In this tongue-in-cheek presentation, Mercer County Public Television interviews a psychologist about a revolutionary plaything that boosts a child’s self-esteem. Or does it?
Dr. Sheila Gerrold, host of the critically acclaimed weekly Mercer County Public Television program, Parenting Today!
Dr. Robert Winthrop Yoskovitz
The studios of Mercer County Public Television
Bare stage, except for two comfy chairs facing front toward the TV camera, separated by a small table, on which resides a shoebox-sized box containing Dr. Yoskovitz’ remarkable invention.
Note: Dialogue should be delivered with the deadpan earnestness we’ve come to expect from a Public Television program.
Act I, Scene I
As the play opens, the stage is dark. The principal actors — host and guest — are seated side by side on a set resembling a Public Television interview program.
Offstage Announcer: The following program is a production of Mercer County Public Television, and is made possible by a grant from The Harry and Dean Stanton Foundation, The Whittier Punn Charitable Trust, and viewers like you.
[Bring up stage lights]
Host [Looks earnestly at the camera] Good evening, and welcome to Parenting Today!
I’m your host, Dr. Sheila Gerrold, and tonight, live from the studios of Mercer County Public Television, Parenting Today! presents the next installment of our Tools for Better Parenting series, featuring experts in the field of child psychology with new and exciting… um… parenting tools designed to help all of us who are… Parenting Today!
[After a beat, looks even more earnestly at the camera and launches introduction]
Do you sometimes wish you could give your children a magic pill that would permanently build their self-esteem? While that worthy goal may be a long way off, West Windsor resident and professor of Child Psychology and Internet Marketing at Mercer County College, Dr. Robert Winthrop Yoskovitz believes that he may have discovered the next best thing; even though he’s the first to admit that he’s invented [Air Quotes] “nothing.”
[Picks up the box and shows it — unopened — to the camera]
The “nothing” that Dr. Yoskovitz is preparing to market on the Internet — and on late-night infomercials throughout the world — is inside this very box.
Its name is “Bupkis” — Yiddish for “nothing” — a revolutionary doll that Dr. Yoskovitz believes will serve to help build a child’s sense of self-worth.
If Dr. Yoskovitz’ claims prove to be true, Bupkis could prove to be a boon to all of us who are… Parenting Today!
[Turns to Dr. Yoskovitz]
Dr. Yoskovitz, welcome to Parenting Today!
Dr. Y: Thank you Dr. Gerrold, it’s an honor to be here.
Host: You’re quite welcome, Dr. Yoskovitz, it’s an honor to have you here.
Dr. Y: Please call me Robert, Dr. Gerrold.
Host: Certainly…Robert. Please call me Sheila.
Dr. Y: Thank you…Sheila.
Host: Robert, tell us in your own words, the very words you’ll be saying as soon as I’ve finished asking this question, what makes your invention a breakthrough — a game changer, if you will — for those of us who are… Parenting Today!
Dr. Y: Well… Sheila, my invention in a nutshell — if you don’t mind my giving you a nutshell description of my invention — is a doll that I believe will serve to help build a child’s sense of self-worth like — if I may be permitted to make a rather immodest claim on Mercer County Public Television — like no doll that has ever existed since the beginning of time!
Host: Fascinating…Robert! Would you mind cracking open that nutshell just a bit wider — metaphorically speaking of course, unless you’ve brought an actual unshelled nut and a nut cracker into the studio with you this evening — and show us the doll that — as you have just immodestly put it — helps build a child’s sense of self-worth like (uses air quotes) ‘no doll that has ever existed since the beginning of time?’
[Aside to the audience]
Full disclosure to our viewers: This is the first time I’ll be seeing Robert’s invention — I’m so excited!
Dr. Y: Certainly, Sheila.
[Removes the lid from the box on the table in front of him, gingerly mimes removing an infant-sized doll — and, beaming, proudly holds it out to Dr. Gerrold for inspection.]
Host: [Pauses a beat, looking incredulous] But… but… but… Dr. Yoskovitz… Robert… there’s nothing there!
Dr. Y: [In a patronizing tone] Heh, heh, not exactly… Sheila. Forgive me for using a double negative on Mercer County Public Television, but there’s not [Air Quotes] “nothing” there…there’s Bupkis there!
Host: [Looking even more incredulous] But I don’t understand!? How can you say you’ve invented… when… there’s no… no…
Dr. Y:[Again assumes patronizing tone] You see… Sheila, most toy companies have taken exactly the wrong tack. They offer fancy, elaborately accessorized dolls that can actually diminish a child’s self-esteem.
Doll designers have been blinded by slavish allegiance to the tenets of our consumerism-driven culture, creating emotionally complex, hyper fashionable dolls that co-opt empowerment, individuality and multiculturalism at the expense of creativity, sensitivity and attention to core principles…
Host: [Still skeptical, bewildered and shocked] So… what you’re saying… Robert, is that the power of your [Air Quotes] “invention” to build a child’s self-esteem lies in Bupkis’ utter lack of features?
Dr. Y: [Nodding] You’ve almost got it letter perfect… Sheila. Bupkis’ power to build a child’s self-esteem lies in its utter lack of existence.
[Shoots a self-satisfied look at the host and the camera, cradles the invisible Bupkis in his arms like a precious infant]
Host: [Staring at Dr. Yoskovitz, still skeptical, and shocked, for several beats]
Dr. Y: You see… Sheila, throughout history, dolls have served to project unreachable idealizations that can intimidate and threaten a child’s self-image during a most critical period in their development.
[Mimes stroking Bupkis’ chin and mouths ‘coochie- coochie-coo’] as Dr. Gerrold looks on, goggle-eyed]
Unlike commercially popular fad dolls like the “Bratz” series, Bupkis’ strength lies in its utter nothingness.
[Mimes holding up Bupkis for the host’s’s inspection]
Note its complete absence of facial characteristics, clothing, or even a sexual identity. That’s the beauty of Bupkis — it’s whatever your child wants it to be!
No personality, no identity. Bupkis is completely non-threatening!
Host: [Trying to regain her composure] Sooooooo……. Robert. Tell us, what inspired you to create, um, Bupkis?
Dr. Y: I owe it all to my daughter, Polly. You see, Sheila, it was my professional observation of Polly at play that inspired me to create Bupkis.
I noticed that the first thing Polly did whenever we gave her a new doll was pull off its face, hair and clothing, and arranged it in tableaux that I’m sure were never intended by the manufacturer.
One day it led to a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me, and little Bupkis was born. Or, should I say, not born.
[Mimes kissing Bupkis on the forehead]
Host: And how do you plan to fill orders for your Bupkis dolls… Robert? Will there be a Bupkis factory, or…?
Dr. Y: Pardon my French… Sheila, but heck, yes! They’ll be not just one factory, but a network of state-of-the-art factory complexes around the globe, manufacturing and fulfilling orders for Bupkis.
[Looks down and smiles at his Bupkis doll]
Once my video of little Bupkis here goes viral on YouTube, I expect demand to go through the roof! And, I’ve invested heavily in robotics, nanotechnology and painstaking quality control to ensure that every Bupkis is like every other Bupkis.
Host: [Starts to ask a question, but is interrupted] But, Dr. Yoskovitz…
Dr. Y: Furthermore, no Bupkis accessories will be available, so children cannot compete to out-accessorize their dolls. They must cherish their Bupkis for what it is. Or… is not!
Host: [Again starts to ask a question, but is again interrupted] But, Dr. Yoskovitz…
Dr. Y: [Warming to the topic, excited] And, in case you were wondering, I’ve instituted the tightest security controls ever employed at a manufacturing facility! Tighter than the Manhattan Project! No one will be able to steal the plans for my little Bupkis, no siree!
[Smiles at Bupkis and tickles its “feet”]
Host: [Again starts to ask a question, but is interrupted] But, Dr. Yoskovitz…
Dr. Y: [Beaming proudly, attempts to hand his (non-existent) Bupkis doll over to the host] Sheila, I’d like to take this opportunity to present you with one of the very first Bupkis dolls to roll off the assembly line!
[Holds the “doll” out toward the host]
Host: [Looking a little frightened and creeped out] Robert… Dr. Yoskovitz, there’s nothing there!
Dr. Y: Well… of course there is Sheila… Dr. Gerrold. As I explained earlier, it’s Bupkis! I believe I’ve been crystal clear about my…
Host: [Finally losing it] No! No! No! Dr. Yoskovitz, NO!!! There’s nothing there! And when I say nothing, I mean nothing! Nada! Niente! Zip! Zero! Zilch! This nonsense has gone far enough!!!
Dr. Y: [Still holding Bupkis toward Dr. Gerrold, slowly takes it back and clutches it to his chest — agitated] You’re wrong!!! The creation of Bupkis is a complete negation of the constructivist, deconstructivist ethos! It’s… it’s… it’s…
[Abruptly calms down, stroking his chin, as if deep in thought]
Then again, it may all amount to mere birdsong; bupkis, if you will. [Begins to sob]
Host: [Attempts to comfort him] There, there, Dr. Yoskovitz, calm down. It’s going to be fine, just fine…
[Pauses several beats, clearly uncomfortable; then looks at her watch, perplexed]
Well, gee…Robert…, Dr. Yoskovitz… look at the time! [Faces camera]
Yup, I’m afraid that’s all we have time for. [Turns to Dr. Yoskovitz]
Thank you for stopping by to share your story on Parenting Today!
Dr. Y: [Mimes holding Bupkis to his chest, sobbing increases. Talks to himself] If only Mee-Maw had bought me that Teddy Bear…
Host: [Turning back to the camera] I’ve been speaking with Dr. Robert Wayne Yoskovitz, inventor of Bupkis, a doll that may…
[Looks toward the sobbing Dr. Yoskovitz, then resumes looking into the camera]… or may not be a revolutionary tool for building your child’s self-esteem.
Dr. Y: [Continues holding Bupkis to his chest, sobbing increases]
Host: From all of us at Mercer County Public Television, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for tuning in to this week’s presentation of Parenting Today!
And so I will… Thank you for tuning in to this week’s presentation of… Parenting today! Tune in at the same time next week, when our panel of experts will debate the timely topic:
Onesies: A threat to democracy? Until next week, this is Dr. Sheila Gerrold wishing you… pleasant parenting!
[Waves ‘Good-bye!’ to the camera]
Dr. Y: [Still sobbing, still cradling Bupkis in his arm, waves ‘Good-bye!’ to the camera]
[Go to black — END]
George Point, a freelance writer and producer and presenter of Book Talk! on WDVR FM and WDVRFM.org, lives in Lawrenceville. This is his third year reading submissions for the Summer Fiction issue.