Last Updated on March 2, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 784
It is May 5, 2000. Reports of low unemployment dominate the national news; meanwhile, the local news states that the city of Reading has “fired a dozen employees.” The Philadelphia 76ers, a professional basketball team led by Allen Iverson, is in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
At the bar, Jessie watches Stan mix her drink as Oscar plays a handheld video game. Jessie’s birthday cake sits nearby, but Jessie is alone on her birthday, as Cynthia and Tracey are an hour late for the birthday celebration. As Stan works, Jessie confides to Stan that there is tension between Cynthia and Tracey. Since Cynthia’s promotion, Jessie explains, Tracey has been spreading rumors that “the only reason Cynthia got the job is cuz she’s black.” When Jessie decides to cut the cake early, Stan asks her if she has any birthday wishes; she responds that she would like someone to give her a birthday kiss.
Cynthia enters the bar just as Oscar and Stan wish Jessie a happy birthday. Cynthia apologizes to Jessie for her tardiness and complains about the work meeting that made her late to the celebration. Cynthia talks about her new job and describes the relief she feels at being able to sit down at a desk in an air-conditioned office to work. Chris and Jason enter the bar and give Jessie a birthday hug; thanks to their exuberance, the atmosphere in the bar relaxes. Jason announces that he has a new motorcycle before he notices that his mother, Tracey, is not yet at the bar to celebrate Jessie’s birthday.
Cynthia and Jessie reminisce about when they first became friends at the age of eighteen, over twenty years earlier. Jessie then talks about her father, who worked in a cannery in Alaska, and remembers her dreams of traveling the world with her old boyfriend Felix. Chris asks Jessie if she ever regrets giving up those dreams of seeing the world, and Jessie admits that she thinks sometimes about “that Jessie on the other side of the world and what she woulda seen.”
Tracey suddenly appears at the bar and gives Jessie a hug; when Cynthia makes a comment about Tracey’s tardiness, Tracey grows defensive. Jason goes to the bar to order a beer for Tracey, and Cynthia decides to confront Tracey about the tension between them. She asks Tracey to talk with her directly about their problems instead of grumbling about their issues behind Cynthia’s back. Tracey obliges; she explains that she is upset that Cynthia refuses to acknowledge Tracey at work. Tracey ignores Cynthia’s explanations. Tracey goes on to ask Cynthia if there is any truth to the rumor that “they gonna be laying people off.” Cynthia claims that she does not know about the layoffs, and she tries to reassure Tracey by promising her that she would tell her friends if she knew. In a dramatic gesture, Tracey pulls out a flyer in Spanish that she found at the gas station and asks Oscar to translate it into English for Cynthia.
It is July 4, 2000. An article in Working Woman magazine announces that “the salary gap is narrowing between men and women in some US industries,” while the local news reports on higher numbers of violent crimes in Reading as well as the city’s decision to demolish buildings that contribute to “urban blight.”
Outside the bar, Brucie stands smoking a cigarette; he is high. Chris and Jason leave the bar, behaving as if they are in a hurry. Brucie interrupts them to ask Chris if Cynthia is inside the bar, and Chris says...
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no, asking his father to “give her some space.” Brucie asks Chris for money, and when Chris refuses, Brucie asks Jason. Brucie asks Chris again for cash, and Chris hugs his father and gives him ten dollars. Brucie wants to know why the two friends are in such a hurry, and they explain that they are rushing to the plant, where “[s]omething’s going on.” Machines appear to have suddenly disappeared from the factory floor, and a list of names has been posted; both Jason and Chris are on the list. Though Jason and Chris are not yet sure what the list of names means, they know enough to feel angry and anxious about their job security.
Brucie asks Chris and Jason if Cynthia knows anything about this situation, and when Chris says he hopes she does not, Brucie starts laughing. Brucie remarks, “no machines, no jobs” before returning the ten dollars to his son. Brucie tells Chris that Chris will probably need the money, and Chris and Jason leave the scene abruptly, heading in the direction of the plant.