Oct 27, 2023

The Button

A short play.
By Josh Liveright / filmsforaction.org
The Button

A CAFE

An old man wearing a crisp suit and tie with an American Flag pin on the lapel sits at a table with a BIG RED BUTTON placed directly in front of him.

After a moment, he begins playing with the idea of pressing the button, fingering it tentatively.

He sighs, unsure, and then takes a sip of his coffee.

A young woman, having just purchased a matcha latte, sits down next to him, she eyeballs the button. He nods and smiles and then notices that her tee shirt says --

FREE PALESTINE!

She sips her latte, looking at her phone. The old man is going over a series of index cards, practicing talking points for a speech.

OLD MAN: I’m a capitalist. If you can make a billion dollars, go make it. I mean it. Just pay a little more taxes than you’re paying right now.

He turns and winks at the woman. She looks up from her phone.

YOUNG WOMAN: Are you talking to me?

OLD MAN: But we gotta focus on the middle class. Because as I always say, when the middle class does well, everybody does well, everybody. Even people like you.

YOUNG WOMAN: Okay. Thanks?

OLD MAN: We’ve added more jobs in two years than anyone has ever done in three, maybe even four years. Unemployment is at an all time high! Or low! I forget which. Do you know?

YOUNG WOMAN (engaging): What about inflation? Gas prices? Food costs? Student debt? Don’t forget about that. Medicare for all?

OLD MAN: Yeah, granted, we have some work to do. But we’re makin’ things in America again, that’s what we’re doin’. Keepin’ America great.

YOUNG WOMAN: You mean making America great again?

OLD MAN: Keepin’. Not makin’. Keepin’. (a memory creeps in) Years ago now, I was... I don’t really know where I was actually. Maybe Maui. Well it was a stunning sunny Sunday and lightning struck our home on a little lake that is outside of our home... not on a lake, a big pond. Or maybe the ocean, who knows. Anyway it hit a wire and huge flames came up underneath our home into the heating ducts, or air conditioning ducts. And to make a long story short, I almost lost my wife, my ’67 Vette and my cat.

YOUNG WOMAN: Sorry to hear that.

OLD MAN: Geez, we even had plans to build a railroad from the Pacific all the way across the Indian Ocean, did you know that?

YOUNG WOMAN: Uh, no. But that sounds really impressive. Hope you pull that off.

OLD MAN: I did not walk in the shoes of generations of students who protested civil rights but I walked other grounds. (chuckles to himself) ‘Cause I’m so damn old I was there as well. I was frickin’ everywhere, let’s face it. (reflective) Gosh, seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested.

YOUNG WOMAN (pause): It’s been nice talking to you.

She stands, intent on moving to another table far away.

OLD MAN: Sit down!

She doesn’t.

OLD MAN: Your shirt says “Free Palestine”.

YOUNG WOMAN: Yep, it does.

OLD MAN: Thats’s bad! I’ve been to Israel many times and once visited the hollow ground of Yad Shav... something, I forget, to honor the 6 million Jews stolen in a bone fide genocide. And continue... My mind is going blank now. Oh yes, continue, right? What the hell? What do you do when you do something all of the time?

YOUNG WOMAN: Continue?

OLD MAN: Continue! Yes! Bear witness, keep alive the truth and honor of the Holocaust!

YOUNG WOMAN: “Honor”? You don’t mean horror?

OLD MAN: So I guess that means you love Hamas, am I right? AM I RIGHT??!!

YOUNG WOMAN: What? Um, I’m not following --

OLD MAN: Why, you’re really a dullard, aren’t you? I mean, come on, man! Is the caffeine getting to you? Are you on drugs?

YOUNG WOMAN: It’s a decaf matcha latte --

OLD MAN: Your shirt, I’m talking about your shirt!

YOUNG WOMAN: Wow. Well, I never thought of that but, yes, I see how you might think that.

OLD MAN: Or perhaps you just hate Jews.

YOUNG WOMAN: There’s a bone fide genocide going on right now in Gaza --

OLD MAN: What in the name of all things holy, a trans who hates Jews.

The woman has no idea how to even respond so she chooses another tack, capitulation.

YOUNG WOMAN: Oh my god, you’re right! What possible reason could anyone have for opposing military explosives being dropped on buildings full of children besides a seething lifelong hatred of Jews? I never held these two thoughts at the same time but now it all just makes so much sense! I mean my entire worldview is crumbling before my very eyes. But... but wait... the children. The civilians... They’re dying. Isn’t it BAD that they’re dying?

OLD MAN: I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect. You see, all of those deaths are because of Hamas. Hamas is responsible for the whole thing, every single casualty.

YOUNG WOMAN: It’s like a 50 megaton nuclear explosion just went off inside my brain. I just felt all the anti-colonialism leaving my body, like a really powerful enema. In fact, suddenly I can no longer remember why I thought it was bad to rain down military explosives on a densely populated concentration camp. Thank you! Thank you for your wisdom and profound insights.

OLD MAN: I just had an amazing enema yesterday, still feelin’ it. You make your generation of Zoomers proud! (speechifying again) We must all move forward together, as one nation... under God, something something... with dignity and maybe some other things too --

YOUNG WOMAN (incensed now): Israeli forces have killed over 6000 children since October 7. Thousands more are likely under the rubble presumed dead. How many more children should die before there’s a ceasefire???

OLD MAN: Look fat, how man push-ups can YOU do? I may be old but I’m still able to maintain an erection. (winks)

The Young Woman gets on the ground and gets into position to do push-ups.

YOUNG WOMAN: Let’s do this! C’mon, old man!

He’s up for the challenge! Gets on the ground slowly but with purpose.

OLD MAN: It will be my sincere pleasure to kick your ass, young lady, or however you identify yourself,

She kicks HIS ass. He barely does one push up, she does 17.

YOUNG WOMAN: Suck it! Okay, boomer!

She bounces off the floor. He can barely get up so she helps him back to the table.

OLD MAN: Jesus, I could use a cortisol shot, stet.

YOUNG WOMAN: What’s with the button?

OLD MAN (out of breath): What the hell is this, an interrogation? I knew you’d ask about the laptop! Another smear campaign!

YOUNG WOMAN: Laptop? What laptop.

OLD MAN: Everybody is entitled to be treated with decency and dignity, even me!

YOUNG WOMAN: Can I push it?

OLD MAN: Oh no, you don’t want to do that.

She reaches over to push the button.

OLD MAN: NO!!!!!

YOUNG WOMAN: What will happen?

OLD MAN: I was thinking earlier that if I pressed it, someone might bring me a ham sandwich.

YOUNG WOMAN: A ham sandwich?

OLD MAN: Yes, on rye with mustard. My favorite.

YOUNG WOMAN: You’re not Kosher?

OLD MAN (indignant): I’m not Jewish. Do I look Jewish to you? If you have a problem figuring that out then you ain’t Black.

YOUNG WOMAN: What’s your name? Do you live around here?

He points at her and laughs.

YOUNG WOMAN: Do you know what day it is?

OLD MAN: Thursday?

YOUNG WOMAN: It’s Saturday. Do you know what year it is?

OLD MAN: Yes, of course.

YOUNG WOMAN: Okay. So?

OLD MAN: So?

YOUNG WOMAN: What year is it?

OLD MAN: You tell me!

YOUNG WOMAN: Do you know who the president is?

OLD MAN: Me? Am I the president? I am? Yes, of course I am, I knew it!

The woman sits back and rubs her head, looking at the man, and looking at the button.

YOUNG WOMAN: So, Mr. President, is that the button?

OLD MAN: I think when I press it, I get whatever I want.

YOUNG WOMAN: Like a ham sandwich for example?

OLD MAN: Yes!

YOUNG WOMAN: I could use something to eat. Why don’t you order us something, sir.

The man looks at the button.

OLD MAN: There are so many delicious sandwiches to choose from. Corned beef Reuben. Turkey club. Hot pastrami and Swiss. Bacon, egg and cheese. Philly cheese steak! Or chop cheese as they say in the Big Apple. I’m practically salivating here! Gosh, I’m pretty sure all I need to do is press this button and they’ll bring us something delicious. They’ve been very good to me, you know. Very, very, very good.

YOUNG WOMAN: Who’s been good to you?

He looks out toward the audience and points.

OLD MAN: Them.

She looks out and doesn’t see what he sees, only patrons in a coffee shop.

With a new wave of confidence, memories flooding back, he addresses what he perceives as thousands of people. He pulls out his index cards and --

OLD MAN: Good evening my fellow Americans. You know, Hamas and Putin both want to completely annihilate democracy, completely annihilate it. Period. Mic drop. I will not let terrorists like Hamas and Hitlers like Putin win. Think about this, we haven’t faced Armageddon since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fact is, if ole mother Russia is threatened, she’ll use nukes. And of course, so will we, but, and this is a big but, it won’t be our fault. So there’s a lot at stake. A lot at stake. But on the bright side, let me tell you a few other facts. You know folks, I ran for President to fundamentally change things for better or worse, depending on who you are. To build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down. Diagonally, if you will. Because when the middle class does well, the poor will do marginally better but the wealthy will do incredibly well. And that’s important! (waits for applause, but there is none) Now I got one word Benjamin, and it ain’t plastics, it semiconductors, small computer chips the size of a fingerprint that power everything from cellphones to automobiles and a bunch of other needless gadgets. These chips were invented in America. Let’s get that straight. So we need to deal with China and damn straight we will! Clap for that, you stupid bastards! What else? Student debt. What student debt? Erased!! We’re gonna cure cancer, you’ve heard that one for while and it’s still true, we’ll overturn the evil overturn of Roe v Wade, build a WALL! Build that wall, build that wall! Yeah, yeah, I know, I said I wouldn’t but Orange Crush was right we gotta deal with those illegals somehow. I mean have you seen the Mexicans selling candy in the New York subways. Those babies? It’s a little manipulative, don’t you think? Fuck fentanyl, opioids and mental illness. Dementia? Check. Gun control, nothin’ gonna change there. And no more bullying! I don’t like it because I’ve done it and it’s not cool! No more student debt! Did I mention that? Cops and Black Lives Matters. Love them both. Trans people and non-binary gender people are great people. Russian interference in the 2024 elections? We’ll just censor the shit out of social media so that won’t happen. Oh and fuck China! They will not dominate the world on my watch! Stay out of Taiwan you Muslim hating bastards! You see folks, we have to remember who we are. We’re the United States of America, am I wrong? Am I wrong?!! And there’s nothing we can’t do with enough power and greed, and weapons. God bless you all, especially folks who support Israel and Ukraine. God bless you the most. And for those of you still not vaccinated, go to hell!

The man’s face shows gratitude for the throngs of devotees he imagines cheering wildly for him.

OLD MAN: You know, all this thinkin’ has made me really hungry. Bet you’re vegan.

YOUNG WOMAN: In fact, I am.

OLD MAN: Let’s eat!

He presses the button with gusto! They look at each other. Nothing happens. He shrugs.

OLD MAN: And, by the way, you’ll need to 86 that shirt, you’re spreading disinformation. My folks will take care of it if you refuse.

YOUNG WOMAN: Is that a threat?

OLD MAN: Nope, a promise.

YOUNG WOMAN: You know what the difference is between you and me?

OLD MAN: I like meat and you don’t?

YOUNG WOMAN: No, I actually like meat but I choose not to eat it.

He stares blankly at her, half smile on his face. He doesn’t get it.

YOUNG WOMAN: Anyway, thanks for eliminating my student debt, I appreciate that.

OLD MAN (winks): I really hope they include pickles this time. I love a good deli half-sour.

A whistling sound is heard in the distance.

OLD MAN: I have a confession, I’m not crazy about Jews either but we had to put them somewhere, right? Poor Arabs got fucked --

A BLINDING WHITE FLASH AND THEN --

BLACKOUT.

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