Thank You For Your Service, a ten minute play

October 31, 2017

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

Now that's morbid.

 

SPC. WATERS

Most people never have to make the conscious decision to go somewhere where there's a high probability they might get killed. Most people don't have to choose between possible death or desertion. Most people aren't soldiers.

 

SPC. DANIELS

We run into the gunfire, not away from it.

 

SPC. WATERS

That's a cliché. That's not what I'm talking about.

 

SPC. DANIELS

What are you talking about?

 

SPC. WATERS

Knowing you're going to die, knowing you could die, and getting on that plane anyway. Going to fight, even though it's for nothing you believe in, for no meaningful cause at all. Having clear eyes and steely resolve.

 

SPC. DANIELS

You're not going to die.

 

SPC. WATERS.

Ramirez died.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Ramirez did die.

 

SPC. WATERS

(Faces Suit.) That's why it's such a big to-do. Going to the airport, just getting on that plane. That's why we're a little ornery.

 

SPC. DANIELS

(To Jess the Bartender.) That's why we're getting drunk.

 

SPC. WATERS

That's why you're getting drunk. I'm getting drunk because it might be the last time I ever get drunk.

 

SPC. WATERS

(To Suit.) Is that something you've ever had to worry about? The last time?

 

SUIT

You clearly think I've had a pampered existence, been cruising on easy street. But I'll tell you boys, I survived cancer. It was a few years back. It was quite a scare, for me and for my family. I've got two boys back home. (Reaches for wallet.) I can show you a picture.

 

SPC. WATERS

Cancer. Hey Daniels, we're worried about IEDs and getting blown up. We're worried about being taken prisoner and getting our heads chopped off for some sicko video. This guy's worried about a treatable disease.

 

SUIT

Now I'm trying to empathize with you, to share something, to really communicate. I thought you were all up on me like a wolf with bared fangs because that's what you wanted. You're not taking it seriously. You're making light. I've suffered too. You're not the only ones who've suffered because you've been to some war.

 

SPC. WATERS

Hear that Daniels? He's suffered. Nominate him for sainthood because he's suffered so much. I bet he  knows all about suffering. He's got a file on it in his briefcase.

 

SUIT

(Getting up to leave.) I appreciate you boys I really do, and I'm sorry you can't accept a gesture for what it is, but I've got a plane to catch. You're going to have to excuse me.

 

SPC. WATERS

Why did you thank us for our service so mechanically?

 

SPC. DANIELS

Yeah, why so mechanically?

 

SPC. WATERS

Serious question. Back when you introduced yourself, why did you thank us for our service so robotically?

 

SUIT

Look boys, I didn't mean anything.

 

SPC. WATERS

You don't mean anything. That's the point. It's just something polite that people say by rote, like gesundheit. You're not thankful for our service. You don't really appreciate it at all. You don't have any realistic idea of what it entails, just some John Wayne fantasy crap that's not grounded in the real world, in the blood, crotchsweat and blinding sandstorm tears we're enduring out there in the suck every day.

 

SUIT

I don't know if that's completely fair. I mean.

 

SPC. WATERS

Not fair. It's not fair to see a 10-year-old kid shot in the head. That's not fair. That's not fair to the kid, to the parents, to the guy who pulled the trigger. That's not fair to anyone.

 

JESS THE BARTENDER

That's horrific.

 

SPC. WATERS

You thank us for our service, but you don't know what it's like. You don't care what it's like. You thank us cause better us than you, right? You thank us because you're afraid of the world and you're terrified of bearded brown-skinned foreigners.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Hey, shut up.

 

SPC. WATERS

Don't tell me to shut up.

 

SPC. DANIELS

No shut up. You finally made a good point. Some sense is finally emerging from your foggy, alcohol-soaked stupor. (Facing Suit.) Why is it friend? Why do you thank us for our service?

 

SUIT

I don't know what to say. I appreciate what you're doing for our country.

 

SPC. DANIELS

But why? What are we doing for our country in your mind?

 

SUIT

I'm just...

 

SPC. DANIELS

I don't thank cops for their service. I don't thank firefighters for their service. I sure as heck don't thank Homeland Security for feeling me up at the gate. They're all serving, at least in a way.

 

SPC. WATERS

It's not natural. You don't just thank people for their service.

 

SPC. DANIELS

When do you ever thank anyone else? Do you stop and thank mailmen for their service?

 

SUIT

I don't know what I mean? You're more man than I am? I wouldn't have the courage to do what you boys do? Is that the kind of thing you want to hear? Is that whatever it is I'm not telling you?

 

SPC. WATERS

Is that what you want to hear, Daniels?

 

SPC. DANIELS

Hell no, it's not what I want to hear. I want to hear the truth.

 

SPC. WATERS

(Laughs.) You can't handle the truth!

 

SUIT

Why does it bother you?

 

SPC. WATERS

Oh, now you're asking the questions?

 

SUIT

Why does it bother you when I'm just trying to pay you a compliment?

 

SPC. WATERS

You heard the man. Why does it bother us Daniels?

 

SPC. DANIELS

Not enough feeling.

 

SUIT

(Exasperated.) Oh come on.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Not enough feeling. It's just something you're saying. It's empty rote words like automatically telling your wife you love her before you hang up the phone. You might actually love her, it might be true in a broader sense, but it's not true in that moment. It's just an empty platitude, just something you're spitting out because it's what you're supposed to say in your situation.

 

SUIT

So I'm supposed to emote?

 

SPC. WATERS

You got to make us feel it. Say it like you care. Tell us you love us, once more from the top, with feeling.

 

SUIT

(Melodramatically, then quizzically.) Thank you for your service. Thank you for your service?

 

SPC. WATERS

No bro, we're just messing with you. There's really no right way to say it.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Makes us cringe every time no matter what.

 

SPC. WATERS

There's no way to say it that doesn't come across as shallow.

 

SPC. DANIELS

There's no way to say it that doesn't come across as reflexive, as the War on Terror version of blessing someone after a sneeze.

 

SPC. WATERS

There's no way to say it that doesn't make it sound like a required pleasantry, a societal obligation. It's nothing to you but it's uncomfortable for us. We're just supposed to smile and nod like trained seals.

 

SUIT

Well you boys are keeping us safe, and I really have to catch my flight. I gotta run. (Slaps down more cash on the bar.) I got the next round too. Enjoy the drinks. Be safe out there.

 

JESS THE BARTENDER

Did you guys have to give him that much grief?

 

SPC. DANIELS

Ah, he was insincere.

 

JESS THE BARTENDER

He didn't seem that insincere.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Problem is, if you haven't been there, you don't seem sincere whether you are or not. You don't know what it's like, and by you I mean anyone. It's hard to relate to anyone who wasn't there.

 

SPC. WATERS

You can't just describe it.

 

JESS THE BARTENDER

Maybe you could, if you tried hard enough.

 

SPC. WATERS

You can't.

 

JESS THE BARTENDER

Maybe if you throttled back the aggression a little...

 

SPC. WATERS

Impossible.

 

SPC. DANIELS

I've been back home on leave two weeks and haven't been able to have a decent conversation with anybody but Waters here at this bar. Nobody can relate to what I've been through. But fellow vets, we've all been to war. We've been to war university together.  We graduated from the suck together.

 

SPC. WATERS

That's right, we've got a special fraternity, a bond. We're proud alumni of suck university, of suck-istan.

 

SPC. DANIELS

The only other thing I can relate to anymore, beyond my battle buddy here, is the bottom of a glass. One more round, barkeep. We might never have another.

 

SPC. WATERS

We might never have another.

 

SPC. DANIELS

Don't jinx us. Shoot, I just jinxed us, didn't I?



BLACKOUT

 

Joseph S. Pete is an award-winning journalist, an Iraq War veteran, an Indiana University graduate, a book reviewer, and a frequent guest on Lakeshore Public Radio. He was named the poet laureate of Chicago BaconFest 2016, a feat that Geoffrey Chaucer chump never accomplished. His literary work and photography have appeared or is forthcoming in Stoneboat, The High Window, Synesthesia Literary Journal, Steep Street Journal, Beautiful Losers, New Pop Lit, The Grief Diaries, Gravel, The Perch Magazine, Rising Phoenix Review, Chicago Literati, Dogzplot, Bull Men's Fiction, shufPoetry, The Roaring Muse, Prairie Winds, Blue Collar Review, Lumpen, The Rat's Ass Review, The Tipton Poetry Journal, Euphemism, Jenny Magazine, Vending Machine Press and elsewhere. It has been astutely observed that he has two first names.

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Please reload

Featured Posts

Brave: an interview with Nancy Mitchell, Poet Laureate of Salisbury, Maryland continued

November 1, 2019

1/10
Please reload

Recent Posts

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

November 1, 2019

Please reload

Archive
Please reload

Search By Tags