Liz looks through the classified ads in the local paper, hoping to find work. She also pays visits to a youth organization in Manhattan called “The Door.” The Door is a nonprofit designed to meet “young people’s needs.” Liz goes there to get food and, sometimes, rest.
As she begins her high school career for the second time, Liz has to rely on certain charities and nonprofits (another example of how hard work and willpower alone can’t always manifest success). Liz visits The Door with the goal of eventually becoming financially independent, but still needs the resources The Door provides to keep going in the present.
That summer, Liz gets a job working for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). Her job is to go door-to-door raising money for environmental causes, of which she earns a small commission. She works alongside a young man named Ken. Ken is very handsome and confident, and Liz has a crush on him.
Liz goes out of her way to find herself a job. This job allows her to use a skillset she’s developed over the last ten years: working quickly, improvising, persuading strangers to part with money, etc.
On her first day, Liz surprises herself by raising $240. After that, she’s assigned to wealthier neighborhoods, where donations are much bigger. She earns a lot of money, for a very simple reason: unlike most of her fellow canvassers, she depends on this job for her food and her shelter. Canvassing in wealthy neighborhoods also exposes Liz to the lives of “other people”—people who go to college, have savings accounts, etc. Liz also gets to spend more time with Ken, and they enjoy goofing off and making each other laugh.
Liz succeeds as a canvasser because she doesn’t give up—and she doesn’t give up because, quite simply, she can’t (otherwise, she wouldn’t have food or a roof over her head). But the job also exposes her to people who come from a very different socioeconomic background. To her surprise, she finds that she can get along with these people—they’re not as different as she’d believed. And this realization makes Liz’s ambitions of graduating from high school and pursuing a successful career seem less daunting and more realistic.
One day in August, Liz runs into Sam on the subway by accident. The two friends hug tearfully, and Liz notices that Sam seems much healthier and happier than she did last year. Liz tells Sam about her job, and Sam seems genuinely proud of her. Sam tells Liz that she’s going to marry Oscar someday soon, and promises that Liz will be at the wedding. They hug each other goodbye and go their separate ways, promising to call each other soon.
Liz and Sam don’t spend as much time together as they once did, but they’re still firm friends. While Liz doesn’t say this explicitly, it’s suggested that she spends less time with Sam because Sam is less interested in going to school than Liz is (remember that it was Sam who convinced Liz to cut class back in junior high school).
One day, Ken’s mother drives Liz and Ken from work. Liz notices that Ken’s mother is a kind, affectionate woman. Ken invites Liz to spend the night at his house, along with some other friends. Liz is excited by the possibility of spending more time with Ken, but she’s also terrified that she’ll blow her cover—i.e., being “a normal high school senior readying myself for college applications.”
Although Liz finds that she can get along with kids from a different socioeconomic background, there are still times when she feels utterly out of place. Here, for example, she seems desperate to fit in with Ken and frightened that she won’t be able to, and feels like she has to hide a part of herself or put up an act.
That night, Liz and Ken’s other friends spend time together. Liz notices that Ken’s friends are mostly from well-off families, and they talk about topics that are utterly foreign to Liz. Liz places her sleeping bag right next to Ken’s, but that night nothing happens between them—Ken falls fast asleep.
In this passage, Liz has the disappointing experience that almost every teenager has sooner or later: the person she has a crush on doesn’t feel the same way about her. But Liz’s experience also has an additional, socioeconomic element: she’s looking for acceptance from Ken and his other well-off friends. Thus, the fact that Ken doesn’t seem interested in her is particularly hurtful.
The next morning, Liz feels foolish for thinking that Ken was ever interested in her as more than a friend. Ken’s mother brings the friends a huge basket of delicious pastries, and they sit together drinking orange juice. The morning is so happy and perfect that it strikes Liz as “over-the-top funny.” But as she laughs, she becomes sad: soon enough, Liz will be back to living in the Bronx. Before leaving Ken’s home, Liz packs her bag with extra pastries and muffins, knowing it’ll be quite some time before she eats like this again.
The chapter ends by emphasizing the divide between Liz and other, more privileged people who work as canvassers. Liz shows every sign of wanting to get along with these people, but she’s also conscious of being different from them. And, quite understandably, she’s saddened by the prospect of having to work so hard just to achieve the same things that Ken enjoys for free.