Study Guide

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Advil

By Ben Fountain

Advil

Would Somebody Get Billy a Dang Aspirin?

Billy's got a hangover. He's got a hangover because he's been drinking to help him get himself through his existential crisis. So you can bet your butts that that hangover is a symbol for Billy's own internal dilemma.

But there's more. It all starts when Mr. Jones, the guy silly enough to pack heat in the Cowboys VIP lounge, offers to get Billy anything other than a splash of Jack Daniels in his Coke:

"No worries, we'll keep it on the down-low. Anything else I can get for you?" Billy wonders why he's going to so much trouble for him.

"Well, to be honest, sir, I've got kind of a headache. Some Advil or something would be nice."
(All Americans.56)

Mr. Jones texts some unknown helper and tells Billy some Advil will be on its way. Sweet. But then it becomes almost like a comedy of errors. Later on in the VIP lounge, Josh has brought Bravo a bunch of magazines to sign, but he's forgotten the Advil again.

Billy's head is pounding, but Josh, so alert and duteous in other matters, has forgotten his Advil again. The ache forms a kind of aura or envelope around his head, with localized boreholes of quite specific pain, as if a nail gun is firing spikes into his skull. (All-Americans.162)

And just a bit later:

On their way down to the locker room Josh handed out Sharpies to the Bravos—still no Advil, he lashed himself for forgetting—and now the soldiers fan out to gather autographs. (XXL.4)

Then, while Billy and Dime are getting the tour of the equipment room, Billy figures that with everything they've got in there they must have some painkillers for his dome. Nope:

"You ain't kidding. I just want you fellas to know how much we appreciate the job you're doing over there. If it watten for yall God knows what'd be going down here, I guess we'd all be praying to Allah and wearing towels on our heads."

"You got anything for a headache?" Billy asks. "Advil? Aleve?""Tons of the stuff," Ennis replies. "You hurtin'? Listen, son, I'd love to help you out, but I can't, legal liability and all that. Every single item that goes through those windows"—he points to the dispensary counter—" gets recorded and tallied. You wouldn't think it, but even just a couple of little pills could lose me my job."
(XXL.108-110)

Ugh. Kid saved your way of life, and he still can't even get some aspirin. But then. But then. Finally:

Josh slows for a moment, glances over his shoulder, then gathers speed. "Wait up, I'll come with you." He has a sheaf of manila packets under one arm, and with the other he's reaching into his coat pocket. Something white flashes in his palm.

"Billy," he calls, holding out a small plastic bottle. "I got your Advil."
(Money.246)

Victory. That didn't take forever or anything.

So why the heck does this take so long? Well, for one thing, if we remember that the hangover is related to Billy's own internal crisis, it becomes pretty clear that Fountain is sort of saying that there is no cure for that internal crisis. Billy's right: the world is messed up. There is no magic Advil pill that will make it all better.

But on top of that, we can't help but miss the fact that all these people who apparently are so in love with the troops can't even bother themselves to attend to the basic needs of these guys. Nobody really cares if Billy has a headache: he's just a symbol for them, something that makes them feel good and patriotic. He's not a person; he's just a prop. And props don't get headaches.