This American Life: A Dream Lost

Over the last few months I’ve been feeling a little uneasy. Not exactly anxious, which surprises me, but definitely a little uncomfortable. I’m trying to be optimistic. But I just got that sinking feeling in my stomach. And I can’t figure out if my stomach knows something I don’t or if it’s just gas.

Fading American Dream
Fading American Dream (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are too many uncertainties in my life right now. Mistakes that I made, because I’m an impulsive jackass that has a hard time wrapping his mind around how my spending habits might affect our bottom line, is drastically limiting our breathing room. We don’t have any financial security what-so-ever. No safety net to speak of.  I blame our current predicament on my being too preoccupied with the past, and to casual with my present, and not spending enough time thinking about our future. I’m short sighted and too impulsive. I live for instant, yet short lasting, gratification. Which I admit is stupid, and careless and above all dangerous. I have no sense of fiscal responsibility. Money doesn’t hold any value in my mind, and because of this, I don’t take into account how much I have to work in order to earn what I spent. I’m not 15 anymore. I don’t have all the time in the world to learn and make amends for my poor judgement.

I find myself flashing back to earlier days. Back when thoughts of being married, or paying mortgages, bitching about dwindling job benefits, higher property taxes, aging parents, living check to check, maxed out credit cards, tons of debt, and health care cost, seemed so far off in the future, that it wasn’t even worth sparing a second to contemplate. But the older we get the faster we perceive time, and before you know it, you find yourself slamming face first into that future that for a while seemed like it was never going to get here. That’s where I find myself now. My face pressed up against a future that got here much quicker than I ever expected it.

I keep hearing murmurs about our jobs being outsourced, or layoff taking place. There are times, especially after a rough day at work, I welcome the rumors with open arms. Some days I fantasize of being handed that pink slip, along with a tiny severance check, and cordially be shown the door. I picture myself being ecstatic that I don’t have to do something that brings me so little joy. Not having to spend so many hours feeling trapped in a depressing environment. Working for a company that sometimes feels like it goes out of its way to make us feel expendable. Where the only voice that is heard and valued are the ones that hold stock in the company. And then the reality of my situation hits me, and the thought that brought me so much joy then fills me only with dread. We have a mortgage, car notes, student loans, and credit cards to pay down. I also know that sooner or later I will get the wifey knocked up and I will have even more responsibilities, more cost, more reasons to be gainfully employed. If I am suddenly showed the door then what? What do I do then?

I’m in the same boat as millions of Americans who live from payday to payday. Always being at the mercy of the best case scenario. As a pessimist, that does not bring me a whole lot of comfort. I admit my faults. I know I had my hand in our present predicament, but a part of me does feel slightly let down. Betrayed even.

English: The Supreme Court of the United State...
English: The Supreme Court of the United States. Washington, D.C. Français : La Cour suprême des États-Unis. Washington D.C., États-Unis. ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Høyesterett i USA. Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When 9/11 happened, and the drums of war began to beat deeply and loudly, G.W. Bush told Americans that the best way that we all could serve our country, what was our patriotic duty, was to buy stuff. Buy as much shit as we could. Keep the giant, insatiable, American economic engine going. So we did. Credit cards were maxed, equities were dipped into, vacations were taken, and cars were bought. People all across the country lived way past their means. Some out of foolishness. Others out of necessity. But everyone stuck in the same perilous situation. All the while companies both big and small, were given the same rights as individuals by SCOTUS, flooded our politics with obscene amount of money, made record breaking profits, cut hundreds of thousands of jobs, stagnated wages, and increased stockholders return in investment. Leaving the little guy both voiceless and penniless.

Cover of "Stand and Deliver"
Cover of Stand and Deliver

Ever since we were all tiny little children, long before we understood what college even was, our parents, teachers, and government officials, touted the importance of a college education. We watched movies like Stand and Deliver, Dangerous Minds, and Boys N the Hood, that all shared the same basic notion, that only with the help of education, particularly a collage one, could we ever hope to rise above our humble beginnings. We were warned that we would never be able to earn a decent paycheck without that degree. That degree was the key to everything. Once attained all things in life would become possible. But that education isn’t free. The trajectory of tuition creeps upward year in and year out. We found ourselves bowering more, and more, and more. Only to find that by the time it was all said and done, we borrowed so much that the dept that we now owed was tied unceremoniously around our necks, like a noose. Keeping many of us from ever achieving any real financial freedom. What’s worse that for many of us, the debt from college loans threaten to put us right back where we fought so hard to escape from. And what happened to all those beautiful, glorious, high paying jobs, that were promised to be waiting for us once we graduated? Most of the people that I know that graduated college, are working in fields that they didn’t even major in. Getting paid only a fraction of what they envisioned. And having a not so insignificant amount of our earning going off to pay for the college loans that we took out. Loans that are not forgivable under most circumstances.

How about the great American dream of owning a home? How many Presidents, and politicians, and business leaders in this country gave speech after speech about how owning the home was the great equalizer. That owning a home symbolized that you made it. Yet most of the home owners I know are under water. And are stuck with the choice of either letting the house of their dreams go, or paying over inflated mortgage price to the same banks that caused the Great Recession in the first place. What about the forward thinking folks who weren’t directly impacted by the Great Recession? People who were diligent that bought their homes at a reasonable price. Who paid their mortgages every month without once ever skipping a beat. Only to see their hard earned equity drop drastically because their neighbors were not so fortunate. Now they are stuck surrounded by a number of abandoned properties, and a neighborhood that no longer feels like one. Big investment firms located in other states, bought wholesale, thousands of properties unseen, for pennies on the dollar. Flipped the houses for minimal investment, and then allowed only a handful of houses to go back out on the market at any given time in order to dictate supply and demand. All perfectly legal. All terribly unfair for individual families everywhere. Thankfully, the wifey and I were lucky enough to buy our house at a time when the market had hit absolute bottom, but we still find ourselves contending with ever increasing property taxes that make no sense to me no matter how hard I try to figure it out.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This is not the America dream that I grew up with. I worry about what will happen when we reach retirement age. I worry about what kind of life I will be able to provide our future children. Some days I feel mad. Mad that I didn’t develop any foresight. Mad that so many fell for the same hollowed-out ideal that was sold to us as a promise, but instead turned out to be a pyramid scheme. Yet when it is all said and done we only have ourselves to blame. It is our fault because we no longer are outraged by injustices. We will bitch and moan about Ben Affleck being hired on as the next Batman (I know I did) but don’t blink an eye at how we all get taken advantage by unfair, yet perfectly legal business practices. We don’t bother to hold our politicians accountable, because we vote for party first, rather than with our conscious. We bought hook line and sinker every lie that we ever heard about the American Dream because it was convenient for us to believe in it. It meant that we didn’t have to take responsibility for our own actions. That we could spend and waste our hard earned money on frivolous things. It meant that we did not have to look at the companies that we worked for with suspicions. It meant that we could hang our hopes on politicians that promised us a change that we could believe in. We all were conned, but it was a con that we all seemed to enjoyed; so we voluntarily set ourselves up time and time again. We weren’t robbed. We happily gave it all away. But to be rather honest with you, on most days, what I feel the most is a sense of being powerless. Powerless to undo past mistakes. Powerless to bring about any significant change in my own life. Living in perpetual uncertainty. In a future imperfect. That’s 21st Century America for you.