Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Parody Time

Any good journalist, of course, knows that writing to one's audience is the best way to connect and make readers care about what you're writing. And then there are the writers who try to connect to the New York Times audience, where you get stories like this: As the Rich Get Poorer, Teenagers Feel the Crunch.

The kind folks at Slate.com asked readers to submit a parody. Here is mine:

When Angela Frump started her junior year of high school in Scoville, Idaho, this fall, she cut a path at her school with her clothing, shoes and easy way with her spending money.

But in October he father lost his job as foreman at a huge hog rendering plant at Atomic City, then landed one close to home as an itinerant babbler who gesticulates at traffic while waving a “Will Work for Pilates” sign at busy street corners. Angela now steals clothing from the bin behind the Salvation Army Thrift Store rather than wait until the store opens in order to do her shopping. She no longer has used wax paper to stuff in the holes in her shoes and makes due with newspaper. And the $5 weekly allowance she got from ruffling through coat pockets in the cloakroom when everyone else was at church? “Most of the damn pockets are empty these days,” she says with a sigh, knowing the special treat of a hot school lunch once a week is now a thing of the past.

But she’s no slouch. To help her family make ends meet and to buy that hot lunch now every other week, Angela took a job three months ago stocking shelves at Target. “They’ve treated me well,” she says. “Just had my 90-day review and got a 15 cents an hour raise. Can’t beat that these days. I always like to be saving up for something that I have my eye on – a new pair of socks, a toothbrush, a package of gum.” She hopes the temporary holiday position she signed on for turns into a permanent gig, but her manager reminds her constantly there are no guarantees.
“Yeah, I fall asleep in class a lot more often now, but I’m the Cardboard Connection in my neighborhood now,” she boasts. She recently moved her mother and two younger siblings into a shack made of detergent cases her Target manager lets her take home. “They’re a lot sturdier,” she says. “They hold up against the wind, and since, they’re waxed, they keep the rain out. They beat the Heier boxes we moved into in November.” She’s saving up now for pallets she hopes will raise the house off the frozen earth.

It’s impossible, of course, to quantify how many of Scoville’s similarly affluent parents have trimmed expenses in recent months – or how many of their offspring, in turn, have sought either formal employment or Foster care. But interviews with dozens of teenagers, parents or care guardians, parole officers and discount store managers suggest that many youngsters from the area’s well-to-do families have found a new work ethic as their parents or guardians lose their jobs and the jars of loose change they had squirreled away for retirement. That has led, however, to less spending money for toilet paper or binges at Wal-Mart.

In Aberdeen, Idaho, a battered waferboard bulletin board near city hall that connects high school students with nearby job opportunities attracts a huddled mass of sixty or so teens every day since September, up from about ten to 20 last fall, but part of that might be that the bulletin board provides an excellent windbreak from the area’s strong winter gales.

Beau Howard says he stood at the board every afternoon for two weeks until he noticed it had jobs posted on the windward side. He quickly found a job shoveling rotten potatoes out of a nearby cellar. “I didn’t want to bug my parents for extra cash,” he said, resting on the shovel handle and holding his bare right foot out of the muck while the foreman had his back turned. “I figure if I can keep this up for another couple weeks, I’ll have enough money to buy that right boot. That way, I can walk past that ‘No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service’ sign at McDonalds without guilt and join my buddies there every other Saturday night.”

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