Mad as a Hatter
Set in front of a large, dilapidated textile factory in an 1840's American city. It is very early in the morning. Mr. Ian Nathaniel DUSTRY stands at center stage, microphone in hand. DUSTRY frantically combs his hair and adjusts his suit. VIRGIL, his cameraman, is setting up a very primitive camera. DUSTRY finishes fixing his necktie and gives a cocky grin to VIRGIL.
DUSTRY: (To VIRGIL) So whaddya say, Virg, old chap? How do I look, govna'?
VIRGIL looks DUSTRY over.
VIRGIL: (Yawning) You look like you're trying too hard, Ian. Like always. And would you drop the phony accent? I didn't come here at 6 o'clock in the morning just to hear you-
DUSTRY: Come on, old bean! The accent's good for reviews! And anyway, lighten up! We're here to get the best footage and interviews modern news television has to offer, and we can't do that if we have such bad attitudes! Do you remember why you came with me this morning?
VIRGIL: Well, you should know that. I'm just here for the-
DUSTRY: Yes! That's right! We're here to get and in-depth look at the daily lives of the common American laborer, so our viewers can get a glimpse of the new jobs and industries that are taking our nation by force! This is television journalism at its finest.
VIRGIL: (Growing steadily angry) There you go again with your "television". I don't know where you got these ideas from, but there is no such thing as an "electrical window" that can show "moving pictures" and even allow a man to record his own voice! And then you've got me lugging around this contraption that you claim can record "audio and video". This thing's heavy, you know?! And you know what else? Even if there were "televisions", they'd be far too expensive for anyone but the President to-
DUSTRY: That's enough, chap! We don't want to waste any time by making unnecessary complaints! Let's get this started. Turn on the camera!
VIRGIL rolls his eyes and turns on his "camera".
DUSTRY: Hello, this is I.N. Dustry, reporting for Channel 14 News. I'm here standing before one of the city's most famous cloth-making factories! This morning, I'll be conducting an interview with one of the factory's employees, and hopefully he or she can give us an idea of what it's like working in one of our country's temples to progress! Now let me introduce you to-
DUSTRY looks around expectantly, but is disappointed to discover that there is no one else around but him and VIRGIL.
DUSTRY: (To VIRGIL, whispering) Hey, Virg, where could our interviewee have runnoft to?
VIRGIL: You never found anybody, remember? Yesterday, you came by to try to set up an interview with some kids, but they all said they'd have to be at work too early in the morning to give us any time. You know, because they have real jobs.
DUSTRY: Ah, yes. I recall. That's unfortunate.
Enter a young, unkempt and tired-looking BOY, about age 12 or 13. He runs past DUSTRY toward the factory's front door, but DUSTRY grabs him by the shirt collar.
DUSTRY: Whoa there, my lad! Stop! There we go! (To VIRGIL) See, I told you someone would come along!
BOY: (Struggling) Hey, mister, lemme go! I'm already late for work! I was supposed to be there at 5! The quicker I get there, the more likely I'll be able to keep my job!
DUSTRY: Just calm down, chap! I'm a reporter, and I would like to ask you a few questions. It'll just take a few moments.
BOY breaks free of DUSTRY's grasp and sprints for the factory's door. Dustry calls out to him.
DUSTRY: (To BOY) We'll give you two dollars for your time!
BOY stops dead in his tracks and whips around to look at DUSTRY.
BOY: You… you mean it? 'Cause that's more than I make in a month!
DUSTRY: I do.
VIRGIL: (Whispering, to DUSTRY) Where're we going to get that kind of cash? I'm just a-
BOY walks back to DUSTRY and VIRGIL. VIRGIL falls silent.
BOY: Well, then I'd be glad to be interviewed by you, mister…
DUSTRY and BOY shake hands. BOY looks at the camera.
BOY: What's that thing?
DUSTRY ignores him. He turns to face the camera and clears his throat.
DUSTRY: Ahem. Now then. I'm here with a strapping young fellow who just happens to be employed at the factory behind us.
BOY: Well, I guess you could say formerly employed now. Mr. Winthrop doesn't allow us to miss any work days, unless someone breaks our legs or we die. It's okay, though, because with the two dollars you're gonna give me, my Ma will be able to buy us bread for a week!
DUSTRY: Right. That'll happen. Anyway, you mentioned before that you're actually late for work. Right now, it's only about….
DUSTRY consults his pocket watch.
DUSTRY: Five minutes past 6. How early, exactly, are you expected to arrive at the factory?
BOY: Mr. Winthrop likes us to be here no later than 5. And that's when he's feeling generous. I was late today on account my sister's whooping cough. Ma had to head to her job at the cotton mill, so I was the one who had to wait for the drug store to open and buy little Maggie some medicine. I couldn't afford more than half a bottle, but when I get those two dollars, my sister will have more than enough to make her feel better!
DUSTRY: Yeah, sure. Whatever. So tell us, what's it like to work at the factory?
BOY: It's tough, sometimes. It's the only job I've ever had, so I guess I don't really have anything to compare it to. But before my dad died, he told me it was my duty to help my Ma provide for our family.
DUSTRY: And just what do you do here?
BOY: I clean the spindles and I sweep. Well, I used to, I guess. Like I said, Mr. Winthrop probably won't let me return.
DUSTRY: You mentioned a Mr. Winthrop. Was he your employer?
BOY: Yeah. He hired me, though he's just the overseer. I wouldn't call him a mean man, but he's definitely short-tempered. He doesn't do anything other than yell at us to work better. Someone actually pays him for that. They pay him well, too. He's been able to afford a house up on Fatcat Lane since he started working at the factory, but he used to live across the street from my place.
DUSTRY: So you could say that his standard of living has improved substantially, yes?
BOY: Yup. But not ours.
DUSTRY: Tell, us, son, how did it make you feel, knowing that you were working in a building that would help clothe so many people? Were you astounded at the machinery that you saw around you?
BOY: I didn't really care about where the cloth was going. I was interested in some of the inventions we had to help us work, though. Sometimes I would dash to the library when I was supposed to be on my twenty minute lunch break. I like to read about the inventors. There's Mr. Francis Lowell, who brought in a lot of the machines we used in the factory. And without Mr. Whitney's cotton gin, my Ma would probably be out of a job. And if not for Mr. James Watt's steam engine, the cotton from the South might take a lot longer to reach our town.
DUSTRY: You're quite the informed young man! You know, I've invented quite a few things in my time! I invented a way to record a man's voice and image, and a box that can project in it on a screen.
BOY: Wow! I hope I can be as successful as you someday, mister!
VIRGIL: I'm flattered, but I doubt you'll be ever as successful as me!
DUSTRY: Thank you for your time, young chap. (To camera) This has been I.N. Dustry with Channel 14 News. Back to you, Mike.
VIRGIL turns off the camera.
VIRGIL: Who's Mike?
DUSTRY: (Ignoring VIRGIL, to Boy) Here's your reward, milad!
DUSTRY hands BOY some lint from his pocket, smiles, and then runs offstage, leaving only the BOY and VIRGIL.
BOY: What the-? What's wrong with him?
VIRGIL: He's as mad as a hatter. No, seriously, he worked at a hat factory and the chemicals addled his mind somehow. Ever heard of mad hatter disease? He thinks that he's part of some futuristic news theater or something.
BOY: But… what about my money?
VIRGIL: I've got the keys to his apartment. What do you say we go over there and pawn off some of his junk?
Exit VIRGIL and BOY.