Richard Seltzer's home page  Publishing home

HEEL, HITLER, A 10-MINUTE PLAY BY RICHARD SELTZER

 

Based on chapters from the novel "Bugle Boy"

Copyright © 2015 by Richard Seltzer

 

 

Summary

An old man and his nephew cope with death, one by living with gusto and laughing in the face of death, the other by devotion to duty and self-sacrifice, and both find salvation in an old dog.

 

Cast of Characters

 

SEAN                                      67 years old.  Well-groomed, in a business suit.  He didn't dress up                                                           for a special occasion, rather this is how he always dreses.  He is                                                  successful in his own eyes and in the eyes of others. When unsure                                                             of himself, he adjusts his tie to restore his self-confidence.

 

 

ADOLPH O'LEARY              His uncle, 90 years old, exuberant, self-satisfied. Imagine George Burns.                                                        He wears old jeans and a ragged shirt.  he's a gambler who has won and                                                                   lost and who takes his losses in good spirits, with no regrets.            

 

 

 

Props

military bugle

WWII helmet

a clothes basket holdling an old blanket and (unseen by the audience) an old dog

 

 

Place

Outside an apartment in Atlantic City.

 

Time

A morning in 2013

 

 

 

Setting:              Outside an apartment building in Atlantic City.

 

At Rise:             ADOLPH sits on the front steps, old army bugle in hand, a basket with a blanket by his side. He struggles to blow a cacophonous blast on the bugle. SEAN enters far right, hesitant and conflicted.

 

SEAN (stepping forward)

Uncle Adolph?

 

ADOLPH (recognizes SEAN, smiles and stands)

Sean? Is that you? You in an old man's body. (laughs) For you to be that old, my life must be speeding -- doing 90, in a 30 mile-an-hour zone. That's not my fault, officer. The accelerator's stuck.

 

SEAN (laughing)

Long time no see.

 

ADOLPH

Said the blind man.

 

SEAN

Cuba si.

 

ADOLPH

Said the travel agent.

 

SEAN

Yankee no.

 

ADOLPH

And he should know better.

 

SEAN

You're still quick.

 

ADOLPH

Better quick than dead.

 

(SEAN AND ADOLPH high-five then hug)

 

SEAN

I've missed you, Uncle Adolph.

 

ADOLPH

Well, if you arrived tomorrow instead of today, you'd have missed me again. I'll be shipping out to a nursing home in the morning.

 

SEAN

So I heard. Shit.

 

ADOLPH (touching helmet and bugle)

You caught me playing with sutff I can't take with me. Dying should be easier. You don't expect to keep your stuff then. But ripping it away while the body's still warm, -- downsizing, they call it. Death by a thousand cuts, I call it.

 

SEAN

Can I help? Do you need anything?

 

ADOLPH

A new life. Size eight. Rubber sole.

 

SEAN (chuckles)

Same old Adolph.

 

ADOLPH

How did we get so far out of touch? Before you went off to college, I was your fountain of wisdom, and you were a thirsty lad. It did my heart good to sound wise to you, when, to myself, I sounded like a fool.

 

SEAN

I'm a pro at procrastination.  We make an odd pair.

 

ADOLPH

A losing hand.

 

SEAN

I've lost it already. That's what brings me here. When I heard about the nursing home, that got me off my ass, but I needed to see you on my own account.  I need to bounce some ideas off you, like I did in the old days.

 

ADOLPH

Pray tell. No, don't pray. Just tell.

 

SEAN

You remember your story about the bugle boy, back in World War II?

 

ADOLPH

I wish I could forget it.


SEAN

The day before your unit was due to ship out, you got orders to transfer to an army band.

 

ADOLPH (puts his helmet on again)

And a fine band of brothers it was.

 

SEAN

Your old unit wound up in the Battle of the Bulge, and everybody was captured. Then on the way to prison camp, the Allies bombed the train. And there was only one casualty -- the bugle boy who took your place, died.

 

ADOLPH

Right. My O'Leary luck. The fuck of the Irish.

 

SEAN

That's what you said. You win some. You lose some. You said that loud and often. But what you didn't say was even louder than what you did say. You were singled out.  You were saved for a reason.  You had a destiny to fulfill. Your story told me that we each have a path that we should follow, a straight and narrow, a reason for our living. Life's about duty and self-sacrifice.  What we do matters in the grand scheme of things.

 

ADOLPH

Ah, yes -- the grand scam of things. I never cared for that way of looking at life.

 

SEAN

You don't care now. But there was a time when you did. Dad said the bugle-boy story changed you. You were pre-med. Dedicated. And you came out of the war mellow and happy-go-lucky -- the guy I love, who we all love; not the straight-laced guy you were before.

 

ADOLPH

I saw the light, and it was good. Better a world of chance than one made of destiny and duty. Cast a cold eye on life, on death. And raise a pint to those who came before.

 

SEAN

Your banter was enough for me years ago. But now I need to talk to the sober, serious you, the pre-war you.  Talk to me straight, Adolph, please. I need your advice.

 

ADOLPH

You of little faith. There's wisdom in wordplay, my lad.  Language knows more than we do. It lives. It grows. We use it. We change it. We learn from it. It's like a game of tag, from one generation to the next.

 

SEAN

Horseshit.

 

ADOLPH

Like that, too. Today's shit -- tomorrow's fertilizer. In the beginning is the word. At the end is the turd. We're all manure in the end.

 

SEAN

I get it. You still see the world that way. That's the life you've led, and you're proud of it. But I can't live that way. I crave for meaning and purpose. I need a path to follow. That bugle boy story of yours inspired me. That story helped me tough it out, year after year. I could go to work in the morning. I could hold my marriage together. Then the story changed.

 

ADOLPH

What do you mean it "changed'?

 

SEAN

The bugle boy.

 

ADOLPH (does double-take)

What?

SEAN

I was so proud of my life and of that story of yours that had inspired me, that I wrote about it and posted it on the Web. And somebody searching for himself, found that story and contacted me.

 

ADOLPH

Wasn't it Socrates who said, "Google thyself"?

 

SEAN

The bugle boy.

 

ADOLPH

Google boy?

 

SEAN

The guy who died in your place -- he contacted me.

 

ADOLPH (taken aback, no longer joking)

You have changed, my boy. Now you believe in ghosts?

 

SEAN

He's alive. That story you heard was false.

 

ADOLPH (sober, sits, takes off his helmet, stamps his feet, takes a deep breath)

Shit. I joked about that story, but I never doubted it. (pauses) And it turns out that I was making fun of nothing. There was no connection between his life and mine. It feels strange hearing that now. I wonder if I really believed myself when I poo-pooed the idea that I was singled out, that I had a destiny, that anybody could have a destiny, when I preached that things just happen.

 

SEAN

Yes, things just happen -- that's what took the wind out of my sails. I couldn't believe in Santa Claus or God; but, for years, the bugle boy story gave me faith that life can have a purpose. And without that faith, I couldn't go to work in the morning; I couldn't make my marriage work.

 

ADOLPH

It was a sleeping dog story.

 

SEAN

What?

 

ADOLPH (stands again, animated)

Let sleeping dogs lie.

 

SEAN

Life isn't a joke.

 

ADOLPH

But it is. It has to be.  Otherwise, the weight of responsibility would be too much. Step right up, my boy. This is the chance of a life time. Take a good look. The house lights are on. You can see the makeup and props. It's all a show. So enjoy the show. Carpe diem, carpe night-em, carpe everything-you-can-get-em. We need to kick-start the rest of your life.

 

SEAN

And how the hell are you going to do that?

 

ADOLPH

Let's walk the dog, and talk the talk.

 

(ADOLPH leans over the basket and looks down at it tenderly)

 

SEAN

Dog? I thought that was a basket of dirty laundry. You have a dog in there?

 

ADOLPH

That's about all I have. A dachshund, 20 years old, blind in one eye and lame in one leg. I can't take him with me to the nursing home. This will be my last walk with him. The vet will put him down tomorrow.

 

SEAN

Shit.

 

ADOLPH

Amen. Shit almighty. I should have taught him that trick. That would have been a good one -- shit, Rover, shit.

 

ADOLPH (leans over the clothes basket and continues)

Heel!

 

SEAN

Adolph, the dog isn't moving.

 

ADOLPH (stroking the blanket, then picking up the basket)

Then I'll take matters into my own hands, and walk the basket. It won't be the first time. But it will be the last. We won't last much longer. (pause) Heel, Hitler!

 

SEAN

Hitler?

 

(ADOLPH starts walking, carrying the basket. SEAN walks beside him.)

 

ADOLPH

Yes, of course. Hitler's the dog's name. That's what I named him when I adopted him last year.

 

SEAN

You adopted an old lame dog?

 

ADOLPH

Of course. Do you think I'd want to name a healthy young dog "Hitler"? What would be the joke of that?

 

SEAN

Joke? What joke?

 

ADOLPH

This is my revenge for what that upstart in Germany did to my good name. That's the essence of a man -- his good name. Like my father always told me -- "You might lose your money. You might lose your health. There's nothing you can do about that. But your good name -- don't let anybody take that away from you." When Hitler took my name, I knew I had to do that dog thing to get my name back. But I kept putting it off, and it wasn't until last year that I got around to it. And, now, I guess it's too late. Nobody gets the joke. Kind of like me. My life's a shaggy dog story that's gone on so long that nobody's going to notice the punch line at the end.

 

SEAN

That could have its upside.

 

ADOLPH

Which is?

 

SEAN

If an old man dies and nobody notices, does he really die?

 

ADOLPH (laughs and slaps SEAN on the back)

Like old soldiers and bad movies, he just fades away.

 

SEAN

That's life. That's death. It rains. It shines. Sometimes it shits. But what the hell is "it" -- the great all-powerful "it" that does everything?

 

ADOLPH

The it-ness protection program... Don't go looking for "it". That's the wrong game. You knew the meaning of "it" in kindergarten.

 

SEAN

What?

 

ADOLPH

You're "it" or I'm "it". And we pass the power of it-ness from one to the other. That's the meaning of life. That's my tell.

 

SEAN

Go tell it on the mountain.

 

ADOLPH

Life's a play. Let's play

 

SEAN

But what's the answer? -- the real answer, not just wordplay.

 

ADOLPH

Check the Internet. The answer to everything is there -- e-bay, e-trade, e-sop. I'm the reed and you're the oak. I bend, but you don't. Integrity has its price. The wind rips you out of the ground.

 

SEAN

But what is "it"? The great and powerful "it"? What's the point of it all?

 

(ADOLPH and SEAN have walked a full circle around the stage. They stop by the front stairs. ADOLPH puts down the basket)

 

ADOLPH (tags SEAN)

I was "it", and now you are. Glory in your moment.

 

SEAN (smiling)

So we're playing tag?

 

ADOLPH

We're too old to run and hide, but with a slap on the back, we can pass the power of "it-ness" back and forth. We can pass our legacy of magic from one generation to the next.

 

(ADOLPH picks up the bugle and hands it to SEAN)

 

ADOLPH (continues)

Here's my old bugle. Take it. It's yours now. And if ever again you fear you're blowing your chance at life, blow this instead. And when you hear that I'm gone...

 

SEAN

Play "Taps" for you.

 

ADOLPH

No. Play "The Boogey Woogey Bugle Boy of Company C."

 

SEAN

And tap dance to it.

 

ADOLPH

That's the spirit.

 

ADOLPH (continues, leaning over the basket and addressing the dog)

Hell, Hitler. Hell, bloody Hell, I'll miss you, Hitler.

 

ADOLPH (continues, picking up the basket and handing it to SEAN.)

Take this, too, in remembrance of me. He's the chance of a life time. Keep him close. Make him heel.

 

SEAN

I promise to protect him from sick jokes.

 

ADOLPH

Give that boy a round of applause and a square meal. And let's hope that the performance of our lives earns us an encore.

 

SEAN (lifting the basket high and talking to it)

It ain't over yet, kid. The show goes on. Don't give up the shit. We won't put you down. Carry on, trooper. Heal, Hitler, heal. Maybe the vet can heal you.

 

CURTAIN



seltzer@seltzerbooks.com  privacy statement

Google
  Webseltzerbooks.com