Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard

Adam Shepard read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America and had a Gen-Y hissy fit that hard work and gumption could no longer realize the American dream. After college he decided to embark on a year long experience to see if he could make it with just $25 and his own willingness to work. He was determined to find a place to live and have substantial savings, $2500, at the end of his year long experiment. Scratch Beginnings describes his efforts: living in a homeless shelter, his struggles to find work that wasn't exploitative--his experiences with day labor companies are interesting reading--and to find work that he could do.

I have to admit, I didn't want to like Shepard's book. I find the solution, don't give up, work real, real hard and The Man will make you employee of the month, a bit simplistic. I also found out about this book through John Stossel's The Middle Class is Doing Just Fine, Thank You, which included a very mean-spirited interview with Barbara Ehrenreich stuttering and Stossel pontificating. Yes, the middle class is fine--on credit. And look how that panned out.

What I liked about Shepard's style was his self-deprecation, his willingness to describe his conflicts with his co-workers, which seemed to undermine his efforts to just get along and work hard, and the description of his roommate who exploits Shepard's need to keep his car running. What I found a bit grating was his tendency to hero worship, though he seems to become aware that it is occasionally misplaced. Though I disagree with his conclusion, that hard work alone could get a person out of poverty, but a living wage and some dignity won't. He didn't seem to realize that his parents' illnesses would have derailed his dream--perhaps temporarily, since he seems to be admirably resilient--and that similar repeated setbacks can knock the fight out of anyone.

But the message of his book is to be resilient, to show grit and spirit, and he argues, from his lived experience, that squandering the minimum makes people unworthy of an extra helping. He does make a compelling case that if you stay put, are patient, learn from others, put their wisdom into practice, save money and stay in reasonably good health, then you can begin to realize the "American Dream".

If you can hold on to it isn't included in this book.

1 comment:

Shep said...

Ahhhh...very cool. I like that you didn't want to like my book, but you did. I'll take that as the highest compliment possible. :)

In any event, thank you for taking the time to read SCRATCH BEGINNINGS in the first place.