Red dust swirls about the ditch at midday, flying in the face of a blindingly hazy sky. Muddy rivers of perspiration stream across faces and backs.
“I’m gonna quit,” says a young white student as he tosses his shovel over the bank. “Why fry your mind for two bucks an hour?”
An older black man — fierce-looking, with a deep scar parting his nose — mops his brow, then speaks softly: “Lissen. As long as there are students and niggers in this town, there ain’t gonna be no high wages.”
A friend writes in a letter: “Nixon’s final revenge has been to lock away all the oil, making it so expensive no one can afford to hit the road.
“And now the depression makes you afraid to quit even the worst jobs until you’ve saved something.”
Larry says he never has any money. He works ten to twenty hours a week for a painting contractor and does some roofing. He owes the Chapel Hill telephone company nearly $300 and swears they’ll have to find him to get it.
Larry eats nearly all his meals in local restaurants and frequents most of the bars regularly. His prized possession is a stack of Chinese prints he keeps in a dresser drawer; some cost more than $200.
Larry says he makes about $3000 a year, hustling dope on the side when he runs short.
Thirty seven hundred Orange County residents were certified as food stamp recipients last February, an increase of nearly 100 per cent since April, 1974. This represents 1200 households.
On the CBS Evening News, Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz explains why there are no top administrators whose sole responsibility is to deal with the food stamp program: “This isn’t a welfare department!”
Butz also said he’d never talked to anyone receiving food stamps, but had seen some in the supermarket when he went grocery shopping with his wife.
The average income in Orange County is $10,715 — the highest in the state.
However, there are 8,489 people classified as poor in the county — roughly 17-19 per cent of the total population.
North Carolinians are considered below the poverty level if their income is below $3,745 for nonfarm residents, or $3,197 for farm residents.
The county’s poor are disproportionately black, under 18 and over 65. Blacks account for 19 per cent of the county’s population, but represent 30 per cent of the area’s poor.
Joe is sitting in the Cat’s Cradle, half-apologizing for his public relations job with a northern prep school. Two years out of school, he has yet to write his novel.
“Jeezus, man, it’s a living,” says his companion. “Don’t make excuses for having a job — not these days. I’m satisfied to be working part-time in a pet store. My old man is going out of his mind, thinking I’ll never leave Chapel Hill — but where do I go with a Poli Sci major?”