Monday, February 28, 2011
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Good morning! How can I help you?
ME: I have this American Dream, and I was wondering if I could return it.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Do you have the original receipt?
ME: Oh, goodness, no. I got it as a gift, actually, from my parents – way back in the 1960s, when I was born. If I recall correctly, it came with a pretty red bow called Unbridled Optimism.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: The American Dream …. Ma’am, our inventory records don’t show that particular product. What is it, exactly?
ME: Well, my dad was a union man, you see. He worked hard all his life, and when he retired, he had a pension, and Social Security too. My mom worked in a male-dominated field, but she held her own. I really looked up to her a lot, and I grew up believing – how did it go…? Oh, yes: “Work hard, and you can achieve whatever you want to achieve.” America had gone through some rough times, but by the time I came along people were looking into the future and thinking, “The sky’s the limit!”
CUSTOMER SERVICE: I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
ME: Well, there was a sort of Set of Instructions that came with the gift – things like “Get a college degree, be a loyal employee and life frugally, and you’ll have financial security;” “Pay into Social Security, so it will be there when you get older;” “Purchasing a home is your best investment for your future.” Rules of that nature.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Did you follow the instructions properly?
ME: Well, I sure thought I did – and so did a lot of my friends. But it’s the damndest thing – the instructions don’t seem to be working anymore.
Like the job thing. I know of talented people who worked really hard, but got laid off because of this recession, and two years later haven’t found a job. Some of them are afraid they'll never work again. Other folks are lucky to be employed but still worry about layoffs, or are working for lower salaries than they made more than a decade ago. Does that make sense to you?
And I know people who purchased a home because they believed that paying rent was throwing money away. But now a lot of them owe more than their homes are worth, even if they didn’t take out funky loans. Or they want to move, and their house has sat on the market for a year. Some people are even saying homeownership isn’t even a good investment anymore. That’s bad news if you’ve already bought one!
My parents were able to send me college, so I was really lucky. But apparently the cost of a higher education has grown like gangbusters, while wages have stayed the same for years and jobs are hard to find. So now they’re saying that today, a four-year degree isn’t even worth the price. Is that crazy or what?
The thing that bothers me the most, though, is how people see the future. During hard times in the past, people still had faith in Tomorrow, and they were willing to invest in it. They built roads and schools, they improved things for minorities and women, and they expected each future generation to have a better life than the one before.
But now, we have a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion, and a national debt over $12 trillion. Now, I’m not good with math – but I know those are really high numbers! And everything is on the cutting board – education, health care, housing, our infrastructure, environmental protection, transportation and Social Security.
It seems to me that none of those cuts bode well for the future of Americans. In fact, every one of them will wind up decreasing our quality of life. Maybe I’m missing something – but isn’t that going in the wrong direction…? They say I have to pay for this economic mess. But I didn’t make it!
And that’s not all. And some people even think we’re on the brink of an economic collapse worse than the Great Depression. Well, this really sucks. You see, for most of us, this American Dream thing wasn’t about earning a lot of money. It was about feeling … well, secure. And I’m not feeling very secure at all these days.
I’m sorry, but this American Dream thing is broken somehow, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. So I’m wondering if you can give me some kind of refund.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: Ma’am, I’m sorry, but I’m still not finding it in the inventory, you don’t have a receipt, and I’m not seeing anything about a lifetime guarantee. It sounds to me like what you really have is a complaint. That’s the next line over.
ME: Thanks anyway …. Hello. Is this the complaint department?
COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT: Yes, it is. Please pick a number.
ME: Hmmmmmm. I'm number 26,176,264. Wow. How long do I have to wait until I can talk to someone?
COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT: Approximately 37 years and 3 months. If we’re still here.
ME: Thanks! I’ll wait.