- PROLOGUE -
"Can you fucking believe that?" the undergrad said, crushing her cigarette out beneath the heel of her Uggs. "Not only do I have to FIND a job but NO SPRING BREAK!"
"Well, maybe your folks are having a tough time... getting a job's not--"
She put her hand in my face, almost burnt her hand on my cigarette.
"Please! This is [the Local U]. And I'm a girl. You don't understand - they're supposed to pay for Cancun... "
"Twenty-five hundred's a lot of money, chica."
The undergrad stares through me for a brief second, a look I'm accustomed to around these parts.
"Not for them. Mom spends that on shoes, like, easily."
Now I'm the one staring through the undergrad. I don't think, over the course of my entire life, I've even owned $2,500 worth of shoes. And, hell, I never expected my mother and father to send me anywhere on Spring Break when I was in college...
For a second, well, I guess I forgot that for a large segment of the Public Ivy Local U's student population, feeling poor - even middle-class - is as completely foreign to them as the idea of a $2,500 week trip to Mexico in the middle of March is to me...
* * * *
HAMILTON, Ohio (ZP) -- Her child is the only thing that matters.
Her child and survival. The most important of all maternal instincts.
She lights an off-brand menthol, tugs her shirt down as it rolls up over her stretch marks. Her daughter sucks on a dirty thumb in the car seat. The growl of the young mother's voice crackles with the remnants of childhood as she speaks through the driver's window.
No job possibilities. Child's father nowhere to be found, possibly in jail. Government assistance barely covering the bills, a few missed rent payments away from homelessness.
But fuck it all. Fuck her run-down rusty primer gray sedan, fuck her parents, her best friends, her boyfriend. Fuck the Congress, presidents, governors, and bankers.
Her child, she says, is the only thing that matters. And she'd kill for her daughter - rob, trick, sling meth, burn down the world to keep her. Damn whatever Social Services says about her being a bad parent, her grandmother for calling her a whore...
She asked for a light as I climbed out of my pickup. My act of kindness, well, instigated her confession.
I listened contently because it's pretty self-evident that nobody in America really pays much attention to teenage mothers in parking lots.
She didn't mention money, didn't panhandle or beg. I just gave her the forty bucks in my wallet, made her take it under the threat of wounding my honor, my manhood.
Yup, gave a total stranger my grocery money. And I ate a shitload of celery and peanut butter all that next week.
Hell, I had plenty of celery. But that kid didn't have diapers or formula. No sense in letting a single mom go to jail for shoplifting...
* * * *
OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- They cut off her gas back in December, the water in January.
And she's been living off a wood stove and bottled water ever since.
Throughout one of the worst winters in recent memory, she had all the water she needed - God, Mother Earth, or whatever, had dropped enough snow into her yard to at times flush the toilets, to boil and to cook with. And the wood for the stove her family had brought her, green and smoky as it was, still kept the single-digit weather at bay.
As we sat at her kitchen table, smoking and talking, a dog lay under the table, chewing on a three-eighth inch socket from her wrench set.
The dog, she says, keeps her sane when she's alone. and she was glad I stopped by to talk, too...
- EPILOGUE -
"Well, uh, good luck with looking for a job," I said to the undergrad, putting out my own cigarette. "Need to get back across the street and back to work..."
The undergrad didn't want to end the conversation. I wasn't trying to be rude, but the conversation had become circular, a trap, one where she was looking more for affirmation of righteousness in regards to her plight and not for any actual understanding.
It's not her fault, really.
"But you're, like, good a giving students like me advice. You know, just everyday girls..." her voice dropped to a whisper, as if the people passing by were spying, "... like on the blog?"
"Honey, 'Good luck looking for a job' is my advice..."
- # # # -