I know it here once. I just know it. They told me about it in school, but I can't find reference to it in the library anywhere. My mom and dad said it was there, but I can't ask them. They're both dead. Everyone keeps talking about getting it back, but can't define it. I'm supposed to be living it. They told me so. But, if it's still around, it's sure not in the news, in my neighborhood and on the flickering screens of my tablet, tv or theater screen. I might just be mistaken, or perhaps it's evolved into something I don't recognize. Maybe I'm just hallucinating from consuming Genetically Modified Organisms and Red Dye #2. I only know that I won't stop looking for it, because I'd sure like to find the American Dream? I've got so much more life to live and I'd sure like to live it. Maybe it's just misplaced.
The American Dream is some combination of a grand future and the good old days. At least that's what grandpa said. “Darn it all. It wasn't like this in the good old days.” He said he bought a car for only $3,000 back then and it lasted forever … if you changed the oil, gapped the plugs, changed the rotor and timed it. I have no idea what's he was talking about, but he sure made it sound great. He used to talk about his younger brother now and then. I never met him, though. He died of diphtheria when he was four. Grandpa did talk about 'the War'. He was a farmer and didn't go. He said he was essential. Our farm used to be owned by a Japanese family that was put in the Manzanar camp, wherever that is. Grandpa said he got the farm for a song. I always wondered what happened to the Japanese. Grandma wouldn't talk about them. But, she'd always tell us about her mom and dad living in a house that he built from a kit he bought from a catalog and how she spent a whole summer in the house when 'the polio' was epidemic. Some of her friends caught it from swimming in the river. She said they were in an 'iron lung' for a long time. I tried to find a picture of one. It didn't look like a lot of fun to be a kid living in that thing.
My folks would talk about sitting on the porch at night listening to the radio and how excited they were when they got their first TV. Dad said he used to wait for the test pattern at midnight and the National Anthem. They had three channels and one fuzzy on on UHF. They said grandpa never locked the house and they could play anywhere they wanted. Mom said she walked downtown to the movies on Saturday; a mile and a half and all by herself. She met her girlfriends there; all except Libby. Libby's parents didn't believe in movies. Of course, Grandma lived in a small town. Grandpa grew up in the city and always talked about the 'wrong side of the tracks' and how no 'good girls' ever went to that part of town. That's where the 'colored' lived. Grandpa didn't like 'coloreds', Irish, Catholics, Jews, Masons, Indians or 'Okies'.. He said they weren't real Americans.
I haven't figured out why everyone thinks those were the good old days. They didn't have cable, Internet or cell phones. Grandma said mom used to hide in the closet with the phone so she could talk with her boyfriend in private. I guess she couldn't text him. They didn't have microwaves and they made coffee in a percolator. Dumbest piece of kitchen stuff I've ever seen and I'll bet it tasted like boiled beans. And the only creamer they had was cream or milk. Yuck! Dad said that Burger Chef opened in his neighborhood in '61 and he could get a burger for twenty three cents. It tasted like cardboard with ketchup, but he and his friends would hang out there. He said they were cool.
Oh yeah. I got carried away on the good old days. Then there's that grand future; great jobs for everyone, flying cars, clean air and water, no diseases and world peace. At least my teachers talked about it. They did leave out how migrant workers living in shacks and making $3/day, the poor living in the middle of the city and working in the tire plant and the coal miners in Kentucky who might live to fifty if their lungs held out would fit into that grand future, though. No one thought the American Dream was of interest to girls. They were all going to get married and be mothers. And 'the dream' didn't matter to the Africans or the Arabs or the Indians. After all, they're foreigners. If they want to move here, they'd better stay out of sight and learn to be good Americans. Let them be maids, taxi drivers, garbage men and cooks. Just don't think you can go to my school or take the cool jobs that are mine. Oh, and that big house in the suburbs where I can grill out every sunny Sunday evening. We don't let them live there. We just don't trust anyone that's not like us. I remember it all. That was the American Dream. Yep. I hope it's only misplaced and not lost forever. I sure miss it.
Now, just where the heck did it go? It sure wasn't in the good old days. I'm not sure they were so good, either. And, I don't see it anywhere in the future. I wonder if the pioneers carving out a homestead, the Irish victims of a famine, the Russian Jews escaping religious persecution, the Chinese brought over to build the railroad or the Muslim refugees fleeing religious extremism ever hoped they might see it, too. Of course, they lived the good old days, too. I'm sure they had an American Dream, as well.
Maybe there is more than one Dream. If it's not one-size-fits-all, how can you identify it if you see it? Or, perhaps, maybe it's really an American Hallucination. We only think it's there.
Karl Bogott – February 2017