November 3, 2000. In the news, Bush and Al Gore are closely matched in the polls leading up to Election Day; Reading proposes an increase on income tax. Chris and Jason burst into the bar, where a drunk Jessie is sitting at a table. Chris and Jason are riled up, and when Stan asks what’s going on, they tell him that there was a fight between “the scabs” and some of the guys on the line. Stan says that this won’t help their cause, but Jason thinks they need to teach the temps (who don’t seem all that temporary) a lesson. He reasons that it would be a waste of time to give in and take the deal now.
Reading’s proposed tax increase adds yet another layer to the working-class community’s struggles: already experiencing economic hardship, they may face even more financial strain at the hands of the government in addition to the widespread lockouts in town. The disillusionment that these intersecting situations are causing has seemingly brought out racial animosity within Reading’s white working class, as evidenced by Jason’s casual use of a racist slur in reference to the Latinx temp workers.
Jason asks Stan what he thinks, and Stan replies that maybe it’s time for Jason to move on and find opportunity somewhere else. Reading isn’t what it used to be, he says, and people tend to get weighed down by emotional and physical baggage when they stay in one place for too long. Stan knew Jason’s dad, Hank, and he recalls that Olstead’s took his life too early. Jason says that if things don’t go as planned, he’ll go to the Gulf to work on an oil rig, which Stan thinks is a good idea since it pays exceptionally well—he’d go himself if he were 30 years younger. Stan says that there’s nothing left in Reading and that “nostalgia’s a disease” he won’t succumb to.
This passage implies that Jason’s father, Hank, was killed in a work-related accident at Olstead’s. This could partially explain why Tracey and Jason are even more outraged than others about how Olstead’s is treating the locked-out workers, as they’ve lost a beloved husband and father, in addition to their own livelihoods, to the company. Meanwhile, Stan’s attitude is an important contrast to that of people like Tracey. Rather than being hung up on the past, he’s adamant that “nostalgia is a disease”—essentially, that moving on and taking advantage of present opportunities is necessary to avoid self-destruction.
Chris is tired of talking about all this; he suggests they get drunk, smoke a blunt, and relax, which Jason is all for. Stan asks about Chris’s girlfriend, but Chris says that he broke up with her because she couldn’t handle him being out of work. He agrees with Stan that they should get out of Reading. Chris doesn’t want to end up like Brucie, and he longer cares what people will think of him if he goes against the norm and does something other than factory work.
Chris seems to have conflicting feelings about Olstead’s: while the lockout has cost him his paycheck and his relationship (and he’s afraid of ending up like his father), he’s also been adamantly aligned with the union up until this now. This is another way in which the hardships of working-class life can leave people disillusioned and paralyzed: people like Chris are often stuck in a dilemma between staying with what’s familiar and forging a new, uncertain path.
Just then, Tracey emerges from the bathroom and asks Jason to buy her a drink. Chris offers to pay instead, and Jessie rouses and asks for a drink as well. Stan pours both drinks, and Tracey begins to tell a story about a mutual acquaintance just as Oscar walks in. When he and Tracey see each other, Oscar offers to come back another time to get his stuff from the back. Jessie shouts a racial slur at him, and Jason stands up; Stan warns him not to do anything. Jason calls Oscar a “spic,” and Tracey makes a racist comment as well.
Oscar has presumably come to pick up his things because he’s quit his job at the bar—likely because he’s gotten enough hours at Olstead’s to support himself. Again, the floor workers’ resentment has seemingly caused them to turn against Oscar (who’s struggling financially just like they are) rather than having compassion for his situation. Tracey, Jessie, and Jason all resort to using racist slurs against Oscar, exemplifying how these widespread feelings of disillusionment and resentment can worsen racial tension in communities like Reading.
Chris and Stan try to calm Jason down, reasoning that the situation at Olstead’s isn’t Oscar’s fault—he’s only trying to make a living just like they are. But Tracey and Jessie egg Jason on, and he maintains that he wants to set Oscar straight. Stan slams a baseball bat down on the bar, yelling at Jason to sit down, and Jason does. But then, Tracey makes a comment about what Hank would do if he were here, and Jason balls up his fists. Oscar walks back in with his things, shakes Stan’s hand and thanks him for everything, and goes to leave—but Jason stands in his way.
Stan’s defense of Oscar echoes one of the play central messages: when people allow their anger to take over, such hostility tends to be misplaced, and innocent people wind up as scapegoats. The floor workers should be (and are) angry at Olstead’s, but they also direct their anger at Latinx temp workers like Oscar because it’s easier to go after marginalized outsiders than it is to win the conditions they want from the company’s higher-ups. Rather than understanding that Oscar is only taking advantage of a rare opportunity, they view him as complicit with Olstead’s much like they view Cynthia as a betrayer for being part of management. Additionally, Tracey’s invocation of Hank’s memory is a catalyst that brings Jason’s anger and resentment to the surface, as knowing that his father died working for the very company that’s now shutting them out is too much for Jason to bear.
Despite Chris’s pleas to let Oscar pass, Jason won’t back down—he doesn’t know why, but he can’t let Oscar walk out of the bar. Jason shoves Oscar and pushes Stan to the ground when he tries to intervene. Oscar goes to help Stan, but Jason grabs him, and a chaotic fight ensues. Chris tries to break it up, but Oscar headbutts him, and Tracey and Jessie continue egging the situation on. Now angry, Chris puts Oscar in a headlock and beats him to the ground. Jason grabs the bat from the bar and hits Oscar in the stomach. Again, Stan tries to intervene, but Jason swings back and accidentally hits Stan in the head. He falls back, hits his head on the bar, and slumps to the ground, bleeding. Tracey exclaims, “Stan?!”
This passage is the climax of the play, as the mystery of the crime that landed Chris and Jason in prison is finally revealed. Having allowed himself to be consumed by self-destructive anger, resentment, and misplaced animosity, Jason unfairly takes out his woes on Oscar. In the process, he influences his best friend to commit assault and winds up seriously injuring Stan, an innocent bystander who has nothing to do with the conflict surrounding the lockout. As such, this tragic outcome demonstrates the far-reaching consequences that economic strain can have on individuals and on the communities to which they belong.