Robert works at Newark International Airport, wearing an orange uniform that reminds him of his father’s prison outfit. His coworkers are older than he is, and he gets along with them. Jackie is furious that Robert has taken such a low-paying job, for which he didn’t even need a high school diploma.
The chapter begins by echoing the prison imagery of the previous ones. In a way, Robert has become a prisoner of his apathy and his troubled past. The result is that he remains in Newark and takes a low-paying job, even though he could easily find something better.
While working at the airport, Robert continues to plan his real estate career. He researches properties in Cleveland and Florida, most of which are seriously damaged and need a lot of repairs. Robert complains to his friends that he didn’t think it would be so difficult to get into real estate. By this time, Tavarus has a son, and Julius has been with his girlfriend for six years. Curtis has a boring but decent-paying job in marketing. The friends continue to get along, although Robert hasn’t been smoking weed for fear that he’ll be drug-tested at work. As a result, he’s been irritable.
Robert continues to experience setbacks with his real estate research. He’s also irritated about not getting to smoke marijuana—raising some questions about why he chose to work at an airport in the first place, and also suggesting that Robert’s love of getting high might be turning into an unhealthy dependence.
That year, Jeff talks to Robert just a few times. Robert doesn’t say much about his life. Jeff conceals the facts that he and Rebecca have been unable to start a family, or that his second book wasn’t accepted by any publishers on the first go-around. In short, Jeff is fronting to Robert—and Robert, Jeff later realizes, is fronting to him.
The two friends misrepresent themselves and act as if life is going better than it really is. This suggests that neither friend was ever wholly comfortable with the other, and that they’re uncomfortable letting their guard down around each other.
Robert has always had success with dating women. But in the mid-2000s, he begins to become more “bold, crass, and too often mean” with the women he’s dating. He yells at his girlfriends over the phone. Raquel Diaz often tells him “the only thing that will save you is a good woman.” Shortly after this, she gives birth to a boy.
Robert seems to be taking out his anger and frustration on women—something he’s never done before.
Robert begins dating Inayra Sideros, Raquel Diaz’s aunt. “Ina” is only a year older than Raquel (Raquel’s mother and grandmother got pregnant around the same time). Robert goes to visit her in Miami all the time. He tells her about his dreams of becoming a college professor, and seems to love her deeply.
Robert expresses vague dreams of becoming a college professor but takes no concrete steps toward realizing that goal. Having a girlfriend—contrary to what Raquel claims—doesn’t seem to be saving him at all, but rather gives him another way of deferring action.
Robert uses his airport job to travel for free. He makes “business trips” to Liberty City to buy cheap weed, and then brings the weed back to Newark by hiding it in his boots. This is extremely risky, since he could be arrested by the DEA. Ina sometimes worries about Robert’s work, but she admires that he has a plan. However, she worries when Robert begins to speak about a new business venture involving guns.
Robert takes outrageous and unnecessary risks for the sake of selling marijuana—and later when he proposes selling guns. On some level, Robert seems to enjoy the risk and the machismo that accompanies it.
In March 2008, Robert attends the birthday of Tavarus’s son. Lately, Robert has been away from Newark for weeks at a time, supposedly because he’s been traveling to exotic destinations like Croatia and Tokyo. He hasn’t applied to any schools, but claims he’ll begin in 2009. One morning, during a visit to Rio, he wakes up naked in a favela, with his wallet gone. When he returns to Newark and tells Jackie what happened, Jackie says, “I don’t need you. I never have. Don’t you go worrying about me. Take care of yourself.” Her only advice for Robert is, “Go back to school. That’s what I want to see.”
By 2009, it’s becoming clear that something is wrong in Robert’s life. He has a Yale degree, but seems to feel no motivation to get a good job or make something of his life. Jackie, who’s worked so hard and sacrificed so much for her son, now seems frustrated with him, and urges Robert to take care of himself and get his graduate degree. While Hobbs doesn’t say so, this seems to be Jackie’s way of encouraging Robert to get on with his life, rather than staying in Newark with the excuse that he needs to take care of his mother.