A Re-Tread Story

by: Erik Ramsey

Copyright © 1995 by Erik Ramsey

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that Traction is subject to a royalty. It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all countries covered by the International Copyright Union (including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth), and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States has reciprocal copyright relations. All rights, including professional and amateur stage performing, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, video or sound taping, all other forms of mechanical or electronic reproduction, such as information storage and retrieval systems and photocopying, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved.

Inquiries concerning all rights should be addressed to the author at

Mr. Ramsey is currently a professor at the Ohio University MFA Playwriting Program.


ELMORE: The factory safety chief. He has clean hands.
MIKEY: A factory worker. He has dirty hands.
BRANDON: A factory worker. He has dirty hands, but a face one might find framed on a Sunday school wall.
The play takes place in the dingy break-room of a tire re-tread factory, perhaps in Billings, Montana. There's probably a table, some badly stained chairs, as well as a relic coffee pot.
The day after tomorrow.

[The lights rise on ELMORE and MIKEY entering the break-room. ELMORE carries a four-way tire iron-- which looks basically like two chromed bars in the shape of a cross. He sets the tire iron on the table and pours himself a cup of coffee.]

MIKEY: You're the one who volunteered.

ELMORE: Bullshit. The big boss said being safety chief would get me a raise.

MIKEY: You gotta talk to him man.

ELMORE: I cannot have this shit right now. We got OSHA inspectors crawlin' all over this place tomorrow… Don't tell nobody but I'm this far from a necktie. Jimmy upstairs says I got prospects. You know? He said to start buying neckties.

MIKEY: OSHA or no OSHA you gotta talk to this guy.

ELMORE: Why don't they just go fuck with a Saturn factory or something. Give them white-glove line boys enemas. This is a fuckin' retard re-tread factory for Christ's sake.

MIKEY: I'm tellin' you, man.


MIKEY: Nope.


MIKEY: Fine then.

ELMORE: Mikey you know I respect ya.

MIKEY: Fuck you.

ELMORE: Me and him were in the Guard. Brandon is solid.

MIKEY: Moe, you are a good friend and I have to say this to you.

ELMORE: It's probably just the fuckin' glue.

MIKEY: I don't think so.

ELMORE: He's the fuckin' glue-boy Mike. Same as you were last year and I was four years ago... That resin made you one goofy son-of-a-bitch yourself.

MIKEY: It ain't the glue. [Pause.] He's got.... He's got powers.

ELMORE: Jesus! You been dippin' in the glue too?

MIKEY: Maybe I'm goin' fuckin' looney, okay? I mean, I woke up feelin' kind of stupid today, but yesterday I believed. That's why you gotta talk to him. If you see it, then I'll know... But I ain't the only one seen it. Some of the other guys started followin' him around like he was--

ELMORE: --When the fuck did all this start?

MIKEY: He started gettin' loud about it last week... But Ron said he was talkin' this way right after that safety inspector came last month.

ELMORE: Fuckin' OSHA man! You're not supposed to know this but it's the fuckin' glue that got OSHA sniffin' our stool in the first place. You remember Hearns? Short blond turd of a guy, even looked like Barney Flintstone.

MIKEY: Yeah. He bummed about sixty smokes off me.

ELMORE: Yeah, well, we had to keep it all hushed and then his widow hired that asshole Joslin and he called OSHA.

MIKEY: Is that the guy who sits on a hog in his commercial talkin' about motorcycle accidents?

ELMORE: Yeah him.

MIKEY: That's a beautiful machine he's on. '74 Sportster.

ELMORE: He's suin' the shit out of our parent company.

MIKEY: I thought Hearns just up and quit.

ELMORE: Fuckin' I wish. He was sneakin' glue home in his lunchbox. One night his wife wakes up and he's not in bed so she goes into the living room and there's Barney Flintstone all splayed out naked--covered an inch thick and shiny like he'd been lacquered, you know, shellacked, like they do to bar tops so beers will slide easy on 'em... The paramedics had to cut him out of the carpet like he was gingerbread.

MIKEY: [Pause.] This is different.

ELMORE: Don't tell me you've forgot what a stinky fuckin' monkey your ass was until I got you promoted to the ovens.... And I promise you this: anybody who fucks up in front of OSHA tomorrow is gonna get fuckin' killed. I fuckin' promise you that... [Elmore picks up his tire iron and brandishes it.] I'll fuckin' bash his head in right now if I have to. I fuckin'-fuckin' promise you that.

MIKEY: Stop, look, and listen man. That's all I'm sayin'. Stop-- look-- and listen. I will speak no more on this topic. I need not. I shit you not.

ELMORE: [Pause.] What the fuck are you sayin'? I mean watch what the fuck you're sayin'.... Brandon and me were in the Guard together. In the Gulf. Understand? Our cots was end to end, man, in a tiny fuckin' tent in the fuckin' sand. End to end...... Understand? He was my squad leader. He kept my ass and my head in proper alignment. We shook scorpions from our boots together every rise-and-shine!

MIKEY: [Pause.] I didn't mean no offense. He's got me.... thinkin' is all.

ELMORE: Well don't hurt yourself. Thinkin' about what?

MIKEY: It's stupid. [Pause.] Holiness.

[ELMORE stares for a moment, then breaks out laughing hard.]

ELMORE: Holiness? He's doin' that routine for ya?

MIKEY: What?

ELMORE: He fuckin' got you man. The few times me and him got leave over in Saudi and got our hands on beers, 'cause them Moslem-ites don't drink, even the good ones, ol' Brandon would get four or five in him and start preachin'.

MIKEY: I didn't smell no booze on his breath.

ELMORE: We laughed our asses off when he did that preacher stuff-- and we needed some fuckin' laughs more than anything... more than poozle, even. Fuckin' scuds slammin' down and Brandon talkin' nuts kept us from goin' nuts.... The glue is probably just giving him flashbacks is all.

MIKEY: [Pause.] He done miracles.


MIKEY: I talked to some the other guys--

ELMORE: --You and the other guys is a gaggle of hens. It's a reg'lar fuckin' sewing circle in this fuckin' break room.

[BRANDON enters unnoticed.]

MIKEY: I seen his powers myself. You talk to him. Then come find me.

BRANDON: Howdy gentlemen.

ELMORE: Brandon.

MIKEY: I better get back on the machine.

[MIKEY starts to exit.]

BRANDON: Be still Mikey.

[MIKEY freezes. ELMORE stands, smiles, and shakes BRANDON's hand.]

ELMORE: So, how's the wonderful fuckin' world of tread technology treatin' ya?

BRANDON: Good, good. I don't know as I properly ever thanked you for gettin' me the job last month.

ELMORE: Forget it.

BRANDON: No, I mean it. This is important work.

ELMORE: Shit. Won't be long before you curse my name.

BRANDON: Never. You believe in me.

ELMORE: You kept my shit straight in the gulf.

BRANDON: Many now believe in me because you have believed in me. Belief is the first step on the stair to faith my friend.

MIKEY: My break's about over. I better get back to the ovens.

BRANDON: Peace Michael. Witness for us so that the word may be spread true and even like fresh 40-weight in a Ford V-8.

[ELMORE starts a labored laugh.]

ELMORE: Damn you're good. You got all these idiots peein' their pants with your routine.

[BRANDON grabs a tire leaning nearby and holds it over his head.]

BRANDON: Behold! The great hoop of life. Above all others we have been chosen. Chosen to re-build the Holy Wheel. We take what was broken and re-make it anew so that the circle of life may spin everlasting.

[ELMORE starts clapping. ]

ELMORE: Like I said, you're the--

BRANDON: --The Wheel has worn down and I have been picked to adhere a new growth of the tread. Traction is the message I bring to the hearts of men. Without Traction the motor makes nothing but noise, the pistons piss their fire into chaos. Traction spins the world beneath the great Wheel, Traction is--

ELMORE: -- Easy boy. Don't spoil the whole show for me here. We can grab a couple beers--

BRANDON: --I am the glue. No one rotates on the axle except by me.

ELMORE: [Pause.] Uh, Brandon?

BRANDON: A great task has been befallen upon me, and you, Elmore, are to be the tool of my trans-form-u-lation.

ELMORE: [Pause.] Look, we got these inspectors coming tomorrow and--

BRANDON: --You are the spark which ignites the fuel of my message and turns the engine over. You are the friction between the pavement and the tire which makes Traction possible.

MIKEY: See now?

ELMORE: Hey I don't know what the fuck is gotten into you but we got inpectors coming tomorrow!

[BRANDON holds the tire out.]

BRANDON: Come, look into the wheel.

MIKEY: You gotta look in the tire man. This is the miracle I was talkin' about.

ELMORE: I am real fuckin' ready to get pissed here. You see I ain't laughin'?

BRANDON: Look into the wheel and all will be made plain unto you.

[MIKEY moves and holds the tire with BRANDON.]

MIKEY: Do it.

ELMORE: Fuck this. This ain't gonna get me pissed. You took good care of me in the gulf and now I'm gonna do the same for you.

BRANDON: Look into the wheel.

ELMORE: Fuck the wheel!

MIKEY: How can it hurt you to look?

ELMORE: If this is something the two of you cooked up--

BRANDON: --Mikey, do you believe in me?

MIKEY: I believe what I saw in the wheel.... and some of that Traction stuff makes some sense--

ELMORE: --You are two silly sons-a-bitches! I'm the mother-fucking safety chief of this here plant and I got OSHA inspectors crawlin' up my ass tomorrow! If they see another fuckin' looney glue-boy not only will they can my ass but they'll close the whole fuckin' factory for a year while they talk about it!… I mean, for Christ's sake, I'm in line for a necktie here. I'm takin' a risk tellin you this, but Jimmy upstairs says I got prospects.

BRANDON: The Wheel is--

ELMORE: --No! Fuck the wheel I said! Fuck traction. Here's the deal boys-- Brandon, you are going to stay home from work tomorrow, and Mikey you're gonna keep your fuckin' mouth shut all day tomorrow.

BRANDON: I am the glue. I have to be here.

ELMORE: Are you gonna spout off to the inspectors?

BRANDON: Each man has a right to hear--

ELMORE: --Nope! Uh-uh! Ron or somebody'll cover the glue tomorrow.

MIKEY: You don't have to get all worked up, just look in the wheel

ELMORE: And what am I supposed to see in a goddam tire?!

BRANDON: [Pause.] You may tell him what you saw, Mikey.

MIKEY: I saw spokes first... with colored straws on them-- then they started spinning. It was the spokes from my bike my uncle gave me on my eighth birthday. Then I seen these dirty steel wheels, six lugs, with clamps just where the Impala hub caps popped on. My first car was a '76 Impala. Then I seen the racing mags on my truck and--

ELMORE: --That's it! You're both fuckin' fired! Get the fuck out!

[ELMORE turns his back on the two men and faces the audience. BRANDON motions to MIKEY and they move toward ELMORE with the tire, lift it over his head and in front of his face so that his features are framed within the circle from the audience's point of view. ELMORE shakes his head and leers knowingly at first, but very quickly his face changes to shock. He gapes at what he sees for a long moment and then knocks the tire from their hands.]

ELMORE: [Weakly.] Fuck you.

MIKEY: [Pause.] You saw! I know you saw! [Pause.] You're not gonna fire us... and the firing review takes three working days anyways.

[ELMORE rubs his eyes with his fists. As he does so, BRANDON moves close and kisses ELMORE on the mouth, then quickly stepping back. ELMORE, even more shocked than before, freezes. BRANDON smiles and exits.]

MIKEY: What did you see Moe?

[Pause. ELMORE picks up the four-way tire iron from the table where he placed it upon entering. He holds it up in front of his eyes, something like an altar boy holds the cross during the procession of a Catholic Mass. He looks closely at the tool.]

MIKEY: Did you get to see that Nova SS you used to have? I'd think you'd be glad to see that beauty again. Didn't your sister roll it or something?

ELMORE: I didn't see any fucking cars.

MIKEY: What?

ELMORE: Did I stutter?

MIKEY: You didn't even see your corvette?

ELMORE: You wanna know what I saw?

MIKEY: Yeah.

ELMORE: You wanna know what I saw?

MIKEY: Yeah dammit!

ELMORE: For a second I thought I seen a whole wall of faces staring at me... They was all wearing them gladiator helmets, you know, like the movies--brass and with them red brushes on top. And then I seen a hillside, looked like skull sockets... And then I seen my trusty tire iron here.

MIKEY: [Pause.] I talked to Eddie and Dallas and Roger. They all seen their old cars. We're gonna meet at the Durbin Lounge tonight if you wanna come.

ELMORE: [Pause.] I might be a little late. I got a promise to keep.

[ELMORE slaps the tire iron into his hand three times. Lights out.]



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