Celebating Labor History: The Hustle

“Wow, that looks so great on you! I think it’s because of the shade of white, it’s sooo . . . ice-like in contrast with your dark hair.”

“That is such an amazing fit! Just in terms of the ‘butt-fit’ alone, its a keeper!”

“Every shirt is hand-painted and hand-dyed. Each one is truly a work of art!”

The ubersaleswoman/street hustler in me was born out of desperation for food and shelter. I found I could convince almost anyone to buy anything, well, at least a $15 t-shirt, and I would say so much bullshit just to make that happen that I would surprise even myself. As the money flowed in where there was absolutely none before, I began to feel that anything was possible and that all my dreams of food, shelter and new underwear were realities just waiting to happen.

The process of making money all on your own when you’re very poor and very young is a heady one. Success, no matter how small, feeds directly into your ego, not to mention your pocket, and once you make that $20, $50 or $100 you feel large, if only for that night. You buy blueberries at a whopping $4.99 a pint, you eat out and blow $20 without thinking twice, you even fill your gas tank or buy a whole week’s worth of groceries. But the next day you wake up like an alcoholic after a binge, left with the almost-emptied pocket, with barely enough to pay that day’s room rent, or worse, not even enough to buy that morning’s coffee, and I would scramble back to the scene of the hustle to nervously re-create my pseudosuccess of the previous day.

And so on it went, day after day, month after month, with me and my hustle in full-time residence on Telegraph Avenue, trying in vain to become homeful, to get out of the motels, to buy lunch. . .


Excerpted from Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America by Lisa Gray-Garcia aka Tiny.

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