I’m Not Rappaport

elderly-friends

Here’s an excerpt from I’m Not Rappaport by Herb Gardner who was also the author of A Thousand Clowns. The speech is something of a rant by the character of Nat, an old man who is attempting to intimidate the tenant committee chairman Danforth to drop his plans to fire the aged and near-blind building superintendent, his friend Midge Carter.  He makes an eloquent stand for the value of old people. It’s a fantastic piece of writing. Nat begins as Danforth has tried to excuse himself from this inhumane treatment of Midge, claiming it is a Committee decision, not his own. Nat claims to represent HURTSFOE, the Human Rights Task Force of Midge’s union that, of course, doesn’t exist.


(To Danforth) I’m sorry, the  spotlight falls on you because it must.  Because you are so extraordinarily ordinary, because there are so many of you lately. You collect old furniture, old cars, old pictures, everything old but old people. Bad souvenirs, they talk too much. Even quiet, they tell you too much; they look like the future and you don’t want to know. Who are these people, these oldies, this strange race? They’re not my type, put them with their own kind, a building, a town, put them someplace. (Leans toward him) You idiots, don’t you know? One day you too will join this weird tribe. Yes, Mr. Chairman, you too will get old; I hate to break the news. And if you’re frightened now, you’ll be terrified then.

The problem’s not that life is short but that it’s very long; so you better have a policy. Here we are. Look at us. We’re the coming attractions. And as long as you’re afraid of it, you’ll be afraid of us , you will want to hide us or make us hide from you. You’re dangerous. (Grips his arm urgently) You foolish bastards, don’t you understand? The old people, they’re the survivors, they know something, they haven’t just stayed late to ruin your party. The very old, they are miracles like the new-born; close to the end is precious like close to the beginning. What you’d like is for Carter to be nice and cute and quiet and go away. But he won’t. I won’t let him. Tell him he’s slow or stupid –O.K. – but you tell him he is unnecessary, and that is a sin, that is a sin against life, that is abortion at the other end. (Silence. Nat studies him for a moment) HURTSFOE waits. The arena is booked, the lions are hungry …

– Judd Hirsch and Cleavon Little in the 1985 production of I’m Not Rappaport. (Playbill)

You might also enjoy this short clip from the 1996 film version with Walter Matthau and Ossie Davis.

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