Broke

by Marjorie Jensen 

As tautological as it may sound, Chicago is an expensive city. Between only the most essential groceries and envelopes marked “Antioch Business Office,? unexpected bills found me miles from my “current mailing address.? My pithy checks signed by the President of the Newberry don’t cover half of these costs. I had to find a second job. I wasn’t surprised.

The second store within a few blocks of my apartment with a “Help Wanted? sign offered Caitlin and I jobs moments after turning in our applications. I am now an exhausted employee of Jimmy John’s sub shop. In fact, I have to leave for work in exactly two hours. Do I like it? It offers me something that the Newberry doesn’t: working-class people.

Now, I’m not implying uneducated. Some of the kids go to various colleges in Chicago. Most are just refreshingly down-to-earth. Take Kenny, one of our delivery drivers (read bike messenger with subs), informing us about where the elastic in his boxers had begun to separate from the rest. Davorah, our manager, asked him to clean the lower racks of the cold table (where we make our subs).

“I told you about my underwear,? he replied, unwilling to bend over. It breaks up the monotony.

JJ’s is open late on the weekends (by late, I mean until 5am) and we are on Division Street (read one of the most expensive bar districts in Chicago). My Friday nights are spent listening to the mantra of my manager, Matt: “bathrooms are for customers only,? to the rich, drunken “douchebags? with popped collars. He changes the CD to Mindless Self Indulgence and sighs as they ignore him.

These are the kids who couldn’t afford to take most of the “public? programs offered at the Newberry. We have a master schedule in the Development Office’s ‘S’ drive in the computer network. The ‘Sacred and Profane: The Art of the Tale’ workshop that I would love to take is 8 sessions for $160. I couldn’t afford it. I’m only at Antioch (and the Newberry) thanks to lots and lots of financial aid.

I invite my fellow Fellows to visit me at JJ’s. Some do, bringing me cigarettes and hugs. They are sad that I can’t go out with them. But they understand and are encouraging, calling my JJ’s uniform sexy. I appreciate that white lie. Caitlin is a riot to work with. We dance in the ‘back of house,’ as it were. Others are reluctant.

“I didn’t know if you would feel comfortable with me visiting you at work; seeing you in a subservient position like that,? said Laura from Beloit.

Really, it’s okay. I’m used to it. I’ve been working-class all my life. It does make for a strange relationship with the academy. Higher education is generally run by and for rich, white men. I chose Antioch, in part, to try to escape the elitist mentality of many institutions. Even our radical, left-wing haven has its literati and men earning drastically more than women. A microcosm, truly.

My Wednesday nights belong to the events at the Newberry. We held a pleasant reception for the Book Fair Volunteers. John Notz, the chair of the Fair that has been going on for twenty years, spoke briefly. He was proud of the work they had done- theirs was the only program that reached out to Marx’s proletariat. He hedged around that term, instead calling them:

“Those people who come to buy their year’s worth of romance novels for a few dollars.? Not the educated elite. Not those who have the money or cultural capital (as Bourdieu would say) to attend most of the events. Not those who receive Gala invitations with themed giving brackets (ie. Lords and Ladies being higher donors than the Knights and Damsels at the Elizabeth event).

The following Wednesday held the opening of ‘The Aztecs and the Making of Colonial Mexico’ event. I have been preparing the RSVP list, name-tags, signs, and various other internish projects for over a month now. The names on that list include the General Consul of Mexico, many members of the Board of Trustees and friends (read large donors) of the library.

I sat behind the check-in tables, anxiously awaiting 323 people that RSVP’ed. We didn’t make enough name tags. Many not on the list arrived, complaining about their name not being in the alphabetized collection spread out in front of us. We put out more chairs frantically. Eventually, David Spadafora, the President of the Newberry, took the mike to introduce the General Consul.

“We have not had sufficient contact with the Mexican-American community of Chicago,? he began. He continued, explaining that this event was an attempt to bring much-needed diversity to the library. The first step in solving any problem is admitting to it. The second is discussing it. I encourage students to come to the library, be part of the program and part of the solution.