Baby boomers will remember television shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and The Donna Reed Show. They all presented a vision of the American Dream, a hazy intangible view of a reality which wasn’t. Perhaps it was a reality everyone wished to attain; a goal. Nobody’s mother ever did housework in pearls and heels. The question of why two so very affluent brothers had to share a room was never posed. Ozzie was once asked what his character did for a living. He thought for a moment. “Not a thing!” he answered, with a grin.
Flash to the present. American suburbia: two ladies walk down the street. The older of the two is almost pickwickian, with enormous arms poking through a sleeveless, multicoloured top. The younger is practically chacectic, wearing ill fitting baggy jeans. They might be mother and daughter. They might not. Both have faces which make them appear far older than they are. The elder pushes a small discarded baby carriage which she has managed to salvage after some long ago postpartum experience. The younger carries a ‘grabber’, an assistive device used to pick up objects too hard to reach, for those who have had recent hip or back surgery. She uses it to extend her grip to the very bottom of trash cans, and the prizes she obtains are dropped into the waiting baby carriage. All up and down the street this pair travels on a weekly basis. They are a regular fixture in the neighborhood: trash pickers. This is the nightmare into which we have all awakened from the American Dream.
Another scenario occurs on nearly every freeway entrance ramp. A skinny man with a vacant stare protruding from sunken eye sockets looks blindly forward as he carries a small tattered cardboard sign on which is written the words, “Will work for food. God bless.” His expressionless face suddenly explodes into a warm, grateful smile, as he thanks a stranger for handing him a dollar, from the window of a passing car. He marches hundreds of miles each week on this same concrete island. A merciless Sun beats down on him. Rarely, he gets relief by standing in the pouring rain. A motorist yells the words out of his driver’s window, “What’s your serial number?” He doesn’t ever expect a response from any of these people, because he knows they are faking being veterans in their worn out fatigues. “Any ex-serviceman will instantly shout it out, if they are really ex-servicemen. It’s a knee jerk response!” he says, laughing cynically. He wasn’t in the service, personally, but his father was. So was his older brother. Just ahead of him is a billboard announcing that seventy percent of homeless persons are combat veterans. Ah, the American Dream! Time to go back to sleep!