October 26, 2000. In the news, the U.S. experiences yet another school shooting despite government reassurance that schools are safe; 200 people camp out overnight at a Reading electronics store to buy the new $350 Play Station 2. At the bar, Jessie is slumped over at a table while Stan checks inventory. When Oscar enters, Stan tells him he crossed a line and asks when he was going to tell him. Oscar explains that Olstead’s was hiring part-time temps; he hopes that picking up some hours will eventually lead to a full-time job. Stan warns him to be careful—the locked-out floor workers are sure to be angry that Oscar is earning money while they’re out of a job. Oscar says that this isn’t his problem, but Stan is adamant that he shouldn’t work at Olstead’s.
The local headline in this act could imply that income inequality is an issue in Reading, as some people are clearly able to afford expensive video game systems while many others are struggling to make ends meet. This would presumably make people like Oscar, who are just trying to keep their heads above water, even more disillusioned with their station in life. The fact that others are in the same boat doesn’t make them any more sympathetic, however—as Stan recognizes, the financial strain that the working-class community is facing is likely to make them hostile toward Oscar rather than supportive of him, especially given that he’s working at the very company many of them were locked out of.
Stan offers to ask Howard about giving Oscar a raise, but Oscar tells him that Olstead’s is paying $11 per hour—$3 more than what he makes at the bar. Stan warns Oscar that he’s going to make enemies and that he’s helping to do away with the wages and benefits that Stan’s father’s generation fought so hard to earn. But Oscar maintains that he’s just trying to make a living; his father worked in a steel factory too, because it was “the American way.” For years, he swept floors with the pipe dream of being hired onto the floor. Oscar knows how his father feels—people at the bar never acknowledge him, so he doesn’t feel obligated to care about them either. Still, Stan advises him to look elsewhere for a job.
Oscar’s situation is another example of how racism compounds the hardships that working-class people face: despite Oscar’s father working tirelessly as per “the American way” of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps, being a Latinx person meant that he was never accepted into the in-group of the factory workers. Oscar is similarly underappreciated and ignored at the bar, so it’s understandable that he doesn’t feel any particular sense of loyalty or solidarity with the Olstead’s workers.
Just as Oscar goes to take some beer crates to the back, Tracey walks into the bar. She orders a double vodka and updates Stan on the lockout: the union is offering people money to go back to school, but Tracey has resigned to taking the meager handouts until she can find another job. She tells Stan to put the drink on her tab, but Stan says he can’t—Howard is only allowing cash or credit since so many people have been unable to pay their tabs. Tracey doesn’t have a credit card, so she makes a show of gathering her spare change until Stan offers to pay for the drink.
Again, Tracey’s struggles show the potentially self-destructive consequences of working-class disillusionment: having been cast out from the company to which she dedicated her life, Tracey is now struggling to make ends meet and to rediscover a sense of purpose. As a result, she seems to be self-medicating with alcohol as a means of escape, despite not even being able to pay for a drink.
Oscar walks back in, looking uncomfortably at Tracey. Tracey is immediately hostile, hurling racial slurs at Oscar. She charges at Oscar, but Stan holds her back. Oscar laughs, asking Tracey what she’s going to do. Stan orders him to take a break, and Tracey warns Oscar to see what happens if he talks to her that way when Jason is around. Oscar replies that he doesn’t have a problem with her and that the situation at Olstead’s isn’t personal—but Tracey counters that it is personal for her.
Stan’s advice to Oscar has proven correct: though Tracey and Oscar are both desperate to make money, this common struggle doesn’t make Tracey any more understanding of Oscar. Rather, her own hardships cause her to view Oscar’s attempts to achieve a higher socioeconomic level as a personal affront, which this passage shows could result in a physical confrontation—whether between Tracey and Oscar or Jason and Oscar.