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Good To Know

Deadline: The Play


ACT ONE
SCENE I:

SETTING: The afterlife realm. A bare stage for
all scenes, with various props that
will be used throughout, and five desks with desk chairs.

Signs over two exits:

UR - exit into next life after deadline. DL - entrance into afterlife stage.

Looking into the audience is observing real-time events on earth.

AT RISE: Curtain is closed. Background
music is low, light and airy. JFK
wanders from DL in front of curtain, confused, unsure of how he got here or where he is.

JFK:
So I'm dead?

(Peers into the audience, and is shocked. He rubs the back of his neck.)

Damnit. I'm dead.
(Frustrated, looks up into
lights, yelling at God.)
I've got things to do! I want to pass Civil Rights and make affirmative action a thing! I have a dinner date with Castro!
(suddenly sad)
Removing Diem was not my idea.

(Behind him the curtain opens.
The set is as described.

MAN 1 and WOMAN 1 are on stage and walk toward each other from opposite ends, stare at each other, and then walk off again, DR and UL.)

(JFK watches them, puts up a
finger to talk, stops.)

At least I'm not alone. Maybe I can still work on the world's problems here.

(He walks to a small gray bare
desk.)

Starting from scratch, I guess. But heck, what else do I have to do? Where's the rocking chair?

(Feels his back, stretches)

Hey, the pain is gone.

(Looks out into audience)

Was I a threat? To who? Anyone know? Where is this? Why am I here?

(MAN 2 runs on stage from UL,
trying to hide his head from
being chopped by WOMAN 2 who
pursues him with a fake axe.)

Excuse me! Can you tell me where I am?

(MAN 2 turns to look at him,
while WOMAN 2 puts the ax
head down and leans on it,
waiting. She doesn't look at
JFK.)

MAN 2:
You're a victim. Of a society you tried to fix, or control.

JFK:
Considering how I died, I guess that's true. But I didn't try to control, I don't think. I just wanted better things for all of us. Is that why I'm here? Why are you here?

MAN 2:
You have a different reason than me. I died normal. If you call having a piano fall on you normal. But someone found you a threat. That means you have to prepare. You get a desk. And a deadline. If you don't …
(he shrugs)

WOMAN 2:
COMPREHEND! COMPREHEND!

(MAN 2 covers his head again as WOMAN 2 screeches that word over and over. She chases him off stage DR.)

JFK:
I have to prepare. Right. For what? Who's ever prepared for what happens to them? I'm no different. I just want … more. Different. Change.
(Stares at a desk)
I think this is the afterlife. Or heaven. But where are the trumpets? I thought I was supposed to be greeted by loved ones, not victims and … angry women.

(Looks at audience and
reacts as though slapped)

Whoa. Looks like I'll get to meet my murderer, too.

(Picks up a piece of paper
and reads aloud.)

"Human events as they are, it seems we must not only act, but listen. Not only do, but refuse to do. See things as they are, not as we want them to be. And know change can come within an eternity." A. Lincoln.
(Drops the paper)
Abraham Lincoln is here, too?

(MAN 4 as victim walks on
stage DL, pulling MAN 3,
priest, who looks frightened.)

Oh, thank God. Excuse me, Father, I need some advice. Can you tell me why I'm here? I think there's been a mistake.

MAN 3:
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!

JFK:
That man they shot. He didn't kill me, did he.

MAN 3:
You might not ever know. And you won't meet him here. Wrong level.

MAN 4:
You are in denial. It will pass. But don't worry, you'll learn.
(smiles evilly at Man 3)
We all learn here, no matter what level we're on.

(They walk to UL, after a
complete circular walk, Man 3 is shoved into exit. Man 4
keeps walking, then skips off
UR. He ignores JFK putting up
a hand for one last question.)

JFK:
Be prepared to learn. Okay, I can do that. Wait, this isn't hell, is it? Purgatory maybe. I wasn't that bad. But do we ever really know? I tried … I tried to heal … all wounds. Didn't I?

(walks to another desk and
picks up a paper. Reads
quote slowly, nods until the
last line.)

The things which will destroy a nation...Politics without principle; Pleasure without conscience; Wealth without work; Knowledge without character; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Business without morality; beauty without intelligence. Oh, that's just ridiculous. You can be pretty without needing a degree. How does that destroy a nation?
(Looks at paper again)
Wow, Gandhi's here, too?

(MAN 3 as priest runs on stage DR, hands covering his collar, as MAN 5 chases him with a scissors. Props are big but fake. They run around once and then off again UL.

JFK watches them run, and
then, arms out, gets a
distressed look on his face.)

Wait! Help me! You're destroying my faith in my religion!

(His hands go up to his own
throat, in a sort of
imitation of when he was
shot.)

I'm feeling … really … funny….

(His fists clench as he grows
angry. SCREAMING with rage,
he looks around, runs to a
chair, picks it up and
prepares to throw it.)

BLACKOUT (We hear a CRASH.)

SCENE II:

AT RISE: (GANDHI stands by his desk DL, making
final notes in a notebook. He reads
to himself, looks very satisfied. He
puts the notebook down and walks to
center stage, takes one last look
at the audience.)

(JFK enters UL with a golf
club, swinging it wildly. His
teeth are clenched.

He almost hits Gandhi, but
Gandhi shows no fear.)

JFK:
Stay out of my way, Gandhi! You write that crap on that table?

(Points at the quote he read
earlier.)

GHANDI:
(To Audience)
The end is always beginning.

JFK:
Oh, you think you're so smart.

GHANDI:
No one thinks they are. Just the opposite. But with a project to take to the next life, we have less to fear. I no longer know what landed me here. But that's as it should be. Was I too nice to people? Can death emerge from nicety? I don't know why, but that's my next life's goal.

(Starts to walk UR.)

JFK:
Hey, where are you going? I'm not done with you yet.

(He pounds the golf club on the ground as though beating
someone up. This should be
plastic or rubber.)

(A large GONG sounds. Both look up.)

GHANDI:
Deadline. I made it. I'm expected to save trees this time. People have no gratitude for nature or that without which they would die. Air. Water. Life. Human life wastes too much. While saving trees I … (his mouth moves but we no longer hear him.)

(GHANDI exits UR. Lights
flash and loud APPLAUSE is
heard.)

(MAN 4 and WOMAN 2 enter DL in different costumes. She is holding a hanging rope over him. He is slinking along on his back using his knees. MAN 4 wears a Hitler mustache and gives the audience a horrified look as one arm shoots forward in a Nazi salute.)

JFK:
(following them)
How long I gotta stay here? I got stuff to do. Castro was only going fishing! Hey, they look familiar.

(They ignore him and continue
out UL.

JFK drops the club and
sinks to his knees.)

JFK:
Jackie lost the baby! Where is Patrick!? Is he here?

(WOMAN 3 comes out and stands
staring at him, arms crossed
against her chest. She walks
up to him as he gets on his
hands and knees.)

WOMAN 3:
I had a cocker spaniel with better manners than you. VICTIM!

(She knees him in the ribs
and walks on. JFK falls
sideways.

She looks over her shoulder
and runs off UL. JFK sits up
and looks at audience.)

JFK:
More soldiers? You can't win that war! Pull out, pull out! Lyndon, did you have me killed? Did Castro? Did … dammit, I didn't deserve to die that way! Damn, Bobby was right about you, Lyndon. I never should have picked you. I didn't need Texas. I didn't need anyone!

(picks up golf club, takes a
golf stance, and starts
swinging violently again.)

JFK:
If we hesitate, if we question, it will be too late. We must be prepared to back up the command even to the point of war. Oh, I wanted to see John John and Carolyn grow up.
(Yells at audience, shaking
his club at them.)
Go after them, Bobby, don't let them get away. Whoever them is.
Ignore the problem and it WILL go away! Damn that Jackie - why didn't she tell me she was so smart?

(MAN 5 comes out DR, eating a
bag of plain M&Ms.)

MAN 5:
There's nothing wrong with fat if it's managed well. We all gotta die sometime.

(WOMAN 5 runs on stage from DL with a rolling pin, ready to bash MAN 5 over the head. She chases him around the stage. She catches up, passes him, but keeps running as though she's still behind him.

In the meantime, 3 other PEOPLE (kids if possible, extras with no lines) walk on stage and around in a circle, in a daze, like zombies (but they can dress normal). Woman 5 and Man 5 run in and out and around them.)

(JFK whoops and hollers and chases after them, swinging the golf club. All mass chaos. Dialog below during above action.)

JFK:
Sanctions!

MAN 5:
Donut!

WOMAN 5:
One life to live!

JFK:
Quarantine!

MAN 5:
War monger!

WOMAN 5:
Yellow Fever!

JFK:
Civil Rights!

(JFK stops and glares at the
audience as everyone freezes.)

JFK:
Write your congressman for more information.

(The 3 zombie people exit UL.
WOMAN 5 chases MAN 5 out UR.

JFK follows zombies but can't
Exit. He tries and WOMAN 4
who is larger than him comes
out pushing him backward. His
hands are in the air, as
though a gun is at his chest.)

JFK:
I'm going to kill you.

WOMAN 4:
Oh yeah?
(She slaps her hands together
sharply. JFK clutches his
neck and falls to his knees.
More sounds of GUNFIRE (OR A
SERIES OF SLAPS) offstage, as
if a battle is raging.

On the ending shot WOMAN 4 falls to the ground and lies motionless.)

(WOMAN 2 and MAN 2 dressed in white come out UL singing (HELP! or director's choice) and drag her off DR.

WOMAN 3 and MAN 3 come out DR as JFK stares off after the dead woman. JFK makes a choking motion as they start talking.)

 

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Reflections: A comparison of two presidential campaigns

Jack Newfield's memoir of Bobby Kennedy is an intensely personal look inside the man before he decided to run for president; Newfield started following Bobby as a journalist in the autumn of 1966, and then covered that campaign through June 5, 1968. Apparently Newfield started out disliking him, noting that he'd picketed the Kennedy administration in 1963 at the Justice Department over the treatment of blacks to date. At that time Newfield was protesting black oppression, and saw Bobby come out. When someone yelled, "we haven't seen too many Negroes coming out of there," Bobby's only response was that they did not hire by the color of the skin, only by their ability. Bobby was booed for this. Two years later, Newfield found himself following Bobby as a journalist reporter.

 

So Newfield fills this book with intimate moments showing what Bobby was really like. He was a human being, and certainly flawed. He was not only complex, but contradictory. Newfield claimed he was a man at war with himself, especially in these early years after his brother was killed. This book made me understand Bobby more, and identify with him as a human being.

 

This is also a book that, in reading it today, shows how little politics has changed since then. I'll share some of those comparisons here in this summary of a book I highly recommend; it sells pretty cheaply used at Amazon.

 

Bobby is portrayed as a passionate, sensitive introvert, not naturally inclined to the political process but drawn to the nobleness of it. He could be moody, and he daydreamed. According to Newfield (54), he was "a nature sensualist. Clouds and rain depressed him. Sun, wind and the sea elated him. Mountains, rapids and animals exhilarated him."

His belief about the nobleness of the political process can be summed up in his own words (55): "…but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this? I'd like to feel that I'd done something to lessen that suffering."

 

In today's world so many people think all politicians are only crooked, no longer working to lessen anyone's suffering. But we have to believe that desire is still there in the people who want to run our country, or all hope is gone. Are we nothing more than dollar signs walking around?

 

Newfield (56) called this time between 1965 and 1968 "the most concentrated and violent change in American life since the 1930s." This book demonstrates that change as a reflection of the Vietnam War, just as our politics evolving today continue to reflect Bush's invasion of Iraq and growing terrorism that has resulted.

 

What's interesting about the 1968 political campaign year is that Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) became one of the first to decide not to seek re-election, which happened previously in 1884 with Cleveland. In Johnson's time, television was to the people what the internet is today, certainly a mover and driver of more information than people ever had access to before. They were showing Vietnam battles on nightly news, and that was unprecedented. I think there were some World War II scenes shown in movie houses, but nothing like this before. It's really not surprising that there would be an outgrowth of war protests with those kinds of visions. "Television, and the media in general, are now more powerful in determining politics than heredity is," noted the author (57).

 

People get upset over the idea of a "Clinton" dynasty, as some were over a "Bush" dynasty, but that's nothing new in American politics—the Adams, the Roosevelts, and here potentially the Kennedys. If one is suited to the task, with experience and education, the last name shouldn't be factor.

 

One of the criticisms of Hillary Clinton has been that she changes her mind. But a trait of a good leader is the ability to reassess. Bobby Kennedy did so on Vietnam and in his Vietnam speeches between 1965 and 1968 he would often apologize for the role he and his brother played on getting them involved. George McGovern's break with Johnson in 1965 had a big impact on him (130). He later said that if McGovern had run in '68, he would not have. The author also quoted a columnist here who believed Bobby stayed quiet all through 1965 to avoid a fight with President Johnson. Later the author said he made his first aniti-war statement in 1965, but became more vocal in '66, when the Senate too had begun to turn against the war (134).

 

Immediately Bobby faced a backlash of criticism from many, including those who had been friends with John Kennedy. "The general impression was that Kennedy got the worst of the political exchange because of the subtleties of his own position, and the potency of the simplistic anti-Communist rhetoric of his opponents" (135). Sometimes the development of the strength of convictions takes time, and in-depth analysis of the mood and pitch of the country's people; a true leader can change with the times and the will of the people.

 

But the backlash meant that Bobby stopped talking about the war for the remainder of 1966 (136), even as his opinions grew. Newfield gives readers the impression that Bobby was not the natural politician that his brother had been. But he wanted to be president because there were so many people to help, and he didn't know how else to help. His passion made people begin to rally around him. He felt real.

 

He was back at it in 1967, and this time, he did not give up. Here's from his last speech in 1968: "Do we have that authority (to kill) tens and tens of thousands of people because we say we have a commitment to the South Vietnamese people? But have they been consulted—in Hue, in Ben Tre, in other towns that have been destroyed? Do we have that authority? ... What we have been doing is not the answer, it is not suitable, and it is immoral, and intolerable to continue it."

 

Bobby was afraid to run up against Johnson. They never got along and for a while, Johnson's politics were favorable; also, his brother had chosen him (though Bobby told him not to) (202). No love was lost between them during JFK's presidency; Bobby was often treated (and acted) like second-in-command. For these reasons he was late to declare himself an anti-war president, and was considered a coward for a while. Eugene McCarthy got in before him and gained a lot of support from the college crowd. Johnson at first—following the JFK assassination—received as high as 80% approval, and 69% of his bills in 1965 were passed, a record number (189).

 

Politics at this time revolved around poverty, racism, bureaucracy, foreign policies and war. How little things change, sometimes, no matter how hard we try. But in 1967 the revolution began, and it wasn't started by Bobby or the Beatles. It appears it started with the anti-draft movement (195), probably related to the news reports showing what went on in war. By early 1967 the Democrats were looking to replace LBJ. One movement was to draft Bobby, but he wasn't ready (19 . In June of that year, he was clearly in turmoil over his inability to challenge Johnson. At that time he used glowing praise for the president that he later regretted (203-204).

 

He finally began to travel the country in mid-January of 1968, making anti-war speeches, and his closest friends felt that meant he was running. He openly admitted to disliking McCarthy, calling him pompous, petty and venal. He couldn't endorse him. "Gene just isn't a nice person" (211-213).

 

Yet it was the Tet offensive beginning January 31, 1968 (234) that got Bobby into the race and not LBJ's decision not to run again, as I had thought. With McCarthy already running he was receiving a lot of support from the campuses and the Jewish communities. A number of Bobby's closest advisers jumped up to encourage him, but his brother Teddy remained uncertain (235).

 

Finally on March 16th he made his candidacy official : "I do not run for the Presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies … I made it clear to Senator McCarthy … that my candidacy would not be in opposition to his, but in harmony … my desire is not to divide the strength of those forces seeking a change, but to increase it" (257).

He worked hard to gain the trust of the college crowd, who saw McCarthy as the man with courage. At first Bobby's audience was made of those who hated hippies and happy that Bobby was running against Johnson. He talked up the college revolution scene, saying that we need to attack life with all our youthful vigor (262-263).

 

By the end of March, "Kennedy Besieged … there was almost a riot at the airport, the crowds were out of control, and there as a brief fistfight between a Kennedy enthusiast and a McCarthy heckler." There seems to be a distinction here—enthusiast versus heckler? It's a perspective issue, same as today. Or it really was a McCarthy fan sending jeering words at a Kennedy fan. "I want to find jobs for all our people," said Bobby into a bullhorn. I want to find jobs for the black people of Watts, and the white people of eastern Kentucky. I want a reconciliation of blacks and whites in the United States" (273-274).

 

Reconciliation? You see, blacks and whites didn't always not get along. They don't all not get along today. See the movie Free State of Jones playing now and you'll see what I mean. The more we live with each other, the more we can. That's why desegregation was so important in the 1960s, but still, we see so many places today where a white hasn't seen a black, except on TV.

 

Bobby was devastated by the death of Martin Luther King, and was tempted to withdraw. Shades of Dallas had to have run through his head. But he knew he had to speak out. "But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land" (281).

 

And later: "For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter" (283).

 

How far have we come, really? Shouldn't we be ashamed that many of these words can still be said today? Where is the hope of the 60's?

 

Kennedy began winning heavily with the black population, to the point of Ethel saying, "don't you wish everyone was black?" (299) When Kennedy didn't do as well as expected, Newfield intimated a double standard: "If Kennedy had the relationship that McCarthy has with Shana Alexander and Mary McGrory, it would be a scandal. But Gene can get away with it because no one accuses him of buying off the press. So he gets a free ride."

 

If Kennedy was like Sanders early in the race, he became like Hillary later. Bobby appealed to the blacks, as Hillary does, and both are accused of duplicitous methods. Was Bobby using his brother's name? Newfield believed the opposite was true (303). By invoking their mistakes and how wrong the war was, and ramping up on Civil Rights, Bobby was making a name for himself. Hillary, too, puts herself squarely with the liberals and women's and black rights, and the need for more gun regulation.

 

A man heckled Bobby at one of his stops, and the police arrested him. Bobby said to let him go, but they wouldn't. So Bobby promised to get him out of jail as soon as he was elected. That kind of peaceful rhetoric seems missing now, where this kind of heckling had been easier to tolerate.

 

Bobby also pursued gun control legislation, and he tested the ground against rifles and hunters in Oregon, known for being very volatile state over the issue. He lost Oregon, but he loved to challenge his audiences, not cater to them (307). This was before the California vote, and if he didn't get that, he wasn't sure he could keep going.

 

His speech in Oregon is worth noting: "Nobody is going to take your guns away. All we're talking about is that a person who's insane, or is seven years old, or is mentally defective, or has a criminal record, should be kept from purchasing a gun by money order."

 

After Johnson announced he wasn't running, Bobby took on Hubert Humphrey with the same vigor of being pro-war that Johnson was. "If the Vice President is nominated to oppose Richard Nixon (and Nixon was pretty much running in the primary unopposed), there will be no candidate who has opposed the course of escalation of the war in Vietnam" (313).

 

In Oregon, McCarthy had scored heavily against Bobby, but Bobby didn't counterattack, fearing to appear ruthless, and not wanting to alienate McCarthy's college voters. He wanted people to see him as running against Humphrey. McCarthy, on the other hand, went after Bobby's previous pro-war record with his brother. But Newfield noted that Bobby was on record as being anti-war even before McCarthy (315).

 

Bobby finally agreed to debate McCarthy before the California primary, and of course they each won it, depending on who you listened to. But when his staff asked why Bobby blew the closing remarks so badly, he said, "You won't believe it, but I was daydreaming. I thought the program was over and I was trying to decide … where to take Ethel for dinner" (321-322).

 

The last time the author talked with Bobby, it was about Bob Dylan. Bobby had just heard the song "Blowing in the Wind" and was very struck by it. He decided he wanted to meet Dylan. As they talked and Newfield wondered how Bobby could win the activist students, Bobby turned to brood out the window again (324).

 

Toward the end of California campaigning, those in Bobby's camp decided that Bobby and McCarthy were alike on so many issues, and the focus still needed to be against Humphrey. Yet on June 4th McCarthy claimed that Martin Luther King had endorsed him; that Bobby once had his phones tapped (330). Some feared Bobby wouldn't take New York later. Others feared this country was going to kill another Kennedy, "and then we won't have a country" (327).

 

We all know what happened. He was killed, just after winning California. We can hope and pray that never happens in this country again, even as the death toll from guns rises. Newfield ends the book without mentioning the killer's name, and just asking "Why?" 

 

As you think about the campaign in 2016, let Bobby's last words stay with you:

 

I ask you to recognize the hard and difficult road ahead to a better America –and I ask you tomorrow to vote for yourselves. The people must decide this election—and this must decide so that no leader in America has any doubt of what they want. For your sake, and for the sake of your children, vote for yourself tomorrow (327).

 

I don't want to share the author's final words because, quite frankly, I don't want to believe them. "And from this time forward, things would get worse; our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope. The stone was at the bottom of the hill and we were alone."

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