Summary – Section Four ‘New York City’, Chapters Fifty Six, Fifty Seven and Fifty Eight
At the terminal in New York, she heard someone shout her name. It was a friend of Lori’s and he had come to wait for her as Lori was working. She also found a job the next day, at a burger bar, and after taxes she took home $80 a week. By the middle of summer, Lori found them an apartment in the South Bronx and it was bigger than their entire house in Welch.
In the fall, Lori helped her find a school where students signed up for internships rather than classes and she worked at a weekly newspaper called The Phoenix. In the spring, she was given a job there and at 18 she had never been happier.
She wrote long letters to Brian and he wrote back to say how things were deteriorating further. When they asked him to come to New York to join them, he accepted immediately and like Jeannette he hopped on a bus the morning after he completed his junior year. He also found a job the following day (in an ice cream parlor). He waited for her after her job finished and they used to take the subway home together.
At this time, she saw no point in going to college as she was working as a journalist already. Her employer encouraged her to go, though, and said she could return to this position if she ever wanted to. Lori’s friends told her that Columbia University was the best in New York and since it only took men at that time she applied to its sister college, Barnard, and was accepted.
She received grants and loans to pay the steep tuition fees and had some savings too. To pay the remaining amount she worked answering telephones at a Wall Street firm. She also moved and looked after the children of a psychologist. In addition, she worked in an art gallery at weekends and as an editorial assistant on one of the biggest magazines in the city.
Their parents called from Grandpa’s home with increasingly bad news and Lori declared it was time for Maureen to join them too. She was only 12, but Lori said she would look after her. Mom agreed to the idea, but Dad accused Lori of stealing his children. Maureen arrived in early winter and they enrolled her in a good public school. On weekends, they all met up at Lori’s apartment and ate and reminisced.
Chapter Fifty Seven recounts that when Jeannette had been in New York for over three years she was listening to the radio as she was preparing for class. There was a story being reported of a traffic jam on the New Jersey turnpike. A van had broken down and clothes and furniture had spilled on the road. That night her mother called to tell her how she and Dad had moved to New York too. Jeannette asked if it had been their van that had broken down, and was unsurprised when her mother said it was.
Her parents found a room in a boarding house close to Lori’s apartment, but were thrown out after a couple of months for not paying the rent. They moved to a flophouse but were ‘kicked out’ after Dad set their room on fire when he fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand.
Brian thought they should be made to be self-sufficient, but Lori took them in temporarily and this turned into four months. Dad’s drinking was a problem and Brian said he could stay with him if he followed his rules. Dad refused this and slept in the van instead. It reached the point where Lori also had to ask Mom to move out (although she hated doing so) and she went to live in the van as well. The night it was towed away they slept on a park bench, and were homeless.
Chapter Fifty Eight describes how they learned to live as homeless people and her mother said she saw it as an adventure. As fall came and the weather cooled, they spent more time in libraries. Mom worked her way through Balzac and Dad had become interested in chaos theory and so read up on it.
Jeannette did not know what to do about them and had grown tired of taking on people who ridiculed them. This is also why she did not own up about them and their circumstances to Professor Fuchs. In a discussion about homelessness, Jeannette had said ‘“maybe sometimes people get the lives they want”’. Professor Fuchs asked her agitatedly what she knew about the lives of the underprivileged. The other students stared at Jeannette and she replied, ‘“you have a point”’.
Analysis – Section Four, Chapters Fifty Six, Fifty Seven and Fifty Eight
When Professor Fuchs questioned Jeannette’s background and, consequently, her knowledge of the lives of the ‘underprivileged’, the narrative begins to engage more thoroughly with the structures of society.
However, because Jeannette answered ‘maybe sometimes people get the lives they want’ and did not explain further she appeared to be accepting of the unequal distribution of wealth and this is perhaps why the professor questioned her politics and background.