realizes that she never imagined she would end up being alone at the age of fifty. She thought that if she ever lived to be 100 years old she would actually be halfway there now. She has about one-hundred dollars in a savings account and some insurance from her job. She used to be a heavy smoker (as were her parents) and her doctors now suspect she has lung cancer. She has bills to pay from all the preliminary hospital tests. They are all in a neat file by her phone.

She feels in her heart that she has experienced two different worlds. One was controlled security at home growing up with her parents (her marriage was the same) and the other one of frightening independence. Because of her economic and emotional dependence in family situations she learned never to show fear or her true feelings. This has made her appear much more confident than she really ever is but seeing Jack and having a few drinks cracked that veneer.

She looks into the mirror again at her wrinkles, her eyes and her teeth.

She realizes how short life really is and wonders about "true love," such as Jack swears he has always had for her and sees a dilemma. He has been able to maintain his romantic illusion entirely by himself for years. At the same time he has raised three children and has a lovely wife.

Are we all seekers of what we do not have? She wonders. Do we all want our lives to have many layers of love and security? How "real" are those things once you have them? She is looking into an emotional void.

She reconsiders having sex with Jack and feels it might be one thing that would bring closure to her early years. He might even be a great lay and it would certainly mean a lot to him. She looks at her watch and although it is 3am she places a call to Jack's hotel. It rings a long time. The night clerk has just stepped out for a smoke and cannot hear the ringing. It rings and rings. No one answers. She is depressed and falls asleep fully dressed by the phone on the couch in the living room.

The ringing telephone awakens her. It is early the next morning. It is Jack thanking her again for coming to dinner last night. It is a short conversation and like a dream to her. She has a slight hangover but gets up and ready for work. She does not think about last night. She goes to work where her routine never varies. She feels secure in that and looks very professional. In the afternoon her boss asks her to go to the United Airlines office in Santa Monica to pick up plane tickets. It is located in the same hotel Jack is staying in. It is 4pm and her boss knows the hotel is near her apartment. He tells her to just get his tickets and go home for the day.

She goes to the hotel to get the tickets. The counter is crowded and she waits. She has plenty of time to think about last night and she does. She eventually gets the tickets and walks out through the hotel lobby. She looks into the bar and outside to the pool area. Jack is there having a drink alone looking at the ocean. She decides to tell him about her phone call last night and about her feelings and to go up to his room and make love to him.

She walks up to him and says hello. He spills his drink and orders two more. She assumes he's been sitting there thinking about her but in fact he has been thinking about himself and he tells her he deeply regrets not leaving Indiana at a young age and seeking his fortune elsewhere. He tells her how much he admires her and her bravery, strength and determination to follow her dreams (she smiles at this, thinking what a fool he is not knowing her fears). She quickly realizes how relative and personal his point of view is. He has painted a picture of her life (of which he actually knows nothing) that is real to him and far more exciting and stimulating than his "normal" path.

She realizes the truth is somewhere in-between but the revelation is comforting to her. Her life has been existential. She has taken risks and will again. She realizes how happy she is to be able to see life independently and embraces her artistic viewpoint. He keeps talking. He feels that his life (like having sex with her) has passed him by and he has never grabbed the opportunities. He then asks her what kind of souvenir items he should take home for his children and what she thinks his wife might like from California.

She smiles and looks out at the sea. She imagines Jack as a character in her next play.

Copyright Lin O. 1993


IDENTITY NOTES by Lin Osterhage (1991-3)


Learning to live with a low grade depression all my life has been Interesting. Given the state of the human condition, I consider being depressed a reality check. Especially when my timing is right. If I wasn't always somewhat depressed I would consider myself out of touch. Or on a new miracle drug. Or drunk, reading the "The Joy of Working." Currently, I'm trying to get into self-discipline. I'm looking for a strict structure for fun. I start each day with a line or two from meditations for women who do too much (In my case it should be meditations for women who think about doing too much). And a few espressos. That gets me going.

Job Security

I started thinking about what kind of fun job I might want so I reviewed my qualifications. Omitting the ten year stint as a performance artist (which I have changed recently on my resume to read: "Performing Artist"). Sign of the times, I guess. For one thing I'm a whiz of a typist. I get along very well with interesting, well-educated, exciting, clever people and have learned to completely repress my feelings. It has been a stifling but rewarding process. Now, I have health insurance. That's a good example. And a pension fund which will kick in for me just when I need it, 2008. In other words I have very little to worry about.


Have you quit smoking yet? Almost. I got a non-smoking job in a non-smoking building in Santa Monica. I hang out with non-smoking people except for those in "the program." I go to meetings so I can smoke in a group. I had a few hypnotherapy sessions for smoking. It was relaxing but didn't quite work. I wanted to learn how to smoke without guilt. It didn't quite work.

10 Sit-ups

I end each day by doing 10 sit-ups and taking my mega vitamins and minerals. I give myself a 60 second fluoride rinse while I plan for the future. This includes the next day and the next day through to the end of my life. Then I go to bed early. Usually alone.


There is no overt seduction for me in Los Angeles. Actually, there is no covert seduction for me in L.A. anymore. This is a problem. When I lived on the East Coast I was seduced by the architecture and photography. In L.A. I used to be seduced by art and men who drank vodka. I'd like to be seduced by ideas. By ideas… but I don't have any. Other than moving away. This is a very popular idea in L.A.




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