After Lamar and the boys fixed up Patrice’s old apartment, Sherenna declared it a “motherfucking shitty-ass job.” Lamar begged her to allow him to finish the job and she reluctantly agreed. Now he runs into Patrice’s son, Mikey, who fell asleep and missed school. Mikey chats with Lamar while Lamar finishes painting. Mikey explains that Patrice’s boyfriend has taken her food stamps, and Lamar warns him about telling people his mother’s business. Although the handiwork Lamar is doing for Sherenna is cheap, there are so many desperate people around that there are many who would do it cheaper, including hypes (addicts). Lamar complains that “hypes done messed up everything.”
As readers, we cannot know for sure whether the job Lamar did was truly substandard or whether Sherenna is taking advantage of the power she has over him. What is clear is that the power imbalance between them leaves Lamar vulnerable to exploitation. If Sherenna wants to, she can refuse to pay Lamar for his labor or evict him (or both), and there will be nothing Lamar can do about it.
Next week, Lamar cooks breakfast for Luke and Eddy, whom he has allowed to stay home from school. Their new upstairs neighbor, a young woman named Kamala, knocks on the door and asks for a cigarette. Her two year old daughter follows and says her stomach hurts because she is hungry. Kamala explains that they only have a microwave upstairs, and Lamar lends her his hot plate, telling her to come back for dinner that night. Patrice’s son CJ, Luke and Eddy’s friends, and Lamar’s girlfriend come over. Everyone smokes weed and relaxes, having a good time.
Even amid the crushing uncertainty caused by poverty and housing instability, Lamar and his sons manage to have fun together. Perhaps more importantly, Lamar remains selfless and generous even though he has very little. This makes his unjust treatment by Sherenna even more heartbreaking.
There is a knock at the door; it is Colin, a young white man from church, and everyone rushes to get rid of the smell of weed. Colin reads to them from the Bible. Lamar comments that “earth is hell,” and Colin replies, “well, not quite hell.”
While some of the people in the book find comfort in religion, others feel that religious teaching fails to properly address the extreme poverty and suffering around them.
Quentin drives to pick up Chris, Trisha’s new boyfriend. After getting released from prison and moving in with Trisha, Chris asked Quentin for work. Sherenna and Quentin have a long list of people who will willingly work for them, including their own drug- and alcohol-addicted family members who are always desperate for cash. They can even easily pick up men on the street if they need to. High unemployment rates among black men without high school or college education bely the fact many of those in this demographic regularly work doing odd jobs for small amounts of cash.
Once again, Quentin and Sherenna use their connection to the poor black communities on the North Side to exploit these communities (even including their own family members). One could argue that it is helpful for unemployed substance users to be given work, yet we have seen that Quentin and Sherenna tend to exploit poorer people for their own benefit even when they claim to be supporting them.
Quentin has been shot on two separate occasions, the first when he was 19. The stress and trauma that resulted have given him a stomach ulcer. After spending a day doing property repair with Chris, Quentin checks on his Uncle Verne who has been doing up Patrice’s old apartment. Quentin isn’t fully satisfied with the job, but offers Verne $70 anyway. Verne tries to negotiate, but Quentin reminds him that he has plenty of other people he can ask instead. Verne accepts the money and Quentin’s offer of a ride to the liquor store. The Hinkstons listen to Quentin and Verne’s conversation from downstairs. After, they survey the job and are jealous of how nice the apartment looks.
Quentin takes advantage of his Uncle Verne’s poverty, vulnerability, and even his addiction in order to get away with paying him less than what he deserves for his work. This highlights how our current economic system erodes people’s principles, including their commitment to family. Quentin is happily to exploit his own uncle in order to make more money.