Jack Rabbit - a treatment for a feature motion picture--suggestions welcome!
By Marty Nemkomnemko@comcast.net
Log Line: My Fair Lady in a rural Alabama elementary school.
Overview: Rural snob, 5th grader Susie, tries to teach a dirt-poor classmate with A.D.D. how to succeed in school.
About the writer: This will be Marty Nemko’s fourth screenplay, and the first he has offered for sale. He has sold 240,000 copies of his five books, written 500+ well-published articles, and is Contributing Editor at U.S. News & World Report. He has personal experience with A.D.D. He holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and previously was a public school teacher and school psychologist with special expertise in attention deficit disorder. He acknowledges that as a child, he was hyperactive. He claims, however, that now, vestiges of it appear only occasionally.
Susie’s body might be called matronly if she weren’t 12 years old. And she might be called a Berkeley type if she didn’t live in Carthage, Alabama. After all, she wears a Vegan Warrior baseball cap, a Bunny Hugger tee shirt, and a rope instead of a belt. But unlike a typical Berkeley person, she resents foreigners, especially if they’re poor.
Into a thicket, Susie pulls a red wagon containing school books.
She reaches a narrow whitewater river. It can be crossed only via a “bridge” consisting just of two 2” x 12” x 12-foot boards, so spaced that her wagon can--with perfect steering--cross it. And she does.
On the other side of the river sits a faded toddler’s swimming pool with the word “Suzie” imprinted on it. Next to it sits an old laundry basket. Both are covered by pieces of old plywood.
Hidden in the thicket is a windowless cinder-block building with brown smoke spewing from its smokestack. She strides past its heavy door marked “Processing” which is padlocked with a heavy chain.
She continues around to the back of the building. There, she positions her wagon under its only window. She climbs onto the wagon, teases the window open, and climbs in to the sounds of animals squealing and electric saw against bone.
Susie enters the large room, lighted only by a single bare light bulb. She crawls under a creaky conveyer belt and looks up at the three men standing along the assembly line. The first two look slovenly and work blithely. The third, Peter, 35, is despondent, wearing a neatly pressed workshirt. He skillfully, silently, removes the meat from a small carcass, his apparent calm betrayed by his tapping foot and eye tic. He respectfully lays the meat to rest on a glass tray and bows his head, which enables him to see Susie under the conveyer belt. He smiles and looks away.
Susie reaches an isolated corner storing five crates full of live rabbits. She quietly pushes one crate back under the conveyer belt. With the skill that could only have been acquired through much experience, she lifts the crate through the window. As the rabbits see the daylight, they squeal.
The three men look toward the sound. Peter, in a heavy Kosovo accent says, “It’s nothing,” but the two blithe men run toward it. Susie lowers the crate onto the wagon and jumps out. The men see her and race after her, but Susie escapes.
She pulls the wagon past the farmhouse and toward the road, whereupon a thick woman wearing a Carthage Rabbit Meat Company polo shirt, personalized with “Big Mama, Proprietor,” sees the crate of rabbits and storms up to her:
BIG MAMA: Susie Anne Underwood, You stealin’ my goddam rabbits?
Susie gets in her mother’s face, arms akimbo.
SUSIE: Mama, do they all have to get killed?
BIG MAMA: You put that crate back in the processor or I’m gonna process you, I swear to Jesus Hebe Christ. And you stay away from that Jack!
Susie strides back toward the processing plant. In the thicket, Jack, a shrimpy 12-year-old with a Kosovo accent, calls from up in a tree, “Cutting school today, Susie?” She responds, “No, illegal!” He cries, “You’ll love this!” and waves a report card titled, “Carthage Middle School, Carthage, AL. March 2008.”
She climbs up the tree and she sees that he got an F in all subjects for both the April marking period and the not-yet-begun June one. The teacher’s note explains: “Jack is so far below F that he could be perfect for the rest of the year and he’d still average an F. I must speak with you, Mr. Kovac!” Susie responds, “Well, you are more hyper than a pack of bunnies let loose on a carrot.” Jack’s eye tics. That breaks Susie’s iciness for just a moment: she looks at him kindly, but then quickly climbs down the tree.
Susie reenters the thicket and reaches the river. She removes the plywood covers to reveal that the laundry basket is full of rabbit food and the pool is full of clean water. She opens the crate and the rabbits dive into the food and drink.
As Susie enters the schoolhouse--it’s just one classroom plus a small office--the Cyrano-nosed, bulky teacher, Miss Rubia Olf, 55, sniffs, “You late, again?!” Susie says, “I had to feed the rabbits.”
A redneck shoves his chip-off-the-block 14-year-old son, Bubba, toward the school door and snaps, “You--Mr. Mafia? Hah! Chickenshit’s more like it!” Bubba shoves his father and runs into the school.
The classroom is weary and spartan except for the ornately framed Harvard diploma on the wall, bearing the name, Rubia Earl Olf. Her desk’s drabness is broken only by a lock of hair encased in a tiny antique silver frame.
Olf drones about the Peloponnesian Wars to her class of 10 to 14 year olds, as Duane (a special needs child) rocks back and forth ritualistically and Pedro passes a Spanish-language coloring book to Jose. Susie, who sits front-row center, reads the science book inside her desk drawer while taking notes on Olf’s history lecture. Susie raises her hand and asks, “Should we study more on the causes or the events of the war?” Jack stares bored at Olf, tapping his foot. No longer able to pay attention to the monotonic lecture, like a typical A.D.D. student, Jack’s eyes dart to all that is occurring in the room. Then he conspicuously calligraphs “Olf is boring” in pencil on his desk’s melamine top and taps Pedro to show him. Jack rocks his chair as far back as he can without tipping over while looking around to see if anyone is admiring him. Bubba (the oldest and biggest kid in the class) notices Jack’s eye tic and asks, “What’s that?” Jack lies, “My contact lenses.” Bubba says, “Stop it!” Jack calculates, long-hand, with remarkable speed, the number of seconds left until lunch. He separates the foil from the paper in a piece of Wrigley’s spearmint gum. He plays tic-tac-toe with himself and then thumb wrestles with himself. He slaps his own face and forces himself to stare again at Olf. A split-second later, Bubba says “Stop, Jack Rabbit!” and flashes a tiny switchblade at Jack. Scared, Jack leans his chair back too far and crashes. Olf slams Jack and his chair back upright and asks him, “So, what was the cause of the Peloponnesian Wars?” Jack’s tic worsens as he murmurs, “Well, actually, there were three major causes: Athens’ growth, its trade restrictions against Sparta, and Athens’ intervention in the civil war in Epidamnus.” The class laughs at Olf. Olf’s eyes fire daggers at Jack. Jack peeps, “I’m sorry.” Bubba draws a crude picture of a gun and waves it at Jack. As Olf resumes her lecture, Jack draws a tiny caricature of Olf with the caption, “She knows less than she nose,” folds it into a paper airplane, and surreptitiously sails it to Bubba. Unfortunately, Olf intercepts it, unfolds it in horror, rips it up, and growls at Jack: “Why can’t you be like Susie!” Jack cries, Susie’s face melts and Susie, in support of Jack, stands up and imitates Jack’s hyperactivity. Olf hisses: “Jack, I can’t wait to talk to your father tomorrow.” Jack tics. Olf continues, “For now, you need to work off some energy.” She hands him paper towels and points outside the class. Susie protests on his behalf to no avail.
Jack trudges out the door and into the boy’s bathroom. He sees the first of three toilets: its seat stained with urine, its bowl with feces. He leans down, chokes, and runs back to class. He tics and says, “I can’t do it. Ms. Olf.” She retorts, “Then you’ll spend the day in the office.”
Ignoring Olf’s protests, Susie follows Jack out the door. They sit next to the school secretary. While his feet twitch, he thumb-wrestles with Susie. She beats him again and again, each time saying, “I beat the illegal. “As she sees him getting despondent, she says it with less venom. Finally, she lets him win.
SUSIE: Your dad will have to be tough tomorrow.
Jack tics and turns to the small TV that sits on the secretary’s desk.
CARTOON CHARACTER (singing): I wish I were an Oscar Meyer wiener.
SUSIE: My weakness.
JACK: I’ll get you a pack for your birthday.
SUSIE: Illegals are tighter than bark on a hickory stick.
Jack shoves her.
SUSIE: I was just joking.
The commercial ends and Oprah says: “Jamal Jackson started in the Chicago projects. Now he’s showing us around his school: Philips-Exeter, among America’s most prestigious.” Jamal shows a 7th-grade classroom with a notebook computer on each desk--the kids fully engaged, a fully outfitted art studio, a palatial gym and indoor swimming pool, and the quintessential New England campus with Tudor buildings surrounded by a manicured, flower-rimmed lawn. Jack draws a lifelike sketch of it and shoves it in his notebook binder. He draws another, and with two hands, presents it to Susie. Susie carefully puts it in her notebook binder.
Jack and his dad, Peter, sit in the empty classroom with Olf.
PETER: What is Ghitalin?
OLF: It is a medication that will calm Jack down.
JACK: It’s a stimulant. Like meth. Daddy, I’m scared to be on uppers for the rest of my life. And if you get off, you’re twice as hyper. Please, daddy.
OLF: Now, Jack, doctors have prescribed Ritalin for millions of boys.
JACK: They also prescribed a drug that gave babies no arms and legs.
OLF: Mr. Kovac, get a doctor to prescribe Ritalin or I’ll have to send Jack to Happy Acres.
JACK: What’s that?
OLF: The state school for the defiance-disordered.
JACK: No, please.
PETER: Jack, professor is expert. We should do what she say.
Into Jack’s nearly bare, cinder-block room, Peter brings a pill and glass of water. Jack stares at it, tics, takes the pill, looks up at his dad, pretends to throw it out the window, and swallows it. Jack hugs his father.
JACK: Will I die younger if I take these?
PETER: Of course not.
JACK: How do you know?
PETER: I just know.
Jack digs out a sparkler and matches from under his bed and lights it.
JACK: This is me.
The sparkler burns brightly and quickly goes out.
JACK: And if I take uppers my whole life, it’ll be even faster.
Jack keeps folding over the sparkler until it’s just an inch wide.
JACK, Daddy, am I bad?
PETER: Of course not.
Peter hugs Jack.
Jack is flat, his life essence drained. His tic is worse. He is, however, compliant. Olf praises him as though he were a dog: “Good boy, Jack. I like the way you’re sitting, Jack. You can join us in snack today, Jack.” Jack smiles as vacantly as a born-again Christian converting a heathen. Susie tries to enliven him, by making a face, then by showing a small caricature he had drawn of Bubba, and finally by tickling him, but nothing works--he’s as focused as a robot. He admits to Susie, “I’m never hungry, these tics; they’re so embarrassing. I can’t sleep and when I’m awake I’m exhausted. I don’t even feel like me anymore.” Susie says, “That’s what Olf wanted. We have to get you off this.”
Olf, Peter, and Jack meet. Olf starts to defend Ritalin but Susie, who was listening outside the door, pops in and interrupts with: “Imagine you were an active boy. How would you feel if they put you on Ritalin because you couldn’t stand this?:” Susie mimics all the boring activities of the Olf school day in a 60-second tour-de-force. Olf says, “Susie. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in you. And you, Jack, I will monitor you closely for the next week. If your behavior remains abnormal, I’ll have no choice but to send you to Happy Acres.” Jack tics.
Off the drug, Jack is alive, fascinating, but unable to succeed in Olf’s classroom, desperately seeking stimulation and attention, even if it is negative attention. He’s especially likely to fail because now, Olf is looking for excuses to get rid of Jack. She refuses to call on him whereupon Jack sighs. She writes a note in a folder and says, “Perhaps you’d be less frustrated at a school with smaller classes?” Jack tics. The only time she calls on him is when she’s sure he’s not paying attention. When he responds brilliantly, she glares. Jack leans his neck forward, staring at Olf but finally can pay attention no longer: He waves at Susie while rocking his chair back and forth--Jack falls off. Olf adds a note to the folder and says, “The consequence of your behavior: no snack today.” While Olf distributes the milk and cupcakes, Jack salivates and sneaks a cookie from a student’s lunch. Olf catches him. “You stole Pedro’s food? Jack, one more misstep…” She adds a note to the folder. Jack tics. When Bubba gives a wrong answer, Jack blurts out the correct one, whereupon Bubba says, “Here’s the right answer, Jack Rabbit!” and shoves him. Jack says to Bubba, “I have this disease called ADHD. I can’t help myself.” Bubba says, “You’re weird, spazzo!” and shoves Jack again. Olf catches Jack feebly defending himself and blames only Jack. Jack protests, “I was only defending myself.” Olf writes a note. Jack tics.
The next day, things get even worse. He stares at a worksheet with a series of long division problems on it. He stares at it, picks up his pen, puts it down, picks up his pen, puts it down. He reaches into his desk and surreptitiously removes his science project: a small, closed Tupperware container with holes punched in its top. It contains ladybugs on a bed of lettuce. He stares at it. He waves it at Bubba. Bubba grabs the container and dumps the ladybugs onto the floor. Jack calls out, “Ms. Olf!” Olf asks, “What?” Jack says, “Nothing.” He crawls to retrieve the ladybugs. Olf asks, “What in the world are you doing?” Jack says “I lost something,” and returns to his seat. Olf writes a note. Ladybugs crawl, including up Bubba’s leg. He waves a fist at Jack.
Jack lights a match and holds it against his desk’s metal leg. As it forms soot, he moves the match to the melamine desktop. As it forms soot, Olf yells, “What the hell are you doing?!’ Startled, he drops the match, inadvertently lighting a piece of paper sticking out from his messy desk. It sets the desk contents ablaze. He races to the fire extinguisher, tries to focus the spray on his desk, but half of it sprays all over--including on Bubba, Susie, and Olf. After the fire is extinguished, Olf, wiping foam from her face and glasses, whispers, “That’s it.” Jack cries, “No!” He lowers his head onto his desk. He tics uncontrollably. Susie puts her hand on his shoulder.
Jack lies in bed and has a dream: He peers into the tiny, yellow seven-seat bus parked in front of the farm’s laborer quarters, where he lives. The kids on the bus look scary weird, clearly hazardous organisms. He races back toward his house. The driver, Menacing Man, catches him, carries him kicking and screaming onto the bus as Peter and Susie look on helpless except to wave. As the bus leaves, Susie jumps on the bus’s rear bumper but Menacing Man swerves and she is thrown off.
The dream continues:
Only one seat on the bus is available. As Jack starts to sit, LaTonya yells, “Not next to him!” Cletis, a massive teen with bloodshot eyes slugs LaTonya.
Menacing Man chuckles.
LaTonya pulls Cletis’s hair and her hand bleeds.
LATONYA: Razor blades in your hair?!
CLETIS (to Jack) You scared of me? Sit!
CLETIS: What’s with your eyes?
JACK: My contact lenses.
CLETIS: Take ‘em out. Your eye thing’s disgusting. I said, take ‘em out!
JACK: I can’t.
Cletis grabs Jack’s three-ring binder. Despite the diminutive Jack’s brave effort to stop him, Cletis opens its rings, holds it out the window, and its pages blow away. When the pages are gone, Cletis sees the drawing of Philips-Exeter School.
CLETIS: What’s that, a hotel?
JACK: It’s where I want to go to school.
CLETIS: Happy Acres sends lots of students there.
The entire bus laughs
CLETIS: First, worry about surviving here.
LATONYA: Remember, don’t never admit to nothin. They send you to the X Room for nothin’
JACK: What’s the X room?
CLETIS: You’ll find out.
The dream continues. The front of the classroom is adorned with a banner, “Arbeit Macht Frei.” (That means, work makes freedom. It’s the slogan on the entrance to Nazi concentration camps.) The teacher, Mr. Sauer, has a crewcut and SS bearing. The blackboard lists the names of the seven students and varying numbers of checkmarks next to each name. LaTonya coughs--Sauer places a checkmark next to her name. Cletis says, “I gots to use it.” Sauer gives him a checkmark, his ninth.” Sauer smiles and in a German accent says, “Mr. Johnson: One more check and you earn an all-expense-paid trip to the X Room. Cletis, come to the board and spell “potato.” Cletis spells it “p-o-t-a-y-t-o”. “Who can correct Cletis? Jack puts his head down. “Jack?” Jack shakes his head. No one raises their hand. Sauer spells it: p-o-t-a-t-o-e. A giggle escapes from Jack’s lips. Sauer pushes a button and Menacing Man enters. Sauer says, “Give our new student his spelling hour in the X Room.” Jack’s whole face tics.
The nightmare continues. Menacing Man and Jack reach a door labeled, “Extra Intensive Instruction.” Menacing Man unlocks the door to reveal a small room with no windows. It is empty except for a metal chair bolted to the floor in front of a computer. Menacing Man straps Jack into the chair, clicks on “Spelling,” and sets a timer to 60 minutes. A disembodied voice from the computer says, “To avoid the buzzer, spell each word correctly in time.” The timer starts down: 59:59, 59:58. The voice says the word “pill.” Jack types it correctly.” Each word is harder. The timer reads 55 minutes. The voice says “hyperactive.” He spells it correctly. The timer reads 50 minutes. The voice says “eviscerate.” He spells it correctly. The timer reads 45 minutes. The voice says “abbatoir.” He frantically tries again and again. A loud buzzer goes off and lasts for ten seconds. The next word is “ichthyologist,” Again, he struggles, again the buzzer comes on for 10 seconds. The next word is “ophthalmologist.” He’s going nuts--the buzzer keeps going off. He screams, “Stop it!” Menacing Man pleasantly calls in, “Just 35 minutes more.” Jack’s whole face tics uncontrollably.
Jack awakes yelling, then grabbing his plush-toy rabbit on his thin mattress on the floor in a nearly bare room with paint peeling from its cinder-block walls. His father rushes in. Jack says, “I can’t go!” Peter hugs him.
In the empty classroom back at Carthage:
PETER: I’ll make him take his ghitalin.
OLF: I simply cannot take the time to monitor him.
Susie, who again had been listening in from outside the door, pops in:
SUSIE: I can.
OLF: You are a student, not a teacher.
SUSIE: One week. And by the end of the year, he’ll be so good, he, he could get into Philips-Exeter.
OLF: How in the world do you know about Philips-Exeter?
OLF: One week. If I determine that his improvement has been insufficient…
SUSIE, PETER, JACK: We understand.
As Susie and Jack walk back toward the farm, she’s nervous about the importance of her role, so she becomes very bossy: “Okay. Now, from now on, you are gonna listen to me like a drowning kid to his lifeguard. Because you are drowning and I am your lifeguard.” Jack resents her condescension and storms away.
The next day, Jack is Ritalinized flat. Olf sends the kids out for recess. Susie orders Jack to stay and barks at Olf, “I need stay in class to work with Jack. And I want to move his seat to the front, next to me.” Olf shrugs, pulls a New York Times from her briefcase, and plods out.
Susie shoves his desk up front. Jack says, “From here, she’ll see everything I do!” Susie smiles, “Exactly.” He moans. She tapes his drawing of Philips-Exeter to his desk. In the left margin, she writes “Happy Acres OR” with an arrow pointing to the drawing. She has Jack draw a caricature of Olf on the blackboard, after which she says, “Pretend that drawing is Olf. Now, you do exactly what I do and she’ll love you. Try it now.” She sits with perfect posture, alternating between looking Olf’s caricature straight in the eye, nodding frequently, and taking notes. He wails. She tells him to shut up. She continues her modeling: She raises her hand, waits a few seconds, and pretending to have been called on,
SUSIE: What do you think, Ms. Olf?
Jack wails louder.
SUSIE: That’s an interesting point. Ms. Olf.
Jack wails louder still
JACK: But what if I disagree with her?
SUSIE: Do you like it when she embarrasses you in front of the whole class? Neither does she. Write it down and ask her about it after school.
Jack wails louder still.
JACK: More Olf?
SUSIE: She’ll like you for that. And while you’re there, ask how she is.
Jack wails louder still.
JACK: Ask how she is?
Susie says, “You’re more stubborn than a dead body!” Jack storms out. Susie pulls him back and they argue. It culminates with Susie saying, “You want this? (points to the Philips-Exeter drawing) You need her.
Jack slowly tries Susie’s techniques, but frequently forgets and Susie is bossy and obnoxious in getting him to behave. “I’m the empress and you’re the slave. You do what I say.” And, “You’re more stubborn than a stain on a stone!” Jack grows ever more resentful of Susie. Exacerbating the situation, Olf, now heavily invested in being right and in getting rid of him, ignores his improvements and looks for opportunities to add notes to his folder. Jack sees Susie’s science project in her desk: a Tupperware container with a tarantula in it. He pulls it out and waves it at Bubba whereupon Bubba throws his Spam lunch at Jack and it lands on Olf, she yells at both Susie and Jack. Olf adds a long note. Jack tics.
In the rabbit release area, Jack blames Susie for being incessant and demeaning. Susie blames Jack for be recalcitrant--and for being an illegal alien. “You’re taking over our country!” He responds, “You can’t deport us all!” They break out in a fight, firing rabbit turds at each other, starting with single turds, but then packing them into ever larger turd balls. Finally, Susie holds a bucketful of rabbit turds over Jack’s head, and laughs. Jack sees it and joins the laughter. Susie puts the pail down, and they hug. Susie gives an eloquent and touching speech that results in Jack promising to try harder and Susie promising to be kinder and more patient. Susie begs Jack to go back on Adderall but he still refuses, in fact, burying his Ritalin in the ground.
Jack is all over the place: staring out the window, trying to distract Susie, wandering around the room, staring at Bubba. Olf brandishes a bungee cord, “Maybe I should tie you to your chair.” Susie affixes cardboard on all sides of his desk except the front. So he can see Susie, Jack cuts a small hole in one side.
Jack tilts his chair back and falls over. Susie pushes a tilt-proof desk/chair combo from the corner of the room next to Jack’s desk.
SUSIE: Your new desk.
JACK: But I like rocking.
SUSIE: Will you like Happy Acres?
Susie creates a chart, giving Jack points when he’s good and subtracting points when he’s bad. She asks, “What do you want if you reach 100 points?” Jack says, “A certificate good for one wish granted by Susie.” She agrees.
OLF: Okay, turn in your report. It will count heavily in your final English grade.
Everyone turns in a paper except Jack.
OLF: Your report on Silas Marner, Jack?
JACK: I wrote 200 note cards but I lost them.
He rifles through his incredibly messy desk and notebook binder to try to find them.
SUSIE: (whispering in his ear) I helped you stay organized. What happened?!
Jack bows his head and tics.
Bubba gives a stupid answer. Jack groans and corrects him. Olf adds a note. Bubba surreptitiously brandishes a large switchblade at Jack.
BUBBA: I’m gonna redecorate your face.
JACK: I can’t help it if you’re dumber than a hollow log.
SUSIE: (whispering to Jack): Make yourself the butt of a joke. He’ll calm down. Say, “My face is already so ugly, it’s not worth decorating.”
BUBBA: (overhearing Susie): Then I’ll tear his whole fuckin’ face down.
Surreptitiously, Jack draws ever larger caricatures of Bubba, for example, one of Bubba planted in the ground, with the caption, “Wanna grow dope? Plant Bubba.” Jack passes the set of caricatures to Susie but Bubba intercepts it and menaces, “You may beat me inside, but I’m gonna beat you outside.” Olf grabs the caricatures and sees that it contains not only caricatures of Bubba but of Olf, including one with her having sex with a bull. Olf carefully places the caricatures in the folder, writes a note with a flourish, and says to Jack: “It’s over.” Jack bows his head and rests his head on his desk.
After school, Susie and Jack trudge home. Bubba tails them, carrying a heavy sack and a 9mm pistol. Susie and Jack take the red wagon and head to the rabbit processing plant. Jack waits as Susie retrieves a crate of rabbits. They are halfway across the “bridge” to when Bubba emerges, brandishing the gun at them.
Bubba lowers the sack’s opening into the river for a moment. He places the bag on one of the boards. He waves the gun at Jack and barks, “Step inside, Jack Rabbit. This’ll slow you down.” Jack looks inside. It’s wet cement. He tics wildly.
When Jack refuses, Bubba shoots and kills one of the rabbits. Susie leans into Jack.
Bubba points the gun at Susie and says to Jack, “Now, please accept my gift of cement shoes.”
Jack’s whole face tics. He struggles to not fall into the whitewater, and steps inside the bag.
Bubba pets the rabbits.
BUBBA: Now fall in, Jack Rabbit.
Jack shakes and tics wildly. Susie’s eyes dart.
Bubba shoots and kills all the rabbits, except one that cowers in the bottom of the crate. He then points the gun at Susie.
BUBBA (to Jack): Sorry I killed your cousins, Jack Rabbit. Changed your mind?
Jack’s whole face and shoulder tic uncontrollably.
Susie, pretending it’s an accident, slips from the bridge into the river. Using the strong arms she developed from moving the crates of rabbits, she hangs onto a low branch that extends into the river, yelling “Help!” Bubba’s machismo kicks in and he drops his gun so he can reach over to try to pull her out.
With adrenalized effort, Jack manages to extricate his feet from the hardening cement, grabs Bubba’s gun, and points it at him, shaking. She pulls herself up and shoves Bubba back. Waving the gun, Jack says to Bubba: Look what I have.” They take Bubba’s cell phone and call the police. The police interview them and take Bubba away in handcuffs. Jack calls out, “Happy Acres,” and Jack and Susie giggle. Jack says, “You saved my life but even you can’t save me from Happy Acres.” Jack fondles the one rabbit that Bubba missed. He is calm as never before. Susie stares at him and ponders.
She leads him to the back window of the processing plant and says, “You pick out your favorite boy and girl rabbit and bring them out here.” After a painful process--realizing that the unchosen rabbits will all die--he selects two and brings them out.
The next morning, Jack and Susie, each holding one of the rabbits, along with Peter and an arms-crossed Big Mama, arrive at school early. Susie says, “Ms. Olf. I have never seen Jack so calm, so focused. Let him try taking care of the rabbits when he’s too hyper to just sit and pay attention. If he’s not better, you can send him to Happy Acres.” Olf refuses. “We named the rabbits, Rubia and Earl.” Olf refuses. Susie puts Rubia in Olf’s lap. Rubia nuzzles into Olf’s breasts. Olf yields: “One day.”
Jack surreptitiously cuts a Ritalin pill in half, swallows one half, and puts the other back in the bottle.
Big Mama is uncomfortable in a school, so she quickly drops off a rabbit cage and exits. Jack carefully spreads straw out on its bottom and places a bowl of water and food inside. Susie hands him Rubia and Earl. He puts them in the cage, and caresses them. Earl poops on Jack. He laughs and shakes it off.
Olf calls the class to order. Now, Jack is less hyper and better implements Susie’s techniques. Soon enough, though, he gets antsy and scurries to the rabbits--Olf eying him warily-- he pets and hand-feeds them for a moment. He waves Rubia to the class. Olf gives him a playful schoolmarm look, whereupon he returns to his seat, and sits straight up, looking Olf in the eye like the model student, whereupon Olf, for the first time, flashes a hint of a smile.
The rabbits have sex. Olf is amused. She conducts an unusually interesting lesson on sex.
Jack’s behavior keeps improving, earning points. After a week, Susie shows him the chart--he’s earned his 100th point. Susie asks him what he wants from her. He replies, “Not sure yet.”
He walks to the rabbit cage and yells, “Rubia’s pregnant!” Olf does a double-take and then realizes Jack is talking not about her but about the rabbit. Olf picks up Rubia and fondles it.
Rubia gives birth, with Earl watching dotingly. All the students and Olf are transfixed as a baby rabbit is born--but it’s stillborn. Then, seven more perfectly healthy bunnies pop into the world. Olf cries.
OLF: How are we going to find good homes for them all?
PEDRO: The Carthage Rabbit Meat Company will take them.
JOSE: They’d make good tacos.
OLF: Brilliant, Jack!
Jack races to the computer, stares and types intently, relentlessly, totally focused--no one would consider him A.D.D. now. Olf says, “Has Susie inhabited your body?”
The next morning Jack checks the computer and yells, “Omigod, I forgot to say we only had 8 rabbits. We already have orders for 249 cotton-pickin’ bunnies! What are we going to do?”
Big Mama talks with a businessman about expanding her rabbit meat operation.
Susie and Jack burst in with two of the baby rabbits.
SUSIE: Mama, look into her eyes--this is not a piece of meat. This is a living thing, like you and me.
BIG MAMA: We’re just not making it on 100 rabbits a day. You wanna go to college?
JACK: Susie and I have figured out how you can make much more money and you never have to kill another rabbit as long as you live.
He shows her the eBay orders.
BIG MAMA: It takes a ton of money to start up a pet business.
MR. BUSINESSMAN: Not enough profit in it.
SUSIE: What if you had 15 employees that didn’t cost you a dime?
JACK: My whole class will do it.
SUSIE: Plus Ms. Olf.
Mr. Businessman’s eyes widen.
JACK: And by raising the cages just a foot, you’ll have a whole other source of money.
MR. BUSINESSMAN: What?
JACK: Rabbit manure.
As Big Mama and Mr. Businessman weaken, for the coup de gras, Susie and Jack hand each a rabbit baby.
SUSIE: Look in their eyes.
Jack and Peter climb on a ladder and take down the “Carthage Rabbit Meat Co.” sign and replace it with “Peter Rabbit Farm: Pet Bunnies.” Those words are flanked by Jack-style caricatures of Rubia and Earl. Olf says, “It’s off a little to the right.” Jack straightens it.
The students and the former rabbit butchers, led by Peter, eagerly convert the processing building to its new use: They clean out the filthy room. They replace the dingy light bulb with track lighting and a picture window. They replace the conveyer belt and table saw with comfortable rabbit hutches. Olf leads Susie and other students in covering the walls with Peter Rabbit wallpaper. Jack replaces the “Processing” sign with another Jack-created sign: “Bunny Adoption Center.” He points to the sign like Vanna White pointing to the Wheel of Fortune.
Pedro and Jose, with Jack looking over their shoulders, translate Jack’s eBay ad into Spanish.
Susie writes a letter to Apple Computer Co.
Jack moves his desk next to the rabbit hutch and alternates between paying attention to Olf and tending to the rabbits. Susie removes the cardboard sides from Jack’s desk.
Jack shows the class dramatic photos on his computer to reveal how conjunctivitis (pink eye) can be cured in rabbits. Despite ADHD fumbling and bad tics, after his presentation, the class applauds. Olf joins in.
The class is divided into four groups. Each displays its model of an animal farm: one from ancient Rome, one from the Renaissance, a state-of-the-art bunny farm in California, and Jack’s team, which has created an amazing model farm of the future. He proclaims, “This will be us, some day.”
Olf teaches a math lesson in which the students create budget forecasts for Peter Rabbit Farms. Jack behaves reasonably well and performs brilliantly although his desk and binder are still fairly messy and he continues to tilt his chair back to the tipping point. He says to Susie, “I don’t need points any more.”
Jack lovingly reads aloud to the class the most poignant part of Peter Rabbit. They are captivated.
He lies in bed, head on the pillow, legs up on the wall, foot wiggling, writing a report on marketing pet rabbits.
At an outdoor 4-H meeting with hogs and cows nearby, Jack asks, “Is it better to be a meat eater or a vegetarian?” He tics. He asks the same question at an animal husbandry class at the local agricultural college.
Olf presides over a lesson on leadership. Jack says, “The Internet is great, but why ignore our local market, especially when we have so many people eager to help.”
The farmhands and the Susie-led students are all over the area helping to sell bunnies to good homes: door-to-door, signs all over town, bringing hutches to the mall, to an assisted-living facility, and to Happy Acres, which is much better than the nightmare version was. In the Bunny Adoption Center, Susie supervises as Duane, the rocking special ed student, rocks a half dozen rabbits in a cradle as a family decides which to adopt. They take two.
A truck pulls up to the school. The deliveryman places an Apple computer on each desk in Olf’s class, like at Philips-Exeter except that Carthage’s computers are sleeker.
All the students are engaged with their computers: Jack examines a skyrocketing sales chart labeled “Sales, Peter Rabbit Farm.” Susie pores over a map noting where the sales have been--they’re worldwide. Pedro reads--in English--about rabbit farms.
At Susie’s rabbit-release place, Jack reveals his wish for his 100 points: that both Susie and he would get into Phillips-Exeter. Susie ponders like The Thinker.
Susie writes an article entitled “Jack Rabbit” on the class’s rabbit business and it’s published in the local newspaper, the Carthaginian. Susie mails it to “Director of Admissions, Phillips-Exeter School.”
Graduation is at the town’s movie house. Bubba hides in the back. Olf describes Jack as the most improved student she has ever seen--including when she was at Harvard. She displays his all-F to all-A report card. She says, “It is my life’s greatest happiness to introduce our valedictorian, Jack Kovac.” Jack begins a prepared speech, but his ADHD nervousness and tics make him stop. He ad-libs, “I’ve talked way too much already this year. Everything I need to say is here.” He pulls the theatre’s curtain to reveal an easel holding a portrait of everyone in the class, including Olf and Bubba. He says, “I needed you all. Even Bubba.”
Olf comes on the stage, takes Jack’s hand and says, “Ladies and gentleman, we have an unexpected guest--the director of admission at Philips-Exeter Academy: Dr. Tyler Tingley.”
TYLER: When I’m in an audience, my thought is often, “Will he shut up already. I’m hungry. So, let me just say that I came down here to offer admission and a full scholarship to a person I believe has greater potential to make a difference than any student I’ve ever admitted to Philips-Exeter. This student has worked tirelessly and brilliantly, not only to create a remarkable business down here in a Carthage, Alabama school, but transformed a person’s life. Susie Anne Underwood, please come up here.”
Susie, shocked, comes up. Jack claps hard, leads a standard ovation, and cries.
SUSIE: Jack Kovac deserves this more than I do.
TINGELY: I understand, but the article you yourself wrote, described how, well, Jack has some behavior issues.
SUSIE: He doesn’t any more. Will you come watch him in class, and if he’s perfect, and brilliant, and amazing, will you give him a scholarship?
TINGLEY: Well, I suppose it can’t hurt to look.
Tingley sits in the back of the class. Jack is amazing. Susie glows.
At the main entrance to Philips-Exeter, Big Mama and Peter wave goodbye to Jack and Susie walk into the school, each carrying a rabbit. THE END.
During the closing credits, a rabbit digs in the ground in the rabbit-release area. He eats one of the Ritalin pills that Jack had buried and races around in a frenzy trying to hump everything in sight: Jack’s leg, Susie’s leg, a tree trunk.
© Marty Nemko 2004-2017. Usage Rights