June 01, 2004
Wasteland

It surprises me sometimes how few real stories there are out there about the middle- and lower-middle-class suburbs and the drug-addled lives the kids live. I know firsthand, back in the day. To be sure, there are some nice accounts, most famously Donna Gaines's Teenage Wasteland, and River's Edge, and also a true-crime book about a murder in the suburb next to mine, The Boy Next Door. (And I have not seen Elephant, though there were hints in Private Idaho.) (Jim Goldberg's Raised By Wolves should be mentioned, but that's much more inner-city; Larry Clark's Teenage Lust gets a shout-out too.) Today's Times brought a short addition to the canon, Charlie LeDuff's story on a Las Vegas family. He lays it on a little thick, but that's why we like him.

"...Daddy walked in from work one day into his perfect home with the high ceilings, green lawn and pool out back, and saw a stranger, a world-weary sloucher with black hair and nails and a bull ring through her nose....

How can you be good, she asks, when everybody around you is bad? She tried, the horses and the teen council, being the perfect daughter of two judges. But she couldn't do it forever, fending off the bad kids and their parties and grown-up stories about three-way sex. Then a friend, a 14-year-old boy, killed himself. After that she joined the crowd, pulled in like a ball in the ocean. The horse was eventually sold.

She is a thin girl, waifish with long, angular face, a tongue stud and nose ring. She is frenetic, unable to focus on a topic for more than a few sentences, calm one minute, ripping through a string of invective in the next. At 17, she has a poor self-image. She describes herself as ugly, small-chested and big-hipped. "I'm not good looking. I'm not an adult. I'm not anything. I'm spoiled," she says and laughs at the absurdity of herself."

Posted by dbrown at June 01, 2004 10:56 PM
Comments

rent Thirteen.

Posted by: r. on June 1, 2004 11:33 PM

"Never had a Legal Drink" is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in NY for younger people. I would be happy to take you anytime you want to hear the most heart wrenching emotional high school war stories.

Posted by: Matthew Vladimir on June 2, 2004 05:24 AM

I'd like to see statistics of teenage decadence by area and year. Around 1980 I was in high school in Detroit's lower middle class suburbs and there was hardly any of this. The people using drugs, including pot, were barely college bound. Kids that smoked pot between classes behind the school were of a well defined auto mechanic social class. It wasn't systemic, it was a small subculture, like joining drama. Like at the most they were headed for community college.
But now, out here on the east coast I hear from friends that at their high school the succesful or popular people had a big drug thing going on.

Level of income may have been too low. The current cut-off I heard for identifying students at risk for drug decadence is whether the student has acces to at least $50 a week of disposable income.

Posted by: Evan on June 2, 2004 04:51 PM

I think we should begin by defining a formula for a coefficient of decadence.

Posted by: dbrown on June 2, 2004 05:43 PM

(AP) Despite marked improvement in the lives of American children, a new study finds rising numbers of "disconnected" young adults — those who have no job, are not in school and have not progressed beyond a high school diploma.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation study, offering an annual measure of how children are faring, showed that nearly one in six young adults — 3.8 million Americans from 18 to 24 — was not in school or the workplace in 2002. ...

Posted by: dbrown on June 3, 2004 10:53 PM
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