Thursday, May 29, 2008

Somebody's gotta do it

"Yo, Miss Baader, can you give me a job?" This from Marlon, not little Marlon but the other one, the one I worry about because he's the king of bad decisions. I'd taken them outside during homeroom because it was such a nice day. Marlon decided not to play football because some freshmen girls joined us and he's all about the girls.

Right, I said. You can work for the company I don't have.

"It don't matter," he said, putting his arm around Crystal. "I can do anything. Mow your lawn ..."

I don't have a lawn. I live in an apartment building.

"Then I can come over and clean your house. Or maybe build something. You wouldn't have to pay me much. Sixty dollars a day."

I snorted. I don't have sixty dollars a day to give you. I'm a teacher, remember?

"See?" said Dante. Dante wasn't playing with the rest of the boys either, not because he didn't like football but because his mother died last week and right now he's not participating in anything. "This is why young men turn to crime. Nobody will hire us." It's true, too. All spring, I'd been working with them on finding part-time jobs. They applied and applied and nobody called them back.

"Yeah," said Marlon. "It wouldn't take much for me to make sixty dollars on the streets. Drug dealing pays. You want me to become a drug dealer?"

Of course not, I said. But decisions like that are the reason why young african-american boys from the city have a better statistical chance of going to jail than to college. Listen, tomorrow we'll work on your resumes and I'll ask around about jobs.

He pulled Crystal closer. She giggled. "You gonna get me a job by this weekend? Because I need sixty dollars by Saturday."

I just looked at him. I didn't ask why: I didn't want to know. Not too long ago, Marlon went through a bad phase where he quit the basketball team and quit coming to school for a little while. When he managed to show up one day and I asked him where he'd been, he said he'd been smoking with his cousin. Why? He didn't want to leave his house -- he'd been at basketball practice when his house got robbed -- and he didn't have anything better to do.

It took us a little while to work through that one, and he's throwing a new one at me today. I looked over at Dante. He was nodding. He's the other one I'm really worried about. No mother. Shit.

Don't you know there's only a fifty-one percent chance you'll graduate from high school?

"Then get me a job and I won't have to deal drugs," said Dante. He looked at me with the kind of dead eyes I'd hoped never to see on him.

I'll help you get you a job, I said. I promise.

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