Swans Commentary » swans.com July 3, 2006  



"Lemon Head"


by Hank Bunker


A Short Play



(Swans - July 3, 2006)  
A conference room.

Seated at the table in business attire are BOB (40s), MARLENE (30s), LEMON HEAD (40s), and, seated apart from the rest and augmenting her business suit with a colorful ethnic headdress, is SUSAN, a 50ish woman.

PETE, a physically imposing guy of 50, steps to the head of the table.


PETE:  Who had a good weekend? Bob? Marlene? Lemon Head?

BOB:  I did.

PETE:  Excellent.

BOB:  How 'bout you?

PETE:  Excellent. Took the kids. Thanks for asking. Caught in traffic. Who else? Who else had a good weekend?

MARLENE:  Anyone feel the earthquake?

PETE:  Oh, my God, why are we living here? We're all going to perish. We're all being punished. Let's get started.

LEMON HEAD:  Sorry I'm late.

PETE:  You're not late, Lemon Head. You're sitting right here.

MARLENE:  Have a good weekend, Lemon Head?

LEMON HEAD:  It was not unpleasant.

MARLENE:  What'd you do?

BOB:  What'd you do, Lemon Head? Go boating?


BOB:  Biking?


BOB:  Skiing, rafting, canoeing, spelunking?


MARLENE:  He went shopping.

LEMON HEAD:  I didn't.

BOB:  Fishing.

MARLENE:  I know:  You went golfing.


BOB:  You're a part-time cartographer.

LEMON HEAD:  No, no, no.

PETE:  Well, what on earth did you do last weekend, Lemon Head? We've got business.

LEMON HEAD:  I was thinking, Pete.




BOB:  Do you belong to a club for that?

MARLENE:  Do you belong to some kind of thinking club, Lemon Head? Can Bob join?

PETE:  All right, all right. I'm sure it was all very productive for Lemon Head. Now. It looks as though while we were away enjoying our weekends...hi, Susan, I didn't see you there.

SUSAN:  Hi, Pete. Have a good weekend?

PETE:  Well, as a matter of fact we've moved on from that topic, Susan, and are about to address the first item on our agenda, which concerns the disappointing news that some of the field reports filed over the weekend don't look so good.

MARLENE:  Electronically, Pete?

PETE:  What's that?

MARLENE:  Were they filed electronically?

PETE:  That's right. They were filed electronically. And if indications are correct, we've got a heckuva problem on our hands.

BOB:  Danish?

PETE:  I don't believe so, no.

MARLENE:  He means where's the Danish.

BOB:  Lemon Head was supposed to bring the Danish.

MARLENE:  What's the matter, Lemon Head? I thought you said you were thinking.

BOB:  He wasn't thinking about Danish.

MARLENE:  He was thinking about other things.

BOB:  He was thinking about thinking.

MARLENE:  Don't over-think things, Lemon Head. Rely on your gut.

BOB:  Rely on your gut feeling and the benevolence of God.

MARLENE:  And a market economy.

BOB:  Don't think, do.

MARLENE:  Action, action, action.

BOB:  Never mind. I'll wait for lunch.




SUSAN:  What kind of problem are we having, Pete?

PETE:  Well, it's our boys in the field.

MARLENE:  And girls.

PETE:  It's our boys and girls in the field. Who continue to exhibit an alarming inability to distinguish their own people from the enemy.

BOB:  It's not easy, Pete.

PETE:  No one said it's easy.

BOB:  Our brave men and women face constant danger. Constant threat and danger at every checkpoint. Susan can tell you. She's from there.

PETE:  I'll tell you what it is. It's these suicide attacks. They're barbaric. There's not one person for whom this savagery is not intolerable. We're trying to help these people.

SUSAN:  They hate you.

PETE:  We're helping! H-E-L-P. I can't spell it out any plainer than that.

SUSAN:  Stop killing them.

BOB:  We're supposed to kill them! They're the enemy!

MARLENE:  She means the ones who aren't the enemy.

PETE:  What're your people on the ground saying, Susan?

SUSAN:  They resent being killed. Civilians resent being killed. And they resent that nobody punishes or blames the killers.

PETE:  I'll tell you what my people are saying. They're saying our security personnel can't tell a professor from a polecat. They can't tell a doctor from doorknob. Everybody looks the same, everybody dresses the same, and it's making our boys in the Humvees jittery.

MARLENE:  And girls.

PETE:  ...our boys and girls in the Humvees jittery. Having asked for and obtained authorization from the US military to open fire whenever.

BOB:  Whenever what, Pete?

PETE:  Threatened, Bob!

MARLENE:  Which is all the time.

PETE:  It's all the goddamned time!

MARLENE:  All day, every day. Right, Pete?

PETE:  I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six, I can tell you that.

MARLENE:  Especially if we build the courts.

PETE:  Let's hear the numbers, Bob.

BOB:  Twenty dead, twenty kidnapped, twenty beheaded.

MARLENE:  Beheaded is dead, Bob.

PETE:  And that's just the weekend! Am I right?

BOB:  Those are the weekend numbers.

PETE:  Boy oh boy, have we got a problem.

BOB:  Boy oh boy.




I mean we want to help. Don't we? We're trying to help.

PETE:  We are helping!

MARLENE:  They don't want our help.

BOB:  We're trying to help but they're ungrateful!

SUSAN:  They want to support you but you're killing them!

PETE:  We have to decide this. That's the bottom line. And it has to be done today. Which means nobody leaves this goddamned room.


(Long pause)


BOB:  Let's go ahead and frame the question, Pete.

LEMON HEAD:  Could I just interrupt?

PETE:  No.

LEMON HEAD:  I'm afraid it's urgent, Pete.


(He stands -- Pause)


I have suffered from a fear of work and work-related stress since the time of my earliest recollection.

MARLENE:  Siddown, Lemon Head.

BOB:  Have an invisible Danish.

LEMON HEAD:  I am shameful, I know, and don't fit the big paradigm.

PETE:  What's he talking about?

LEMON HEAD:  I know we're all supposed to pitch in for the big push, Pete. And that we're all supposed to give this big heave on a national level, to pull us out of this worldwide work slump we are no doubt suffering from and wish to be liberated from at all costs. I know all this. And I know I'm a work turd and don't fit the big paradigm. But I can't possibly do any more work.




Also, I apologize for not only arriving late but for in fact failing to arrive at all. My presence here notwithstanding. And let me just add that it remains fully within the scope of my intent, particularly regarding the nature of my view toward the salubrity of honest labor, and its obvious appeal to others, on a national level, and a notion that's held foremost within my thoughts, to buckle down sometime soon.

PETE:  The question is, Bob, do we strip the initiative for self-defense from our courageous men and women laying pipeline in the field? That's the question. At a time when more and more are being murdered for it daily.

BOB:  Boy oh boy.

PETE:  Leaving them wide open and vulnerable to these bloodthirsty Muslim attacks.

MARLENE:  It's counterintuitive.

SUSAN:  Maybe that's its charm.

PETE:  On the other hand, maybe it's just stupid. What about that, Susan?

LEMON HEAD:  I know you're probably wondering, "How will this affect our bottom line?" To say nothing of our big push for democracy? And what about our image problem? Fair question. All fair questions. And I've given them a fair amount of thought.

BOB:  Let's do what we always do.

MARLENE:  What's that, Bob?

BOB:  Raise the bar.

PETE:  I don't follow you.

BOB:  Raise the bar!

LEMON HEAD:  First we have to address, with all due respect to your point about raising the bar, I'd like to address this issue about work. And my feeling toward it, and repudiation of it.

PETE:  We could raise the bar, that's true. But once raised...then what? We'll be raising the bar forever. And we can't afford to waste that kind of time.

LEMON HEAD:  I've taken the liberty of drawing up a diagram outlining reasons in support of my feelings. Please take one and pass them along. You'll note, by the way, a detailed statistical analysis in the addendum to section B concerning the unhealthful effects of our work upon a person of my background and temperament. I believe you'll also find the quote from the doctor at Harvard illuminating.

PETE:  Lemon Head, I want you to look at me. All of you. Take a good look.




Ask me if I have a personal king.




BOB:  Do you have a personal king, Pete?

PETE:  I want Susan to ask me.




SUSAN:  Well, Pete, I have no earthly idea whether you have a personal king.

PETE:  Sit down, Lemon Head.


(LEMON HEAD sits.)


Susan, I come from a service background. This is who I come from. It goes back for generations. I myself served with distinction in Somalia before joining the private sector. As the rest of you know.




No matter where I go in life, or how I sometimes wish to forget, I find I am never far from the notion of sacrifice. It's not for everyone, but I hold in special reverence those who serve. As do most of you.




Of course, the very notion of sacrifice is compromised the moment we expect something in return. The reward is in the giving. And I have been rewarded many times over.




Excuse me.


(He composes himself.)


I would not be human, however, were I not to admit how it hurts to feel the hatred of the intellectual elites, and the liberal minorities of this country, who, if you'll forgive me, do nothing but criticize.




We have all heard about this national capacity for self-loathing. Or whatever it is. From that other war. But I never imagined...I thought we were past it. Frankly. I thought we understood. Concepts like loyalty.

BOB:  Truth.




PETE:  In its time of crisis, our government has turned to us to unleash the power of free markets upon those who would threaten our freedom. And we have responded. We have sent them our best.

BOB:  Damn straight.

PETE:  Marched them into the vortex of human ignorance and fear. Upholding the ideals we venerate. And for which they are now dying. And it sickens me that there are those who would hold them accountable for their own misfortune. And I think, my God, the end of the world is at hand. Because the end of this country is the end of the world, make no mistake. When that light goes out, we shall not see its like again.




But I have realized something. Would anyone care to guess what I've realized?

BOB:  That your personal king is the greatest democracy on the face of the Earth.

MARLENE:  What have you realized, Pete?

PETE:  That Lemon Head is right.

MARLENE:  You're joking, Pete.

PETE:  Stand up, Lemon Head. Stand up and step to the front.


(He does.)


BOB:  Why? What's he done?

PETE:  He's the only one here who understands, Bob, that we've gotten away from WHO WE ARE.

LEMON HEAD:  Thanks, Pete. That means a lot.

SUSAN:  Which is what?

PETE:  From our intrinsic national message.

SUSAN:  Which is what, Pete?

PETE:  Susan, what is the purpose of business? That's a rhetorical question because I'm going to answer it myself.

BOB:  To make money.

PETE:  The purpose of business is to make money.

BOB:  Sure it is.

PETE:  There's no for-profit business model on Earth the purpose of which is "to help." That's why they hate us. They sense the falsity of our position. It's larded with flab and hypocrisy and American public relations sputum.

BOB:  It makes me sick.

PETE:  Why are we there, Bob?

BOB:  To help.

PETE:  Why are we there, Marlene?

MARLENE:  For business.

PETE:  And the only one who understands that fact is Lemon Head. No wonder he can't work. We've got him operating at cross-purposes.

MARLENE:  If they're going to hate us...

PETE:  That's right.

MARLENE:  ...let it be because we're standing up for our best selves.

PETE:  That's right.

MARLENE:  It's the only way to win.

PETE:  It's the only way worth winning.

MARLENE:  We must let them know that our words have meaning.

BOB: We've got to stop trying to help!


(LEMON HEAD staggers, collapses -- Pause)


SUSAN:  I think Lemon Head needs a doctor.




PETE:  Susan, this was before your time, but there used to be a black woman who worked here, and she held your job, although it was called something different then.

BOB:  I remember her.

PETE:  This black woman used to warn us about things like contract abuse, things of that nature. Remember that? It was her job to make sure our procurement procedures were all above board.

MARLENE:  What happened to her?

BOB:  What happened to Bunnatine?

MARLENE:  I think she joined the 501(c)3 world.

BOB:  Or else she's dead.

PETE:  That's right. Maybe she's dead.

BOB:  Maybe she perished in a natural disaster.

PETE:  She might as well have.

BOB:  She wasn't anybody's personal king, was she, Pete?

PETE:  No, she wasn't. She wasn't anybody's personal king. She certainly wasn't mine.


(PETE returns to his place at the head of the table. BOB and MARLENE
turn to him, while SUSAN looks at the stricken LEMON HEAD.)


Item number two:  business opportunities in the Gulf Coast.




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About the Author

Hank Bunker is a playwright living in Los Angeles. His plays have been produced widely, and include All Saints' Day, Futon Dialogues, Noon of Games, and others. His writing has appeared in the anthology Los Angeles Under the Influence, from Doublewide Press, and his profile of former Dodgers baseball announcer Ross Porter appeared in the April 2005 edition of Calabasas magazine.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art12/hankb02.html
Published July 3, 2006