Name (s): Jo Sullivan. That’s what I go by now, anyway. Anyone that calls me Jody these days better be prepared to piss me off. It brings back too many memories.
Age: A girl never tells. Let’s just say old enough to walk around with my eyes open about what life is really like, but not so old I don’t still occasionally hope it’s possible to make a difference in this world if you try.
Please tell us a little about yourself. I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was in pre-school, I think. So when I got an internship at the Chicago Tribune straight out of college, I thought I’d made it. That was until the reality of a male-dominated industry was made clear to me when my editor tried to grab my ass and take credit for stories I did all the work on. My career aspirations these days probably look like they’re on a smaller scale, but the implications are much more broad and satisfying. Winds of Change may only be a weekly rag, but they aren’t afraid to point out social injustice and try to make it right. Letting me write my Street Stories column about the homeless individuals I meet is one example. Also, except for one annoying employee, all the paper cares about there is that you write a good story and get your facts straight, not how big a booty you’ve got.
Do you have a moral code? If so what is it? Boy, you do like to ask the tough questions. Sure, I like to believe I have a moral code. Don’t screw people over, don’t cover bullshit with fluffy pink frosting, and own up to your mistakes and make them right. Is that a moral code or just three of the rules I try to live by? I don’t know.
Can you remember something from your childhood which influences your behaviour? How do you think it influences you? When I was in seventh grade, my father was accused of molesting and murdering a young boy. He was arrested and tried, but never found guilty. My mother likes to say that proves he’s innocent, but what really happened is that the DNA evidence was contaminated by a rookie cop. They may not have been able to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, but reasonable doubt is enough for me to want him to stay the hell out of my life. My friend Keisha thinks the reason I get so wrapped up in helping these homeless kids I come across is because I’m trying to atone for what my father might have done. She may be right. It doesn’t matter to me why, it just matters that somebody takes the time to listen and care, because there sure aren’t very many others who do.
Please give us a little information about the world in which you live. You might not believe this, but the Chicago streets the homeless navigate are as alien as any dystopian sci-fi world you might read about. Walk around in the shoes of a kid who’s been kicked out of his home because he refuses to be abused anymore and you’ll see what I mean. You’re like a spectre floating aimless and ignored until the “real world” needs someone to blame for the darkness that happens in their lives. Then you stand out like a two-headed green Reever. Sometimes I feel like a shaman or a psychic, able to see through to this other dimension they live in, the Twilight Zone of homelessness. Is it a good thing to pull them back into the same place the corrupt politicians and so called “Christians” live in? I don’t really know, but until someone discovers another layer of life, one where we care about each other and treat ourselves and our neighbors with respect, this world will have to do.
Do you travel in the course of your adventures? If so where? I’ve travelled all over Chicago in the last five years, and have discovered I don’t need to go anywhere else to experience the world. From Little Italy to Chinatown then on to Greektown and Little Vietnam. Devon Avenue is like a miniature India and the Pilsen neighbourhood has a distinctive neo-Bohemian-Baroque architecture from the Czech and Bohemian immigrants who settled there. There’s a strong Ethiopian community in the Uptown area and if it’s food I’m looking for I don’t think there is any culture not represented somewhere in the city. Why fly when a quick “L” ride can get me anywhere I want to go in the world?
Name and describe a food from your world. Have you ever had a Chicago dog? If not, then you’ve never tasted a hot dog. When I was a kid, my mother used to feed me a water-logged wiener on a saucer with no bread, just a puddle of ketchup on the side to dunk the meat in. I didn’t know what I was missing till I lived here. You take a perfectly steamed dog and nestle it in a soft poppy seed bun. Squirt some tangy yellow mustard on there and cover it with relish, tomatoes and a pickle spear. The best part for me is the onions and peppers, sweet and juicy. You top that all off with a sprinkle of celery salt. Trust me. You will never eat any other style of hot dog again.
What form of politics is dominant in your world? (Democracy, Theocracy, Meritocracy, Monarchy, Kakistocracy etc.) Stupidity, plain and simple. Lacking in reason and compassion, weighted down with red tape and pork fat.
Name a couple of myths and legends particular to your culture/people. Myths surround the street culture homeless people live every day. The most common and most damning is that “these people are just lazy and should go out and get a job.” Walk the streets for one night with Night Moves counsellor Jack Prescott and see how many people have two and sometimes three jobs and still can’t afford to pay rent in a safe neighbourhood. Volunteer at a service agency that educates people on how to write a professional resume and find out how often people get turned down despite their qualifications simply because they don’t have a home address. You can’t get a job unless you prove you are stable and reliable. You can’t have stability until you earn enough money to afford a place to live and food to eat and transportation to get back and forth to work. Learning disabilities, lack of education, and mental illness are often additional factors that prevent someone from being hired.
Another myth is that this can’t happen to you. Don’t fricking fool yourself. Imagine you get sick or suffer a disaster that depletes all your resources. The economy is in the toilet and you lose your job. You’re over fifty, maybe, or your experience is limited. What if your family is gone or you fall out with them and you have no one left to help you out? The face of homelessness is changing. The fastest growing segments of the homeless population are women and families with children.
Book(s) in which this character appears plus links
Bend Me, Shape Me
Debra R. Borys
Website/Blog/Author pages etc.