Ampitation

Editor’s Note: One of the first plays I ever wrote, this is based off of a fake news story I wrote many years ago as a sophomore at BYU that actually ended up fooling a lot of people. Despite references to prosthetic limbs turning you into a Sith Lord, people said it wasn’t silly enough to tell it was fake. So I ramped it up in this play a bit, and ended up with a story of how sometimes, you feel like you just don’t belong to the people you ended up with called family.

{ ~ }

An older woman is sitting at a bench in a hospital. The sounds of medical machinery beats out a steady tempo in the background. The woman, Cathy, looks worried, wringing her hands. She has a soft Southern belle accent. At times, it looks as if she’s muttering a prayer to herself. Finally, a doctor walks in.

Doctor: Are you Cathy Williamson?

Cathy: Yes, yes, is my husband all right?

Doctor: Your husband is going to live, but… There are some complications.

Cathy: Oh God. What kind? What kind of complications?

Doctor: Well, the damage to his arm was quite severe. Most of his tendons and muscle was cut wide open and it’ll be difficult to patch him back up. There is a chance he will gain back some use with extensive physical therapy, but I’m warning you – it’s very painful and very expensive, and I can’t guarantee any results at all.

Cathy collapses back into the bench and covers her face.

Cathy: What are we going to do? Bob needs that arm for working. He’s a janitor, for Pete’s sake!

Doctor: I’m sorry. (He puts a comforting hand on her shoulder) I’ll let you know if anything else in his condition changes.

The doctor leaves. Cathy sobs silently on the bench, when her kids come in. Brian is tall and lanky, wearing an Oklahoma University hoodie and jeans, a backpack slung over his shoulder, obviously a college student. Karen is younger, in her later high school years. Both also sport faint Southern accents.

Brian (worried): Ma! Is dad all right?

Cathy (strained smile): Well, your father is going to live. That’s the good part.

Karen: Which means there’s a bad part.

Cathy nods and almost dissolves into tears again, but manages to hold on to her composure.

Cathy: His arm…well, he ain’t gonna be able to use his arm no more. It’s gone.

Brian: Which one?

Cathy: His right one.

Brian: You mean, he can’t play football anymore, huh?

Karen: Good.

Brian and Cathy: Karen!

Brian: What’s your problem?

Cathy: Child, your father is in the hospital!

Karen: Sorry, sorry. Just trying to lighten the mood.

Brian: How you can even think about lightening the mood at this time is beyond me.

The doctor from previously rushes in, and then when seeing the entire family, slows to a stop. He stares at his clipboard, then gives a heavy sigh.

Doctor: I have some bad news.

Cathy (crying): Oh my God.

Doctor: We are amputating his right arm.

Cathy: Why?!

Doctor (angrily): Well, I just want to be on the record that I am completely against this procedure. Dr. Wu is completely overstepping his boundaries.

Cathy: How?!

Doctor: He’s amputating the arm just so he can save it.

Cathy: What?!

Doctor: The signature! The stupid autograph on his arm! Your moron for a husband – er, no offense – wants us to save the autograph so he’s asking us to take it off, and Dr. Wu agreed.

Cathy: What signature?

Doctor: The one. The one by Bob Stoops.

Brian: Bob Stoops? The Bob Stoops?

Doctor: Yes, why?

Brian: That’s amazing! What’s an autograph of Stoops doing on dad’s arm?

Doctor: Well, apparently your father met him while cleaning up the stadium and didn’t have anything to take an autograph on so he had Bob Stoops sign his arm.

Brian: No way!

Doctor: And in a moment of zeal, he tried to cut it off.

Karen: Oh my…my father is an idiot!

Cathy (faint): Wait, I don’t understand. Bob tried to cut off his own arm?

Doctor: Yes. First with a putty knife, then moving on to various items you can find in a janitor’s closet. In the end, he lost a lot of blood and one of his co-workers found him passed out.

Cathy: And here I was thinking the whole time he was attacked or something!

Doctor: No, I’m sorry to say this wound was self-inflicted.

Karen: I can’t believe I have this man’s genes.

Cathy: Then…what else is there to do?

Brian: I agree. I mean, we’ll have to cut off the arm to save the autograph.

Karen: What?!

Doctor: While I understand your desire to keep such an artifact that will no doubt be passed down from generation to generation as a standard of your family’s name and unity, I must warn you of…well, side effects.

Cathy: Side effects? What do you mean?

Doctor: Well, Dr. Wu is one of those who believe in all that “modern medicine” mumbo jumbo. Prosthetics. Have you heard of them?

Brian: You mean artificial limbs?

Doctor: Sure, if that’s what you call them.

Karen: We do call them that.

Doctor: Dr. Wu is a researcher in prosthetics technology. But I don’t believe in it. You’ve all watched Star Wars right? (waits for everyone to nod) Prosthetics – think about it! – is a slippery slope to becoming like Darth Vader.

Karen: You’re saying my father is going to turn into a Sith Lord?

Doctor: Look, what does the movie say? Darth Vader was more machine than man! And because of that, he lost his humanity! You can’t just assume that one can simply attach prosthetic limbs willy nilly and not suffer any of the consequences for doing so!

Karen: Um, look, I understand you’re a doctor and you must be very smart with all those degrees and such, but you do realize Star Wars is fiction, right? You know, not real?

Doctor (offended): I am well aware that Star Wars is fiction, young lady. However, it doesn’t mean that it holds no warning for humanity’s future!

Cathy: Wait, I’m confused. So my husband is evil?

Doctor: Only with the potential to become so.

Cathy (wailing): Bob! Why’d you have to do it?!

Doctor: I’ll tell you when the surgery will take place after I get more information. As always, I’ll keep you updated.

Cathy; Yes, doctor. I understand. Thank you for being so helpful.

The doctor leaves once more. The family is silent.

Brian: Well, even if dad can’t play any more football, he at least made the sacrifice for it.

Karen: What is it with you and football?! It’s like our golden calf!

Brian: Our what?

Karen: Golden calf! You know, from the Bible? What do you do during Sunday School?

Brian: I listen during Sunday School!

Karen: You didn’t even know what a golden calf was!

Brian: Yes, I do. It’s like…what Jesus rode when coming into Jerusalem!

Karen: You are a moron. Just as much as dad.

Brian: Dad is not a moron! That was an opportunity of a lifetime! It was Bob Stoops! Freaking Bob Stoops!

Karen: Yeah, some balding old guy who tells a bunch of overgrown men in tights to chase a ball.

Brian: You take that back!

Karen: Oh shut up. You’d probably give him your first born child if he asked you to.

Brian: So what? At least my son would be a football star!

Cathy: Children! Children! (Brian grow silent but glare at each other) This is not the time to be fighting. Your father wouldn’t want this. It’s time we grow more unified as a family through this tragedy. This is going to be a difficult time for all of us, and I need you to understand that I love you all. Just in case… (her voice breaks) Just in case dad goes Dark Side and tries to kill us all.

Karen: You can’t be serious?

Cathy: Now Kathy, you heard the doctor, all right? Dad is getting one of them pro…pro…pro asbestos arms or whatever. And it means he could turn dark any minute.

Karen stares at her mom, then at her brother who is nodding solemnly. She shrugs.

Karen: Whatever.

Brian: I’ll keep dad on the right path, mom.

Cathy: That’s a good attitude, son. Gather around, children. (The children gather around as told). Now, I want you all to know I love you all very much, and we’re a family! And we’re going to stay a family.

Brian: Unless dad decides to go on a murderous rampage and set up a harsh, xenophobic regime.

Cathy: Well, we’re going to try and focus on the positives.

The doctor comes in, a bit flustered.

Doctor: Apparently, I was unaware they started already; they decided not to tell me this time, I suppose. Afraid I’d stop the surgery like I did the last five of its kind.

Cathy: How brave of you!

Doctor: Your husband is currently recuperating in the surgery wing and you should be able to see him in about – (darkly) Oh no.

Dr. Wu walks in, an Asian surgeon in scrubs. He looks mightily pleased with himself. The family and doctor look at him walk in with disdain.

Wu. Are you Cathy Williamson?

Cathy (distrustful): Yes, why?

Wu: I’m Dr. Wu and I operated on your husband. I just want you to know that your husband is doing fine and he’ll recover  very quickly. He’s got quite the hardy constitution.

Cathy: Really? And is that all you had to say?

Wu: I see my colleague told you about my decision. Did you, doctor? (He looks in the doctor’s direction, who averts his eyes, scowling) Well let me tell you about the benefits of your husband and father’s new prosthetic abilities.

Brian: Abilities? What do you mean?

Wu: Well, have you ever seen Inspector Gadget?

Brian: The one where Inspector Gadget has all those little…uh…

Karen: Gadgets?

Brian: Yeah! And so is dad going to be able to pop a helicopter out of his head or anything?

Wu: Nope.

Karen: Then why’d you even bring it up?

Wu: To talk about the beauties of prosthetics! I am the head researcher here at this institution and I want you to know we outfitted your loved one with a prototype under experimental development. He should retain most of his strength and movement in his arm, though it will take some practice. Mostly physical therapy.

Cathy (gushing): Isn’t modern medicine amazing, Brian?

Brian (awed): Yeah ma. It sure is.

Cathy: And what of, you know…the other arm?

Wu: His real one? Well he seemed so intent on keeping it I’ve saved it in a jar of formaldehyde. You should be able to take it home and put that precious autograph on display at your home!

Doctor (darkly): Yeah, until he smashes it with a lightsaber.

Wu (sighing): Look, that’s preposterous! There isn‘t even such thing as a lightsaber, and you’re just overreacting –

Doctor: Yet you won’t talk about the side effects!

Cathy (worried): So there are side effects?

Wu: Yes. With all amputees, your husband may have phantom itches or pains. Left over nerves will send signals to your brain about the arm that is no longer there. So those may bother him for a while. But it is manageable.

Cathy: Is that all?

Wu: The most serious one, yes.

Doctor: But, Dr. Wu. Why don’t you tell them about the other side effects? What are you trying to hide?

Wu (scowling): Very well. He may also suffer nausea, side aches, headaches,  kidney stones, dry mouth, bloody noses or a darkened stool, minor twitching and involuntary muscle spasms,  abdominal cramping, bloated stomach, excess intestinal gas,  water retention, muscle soreness, hallucinations, depression, sleep loss, drowsiness and suicidal thoughts. But these are mostly from the medication we’re giving him to help handle the pain and dampen the psychological effects of losing a limb. It is a very traumatic experience.

Doctor: Those aren’t all the side effects.

Wu: Um, yes they are, doctor.

Doctor: You might have forgotten the side effects of, I don’t know, choking people with the will of your mind? Slaying innocent younglings? Exterminating all the Jedi?!

Wu: I’m going to ignore your ranting and walk away.

True to his word, Dr. Wu walks away as the other doctor follows him, yelling random things about how Bob Williamson will turn to the Dark Side and it will be all his fault, so help him.

Karen: Don’t you think our doctor is a bit…weird?

Brian: It’s really suspicious that he would hide those side effects from us.

Karen: No, not that doctor. That’s not what I meant.

Brian: But it’s true! Dr. Wu just grated me the wrong way. What exactly is that guy covering up?

Cathy (worried): I know. I’m afraid for your father, kids.

Brian: Nah, I’m sure dad can take care of himself.

Cathy sinks back on the bench, deep in thought. Brian nervously paces around the floor, and Karen pulls out an iPod and starts listening to it. The beat of medical equipment is still heard in the background.

Karen: What are we going to do with dad’s arm in a jar?

Brian: We could display it on that mantle over the fireplace.

Karen: Absolutely not. I will not have it anywhere where my friends can see it.

Cathy: It’s too late for that, honey. The news reporters already came by to ask him questions. They’re probably going to write a story on it for the paper tomorrow.

Karen: Great! That’s just great! I’m going to be the social pariah of my school for months! Probably years!

Brian: It’s not that bad. I’m sure all the football players will ask you out on dates.

Karen: I don’t know if you haven’t figured this out yet, but I hate football.

Brian: Are you serious?

Karen: Yes!!!

Brian: You’re sick, you know that? Are you sure you’re part of the family?

Cathy: Karen! Stop picking on your brother!

Karen opens her mouth, but then decides otherwise, and just flounces on the bench, angrily putting on her headphones and glaring at the floor.

Cathy: Maybe it will make a nice centerpiece for our kitchen table.

Karen: Ugh! Gross!

Brian: I don’t think it’ll help with our appetites.

Cathy: Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe we’ll just keep it on our dresser.

Karen: It’ll probably end up in the attic.

Cathy: No, of course not! That arm is a very important relic of our family!

Karen: Just like your wedding dress and Brian’s umbilical cord.

Brian: My what is up in the attic?!

Karen: Anyway, we’re not keeping it.

Finally, Dr. Wu comes out, with the other doctor angrily in tow.

Wu: I finally have some good news!

Cathy: What is it? Is Bob all right? Will he get the use of his arm back?

Wu: Well, not yet. But he’s managed to find a bidder on eBay for his arm for more than $50,000!

Cathy (blankly): I, what?

Wu: Your husband while recuperating contacted some people he knew and set up his arm on eBay to see what price it could fetch. Well, he managed to find a buyer for $50,027!

Brian (shocked): Why would dad do that?

Cathy: He sold it?

Karen: Well, you have to pay for the operation somehow, right?

2 responses to “Ampitation

  1. AAAUGH!
    What the bizarre?! What are you doing to my brain? What on earth is this REALLY about? What are you saying about healthcare? Doctors? Media?

    This one bugs me. I can’t stand stories without at least one clear meaning. Ambiguity gets under my skin, and I can’t bring myself to believe that this is pure silliness on your part, it seems more deliberately constructed than that.

    • Ted

      There’s actually a really interesting back story to this and long-time readers of my blog in general (not this one, but my old one on Blogspot) would recognize the premise of the story. It came about as a what-if scenario that blossomed into a fake news article I wrote on my blog which then resulted in people freaking about it because they thought it was true, all the way up to a doctor warning against prosthetics because of Star Wars.

      So I started writing a really bizarre, absurdist play based on it, and well, there you go. Hope it doesn’t drive you up the wall too much. There are some loose themes weaving its way in there, but I can’t tell all of my secrets!

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