A Pact With God

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A Pact With God[1]
Work In Progress
Original Broadcast Date
Joe Frank
Serious Monologue, 61 minutes
Preceded by: Bedtime Stories
Followed by: When She's Asleep, She Looks Like An Angel

The development is called The Fountains...

A Pact With God is a program Joe Frank produced as part of the series Work In Progress. It was originally broadcast in 1985.


Over the sound of a film projector Joe narrates an account of his parents' gated senior community, The Fountains;[1] he's visiting: golf courses, tennis courts (rarely used), golf carts, guard at the gates, fence and moat. Occasionally an alligator emerges from the moat, the second-most popular topic of discussion after the deaths and disabilities of other residents.

3:00: The women, in their 60s and 70s, look so alike Joe can't pick her out at a luncheon, finally has to ask the chairwoman of the luncheon committee.

4:50: Joe describes his stepfather, Freddy, shopping at the drug store, stooped over, worn clothes, buying items with coupons. He grew up in a poor household,[2] retains frugal habits.

9:50: They took a trip to Switzerland on the cheapest charter flight, with a bunch of rowdy students, fell on the escalator in the airport, injured themselves.

11:00: His mother serves soup boiling hot so they hold off eating it, but give in. They make a racket while eating, accumulate crumbs on their faces; it embarrasses Joe.

14:10: Freddy uses the after-dinner coffee to begin washing out the food stuck between his teeth; then they both use toothpicks. Joe looks away - 'I look out a window at a tree and the sky beyond; it gives me a feeling of relief, takes me away from this room and these 2 old people whom I love, but sometimes drive me crazy.'

15:00: Freddy wants to wash the dishes, but Joe's mother won't let him because he's slow.

15:30: Joe's mother complains about Freddy's disorganization, forgetfulness, watching of 'crap on television', leaving out the cat food overnight so it'll be warm in the morning. He walks around nude; she wishes he wouldn't. He eats a fortune cookie without taking out the fortune.

16:10: 'I go diving off the coast…' Joe tells of going scuba diving, so deep it's dark and he experiences nitrogen narcosis, 'the rapture of the deep'[3]

18:40: (Sound of a loud automobile engine) Joe drives on a country road, counts telephone poles, imagines that, when he reaches 59 'the year in his life that he died', he'll careen into the 59th pole.[4]

19:30: 'And I love those tropical storms…' 'I think of the thunder as the voice of my father'.

20:40: Joe's mother comes home from a Jessye Norman concert, angry at how badly the audience behaved. The audience left in such a hurry that some suffered injuries.

22:10: Joe describes the depredations of age upon them.

25:10: Joe tells the story of Conrad, Freddy's friend, a successful businessman, as well as handsome, charming, and a good golfer. An injury while diving afflicted him with Pick's Disease,[5] which hampers, then destroys his mental function, results in early death.

28:20: She becomes less tactful with age, tells Joe, who has gained weight, that his breasts look like a 14-year-old girl's. She describes being fondled by one of her parents friends when she was a girl. She's begun to rub her thighs unconsciously.

30:50: They look through files of old photos; Joe finds the pictures of her as a young girl particularly moving. 'An unhappy love affair with a young man followed by a difficult marriage to a much older man.' They moved to Germany where he had his business, had a crippled son. He died in a car accident caused by a stroke. Her second marriage began romantically, turned bitter. 'The failure of the family business and the comfortable retirement in Florida living on the money they received from German reparations after the war and invested wisely.'[6]

33:00: She remembers her family's escape from the Russian army when she was 3 or 4.[7]

33:50: Her mother told her she had wanted an abortion instead of bearing her.

34:10: She falsely claimed that she was sexually experienced to her fiancé.

34:40: She tells of Kristallnacht, fleeing Vienna by train.

35:30: She tells of her 2 favorite songs when she was a young woman, 'The wanderer' and 'I came as a stranger and I left as a stranger', how they express her feeling of being a stranger in the world.[8]

36:00: Her stories of her early life are 'like a religious experience' to Joe, 'It's my foundation, it's where I came from, and I never tire of listening to it.'

37:20: Joe repeats the account of scuba diving originally at 16:10, and the 2 following segments.

40:00: Joe recounts Freddy's bouts with cancer.

41:20: The day before Freddy's surgery, Joe makes a pact with god, that, if Joe runs this particular route all the way, Freddy's tumor will be benign. He gets lost, has to give up running, feels he has failed, that he has left Freddy up to god's mercy.

49:20: Joe takes 1½ valium the night before the surgery. He wonders what his mother would do if Freddy dies, they having lived together the last 40 years.[9]

51:50: The growth is a melanoma, but it hasn't spread, so it may not be serious. He seems to recover.[10]

55:50: Joe repeats the account of scuba diving originally at 16:10, and the 2 following segments.

Legacy Synopsis
  • Joe narrates a home movie documenting a visit to his parents.
  • A repeated passage: diving in the ocean, racing through country roads at night and driving into a telephone pole. Thunder as the voice of Joe's father. "He'd speak softly, if he could."
  • A man Joe's parents admire suffers from a brain disease, degenerates, and is institutionalized.
  • The life of Joe's mother, and her youth in Europe.
  • Freddy's illness.
  • Making a deal with god; jogging to prevent Freddy from having cancer.


This is an incomplete record of the music in this program. If you can add more information, please do.

Shared material

Additional credits

The original broadcast credits state: "Technical production by Tom Strother."


  • Portions of this material were performed live in NYC in October 2011.


  1. apparently in Lake Worth, Florida
  2. on Morris Avenue in the Bronx
  3. Perhaps fictional.
  4. Joe's father died at 56.
  5. Doesn't sound like Pick's disease.
  6. Langerman Shoe was still in business in the '70s.
  7. Quoth Wikipedia, 'after the outbreak of World War I the town (Rymanów, her hometown) was captured by the Russian Empire in September 1914 and severely looted. The spa pavillons were burnt to the ground and the town suffered from several weeks of Russian rule. In 1915 it was again retaken by Austria-Hungary and started to be rebuilt.' She was 3 years, 9 months.
  8. They're both by Schubert; the latter is 'Gute nacht', the first song in 'Die Winterreise'; she called it by its opening lines. Can't go wrong with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Wanderer and Winterreise.
  9. They married in 1945, which would date this story to about 1985. In the previous segment Joe says that Freddy is 78 years old; he was born in 1906, which also dates this story to 1984/5.
  10. He died in 1995.