[SCENE: John “FUZZY” Premisse, age 45, steps out behind a Burger King on a grimy industrial boulevard. He is paunchy, his hairline a distant memory. His face, doughy from decades of blue-collar food, is criss-crossed with stress lines. In the background, the smokestacks of a high-tech incubator park belch smoke into the night sky, the glow of the open code hearth lending a faint glow to the background as he lights a cigarette. ]
[FUZZY is joined by a much younger man. It is his son, Luke “STRETCH” Premisse. Stretch, age 21, bums a cigarette off his father. As he lights the cigarette, we see spatter burns on his forearms, accrued through hard years on the deep frier]
STRETCH: [takes a puff] Busy night.
FUZZY: [Takes a long puff, holds it, lets it go slowly] They’re all busy, in their own way. [Stares into the distance]
STRETCH: Yeah. Hey, Dad? That guy who was talking with Erica the assistant manager? Who was that?
FUZZY: [Scowls, with an air of contempt] Pfffft. Sheee-*t. Buddy.
FUZZY: Buddy Dayusexmachina.
STRETCH: Seems like a nice guy.
FUZZY: [Spits with contempt] Sh*t. He’s a f****ng “earner”.
FUZZY: Someone who earns more than minimum wage.
STRETCH: Huh. [Takes a puff on hiscigarette].
FUZZY: [also takes a puff].
STRETCH: So – that’s a bad thing?
FUZZY: [Looks at his son with an air of alarmed] What?
STRETCH: So he earns more than minimum wage. That’s a bad thing?
FUZZY: [Alarm turns to comtempt]. What the hell? Is that how I raised you?
STRETCH: [Takes a puff, flicks his cigarette, stands a little straighter] What do you mean?
FUZZY: We’re minimum wage earners. My grandfather earned $.35 an hour at a burger joint in the forties. My father before me? He started at a buck and a quarter at this same Burger King, back in 1965. Nineteen Sixty Five! And he worked away, stayed at that minimum wage, til the day he died at the drive-thru. I started here in 1983 – I made $3.35 an hour. Flippin’ burgers, just like you do today! You probably don’t even remember back in 1997, when Bill Clinton raised the minimum from $4.25 to $5.15. You were just a baby. But it was one of the proudest days of my life!
FUZZY: [Steps aggressively toward his son] Because the minimum wage got raised!
STRETCH: Yeah, but…so?
FUZZY: It’s how our life gets better. When the minimum wage goes up, we get more money. How f****ng hard is it?
STRETCH: Right. I get that. We’re the Premisses; the best burger flippers, frier operators and shake-pourers in the Valley.
FUZZY: Damn straight. [Takes another puff]
STRETCH: OK…well…Mister Dayusexmachina says that if I learn to run the scheduling system and how to count tills, I could move up to assistant manager. That’d jack my pay up to $12.50…
FUZZY: [Drops cigarette in shock, turns on son in muted menace] What did you just say?
STRETCH: They said I could move up…
FUZZY: [walks closer to son, rage building] I hear what you said. You wanna “move up”. Is that how I raised you?
STRETCH: Er…what do you mean?
FUZZY: We earn minimum wage. You do. I do. My daddy did. So did his daddy. That’s what we do. We’re the Premisses!
STRETCH: But – this would be more than minimum wage…
FUZZY: [looks son in the eye] Mark Dayton just raised the minimum wage. We all just got raises.
STRETCH: Yeah, but this is even more?
FUZZY: What are you? Getting all “too good for minimum wage?” Going out and “learning new skills” to “get pay raises” and “move ahead in life” without waiting for the Feds to raise it for you?
FUZZY: You think you’re too good for the minimum wage life? The life that was good enough for your father, and his father, and his father?
STRETCH: It has nothing to do with being “too good”. It’s just that I know how to use the computer, and that other assistant manager Shaylene got fired for dealing pot out of the bathroom, and…
FUZZY: You look at me, son. Look at me! Other people may “learn skills” and “move up”. And some of them “screw up” and “move down”. But we Premisses? We are always here. Reliable. We do the jobs nobody else wants to. And we’re the best at them.
[Javier AMARILLO, President of the local SEIU chapter, steps into the frame and addresses the camera]
AMARILLO: What we’ve seen here is why America needs to raise the minimum wage. Because all across this great but racist and deeply flawed nation, hundreds of millions of hard-working Americans have chosen not to learn more marketable job skills, to better themselves, and to go to the job market without skills or education that would give them a skill that anyone would pay for. Many of them, raised in a public school system that taught grievance-mongering and neglected hard work and striving to better oneself, have no concept of the idea that “bettering oneself” is not an entitlement, but a personal responsibility.
And it’s for these hundreds of millions of Americans that we need to raise the minimum wage.
So please join me in demanding your congressperson demand a raise to the federal minimum wage!
FUZZY: Hey, it’s Javier Amarillo, of the SEIU! When are you going to organize fast-food workers?
AMARILLO: [Smiling blandly] You don’t exist to me.
STRETCH: Do you make minimum wage?
AMARILLO: As if. I make $187,000 a year plus perks. I drive a BMW. I haven’t eaten at a “Burger King” in 20 years. Get back to work, as****es. I’ve got to get to a dinner meeting with Tina Flint Smith.
[And SCENE, as a Pete Seeger song plays dimly in the background]