Wide awake from the American Dream


I worry about a lot of things.

My paycheck just cleared and yet more than two-thirds of it is already spoken for. We found a cockroach in the garage. My son was born earlier this year after both of his grandfathers had passed. Who will teach him how to fish and spit? My mother texted me with the news that my 91-year-old grandmother, who loves the Daily Show and has followed the Dodgers every day since they moved West, is seeing double and may have had a stroke. The job I do during the day is heading into its busy season and I am unprepared. Should I let my gym membership expire? We were able to get away for a little bit this summer, but now that we’re both back to work, it wasn’t nearly enough time watching him watch the trees. And exactly what are the long-term effects of daycare?

These concerns each stowed in little cubby holes in my brain. Like an Advent calendar of problems, open one a day and look at it, spin it around, try to find an answer. Shut the door. Wait till tomorrow.

I know enough to know there are no answers. Rather, the answer was summed up so well by Sinatra in ’66: That’s Life.

But that’s not all there is to life. There’s other, bigger issues. Things bubbling over. Stuff “out there” that’s festering, about to climax. You’ve felt it too recently, right? It’s sort of difficult to ignore, yet we seem to be pretty good at ignoring it. Letting it wash over us as a collective. Try to think of the last time you saw something completely abnormal happen. Some human atrocity. Something that takes this experiment to the cliff’s edge and lets it dangle there by the fingertips.

We used to be able to grab it by the forearm and pull it back up in the nick of time. Now we just let it go, watch it fall. Maybe something in the Middle East, maybe something in the Midwest. You covered your mouth in disgust. You plugged your ears and shook your head in outrage. You decided, “This can’t happen. This isn’t happening.”

Then you clicked on a cat video or So You Think You Can Dance or that awful, nervous, cloying couple who make up stupid songs about their children’s disastrously benign milestones (I get it, it’s back-to-school week. All our young are made of plastic and sponsored by Target).

It’s hard to see what we see. It’s hard to have all the information but nowhere to put it: An unarmed black man was shot six times, twice execution-style in the head, by a cop. Then there’s outrage and more get shot. Repeat. An American freelance journalist was held captive by an extreme group of Islamic State militants after being captured in northern Syria almost two years ago. His reward for enduring, decapitation on YouTube.

It’s easier for me to watch HBO and post tweets about how bad I feel—but that doesn’t fix anything. In fact, that just picks the scab.

Notice how everything just seems a little worse and at the same time a little more bland of late? Food is kind of blah. Comedies aren’t as much funny as they are bleak. A Sunday just feels dark, as if Monday’s got something semi-automatic hidden beneath its cloak. Stocks are up, sure, but that money isn’t real and we all know it’s going to collapse—again. Financial markets are now simply shaky-handed men waiting with a pillowcase over their head for the gallows door to open. Buying a home isn’t a reality for many and who wants something you just might have to walk away from again? Everything else is some post-apocalyptic vision minus the heroine-gets-her-guy YA novel aftertaste.

Will Mother Nature finally get us? Will we all blow one another away with hand-held people killers sold over-the-counter next to the Tylenol PM and DVD copy of We’re the Millers at Wal-Mart? Will an asteroid finally come take us back to the dinosaurs like the prophet Bruckheimer predicted in 1998?

Or will we just continue standing on the right side of the on this people mover to eternity? Spiriting us and whatever we packed in our carry-on: Family, job, car payments, credit debt, medical bills …and a pair of Bermudas, past the Starbucks and the Hudson News toward our gate for final departure.

Everyone’s ticket is already stamped. Everyone knows how it ends.

But I wonder if things aren’t a little different this time. If we’re not a little different.

Used to be, even in the most desperate of times when our young race seemed destined for extinction: plague, drought, famine, world wars …syphilis —there was always hope to unify. There was a clarinet rhapsodizing in blue. There was Champagne-soaked prose of the great writers. There were painters showing us a brighter way to see the sunset and there were inventors giving us the light of a better tomorrow. A single green sprout at the end of that muddy, blistery road.

But we’ve moved away from there. We’ve broken our small plates, killed our tastebuds with hoppy microbrews and crashed our apps. There are screens in front of us—lit faces all day. We swipe over it all, unvarnished, unchanged, untogether—more than this, uninvolved. We’re in this cartoon background loop of information and stuff on top of stuff and yet, suspended in it, sneering, jeering and ultimately, frozen in the bell jar.

We have the ability to see all and do none.

It may not be the right way to live, but it does seem the fitting end to a dream.


  1. Tis true, our ignorance was slightly more blissful before the dawning of the information age. And wasn’t our youth wonderful? When you have nothing to lose there’s nothing holding you back from taking that action, not unlike the suicide bomber or black Ferguson kid volleying tear gas canisters. Now, at our age, we unwillingly prioritize and those things fade into the fringe, much to the chagrin of our younger self. Inside every old person (old =30+) is a young person wondering what the hell happened. Our only respite is in the eyes of our own children, knowing that this process will soon start again just has it has since man became aware of his surroundings. #you’llbehappierifyoujustdon’tthinktoohard