(An old nursing home. A young man lights a birthday candle on a cake for an old man in a wheelchair.)
SON. Happy birthday grandpa!
PA. Well…thank you very much. I hope this is my last.
SON. Don’t say things like that. I give you a nice gift and you say things like that. You give everyone a reason to roll in their graves.
PA. I’m 84. I thought there would be more people around.
SON. You have some people. Mom doesn’t like you but you got some people here. Do they talk to you here?
PA. A couple of Squatamalans come around. They work the garden. I had them put some carnations outside my window.
SON. That’s nice. I walked around before coming in. You got a nice garden here.
PA. Mary in her garden grow, life of shine and ease, picking flowers in the sun, among the daisy and peas.
SON. It’s lavender and peas.
SON. She sits among the lavender and peas. That’s how that joke is supposed to go.
PA. Oh I don’t know whatever bullshit riddle it is. Think I remember anything with these pills?
SON. Alright Pa just drop it.
PA. It wasn’t like this in the army. In the army we just cared about not starving.
SON. Oh shut up, that wasn’t what the army was like.
PA. No but it could’ve! We were close to death.
SON. I’ve been close to death. You were a spy. And not even a good one.
PA. That’s not true we won the cold war because of me.
SON. We won the cold war because communism failed. It was gonna happen anyway. You didn’t do anything.
PA. It was because of me. I went to Russia eleven times. Went to Jerusalem sixteen. You know what happened to the Israeli arms dealers? They all live in Philadelphia now. I can’t make sense of it. Well I mean I can. Pennsylvania is a beautiful state, though the people are rotten. You mix Quaker with Shaker and all you get is Jackass. It is beautiful. Lush with green, with forests. This big state no one talks about. You know, most Americans don’t believe in climate change because they’ve probably driven through Pennsylvania. You drive across the country and it’s green and nice. If Pennsylvania was in Europe there’d be millions dead fighting over it.
PA. The land is here, it’s the minds that are melting. And the new stuff rising? This campus crap? What an honor it would be to see it fall off the face of the Earth, I doubt we’ll be so lucky!
SON. Grandpa I wanted to come and talk about the war.
PA. War? Who cares about war? It’s freedom that matters.
PA. You know what freedom is? Freedom is how free your enemy is. Don’t forget that.
SON. Okay…I don’t know where this Rush Revere True Blue Patriot shit is coming from, but it’s not from the same man who taught me how to shoot firewater off a barrel in Alaska.
PA. You want to be a captain? Why don’t you go back to Afghanistan?
SON. That was seven years ago. I’m in school now.
PA. What school?
SON. Law school. In Nashville.
PA. Oh. Godbless. It’s easier to imagine you in union than on a college campus.
SON. They hand out these leftist flyers on campus. “How do we bring black and white workers
together? How do we bring red and yellow workers together?”
PA. You can’t make any of that shit work. I know, I was in reconnaissance. All the smart jews controlled the Soviet Union. If they couldn’t make it work, you can’t make it work.
SON. I’m not a leftist, I don’t care about that crap. I’m trying to make a career.
PA. Impressive careers are for losers. I thought you would’ve learned that by now.
SON. Well what I did stopped being fun. And if you’re not having fun then it doesn’t really count does it?
PA. No it doesn’t.
SON. And I can't actually party like at a real college. I’m there to study, not for fun.
PA. Well why don’t you join a club?
SON. Maybe. AA cures alcoholism. It didn’t help my other problems.
PA. My first wife met her current husband in AA.
SON. Before grandma?
PA. No, it was after that.
SON. Bree and I met in AA.
PA. Ah yes, her. She’s got that horrible disease: her ass looks exactly like her face!
SON. Come on.
PA. She’s dirty and she looks like a transvestite.
SON. You only met once!
PA. Bree what a disgusting name. Like a cheese. I bet she smells.
SON. She did smell. I should’ve listened to you about her. Women will discriminate over who
they sleep with, but they’ll marry anybody. PA. I knew a homewrecker in the army. Big arms. Could barely move he was so musclebound.
Slept with his officer’s girlfriend. Always with the moves.
SON. And he stayed that way?
PA. He was always a prettyboy. Even to the end. I mean…is there anything more pathetic than a handsome old man?
SON. He’s dead?
PA. Why don’t you stay around? Let me show you my photo album full of ghosts.
SON. They’re dead anyway, what does it matter? I really need to ask you something.
PA. Humor an old man for once will ya?
SON. Please I want to-
PA. I’ve been getting old. And the world is changing. The slow tempo of the old days is gone. My balls hurt. Maybe cancer. I don’t care. You haven’t had the best life and I’m sorry for that. There are things you inherited from me that I wish you didn’t. So I want to share as much time as possible with you. To share what’s left of my life.
SON. Don’t try to use this as some deathbed confession, alright? I came here to talk, I am setting the agenda.
PA. You need an agenda to talk to your own grandfather? That’s not how it should be!
SON. In Afghanistan, they have this thing. Called Bacha Bazi. Means “boy play” They dress up the local boys, make them do belly dancing and sleep with them. One of our partners was involved with it. We walked in on him.
PA. And? Did you kill him?
SON. No, we looked the other way. It’s their problem anyway. I don’t know. You think if that kid grows up he’d be pissed we did nothing?
PA. Probably not. He’d be more busy with the man who did the thing in the first place.
SON. He was an older guy. I looked at his file. I think he worked with you in the 80s. Nothing intensely, but just enough that your name came up. There was a report about some local police. Men who even the Taliban didn’t prosecute. There was a pipeline, from the mountains into Kabul. Mujahideen had been against it but a few still practiced. The leaders were too distracted with opium and arms trading to invest time in it. Our partner was a teenager during the Soviet invasion. I found him later, at B.C. He was apologetic but I didn’t really care about that. In fact I still don’t. If a child wants to be destroyed, that’s not something I can care about. But I do care about you, and I care about this family, and I can’t have something like that on my family’s history. Do you understand, sir?
PA. What exactly are you implying?
SON. Did you distract the mujahideen so they couldn’t stop the bazi?
PA. No. Get a hold of yourself, you sound like a damn fool.
SON. It’s not something I take lightly, ok? This is like a big deal to me. Mom doesn’t know anything and it-
PA. It’s my goddamn 84th birthday and tell you I may have cancer in my balls, and you want to drop this on me? What the fuck is wrong with you?
SON. Grandpa, I don’t mean it to be disrespectful.
PA. Bullshit. You mean every disrespect. You come past the nice Mexicans who plant my nice carnations to give me a crap cake and hurl war crime accusations like they’re tissue paper!
SON. I’m not hurling. I took my time, the reports, they have your approval on them.
PA. Come show me. Show me the shit report and we can see where it lies but until then, you have no respect coming here and throwing that crap on me. Just get out, please.
(The son leaves. A pause. The grandpa goes to a phone on his night table. He dials a number from an address book. It answers.)
PA. Dr. Dachoffsky, it’s Rex. I…uh…just wanted to call, see how Philadelphia was treating you. Look…uh…we should meet for a drink soon. Something I want to talk about. Something to do with the tzadik. You know what I mean…Give me a call.