A PLAY in One Act
THE SCENE: An employee’s lounge in a veteran’s hospital. The setting is Spartan: a wooden table, a few folding metal chairs and a broom leaning against a wall. The year is 1984.
THE CHARACTER: Anthony D’Amato, 37. In the course of the monologue he assumes the voices of several characters, including a RADIO DJ, his former wife, LOTTE, his former commanding officer THE SARGE, a JUDGE, and a LAWYER. At the discretion of the director, these parts could be played by separate characters.
(ANTHONY D’AMATO, a man in his late thirties, is seated at a small wooden table, with a glass of water and a package of birthday candles. As the play begins, he tears open a package of muffins, takes one out, and sets it on the table. He then takes out a birthday candle, sticks it into the muffin, and lights the wick of the candle. He watches it for a second or two, takes a tattered photograph out of his wallet, sets it on the table, picks up a long-handled broom, and begins sweeping. )
Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday little Tony….
(He sets the broom aside and gazes at the photograph on the table.)
Happy birthday to…
I left a love child at home.
(Looking at the candle.)
I was young then, I thought I knew. I left a love child at home. We all fall down, and go figure. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
(He takes a drink of water and wipes his mouth on his sleeve.)
I was young, I thought I knew.
They threw me out. They threw me right out of the dining room. They threw me out.
It was all over the counter, it was all over—there was no more soup, it was all over the counter. They wanted to give me eggs. I said eggs are bad. They wanted to give me eggs. I don’t eat eggs. I break eggs is what I do. I break eggs.
But I never break for work. I used to drive a cab. It was a favor for the Sarge. Me and the Sarge, we were on the bum. Now I’m a bum. I’m a bum, I’m a bum, I’m on my bum and I’m a bum.
(He picks up the broom and holds it bristle-side up, speaking to it as though it were a person.)
First time I met the Sarge? D’Amato, said the Sarge. D’Amato, clean! Yes, Sarge! D’Amato, clean that! Yes, Sarge! D’Amato, clean that garbage can! YES, SARGE! Not like that D’Amato, you’re spraying me with that effin’ hose! Can’t you follow simple instructions? Yes, Sarge, I said, yes Sarge.
What for, Sarge, I should have said. What for? I’ll give you the what for, I should have said, I’ll give you the what for for that.
(He hurls his broom to the floor.)
I never should of gone back.
(He sits. A pause. He stands.)
There were eight top ten songs back then, there were eight top ten songs I used to sing.
(Using the broom as a microphone.)
Well, then, uh, Anthony, we’ll play that song for you, Anthony. And who’s it going out to? Little Tony. Well, all right then. This song is going out to little Tony, from his dad.
Listen, dear, they’re playing our song. Listen, listen.
(A pause. Softly.)
I should have said I won’t go back. I should of never gone back. I…should have gone back. I should have gone back to her. I left a love child at home. I left a love child.
(As though speaking to his wife.)
A lot you know, Lotte, a lot you know. You’re my wife, but a lot you know.
The kid is sick, Lotte! The kid is sick, he needs a doctor! Go get a doctor, the kid is sick! “Who’s gonna pay for a doctor?”
I need you back, Lotte, I need you back. I like your hair, Lotte, I like your hair. Just lemme, just lemme kiss you Lotte. Lemme hold you lemme touch you lemme just kiss you on the neck.
(Talking like a lawyer.)
I look forward to discussing this matter, I look—
(As though talking to his wife.)
Do I disgust you, my dear? Do I disgust you? C’mon, don’t talk that way. I’m not drunk, I’m not! Just let me, just, I’m not drunk, let me kiss you, just let me kiss you, I’m not drunk.
Our magic drugs! Our magic drugs! I was young then. I was gung-ho! Join up, you’ll never go over, they said, join up, you’ll never go. I was in tenth grade then, it was in tenth grade I joined up.
(In the voice of a Disc Jockey.)
Someone named Anthony just called and asked us to play this song for his son, so we’re going to play this song for little Tony.
(In his natural voice.)
I aid, Listen Honey, they’re playing, listen Honey, they’re playing our song. And she said “Don’t you ‘Honey’ me, I’m not your Honey, don’t you call me ‘Honey’. I said I’ll call you Honey, I’ll call you Honey. Just let me hug you Honey, let me hug you like a Honey bear. “Don’t you call me Honey, I don’t want none of your Honey, don’t you call me Honey.”
Well, there’s no use to drag it out then.
Call the doctor, the kid is sick, he needs a doctor, go call the doctor! “The doctor ain’t gonna come, you didn’t pay him for the last time.” Go call the doctor, the kid is sick. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what.
(A long pause.)
I’m looking at you!
(He peers from between his fingers.)
I’m looking at you! Don’t you look at me, she said. It’s alright! We’re married now! “I’ll put out the light you keep lookin’ at me.”
She took me to court.
Ten years ago. She took me to court.
I’ll turn out the light, she said, you keep lookin’ at me. Oh no you don’t, I said. We’re married now. “I’ll turn out the light.”
And she turned out the light.
(A long pause. At this point, he begins to imagine he’s in court.)
My name is–. My name is Anthony D’Amato, your honor, I said. I am twenty-seven years of age. I am twenty-seven. “Is that your age?” Yes, your honor, that’s your age. “I’m not your honor, I’m a lawyer, don’t call me your honor.” And they laughed at me. “Do you know why you’re here today?” My name is D’Amato, Anthony D’Amato, and them’s some tough cookies. “Do you know why you’re here? You have to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Do you understand? Answer yes or no.”
I understand. “Where do you live, Mr. D’Amato?” I live right here in Boston. But never come back, see—I should never have come back.
“Are you presently working at this time?”
No, I’m not working. No, I’m not.
“Can you tell us how you live if you have no job?”
I mean, that’s the problem. I don’t know how I live. I don’t know.
“Are you collecting unemployment? Are you collecting a weekly check?”
No, I answered, no I’m not, no. “How do you live without a check, how do you live?” I get what they call a veteran’s benefit, I get what they call a, what you call. “Were you in Vietnam?” “My client went in Vietnam,” they said, “My client went to Vietnam.” “When did you get your payments? When did you start to get your check?” It was April 1975, it was in April and it was cold that year. “Stick to the question, please, stick to the question. Will you tell the court just what your background is?” I never got through High School, your honor. “Did you leave of your own free will?”
(He thrusts his broom handle at an imaginary antagonist.)
You sure like to stick it to a guy, your honor. You sure like to stick it to a guy. No disrespect. I like to tell a joke or two, you know. You know what my favorite word is? My favorite word is PRNDL.
(He motions with his broom as though shifting gears in an automobile.)
P…R…N…D…L. Purndul. I like to tell a joke or two, your honor. Can’t you take a joke or two? “The court has duly noted that you like to tell a joke or two. That fact is duly noted. Will you please answer only the questions that we ask—“
The court has duly noted this! The court has duly noted that! “Mr. D’Amato, please sit down! One more such outburst and we’ll cite you for contempt!”
I’m sorry, your honor. “When you left your schooling in the middle of the term, will you tell the court just what it was you did?” I had a lot of different jobs, your honor, I did all kinds of jobs. “Will you kindly tell the court the kinds of jobs you did?” I had to take whatever came along. I had to take it. A man has to eat to stay alive. I used to like bread because it filled me up. I used to eat Jello until it made me sick to look at. I used to eat soup, maybe, for dinner. I lived that way ‘til I was seventeen. “The court…is not asking what you liked to eat…the court is asking what you did for a living.” I joined the draft. I joined the service. I wanted to march in the big parade. “Were you called for the draft? Or did you enlist on your own?” I left my parents when I was just a kid, I left my parents so what could I do? It’s a damn shame. I don’t like to swear, your honor, but that’s the way it is. “The court has no interest…in the fact that you left your parents…or whether you like to swear…just tell the court how long you served.”
(A long pause.)
I served for one long year, your honor. One long year and a day. I thought I would learn to fight or die. “The court has no interest in what you thought you learned. The court wants to know what rank you attained.” Private, your honor. I even made some friends there in the service. There was Frenchy…and Precious…and The Drifter. The best bunch of guys I ever knew and most of them died in the stink and the mud. “And what did you do when you left the service?”
As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know a trade and never knew how to go about the learning of a trade. “Did you ever see combat when you were in the service?”
(A long pause.)
Combat was in my ears for days and days. Ever after I would pick myself up and hear what I was sayin’ and it wasn’t good. My brains went plumb to hell. And after that I had no place to go. They weren’t supposed to take me ‘cause I never finished school. All my friends went over and I never saw ‘em again. Frenchy was a lover boy, he gave the Sarge the crabs. Precious always had to have his way, he thought he was some hot stuff. The Drifter would hardly ever talk. I liked him the best. You always knew exactly where you stood with The Drifter. I never should have left and you can’t come back. I never should of tried. Before I left I was at the bottom of the anthill and when I got back I was even worse. The war is how I lost my bearings, that’s the thing about the war, the war was one big tub of shit. I’m sorry, your honor, no disrespect. “Since leaving the service, have you been employed in any gainful fashion?”
You’re trying to say, did I work, you mean? “That is what the court would like to know. When is the last time you held a job?”
“What is the job you held the last time you held a job?”
There’s a star in the woodwork on the floor. Ain’t that funny? There’s a star on the woodwork floor. I used to think I might want to be a carpenter once, ain’t that funny? I used to think I might want to be a carpenter.
(Holding the broomstick like a microphone.)
This song goes out to little Tony…..
If I were a carpenter, and you were my lady, would you marry me anyway, and have my….
(He rubs his eyes. Long pause.)
Yeah, your honor, I held a job. A job is hell. I held a job, the job got done, and no more job. It was a hospital for people in the war, a what do you call it, a hospital for veterans. Talking datewise, I really couldn’t tell you. Talking datewise, it was several years ago. “Before you started work at the hospital, the court has been given to understand that you drove a cab. Is that correct?”
(In a kind of sing-song.)
I drove a cab, back and forth, I drove a cab. I did it as a favor for the Sarge. Two bucks an hour, twelve hours a day. I drove them all. Here and there. Now and then I took a big tip. Now and then I took a man in a dress, a woman in a robe, a woman with no hair, a man who stuck me up. Back and forth, back and forth. But you can’t go back, now, can you. Our magic drugs, they said, our magic drugs. My favorite word is PRNDL. P-R-N-D-L is my favorite word. I left a love child at home.
Call a doctor, I said, the kid is sick, go call a doctor. What, on your salary, she said. We can’t afford the last time he came.
(A long pause. Anthony licks his finger and snuffs out the candle.)
I knew it. I knew all along that guys like me were never meant to make it. It ain’t no one I blame. It ain’t no one person I blame. Where’s my buddies? Where’s Frenchy, where’s Precious, where’s good old Drifty? He’s the one I’d turn to when things got bad. “I run away from home when I was ten,” he said, “and I been runnin’ ever since.” They used to call me Little Ratty ‘cause they said I was sneaky, but I wasn’t no sneak, I was honest, even when it made me look bad, I was honest that way, I guess I got that much to be proud of I guess.
All I wanted was a fair shake. No disrespect, your honor, but here I am, and all I did was nothing, and it wasn’t even what I did, it was what I didn’t do. I couldn’t get a doctor for little Tony, I couldn’t get him to a doctor….Guys like me, it don’t make no sense for us to have kids at all, the way life is. You think that maybe if it’s hard enough the kids will grow up tough. That’s what my Dad used to say and look where it got me, my little Tony, gone so soon….I never asked for nothing I couldn’t earn but some things just ain’t fair. And educated men like you don’t never have to deal with stuff that guys like me put up with, everybody just treats me like dirt. They tell you don’t give up until the other fellow blinks…but what’s the sense of trying to stare him down when he don’t even know you’re there?
(A long pause.)
He lives so far away from where you’re at that he don’t even know you’re there.
Yeah, your honor, I drive a cab, maybe handle numbers on the side, take a bet, take ‘em to the track and if they win maybe they pay me for my trouble, maybe not. I don’t talk good. I know that. But still, it makes me feel kind of proud to see somebody write it down. I never knew how people felt when you tell ‘em something and they write it down. So sure, I take ‘em to the track, I don’t know, maybe scrounge some coin and place a bet or two myself, might as well, as long as I’m up there, I might as well. I used to sing a little. Go to bars, get a little liquored up. But now I can’t sing no more.
Driving a cab you get to meet a lot of people. All these years. You tell a joke or two and maybe if you got a little luck they come and see you when they put you in the ground. It’s nice to know they’ll come around and maybe look a little sad at the dirt they put you six feet under in. Maybe you think I have a lot of beefs. I don’t know. But lemme tell you something—once they slam that coffin lid, that’s all she wrote. I ain’t so hot for Bible stuff but something in there says, “To dust you shall return” and that’s just the way it is and anyone who says it ain’t, ain’t dealin’ with a deck of fifty-two.
(A pause. He stands.)
An old man at thirty-seven.
I walk to myself and I talk to myself….
(In his natural voice.)
You know…the cops never picked me up for nothing I never done.
(In the voice of his wife.)
“Don’t you oh baby me,” she said, “don’t you oh baby me.”
The kid is sick. The kid is fuckin’ sick.
(In his natural voice.)
If it ain’t one damn thing it’s another.
(Shaking his head.)
(Staring at the floor.)
Ain’t it funny how time slips away.
I go to Haymarket on Saturday afternoons. I go to Haymarket and they say, wait for the garbage wagon, wait for the garbage wagon, it’s on its way, wait for the swill wagon, here comes the garbage wagon, go over there and pick it up, pick up all that garbage. That’s what they say. I go to Haymarket and they say, there’s plums over there, there’s plums over there for the taking, there’s plums.
Whenever I fall asleep I think, better get on Mem. Drive, get over there on Mem. Drive, driver, there’s a bump on Mem. Drive that always wakes me up, there’s a bump over there on Mem. Drive that drives me crazy.
(A long pause.)
There is no love…without life. There is no life without love.
(A brief pause.)
In this clumsy world we all fall down in. In this clumsy world we all fall down. The world is not entirely to blame.
The world…is not to blame.
(He lifts his head and smiles.)