• Joseph S Pete

Thank You For Your Service, a ten minute play


CHARACTERS:

Spc. Daniels, a soldier in his 20s

Spc. Waters, a soldier in his 20s

Suit, a man in his 40s or 50s

Jess the Bartender, a woman of any age

SCENE

An airport bar in the mid-2000s

Lights up on a bar in a U.S. airport. It’s a generic nondescript bar where two soldiers in desert camouflage uniform have been drinking while waiting to catch a flight. They were on leave and are being sent back to Iraq. Their mood is somewhere between lachrymose and funerary, and they're noticeably intoxicated. A bored bartender wipes down glasses. At the other end of the bar sits a more sober businessman in a suit. The suit has attracted Spc. Waters's notice.

SPC. WATERS

Hey, what are you looking at?

SUIT

I was just admiring your uniforms, the camo. What's that, Army?

SPC. WATERS

Yeah Army. It's my girlfriend. Amy with a R.

SUIT

Thank you for your service. I owe you boys a drink. Where are you serving: Iraq, Afghanistan, black ops in some other -stan?

JESS THE BARTENDER

What are you having?

SPC. DANIELS

I'll have another Sam Adams.

SPC. WATERS

You'll have nothing. Don't let him patronize us like that.

SPC. DANIELS

He's not patronizing us.

SUIT

I'm not patronizing you boys.

SPC. WATERS

Do not accept a drink from this sorry, ate-up civilian.

SPC. DANIELS

He's not patronizing us.

SPC. WATERS

You're patronizing us. I don't know who you think we are. We're warriors, battle-hardened warriors. We've seen things man. We don't need your pity. And we sure as hell don't need your thanks. We're goddamn ironclad, combat-tested, hooah warriors.

SPC. DANIELS

Yeah, we're warriors. Not like “Warriors, come out and play” warriors. More like “kicking in doors, kicking hajji butt” warriors. Real Spartan stuff. And as a warrior, you work up a mighty thirst.

SPC. WATERS

We don't need that condescending “thank you for your service” crap.

SPC. DANIELS

We need more booze though. We've only got an hour left before we fly back to the suck.

SPC. WATERS

You hear that? We only got an hour back here in the states. You got all the time in the world.

SUIT

Look, I admire your patriotism and bravery. You're more courageous than I am. It's the least I can do to buy you a drink.

SPC. DANIELS

Man wants to buy us a drink.

SUIT

You boys deserve a drink. Of course you really deserve an eternal debt of gratitude from all of us. But here we are at a bar. Let me get you a drink.

SPC. WATERS

Here's the deal: It's a superstition in the Army that if a man thanks you for your service as hollowly and patronizingly as possible, then buys you a drink, you'll catch a bullet to the brain.

SPC. DANIELS

That's not a superstition.

SPC. WATERS

That's totally a superstition. You just haven't heard it yet.

SPC. DANIELS

It's a superstition that if you eat Charms out of an MRE you'll die on the next patrol. That's an Army superstition. Booze is always good, always welcomed.

SPC. WATERS

Superstitions are what we make them to be. They reinforce the social order.

SPC. DANIELS

Beer is always good. That's the social order.

JESS THE BARTENDER

What'll you have?

SPC. WATERS

I'll have a Corona.

SPC. DANIELS

I thought you said...

SPC. WATERS

I said I'll have a Corona. Life's a beach, ain't it? Iraq's a beach, a warm sandy beach we're going back to like it or not. Bring me your finest cerveza. Besides, they don't let you drink over there, not even on our downtime. It's a Muslim country, and we don't want to offend the natives.

SPC. DANIELS

We're respecting their customs, even though we're unwanted and there by force.

SPC. WATERS

Booze is forbidden, and pornography. We're even banned from having pornography.

SPC. DANIELS

(To Jess the Bartender.) This might be the last drink we ever have, is what he's driving at.

SPC. WATERS

That's exactly what I'm driving at.

SPC. DANIELS

Never turn down a drink. Never look a gift drink in the mouth. Never buy a horse a gift drink. I changed my mind, I'll have whiskey, top-shelf whiskey since someone else is buying.

SUIT

Well, you deserve it.

SPC. WATERS

Does it assuage your guilt?

SUIT

My guilt?

SPC. WATERS

You heard me. Your guilt. Does it assuage your guilt? Does buying the dumb unfortunate grunts a beer let you off the hook, absolve you from voting for the guy who sent us to die in a foreign desert for no reason at all? Do you feel better about doing nothing to defend your country?

SUIT

Look, I just want to show you boys a little appreciation, that's all.

SPC. DANIELS

He wants to show us a little appreciation, that's all.

JESS THE BARTENDER

(Sets down a drink.) Here you go hon.

SPC. DANIELS

Thank you much.

SPC. WATERS

Do you feel better about sending some poor kids from the sticks or some dumb kids from the inner city off to die for you? Does the price of a beer make you feel better about never wearing a uniform, never deploying anywhere, never having to do your own damn dirty work?

SUIT

I know it's not enough, but it's the least I can do.

SPC. WATERS

You ever seen a man die?

SUIT

What?

SPC. WATERS

You ever seen a man die? You ever watch the light fade from a man's eyes? You ever seen a man bleed out into the sand, after shrapnel tore his femoral artery open like a pinata? You ever cradle your battle buddy while he was dying and there was nothing you could do?

SPC. DANIELS

(Sotto voce.) You ever seen that?

SUIT

I'm really sorry you had to go through that.

SPC. WATERS

(Laughing uproariously, for a tad too long.) Go through what, tough guy? I never saw a guy die. I'm just joshing you. I never saw anyone die. (Everyone is surprised, silent.) Except for kids of course. Did you know that tough guy? Did you know they kill kids over there, blow them up with mortars?

JESS THE BARTENDER

That's terrible. (Shaking her head.) That's really terrible.

SPC. WATERS

Yeah, you go out on patrol and the kids follow you around everywhere. They cling to you like fabric softener. “Mister, mister, give me chocolate.” “Mister, mister, give me candy.” Those little urchins are always begging you to give them something. It's like you're not even a soldier in the United States Army. They think Willy Wonka came into town with a M4 slung over his shoulder.

SPC. DANIELS

(Taking a swig.) He's not lying.

SPC. WATERS

Problem is, hajji knows those kids are all over you like a bear on a beehive. And they target them, target them or just don't care. They mortar you. They snipe at you from the rooftops. They don't care how many kids they take down.

SPC. DANIELS

Man's not lying.

SPC. WATERS

The insurgents, they want to kill the kids. For propaganda. To make the people turn on the Americans, the occupiers. Nothing upsets locals more than a dead kid, a bawling mom pounding the earth and

wailing. A mother's tears will make a lot of enemies.

SPC. DANIELS

They got their propaganda fliers everywhere. Fliers with that fancy Arabic scrawl, all the curlicues and what not. And they got muezzins up in the minarets—who knows what they're saying, what they're claiming about us?

SPC. WATERS

Who knows why we're even there?

SUIT

You brave boys are fighting for our freedom, to keep us safe. They struck on our soil. Never forget.

SPC. DANIELS

(Laughing.) They. They. Iraqis are hapless. They couldn't strike anything but the business end of a Tomahawk missile.

SPC. WATERS

You ever bee to Iraq? They is a bunch of old unwashed men in filthy dishdashas, milling around on street corners. They all drive 20-year-old Opels and pretend to be taxi drivers so they can claim to have a job to salvage whatever sad scrap of dignity they have left. It's a whole damn nation of taxi drivers. But there are never any fares.

SPC. DANIELS

Unemployment's like 50, 60 percent. It's a backwards place.

SPC. WATERS

Hell yeah, it's a backwards place. Urine runs in the street. They don't even have indoor plumbing.

JESS THE BARTENDER

Gross.

SPC. WATERS

Hell yeah, it's gross. What are we keeping you safe from, guys who can't even urinate in a goddamned urinal?

SUIT

Well, I can't even imagine what conditions are like over there. You boys are so brave to fight the War on Terror.

SPC. WATERS

You can't imagine is right. You can't imagine what it's like to sweat through 120-degree heat, to hump 80 pounds of gear, to try to decide whether to pack the extra weight of additional magazines so you don't run low on ammo in case you get pinned down in a firefight, or schlep through that sauna with a more bearable burden. You can't imagine what it's like to try to eat a bean and rice burrito MRE...

SPC. DANIELS

You can't imagine at all. It's all totally beyond the pale of human comprehension. All of it.

SUIT

So tell me about it.

SPC. WATERS

So the truth comes out, at long last. So you admit you're just hear for the voyeurism, to hear how bad it is over there, maybe get your rocks off to tales of hajji getting snuffed. You just want war porn.

SPC. DANIELS

You should buy us another round to prove you're not just taking advantage of us.

SUIT

Done, bartender, get these boys whatever they like.

SPC. DANIELS

(Waving Spc. Waters back.) Two whiskeys, two top-shelf whiskeys. Doubles, neat.

SPC. WATERS

I'll take mine with some coke and ice splashed in. I still want to be able to see on the plane.

SPC. DANIELS

You can just sleep it all off. It's a 12-hour flight to Germany, then several more hours back to Kuwait.

SPC. WATERS

I want to be able to see with clarity my forthcoming death.

JESS THE BARTENDER