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Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search…

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

by Adam W. Shepard

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The premise sounded really fascinating - a recent college grad leaves everything behind, except for the clothes on his back and $25. He was on a quest for the American Dream, to put it in corny terms, but basically just to prove that good livin' is still possible. His goal was to end the project after a year having a furnished apartment/dwelling, a vehicle, a steady job, and $2,500.

This was an informal rebuttal against Barbara Ehrenreich's books Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch. She's totally down on the American Dream. She argues that once you're poor, you stay poor, you can never get your head back above water, your life will progressively go downhill, and you'll be working shit jobs your entire life just to make ends meet. Granted, this is NOT a lie. Some people are like this. It's just really depressing to read Nickel and Dimed as a senior in high school and think, "Shit, I'm going to slave away my entire life and never get anywhere, and never be happy." So in that book, she left her life behind (except for say, her laptop, car I think, credit card, etc) and moved around to different cities to work retail jobs and try to find an apartment and make ends meet. She couldn't do it. She worked at Walmart, complaining for several chapters about this and that, yada yada. It's just a dark read, I felt bad with each page I turned. I haven't read the other book, and I sure as hell won't. Apparently she takes off trying to get a higher-up position in the corporate world, and can't get hired because she's a woman of a certain age. I call bullshit, but that's my opinion. Maybe it's fact, maybe it's a good book. Tell me if you've read it.

In comparison, Adam Shepard is a hero. Yeah, that's a strong word, and probably a little lame to use in this context. Sure, he took a year off to do a crazy experiment for no real reason. It's not a formal rebuttal against Ehrenreich, and as far as I know he didn't have a book deal or anything ahead of time, kind of sponsoring his project as she did. So he goes off to a randomly selected city using none of his contacts. He stays in a homeless shelter for 70 days, even though he'd gotten a steady job as a mover by that point, and was saving money like nobody's business. By the time he moves out, he's steady enough to stand on his own and not be forced back to the streets. His project lasts only half of the allotted time, because his mother's cancer comes back and he goes home to support her, but even in that short time he had accomplished all his goals. In fact, he had doubled his projected savings. Take THAT, Ehrenreich. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it, if you're driven.

That's what I take from this book. I'm not going to go out and attempt this project myself, but I loved reading about it. More than that, I love the inspiration it gave me. I come from a similar background to Shepard - supportive parents, never living paycheck to paycheck, having a good college education, pretty much being able to go where I want with what I have. So I shouldn't be complaining at all. A car wreck or hospital stay won't break me. I can lose my job and take time searching for another, because I have savings. But still, reading about his extreme drive was just what I needed to kick my ass. The last chapter of the book was more inspirational than any self-help book I've ever read the back of. And that he's so like me, and from my generation, and has this attitude makes me really optimistic. With his background: family, college education, being an athlete, being attractive, he could pretty much sit around and get stuff shoveled onto his plate for nothing. But he wants to work for his dreams, and that makes me want to work for MY dreams.

Ok, that was a whole bunch of chicken-soup-for-the-soul crap, but really, READ THIS BOOK if you want to feel hopeful. ( )
  howifeelaboutbooks | Nov 4, 2015 |
I really like the message in this book, about achieving the American Dream, but this is not really my style book so I am not able to get in to it and enjoy it. But the book is very well written and gives good advice to anyone who reads it. ( )
  SydneyStern | Sep 27, 2014 |
I found this when researching Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Shepard wrote this as a rebuttal to her conclusion that it is impossible to climb out of poverty. Shepard said it was and set out to prove it. I wasn't much impressed with Ehrenreich's writing, feeling that her conclusion was based on half-ass'd attempts and prissy attitude. While Shepard's work was considerable less prissy, it is impossible to compare. For starters, he's a young, white male. The jobs open to him would not be open to a middle-aged woman - meaning Ehrenreich couldn't get the $10 per hour job that Shepard scored. On the other hand, Shepard started with almost nothing - literally. Not even an extra pair of skivvies! And using disciple and smart choices, he ended his year with a furnished house and nearly $5K in the bank!
Honestly, in the end, I don't feel Shepard's conclusion was any better than Ehrenreich's. Both contain true - it's hard to make it, but you can - but it seems that Shepard gave no room for messing up and Ehrenreich felt that no matter what poor choices one makes, things should be easy. I'd like to see Shepard's experiment repeated with a female lead, or someone with kids. I'd also like to see Ehrenreich's experiment repeated with someone less prissy.
Both works are interesting to read, but I feel both are heavily flawed and should be taken with a grain of salt. ( )
  empress8411 | Feb 3, 2014 |
College-educated, middle class, ablebodied, heterosexual white guy proves to himself that he can start with nothing and end up with something in contemporary America.Which as you may have guessed, does not mean to me that EVERYONE could, or even MOST PEOPLE could.He picks a random city in the south, puts 25$ in his pocket, and decides to challenge himself. In a year, can he have his own place to live, a car, and something like 2K in his bank account. He says he won't rely on his family and other contacts. And he won't use his education to get a job.Except that it's one thing to not put your education on a job application. To go for generally unskilled labor. It's another thing to not actually HAVE the education. He does mention now and then that he realizes it would be much harder if he was a single mother, or this and that. But while he intellectually might understand that, I don't feel that he gets it. I don't think he realizes how privileged he is as this homeless-by-choice man he's made himself into.Still and all, it's an interesting look into the lives and culture of homeless people in the US. (Well, homeless men in this one city in America.) I can't say I didn't learn a few things. I can't say I won't look at the world a little different after having read it.But I don't think anyone should take it as proof that the American Dream is alive and well for everyone. Even if it does work for young, fit white guys. Or at least this one white guy. ( )
  Jellyn | Jul 23, 2012 |
In spite of the several self-identified flaws in Mr Shepard's social experiment, this is an enjoyable book which affirms that America is still a place where dreams come true and hard work pays off. I sincerely applaud this young man for his adventurous spirit, strong work ethic and willingness to put his own money where his mouth is. That being said, while Scratch is a pleasant read, it is very obviously the product of a young writer who still has not matured past the "I/me/my" stage often inherent with youth. Even during the writer's accounts of other encounters with other people he leaves them barely 2-dimensional characters whose descriptions are based solely on his observations of them or the things he told them. He doesn't appear to do much research or writing about the how his newfound acquaintances interpret their own upward mobility or their feelings about how they arrived at the shelter in the first place. As a mother of a young man in Shepard's age group, I appreciated him taking on this challenge and taking the initiative to write about it. However, as a reader, I didn't really learn anything tangible from this book (other than possibly gaining a greater appreciation for furniture movers). Bottom line: It's a nice story, but it's only an average book. ( )
  dele2451 | Nov 29, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061714364, Hardcover)

Adam Shepard graduated from college in the summer of 2006 feeling disillusioned by the apathy he saw around him and incensed after reading Barbara Ehrenreich's famous works Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch—books that gave him a feeling of hopelessness over the state of the working class in America. Eager to see if he could make something out of nothing, he set out to prove wrong Ehrenreich's theory that those who start at the bottom stay at the bottom, and to see if the American Dream can still be a reality.

Shepard's plan was simple. Carrying only a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25 in cash, and restricted from using previous contacts or relying on his college education, he set out for a randomly selected city with one objective: work his way out of homelessness and into a life that would give him the opportunity for success. His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

But from the start, things didn't go as smoothly as Shepard had planned. Working his way up from a Charleston, South Carolina homeless shelter proved to be more difficult than he anticipated, with pressure to take low-paying, exploitive jobs from labor companies, and a job market that didn't respond with enthusiasm to homeless applicants. Shepard even began donating plasma to make fast cash. To his surprise, he found himself depending most on fellow shelter residents for inspiration and advice.

Earnest, passionate, and hard to put down, Scratch Beginnings is a story that will not only inspire readers, but will also remind them that success can come to anyone who is willing to work hard—and that America is still one of the most hopeful and inspiring countries in the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:56 -0400)

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Recounts the experiences of the author, a college graduate, as he spends one year living as a homeless person and learns valuable lessons about what it takes to break out of the cycle of poverty in the United States.

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