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The Beave's Suburbia Is History

October 13, 1998|SCOTT HARRIS

Damn teenagers.

Spoiled rotten brats.

The world's going to hell in a handbasket, I'm telling you. And it's all because of These Kids Today. We're talking Trouble with a capital T.

Like this alleged Santa Clarita crime syndicate--as many as 20 youths, ages 14 through 17--that got busted last week on suspicion of burglarizing neighbors of about $8,000 worth of guns, electronics goods, jewelry, whatever. The loot was kept or sold to raise money to buy marijuana, the Sheriff's Department says.

"So far, these are kids who all fit into the skateboarder mold," Det. Dennis Blackstock told my colleague Darrell Satzman.

Sounds like white punks on dope to me.

Santa Claritans were shocked, of course, to discover juvenile delinquency festering in their glistening slice of suburbia. Santa Clarita, always ranked among America's safest cities for its size, has always seemed like a "Leave It to Beaver" kind of place.

Being a child of suburbia myself--a postwar Orange County tract--I can speak with some authority here. In my day, you didn't go breaking into neighbors' homes or even entering unlocked doors to make a little money. (You might have slipped into Mom's purse but the risk was understood.)

You did your chores (sometimes) and earned your allowance (sometimes). You mowed the lawn of the old lady down the street. (Well, I did that once.) If you were really lucky, as I was, you got a paper route. (My brother had the route three years before handing it down to me. I had it three months, just long enough to collect the Christmas tips, then retired.)

Maybe it's all TV's fault. TV is always an easy target, of course, but I don't mean MTV or horrible sitcoms. TV, you see, pretty much killed off the afternoon newspapers--and with them, paper routes operated by young boys and girls (but mostly boys).

Those publishers really knew how to exploit child labor. In my brief career, I earned about $45 a month for delivering more than 90 papers. I worked at least two hours a day, often more, seven days a week, and had to rise before 5 a.m. on Sundays. Still more hours were devoted to collections. In the end, I figure I made, oh, maybe 40 cents an hour.

The circulation manager also deducted pay each time a subscriber called to complain their paper was late or an errant toss destroyed their petunias. My brother, alas, was a great paperboy who had set a high standard. This was another reason I quit.

But now the afternoon newspapers are dead and gone. And now suburbanites hire the abundant immigrant labor to mow their lawns. Not only do neighborhood kids not mow the old lady's lawn, they don't mow their own--and they still get an allowance!

OK, so maybe it's not the kids' fault. Maybe the global economy is to blame. But it's tough to point fingers, and that sure makes it hard to point fingers at the global economy.

So I'll point the finger at Mr. and Mrs. Suburbia.

Damn parents, spoiling These Kids Today rotten.

On Monday I surveyed a few American moms, and they all pretty much agree that childhood and parenthood aren't what they used to be. So neighborhoods aren't either.

Carmen Sarro, 67, is the City Council secretary at Santa Clarita City Hall. Back when the family lived in New Jersey, she says, she got up at 5:30 a.m. to drive her son on his paper route. Her boy also mowed lawns. (I assume he never burglarized neighbors' homes, but I forgot to ask.)

What bugged Sarro about the Saugus High burglary ring was the parents of one boy in particular. His room was said to resemble a pawnshop.

"The parents should be aware of what's happening there," she said.

That bothered Mayor Jan Heidt too. And she found it ironic that while some Santa Claritans think their city is so safe they don't bother locking their doors, so many parents insist on driving their kids to school out of a vague sense of fear.

Heidt is the proprietor of "One for the Books," a bookstore in Lyons Station, owned by the Heidt family. Until a year and a half ago, they hired local teens to perform custodial duties. Now they use a professional firm.

The problem was, their last such employee was a 14-year-old who wore roller-blades as he pulled a trash container on wheels noisily past storefronts.

"It was noisy and dangerous," Heidt said. "Every time I said, 'Don't wear them. Why don't you walk?' Well, he wouldn't do it."

This fits a pattern expressed by my colleague Cecilia Rasmussen, mother of three and keeper of The Times' "Then and Now" column. Her boy was once a paperboy too, and her youngest daughter still does some baby-sitting.

But, she adds: "The average suburban kid--they're all flakes now."

Perhaps we're all wrong about These Kids Today. But does anybody anywhere know of any American kid anywhere who still earns spending money mowing lawns around the neighborhood?

Now, that would be a shocking story.


Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to him at The Times' Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St. Chatsworth CA 91311, or via e-mail at Please include a phone number.

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