Copyright by Richard Seltzer 1989
In the summer of 1970, (the summer after the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State shootings) a group of reservists and national guardsmen are on basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Many of the recruits who pass through here are destined to be shipped to Viet Nam. This group is an exception. For them, basic is "unreal”. For them, this isn't preparation for war, but rather a demeaning and painful, but blessedly brief respite from their ordinary lives. They have schools or jobs that they'll return to very soon. They've lived in an atmosphere of anti-war protest, and they take many of those slogans and attitudes for granted. Most of them are opposed to "the system" and "the military-industrial complex" as well as the war. But they have made certain compromises, and they have been very lucky to find slots in reserve and national guard units. They know they are lucky, and don't want to risk their fortunate positions.
On a Sunday, in the barracks, their behavior toward each other shows the degree to which they have internalized much of the
"system” they presumably hate. There is no need for the drill
sergeant to impose his will. They do it all themselves, playing the game as they know it must be played. They no longer have the luxury of blaming the ills of the world on someone else.
Characters (in order of appearance) —
All are soldiers in basic training. Roberts and Armstrong (and two others who need not appear) are black draftees, who want nothing to do with the war and who have deliberately failed basic in order to avoid being shipped out. The rest are white reservists or national guardsmen on active duty for training.
Frank Arnold: the narrator; a grad student who is an army reservist on active duty for training
Hathaway: the leader of the first squad and the real leader of the platoon; football-playing college boy from Alabama
Beaulieu: tall National Guard trainee from the University of Maryland
Schneider: fat farm boy from Iowa
Roberts: a tall thin black boy from Mississippi; a draftee who has been "recycled" (forced to go through basic training a second time)
Alec: a short, tough ex-cop from Chicago,
Cohen: a college kid from Berkeley
Rawlings: the platoon leader; an outcast, the victim of repeated practical jokes, a convenient symbol of hated authority that could be mocked and mildly abused with impunity
MacFarland: the assistant platoon leader
Vassavion: taller than Hathaway, has the flabbiness of a natural athlete who had given up exercise in favor of beer and repose
Sullivan: bigger than Hathaway
Powell: powerful build; bigger than Hathaway; quiet; commands attention and respect when he speaks; often has a Bible in his hand
Delaney: cynical, political activist
Armstrong: Roberts’ bunkmate; a black draftee who has been "recycled"
Alvardo: Squad Leader from the Second Platoon
A barracks at Fort Polk, Louisiana, on a Sunday in the summer of 1970. There are sets that could be visible at the same time (if the stage is large enough):
o the bunkroom, (to the left of the stairs) with rows of bunkbeds on either side of the highly polished center aisle;
o the latrine, (to the right of the stairs) with a row of toilets (not separated by partitions), one or two washing machines and dryers and stacks of full laundry bags;
o the room of the platoon leader and assistant platoon leader at the top of the stairs.
ACT I, SCENE 1
(Inside the empty bunkroom. A Sunday at basic training.)
FRANK'S VOICE (pre-recorded speech played in the background):
Building 3926, Fort Polk, Louisiana, was a "temporary" structure — a white clapboard oblong rectangle, hurriedly thrown together, like hundreds of other army barracks.
Its first tenants were recruits and draftees bound for the Pacific in World War II. Cycle after cycle were trained and shipped. Then the war ended, and the barracks fell silent, except for the bats that nested under the eaves, like ghosts returning to curse drill sergeants who had not pushed them hard enough, and not taught them what could have kept them alive.
Later, when a "temporary" war broke out in Viet Nam, the "temporary" barracks was reopened. Exterminators were called in to eliminate the bats, but while Individuals could be killed, their kind was indestructible. At dawn and at sunset, their eerie forms hovered high above the eaves, and vanished one by one into the depths of the building.
Aside from the bats, the barracks was now in better shape than when it was first built. Cycle after cycle of trainees had kept it in shape for inspections. Some had even made Improvements to get bonus points.
For instance, there was a red rack for the red helmet liner that the fire guard wore each night. Two magazine racks hung
on the latrine wall beside the toilets. And on the wall above the water fountain, hung a home-made plaque that one group of trainees had presented to the drill sergeant they reviled and respected.
Downstairs, between two long rows of parallel bunks, was the masterpiece of the barracks — the red linoleum center aisle. Thanks to the special efforts of cycle after cycle of trainees, it shone mirror-bright. No other barracks in Echo Company could hope to match it. As long as they continued to take care of it and didn’t get gigs for foolish oversights, the third platoon would always win inspections. That was a source of pride and confidence — feelings that were hard to come by in basic training.
Everyone in the platoon took their boots off at the door, but even in stocking feet no one in the platoon crossed the yellow lines that defined the center aisle -- nobody but the chosen few entrusted with taking care of it.
In this cycle of trainees, Evans did the buffing upstairs□ The all-important downstairs floor was in the keeping of Powell. Tagliatti helped him with the buffer cord. Schneider tended the plug.
At first it had been a continual annoyance having to walk all the way around to get to a bunk that was just three feet away across the aisle. But by now it was second nature. If anyone forgot, there was always somebody else around to shout a reminder and preserve the sanctity of the center aisle.
(The screen door slams, and Beaulieu shuffles in. He’s in his stocking feet and is obviously tired. The latrine lies to his
right, the staircase straight ahead, and the downstairs bunkroom stretches out far to his left. Hathaway is writing letters while stretched out on his belly on a bunk at the far end. Schneider is on the bunk next to him.)
BEAULIEU (shouts): Where's Roberts?
HATHAWAY (shouts back): How should I know?
BEAULIEU: You're his squad leader, aren't you?
HATHAWAY: Yeah, but not his nursemaid.
BEAULIEU: He's got CQ from four to six.
HATHAWAY: Big deal.
BEAULIEU: Somebody's got to take it. Shit'll hit the fan if only one guy's on CQ.
HATHAWAY: If you're so goddamned uptight about it, do it yourself. You can't go anywhere anyway.
(Hathaway turns away and goes back to his letter writing.
Beaulieu turns back and steps toward the door.)
HATHAWAY (shouts, without looking up): Keep your goddamned feet off that center aisle.
(Beaulieu stops short of the yellow line, kicks a footlocker, turns and plods and shuffles behind the bunks.
HATHAWAY (shouts): Pick up your feet.
(Beaulieu stops, then continues to shuffle. The screendoor slams again.)
HATHAWAY (mumbles): Goddamned trouble-maker.
SCHNEIDER: He's only trying to do right.
HATHAWAY: No, I don't mean Beaulieu. I mean Roberts. Why the hell'd they ever put draftees in this company? And why did
they have to stick us with them?
SCHNEIDER: You know damned well — they were recycled.
HATHAWAY: Yeah, four fucking fuck-offs, and we got all of them. (Hathaway keeps writing. Schneider lifts his huge bulk,
carefully lowers it to the floor, then waddles quietly behind the bunks, past the stairs and into the latrine.)
ACT I, SCENE 2
(Inside the latrine. Straight ahead are the platoon's two washing machines, with dozens of bags of laundry lined up waiting their turn. Beside them stretch a row of sinks, leading to the showers. Along the other walls are urinals and a line of toilets, about two feet apart, without partitions.
All but one toilet is occupied, like seats in the reading room at a college library just before exam time. Although everybody has his pants down to justify his presence in these plush accommodations, most are reading books, newspapers, or magazines, or writing letters home.
Roberts is standing by a sink, staring at himself in the mirror as he carefully shaves the top of his head.)
SCHNEIDER: Hey, Roberts, aren't you supposed to be on CQ? ROBERTS: May be.
SCHNEIDER: Well, what are you doing then?
ROBERTS: Giving myself a haircut. Got to look pretty for the sergeant. (He keeps shaving his head.)
SCHNEIDER: Well, they're looking for you, Roberts. Don't say I didn't tell you.
ROBERTS: Yeah, everybody's looking for the old Bob tonight. I got me a date. Got me a couple of them. I'm going to have me a big night.
SCHNEIDER: You're going to have big trouble is all, if you don't hightail it over to CQ. (Schneider lowers himself on the only empty John, between Tagliatti and Waslewski. Tagliattl is reading a newspaper.) Hey, Tag, are you through with the sports?
TAGLIATTI: Yeah, but it's four days old.
SCHNEIDER: Well, that's two days better than anything I've seen.
(Alec enters the latrine.)
ALEC: Ah, shit.
COHEN: Yeah, Alec, it's a full house. Maybe you can catch the next show.
ALEC: Bunch of damned exhibitionists. Got to spend the whole day with your pants down, in full view of the world.
COHEN: A good crap's one of the few pleasures allowed us.
ALEC: Then shit and get done with it. This place looks like a fucking library.
COHEN: I say, sir, are the libraries like this in Chicago?
ALEC: Get off it, Cohen.
COHEN: When I'm done, I will, indeed, get off it. But right now that's a bit premature. I might risk staining this immaculate concrete, the pride of the third platoon latrine crew.
ALEC: Cut the bull.
COHEN: Me Big Chief Shitting Bull.
SCHNEIDER: Tag, can you toss me the toilet paper, please? (He catches it, circus-style, on his big toe.) Thanks. (He uses some, then tosses the roll to Alec and stands up.) Here you go, Alec. It's all yours.
COHEN: Just shit right down and write yourself a letter.
SHOUT FROM OUTSIDE: Formation!
ALEC (groans): Ah, shit.
COHEN: No, my boy, self-control, self-control. That's the first lesson of the Army. Self-control. Potty-training 101. It's all part of basic training. We must learn to adapt to the shituation.
ALEC: Well, you don't seem to have learned it -- with that goddamned diarrhea of the mouth.
(Everyone clears out quickly.)
ACT I, SCENE 3
(The empty bunkroom, a little while later.)
FRANK'S VOICE (pre-recorded): All five platoons of Echo Company lined up quickly on the exercise field. There were forty-seven men in the third platoon. Forty-three were National Guard and Reservists — all white. Four were draftees — all black -- Roberts, Armstrong, and two new guys, recently recycled, that nobody knew by name.
In the summer of 1970, the Viet Nam War was being scaled down. Fort Polk, which had been, as the big welcoming sign still announced, "Birthplace of combat infantrymen for Viet Nam," was starting to train National Guardsmen Instead. This was the summer after the Cambodian Invasion and Kent State.
These trainees came from all over the country, from all walks of life. They were given uniform clothes and uniform poverty. Their uniform haircuts even seemed to wipe out age differences. It was like an experiment in elemental democracy.
They were a surprisingly well-educated group. Several had been to grad school. Most had some college. Most of the rest Intended to go to college as soon as this was over.
There were no real trouble-makers in the group. No National Guardsman or Reservist would want to get into trouble. They Just wanted to get out of the Army as quickly as possible; and, if nothing out of the ordinary happened, they'd all be out, after basic and AIT or MOS training, in two to four months.
An artificial hierarchy had been imposed on this realm of social equality. The drill sergeant picked a platoon leader, an assistant platoon leader, and four squad leaders. It seemed he deliberately chose a pompous, overweight coward as platoon leader, to teach the trainees to obey someone Just because of rank, not because of personal respect. This way they'd be learning to follow the system, to obey any stranger with rank, rather than a specific individual.
But the group was so small that they knew each other too well for artificial distinctions to matter. When the drill sergeant was around and when they were with the rest of the company, they observed the forms. But in the barracks, the platoon leader, Rawlings, was a joke, an outcast, the victim of repeated practical jokes, a convenient symbol of hated authority that could be mocked and mildly abused with impunity.
MacFarland, the assistant platoon leader, was exempted from fireguard, KP, etc. He had no responsibilities, and did nothing.
Hathaway, the leader of the first squad, was the real leader of the platoon. Vassavlon, Sullivan, and Powell were bigger than he was, but ordering people came naturally to Hathaway. When something needed to be done, he took it upon himself to make the decisions that had to be made. Without debate or hesitation, he simply gave orders, and he was obeyed or evaded, but never overtly disobeyed.
Sanderson and little Evans always backed Hathaway, without his ever having to ask for help.
Powell was an exception to every rule. Nobody in the platoon ever told him what to do. And he never ordered anyone else about, unless they asked his advice, as they sometimes did, even Hathaway, when the barracks was a mess and they had little time to get it in shape for Inspection.
At formation, the Captain of Echo Company presided as the drill sergeants read their rosters and checked off the names quickly and mechanically. At the name "Roberts," several voices sounded off "CQ," and one voice said "KP." The sergeant moved on to the next name without a pause. The roll completed, most raced to the mess hall to line up and wait fo dinner.
(Soldiers enter the previously empty barracks. Frank Arnold and
Alec head straight to the latrine. Tagliatti, Waslewski, MacFarland, and Delaney stretch out on their bunks. Halfway down the aisle, Powell sits on his bed, his powerful frame bowed, a Bible on his lap.)
WASLEWSKI (spits): Goddamn piss-assed shit-hole. They treat prisoners of war better than this. I’d like to shove that Blll-of-Rights crap right up that mother-fucking drill sergeant's ass.
DELANEY: That's the system for you. Here we are, supposedly free citizens, and they've revoked our civil rights and subjected us to this torture without there ever having been a declaration of war, without the express consent of Congress.
WASLEWSKI: All I want's a goddamn beer. It's piss-assed hot, and there's a PX a block away.
MACFARLAND: Have a drink of water.
WASLEWSKI: Water? You call that piss 'water?' All I want's a goddamned beer. Is that too much to ask?
MACFARLAND: Okay, Waz, okay. We're all in the same boat. You don't have to remind us.
TAGLIATTI: I don't see how that Sanderson does it, running laps in this heat.
WASLEWSKI: He's nuts.
TAGLIATTI: He thrives on this shit.
WASLEWSKI: That's what I said: he's nuts.
MACFARLAND: Good thing that Dietz can’t count. Sounded awful funny three guys on CQ."
WASLEWSKI: And somebody claimed he was on KP, too.
DELANEY: Where the hell is Roberts?
WASLEWSKI (licking his lips): Maybe he just slipped over to the PX for a beer.
TAGLIATTI: Yeah if nobody sees him, it'll be all right.
MACFARLAND: Don't anybody tell Rawlings. That bastard would turn him in.
WASLEWSKI: Here comes Rawlings.
(Everybody but Powell leaves in a hurry.)
RAWLINGS (laughs, weakly): They sure got hungry fast. (Powell smiles, then goes back to reading his Bible. Rawlings looks like he wants to say more, but he turns to the water fountain instead, takes a swallow, and spits it out.) The water ought to get cool while everybody's at supper. It needs a rest. We all need a rest.
ACT I, SCENE 4
(Inside the latrine, twenty minutes later, Vassavlon comes staggering in, leaning on Waslewski.)
VASSAVION (announces to himself in the mirror) : At great personal risk, and exercising considerable self-restraint, I have brought you a six-pack — six bright, sparkling, lukewarm, unopened, certified virgin cans of Schlitz. (Waslewski grabs a can.) Drink up, my boy, drink up. I feel the thirst coming on me. Man lives not by bread alone. Give me one of those cans. Booze and broads — it takes taste, refinement, and years of education to properly wallow in such shit. You must be a connoisseur, a kind of sewer. They have fine sewers in this city, full of certified grade A, government-inspected shit. The whole world is shit. But few are those with taste refined enough to enjoy it, to savor the taste, the odor, the warm moist feel of it. Shit. (He throws down his half-empty can.) It tastes like shit. Lukewarm diarrhetic shit." (He stumbles to one of the empty johns and vomits). I do believe my constipation is over. Now I can even shit through my mouth.
WASLEWSKI (opens the last can): You lucky bastard. I'd give my right ball to get out of this place.
(Tagliatti enters, carrying his four-day-old newspaper.)
TAGLIATTI: Where's Evans?
VASSAVION: Evans? He was with me a minute ago. While I was painting the town, he was looking for paint. The man has the soul of an artist.
(Rawlings enters in the latrine and nearly trips over a beer can.)
VASSAVION (greets Rawlings magnificently): Welcome, Prince Hal.
RAWLINGS: You're drunk.
VASSAVION: Then be ye crowned king already? A hollow crown and an empty noodle, 'tis true 'tls pity, and pity 'tis 'tis you.
RAWLINGS: You're drunk.
VASSAVION: Amen. And hallowed be thy name. And hollowed be thy head. Howl, howl, howl, the beer is foul. A foul ball. We had a ball, and the beer was foul. Out of line, your highness, most definitely out of line. But I'll go straight from honest to goodness. Just don't 'arry me, me boy; I'll do it at me own speed.
RAWLINGS (while pissing Into a urinal); Please stay out of sight. (Rawlings quickly buttons up his fatigues and leaves.)
VASSAVION (shakes his head): I do believe the old boy's pissed off. He has no sense of humor, no sense at all.
ACT I, SCENE 5
(The bunkroom. As Rawlings quietly climbs the stairs, Delaney, Armstrong, Alec, and Cohen storm in and gather by the water fountain.)
DELANEY: Okay, Armstrong, where's Roberts? You're his bunkmate. You should know.
ARMSTRONG: Said he was going home.
DELANEY: Home? Is something wrong at home? Somebody sick or something? He should have told somebody. They'd call the Red Cross and have them check it out. If it was really bad, they'd give him a pass.
ARMSTRONG: Nobody's sick. He said nothing about being sick. Just said he was going home.
ALEC: Freedom. Delaney, you talk a lot about freedom. Well, there's your fucking freedom. He wants to go, so he goes. And what can they do to him? Send him to Nam? He's fucking eleven bang-bang. Fucking mortars. He's going to Nam all right. No place but Nam. There's your fucking freedom — being so low you've got nothing to lose.
COHEN: That's fucking profound, Alec. (Cohen starts to sing softly.) "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose ..."
DELANEY: Is he coming back? Did he say he was coming back?
ARMSTRONG: He'll be back. When he's good and ready, he'll be back.
ALEC: He's got thirty days. I heard a hold-over talking about it. One of the ones waiting for court-martial. Thirty days and you're still AWOL. But one minute more, and you're a deserter, and they'll have the FBI after you.
DELANEY: Fuck the FBI. These days there are so many deserters the FBI can't hope to touch them. But when the drill sergeant finds out that Roberts is gone, he'll have the whole lot of us low-crawling from one end of the company area to the other. And we can forget about ever getting PX privileges or passes. Shit. I can't take five more weeks of this fucking hell-hole.
ALEC: You're not going to rat on him, are you, Delaney?
DELANEY: Hell, no. What's to gain by ratting on him? As soon as they know he's AWOL, we've had it. But if we can cover it up till he gets back, we'll be all right.
ALEC: That little bastard.
DELANEY: How long do you figure he'll be, Armstrong?
ARMSTRONG: Don't know. But I do know that Jackson, Mississippi's a long ways from here. And he don't have no money.
COHEN: Shit almighty.
ACT II, SCENE 1
(In the latrine, a little while later. Frank is alone, sitting on a John, writing in a notebook. His tape-recorded voice in the background reads what he is writing.)
FRANK’S VOICE: Delaney is a self-centered ass. He talks about principles, but he has none himself. What he says is unrelated to what he does. If he thought he could get anything out of it, he wouldn’t hesitate to turn Roberts In. But what bugs me most is that he wouldn't bother to rationalize it. He'd just do it and keep making the same speeches about freedom and human rights.
When I first got here, I thought I'd found moral simplicity. The world was reduced to just this barracks and the barren sandy ground around it. We were all confronted with direct and simple rules and orders: you obey or disobey; you cross the line or you don't; you are forced to act — to submit or rebel — in full knowledge of the immediate consequences. The setup was artificial, but it resembled a scientific experiment — take away all class distinctions; and, in a limited, controlled environment, examine human nature. But there's nothing natural about Delaney — his words and his acts simply don't match.
(The door slams and stocking feet slowly shuffle toward the bunkroom. A little while later, Beaulieu enters the the latrine with pen and paper in hand. He sits on a john across from Frank and writes a letter to his wife Debbie.)
BEAULIEU'S VOICE (pre-recorded): Dear Debbie,
I just got off CQ. It's a bit early, but Sullivan can cover for me, say I'm at supper. Damn that Roberts. He'd never cover for me, you can be damn sure. But I had to cover for him or we'd all have been screwed. That's the way they work things here: everybody gets punished for what one guy does.
But Roberts doesn't give a damn. With no sweat at all, he got perfect scores in all the PT events but the mile. The mile he did in ten minutes, Jogging and walking beside Schneider. Poor Schneider was huffing and struggling every inch of the way, his heavy lard bouncing up and down and nearly throwing him off balance. And there was Roberts taking his Jolly good time, laughing and Joking. The drill sergeant blew his top; put Roberts on night KP for a week. I'm sure he didn't go. He Just doesn't give a damn, the bastard.
I'm still sore all over. Never thought I'd live through it.
We had those damned plague shots the day before, and I could have sworn I couldn't move my arm or swallow any food. But the bastards had us out there doing another PT test and laughed at our moans and groans; wouldn't let anybody go on sick call, the bastards
Needless to say, I didn't do well. And they'll probably have me doing extra PT all week because of it.
Damn those bars. I can do the bars. Enough of them, at least. If you give me half a chance. But that first time, they took us to a field where the rusty bars spun free so you couldn't get a grip on them, and they ripped your hands apart. Mine had Just healed by yesterday, and then they got ripped open again on another stinking set of bars. Nobody could do them right, not even the guys who show off back at the company area. Nobody, that is, but that bastard Roberts and that runt Evans .
Everything’s topsy-turvy here. It’s the big guys that are hurting, guys like Hathaway, Sullivan, and Vassavion — the football player types. Waslewski, too. They're strong all right, but they've got a lot of weight to lift, and they have to struggle to pass that damned test. And, of course, the fat ones, like Schneider, take a beating.
It's the little guys that have it easy. That runt Evans got a 490 on the PT test. Just missed a little on the grenade throw and the rifle, or his score would have been perfect. It doesn't take any muscle to squeeze a trigger.
So Evans came out tops. He and Vassavion. Evans with ease and Vassavion in agony. They got the first two passes. They just got back. Late. Little Evans was leading the lumbering Vassavion. We covered for them, all right. It's hard to get mad at them. Vassavion's so magnificent in his drunkenness. I've never seen him in better spirits. And Evans was lucky to have gotten him back so close to on time.
That Evans is quite a guy. Like a monkey the way he swings through those bars. Delaney nearly exploded when he heard the runt was getting a pass. I forget what he said exactly, but somehow it was an example of the absolute injustice of the system, the topsy-turviness of rewarding the weak and tearing down the strong. However he put it, it hit home — how they're breaking us in mind and body, reducing us all to a general anonymous mass of weaklings. And something about runts being in collusion with them, being taken in and used. He says that's how the system perpetuates itself — putting runts and cowards in positions of authority, people who know damned well that their authority comes to them not for any merit of their own, but just because of the system.
Listening to Delaney, I found myself hating little Evans and Rawlings, too. Rawlings isn’t a runt. On the contrary, he’s just as big and has just as much trouble at PT as Waslewski and Sullivan. I guess I lump him together with Evans because he’s so self-effacing, so meek and retiring that you never notice his size. You naturally think of him as a weakling or a coward.
I’ve got nothing personal against Evans or Rawlings, but the frustration and anger and hurt and sleeplessness all build up. And all the groveling in the dirt. You've got to let it out sometimes. It’s easy for you to focus all that hate on somebody, almost at random, to take it out on him. And Delaney has such a way with words.
I'm glad Hathaway was around then. Hathaway treats Evans like a kid brother, joshes him, knocks him around a bit, and looks out for him. I'm glad Hathaway was there then, or I might have taken a not-so-frlendly poke at the kid.
(Sanderson enters. He sits down on a john and stares off into space.)
BEAULIEU'S VOICE (continues after a brief pause): Here comes Sanderson. He takes it all in stride, as if this were pre-season football training, or as if all his life he'd wanted to break the five-minute mile in combat boots. When they pack a hundred or a hundred and twenty of us in a school bus or cattle truck and the rest of us are groaning, Sanderson coaxes Cohen to start up a song, and he sings with all his heart and lungs. And, God, he has quite a set of heart and lungs from all that running.
It's a crazy world, Deb, that makes such crazy places as this, reducing men to chunks of sweating, aching flesh. Even trying to shit hurts. If you were here, or, rather, if you were near and I could see you, sleep with you, it would be tolerable. With you, I could tolerate most anything. We could just lie there and laugh about it. This shit should never be taken seriously. It's just one huge practical joke. I'm sure that's the way the drill sergeants take it — like a fraternity initiation. Cohen manages to see it that way too, manages to bring out the humor in things.
But it's degrading. The only way to release all this pressure, aside from taking a poke at somebody (which would land you with an Article Fifteen or a court martial and get you recycled and stuck in this damned army another month or two) is to masturbate. There's just no other way, and it's so damned degrading. In a barracks full of guys, the bunks no more than three feet apart, the firelight on all the time, the fireguard pacing back and forth, and somebody else in the upper bunk getting shaken by your every move. And you try to do it quietly, as unobtrusively as possible — one hell of a way to get a release, lying there stock-still, squeezing yourself with a sheet; but it works, after a fashion.
The imagination takes charge, and I'm far, far from here, this place never existed, and I'm holding you so warm and close. Damn it, I'm horny as hell, and it'll be at least three months before I see you again. You can't Imagine what this place does to a guy. I think of you constantly, whenever we get a five minute break, and I can lean against a tree and shut my eyes (they won't let us stretch out, ever), or even running laps around the block at 5 AM, before breakfast, and the thought of you gets me away from this place, and it's something to look forward to — the next moment when I'll be able to let my mind drift to you.
Or maybe it's the body that does the remembering. Our minds have been reduced to pulp by no sleep, maybe four hours at most. (As Delaney points out, a soldier is entitled to eight hours of sleep. But the drill sergeants always cover for themselves. Officially it's always eight hours from lights-out to lights-on. Officially, it's our own doing if we don't get enough sleep. But there's always a half dozen chores that still need to be done after lights-out. And then they wake you up for fire guard or CQ, and you have to break the rules again, getting up an hour before lights-on to clean the barracks or we'd never make it through inspection).
Without sleep, the mind loses the power to control what it's thinking, to tie thoughts together by anything more than simple association. It becomes a passive inert mass.
It’s the body that does the remembering. My muscles stop aching as they remember your shape, the pressure of you close to me, the texture of your skin, the delightful, unexpected ways you move. My eye muscles relive with my hands the fullness of your breasts. I remember directly, completely, not like before, the electric touch of your fingers, the playful flip of your tongue, the way you toss back your head to toss back your hair, your buttocks as you climb the stairs ahead of me (that's why it's always ladies first -- so men can watch them as they move), your long legs rubbing softly against mine.
Damn it. I want you. I ache for you. These aches have nothing to do with ten mile hikes and PT and lying prone in the dust and the 90° sun for endless hours. No, it's my every muscle longing to be with you, straining to break away from these stupid bones and rush home to you. These bones are so stupid. This mind is so stupid. This nation is so stupid for having Invented such a thing as basic training. How could anybody or anything ever sanction anything that might keep me away from you? My body can't understand. But here I sit and shit and write you endless letters.
My bunkmate, Frank, is on the john here across from me. There are no partitions. He's writing too. Maybe it's a letter. He doesn't talk much to me. Hangs around with that Delaney character. But I know he probably feels the same as I do. I can feel the bed shake at night. That's not nightmares.
We're all reduced to a common denominator.
It may well be that in the real world this Frank is an intelligent guy, but here he spends his every free moment sitting on the john, shitting and writing. I guess it’s diarrhea of the mind. Everything here seems to get diarrhea on Sunday. That's the only time we can afford the luxury.
I slept till noon, shat till two, had CQ till four, filled in for that damned Roberts till 5:40, and now I'm shitting again. It's been a luxurious day of self-indulgence. But in about two and a half hours the lights will go out, even though it's still light outside. And we'll all toddle obediently to bed. And it'll all begin again.
Damn it. I need you. My body needs you. The pulp that was my mind needs you. Hell.
You know how I always bitch to you and get it out of my system, then I forget it as we laugh together. It's great the way you make me realize what a fool I am for bitching all the time. You'd hate me the way I am now. I hate myself the way I am now. I can't even write you a decent letter. All I do is write about the shit around me. But damn it, darling, I'm caught up in this shit. All those stupid rules they threw at us five weeks ago are now a part of me. I take this nonsense seriously. My joys, fears, hopes, and miseries all stem from this world they've thrown me in. Somehow Sanderson and maybe Powell (I don't know much about Powell) have managed to keep living in their own worlds. But my world has been torn down.
My body remembers your every move vividly, but it's hard for me to Imagine the world we used to live In. It’s all unreal and far away. The only world I've got Is this shit. And I hate this shit. And I hate myself for letting myself be reduced to this.
Damn it. I love you and miss you, and I'm sorry this is the way I write and the way I think, but they've done it to me, damn it. They've reduced me to this. When I get back it'll be different, and I'll be different. And I'll be able to forget all this and go back to being me — whoever that was. But wherever I am and whoever I am, I love you.
(Waslewski tumbles into the latrine, picks up the empty beer cans, pours the few remaining drops down his throat, then absent-mindedly crushes the cans in his hand, as if they were paper cups .)
WASLEWSKI (bellows); Evans, would you believe that Evans? Never so much as tasted a beer. A weekend pass. Thirty-two hours of freedom. That runt had thirty-two hours in the land of bars and brothels, and he spent it chasing after paint so he can pretty up the barracks. What a waste.
BEAULIEU (looks up from his letter) Paint?
WASLEWSKI: Yeah. And that ain't the half of it. You know what color he got?
BEAULIEU: What the hell can he paint yellow?
WASLEWSKI: The lines. The fucking lines for the center aisle. Those fucking lines we're not supposed to step over. He wants to repaint them so they'll be nice and neat and pretty. He thinks It'll be worth bonus points for inspection. Bonus points. God, that runt's out of his ever-fucking mind.
(Waslewski trips on a laundry bag, then sits down on it and stretches out on the long line of laundry bags, swallowing the last drop of the last can with a cherubic grin on his face.
ACT II, SCENE 2
(The bunkroom. Hathaway, Schneider, Delaney, and others are on their bunks. The screendoor slams, and Alec walks in.)
HATHAWAY: Take your damned boots off.
ALEC: Don't be a pain in the ass. It's Sunday. Cool it.
HATHAWAY: I don't give a damn if it's Doomsday. Take off those fucking boots.
SCHNEIDER (gently persuading): Go ahead, Alec. We all do it.
HATHAWAY (snarls): And get your damned foot off that center aisle. What do you think you are? Special or something? If everybody else can walk around, you can too."
(The barracks door slams again. Rawlings enters.)
RAWLINGS: Where's Roberts? Has anybody seen Roberts? He isn't on CQ.
DELANEY: KP. Remember. He got night KP for a week.
(Rawlings heads upstairs.)
ACT II, SCENE 3
(The latrine. Frank, Beaulieu, and Sanderson are still on the johns. Delaney is sitting on a washing machine. Waslewski is sitting on a stack of laundry bags. Alvardo comes in, kicks aside a crushed beer can, and takes a look at the washing machine.)
ALVARDO (shouts): Sullivan! Sullivan!
BEAULIEU: He’s still on CQ.
ALVARDO: Then fuck him. I've got to get this wash done tonight.
DELANEY: Cool it, buster. My bag's ahead of yours.
ALVARDO: Fuck. All my fatigues stink. The sweat's been fermenting on them for weeks. Sometimes I think they're more alive than I am.
DELANEY: Well, don't blame Lt on me. Mine stink just as much as yours do. It's the fucking system's fault, giving us one washer for forty-seven stinking guys.
BEAULIEU: When I get out of here, I'm going to write a book about this shit-hole.
FRANK (looks up from his notebook): Just remember not to make a big deal about all this. It isn't like we've got a bad deal. Afterall, we're Reservists and National Guard. It isn't like we're going to be shipped to Nam. We aren't that low in hell. We all have homes and jobs or school we expect to get back to in a few months. We've got to be careful because we've got something to lose. This isn't your usual basic training."
DELANEY: Yeah, we've got it easy. The system has given us a few advantages, and we've taken them, so we've got a stake in the system. We don't have as much of a stake as the runts and cowards, but we can be counted on not to shout too loud, not to be too violent. That’s how the system perpetuates Itself — by giving us things we'd be afraid to part with. We have to be willing to lose everything, to destroy everything, if we ever hope to attain freedom.
That’s what’s holding us here, you know — our little compromises with the system. There aren't any walls or armed guards -- just imaginary lines. One step beyond the line from this tree to this building and you're AWOL. One step over that yellow line into the center aisle and...
We don't worry about the drill sergeant anymore. It isn’t a question of what he’d do to us. We’ve Internalized it all. We react automatically. It’s like they took out our minds and replaced them with machines. Or rather, we did it to ourselves so we could be good little boys without having to think about it. We form ’good habits,’ like good little boys.
(Waslewski casually crushes the last beer can, raises himself from the laundry bags, and stumbles out of the latrine toward his bunk.)
ACT II, SCENE 3
(The bunkroom. Hathaway, Powell, and others are on their bunks. Waslewski enters and nearly bumps into Alec and Evans by the water fountain.)
ALEC (to Evans): What the hell's this paint crap?
EVANS: If you’ve got to play the game, why not play to win?
ALEC: God, I don't see how you can take this crap seriously.
EVANS: But I don't So they say, don't cross that line. What the hell should I care? Do I really need to cross that line? Hell no. If it were something important, that would be different. But this is all nonsense. So why not play along and beat them at their own game?
ALEC: Don't you have any guts? You just buckle under and do everything they tell you. Don't you have any self-respect? Damn it, why don't you stand up for yourself sometime. Rebel.
EVANS: Rebel? What the hell for, Alec? Why the hell should you want to walk there? Why make a big deal of it? It only takes a minute to walk around. If they're dumb enough to want to make a rule about it, okay — humor them a bit. If you see it as a game and get into the swing of it, you can have some fun, instead of just griping all the time. You sound like you want to break rules just because they are rules. Whatever anybody said not to do, you'd want to do it. There's nothing more childish.
ALEC: Whatever anybody said to do, you'd do it. There's nothing more childish.
EVANS: Hell, Alec, get the old team spirit. With freshly painted lines, we'll be sure to win the Monday Inspection by a wide enough margin to win for the week. That'll give us three weeks we've won and two ties. One more win after that, and we'll have clinched the barracks competition. The second platoon will probably take the PT competition. But we have a good shot at the rifle and the G3, and a damn good chance to come out best overall platoon.
ALEC: Maybe you've got a stronger stomach than me. Maybe you can eat more shit than I can without getting sick. Maybe you can even learn to love eating shit. But I've reached my limit. Just one bit more and I'll... I'll..."
EVANS: Gripe some more?
(Alec clenches his fist, glances toward Hathaway's bunk, leans over the water fountain, takes a swallow, spits it out with a grimace, and stomps to the latrine, sliding a bit in his stocking feet.)
ACT II, SCENE 4
(Rawlings' and MacFarland's room, upstairs.) Rawlings sits up in his bunk, and stretches his arms. There is too much noise in the barracks to sleep, even with the door to this room shut. It is so loud that it would be easy to believe that the other soldiers are yelling and stomping about on purpose to annoy Rawlings. Rawlings takes paper and pen and writes a letter.)
RAWLINGS' VOICE (pre-recorded): Dear Madeline,
I know it must seem funny getting these letters from me .
Sure we parted as 'friends.' I haven't forgotten. There's no way I could forget it. But you have no idea what it's like here, what hell it is. I need someone to write to, someone to dream of. Just to keep my sanity, I need it. Please let me delude myself a bit. Please don't keep hitting me over the head with a sledge-hammer. Afterall, how can either of us know what things will be like in three months? People change. Just let me believe there might be a chance.
Sometimes I regret ever having gotten myself into this mess. I should have paid some dentist to put braces on my teeth and avoided the military altogether. But I've always planned to go into politics after law school. I hate the Army. I know there's no moral justification for Nam. But to get elected to a position of authority so I can do something to prevent future Nams, I have to have served in the military. It's one of the unfortunate facts of politics, one of the compromises that have to be made.
There's nobody here I can talk to, except maybe Powell. And there are very few occasions I feel free to talk to Powell.
The rest of the platoon hates me for not standing up to the drill sergeant, for not voicing their wants and opinions. They have little direct contact with him or with the senior drill except for receiving commands. They have little notion of what those sergeants are like, how they think and react, how you have to deal with them.
Friday night while I was sleeping, someone sprayed shaving cream in my open mouth. They've played pranks before, but that one shook me up. I might have smothered to death or gone into shock. I think it was MacFarland, the assistant platoon leader who shares this small room with me. It took so long to wake him that he must have been faking that he was asleep. It gives me a creepy feeling knowing that the guy I've been living so close to could do such a thing.
I've been on my guard since then. So many of them have it in for me. Delaney, especially, hates me; and he makes no attempt to disguise it. I wouldn't trust Alec or Waslewski either.
There's no way for me to find out who got me with the shaving cream. I'm sure all the others know who did it, but none of them would tell me. I knew they wouldn't and that it would be best not to say anything. If they thought they'd gotten my goat, it would encourage them to do more of the same. So I pulled myself together, told MacFarland — 'It was nothing, go back to sleep, just some practical joke.'
Then at Saturday morning's Inspection I got a gig for shaving cream on my bedpost. I hadn't noticed it. If I'd told the drill sergeant how it got there, he'd have made trouble for everybody. He's had it in for me lately. I've gotten several gigs — just little things I'd absent-mindedly overlooked, like forgetting to hang a towel at the base of the bed or not displaying a laundry bag. It’s bad enough when we don't win an inspection, (he'd put anybody with a gig on night KP for a week), but when the platoon leader gets gigged, he blows his top.
He's been riding me for not being more strict, for not asserting my authority, for not giving him the names of slackers so he can punish them. He claims there's no excuse for me getting a gig, that I should have two or three of the others make my bed, straighten my area, check and recheck. But
I can't see burdening the others with my problems. They've got little enough time to do their own work.
Anyway, the sergeant has clearly reached his limit. If anything more goes wrong, no matter how minor, there's no telling what torture he might put us all through.
ACT II, SCENE 5
(The bunkroom. Hathaway and others are on their bunks. Delaney and Beaulieu stand near the water fountain. The screen door slams. Sullivan enters.)
SULLIVAN (shouts): Has anybody seen Roberts?
DELANEY (whispers): Keep it down. He's AWOL, but he might come back. If Rawlings hears about it, he'll rat on him and we'll all get screwed.
SULLIVAN: But what if he doesn't come back? We can't cover for him forever, and it's a serious offense if they find out we've been covering for him.
DELANEY (whispers): Cool it. Just cool it. (He turns to Beaulieu and speaks louder.) What were you just saying Beaulieu?
BEAULIEU: Just that somewhere there's got to be a good place to live, where you can really be yourself.
DELANEY: No, don't kid yourself. It's Catch-22. The world of business and the world of the army. Milo Minderbinder runs the whole show. The army's just a big business, an equal opportunity employer — with all the bureaucracy and waste and impersonal cruelty of a big business.
Read the papers, man. They want junior officers for management positions. The foremen are no different from old sergeants. They are sucked in by the gradual increments in pay, the pension plans, and all that crap.
From the outside, the Army looks like a bunch of guys who shoot and get shot at. But from the inside it's padded with bureaucrats trapped in a web of slowly accruing benefits. All you've got to do to be able to cash in your chips at age 65 is cover your ass. You never have to do anything that might tax your mind or your energy. Just never make a blunder without covering up for it.
The whole setup breeds paranoids, security-hungry paranoids spending all their time trying to divest themselves of responsibility, following the letter of the regulations and passing the papers to the next desk. It's dangerous to make a decision. Any change is dangerous, shifting the rhythm of covering up activities. You might miss something.
The Army's probably the most conservative institution in the world. It has carried the Inherent tendencies of big business to their natural extreme. It's the epitome of business.
If you feel crushed and oppressed here, if you feel they've torn down your world and thrown you naked and helpless into a world of their making, well, it's just a model of what goes on out there -- what you're going to go back to.
ACT III, SCENE 1
(Rawlings' and MacFarland's room upstairs. As Rawlings is licking and sealing the envelope, he glances down at the floor beside his bed. His boots are missing -- his second pair of boots, the ones that he never weaers, the ones with the special glossy shine for inspections, the ones that every morning he has to remember to dust off or he'd get a gig.
He stands up suddenly, drops the letter on his bunk, gets down on his belly and crawls under the bed. He reaches again and again through empty space.
He checks MacFarland's boots. They have MacFarland's name tag.
He checks under MacFarland's bed.
He checks his own wall locker.
MacFarland's wall locker is locked.
He checks his footlocker. He knows the boots couldn't be there, but he checks under the underwear he's never worn, so carefully rolled for Inspection. He checks under the handkerchiefs he's never used, behind the shaving cream, under the razor he's never used, under the shaving brush that he wouldn't even know how to use.
He can't find his boots.)
RAWLINGS (bellows): Where the hell are my boots?
(The whole barracks falls silent. Rawlings stands at the top of the stairs as half a dozen puzzled trainees gather below.)
RAWLINGS: This has gone far enough. I want my boots back.
(More soldiers gather at the foot of the stairs to hear him.)
RAWLINGS (his voice is getting shrill): Where are they?
TAGLIATTI: Where are what?
RAWLINGS: My boots, you fool.
TAGLIATTI: On your fucking feet. Why didn't you leave them at the door like the rest of us?
(Everybody but Rawlings breaks out laughing. Attracted by the laughter, the crowd grows larger. Rawlings slowly and deliberately comes down the stairs.
RAWLINGS: Where the hell is MacFarland?
MACFARLAND: Right here, Fats.
(A few soldiers laugh.)
RAWLINGS: Well, give them to me.
RAWLINGS (stands face to face with MacFarland. The rest of the platoon crowds close around.) The boots. Give me the fucking boots!
(MacFarland stares him hard in the eye. Rawlings starts shifting his weight from foot to foot and clenching and unclenching his fists .)
WASLEWSKI (shouts, mockingly from outside on the front steps, where all the boots are left): Give him boots! The boss wants boots!
(Suddenly, a hall of boots come flying through the door at Rawlings. One hits him hard on the side of the head. He loses his balance and falls backward. Rather than catch him or cushion his fall, the crowd moves back. His back hits the floor. His head hits the bottom step. He grabs the banister and pulls himself to a sitting position on the stairs.)
RAWLINGS: Where are my boots?
COHEN (shouts mockingly): I bet Roberts has them.
ALEC: Or maybe the boots have Roberts.
COHEN (shouts): Yeah, I hear the boots went AWOL and took Roberts with them.
RAWLINGS: Just where is Roberts, anyway? (He pulls himself to his feet and tries to reassert his authority.) Where is he?
(Cohen starts humming the tune "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.")
WASLEWSKI (whispers): Yeah, man, he's free, free as a bird.
VASSAVION (shouts): Down with the king! Give me liberty, or give me MacBeth!
RAWLINGS: Shut up!
VASSAVION: Now is the summer of our discontent.
RAWLINGS (shoves Vassavlon while shouting at him): I said -- shut up!
(Vassavlon shoves back. Rawlings shoves Hathaway by mistake. Hathaway swings wildly. Rawlings ducks and rams his shoulder into Hathaway's belly. Waslewskl punches Rawlings in the back. Rawlings falls, swinging his legs wildly, tripping Vassavion, Hathaway and Waslewski. They all roll and slide onto the sacred center aisle.-
The whole platoon gathers round, standing and leaning on the bunks, watching the fight. They are a mob ready to erupt, to release its pent-up hate and fear and frustration on this
petty platoon leader.
Delaney jumps up on a footlocker and raises high a fist, like a lightning rod.)
DELANEY (shouts): Power to the people!
DELANEY: Down with all pigs!
MANY: Right on!
VOICE IN THE CROWD (mumbles): Kill the fucking bastard.
(Many laugh nervously. Rawlings tries to stand up, is tripped by Waslewskl. Hathaway dives on top of Rawlings, pinning arms with knees, and starts slapping his face back and forth, harder and harder.)
VOICE IN THE CROWD: Give him one for me!
ANOTHER VOICE: And for me.
ANOTHER: And me.
COHEN: Give him one for the Gipper!
(Everyone laughs, so Cohen continued, clapping his hands.)
COHEN: Go team, go!
CROWD TOGETHER: Push him back, push him back, way back.
(Cohen grabs two of the many boots lying on the floor, pulls them on untied, and starts jumping and dancing like a cheerleader. DELANEY: Power!
CROWD TOGETHER: Power!
(Vassavlon stumbles to his feet, waving his arms drunkenly.)
VASSAVION (yells): For mine is the power and the glory!
CROWD TOGETHER: Go get him, Vass!
VOICE IN THE CROWD: Give him that boot he wanted.
ANOTHER VOICE (throwing a boot):"give him this one!
(Vassavlon pulls the boot on his right foot, and stands, unsteadily between Rawlings' spread-eagled legs, his toe near Rawlings' crotch.)
VOICE IN THE CROWD: Give him a Vass-ectomy.
(Suddenly, the room is quiet, except the slap of palm against cheek, as Hathaway keep hitting Rawlings, mechanically and rhythmically. Everyone watches, both hoping and fearing that Vassavlon -- the drunken giant with the boot — will kick. The quiet becomes oppressive.)
COHEN (chants loudly): Hold that line! Hold that line!
(When no one responds to his attempt to get attention, Cohen takes three running steps and slides heels-first down the center aisle, tumbling into Waslewski, who knocks over Vassavlon. He leaves a long ugly gash down the middle of the floor.)
DELANEY (shouts, raising his hands high): The time has come!
(The attention of the crowd focuses on Delaney.) The time has come! Now we must...
(Suddenly, he is lifted high in the air by Powell who grabs him from behind by the seat of the pants, and dangles him, like a rag doll, over the center aisle.
DELANEY (gasps): Help!
POWELL (softly, but firmly): Enough.
(Powell tosses Delaney on the floor, like throwing a bag of garbage in a dumpster. Hathaway stands up. Schneider helps Rawlings get back on his feet. Delaney, crouches by a footlocker.)
DELANEY (murmurs quietly and cautiously): I told you so. I told you about the system...
(The screendoor slams. A squad leader from second platoon enters .)
SQUAD LEADER: Half an hour till lights out! (Silence falls. Pause.) God. What the hell happened?
HATHAWAY: Nothing, buddy. Nothing at all. Just turn yourself around and get the hell out of here.
SQUAD LEADER: God, looks like you had an explosion or an orgy. Somebody sabotage the place or something?
HATHAWAY (roars): Get your goddamned boots off that center aisle .
SQUAD LEADER: You've got to be kidding. There's nothing I could do to it that hasn't been done already. Whoever did that sure did a hell of a job. Was it the first platoon? Did they sabotage you? It sure is a break for us. You guys used to be unbeatable. But believe me, it wasn't us, who did it.
(Hathaway picks up the squad leader by the shoulder of his fatigues .)
SQUAD LEADER: Okay, okay, I'm going. It wasn't me that did it. You don't have to take it out on me.
(The screendoor slams behind him.)
ACT III, SCENE 2
(Bunkroom. Quiet, subdued, without anyone having to give the orders, the soldiers push the bunks back to the walls and get on with their chores. Powell, Schneider, Tag, and three others get on their hands and knees rubbing a new coat of wax on the floor, while Evans carefully repaints the yellow lines.
Frank and the latrine crew start to work on the Johns and urinals.
MacFarland keeps washing and rewashing the same clean, easily reachable windowpane, Just trying to look busy. Now and then he glances about guiltily; and when he thinks someone is looking, he makes a show of putting tremendous effort into the cleaning of that one clean windowpane.
Alec, Alvardo, and Delaney go to work on the stairs with toothbrushes, scrubbing away at the corners and crevices. Delaney looks weary. There is a bad bruise under his left eye. It is swelling.)
ALEC (whines): Those damned shitheads have closed off the latrine again. One damned urinal and one damned John is all they ever leave us. Shit. When I have to shit, I have to shit.
DELANEY (mutters): That’s the system for you. They have barracks Inspections theoretically for the sake of hygiene. But in the Army, what matters is the looks, not the facts — Just what can be neatly filled in on an official form. That latrine will be clean. It'll be spotless. But to keep it as spotless as we have to, we can only use it half the time. The rest of the time we've got to go piss under the trees.
There's no place on the official form to indicate whether the latrine Is used or not or to indicate the level of the stench out there under the trees. So we pollute the one bit of shade where we can rest for a break, and we end up sitting on our own piss.
They told us to keep the latrine spotless. That's how the system works. We wind up seeming to do this to ourselves. And we are, afterall, guilty — guilty of going along with the game, playing by their rules. And every time we do, we wind up sitting In our own piss.
ALEC: That's sounds fine, Delaney. But let's face It — we all can't be Roberts. We were born comfortable, and we're going to want to stay comfortable. We sold our souls long ago. And cheap, too, goddamn it. Of the whole bunch of us, only Roberts is free .
ACT III, SCENE 3
(Rawlings is alone in his room upstairs. He tends to his wound, to try to make the scratches and bruises as inconspicuous as possible. His display boots have miraculously reappeared, with a few minor scuffs. They sit on top of his bed. He buffs them meticulously.)
RAWLINGS' VOICE (pre-recorded): At least the boots are back — the damned boots, the blessed boots, the useless, never-to-be-worn boots, the boots that are Just for show. So much of this Army routine is just for show. So much of life is Just for show. Just or unjust — the show Is real. Is
anything else real?
I wish I could remember that poem now, that poem I wrote last May in frustration at Cambodia and Kent State. I wish I could have remembered it, could have recited it before, to let the other guys know that I feel the same frustrations they do, that I'm one with them, not with the system, that I want to be one of them.
I have to clear my head, to pull myself together. I’d like to be able to think again like a rational human being, to be a college student among college students. This complex and baffling world was painted in such bright colors — right and wrong, good and evil. It would feel so good to once again be able to demonstrate against war in unison with thousands of others.
(He grabs paper and pen and starts to write from memory).
RAWLINGS' VOICE (pre-recorded voice):
In May the bombs blossom.
The sweet aroma of gas fills the air.
me down to sleep,
and pray the Lord
(what else can one
the press of the crowd, shouting, men giving orders
on the borders
a neutral nation,
at least officially,
but everyone knows
is an archaic term
waiting for trial,
by hook or by crook,
we’ll pull this
to a hard
and on and on and onward, Christian humility
in defense of freedom is no situation
Nixon, Mitchell, Agnew,
and a fourth horseman of the Apocalypse
to be announced,
so stay tuned
to loony tunes,
on most of our network stations,
brought to you by,
is a warm gun,
in the age of hilarious,
who cannot wash away our sins
with a flood
for there was a limited supply
the bombs blossom.
(He picks up the boots again, then his voice continues.)
I used to think that was so clever. Ever since I first wrote it, I was proud of how clever It was. Now I’ve been at Fort Polk, slept in the same barracks, shat in the same johns, low-crawled over the same gravely field as men who had died in that war I wrote so cleverly about. God, it sounds hollow. Thank God I never said it aloud to these guys.
Here I am, sitting on easy street. What right do I have to write self-righteous crap like that? What right do I have to feel sorry for myself? Just a few more weeks of hell and I and the rest of the platoon — all but Roberts and Armstrong and those two new guys -- will be going home.
Who can blame Roberts for running? Chances are that in a few months he’ll be in the jungle waiting for the booby trap or bullet that'll turn him into rotting meat. And, by then, I’ll be starting law school.
(He crosses himself, then goes over to the window and stares out at the row of barracks and the scrub pine forest beyond.)
ACT III, SCENE 4
(Bunkroom. Everyone continues their cleaning and polishing. Polishing the water fountain, Sullivan talks aloud to himself and anyone who will listen.)
SULLIVAN: I wonder what the folks back home are doing to my car. I bought it new, and from the very beginning there was some crazy link between that care and me.
It was a bright red convertible. I bought it the summer I thought I was going to marry Diane. Whatever it was in me that urged me to buy that car knew damn well that I wasn't ready to get married. And when Diane saw it, she knew too, and it wasn't long before we went oui’ separate ways.
That car — it's a '53 Chevy with an exterior in mint condition — it always broke down when I was supposed to go some place but really didn't want to go. Those times, I'd go to great lengths to try to get it running, but much to my relief, it was mechanically impossible.
There's some intermittent problem with the electrical system. I've gotten a new battery, a new generator, a new voltage regulator, a new solenoid — but it still dies on me like that, without warning. I'll turn the ignition and get a feeble click. Then the next day, it's good as new.
Whenever I really want to go somewhere, without fall, that gem of a car turns right over.
That's happened so many times -- the car refusing to start when I have to go someplace but don't want to — I don't get mad at it anymore when it won't start. I just sit and think for a while and try to figure out why I really didn't want to go where I was going since the car is telling me I don't.
When I had to go to basic training, I really hated leaving that car behind. I've grown to depend on it not just for getting me places, but for helping me figure out what I really want and don't want.
I can't help but wonder what my parents are doing with it. It seems so much a part of me, it's almost obscene giving my parents control over it. But I had no choice but to leave it. That's one of things about basic training — like Delaney says — they make you surrender body and soul, every parcel of your dignity and freedom.
(Cohen starts singing again, softly, until others Join in. Even Sanderson joins in. They sing pieces of such songs and parodies of songs such as "I got to get out of this place", "Oh Lord how I want to go home", "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose", "On the first day of Christmas my drill sarge gave to me:, "Fuck the army, fuck the army, fuck the army", "For he's a jolly good fuck-off", "Power to the people".
(Alvardo does some drill sergeant imitations on the staircase.)
BEAULIEU: He sounds more like a drill sergeant than the drill sergeant does.
(Sullivan takes down the plaque to polish it and looks it over.)
SULLIVAN: Shit! It's all here. The same damned wisecracks. They scribbled them here on the back with all their signatures. This thing must be twenty, twenty-five years old, and they were making the same dumb wifecracks we are.
ACT III SCENE 5
(Same place, a few hours later.)
FRANK'S VOICE (pre-recorded): Everybody knew what they had to do, and they all did it, quickly and efficiently, like a well-drilled team. The floor still has to be buffed, but first the wax will have to sit for a while, and the paint will have to dry.
While waiting, Tag is reading his four-day-old newspaper. It appeals to his imagination that it's old. Everything could have changed in the meantime, like we're in a time warp: living in the same world as everybody else, but four days behind. The rest of the world might already be a better place.
(Beaulieu is lying on his bunk and writing to Debbie.)
BEAULIEU'S VOICE (pre-recorded): Debbie, I want to put it all down while it's still fresh in my mind, even though I don't know what it means. I just want to get it down on paper before I forget it.
I forget so fast here. Usually, that's a God-send, but this time I want to remember, so maybe later when I look at it, when my head's rested and clear, when I'm me again, I'll be able to make sense of it, rework it into a story, maybe learn something so all this hell won't have been for nothing.
God, we get used to it quick. Just five fucking weeks I've been here, and half the time I forget I've got a fucking uniform on. Five fucking weeks and I have a hard time imagining myself back home in civies, going to work in the morning, sleeping with you at night. Seems like some fucking dream, doesn't it. Something far, far away. Just five fucking weeks, and it's like I've never been anything but a fucking sollder.
Delaney was right about the system and what it does to people. But there's something else going on here, too.
Through all this muck and shit, it had been damned good hearing Cohen cut up the drill sergeants and hearing Alvardo imitate them to a tee. We had them pegged. We knew who they were, knew how petty and mechanical and predictable their minds were. No matter what they might do to us, we had that
knowledge, that feeling of superiority.
But now we see the same damn crap on a World War II plaque. Some originality. Wind up the toy soldier and listen to the noises they make. Hell.
Schneider, (he's been hanging around with Powell a lot), said something about there's nothing new under the sun.
Vassavion sobered up a bit in the shower. He said something pompous about history. And he was right. All along we've been acting like this was something new, like nobody'd ever been through basic before. This was our drill sergeant, our barracks, our army, our country. But we're Just here for a little while. We're Just transients. There have been millions before us, and there will be millions after us, and there's nothing particularly noteworthy about us and what we've said and done. It's all been said and done before.
Our 'revolution' was no big deal. We scuffed up the floor a bit. By the time Powell gets done with it, It'll all be good as new, almost — all but that Jagged mark down the middle. He can't get rid of that. The linoleum was scratched.
And we should be proud of that? That's what we'll leave for posterity: a Jagged scratch on a piece of linoleum.
Silly though this competition business is, it is a shame to leave a blemish like that for the next cycle of trainees. The guys that came before us did such a good Job on it that we hardly had to touch that center aisle for it come out shining unbeatable. I wonder how much work went into that, how many
years of work by generations of trainees that never met each other, that knew that they would never meet each other, but who left this as a legacy to whoever might come after them -- this so fragile shine that was, ridiculously, such a source of comfort and security and pride.
Even though we had done nothing for it, or practically nothing, except refraining from messing it up, it was 'our' floor; it was 'our' barracks. We did take pride in it.
I hope that Powell can do something. He has such a way with that buffer. If anyone can do it, he can. And I certainly do hope he can erase or at least hide it.
We've got four weeks left. Maybe by then it'll be all right, and the next cycle will get it good as new, as good as we got it, as good as if we'd never been here and messed things up. Maybe a little better, with those yellow lines repainted.
Yes, it looks really sharp with those bright yellow lines.
(The screendoor slams.)
SQUAD LEADER: Five minutes to lights out! God, it looks good now. Shit! When the buffing's done, you guys could be in good shape again. How the hell did you do it? (Nobody answers. He leaves.)
SCHNEIDER: Maybe there won't be an inspection.
ALEC (whines): Yeah, you can count on it. If we get the place in shape, they won't inspect it.
EVANS: And if we didn't, they would. We'll be ready. I just hope those damned bat exterminators don't come again.
HATHAWAY (laughs): Have you grown to like the bats?
EVANS: We can live with bats. I just don't want the exterminators messing the place up. We can still win tomorrow.
ACT III, SCENE 6
(Bunkroom. Long after "lights out,” the barracks still hums with the sound of the buffer and clanks with the sound of opening and closing lockers. Everybody has something that still has to be done.
The screendoor closes softly, almost imperceptibly. A whispered, "The drill sergeant's coming,” echoes and re-echoes through the muffled scrambling of feet and creaking of bedsprings. Whispers follow, racing up and down both sides.)
COHEN: He's going upstairs.
WASLEWSKI: It's Rawlings he's after. Rawlings. He's ging to bawl out Rawlings.
ALVARDO: Now the shit's going to hit the fan.
BEAULIEU: He probably heard all about our little party here tonight.
FRANK; Quiet. I can almost make out what he's saying. It's something about Roberts.
DELANEY: You say Rawlings is ratting on Roberts?
WASLEWSKI: That goddamned Roberts.
ALEC: Goddamned my foot. Roberts is the only one of us with an ounce of guts .
(Footsteps echo on the stairs again. The screen door closes again, softly. A full minute of absolute silence.) "God! It’s Roberts, Roberts himself," comes a loud whisper from the bunk nearest the door. "Roberts!" is repeated up and down the aisle. In the conflicting shadows of the fire light and the stair light, Roberts appears and slowly rubs his freshly shaven head with his towel.)
DELANEY: Quick, Roberts, catch the drill sergeant. Rawlings just ratted on you. You're in a heap of trouble. Catch him, and let him know you're here.
ROBERTS: He knows I'm here all right. What's this bit about ratting, man? What've I done that somebody's ratting on me?
DELANEY: This is the Army. You don't just go home when you feel like it.
ROBERTS: Home? Who the hell went home?
COHEN: Well, where've you been?
ROBERTS: Taking a shower.
BEAULIEU: Yeah, but where've you been all night?
ROBERTS: Look, man, cool it. I just got off KP.
DELANEY: Well, then what was the sergeant pissed off at?
ROBERTS: Me. He saw me in the shower. You know, man — no showers after lights out. But I'll be damned if I’m going to bed stinking of garbage and shit. Hell no, man.
COHEN: There's your freedom, Alec. There's your dignity.
ROBERTS: Yeah, damn it. I
didn't have guts enough to take a shower .