About The Book
A novelist and screenwriter as well as a playwright, David Rabe is a major voice in American theater and holds an undisputed place in the ranks of contemporary dramatists. Streamers, part of the Vietnam trilogy which includes The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel and Sticks and Bones (The Vietnam Plays, volume one), is the story of a group of paratroopers desperately attempting to cope with the chaos of their emotions when they are ordered to Vietnam.
In this volume, Streamers is paired with The Orphan, a brilliant synthesis of classic Greek drama and the conflicted character of contemporary America. All four plays focus on what the author calls “the eternal human pageant.” War is not a political phenomenon but an elemental force, a human inevitability, like love or death, and Rabe’s plays encompass it as such. They are essential works about our society.
The set is a large cadre room thrusting angularly toward the audience. The floor is wooden and brown. Brightly waxed in places, it is worn and dull in other sections. The back wall is brown and angled. There are two lights at the center of the ceiling. They hang covered by green metal shades. Against the back wall and to the stage right side are three wall lockers, side by side. Stage center in the back wall is the door, the only entrance to the room. It opens onto a hallway that runs off to the latrines, showers, other cadre rooms, and larger barracks rooms. There are three bunks. Billy’s bunk is parallel to Roger’s bunk. They are upstage and on either side of the room, and face downstage. Richie’s bunk is downstage and at a right angle to Billy’s bunk. At the foot of each bunk is a green wooden footlocker. There is a floor outlet near Roger’s bunk. He uses it for his radio. A reading lamp is clamped on to the metal piping at the head of Richie’s bunk.
A wooden chair stands beside the wall lockers. Two mops hang in the stage-left corner near a trashcan.
It is dusk as the lights rise on the room. RICHIE is seated and bowed forward wearily on his bunk. He wears his long-sleeved khaki summer dress uniform. Upstage behind him is MARTIN, a thin, dark young man, pacing, worried. A white towel stained red with blood is wrapped around his wrist. He paces several steps and falters, stops. He stands there.
RICHIE: Honest to God, Martin, I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know what to tell you.
MARTIN (beginning to pace again): I mean it. I just can’t stand it. Look at me.
RICHIE: I know.
MARTIN: I hate it.
RICHIE: We’ve got to make up a story. They’ll ask you a hundred questions.
MARTIN: Do you know how I hate it?
RICHIE: Everybody does. Don’t you think I hate it, too?
MARTIN: I enlisted, though. I enlisted and I hate it.
RICHIE: I enlisted, too.
MARTIN: I vomit every morning. I get the dry heaves. In the middle of every night. (He flops down on the corner of Billy’s bed and sits there, slumped forward, shaking his head.)
RICHIE: You can stop that. You can.
RICHIE: You’re just scared. It’s just fear.
MARTIN: They’re all so mean; they’re all so awful. I’ve got two years to go. Just thinking about it is going to make me sick. I thought it would be different from the way it is.
RICHIE: But you could have died, for God’s sake. (Turning, now he is facing MARTIN.)
MARTIN: I just wanted out.
RICHIE: I might not have found you, though. I might not have come up here.
MARTIN: I don’t care. I’d be out.
(The door opens and a black man in filthy fatigues–they are grease-stained and dark with sweat–stands there. He is CARLYLE, looking about. RICHIE, seeing him, rises and moves toward him.)
RICHIE: No. Roger isn’t here right now.
CARLYLE: Who isn’t?
RICHIE: He isn’t here.
CARLYLE: They tole me a black boy livin” in here. I don’t see him. (He looks suspiciously about the room.)
RICHIE: That’s what I’m saying. He isn’t here. He’ll be back later.
You can come back later. His name is Roger.
MARTIN: I slit my wrist. (Thrusting out the bloody, towel-wrapped wrist toward CARLYLE.)
RICHIE: Martin! Jesus!
MARTIN: I did.
RICHIE: He’s kidding. He’s kidding.
CARLYLE: What was his name? Martin? (He is confused, and the confusion has made him angry. He moves toward MARTIN.) You Martin?
(As BILLY, a white in his mid-twenties, blond and trim, appears in the door, whistling, carrying a slice of pie on a paper napkin. Sensing something, he falters, looks at CARLYLE, then RICHIE.)
BILLY: Hey, what’s goin” on?
CARLYLE (turning, leaving):Nothin”, man. Not a thing.
(BILLY looks questioningly at RICHIE. Then, after placing the piece of pie on the chair beside the door, he crosses to his footlocker.)
RICHIE: He came in looking for Roger, but he didn’t even know his name.
BILLY (sitting on his footlocker, he starts taking off his shoes): How come you weren’t at dinner, Rich? I brought you a piece of pie. Hey, Martin.
(MARTIN thrusts out his towel-wrapped wrist.)
MARTIN: I cut my wrist, Billy.
RICHIE: Oh, for God’s sake, Martin! (He whirls away.)
MARTIN: I did.
RICHIE: You are disgusting, Martin.
MARTIN: No. It’s the truth. I did. I am not disgusting.
RICHIE: Well, maybe it isn’t disgusting, but it certainly is disappointing.
BILLY: What are you guys talking about? (Sitting there, he really doesn’t know what is going on.)
MARTIN: I cut my wrists, I slashed them, and Richie is pretending I didn’t.
RICHIE: I am not. And you only cut one wrist and you didn’t slash it.
MARTIN: I can’t stand the army anymore, Billy. (He is moving now to petition BILLY, and RICHIE steps between them.)
RICHIE: Billy, listen to me. This is between Martin and me.
MARTIN: It’s between me and the army, Richie.
RICHIE (taking MARTIN by the shoulders as BILLY is now trying to get near MARTIN): Let’s just go outside and talk, Martin. You don’t know what you’re saying.
BILLY: Can I see? I mean, did he really do it?
MARTIN: I did.
BILLY: That’s awful. Jesus. Maybe you should go to the infirmary.
RICHIE: I washed it with peroxide. It’s not deep. Just let us be. Please. He just needs to straighten out his thinking a little, that’s all.
BILLY: Well, maybe I could help him?
MARTIN: Maybe he could.
RICHIE (suddenly pushing at MARTIN. Richie is angry and exasperated. He wants MARTIN out of the room): Get out of here, Martin. Billy, you do some push-ups or something.
(Having been pushed toward the door, MARTIN wanders out.)
RICHIE: I know what Martin needs. (Whirls and rushes into the hall after MARTIN, leaving BILLY scrambling to get his shoes on.)
BILLY: You’re no doctor, are you? I just want to make sure he doesn’t have to go to the infirmary, then I’ll leave you alone. (One shoe on, he grabs up the second and runs out the door into the hall after them.) Martin! Martin, wait up!
(Silence. The door has been left open. Fifteen or twenty seconds pass. Then someone is heard coming down the hall. He is singing “Get a Job” and trying to do the voices and harmonies of a vocal group. ROGER, a tall, well-built black in long-sleeved khakis, comes in the door. He has a laundry bag over his shoulder, a pair of clean civilian trousers and a shirt on a hanger in his other hand. After dropping the bag on his bed, he goes to his wall locker, where he carefully hangs up the civilian clothes. Returning to the bed, he picks up the laundry and then, as if struck, he throws the bag down on the bed, tears off his tie, and sits down angrily on the bed. For a moment, with his head in his hands, he sits there. Then, resolutely, he rises, takes up the position of attention, and simply topples forward, his hands leaping out to break his fall at the last instant and putting him into the push-up position. Counting in a hissing, whispering voice, he does ten push-ups before giving up and flopping onto his belly. He simply doesn’t have the will to do any more. Lying there, he counts rapidly on.)
ROGER: Fourteen, fifteen. Twenty. Twenty-five.
(BILLY, shuffling dejectedly back in, sees ROGER lying there. ROGER springs to his feet, heads toward his footlocker, out of which he takes an ashtray and a pack of cigarettes.)
You come in this area, you come in here marchin”, boy: standin” tall.
(BILLY, having gone to his wall locker, is tossing a Playboy magazine onto his bunk. He will also remove a towel, a Dopp kit, and a can of foot powder.)
BILLY: I was marchin”.
ROGER: You call that marchin”?
BILLY: I was as tall as I am; I was marchin” –what do you want?
ROGER: Outa here, man; outa this goddamn typin”-terrors outfit and into some kinda real army. Or else out and free.
BILLY: So go; who’s stoppin” you; get out. Go on.
ROGER: Ain’t you a bitch.
BILLY: You and me more regular army than the goddamn sergeants around this place, you know that?
ROGER: I was you, Billy boy, I wouldn’t be talkin” so sacrilegious so loud, or they be doin” you like they did the ole sarge.
BILLY: He’ll get off.
ROGER: Sheee-it, he’ll get off.
(Sitting down on the side of his bed and facing BILLY, ROGER lights up a cigarette. BILLY has arranged the towel, Dopp kit and foot powder on his own bed.)
Don’t you think L.B.J. want to have some sergeants in that Vietnam, man? In Disneyland, baby? Lord have mercy on the ole sarge. He goin” over there to be Mickey Mouse.
BILLY: Do him a lot of good. Make a man outa him.
ROGER: That’s right, that’s right. He said the same damn thing about himself and you, too, I do believe. You know what’s the ole boy’s MOS? His Military Occupation Specialty? Demolitions, baby. Expert is his name.
BILLY (taking off his shoes and beginning to work on a sore toe, he hardly looks up): You’re kiddin” me.
ROGER: Do I jive?
BILLY: You mean that poor ole bastard who cannot light his own cigar for shakin” is supposed to go over there blowin” up bridges and shit? Do they wanna win this war or not, man?
ROGER: Ole sarge was over in Europe in the big one, Billy. Did all kinds a bad things.
BILLY (swinging his feet up onto the bed, he sits, cutting the cuticles on his toes, powdering his feet): Was he drinkin” since he got the word?
ROGER: Was he breathin”, Billy? Was he breathin”?
BILLY: Well, at least he ain’t cuttin” his fuckin” wrists.
(Silence. ROGER looks at BILLY, who keeps on working.)
Man, that’s the real damn army over there, ain’t it? That ain’t shinin” your belt buckle and standin” tall. And we might end up in it, man.
(Silence. ROGER, rising, begins to sort his laundry.)
Roger ” you ever ask yourself if you’d rather fight in a war where it was freezin” cold or one where there was awful snakes? You ever ask that question?
ROGER: Can’t say I ever did.
BILLY: We used to ask it all the time. All the time. I mean, us kids sittin” out on the back porch tellin” ghost stories at night. “Cause it was Korea time and the newspapers were fulla pictures of soldiers in snow with white frozen beards; they got these rags tied around their feet. And snakes. We hated snakes. Hated “em. I mean, it’s bad enough to be in the jungle duckin” bullets, but then you crawl right into a goddamn snake. That’s awful. That’s awful.
ROGER: It don’t sound none too good.
BILLY: I got my draft notice, goddamn Vietnam didn’t even exist. I mean, it existed, but not as in a war we might be in. I started crawlin” around the floor a this house where I was stayin” “cause I’d dropped outa school, and I was goin” “Bang, bang,” preten-din”. Jesus.
ROGER (continuing with his laundry, he tries to joke): My first goddamn formation in basic, Billy, this NCO’s up there jammin” away about how some a us are goin” to be dyin” in the war. I’m sayin”, “What war? What that crazy man talkin” about?”
BILLY: Us, too. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. And now we got three people goin” from here.
(They look at each other, and then turn away, each returning to his task.)
BILLY: It don’t seem possible. I mean, people shootin” at you. Shootin” at you to kill you. (Slight pause.) It’s somethin”.
ROGER: What did you decide you preferred?
ROGER: Did you decide you would prefer the snakes or would you prefer the snow? “Cause it look like it is going to be the snakes.
BILLY: I think I had pretty much made my mind up on the snow.
ROGER: Well, you just let “em know that, Billy. Maybe they get one goin” special just for you up in Alaska. You can go to the Klondike. Fightin” some snowmen.
(RICHIE bounds into the room and shuts the door as if to keep out something dreadful. He looks at ROGER and BILLY and crosses to his wall locker, pulling off his tie as he moves. Tossing the tie into the locker, he begins unbuttoning the cuffs of his shirt.)
RICHIE: Hi, hi, hi, everybody. Billy, hello.
ROGER: What’s happenin”, Rich?
(Moving to the chair beside the door, RICHIE picks up the pie BILLY left there. He will place the pie atop the locker, and then, sitting, he will remove his shoes and socks.)
RICHIE: I simply did this rather wonderful thing for a friend of mine, helped him see himself in a clearer, more hopeful light– a little room in his life for hope. And I feel very good. Didn’t Billy tell you?
ROGER: About what?
RICHIE: About Martin.
BILLY (looking up and speaking pointedly): No.
(RICHIE looks at BILLY and then at ROGER. RICHIE is truly confused.)
RICHIE: No? No?
BILLY: What do I wanna gossip about Martin for?
RICHIE (really can’t figure out what is going on with BILLY; shoes and socks in hand, he heads for his wall locker): Who was planning to gossip? I mean, it did happen. We could talk about it. I mean, I wasn’t hearing his goddamn confession. Oh, my sister told me Catholics were boring.
BILLY: Good thing I ain’t one anymore.
RICHIE (taking off his shirt, moves toward ROGER): It really wasn’t anything, Roger, except Martin made this rather desperate, pathetic gesture for attention that seems to have brought to the surface Billy’s more humane and protective side. (Reaching out, he tousles Billy’s hair.)
BILLY: Man, I am gonna have to obliterate you.
RICHIE (tossing his shirt into his locker): I don’t know what you’re so embarrassed about.
BILLY: I just think Martin’s got enough trouble without me yappin” to everybody.
(RICHIE has moved nearer BILLY, his manner playful and teasing.)
RICHIE: “Obliterate”? “Obliterate,” did you say? Oh, Billy, you better say ‘shit,” “ain’t,” and ‘motherfucker” real quick now, or we’ll all know just how far beyond the fourth grade you went.
ROGER (having moved to his locker, into which he is placing his folded clothes): You hear about the ole sarge, Richard?
BILLY (grinning): You ain’t ” shit ” motherfucker.
ROGER (laughing): All right.
RICHIE (moving center and beginning to remove his trousers): Billy, no, no. Wit is my domain. You’re in charge of sweat and running around the block.
ROGER: You hear about the ole sarge?
RICHIE: What about the ole sarge? Oh, who cares? Let’s go to a movie. Billy, wanna? Let’s go. C’mon. (Trousers off, he hurries to his locker.)
BILLY: Sure. What’s playin”?
RICHIE: I don’t know. Can’t remember. Something good, though.
(With a Playboy magazine he has taken from his locker, ROGER is settling down on his bunk, his back toward both BILLY and RICHIE.)
BILLY: You wanna go, Rog?
RICHIE (in mock irritation): Don’t ask Roger! How are we going to kiss and hug and stuff if he’s there?
BILLY: That ain’t funny, man. (He is stretched out on his bunk, and RICHIE comes bounding over to flop down and lie beside him.)
RICHIE: And what time will you pick me up?
Billy (pushes at RICHIE, knocking him off the bed and onto the floor): Well, you just fall down and wait, all right?
RICHIE: Can I help it if I love you? (Leaping to his feet, he will head to his locker, remove his shorts, put on a robe.)
ROGER: You gonna take a shower, Richard?
RICHIE: Cleanliness is nakedness, Roger.
ROGER: Is that right? I didn’t know that. Not too many people know that. You may be the only person in the world who know that.
RICHIE: And godliness is in there somewhere, of course. (Putting a towel around his neck, he is gathering toiletries to carry to the shower.)
ROGER: You got your own way a lookin” at things, man. You cute.
RICHIE: That’s right.
ROGER: You g”wan, have a good time in that shower.
RICHIE: Oh, I will.
BILLY (without looking up from his feet, which he is powdering):
And don’t drop your soap.
RICHIE: I will if I want to. (Already out the door, he slams it shut with a flourish.)
BILLY: Can you imagine bein” in combat with Richie–people blastin” away at you–he’d probably want to hold your hand.
ROGER: Ain’t he somethin”?
BILLY: Who’s zat?
ROGER: He’s all right.
BILLY (rising, heading toward his wall locker, where he will put the powder and Dopp kit): Sure he is, except he’s livin” under water.
(Looking at BILLY, ROGER senses something unnerving; it makes ROGER rise, and return his magazine to his footlocker.)
ROGER: I think we oughta do this area, man. I think we oughta do our area. Mop and buff this floor.
BILLY: You really don’t think he means that shit he talks, do you?
ROGER: Huh? Awwww, man ” Billy, no.
BILLY: I’d put money on it, Roger, and I ain’t got much money.
(BILLY is trying to face ROGER with this, but ROGER, seated on his bed, has turned away. He is unbuttoning his shirt.)
ROGER: Man, no, no. I’m tellin” you, lad, you listen to the ole Rog.
You seen that picture a that little dolly he’s got in his locker? He
ain’t swish, man, believe me–he’s cool.
BILLY: It’s just that ever since we been in this room, he’s been
different somehow. Somethin”.
ROGER: No, he ain’t.
(BILLY turns to his bed, where he carefully starts folding the towel. Then he looks at ROGER.)
BILLY: You ever talk to any a these guys–queers, I mean? You ever sit down, just rap with one of “em?
ROGER: Hell, no; what I wanna do that for? Shit, no.
BILLY (crossing to the trash can in the corner, where he will shake the towel empty): I mean, some of “em are okay guys, just way up this bad alley, and you say to “em, “I’m straight, be cool,” they go their own way. But then there’s these other ones, these bitches, man, and they’re so crazy they think anybody can be had. Because they been had themselves. So you tell “em you’re straight and they just nod and smile. You ain’t real to “em. They can’t see nothin” but themselves and these goddamn games they’re always playin”. (Having returned to his bunk, he is putting on his shoes.) I mean, you can be decent about anything, Roger, you see what I’m sayin”? We’re all just people, man, and some of us are hardly that. That’s all I’m sayin”. (There is a slight pause as he sits there thinking. Then he gets to his feet.) I’ll go get some buckets and stuff so we can clean up, okay? This area’s a mess. This area ain’t standin” tall.
ROGER: That’s good talk, lad; this area a midget you put it next to an area standin” tall.
BILLY: Got to be good fuckin” troopers.
ROGER: That’s right, that’s right. I know the meanin” of the words.
BILLY: I mean, I just think we all got to be honest with each other– you understand me?
ROGER: No, I don’t understand you; one stupid fuckin” nigger like me–how’s that gonna be?
BILLY: That’s right; mock me, man. That’s what I need. I’ll go get the wax.
(Out BILLY goes, talking to himself and leaving the door open. For a moment ROGER sits, thinking, and then he looks at Richie’s locker and gets to his feet and walks to the locker which he opens and looks at the pinup hanging on the inside of the door. He takes a step backward, looking.)
(Through the open door comes CARLYLE. ROGER doesn’t see him. And CARLYLE stands there looking at ROGER and the picture in the locker.)
CARLYLE: Boy ” whose locker you lookin” into?
ROGER (startled, but recovers): Hey, baby, what’s happenin”?
CARLYLE: That ain’t your locker, is what I’m askin”, nigger. I mean, you ain’t got no white goddamn woman hangin” on your wall.
ROGER: Oh, no–no, no.
CARLYLE: You don’t wanna be lyin” to me, “cause I got to turn you in you lyin” and you do got the body a some white goddamn woman hangin” there for you to peek at nobody around but you–you can be thinkin” about that sweet wet pussy an” maybe it hot an” maybe it cool.
ROGER: I could be thinkin” all that, except I know the penalty for lyin”.
CARLYLE: Thank God for that.
(Extending his hand, palm up)
ROGER: That’s right. This here the locker of a faggot. (And he slaps Carlyle’s hand, palm to palm.)
CARLYLE: Course it is; I see that; any damn body know that.
(ROGER crosses toward his bunk and CARLYLE swaggers about, pulling a pint of whiskey from his hip pocket.)
You want a shot? Have you a little taste, my man.
CARLYLE: C’mon. C’mon. I think you a Tom you don’t drink outa my bottle.
(He thrusts the bottle toward ROGER and wipes a sweat-and grease-stained sleeve across his mouth.)
ROGER (taking the bottle): Shit.
CARLYLE: That right. How do I know? I just got in. New boy in town. Somewhere over there; I dunno. They dump me in amongst a whole bunch a pale, boring motherfuckers. (He is exploring the room. Finding Billy’s Playboy, he edges onto Billy’s bed and leafs nervously through the pages.) I just come in from P Company, man, and I been all over this place, don’t see too damn many of us. This outfit look like it a little short on soul. I been walkin” all around, I tell you, and the number is small. Like one hand you can tabulate the lot of “em. We got few brothers I been able to see, is what I’m sayin”. You and me and two cats down in the small bay. That’s all I found.
(As ROGER is about to hand the bottle back, CARLYLE, almost angrily, waves him off.)
No, no, you take another; take you a real taste.
ROGER: It ain’t so bad here. We do all right.
CARLYLE (moves, shutting the door; suspiciously, he approaches ROGER): How about the white guys? They give you any sweat? What’s the situation? No jive. I like to know what is goin” on within the situation before that situation get a chance to be closin” in on me.
ROGER (putting the bottle on the footlocker, he sits down): Man, I’m tellin” you, it ain’t bad. They’re just pale, most of “em, you know. They can’t help it; how they gonna help it? Some of “em got little bit a soul, couple real good boys around this way. Get “em little bit of Coppertone, they be straight, man.
CARLYLE: How about the NCOs? We got any brother NCO watchin” out for us or they all white, like I goddamn well KNOW all the officers are? Fuckin” officers always white, man; fuckin” snow cones and bars everywhere you look. (He cannot stay still. He moves to his right, his left; he sits, he stands.)
ROGER: First sergeant’s a black man.
CARLYLE: All right; good news. Hey, hey, you wanna go over the club with me, or maybe downtown? I got wheels. Let’s be free. (Now he rushes at ROGER.) Let’s be free.
CARLYLE: Ohhh, baby”!
(He is pulling wildly at ROGER to get him to the door.)
ROGER: Some other time. I gotta get the area straight. Me and the guy sleeps in here too are gonna shape the place up a little. (He has pulled free, and CARLYLE cannot understand. It hurts him, depresses him.)
CARLYLE: You got a sweet deal here an” you wanna keep it, that right? (He paces about the room, opens a footlocker, looks inside.) How you rate you get a room like this for yourself–you and a couple guys?
ROGER: Spec 4. The three of us in here Spec 4.
CARLYLE: You get a room then, huh? (And suddenly, without warning or transition, he is angry.) Oh, man, I hate this goddamn army. I hate this bastard army. I mean, I just got outa basic–off leave– you know? Back on the block for two weeks–and now here. They don’t pull any a that petty shit, now, do they–that goddamn petty basic training bullshit? They do and I’m gonna be bustin” some head–my hand is gonna be upside all kinds a heads, “cause I ain’t gonna be able to endure it, man, not that kinda crap–understand? (And again, he is rushing at ROGER.) Hey, hey, oh, c’mon, let’s get my wheels and make it, man, do me the favor.
ROGER: How’m I gonna? I got my obligations.
(And CARLYLE spins away in anger.)
CARLYLE: Jesus, baby, can’t you remember the outside? How long it been since you been on leave? It is so sweet out there, nigger; you got it all forgot. I had such a sweet, sweet time. They doin” dances, baby, make you wanna cry. I hate this damn army. (The anger overwhelms him.) All these mother-actin” jacks givin” you jive about what you gotta do and what you can’t do. I had a bad scene in basic–up the hill and down the hill; it ain’t somethin” I enjoyed even a little. So they do me wrong here, Jim, they gonna be sorry. Some-damn-body! And this whole Vietnam THING–I do not dig it. (He falls on his knees before ROGER. It is a gesture that begins as a joke, a mockery. And then a real fear pulses through him to nearly fill the pose he has taken.) Lord, Lord, don’t let “em touch me. Christ, what will I do, they DO! Whooooooooooooo! And they pullin” guys outa here, too, ain’t they? Pullin” “em like weeds, man; throwin” “em into the fire. It’s shit, man.
ROGER: They got this ole sarge sleeps down the hall–just today they got him.
CARLYLE: Which ole sarge?
ROGER: He sleeps just down the hall. Little guy.
CARLYLE: Wino, right?
ROGER: Booze hound.
CARLYLE: Yeh; I seen him. They got him, huh?
ROGER: He’s goin”; gotta be packin” his bags. And three other guys two days ago. And two guys last week.
CARLYLE (leaping up from Billy’s bed): Ohhh, them bastards. And everybody just takes it. It ain’t our war, brother. I’m tellin” you. That’s what gets me, nigger. It ain’t our war nohow because it ain’t our country, and that’s what burns my ass–that and everybody just sittin” and takin” it. They gonna be bustin” balls, man– kickin” and stompin”. Everybody here maybe one week from shippin” out to get blown clean away and, man, whata they doin”? They doin” what they told. That what they doin”. Like you? Shit! You gonna straighten up your goddamn area! Well, that ain’t for me; I’m gettin” hat, and makin” it out where it’s sweet and the people’s livin”. I can’t cut this jive here, man. I’m tellin” you. I can’t cut it.
(He has moved toward ROGER, and behind him now RICHIE enters, running, his hair wet, traces of shaving cream on his face. Toweling his hair, he falters, seeing CARLYLE. Then he crosses to his locker. CARLYLE grins at ROGER, looks at RICHIE, steps toward him and gives a little bow.)
My name is Carlyle; what is yours?
CARLYLE (turns toward ROGER to share his joke): Hello. Where is Martin? That cute little Martin.
(And RICHIE has just taken off his robe as CARLYLE turns back.)
You cute, too, Richie.
RICHIE: Martin doesn’t live here. (Hurriedly putting on underpants to cover his nakedness)
CARLYLE (watching RICHIE, he slowly turns toward ROGER): You ain’t gonna make it with me, man?
ROGER: Naw ” like I tole you. I’ll catch you later.
CARLYLE: That’s sad, man; make me cry in my heart.
ROGER: You g”wan get your head smokin”. Stop on back.
CARLYLE: Okay, okay. Got to be one man one more time. (On the move for the door, his hand extended palm up behind him, demanding the appropriate response.) Baby! Gimme! Gimme!
(Lunging, ROGER slaps the hand.)
ROGER: G”wan home! G”wan home.
CARLYLE: You gonna hear from me. (And he is gone out the door and down the hallway.)
ROGER: I can ” and do ” believe ” that.
(RICHIE, putting on his T-shirt, watches ROGER, who stubs out his cigarette, then crosses to the trashcan to empty the ashtray.)
RICHIE: Who was that?
ROGER: Man’s new, Rich. Dunno his name more than that “Carlyle” he said. He’s new–just outa basic.
RICHIE (powdering his thighs and under his arms): Oh, my God”
(As BILLY enters, pushing a mop bucket with a wringer attached and carrying a container of wax.)
ROGER: Me and Billy’s gonna straighten up the area. You wanna help?
RICHIE: Sure, sure; help, help.
BILLY (talking to ROGER, but turning to look at RICHIE, who is still putting powder under his arms): I hadda steal the wax from Third Platoon.
ROGER: Good man.
BILLY (moving to RICHIE, joking, yet really irritated in some strange way): What? Whata you doin”, singin”? Look at that, Rog. He’s got enough jazz there for an entire beauty parlor. (Grabbing the can from RICHIE’s hand.) What is this? Baby Powder! BABY POWDER!
RICHIE: I get rashes.
BILLY: Okay, okay, you get rashes, so what? They got powder for rashes that isn’t baby powder.
RICHIE: It doesn’t work as good; I’ve tried it. Have you tried it?
(Grabbing Billy’s waist, RICHIE pulls him close. BILLY knocks Richie’s hands away.)
BILLY: Man, I wish you could get yourself straight. I’ll mop, too, Roger–okay? Then I’ll put down the wax and you can spread it? (He has walked away from RICHIE.)
RICHIE: What about buffing?
ROGER: In the morning. (He is already busy mopping up near the door.)
RICHIE: What do you want me to do?
BILLY (grabbing up a mop, he heads downstage to work): Get inside your locker and shut the door and don’t holler for help. Nobody’ll know you’re there; you’ll stay there.
RICHIE: But I’m so pretty.
BILLY: NOW! (Pointing to ROGER. He wants to get this clear.) Tell that man you mean what you’re sayin”, Richie.
RICHIE: Mean what?
BILLY: That you really think you’re pretty.
RICHIE: Of course I do; I am. Don’t you think I am? Don’t you think I am, Roger?
ROGER: I tole you–you fulla shit and you cute, man. Carlyle just tole you you cute, too.
RICHIE: Don’t you think it’s true, Billy?
BILLY: It’s like I tole you, Rog.
RICHIE: What did you tell him?
BILLY: That you go down; that you go up and down like a yo-yo and you go blowin” all the trees like the wind.
(RICHIE is stunned. He looks at ROGER, and then he turns and stares into his own locker. The others keep mopping. RICHIE takes out a towel, and putting it around his neck, he walks to where BILLY is working. He stands there, hurt, looking at BILLY.)
RICHIE: What the hell made you tell him I been down, Billy?
BILLY (still mopping): It’s in your eyes; I seen it.
RICHIE: What is it, Billy, you think you’re trying to say? You and all your wit and intelligence–your HUMANITY.
BILLY: I said it, Rich; I said what I was tryin” to say.
RICHIE: DID you?
BILLY: I think I did.
RICHIE: DO you?
BILLY: Loud and clear, baby. (Still mopping.)
ROGER: They got to put me in with the weirdos. Why is that, huh? How come the army HATE me, do this shit to me–KNOW what to do to me. (Whimsical, and then suddenly loud, angered, violent.) Now you guys put socks in your mouths, right now–get shut up–or I am gonna beat you to death with each other. Roger got work to do. To be doin” it!
RICHIE (turning to his bed, he kneels upon it): Roger, I think you’re so innocent sometimes. Honestly, it’s not such a terrible thing. Is it, Billy?
BILLY: How would I know? (He slams his mop into the bucket.) Oh, go fuck yourself.
RICHIE: Well, I can give it a try, if that’s what you want. Can I think of you as I do?
BILLY (throwing down his mop): GODDAMMIT! That’s it! IT!
(BILLY exits, rushing into the hall and slamming the door behind him. ROGER looks at RICHIE. Neither quite knows what is going on. Suddenly the door bursts open and BILLY storms straight over to RICHIE, who still kneels on the bed.)
Now I am gonna level with you. Are you gonna listen? You gonna hear what I say, Rich, and not what you think I’m sayin”?
(RICHIE turns away as if to rise, his manner flippant, disdainful.)
No! Don’t get cute; don’t turn away cute. I wanna say somethin” straight out to you and I want you to hear it!
RICHIE: I’m all ears, goddammit! For what, however, I do not know, except some boring evasion.
BILLY: At least wait the hell till you hear me!
RICHIE (in irritation): Okay, okay! What?
BILLY: Now this is level, Rich; this is straight talk. (He is quiet, intense. This is difficult for him. He seeks the exactly appropriate words of explanation.) No B.S. No tricks. What you do on the side, that’s your business and I don’t care about it. But if you don’t cut the cute shit with me, I’m gonna turn you off. Completely. You ain’t gonna get a good mornin” outa me, you understand, because it’s gettin” bad around here. I mean, I know how you think–how you keep lookin” out and seein” yourself, and that’s what I’m tryin” to tell you because that’s all that’s hap-penin”, Rich. That’s all there is to it when you look out at me and think there’s some kind of approval or whatever you see in my eyes–you’re just seein” yourself. And I’m talkin” the simple quiet truth to you, Rich. I swear I am.
(BILLY looks away from RICHIE now and tries to go back to the mopping. It is embarrassing for them all. ROGER has watched, has tried to keep working. RICHIE has flopped back on his bunk. There is a silence.)
RICHIE: How ” do ” you want me to be? I don’t know how else to be.
BILLY: Ohhh, man, that ain’t any part of it. (The mop is clenched in his hands.)
RICHIE: Well, I don’t come from the same kind of world as you do.
BILLY: Damn, Richie, you think Roger and I come off the same street?
RICHIE: All right. Okay. But I’ve just done what I wanted all of my life. If I wanted to do something, I just did it. Honestly. I’ve never had to work or anything like that, and I’ve always had nice clothing and money for cab fare. Money for whatever I wanted. Always. I’m not like you are.
ROGER: You ain’t sayin” you really done that stuff, though, Rich.
ROGER: That fag stuff.
RICHIE (continues looking at ROGER and then he looks away): Yes.
ROGER: Do you even know what you’re sayin”, Richie? Do you even know what it means to be a fag?
RICHIE: Roger, of course I know what it is. I just told you I’ve done it. I thought you black people were supposed to understand all about suffering and human strangeness. I thought you had depth and vision from all your suffering. Has someone been misleading me? I just told you I did it. I know all about it. Everything. All the various positions.
ROGER: Yeh, so maybe you think you’ve tried it, but that don’t make you it. I mean, we used to ” in the old neighborhood, man, we had a couple dudes swung that way. But they was weird, man. There was this one little fella, he was a screamin” goddamn faggot ” uh ” (He considers RICHIE, wondering if perhaps he has offended him.) Ohhh, ohhh, you ain’t no screamin” goddamn faggot, Richie, no matter what you say. And the baddest man on the block was my boy Jerry Lemon. So one day Jerry’s got the faggot in one a them ole deserted stairways and he’s bouncin” him off the walls. I’m just a little fella, see, and I’m watchin” the baddest man on the block do his thing. So he come bouncin” back into me instead of Jerry, and just when he hit, he gave his ass this little twitch, man, like he thought he was gonna turn me on. I’d never a thought that was possible, man, for a man to be twitchin” his ass on me, just like he thought he was a broad. Scared me to death. I took off runnin”. Oh, oh, that ole neighborhood put me into all kinds a crap. I did some sufferin”, just like Richie says.
Like this once, I’m swingin” on up the street after school, and outa this phone booth comes this man with a goddamned knife stickin” outa his gut. So he sees me and starts tryin” to pull his motherfuckin” coat out over the handle, like he’s worried about how he looks, man. “I didn’t know this was gonna happen,” he says. And then he falls over. He was just all of a sudden dead, man; just all of a sudden dead. You ever seen anything like that, Billy? Any crap like that?
(BILLY, sitting on Roger’s bunk, is staring at ROGER.)
BILLY: You really seen that?
ROGER: Richie’s a big-city boy.
RICHIE: Oh, no; never anything like that.
ROGER: ‘momma, help me,” I am screamin”. “Jesus, Momma, help me.” Little fella, he don’t know how to act, he sees somethin” like that.
(For a moment they are still, each thinking.)
BILLY: How long you think we got?
ROGER: What do you mean?
(ROGER is hanging up the mops; BILLY is now kneeling on Roger’s bunk.)
BILLY: Till they pack us up, man, ship us out.
ROGER: To the war, you mean? To Disneyland? Man, I dunno; that up to them IBMs. Them machines is figurin” that. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe never.
(The war–the threat of it–is the one thing they share.)