Thursday, January 15, 2004
Act IV Scene 2
HAROLD (friendly to phone) - They have no business telling a private club what to do. Martha Burke and her ‘vandals’ are free to tee off or sip tea somewhere else. Lezbo golfers have legions of leagues of their own.
(2 LOUD KNOCKS SOUND ON THE DOOR.)
HAROLD (to door) - Go away! I’m busy! (to the phone) I don’t give a flying fig who it is. They all know the rule: when my door is shut, it means I’m in seclusion.
(3 LOUD KNOCKS.)
HAROLD (to door) - Didn’t you hear me? I said I was occupied!
(4 LOUDER KNOCKS.)
HAROLD (to the phone) - Well, the door is thick and solid.
(5 EVEN LOUDER KNOCKS.)
HAROLD (to door) - Great Caesar’s ghost! You’d better have a warrant on your possession!
(HAROLD storms toward the door then opens it with a flourish. TED WOLF parades into the office wearing a blue baseball cap with a B for Brooklyn and casual clothes - looking confident and relaxed.)
TED - Jesus Christ, Harold! Does it take a bunker-buster to raise your roof beam?
HAROLD - Well then, when Johnny comes typing home! (to phone) I gotta go, Bill. My boy’s returned from the war. Call me at home tonight.
TED - I hope this doesn’t qualify as an invasion.
HAROLD - Don’t be so humble. I don’t feel the slightest bit besieged. (points with his pen at TED) Bill Kristol insisted that I intimate that you did us proud.
TED - Really, that’s cool. Sorry, I didn’t come to see you sooner. I got back in country a few days ago, but I had an affair I had to resolve.
HAROLD - Save the apologies, everyone at this magazine is indebted to you. You’ve been the source of much excitement. (waves pen around like a conductor’s baton) Heck, I’d stand up and blow a trumpet, a trombone or something in your glory but since you already have a pretty girlfriend at your beck and call I wouldn’t want to unseat her.
TED - Harold, I have a scoop for you.
HAROLD - Sit down in the chair before you unload on me. (after a beat) Wait; don’t tell me. She left you.
TED - Well, strictly speaking, we left each other.
HAROLD - I’m sure as a smoking gun in a suicide’s hand that it’s for the best. You’ve simply outgrown her. She left you or you left her. It really doesn’t matter, because you did the right thing. It’s good that she’s left. (clasps his hands together) As fate would have it, I happen to have a niece who is unattached. She’s like a younger version of my wife, extremely pretty, just turned twenty, fresh and unaffected. Sometime soon, the four of us should have dinner so we can arbitrate any hint of spark.
TED - Sure. Sign me up. But maybe not until after I get my sea legs back. Or am I supposed to lose them?
HAROLD - Ted, you should know by now that I would never push you towards anything before I thought you were ready.
TED - Don’t get me wrong. I’m not crying myself to sleep at night over it. I’m just beginning to appreciate having the whole bed to myself again.
HAROLD - I don’t expect that you slept soundly in the desert. Is there anything else dominating your thoughts?
TED - Well…I was wondering if you thought I came back too soon.
HAROLD - Don’t be silly. In fact, Bill just told me that the President’s about to announce an end to all significant hostilities in Iraq. Just a lot of mopping up to do. Our troops are due to be reduced and replaced with troops from our supportive Allies. The Army’s relieving most of the Marines so the boys from your unit should be sailing back home in another week or so; what’s left of them.
TED - Christ! Did something…
HAROLD - Relax. Your men are all okay except for the one that you already wrote about.
TED - You don’t know how great that makes me feel. Those boys are like family. (pauses) So you really think that’s it.
HAROLD - For us, I’m afraid. The public, irrefutably, retains little-to-no interest in around-the-clock coverage of reconstruction and the prelude to democracy. They’re yearning to be reprieved from foreign affairs, at least, until Bush decides his next move. That doesn’t mean we’ll just pump out blather non-stop about the week’s highest grossing comic book movie or the travails of young, pretty violent crime victims. There’s a lot of hard news out there to play with.
TED - All I heard on the news this morning was about armed Iraqis looting museums and abandoned nuclear facilities, rioting in the streets, while Iraqi civilians stay home afraid in the dark.
HAROLD - My goodness gracious, you were there. You saw the crowds cheering, giving us the thumbs up sign. You were there as America and Iraq topple the statue of Saddam together. Perhaps as few as 17 measly items are missing from the museums. It’s not as if insurgents are walking around the countryside with nuclear weapons in their pockets. Just a few pockets of resistance remain.
TED - It’s not the reason why I left but chaos isn’t so far from right. I’m mighty damn proud of our United States Marine Corps! But they are ill suited for peacekeeping purposes and there’s not near enough of them even if they were. It’s not the Army’s strong point, either.
HAROLD - Nonsense. American Armies have had plenty of experience and success in those arenas. The Army’s Peacekeeping Institute is the best the free world has to offer. The plan is to re-train the Iraqi police force with the aid of estimable advisors like 9-11 hero, Bernie Kerik.
TED - Most of the Iraqi police force were Ba’athists; Saddam loyalists that practiced state-sanctioned torture.
HAROLD - Well, consider it unsanctioned forevermore for the people of Iraq. The Saddamites will be sufficiently purged. The days of mass graves and depravity are finally over!
TED - Hoo-ah! I’m in firm agreement with Tom Friedman. We don’t need to find WMD to justify overthrowing a tyrant. Though, they could have been a bit more up front about it.
HAROLD - We’re all of us: saints and sinners. But now that we’re in control, we’ll have better intelligence. I have a measure of high confidence that we will find oodles and oodles of WMD. It should be abundantly obvious that the absence of evidence in no way implies the evidence of absence.
TED - I dig it. Just because OJ was declared not guilty doesn’t mean he didn’t do it.
HAROLD - We need to focus on the positive results. Barely any oil wells were set on fire. We didn’t get “bogged down” or quagmired. There’s no widespread famine – to speak of. Did you know that for the first time in nearly twenty years the British were providing full electricity to the city of Basra. Paul Revere, himself – if he were an Iraqi - would have greeted the British Troops with open arms.
TED - He’d need them to stop all the rioting and looting.
HAROLD - That’s the funny thing about freedom. Free people are free to make mistakes, commit petty crimes and do bad things. Freedom’s more about what you make of it.
TED - Or what you make up about it.
HAROLD - Enough with the Al Franken tomfoolery. (dismissive) Was there anything else? Because I do have work to do. Or did you come in here without an exit strategy?
TED - It’s about my dispatches. Were they too human interest with not enough bite?
HAROLD (sees another route) - Unlike the neo-nattering nabobs of negativism such as Frank Rich at the Times and that insufferable has-been - Seymour Hersh – who went all Henny Penny with their gloom and doom prognostications, you served up mouth watering slices of brave but humble soldiers that revealed a positive battlefield in a humanized narrative. You’re a soldier’s journalist in the tradition of Ernie Pyle. You told it like it was for GI Joe.
TED - I did see some things that I held back. Almost unthinkable things. Things I need to think about some more before I make a rash rush to judgement.
HAROLD - Rash, my ass. You’ve employed sensible judgment by withholding any copy that might reflect poorly on our fighting men and women. You walked in the same boots as those soldiers so you know well the “fog of war.” Save it for the book you’ll, no doubt, write.
TED - I signed a contract already so I owe them.
HAROLD - Good for you, Ted, bully for you. They should have done this embed thing years ago. All around, the war’s been a win-win situation. It’s mighty difficult to contain my glee.
TED - Thanks for everything, Harold. I’m forever indebted to you.
HAROLD - How about thanking me by following up on the recent CNN disclosures for me? Those ‘international’ leftist scumbags held back proof of the Hussein family’s villainy just so they could continue broadcasting from Baghdad.
TED - I think it had more to do with protecting their unnamed sources and interpreters from bloody reprisal, as well as their families.
HAROLD - Kid; don’t ever lose that independent streak. It’s not good if everyone in this biz sees every little thing the same way. As long as you’re on the right side on the stories that matter. If you feel the urge to defend the deliberate suppression of critical pre-war data that may have impacted world opinion, go right ahead. I won’t be the man to stop you.
(The LIGHTS GO OUT and the CURTAIN FALLS DOWN.)