“Remember when we were homeless?” asked my mother in inappropriately casual conversation a few years ago. Um, no. In my memory we were just “in between” people — in between jobs, schools, towns. According to my mother, there was a time when our constant traveling wasn’t a hippie child-rearing experiment but a necessity. Because I was probably around 6 at the time, the same age as McDowell’s son, all I really knew was that my mother was a hustler and my job was to be along for the ride.
There’s a scene in The Pursuit of Happyness that always gets me. Will Smith, playing the real-life success story Chris Gardner, is forced to spend the night in a public bathroom, which might not be so terrible, if his tiny son weren’t dozing on the contaminated floor next to him.
Gardner tries so hard to keep it together after every possible thing that can go wrong does. His wife is fed up; the great internship he wants — the one that will get him a career, as opposed to a job — doesn’t pay; he owes back taxes and gets evicted; the shelter closes too early … and the bathroom is open.
Watching that scene, when Gardner tries to make a game out of sleeping in a stinking stall and then cries silent tears once his son has finally fallen asleep, always reminds me of what my mother probably went through. What McDowell, Williams-Bolar and countless other women and men who have bigger dreams for their children than their paychecks can cash go through.
Yes, school districts exist for a reason. According to America’s idiotic public education system, tax dollars determine how decent an education your kid gets. So Beverly Hills High will always be better than Compton High. To leap over the gaps left by a broken system, parents can either send their kids to a magnet school (of which there are few), a free public charter school (with its limited number of open spots) or pay for private school. Stealing, as defined by Ohio and Connecticut, is in some ways not so much the easy way out as it is the only way out.