Monday, September 06, 2004

Political Discourse in America

SYNOPSIS
Conventional wisdom maintains that politics has little relevance in everyday life. However, the increasing political polarization in America indicates it has more importance than we want to admit. If one is attuned, it's not that hard to uncover the schism between the two ideological poles, liberals and conservatives, even in encounters where politics might be the last thing one would expect.
CAST
Eddy Ñ Mid-forties man who could be any ethnicity.
Arnold Ñ Early thirties, white male.
SET
The bedroom of a modest, working-class American home.
AT RISE Ñ It is the middle of the night. The bedroom is dark and Eddy is sleeping. Arnold enters cautiously, tiptoeing past the bed when he hits a creaky floorboard.
EDDY
(Sitting up in bed)
Who is it? Who's there?
(pause)
Who's there?
ARNOLD
(after a beat. Sarcastic)
George Bush. Whattaya mean, 'Who's there?'
EDDY
Whattaya mean, 'Whattaya mean?"
ARNOLD
I mean, whattaya asking who I am for? I'm a burglar. I'm gonna give you my name?
EDDY
A burglar?
ARNOLD
Sorry, I left my business cards back at the crack house.
EDDY
WhatÉ?
ARNOLD
But, listen, I'll give you my e-mail address so we can chat.
EDDY
All right. Enough sarcasm. Sorry I asked.
ARNOLD
(to himself)
'Who's there?'
EDDY
Okay, you're the expert. What am I supposed to say when awakened by a stranger in my bedroom in the middle of the night?
ARNOLD
Well, there are a variety of more appropriate remarks.
EDDY
Such as?
ARNOLD
Such as, 'Stop. I've got a .38 pointed at you. One more step and I blow your brains out.'
EDDY
But what if I don't?
ARNOLD
Blow my brains out?
EDDY
No, have a .38.
ARNOLD
You should, but that's not important.
EDDY
No?
ARNOLD
No. You've got my attention. It's dark. I can't see you very well. Am I going to take a chance and challenge what you're telling me?
EDDY
I don't know.
ARNOLD
No. Most burglars, myself included, avoid violence like the plague. That's why we sneak into your house.
EDDY
Do you have a gun?
ARNOLD
Of course.
EDDY
ButÑ
ARNOLD
Hey, I'm not violent, but I'm also not stupid.
EDDY
I like to see who I'm talking with. I'm going to turn on the lamp. Don't shoot me.
ARNOLD
I won't shoot you. Go ahead
EDDY
(clicks on bedside lamp. Arnold is wearing a ski mask)
Should'a known. Okay. Let's say, just for argument's sake, I actually did have a weapon. What then?
ARNOLD
(leaning against the dresser)
Then it would be a standoff.
EDDY
AndÉ?
ARNOLD
We'd negotiate. I guess.
EDDY
You guess?
ARNOLD
I've never been in that situation.
EDDY
How long have you been a burglar?
ARNOLD
I don't know...two, three years.
EDDY
And you've never come across a homeowner with a gun?
ARNOLD
Hey, it's not like I'm out robbing homes 24-7. I do it when I need money and I usually pick homes I know are empty. Couple of times a month.
EDDY
Why aren't you robbing homes up on the North Side where the rich people live instead of a working-class neighborhood like this?
ARNOLD
Good question. The reason is that too many of those homes have security systems. You see, unlike some people in my line of work, I actually think about what I'm doing. What are the pros and cons of hitting this house compared to that house. Working this neighborhood compared to that neighborhood. It's really a science. If you hit houses in a lower income neighborhood, your take is so small it's not worth the risks, but, if you work in a higher income neighborhood, your chances of breaking into a house with an alarm system go up. So while the take is going to be better, the risks become higher. I like to operate right in the seam. A decent take for minimal risks.
EDDY
I'm being robbed by Alan Greenspan. Why don't you get a job? You sound like a reasonably intelligent person.
ARNOLD
'Reasonably intelligent?'
EDDY
You're awfully thin-skinned for a burglar.
ARNOLD
I have a college degree.
EDDY
Oooh. In what?
ARNOLD
That doesn't matter.
EDDY
You're embarrassed to tell me.
ARNOLD
Economics.
EDDY
I'm sorry?
ARNOLD
Economics.
EDDY
You're pulling my leg.
ARNOLD
Graduated with honors.
EDDY
So you went to college, got your degree in economics, and now you're robbing homes. Makes perfect sense.
ARNOLD
First of all, I have a job, smart guy. Short order cook at Papa Juan's. Second, an economics degree is about as useful as eleven toes. Okay? But I can't even afford the rent packing tacos. So I make a little money on the side.
EDDY
Robbing houses.
ARNOLD
Yes. Robbing houses. It fits my schedule. I'm not a morning person. (pause). What do you do?
EDDY
I'm the manager of three convenience stores. Maybe you've robbed one?
ARNOLD
I don't do convenience stores. Why would anyone rob a store where you know they're videotaping you? Makes no sense.
EDDY
True. But I've been robbed three times this year alone.
ARNOLD
Crack heads. Gang bangers. Give the field a bad name.
EDDY
You're a purist.
ARNOLD
I'm just not into the macho 'prove your manhood' crap. I need money, not acceptance. I'm a survivalist. I do what I need to do to survive. Where's your wallet, cash...? You know.
EDDY
Down to business. Huh? Listen. What if I offered you a job? I need a cashier at my Lincoln store.
ARNOLD
Cashier at a convenience store? Are you kidding? That's combat duty.
EDDY
More hazardous than robbing homes in the middle of the night?
ARNOLD
No question about it. Normally I'm in and out in under fifteen minutes. Some nights I've brought home three or four hundred bucks and a handful of credit cards worth thousands. I'm gonna give that up to stand at a cash register for hours and listen to some dim bulb rag about the expiration date on a box of doughnuts? I don't think so. I have some pride.
EDDY
Fair enough. It's not glamorous work.
ARNOLD
But it's a job. Right? I hear that crap all the time. Tell me this, Mr. Manager. Do you like your job?
EDDY
Sure I do.
ARNOLD
(skeptical)
Uh huh.
EDDY
(long pause)
No. Actually, I hate it. But what difference does that make? I do what I have to do. Like you. I've got alimony payments, car payments, a mortgage....
ARNOLD
You asked me why I don't want to work at your convenience store. There you have it.
EDDY
Okay. Point taken. But the alternative doesn't have to be turning into a criminal.
ARNOLD
Sure. A person like me has other choices. Welfare. Suicide. Drugs.
EDDY
You're a real "half-empty" kind of guy.
ARNOLD
I'm just a guy who's found a way to make some extra bucks. This is America, and I'm an entrepreneur. It's capitalism in action.
EDDY
Yeah. Very Patriotic.
ARNOLD
Okay, I take people's money. But think about this. If I was on welfare, I'd still be taking your money in taxes. Or I get into drugs. I'm arrested, go through the courts then jail. Again, you're paying for every step of that process. Even suicide. I don't have a will or money to bury myself. Someone's gonna have to pick up the tab.
EDDY
Me.
ARNOLD
Now you're getting it. I pay my bills, even pay taxes, and I'm not costing you anything...except what I take from you tonight. But consider it a one time payment that keeps me off of welfare, and keeps your taxes down. From an economics standpoint, it really makes sense.
EDDY
Mmmm.
ARNOLD
And, it's to your benefit that I don't get caught and put into the judicial system, becauseÑ
EDDY
I pay for it with taxes.
ARNOLD
The cost to house a federal inmate is up to $40,000 annually. Part of that is your money.
EDDY
This is all very fascinating, but there is one small flaw in your reasoning.
ARNOLD
Really. And what's that?
EDDY
Taxes are a shared cost. Everyone who works pays taxes, so theoretically, no one has to shoulder more than their fair share of paying for things like sewers, garbage disposal, roads and so forth. Now if by stealing money from me tonight that keeps you off of welfare, all fine and good, except for the fact that I end up paying more than...say, my friend Oscar, down the street, since you're not robbing his house. Your argument only makes sense if you rob everyone. Then it would be fair.
Arnold raises his revolver and shoots Elmer several times.
ARNOLD
(angrily, to himself, as he starts searching through drawers)
Damn liberal Democrats are going to ruin this country yet.
FADE TO BLACK.
END.

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