Saturday, August 11, 2012

American dream

When I was a kid riding around town with my dad and we passed some particularly fine piece of domestic architecture along the way with a spiffy little Morgan in the driveway, he didn't say, "Fucking rentiers sucking the working man's blood." He was more likely to say something like, "You think those guys have a dog? I could get in at the second floor easy, but a dog would make it a problem."

But sometimes he'd say, "You know, sonny? If you work hard and play by the rules, you can own a place like that one day. In fact you can own three or four of them. Then you can flip [jump]
From HGTV Front Door.

them and buy five or six more, and so on, until you have a whole damn neighborhood. That's what they call the American dream."

He wasn't the only one; lots of dads talked that way. They even staged an American Dream contest down at the high school, every spring. The dads would be lined up in straight-backed chairs on the left side of the stage, above the old piano, where the principal would be banging out the themes from Exodus and The Apartment as the audience stood around the back of the auditorium, and a solid-bodied oak lectern stood in the middle.

After an introduction by the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce ("Would everybody please like to move to the seats in the front?"), each dad in turn shuffled up to the lectern, with his notes scrawled on blue-lined paper, and took you through his version of the dream: the Jaguar, the TV screen as big as a wall, the Great Lakes cruise. The same guy always won, an Italian immigrant named Mr. Rao who ran a vegetable stand out by the Interstate. What his American dreams were I don't recall, just his accent, and his son, Bruno, saying, "Actually he's not my real father."

My own dad finally went in for entrepreneurship himself, acquiring a small licensed premise with a pool table in Knockport. I was already in grad school by then—chemical engineering—but I used to come around to help out, washing glasses and tapping kegs. He still had the American dream: "And one day, buddy, everybody's going to own their own neighborhood."

"Everybody, Dad?" I asked. "Who's going to live in them?"

"Ah, well,  there'll always be those who don't work hard and don't play by the rules. You know what we call them?"



He was still a thrifty son of a bitch, refilling his own glass of beer from the glasses of departed customers. "Best I can do, what with the taxes and the license fees and the workmen's comp. Bastards think the world owes them a living because they broke their leg."

I watched him mixing a martini for a man in a suit, with large, square, very white hands. "That is one dry martini," said the customer after a sip. Dad beckoned me out from behind the bar and into the corridor to the bathrooms. "Chipster," he said, "I dream of a day when you'll have a martini that dry. And drier! Two or three times drier!"

His face suddenly crumpled. He grabbed my face and brought it down to the level of his mouth. I could smell the Gibson onions on his breath—every time he fixed a Gibson he'd pop an onion into his mouth. "Take me with you!" he whispered.

"Where?" I said.

"Into the dream! Take me, sonny!"

I just walked out. But I remembered, and years later, when we put in the pool, I had his ashes mixed into the concrete. It's who I am.
From MintLife.

Inspiration from TBogg.

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