Saturday, August 20, 2005

Giving Kids the Business

(The Factory Owner’s Song, from the as-yet-unproduced Broadway musical O Socialism!)

[Interior of a spacious, almost cavernous bedroom, beautifully appointed with rich wallpaper, intricate moulding, decorative paneling in the doors, a massive fireplace at one end. Beside a wide picture window covered by crisp white draperies and heavy burgundy curtains is a large canopy bed. Horace Hardstubble, the Factory Owner, sleeps beneath the thick layers of blankets. The lighting from behind the window hints that dawn has just recently broken. As the scene begins, a servant in fine black dress enters from stage right and stokes the embers of the fire, producing a high, crackling flame. He then parts the heavy drapes to allow more light to filter into the room, then leaves. Hardstubble begins to stir, soon sits up and stretches, and in low tones begins his song. The tempo begins slowly, speeding up gradually after every few verses until we reach the rapid-fire, rousing end that sweeps us out of the room and onto the next scene.]

Each day I wake up early
And I’m feelin’ kind of surly
And I roust myself out of my feather bed

The servants stoke the fire
And the flames they burn much higher
As I take a shot of whisky for my head

I part the drapes and peer out
And I’m hoping it’s not clear out
’Cause the black clouds always brighten up my day

Fact’ry smoke is blowing
And I settle back then knowing
That my workers have arrived to earn their pay

’Cause we’re giving kids the business every day!
I don’t doubt the Church might like to have some say
But my profits stagnate when the kiddies play
None of them has got a future anyway
So we’re giving kids the business every day!

[Hardstubble finishes preparing to leave the house through these next verses. As he makes his way out the front door, the priest gives him a hello and a blessing. Hardstubble mounts his carriage, which whips off down the streets, occasionally running down a pedestrian, some of them kids.]

I eat and read the paper
Skipping stories of a caper
Between police and a shiftless, angry mob

My servants help to dress me
And the priest can’t help but bless me
Without me, no parishoner’d have a job

My carriage goes to lurchin’
As we hit the odd street urchin
Thank God Darwin has shown these accidents for

The way of Nature’s weeding out
The able worker from the lout
And it’s not like we don’t have a wealth of poor

So we’re giving kids the business, but what for?
They can work for me or they can find the door
There’s no kid too small or weak to do a chore
In fact, they’ll take work the grown-ups all abhor
So I’m giving kids the business AND what for!

[Arriving at the factory, Hardstubble strides into the main work area, where dozens of dirty, malnourished children are laboring away in hot, dirty, oppressive conditions. A few carry evidence of past injuries: bandages, noticeable limps, missing limbs. A couple have horrific accidents even as these next verses are sung. Any child who appears listless is berated by the obese, angry, florid foreman, who administers his instructions with a quick lash from a small whip.]

The fact’ry floor is teeming
With kiddies, some of ‘em screaming
As they lose an arm or leg between the gears

I wish they’d be more cautious
As their inj’ries make me nauseous
They rust all my machines with their damn tears

My foreman’s a drunken creep
But it matters more that he’s cheap
And he keeps the lads and lasses all in line

Through a fourteen-hour day
With only pennies for their pay
‘Cause I hate to part with money when it’s mine

And we’re giving kids the business, so don’t whine!
They’re all tougher than they look, they’ll be just fine
Not one of my kid’s a day younger than nine
It says so on the papers I make them sign
We’re giving kids the business unless they whine!

[Hardstubble makes his way to his office, which sits to one side of the main factory floor. He closes the door on the noise and the foul air, then shuffles angrily through papers on his desk. He grows increasingly angry and frustrated until by the end of these verses and the refrain verse, he’s shouting his lines out into the factory to warn all the kids not to complain. Then he slams the door and slumps down behind his desk.]

It’s true there’s some frustration
With the threats of legislation
It pays to keep lawmakers on the rolls

Social reformists hate me
Bloody do-gooders equate me
With a baby-eating, monstrous, evil troll

They all forget too quickly
Our economy was sickly
Before my smokestacks turned blues skies to gray

If they don’t like my money
And prefer their noontime sunny
Then they’ll need to find another place to stay

‘Cause we’re giving kids the business every day!
I own the means of production, so don’t say
That I have to let the rabble have their way
If I’ve a mind, I can always cut their pay
I’ll keep giving kids the business every day!

[Still working hard, the kids chime in after Hardstubble slams his door. They sing the first verse in unison.]

He’s giving us the business
Our lives are on the brink
If T.B. doesn’t get us
We might succumb to drink

[A young boy sings this next part. He jeers as he sings.]

Our parents aren’t much better
My dad is locked away
In prison as a debtor
That’s prob’ly where he’ll stay

[A girl of about twelve sings this part. She seems resigned to her fate, more tired than sad.]

Me mum is a streetwalker
To pay for drink and board
But I try not to fault her
Soon I’ll be on that road

[The kids in unison again.]

Don’t look for silver linings
We faithfully report
No hope is out there shining
For people of our sort
‘Cause life is nasty, brutish, and it’s short!

[A very small and dirty child pops out of a pile of coal.]

Like me!