Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘Italy

Melissa Koltes of Rebecca’s Reads posted a review this week of David’s and my bo0k, Ups & Downs.  Here’s an extract from what she had to day.

“I do not typically laugh out loud as I am reading. But this book made me LOL more times than I can count. … The authors do a fantastic job of giving a visual account of the uniqueness of the towns-people, the villages, the countries and the cultures. The beauty of the landscape, the difficulty of the journey and the individual experiences that each narrate is awe inspiring, incredibly amusing, and greatly entertaining.”

Read the entire Rebecca’s Reads review of Ups & Downs here.

I’m busy working on my “Postville” play these days (I’m on page 50).  See “They’re Hijacking My Play.”  So I’ve been neglecting writing new posts.  In the meantime, here’s something you may find amusing.  It’s  based on something that really happened to me — in Madrid, not Milan, but I switched it to Italy because it’s more typical of Italy, and I can speak and write Italian.

You don’t need to speak Italian to enjoy it, but if you can’t stand not being able to understand every word, I’ve put a version with the English translation after the original.


Enjoy, Don

taxi-driver


THE AMBASSADOR

(Simon gets in taxi at airport.)

SIMON:

Make sure you reset the meter. My friend Steve told me that every time he got into a taxi in Italy the driver tried to get him to pay for somebody else’s ride.

TAXISTA:

Buon giorno anche a lei, signore. (Indicating meter.) E già tutto a posto.

SIMON:

It’s not at zero. It should be at zero, shouldn’t it?

TAXISTA:

E’ in aeroporto. Il tassametro deve partire da tre euro e trenta.

SIMON:

I don’t understand you. Don’t you speak English?

TAXISTA:

No, signore. Siamo a Milano. La maggior parte della gente qui parla italiano. Dove vuole andare?

SIMON:

Well then, I’m just going to take it out of your tip.

TAXISTA:

Come vuole. Dove vuole andare? (Simon doesn’t understand. Taxista indicates map.) Albergo? Stazione? Museo?

SIMON:

Oh, right. I’m going to the Grand Hotel.

TAXISTA:

Quale Grand Hotel. Ce ne sono due in città. (Taxista holds up two fingers. Simon looks at him blankly. Taxista indicates map again.) L’indirizzo.

SIMON:

The address? It’s the Grand Hotel. Five stars. There can’t be that many of those here, could there? Don’t you even know the major hotels of the city?

TAXISTA: (Pulls out and starts to drive.)

Sì signore, conosco la citta. Sono taxista qui da più di trent’anni.

SIMON:

Look at that meter spinning. It looks like a one-armed bandit. How much is this going to cost?

TAXISTA:

Al Grand Hotel? (Pulling his hands off the wheel and showing 10 fingers.) Dieci euro. Forse quattordici.

SIMON:

Would you keep your hands on the wheel for Chrissake? Can’t you Italians talk without waving your arms?

TAXISTA:

No. Non posso.

SIMON:

You Europeans are all alike. Everything costs an arm and a leg and nothing works. And from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like you Italians are the worst. You’re happy to take our money, but you don’t provide even the most basic services. Taxis are part of the tourist industry. Everybody in the tourist industry should speak English. (Silence for a moment, while they drive.) Hey, I saw that. What are you doing there?

TAXISTA:

Non faccio niente. Guido.

SIMON:

Guido, huh? Well I’m watching you, Guido.

TAXISTA:

Non è il mio nome, Guido. Guido la macchina.

SIMON:

Yeah, right. (Silence for a moment while they drive.) There, you did it again. I saw that. Every time you touch that button on the dashboard, the meter jumps five euros. You think that all of us Americans are like dumb chickens waiting to be plucked, don’t you. Well you chose the wrong one to mess with this time, Guido. Steve warned me about this scam, too. You know, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I want to go to the Grand Hotel.I think maybe I want to go to the police station. How’d you like that, Guido?Yes, let’s go to the police station.

TAXISTA: (Starting to look agitated and a bit frightened.)

No, signore. Non c’è bisogno di andare dalla polizia.

SIMON:

Not so smug now, are you, Guido. Yes, let’s go to the police station and tell them all about what you are doing to represent your city.

TAXISTA: (Really starting to sweat.)

La prego, signore. Se la polizia mi ferma ancora per questo, perderò la mia licenza.

SIMON:

License, huh. That word I understood. Well, it won’t be my fault if you lose your license. You should have thought of that before you tried to cheat me.

TAXISTA: (Pleading.)

Non lo faccia, signore. Ho moglie e due bambini piccoli. E mia mamma malata abita con noi. Vede, ecco. (Stops taxi and indicates outside.) Siamo già arrivati al suo albergo. La prego, signore.

SIMON:

What? Oh, we’re here already? Well, OK. But I’m not going to pay you what’s on the meter. It says sixty-five, and I’m sure it shouldn’t be half of that. So, to teach you a lesson, I’m only going to give you twenty. And you should consider yourself lucky.

TAXISTA: (Fawning.)

Sì, grazie signore. Molto gentile.  (Then under his breath as he drives away.) Asshole.

(Simon walks up to reception desk of hotel (played by same actor as Taxista.)

RECEPTIONIST:

Prego, signore.

SIMON:

(Simon does a double take, then …)

My name is Sempliss. Simon Sempliss. I have a reservation.

RECEPTIONIST:

Of course, Mr. Sempliss. One moment, please.

SIMON:

You know the taxi driver from the airport just tried to charge me sixty-five euros. But I knew he was trying to cheat me.

RECEPTIONIST:

Yes, sir, sixty-five is certainly far too much.

SIMON:

So I only gave him twenty. This is one Yank that managed not to get taken.

RECEPTIONIST:

Yes, sir. That’s very good sir.

SIMON:

How much should it be? Thirty? Thirty-five?

RECEPTIONIST: (Reluctantly.)

Well, actually, from the airport it’s usually about ten euros.

SIMON: (Simon looks shocked and upset.)

What???

RECEPTIONIST: (Trying to make him feel better.)

Sometimes twelve euros, if the traffic is bad. I’m afraid I can’t find your reservation. Do you have a confirmation number?

SIMON:

Of course. (Handing him a paper.) Here it is.

RECEPTIONIST:

Ah, I see the confusion. You see, there are two Grand Hotels in Milan.You’re reservation is at the Grand Hotel on Via De Gaspari in Certosa. This is the Grand Hotel on Viale Bonardi.

SIMON:

What???!!!

RECEPTIONIST:

Quite a few people make that mistake.

SIMON:

Two hotels with the same name? Isn’t that just typical? Well, how far is it to the other one?

RECEPTIONIST:

I’m afraid you came in the wrong direction from the airport. Via De Gaspari is about 45 minutes from here. Would you like me to get you a taxi?

SIMON:

You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You call a taxi that you have a deal with, he charges me twice the going rate, and you get a kickback. No thank you. I’ll find a taxi on the street.

RECEPTIONIST:

As you wish, Mr. Sempliss. But you see, here in Italy, to save fuel, the taxis don’t drive around looking for passengers. They wait at taxi stops. The closest one is about a kilometer from here. Turn right out of the hotel, go to the second traffic light, turn left, cross the park, . . .

THE AMBASSADOR

[with translations from Italian to English]

(Simon gets in taxi at airport.)

SIMON:

Make sure you reset the meter. My friend Steve told me that every time he got into a taxi in Italy the driver tried to get him to pay for somebody else’s ride.

TAXISTA:

Buon giorno anche a lei, signore. (Indicating meter.) E già tutto a posto.

[And good morning to you too sir. It’s already reset.]

SIMON:

It’s not at zero. It should be at zero, shouldn’t it?

TAXISTA:

E’ in aeroporto. Il tassametro deve partire da tre euro e trenta.

[You are in an airport. The meter is supposed to start here at three euros thirty.]

SIMON:

I don’t understand you. Don’t you speak English?

TAXISTA:

No, signore. Siamo a Milano. La maggior parte della gente qui parla italiano. Dove vuole andare?

[No sir. We’re in Milan. Most people here speak Italian. Where are you going?]

SIMON:

Well then, I’m just going to take it out of your tip.

TAXISTA:

Come vuole. Dove vuole andare? (Simon doesn’t understand. Taxista indicates map.) Albergo? Stazione? Museo?

[Do what you want. Where are you going? Hotel? Station? Museum?]

SIMON:

Oh, right. I’m going to the Grand Hotel.

TAXISTA:

Quale Grand Hotel. Ce ne sono due in città. (Taxista holds up two fingers. Simon looks at him blankly. Taxista indicates map again.) L’indirizzo.

[Which Grand Hotel? There are two in the city. The address?]

SIMON:

The address? It’s the Grand Hotel. Five stars. There can’t be that many of those here, could there? Don’t you even know the major hotels of the city?

TAXISTA: (Pulls out and starts to drive.)

Sì signore, conosco la citta. Sono taxista qui da più di trent’anni.

[Yes, I know the city. I’ve been a taxi driver here for more than thirty years.]

SIMON:

Look at that meter spinning. It looks like a one-armed bandit. How much is this going to cost?

TAXISTA:

Al Grand Hotel? (Pulling his hands off the wheel and showing 10 fingers.) Dieci euro. Forse quattordici.

[To the Grand Hotel? Twelve. Fourteen.]

SIMON:

Would you keep your hands on the wheel for Chrissake? Can’t you Italians talk without waving your arms?

TAXISTA:

No. Non posso.

[No. I can’t.]

SIMON:

You Europeans are all alike. Everything costs an arm and a leg and nothing works. And from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like you Italians are the worst. You’re happy to take our money, but you don’t provide even the most basic services. Taxis are part of the tourist industry. Everybody in the tourist industry should speak English. (Silence for a moment, while they drive.)

SIMON: (Continued)

Hey, I saw that. What are you doing there?

TAXISTA:

Non faccio niente. Guido.

[I’m not doing anything. I’m driving.]

SIMON:

Guido, huh? Well I’m watching you, Guido.

TAXISTA:

Non è il mio nome, Guido. Guido la macchina.

[Guido isn’t my name. I’m driving the car.]

SIMON:

Yeah, right. (Silence for a moment while they drive.) There, you did it again. I saw that. Every time you touch that button on the dashboard, the meter jumps five euros. You think that all of us Americans are like dumb chickens waiting to be plucked, don’t you. Well you chose the wrong one to mess with this time, Guido. Steve warned me about this scam, too. You know, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t think I want to go to the Grand Hotel.I think maybe I want to go to the police station. How’d you like that, Guido?Yes, let’s go to the police station.

TAXISTA: (Starting to look agitated and a bit frightened.)

No, signore. Non c’è bisogno di andare dalla polizia.

[No sir. You don’t have to go to the police.]

SIMON:

Not so smug now, are you, Guido. Yes, let’s go to the police station and tell them all about what you are doing to represent your city.

TAXISTA: (Really starting to sweat.)

La prego, signore. Se la polizia mi ferma ancora per questo, perderò la mia licenza.

[Please sir. If I’m caught by the police doing this again, I’ll lose my license.]

SIMON:

License, huh. That word I understood. Well, it won’t be my fault if you lose your license. You should have thought of that before you tried to cheat me.

TAXISTA: (Pleading.)

Non lo faccia, signore. Ho moglie e due bambini piccoli. E mia mamma malata abita con noi. Vede, ecco. (Stops taxi and indicates outside.) Siamo già arrivati al suo albergo. La prego, signore.

[Don’t do it sir. I have a wife and two small children. And my sick mother lives with us. Look. We’re already at the hotel. Please sir.]

SIMON:

What? Oh, we’re here already? Well, OK. But I’m not going to pay you what’s on the meter. It says sixty-five, and I’m sure it shouldn’t be half of that. So, to teach you a lesson, I’m only going to give you twenty. And you should consider yourself lucky.

TAXISTA: (Fawning.)

Sì, grazie signore. Lei è molto gentile. (Then under his breath as he drives away.)

[Yes, thank you sir. That’s very kind of you.]

Asshole.

(Simon walks up to reception desk of hotel.)

RECEPTIONIST:

Prego, signore.

[How can I help you sir?]

SIMON:

My name is Sempliss. Simon Sempliss. I have a reservation.

RECEPTIONIST:

Of course, Mr. Sempliss. One moment, please.

SIMON:

You know the taxi driver from the airport just tried to charge me sixty-five euros. But I knew he was trying to cheat me.

RECEPTIONIST:

Yes, sir, sixty-five is certainly far too much.

SIMON:

So I only gave him twenty. This is one Yank that managed not to get taken.

RECEPTIONIST:

Yes, sir. That’s very good sir.

SIMON:

How much should it be? Thirty? Thirty-five?

RECEPTIONIST: (Reluctantly.)

Well, actually, from the airport it’s usually about twelve euros.

SIMON: (Simon looks shocked and upset.)

What???

RECEPTIONIST: (Trying to make him feel better.)

Sometimes fourteen euros, if the traffic is bad. I’m afraid I can’t find your reservation. Do you have a confirmation number?

SIMON:

Of course. (Handing him a paper.) Here it is.

RECEPTIONIST:

Ah, I see the confusion. You see, there are two Grand Hotels in Milan.You’re reservation is at the Grand Hotel on Via De Gaspari in Certosa. This is the Grand Hotel on Viale Bonardi.

SIMON:

What???!!!

RECEPTIONIST:

Quite a few people make that mistake.

SIMON:

Two hotels with the same name? Isn’t that just typical? Well, how far is it to the other one?

RECEPTIONIST:

I’m afraid you came in the wrong direction from the airport. Via De Gaspari is about 45 minutes from here. Would you like me to get you a taxi?

SIMON:

You’d like that, wouldn’t you? You call a taxi that you have a deal with, he charges me twice the going rate, and you get a kickback. No thank you. I’ll find a taxi on the street.

RECEPTIONIST:

As you wish, Mr. Sempliss. But you see, here in Italy, to save fuel, the taxis don’t drive around looking for passengers. They wait at taxi stops. The closest one is about a kilometer from here. Turn right out of the hotel, go to the second traffic light, turn left, cross the park, . . .

puppet1For nearly all of my working life, I was seriously at the mercy of other people. And what wasn’t at the mercy of other people was, to an absurd degree, subject to luck (fate?).

Yes, I taught English as a Foreign Language for a couple of years, and in the classroom I had at least some control over the students. Not much, but some. But then I went into the business world, where any shred of control evaporated faster than the net worth of my retirement fund over the past six months.

Most of my career was spent in sales and sales support for large, multi-national computer services deals. We’re talking about contracts worth $100 million and up. The largest topped out in the billions. These types of deals often take two or more years to develop, and if it looks as though there is a chance that a deal will close, the lead members of the sales team will be dedicated full time.

But deals like this have an extremely low win rate. There are an infinite number of things that must all go right, and if any one of them goes wrong, two years of work go down the drain.

The Dutch shipping executive whom you’ve spent two years selling your deal to can’t convince his bosses? Pack your bags and fly to Zurich. Your client champion at the Swiss chocolate manufacturer just got fired? Lose a turn and move to Helsinki. The exchange rate of the Hungarian forint goes up against the Finnmark, and you’re bidding your Budapest solution center? Kiss your deal with the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer goodbye and fly to Turin. You were stupid enough to waste your time trying to sell to the Italian automobile manufacturer and you aren’t selling for IBM? Shame on you for being such a doofus. But there’s a deal in Germany that’s hot. You forgot to sell the deal to the janitor in the factory in Cologne? You’re not very good at this, are you? Maybe you should try opening up a Haagen Dasz franchise.

Every one of those things, and dozens of others like them, actually happened to me. OK, the one about the janitor I made up, but the principle is valid. There was always somebody or something that could kill my deal unexpectedly. Over 30 years, I figure that I closed about 10% of the deals I started. Of course, I didn’t spend two years on every deal. Lots of them went away much quicker. But even if the average was, say, a year, the math is still pretty discouraging. 30 year career, 10% hit rate, 1 year per – that’s 30 deals worked on, of which 27 disappeared into the ether. And that’s thousands of pages of great work done late at night that had to be fed into the shredder before I moved to the next opportunity. Discouraging? Hell, yes!

Why would companies employ me for 30 years with a win-rate like that? Because the profit on one successful billion dollar contract is enough to cover all the expenses for the lost deals and still pay for the corporate big shots’ fleet of private jets. That’s why.

The team working on the larger deals would be 200 people or more. I was reasonably high in the hierarchy, but there were still always lots of people above me. You know that expression about s*%$ rolling downhill? Just call me Mr. Brownface.

On one huge contract, I was responsible for writing the executive summary for the proposal. By the time that document was submitted, we were on Version 236d! The final days of writing that proposal were like the car-washing scene from “Cool Hand Luke.”

Boss 1: “Put a comma in here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it in here, Boss.”

Boss 2: “We don’t need this comma.”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Boss 1: “I thought I told you to put a comma here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it back in, Boss.”

Boss 2: “What’s that comma doing in the Warden’s document?”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Are you getting the point? I was definitely NOT IN CHARGE.

Finally, I decided to quit it all and start doing something where I am in

Deus Ex Machina

Don as a deity, controlling the scene

complete control. As a playwright, I’m like the deity who’s suspended from the contraption in the corner of the stage in a Greek play. I’ve got a character who’s a 90 years old man and he’s decided he’s going to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? But that doesn’t work for the play? Poof! He’s a 17 year old girl, and he (she) is pregnant. What a feeling of POWER!

So after all those years of being a flea on the great stallion of life, I am finally

Large And In Charge

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to go mail off copies of my new book, Ups & Downs to a hundred reviewers. Maybe one of them will actually read it. Then, I’m going to send copies of my latest play, “Shakespeare Incorporated” to 75 theaters. My hit rate on those is about 1%.