No particular place to go

       When I was a student at U. Penn, there was a homeless woman who would stand on Locust Walk – the brick path through campus – and ask the students, “Hi, would you buy one of the paintings I’m selling to support myself?”
The “paintings” were photocopies of her drawings of animals.  She had probably made them two blocks away at Kinko’s, and she was selling them for eight to ten dollars each.  But I always felt bad for her and I vowed that once I wasn’t broke, even if it took until graduation, I’d buy one of her paintings. 
And sure, it’s possible she was on drugs, but I don’t see drug or alcohol use as a good excuse not to help the homeless; anyone who stands on the street and asks for money still has a worse life than I do, and the money will undoubtedly make him or her feel a little bit better, no matter where it goes.  Who am I to judge or  make assumptions?  Anyway, she was someone’s daughter, maybe sister, maybe even their mother.  And it’s not like I was giving to her every day – I just figured I’d do it eventually.
       But I was pretty broke for all four years at Penn.  On weekends, when there was no dining service, I ate strawberry milk and a banana at Wawa for breakfast and a $4.25 Chinese dinner from the LeAnh Kitchen truck at 36th and Walnut.
I typed people’s papers to make extra money.  I was a pretty fast typist, having honed my skills throughout high school because I knew they'd be needed if I wanted to be a writer someday.  I posted flyers around campus to find clients.  Every dollar mattered.
       In the same vein, I took five classes each semester instead of four so I could graduate from Penn a semester early, thus saving tuition and getting into the real world earlier.  Being an English major, it wasn’t too hard to graduate early.  I just had to take the major requirements, plus the core curriculum, and write my 25-page thesis (it was on Virginia Woolf.)
       So in December of 1992, a semester early, I was officially a graduate of Penn.
Except that I had nowhere to go.
       I’d been taking the train to New York to interview for publishing jobs, but hadn’t landed one by graduation, and I didn’t think I could afford to live in New York just yet.  But that’s where I’d always wanted to be:  In publishing, in New York.
       Just before graduation, two opportunities opened in the Philadelphia area. 
         My roommate told me about a part-time job as an assistant to a paraplegic woman downtown who ran a non-profit disability advocacy organization.  I had the typing skills and the time, and it paid $10 an hour, which was plenty back then.  The job was for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which would still give me time to pursue job interviews and other opportunities.
       At the same time, I had interviewed for an unpaid internship in the State House in Trenton, with Gov. Florio’s speechwriters and press aides.  The Clinton election had made me more interested in political communications, as had some great courses with Kathleen Hall Jamieson at the Annenberg school.  I hadn't thought I could afford an unpaid internship, but the coordinators said I could do the internship Tuesdays and Thursdays if I wanted to, and skip it when I had job interviews in New York.  Very tempting!
But I felt like I should go to New York and try to begin a career, not slack around Philly.
However, my heart wanted me to stay in Philly for at least for one more semester.  Deep inside, I wanted to do the internship.  I wanted to work on Arch Street for the disabilities advocacy organization.  And I figured I could enjoy Penn like I hadn’t before when I was constantly studying, reading, and writing papers on The Heart of Darkness.
I wasn’t very good at listening to my heart back then.  I was better at preparing for the future.
But I told myself to give myself a break for a change and do what I really wanted.
Ultimately I decided to stay in Philly.
But now that I had graduated, I was supposed to leave my dorm, and I didn’t actually have a place to live.  No one formally kicked me out of the dorm suite I was sharing with two roommates, and they hadn’t assigned someone to take my place yet.  As long as my ID still let me in the building, I kept sleeping on the bumpy plaid couch in our living room.  I’d already packed up my sheets, pillow, and everything else from my old bedroom, in case a new roommate arrived. 
Winter break came, and I was set to start my internship and my job downtown. I stayed on campus after almost everyone else left – not knowing what was to come in the next stage of my life.
It was a bit boring and lonely on campus with no one else there.  For the first half of winter break, my ID still let me into the dorm.  Christmas came, as well as the day after, and every time I slid my card through the reader, it still worked.  I went to my part-time job by day and took the elevator up to our empty suite at night.  I was saving money to eventually live in New York.
Sometimes I journeyed to the Penn library after work and stayed past 11 p.m., printing out my resume to send to publishing companies.  Sometimes I printed out my novel in progress to send out as well.
       New Year’s Eve came and I was alone in my dorm room.  I took the elevator to the roof, to the lounge that had windows all around – a panoramic view of Philly.  I looked at the lights twinkling on the office buildings.  There was a couple holding hands at one end of the lounge, and soft red couches and chairs facing every window.  It was quiet.
       I didn’t see a reason to stay there getting depressed.  I decided to get out and see a movie.
       “Home Alone 2” was the biggest movie out at the time, and it seemed fitting.
I went to my dorm room and pulled on my winter coat – it was freezing as it often is on new year’s eve – and headed downstairs.
       I took Locust Walk to the edge of campus and crossed 40th Street to the theater.
       Home Alone 2 was uplifting.  I don’t remember much about it, but it involved a homeless woman and it had a happy ending that involved turtledoves.
In fact, the dove was a symbol all the way through the movie.
       After I finished watching it, I shoved my hands in my pockets and headed back to my dorm room.
       On Locust Walk, a woman appeared. 
“Hi.  I’m wondering if you could buy one of the paintings I’m selling to support myself.”
I finally had some money to give her.  I was starting to be financially independent.
       I looked at the woman’s paintings.  Right on top was one that surprised me.
       It was a painting of a dove.
       I paid her eight bucks, brought it home, and stuck it on the dorm room wall to remind myself that I was lucky.


Jackets at the playground, Hoboken, N.J.


Hoodie Allen

Thanks to the Beastie Boys, we already know that Jewish boys can rap. Meet Hoodie Allen, whose new EP just came out.  He's becoming quite popular.  He went to my alma mater, U. Penn. He's a bit younger than I am, though - 21 or 22. Gosh, how did we miss each other on campus since I'm just a few years older?