Gimme Shelter – A Play

SCENE: A man wearing ragged clothes walks up to a well-lit doorway. There is a sign above the doorway which reads “Shelter.” There is an older man standing in the doorway.

OLD MAN: Ahoy!

RAGGED MAN: Ahoy. (weakly)

OLD MAN: May I ask, sir, what is your trouble? Need a place to bed down tonight?

RAGGED MAN: Yes. Do you have any open beds?

OLD MAN: Yessir, we do. Lots of open beds tonight as a matter of fact. Owing to the new policy, you know. I’m sure word is all over the streets.

RAGGED MAN: Er… probably so. I wouldn’t know. I’ve just been on the streets these last two nights. (pause) So, uh, do I just go inside then?

OLD MAN: Oh, of course, of course. This is a shelter, after all. It’s specially designed to meet the needs of those like yourself. What kind of shelter would we be if you couldn’t come inside when cold and hungry?

RAGGED MAN: Oh, thank God. Thought I was going to be out here all night.

(RAGGED MAN steps toward the door. OLD MAN steps in his path)

OLD MAN: Of course we’d be happy to have you stay with us tonight…

RAGGED MAN: So you’ve said. (shivers) Is there a problem?

OLD MAN: No, no sir, not a problem at all. It’s just, you know, these new regulations. Nothing serious, just a few little things… can’t have every homeless person in New York coming to this particular shelter., can we?


Hair a bit shaggy, is it?

RAGGED MAN: Excuse me?

OLD MAN: Just a little shaggy. A little wispy around the edges, not too gentlemanly. We here at the shelter don’t discriminate but, well, we do have standards. Do you mind? (OLD MAN removes scissors from his coat pocket)

RAGGED MAN (slightly nervous): Mind what?

OLD MAN: If we just, you know, touch you up a bit. Cut down a few of these cowlicks, make you look a little more presentable. We’re not the Hilton, no sir. Not concerned about the level of finery, but we are a decent place and really, it’s just better for everyone if… (OLD MAN leans forward and snips off a bit of RAGGED MAN’s hair.

RAGGED MAN: (annoyed) I appreciate your hospitality, but this is ridiculous. What’s wrong with my hair?

OLD MAN: Well, it’s just regulations, you know. Nothing personal. Not even my own choice. When I was young, even, my hair was down to my ankles, nearly. Had to steam the mud out every night, you know. But times have changed. Not so young, not so much hair (gestures toward hat-covered head), spending time in more polite company. Worth trying once. Almost wished I’d tried it a bit sooner myself.

RAGGED MAN (defeated): Doesn’t make any sense. (he leans forward. OLD MAN makes a few more arbitrary snips then puts scissors back inside coat.) Is that it?

OLD MAN: Oh, more or less, more or less. There might be a couple other small things, but that’s the gist of it, you know. Not much really. Just a few things.


Say, can I see your hands?

RAGGED MAN (slightly testy): Look, this isn’t the only shelter in town. I’m still a person you know. A cold person.

OLD MAN: Oh, I know, I know. No reason to be concerned. Just the manager, you know, Old Crabbit, he doesn’t like jaggedy fingernails. Says they make runs in the blankets. Says, “Blankets don’t grow on trees.” I laugh, tell him, “Nosir, they grow on sheep.” He doesn’t find it funny, doesn’t find snags too funny either, come to think. Anyway, just the hands then.

(RAGGED MAN, visibly shivering now, extends hands toward OLD MAN. OLD MAN looks, shakes his head, smiles mildly, and removes a fingernail file from his coat.)

OLD MAN: I’ve seen worse. Not saying these are great, but there’ve been worse. Saw a man a couple nights ago, no pinkie finger at all. (pause) That was before the regulations though. No sure what the new policy is on missing nails. Probably nothing. Nails aren’t the biggest thing really, just another…

(OLD MAN keeps mumbling, mostly incoherently, as he files RAGGED MAN’s nails. RAGGED MAN is growing restless and even colder)

OLD MAN: And what color do you want then?


OLD MAN: I’d recommend a lighter red, or possibly azure. Azure would look nice with your coat. Goes well with plaid, but your knapsack, well… that might just throw a kink in it. Let’s start with a red and work through, eh?

(OLD MAN removes several small bottles of fingernail paint from his jacket. RAGGED MAN pulls his hand away.)

RAGGED MAN: I submitted to the haircut, even though it was insanity. I’ve let you file my nails to the nubs so as not to cause any snags. I’ve submitted to your nonsense rules, but this is too much. I don’t want any color on my nails! Not the slightest pigmentation. Can I still enter or do I need to find another bum to keep me warm tonight?

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