The Art Behind the Army Part 1

January 24, 2010
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“She was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we would assume like a garment with which to appear before the world.” from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening

Setting: It is a small apartment in San Francisco in the winter. The walls are painted a radiant light blue. Upstage right there is a kitchen on the back wall. There is a big rectangular kitchen table in front of it. Center stage there is a worn out sofa that has clearly seen a lot of wear and is a place of comfort, emotionally and physically, for its owners.

Scene 1
There isn’t much light in the apartment, just the morning sun slithering in from the window above the sink. It shines down on a man. He is gripping a piece of paper. He is frozen there. One hand is running through his hair. It is hard to make out what he looks like in the darkness of the apartment.
Alex walks in the door. He has is ear buds in his ears. He is mouthing the words of some upbeat pop tune and bouncing around to the beat a little. He drops his bag down on the couch. He pulls his iPod out of his coat pocket and turns it off, takes out his ear buds and quickly raps them around the iPod, and throws that down on top of his bag. He pulls of his coat and sets it on the arm of the couch. He is wearing a generic looking scrub top. He is just coming back from a night shift at the hospital. He quietly walks towards the bedroom door (stage left.)
Alex: Hey Mikey, you up? knocking on the door
Opens the door a crack and pops his head in for a quick look. He doesn’t see Michael.
Alex: Michael, you here?
He walks toward the kitchen.
Alex: There you are. What are you looking at?
Alex opens up the fridge which releases a strong yellow glow. That light shines brightly and for the first time we get a good view of Michael. His eyes are still glued to the paper. He looks as though he could have been crying. Alex is rummaging through the fridge.
Michael: A letter.
Alex: From whom?
Michael: My father.
Alex: Oh my god! The mysterious Papa Norris! When was the last time –Ouch! Shoot! He jams his toe on the table leg; Michael still doesn’t move. God! We need some light in here. I have no idea how you are reading a letter with no stinking light. He crosses over to the light switch. He hits the switch and the room fills with a intense sharp light.
Alex looks back at Michael and sees for the first time the condition that he is in. Michael is silent and still, but tears are falling down his face. Michael lifts up is head and their eyes connect. Alex’s face changes from the jolly look he had prior to a look of pure fear and worry. He immediately senses how serious it is. Michael breaks the look with a big sob filled breath. Alex walks over to Michael quietly, yet briskly. He stands behind his chair. He puts his hands on Michael’s shoulders, not a massage , but just pressure, just to show he is there. He stays like that for a moment. Michael is crying now, with some volume. He constantly takes in loud shallow breaths. He almost sounds like a little kid.
Alex: Shh… It’s okay…. It’s okay… …… There you go. Breathe. It will be alright. Alex has no idea what the problem is; he runs his hand through Michael’s hair and twists it in between his fingers.
Michael: He is at the Winn Army Hospital in Georgia. He has some kind of cancer…. And he isn’t going to last very long.
Alex: Oh my God Michael, I’m so sorry. I’ll hop onto my computer right now and buy you a plane ticket.
Michael: Why would I need a plane ticket?
Alex: To go see your father, of course. I’ll find you the soonest possible flight out to Atlanta.
Michael: I don’t need one.
Alex: What are you going to do? Take an early morning jog from Cali to Georgia?
Michael: The letter asks me to help him get his affairs in order. I don’t need to be in the state of Georgia to do that. I assume I can do it through the internet and a few phone calls here and there.
Alex: Michael, he is dying. Don’t you want to go and be with him for a few weeks or few days or whatever he has left? I know you guys had your differences, but seriously…he is your dad.
Michael: He isn’t my dad. He is my biological father, and he is Sergeant Norris, but not my dad. He hated it when I call him that. He treated me like he treated every other soldier. He was a complete army man from the top of his helmet to the sole of his perfectly polished boots. There wasn’t a speck of “dad” in him.
Alex: He had to treat you differently from his average soldier. You’re his son.
Michael: You’re right. He did treat me differently. Unlike all the other soldiers, I held the oh so sacred name of “Norris” to protect.
Alex: See, he cared about family.
Michael: Which meant if I did anything wrong, I would be staining the pure and unmarked name and disgracing him and the legacy of army legends that came before him in our family. He made sure I remembered that every waking moment of my young life. He worked me harder than anyone else. I started training when I was only eleven. By the time I was thirteen, I was running three miles every day before school.
Actually though, everything at that point was going well for me. I didn’t love all the endless training, but I was pretty athletic so I didn’t really have to sweat too much over the physical work. I was the star forward on my soccer team, and I did decently in school.
Alex: I know I would have failed miserably at any form of training. I fail at any form of movement! But you sounded like you were pretty content. He certainly doesn’t sound like the warm kind of father you would run up and bear hug, but he doesn’t sound atrocious.
Michael: This was before I found the true love of my life.
Alex: Jokingly Wait, but you didn’t meet me until you were…
Michael: Shut up! First time we see him smile or laugh. I’m talking about art.
Alex: But I thought you didn’t get into art until you were in college.
Michael: I didn’t get really into it, but even on an army base, they require some classes in the arts. It was 8th grade, and we all had to take a general arts class.
Alex: And now I am going to get another one of your famous “then I filled up with joy, the sparks flew, and I knew this what I wanted to do for the rest of my life” stories.
Michael: Yeah, I’m sorry. They probably get tedious. It is just…
Alex: You love art, and I love that art makes you so happy. I just didn’t expect to hear many of these stories with you being younger than 18. I’m getting your life story Star Wars style. I get movies four through six first, and now I go all the way back to story number one.
Michael: Do you get why in the world they made the movies like that?
Alex: Nope.
Michael: Well, whatever. “So the sparks flew,” blah, blah, blah, and as a result, I started to sketch in a notebook at night before I would go to bed. I would just draw anything that would flutter into my head. But apparently, sketching doesn’t help to maintain a cool kid rep in middle school.
Alex: I have to admit, my ballet audition for the V-show in 7th grade really pushed me down to the musty basement floor on the vicious middle school hierarchy.
Michael: Tutu and all?
Alex: Um… with some attitude I don’t understand how anyone who calls themselves a true ballet dancer can go on stage without a tutu!
Michael is cracking up.

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