Nightmares in the American Dream by Brock Noyes
Eat speed/smoke weed/can’t feed/ the deep greed! Oh say can you see the American dream? Eyes open wide ‘n drop dead asleep.
The Egyptians worshipped the pyramids, the United States the skyscraper. American opulence is so jaw-dropping it’s almost pointless to measure; like taking a compass to the sun. Like it or not, the United States is one of civilization’s great empires. You could build small nations out of what we dump in our landfills. Our eminent domain complex is so presumptuous that we have even usurped the term ‘America’ at the expense of an entire continent. Lest they misbehave or complain, they should remember the spankee we gave Panama.
Alas, there are nightmares in the American dream; have you sighted a meth creature yet? Our prisons are bursting, and drug addiction is epidemic and horrific. We are constantly at war with one smaller country or another, and we must certainly be setting records in obesity and divorce. The opulence of our lives has obviously not insulated us from angst, aggression and fear, nor has it eradicated random pockets of squalor and poverty.
Six packs/sugar smack/diet fads/ Here in the land of the Big Mac attack, TV junkies starve in a prison of fat.
How can America have so much and paradoxically so little? To escape the monsoon in Portland, I took my Japanese girlfriend on a weekend sun junket to Las Vegas where the paradox became disquietingly clearer. We were feeding at one of those loss leader buffets that yawned out like the deck of an aircraft carrier. Pilots in white uniforms were constantly flying in fresh provisions from the rear. My unfailingly polite kimono doll looked stunned, and was kicking me under the table to flag the “Sumo wrestlers” who were queuing up for provisions. As I glanced around at the 75-100 people, it became apparent that people of optimal weight were an endangered species. A significant number of the patrons were overweight, and some of those were ------- OBESE; obese needs no adjective. Customers were precariously balancing surreal amounts of food onto their plates, and tightrope walking back to their chairs. Were diners afraid they would not be allowed back through the line of the all-you-can-eat buffet? Was this to be the last supper before the firing squad of a heart attack?
Obviously food was not the only issue going on here: food was love, security and armor against fear. Whatever the reason, it does reflect a mass consumption mentality; it’s understandable that a significant amount of the world community views us as a bloated, greedy, war mongering culture. Fat men, metaphorical and literal, are large and easy targets, and we trigger the double-barreled shotgun of hate and envy. Half the world hates us, and the other half of the world wants to live here.
Botox/detox/Zoloft/pornshops Needle tracks/toe tags/meth labs/body bags… Iran/Panama/Viet Nam/Afghanistan/ Uncle Sam/slam bam/thank you ma’am
What the international judges have missed here, as we preen down the world runway in our peacock strut, is the truly unique set of circumstances that make the USA such an edgy place to live. I was in a mid-western airport recently, and a delay opened up a window to do yoga. I plead guilty to being a pompous ass who disdains mainstream media and sometimes pontificates about it—ideally perched on top of a television set. But here I am, trapped behind enemy lines, and the searchlights of CNN are everywhere. The “auctioneering” of human misery became the mantra of my breath, and it shocked me to grasp that violence was entertainment, and the adrenaline burn was fear. Now the beta button in our brain is only supposed to be on when we are in imminent danger, like when a car veers out of control, or an ex-wife calls to expound on our inadequacies. The flashing red light is supposed to go off when we revert back to the alpha state. But in the USA, our beta button seems stuck on stun. Underneath the massive river of our affluence, underground pipes are excreting the toxic waste of fear, greed and silicone implanted dreams into our subconscious. There are so many bummer alerts in our country, we need crystal meth just to keep up and keep score. This chronic sense of hyper-vigilance ratchets up the stress factor, strips the adrenals, disintegrates into the ‘dis-ease’ of a new acronym and morphs into a cultural neurosis. This malaise is temporarily placated by the vast cornucopia of our medicine cabinets, and our proclivity for the next new fix. I was in Puerto Vallarta recently and out in front of a Vet’s office was a sign that read, “We do not sell animal tranquilizers”. The sign was written only in English.
I was born in the “live free or die” state of NH, and am grateful beyond words for the extraordinary freedom we have. In some countries I would be in a basement with electrodes on my ‘you-knows’ for writing this kind of vaguely heretical tract; “YIKES, don’t give the current a hike!” However, the questions beg to be asked; if we have so much freedom and wealth, why do we spend so much of our time and money frantically trying to alter out experiences? To be somewhere else rather than where we are? Why does there seem to be so much emotional poverty in the land of plenty? What do we have to work with here?
An old adage holds that Zen seeks understanding, not ecstasy. In all fairness, castigating Americans for having more than we should is like railing against life because it is not fair. According to Darwin, karmic rule number one is that “life does not care about fair”. Life just is, and like the surge to procreate, it seems hardwired in the species to want more, even when more is way more than enough. Lack of wakefulness is a state that knows no race, border or class. Certainly it’s better to be asleep in a Street of Dreams house than asleep in the dirt, but the fundamental condition of being asleep is probably no different here in America than on the rest of the planet. And it’s hard not to worship the Golden Cow of capitalism. There are murmuring throngs in the distance, and it does not sound like English.
Great trees fall like casualties of war, Whole species disappear and mutants’re born Here’s the bottom line to the deaf dumb and blind See the mercury rise…see the mercury rise
The Disney land bounty of our lives does present us with a unique opportunity, even responsibility, to “wake-up.” This largesse is not so easily accessed in countries where families are more concerned about whether Daddy will come home alive, and not “Daddy didn’t love me”. In most countries it’s far more important if Mommy’s breast has milk in it, than if it has the perfect surgical lift.
The first and easiest step most Americans can take is celebrating what we do have, rather than lamenting what we don’t. I was at a New Age transformational workshop recently, in which the facilitator was detailing techniques to manifest wealth. Now there is nothing wrong with that per se, but it did not escape my attention that we all drove there in cars that cost more than most third world houses. We all spent a couple of grand on the workshop, and had designer schedules that afforded the latitude to take time off to work on ourselves. Hello? Is anybody home? Most of us don’t need to manifest wealth; we just need to wake-up to the extraordinary abundance that surrounds us. If you are reading this article there is a high probability you have enough. You don’t have to be a martyr and nail yourself up on a cross of guilt; humility is just ego shuffling in the back door. Just quietly start to appreciate what you do have, and watch the acquisitive compulsions start to drop away.
Start with the simple and basic things. Give thanks for what we take for granted. In my Jack Kerouac incarnation I lived in a mountain cabin with no running water. To this day I still feel beauty in turning on the tap, and watching pure water flow out; it’s almost baptismal. When I lived in Nepal, electricity was subject to random shifts in the lunar tides and public toilets would frequently back up with so much excrement there would be no place to squat. If you can start to focus your attention on the fact that there is beauty in a toilet flushing, or grace in washing the dishes in clean water, it will start to alter your whole perspective on things. Certainly time spent living abroad does give us a healthy sense of perspective, but it is not a prerequisite for waking up. Start at this very basic attentive level of life; heat, clean water, a simple kiss. This way every place you walk will be sacred ground. Start with a baby step; carpe diem. Give thanks that you are breathing; every breath you take is the prayer of life.
The cops are in the bag, the priests are dressed in drag, Homeless line the streets in discarded rags. A little girl gags, she got shagged by her Dad.
The bells of freedom ring but not without a toll We also need to remind ourselves that we live in a violent media bombarded ADHD culture. After all, one of our pastimes used to be sport-shooting buffalo from moving trains. Now we invade smaller countries whose regimes we installed in the first place. Instead of leaving the carcasses of dead animals strewn across the plains, we roll out of town leaving the desperate carnage of civil war. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Stepping beyond right and wrong, we need to reflect as a nation, Is this cowboy mentality in our own self-interest? The bells of freedom ring, but not without a toll. The US is a staggering power and its excess, disintegration, bombast and exhilarating beauty mirrors the same dialectic of all empires. There are some luridly fascinating parallels to Rome under Claudius and Nero; in its most transmogrifying extreme, Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton are the first couple of the American Dream. It is critical, despite the obvious perks of being American, that we understand the unique forces at play that make living in our country so psychologically destabilizing. In simple terms, living here is not as easy as it seems. The music we throb to often resembles St. Vitas Dance rather than rock ‘n roll. The keyboard player is punching in numbers on a cell phone, the bass man is playing a car alarm and sub-woofers hump the wheel in our pleasure mobiles. If the highway is the great American metaphor, are we running from ourselves?
Ultimately, is the emaciated man starving in the squalid streets of Calcutta dynamically different that the obese man gorging at the bulimia bar in Las Vegas? One is starving in a prison of fat and the other is simply starving; both are crying for mercy. The circumstances differ, but the verb is the same. Our compassionate response should be similar if not always equally measured. Frankly it’s unrealistic for the U.S. to ask the world community for compassion. We would be inviting ridicule at best, sniper fire at worst. Accordingly, we must not forget to extend mercy to ourselves, for on the fringes of the American dream you can hear sirens whining in the distance.
In the secret laboratories of middle aged boys They got shit that makes Pandora’s Box look like a toy
But compassion for ourselves cannot abnegate to complacency. The alarm clock is ringing, and it is time for us to wake up. Americans have far more than we need, always want more than what we have, and we tenaciously cling to what we got. From the hall of mirrors in our own minds, we stare fearfully at the hungry ghosts, and call in pre-emptive strikes—ultimately upon ourselves.
Brock Noyes is a musician, author and entrepreneur. He can be reached at brocknoyes.com.