Toss of the Dice (Excerpt)

David L. Saffan


DOUG 20 years old, a college student

JEFF 20 years old, a college student

CHUCK 21 years old, a college student

STEVE 19 years old, a college student

HANK 21 years old, a college student

LINDA 20 years old, a college student, Doug’s girlfriend

GUNG-HO (JOHN) 20 years old, a college student

PLACE: The small off-campus apartment that Doug and Jeff share at a college in the Midwest

TIME: Monday night, December 1, 1969

VOICE 1 FROM TV: … and in Washington today a White House spokesman said that President Nixon’s goal to reduce the number of American troops in South Vietnam to 484,000 by the end of the year had been met and exceeded, with the current . . .

DOUG (Over “to reduce the number . . .”): Do me a favor—shut that thing off for now.

(JEFF turns TV off. DOUG hangs his jacket on one of the wall hooks.)

What time you got, Jeff?

JEFF (Checks his watch.): Quarter to nine.

DOUG: The guys should be getting here any minute.

JEFF (Hanging his jacket on the other wall hook): Who knows we were renting a TV?

DOUG: Well, I told Chuck . . . and I saw Steve Schmitz, the guy who lives in number eight upstairs, the apartment next to Hank and Bill’s? He said he didn’t have any plans where to watch it, so I told him to come down. Bill’s going to watch it in Dorsey Hall with his girlfriend. But Hank’ll be here. So those four . . . (Hesitates) and, uh, oh yeah . . . I invited John Kelleher . . .

JEFF (Looks at DOUG): Gung-ho? You invited Gung-ho?

DOUG: Well, I wasn’t planning to, but then I saw him in the quad on my way to class. He asked me where was I going to watch the draft lottery, and I kind of had to tell him. It’s not that easy for me to slough him off. He comes from my hometown and we were in school together from first grade on.

JEFF: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.

DOUG (Small shrug): Not that we were friends. He was kind of a bully in high school and I just tried to stay out of his way.

JEFF: You guys are from Chicago, right?

DOUG: A suburb of Chicago, yeah.

JEFF: Well, no problem. I wouldn’t mind seeing his number come up in the first two minutes, though. He’s so gung-ho about the war, let him freakin’ put his money where his mouth is.

DOUG: Yeah . . .

JEFF: Is Linda coming over?

DOUG: I think so—unless she decides to watch it in her dorm.

(Sound of wind blowing outside.)

JEFF: Hope the weather doesn’t get any worse. It might kill the reception . . . (Beat) What’s the latest on the cutoff number, do you know?

DOUG (Shrugs): Two twenty—that’s the last I heard. Anything above that and you should be home free. Anything below and welcome to the Republic of Vietnam.

(Phone rings; JEFF answers it.)

JEFF (Into phone): Hello. Oh, yeah, hi. (Slight chuckle) Yeah, it’s gonna be an interesting night. You wanna speak to Doug? (Holds phone out to DOUG.) Linda.

(DOUG takes phone.)

DOUG (Into phone): Hey . . . You coming over? (Pause) No, not too many. Jeff and me . . . probably Chuck . . . A guy from upstairs I don’t think you know––Steve. And Hank of course. (Pause) And, uh . . . do you know John Kelleher? He might be coming. (Pause) Yes—Gung-ho. (Sighs) It was unavoidable. Anyway, that should be about it. (Pause) Do you want me to come pick you up? (Pause) You sure? All right, well, be careful, it’s pretty cold out. Maybe you can get Cindy to come with you. I can drive you guys back to the dorm later. (Pause) Okay. Bye. (Hangs up phone.)

JEFF: She coming over?

DOUG: Yeah. She thinks she can get a ride. If not, she’ll walk. She says she doesn’t mind.

JEFF: Brave girl . . . (Pause) What Cindy?

DOUG: What?

JEFF: You said ‘Cindy.’ What Cindy?

DOUG: Oh. Cindy Hicks. You’ve probably seen her in the student union with Linda. Kind of petite . . . curly brown hair . . . she likes to wear that sweatshirt that says ‘Che,’ with the exclamation point?

JEFF: Oh, yeah. She’s pretty cute.

DOUG: Well, if she shows up, maybe you can strike up a conversation.

JEFF: Sure. Or maybe when my number comes up number three, she’ll say, ‘Nice to meet you. Call me in two years when you get out of the army.’

DOUG: I’m sure she’ll wait for you.

JEFF: Yeah . . . (Looks at DOUG) So what’s the deal, roommate? If your number’s low, you still planning to head to Canada?

DOUG: Yep. That’s the plan.

JEFF: What does Linda say about that?

DOUG: She’s all for it. She’s already looked into how we would go about applying for Canadian work visas.

JEFF: Your parents’ll have a shit fit, Doug.

DOUG (Shakes his head): No, they’re pretty supportive. My dad’s got a cousin in Manitoba—that’s where his dad’s originally from. He says if I get picked, he’s gonna give my Aunt Doris in Winnipeg a call.

JEFF: Cool. Or maybe I should say cold . . . Winnipeg.

DOUG (Laughs): Yeah. (Beat) My dad’s a vet, but he says this war is bullshit. He says we should have listened to MacArthur and never gotten into a land war in Asia.

JEFF: My dad’s a vet too, but for him, Ho Chi Min’s no different than Hitler. He’s really bought into the Defense Department fairytale. But it’s great that you and Linda know what you’re gonna do.

DOUG (Shrugs): Not much choice as far as I can see. I’m not gonna go to jail—and I’m not gonna risk my life so Dow Chemical can increase its profits another three hundred percent.

JEFF: I hear ya.

(Knock on the front door. DOUG opens it. CHUCK is standing in the doorway. He is dressed casually. He enters, stamping the snow off his shoes.)

CHUCK: Jesus, I had to walk all the way from the student union. Couldn’t get a ride.

(DOUG closes door.)

CHUCK (rubbing his hands together): Hey, you got anything to drink?

DOUG: Hot chocolate.

CHUCK: I was thinking more like hot buttered rum.

DOUG: No booze, sorry. Anyway, no point in drinkin’ till we know we got something to celebrate. There’s soda in the fridge.

(CHUCK goes to refrigerator and takes out a bottle of soda.)

CHUCK: You got a bottle opener?

JEFF: In the drawer next to the sink.

(CHUCK finds it, opens the bottle of soda. He removes his jacket, draping it over armchair. Then he sits on armchair facing TV. Knock on front door. DOUG opens it. HANK stands in entrance way shivering. He’s not wearing a jacket.)

CHUCK (Sees him): Hey, Hank. How ya doin’, man?

DOUG (Closing door; to HANK): Don’t you have a coat or a jacket? It’s fourteen degrees.

HANK: I’m just coming from upstairs . . . didn’t really think I’d need it. (Rubs his hands together, looking around; to all): Well, you ready for this shit?

CHUCK: Ready as we’ll ever be. (To DOUG): Who else is coming?

DOUG: A guy from upstairs, Steve Schmitz. He’s a sophomore I think.

CHUCK: Oh, yeah, I know him. He’s in my statistics class. Kind of a quiet guy . . . Friggin’ genius when it comes to math, though.

DOUG: And Linda’s coming.

JEFF: And don’t forget our surprise guest . . .

DOUG: Oh, yeah. (Pause) John Kelleher’s probably gonna come.

CHUCK: Gung-ho? What the hell’d you invite him for?

DOUG: It’s not worth going into.

(Loud pounding on front door.)

CHUCK: Who the fuck is that?

(DOUG goes to front door, opens it. GUNG-HO, a tall, well-built athletic-looking young man stands there with a big smile on his face. He is dressed casually, but his clothes seem to fit better than on the others.)

GUNG-HO: Hey, Dougeee . . .

DOUG (Weak smile): Hey, John. (Closes door). You guys know John?

CHUCK (Like he’s known him forever): Hey. Gung-ho . . .

GUNG-HO (To CHUCK): Chuckeee . . . Grabbed the armchair already, huh? Best seat in the house.

CHUCK: Gotta make sure I can hear it right, John. Don’t want any mistakes tonight.

GUNG-HO (Smiling): Well, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a chance to serve your country.

CHUCK: Yeah. Just what I’m looking forward to.

(GUNG-HO takes off his jacket, tosses it on back of couch, then sits down on couch. Sound of a car door outside opening and closing. DOUG goes to the window, looks.)

DOUG: It’s Linda. I guess she was able to get a ride.

JEFF (Hopeful): And Cindy?

DOUG: No Cindy.

(DOUG opens door. LINDA enters. Pretty, with long hair, she’s sensibly dressed for winter: a down winter jacket, woolen cap, mittens. She enters, gives DOUG a quick kiss. DOUG closes door.)

JEFF: Hey, Linda.

LINDA: Hi, Jeff. (Looks around) Boys . . .

HANK: Hey, Linda.

CHUCK: Linda. How ya doin’?

LINDA: Hi, Chuck.

DOUG: Linda, you know John Kelleher? (Indicates GUNG-HO)

LINDA (To GUNG-HO): Oh . . . of course. Doug’s mentioned you. You guys went to school together. How’re you doing?

GUNG-HO: Doin’ good. Be doin’ better when my number’s called.

LINDA (Beat): Right.

(‘Polite’ knock on front door.)

JEFF: Must be Steve Schmitz . . .

(DOUG opens door. STEVE enters. He is dressed a little more formally than the other boys: slacks, loafers with galoshes, casual button-down shirt, wool cap, jacket and gloves.)

DOUG: Hey, Steve. Glad you could make it.

JEFF: Hey, Steve.

STEVE: Hiya, Jeff.

CHUCK: Hey, Schmitz . . . you’re here to help me with my stats homework, right?

STEVE (Laughs): I wish.

DOUG: Steve, I don’t know if you know John . . .

GUNG-HO (Rises halfway off couch to shake hands): Nice to meet you, Steve.

STEVE (As he shakes hands with GUNG-HO): John.

DOUG: Steve, this is Linda.

LINDA: Hi, Steve. Glad you could join us.

CHUCK: For the freak show.

STEVE: Yeah.

DOUG: Steve, you can just throw your jacket on the bottom bunk over there.

(STEVE moves to bunk beds and lays his jacket, etc., on bottom bunk.)

JEFF (Looking at his watch): Hey, guys, it’s two minutes to nine.

DOUG: Let’s put it on.

(CHUCK turns the TV on.)

VOICE 1 FROM TV: . . . and for this first lottery in twenty-nine years, young men born between the years 1944 and 1950 are considered draft-eligible. The system has been designed by the Selective Service to ensure fairness. And now we see Congressman Pirnie approaching the box. There are 366 somewhat cylindrical looking balls or capsules . . . blue in color . . .that look to be about two inches long and about an inch in diameter . . . Just a short time ago they were placed in that large wooden box, and then mixed thoroughly. The box was then closed and shaken several times by Colonel Fox of the army. And now it looks like they’re about to pour the balls, or I should say capsules, into the big glass jar that’s been placed on a stool . . . (Joking) I sure hope that’s a steady stool . . .”

(Sound of capsules being poured into jar. The following is over VOICE 1 FROM TV and begins at “somewhat cylindrical looking balls . . .” Unless otherwise indicated, all characters are watching the TV screen intently during the dialog. DOUG and LINDA have sat down on the couch, LINDA between DOUG and GUNG-HO. JEFF sits on floor downstage right of couch.)

JEFF: Who’s the old guy standing in front of the jar?

CHUCK (Shrugs): Some bullshit congressman.

JEFF: What’s he doing?

GUNG-HO: Mixing the balls up . . . so that it’s a random drawing.

STEVE (Standing behind couch): That’s not a very good way of doing it . . .

CHUCK (Looks at STEVE): What d’you mean? (Turns back to TV)

STEVE: Well, what I read in the paper this morning is that they put each birth date on a slip of paper, then put the paper in these capsules . . .

DOUG: Yeah, those blue balls . . . they look like big blue Ping-Pong balls.

JEFF: Those are our balls. And they’re blue ’cause they’re being squeezed.

CHUCK: Go on, Steve.

STEVE: Okay, so then they dumped the capsules in a box, month by month, starting with January and ending with December, then mixed them every time a batch was put in.

DOUG: And they just poured them into that big jar to mix them up a little more. (Shrugs) Seems pretty thorough.

STEVE: Not if you’re trying to establish a truly random drawing. First of all, the first month put in the box would be mixed twelve times, the second month eleven times, and so on . . . and the last month would only be mixed once. So right there, the randomness is gone. And they just dumped the balls from one end of the box into the jar, which means that the balls at that end of the box ended up at the bottom of the jar, and those at the other end at the top of it. So when he puts his hand in, he’ll probably pick up more balls from the top than the bottom. Even if he tries to reach for the bottom of the jar, he’ll only be pushing the balls at the top down and will probably still grab those.

CHUCK (Realizing how imperfect the system really is): Jesus Christ . . . so it’s not random at all.

STEVE: Not really, no. If you want to get a truly random drawing, you would use prepared tables of mechanically generated integers, which are easy to get—any statistics professor can get them—but apparently they’re not being used here. They’re just relying on this congressman to stick his hand in the jar and pull out a ball . . . which, by the way, are not really round, which makes it worse because they won’t mix as easily as round balls.


CHUCK: So we’re fucked.

STEVE (Shrugs): It depends. Mostly on which end of the box your balls dropped out of.

JEFF: Mine just dropped out of my pants.

DOUG: Hey, it looks like they’re getting ready to start.

JEFF: Maybe somebody oughta write down the numbers, just so there won’t be any confusion later on.

CHUCK: Steve, you’re the math guy, why don’t you do it?

STEVE: Sure, no problem. You got some paper? I have a pen. (Takes a pen from his shirt pocket.)

JEFF: Yeah. (Gets up, goes to bottom bunk, rips a couple of pieces of paper from a loose-leaf binder. Grabs a book to lay paper on and gives both to STEVE.) Steve, you can bring that chair over to sit on.

(JEFF goes and sits back down. STEVE gets chair and places it behind JEFF and sits.)

DOUG: All right, shut up . . . here we go.


HANK: Shit. I gotta take a leak.

JEFF: It’s gonna start, Hank.

HANK: I gotta go to the bathroom, what am I supposed to do?

(HANK starts for bathroom.)

DOUG (Calling): It’s starting.

HANK: I’ll be right there.

CHUCK (Calling): Hank . . . what’s your birthday?

HANK (As he enters bathroom): September fourteenth. (Closes bathroom door behind him.)

VOICE 1 FROM TV: And now Congressman Pirnie, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, puts his hand in the jar and pulls out the first blue capsule . . . which he then hands to a representative of the Selective Service System . . . who opens the capsule . . . and takes out the rolled piece of paper inside. And he’s unrolling it . . .

VOICE 2 FROM TV (Calling out): September fourteenth. One.

(Sound of toilet flushing. Boys, Linda slowly turn their heads, look at one another.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: April twenty-fourth. Two.

(Sound of sink running.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December thirtieth. Three.

(HANK exits bathroom.)

HANK: Did they start?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: February fourteenth. Four.

DOUG: Uh . . . Hank?

HANK (Looks at TV): They started?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: October eighteenth. Five.

HANK: They’re up to number five already?

DOUG: Uh . . . Hank?

VOICE FROM TV: September sixth. Six.

HANK (Turns to DOUG, annoyed.) What is it?

DOUG (Looks at CHUCK, then at HANK, then back to TV): They called your birthday.

HANK: What?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: October twenty-sixth. Seven.

CHUCK (Looking at TV): You’re number one.

HANK: What?

(HANK looks from one to another of them, but they’re looking at the TV, not at him.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: September seventh. Eight.

HANK (Looks from one to another. Unsure.): You guys are full of shit.

CHUCK (Shakes his head slowly; looks at HANK): Sorry, buddy.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: November twenty-second. Nine.

(Pause. HANK stares.)

HANK: Bullshit! Bullshit!

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December sixth Ten.

HANK (Panicking): This isn’t funny.

DOUG (Looking at TV): Hank . . . we’re trying to hear!

VOICE 2 FROM TV: August thirty-first. Eleven.

LINDA (Looks at HANK): It’s true, Hank. I’m sorry.

(HANK stares.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December seventh. Twelve.

GUNG-HO: Pearl Harbor Day.

CHUCK: Somebody’s Pearl Harbor Day.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: July eighth. Thirteen.

HANK (Looks at DOUG): Doug?

DOUG (Looks at HANK): No joke, Hank. Tough break, man.

CHUCK (Looking at TV): Check with Steve if you don’t believe us. He’s keeping score.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: April eleventh. Fourteen.

(HANK looks over to STEVE, who looks up from clipboard.)

STEVE (Nodding): Number one, Hank. Sorry.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: July twelfth. Fifteen.

(HANK, stunned, sits down in chair.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December twenty-ninth. Sixteen.

HANK (Slowly): Jesus . . . (Suddenly; desperate) Are you fucking guys bullshitting me?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: January fifteenth. Seventeen.

CHUCK: We’re not bullshitting you, but will you please shut up? We’re trying to hear . . .

VOICE 2 FROM TV: September twenty-sixth. Eighteen.

HANK (Over “September twenty-sixth. Eighteen.”): Hey, screw you, Chuck.

CHUCK: Will you shut the hell up . . . (Panicked) Whud they just say?

STEVE: September twenty-sixth.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: November first. Nineteen.

CHUCK (Relieved; over “November first. Nineteen.”): Oh. I’m September twenty-fourth.

HANK (Angrily): Well, I’m fucking September fourteenth, man.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: June fourth. Twenty. Two-Zero.

DOUG (Looking at the TV): Listen, things will work out . . .

HANK: Work out? How the hell are they going to work out?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: August tenth. Twenty-one.

HANK (Over August tenth. Twenty-one.”): This is bullshit, man. Just bullshit.

JEFF: Hank, I’m sorry you got a low number, man, but . . .

HANK: Low number? I’m fucking number one.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: June twenty-sixth. Twenty-two.

CHUCK: Yeah, we’re all sorry, okay? But you need to put a lid on it now.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: July twenty-fourth. Twenty-three.

CHUCK (Over “Twenty-three.”): You’re not the only one here who’s got an interest in this.

(HANK looks around, sees everyone’s eyes glued to the TV.)

HANK (Rising angrily): Ah, screw you.

(HANK storms out of apartment, not bothering to close the front door. We hear him yell, “Screw you!” again outside.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: October fifth. Twenty-four.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

February nineteenth. Twenty-five.

GUNG-HO (Calmly): Somebody close the fucking door.

(JEFF, who is nearest the front door, gets up and closes it.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December fourteenth. Twenty-six.

(JEFF sits back down.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: July twenty-first. Twenty-seven.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: June fifth. Twenty-eight.

JEFF: June fifth. D-Day.

GUNG-HO: D-Day was June sixth.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: March second. Twenty-nine.

GUNG-HO (Over “Twenty-nine.”): It was originally supposed to be June fifth, but—

LINDA (Quickly): Nobody gives a shit.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: March thirty-first. Thirty. Three-Zero.

CHUCK: Two Marches in a row.

GUNG-HO: So what? Your birthday’s September, you said.

VOICE FROM TV: May twenty-fourth. Thirty-one. Three-one.

CHUCK (Over “Thirty-one. Three-one.”): Yeah. September twenty-fourth.

GUNG-HO: Means your parents got drunk and had sex on New Year’s.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: April first. Thirty-two.

JEFF: April Fool’s . . . only kidding, you’re not being drafted.(Laughs at his own joke.)

GUNG-HO (Thinks this is very funny; laughing): April Fool’s! That’s funny! (Slaps his hands together.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: March seventeenth. Thirty-three.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: November second. Thirty-four.

JEFF: Shit, I’m November third. Too close, man, that’s too close.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: May seventh. Thirty-five. Three-five.

LINDA: I feel like I’m at a bingo game.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: August twenty-fourth. Thirty-six.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: May eleventh. Thirty-seven.

JEFF (Calling): Hey, Steve, what’re you?

STEVE: July twenty-sixth.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: October thirtieth. Thirty-eight.

(Pause. About three seconds.)

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December eleventh. Thirty-nine.

JEFF: Hey, Gung-ho, what’re you gonna do if your number’s called?

GUNG-HO: Serve my country, man. What’re you gonna do?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: May third. Forty. Four-zero.

JEFF (Over “May third. Forty. Four-zero.”): I’m gonna call Doug’s aunt in Manitoba and have her prepare a room for me—right next to Doug’s.

GUNG-HO (Looks at DOUG): That true, Dougie? You heading for Canada if you get called?

DOUG (Looking at TV): That’s the plan.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December tenth. Forty-one.

GUNG-HO (Over “Forty-one;” turning back to TV): That’s chicken-shit, man . . .

DOUG (Turns to GUNG-HO): If you’re so gung-ho, John, how come you’re even here? How come you haven’t enlisted?

VOICE 2 FROM TV: July thirteenth. Forty-two.

GUNG-HO (Looking at TV): I wanted to, but my old man said if I do, he won’t pay another dime for college when I’m out of the military. He says I can use the GI Bill like he did.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: December ninth. Forty-three.

DOUG: So, what’s wrong with that?

GUNG-HO: ’Cause I wanna be a fucking corporate lawyer, man. That means law school . . . and it’s expensive.

JEFF: So, let the government pay for it.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: August sixteenth. Forty-four.

GUNG-HO: Hey, you don’t get to choose the best colleges when you’re on the GI Bill. You get a hundred and thirty bucks a month, that’s it. And I need to get into a top-rank law school.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: August second. Forty-five.

GUNG-HO (Continuous; over “August second. Forty-five.”): One that’s gonna land me a job with a corporate law firm.

DOUG: You want to be a big corporate lawyer, huh?

GUNG-HO: Corporate law—that’s where it’s at, babe.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: November eleventh. Forty-six.

JEFF (Leans toward TV): Hey, shut up! I heard November again . . . what was the date?

STEVE: November the eleventh.

GUNG-HO: Veteran’s Day.

LINDA (Making a sour expression): Yippee . . . Strike up the band.

VOICE 2 FROM TV: November twenty-seventh. Forty-seven.

JEFF: November again . . . lot of Novembers, man.

LINDA (Continuing to stare at TV): November twenty-seventh. (Pause) That’s you, Doug.


David L. Saffan was born in 1949 in New York City. He moved to California in 1980. He worked as a grant writer for over thirty years, writing competitive grant proposals for Indian Tribes for 20+ years, and for a school district for eleven years. Saffan wrote Toss of the Dice in 2010. The play won first prize in the Elite Theater Company’s (Oxnard, CA) annual one-act play contest, and was produced in January and February of 2013. The idea for the play came from his own personal experience of being in the 1969 draft lottery, watching the numbers being flashed on the TV screen with friends at the small Iowa college he was attending. (His number came up too high to be drafted.) He and his wife are retired.