Politicians and pundits throw the words American Dream around like a brand name, like it’s something akin to Nike or Amazon or Apple. Like it’s something people come here to “get.” And if the streets are no longer paved with gold, if there isn’t any more gold in them thar hills, maybe it’s somewhere on e-bay.
I’ve never known quite what to make of the American Dream. Not sure what it is I’m supposed to be dreaming of. A chicken in every pot? A house with a white picket fence? A two-car garage? Liberty? Equality? Fraternity? Sorority? A book contract?
A couple of nights ago, Charlie Rose hosted Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy to talk about Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh, currently playing in New York. During the course of the interview, Charlie played a clip from a conversation with Tony Kushner about Eugene O’Neill, and illusion, the American Dream, “the dream that will never be fulfilled.”
For about ten years after coming to Seattle, I was one of the lucky ones who could call the Blue Moon Tavern my living room. I didn’t go for the beer (I drank tall-bottle Buds, which Rich Anderson informed me “was not a beer”) or for the drugs, although there were several varieties available. I went for the people, every one of whom could have stepped directly from the pages of anything written by O’Neill. It was a bar full of dreamers. Or, you might say, it was a bar full of dreams. Because this was where so many dreamers brought them and, most of the time, this was where they stayed.
When I think of the American Dream, I remember Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. A young man living in the land of dreams and dreaming a dream that is beyond him. A dream in which he cannot and does not overcome. I think of the guys who never made it out of the Moon. Whose dreams still live in the walls long after the dreamers have gone. I think of Martin Luther King and the Ferguson Report. I think of Noah from The Walking Dead. I think of Crazy Fingers.
I don’t know what the American Dream is that’s different from any other dream, any other illusion. But I do know there’s only one thing that all dreams have in common. Each one is the dream that will never be fulfilled.