It’s late February and just cold enough to complain about it. I’m in my ‘96 Chevy, which needs a new muffler, futzing with my iPod, bracing a cup of black coffee to keep me warm. Don’t ask—the milk skids right through me. Not to mention, I read the other day that dairy causes not only heart disease, but cancer, too. Two diseases I couldn’t afford to fight, especially not since I lost my teaching job and health benefits just 13 months ago.
Last night, I went up to Cold Spring Harbor to circle the streets, to get a glimpse of how “the others” move through their days. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been to Garden City, Brookville, Lloyd Harbor, East Hampton and a few others. I try to get to a new town each weekend, and although you might not see me, you just may hear my beater rumbling through your neighborhood. I like your little towns. They’re clean and well lit, and you all seem relaxed, even abstracted a bit—always that same happy, distant calm. But you have no idea who I am. I’m invisible to you. You probably think I’m just some lunatic patrolling your streets (I can tell by how some of you turn and pause to listen to my Chevy’s metallic snore).
Just so you know, I’m not here to disturb you, nor do I covet your wealth. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with that kind of cash. I don’t despise you, nor do I envy your status. The reason why I’m here, in your town, is because I want to see how you live, how you behave, how you smile, how you hold your lover’s hand, how you eat your soup, how you drive to work… I want to know what it’s all like. I want to remember what it feels like to be happy, to feel like a part of something that actually works, to witness an American dream that has yet to be disposed of.
Because, America, I have to tell you: I’m tired and angry and sad and I’m only 29 years old. What the hell am I going to be like when I’m 39 or even 49? What comes after disillusionment?
I want to work, America. I want to work the goddamn job I’ve been trained for. I’ve done everything right. I went to school. I studied my ass off so maybe one day I’d own a home and perhaps have a family with whom I could share a few pleasant memories in this otherwise brief existence.
But this system is ugly. This system is broken.
I know you’re sick of hearing about this. I shouldn’t complain, right? Because I’m not the only one who’s recently been let go and had to take a job he’s overqualified for. To be fair, a lot of people are in this exact position. Had you asked me seven years ago—just as I was receiving my Phi Beta Kappa diploma from Brown University, bright-eyed and “brilliant,” finishing out my full scholarship, making my family proud—where I’d see myself projected seven years into the future, I would’ve said, “I’m going to teach. I want to inspire kids just as I was years ago.” Certainly, I would not have said, “I can’t wait to become a security guard at a shopping mall so I can watch parades of people waltzing to their cars with heaps of shopping bags.” I certainly would not have predicted I’d be so angry. I mean, last week, I almost threw my beer at a bartender. For what? I don’t know. I’ve never fought a day in my life.
And who would’ve thought I’d still be holed up in my parents’ East Meadow basement? In that same blue room where I fended off those vicious monsters years ago, on that same cat-scratched chair where I whacked off to Internet porn through my teenage years and in that same noisy bed I pummeled my high school sweetheart Lisa until she cried her heart black.
By the way, I heard Lisa lives with her parents, too (like the other 75 percent of my class, to be precise). My buddy Tom who has a PhD in physics (he works part-time at his uncle’s pizza place) told me I could, “Add her to the fucking list. I heard she works from home, too, babysitting her sister’s kid.” Perhaps she should put that on her resume—right below Cornell University Class President ‘06.
It’s actually embarrassing. We’ve been rendered invisible to each other and to this machine they call “The American Dream,” and our friendship only reminds us of how much we’ve failed. We failed ourselves and we failed our families. Our dreams have all but meandered into predictable nightmares. We’ll be the first generation in this country since WWII that’ll be less fortunate than our parents. We are a generation forced to find comfort in our collective disappointment.
The real comedy is when any of your old friends’ Facebook profiles come up on your iPhone, they all pop like goddamn movie stars—the illusion of bliss carved to perfection. Our profiles sing out: We are happy, we are healthy, we are good-looking, we are Americans and we will fight from tooth to tit for this American Dream. There’s Julie and Phil, substitute teachers privately scraping away at their student loans. And Billy, who graduated from Binghamton University with honors, can assist you at Home Depot if you need anything to fix up your lovely home. Don’t forget Jimmy and Ryan, both of whom are secretly desperate to be lawyers, both of whom have king-sized pill problems (or maybe it’s heroin now because it’s cheaper). How do I know this? Well, pills are all the jazz today, and I’m not above getting hiked up every now and then.
But who has the time to listen to all this?
Who wants to hear that we have lawyers, doctors, engineers, professors and all sorts of professionals struggling to find the work they were trained to do? And who could argue that this makes any sense? I’m sure by this point you are thinking, “Just get a job kid.” Well, I do have a job. I’m a certified teacher who works the pre-dawn security guard shift at the mall.
America, you have a wealth of talent floating by with no career opportunities, no health benefits and no hope for a better life.
Guess what else isn’t staying around much longer? Our state-funded programs (something our country fought so hard to implement over the years): Education, arts, public transit system, parks, state police, safe roadways, clean water, etc. And just while we’re in the process of rearranging people’s lives, let’s rip away the pensions and dismantle the unions, because it’s not like workers’ rights and minimally safe working conditions are good things, right?
Strap on your seatbelts and pop your pills, America. We’re now approaching the point when despair takes over. We’re slowly becoming a population of well-trained laborers living in our parents’ basements indefinitely, slithering by as hungry ghosts. Our kids, your grandchildren, will be no better off than this either. That is, if we even try for families.
We are an invisible generation, one that has been forgotten. One that perhaps was never part of the plan. We can’t see any “American Dream” ahead of us and if it’s there, it can’t see us either.
This is not about fear. Fear of failure is behind us—we can no longer be afraid because we’ve already failed. One day when we reach our parents’ age, when we have that clarity that comes with hindsight, we’ll reach back into our pasts and see our little lives for what they were: Lives not lived, imaginations squandered.
We’re all desperate to be a part of the “Dream” that once existed, and the “America” that once prided itself on hard work and opportunity for anyone who was willing to grind it out.
We, too, will work for work. We are Generation iNvisible. Invisible to the past, but not to the future.
This is our conversation. And the good news is that dialogue won’t cost you a dime. It can happen whether or not you speak the language. Whether or not you have a degree. And whether or not you “made it” in one of those fancy towns.
This is where we start…