The American Dream

Mark stumbled into the kitchen to check the time on his grimy oven. It read 12:03 PM. He should have been out the door and en route to work by 11:45. His phone was dead and he was sporting a mild hangover. “Fuck this,” he snapped. Mark’s audience, if you can call it that, was comprised solely of his cat Jules. The feline was indifferent to the plight of his human. “Another day in the dungeon.” Mark grumbled. Hopelessness was kicking in. Jules rolled around in the sun on his back, paying no attention to him.

Mark was clad in rumpled dress slacks, scuffed dress shoes, a plain grey t-shirt and a half-buttoned dress shirt. He was sporting a hefty five o’clock shadow. The back half of the dress shirt was tucked in while the front hung loosely over his ever-expanding gut. His belt was around his waist but not fastened. He was a half-dressed mess.

He searched the kitchen hoping to find some scraps to eat on the drive to work. An apple and a bag of potato chips would have to suffice. Not the healthiest start to the day, but it was better than spending the afternoon hungry and lightheaded. Mark knew he should take a minute to forage for lunch and dinner, but at this point he didn’t care.

The clock now read 12:05 which increased his anxiety. The seconds were going by in a blur. He was already running twenty minutes late. His boss was planning to have a word with him right at 12:30 to discuss two problems from yesterday.

Mark had now moved from anxiety to a state of panic. He buttoned and tucked and fastened quicker than his hands were capable of. He cursed as a shirt button kept sliding between his fingers and thumb and refused to go in the hole. “A shit start to a shit day,” he muttered. He finished dressing, yanked his keys off the kitchen counter and ran out the door. The day was going downhill fast.

Mark Jenkins was a prototypical millennial. While he was not anywhere close to being the valedictorian of his class at university, he was creative and intelligent. He never studied for exams until the last minute, but always seemed to pull off good grades drawing the ire of his classmates. After university, with sights set towards high goals, he ran into a brick wall of job rejections. His ego was crushed. He eventually found low-level employment within his field of choice, but his ego was bruised for the long term. Circumstance caused him to become a troubled soul. The weight of thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of student loans certainly didn’t help to place him in a positive mind frame.

It was now 12:08. He ran out to the car. A black four door sedan not worth mentioning in any level of detail. It was as generic as everything else in his life seemed to be. The skies were a dark grey and appeared ready to burst with rain. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys, hands shaking from the release of adrenaline he always seemed to get when stressed. He got the door unlocked, swung it open and dove into the driver’s seat. He had yanked the door open with such force that it bounced back and caught his ankle in the doorway. In his hurry to dive into the car his left foot had been forgotten on the pavement outside. He let expletives fly in an effort to dissipate the pain: “Ah fuck. God damnit,” followed by a primitive growl of sorts. This was an embarrassing scene. His elderly neighbor Mrs. Schmidt watched on while her tiny half rat, half dog peed on a bush.

With all limbs finally in the vehicle, he set off for work. A lengthy commute awaited. The radio droned on in the background. Safe, friendly rock and roll songs interrupted by occasional advertisements which bragged about the supposed merits of products people with common sense wouldn’t have use for. He was hitting red light after red light, slowing his commute to a crawl. His adrenaline levels rose and his anger rose accordingly. He cut in front of a car and slammed on the brakes to make the corner. The other driver duly hit their horn while doing everything in their power to avoid having the front third of their car chopped off.

He huffed and puffed and ran his way up the stairs. He swung his key card at the sensor causing an obnoxious beeping noise. Being late with the boss waiting was bad enough, now everyone within earshot of the front desk was well aware of his tardy presence. 35 minutes late to be exact. He would have to stay late to make up the time. Is there a worse start to the work day than ensuring that you have to stay late before sitting down? He half-heartedly jogged to his desk and sat down. His boss, James Thompson, was waiting there for him.

It was time to address the problems from yesterday. Of course, in order to understand fully what has happened, you will need to know what he does for a living. Mr. Jenkins worked for a local radio station as a member of the marketing department. He made logos, helped with social media and went on coffee runs for talent. This job was so far off of what he was capable of that he didn’t talk about it much. If you were to ask his friends what he did for a living, it is not likely that any of them had a real grasp of the answer. So what were the problems? Well, he did two things which drew James’ ire: First, he spilled coffee all over the audio board causing a temporary loss of on-air signal. An hour later he got into a bit of an argument with a listener on the station’s social media page, and while he may have been well within reasonable limits, berating a listener who helped pay his small salary had landed him in hot water.

He sat at his desk as his boss began to confront him about the coffee on the audio board.

“How the fuck did you manage to pull that off, rookie?”

“Klutzy I guess,” Mark responded with indifference.

If there was one thing James didn’t appreciate it was a lack of accountability. Which is exactly what was being displayed in spades.

“You’ll be out on the street if it happens again!” James snapped, “you have potential but it’s time to pull your head out of your ass!”

Clearly the boss was unimpressed with his young employee’s attitude.

“Where do you get off going after our listeners? He didn’t say anything terrible, just that our reporter sounds like she inhaled helium. Between you and I, she does. But that doesn’t matter. You should have just deleted the post”.

Mark continued to stare out the window at the lush trees pondering what his upcoming job search would be like.

He wasn’t just fantasizing about the imminent job search. He was daydreaming about something much deeper: His own mortality. Everyone has a clock which ticks down until we drop dead. Morbid, yes, but it is the truth that every human being faces. He had no intention of continuing on with a job he loathed to work for a boss he couldn’t stand until he dropped dead.

He snapped out of his daze and apologized to his boss. It wouldn’t happen again and all that jazz. They both knew it was half-hearted and most likely false, but the boss had heard the answer he wanted to hear. He moved on to confront another employee about another issue that didn’t mean much in the grand scheme. Mark walked into the studio to take coffee orders for the talent. They were fancy coffee orders that sounded both pretentious and delicious at the same time. He received some good-natured ribbing from a DJ about not repeating his missteps from yesterday. He walked out the front door of the station towards a company car. His frame of mind hadn’t improved much, and his focus was elsewhere. It was a good thing that he had written down the order because he was in no place to remember half of it.

He got to the vehicle and realized that he had been handed the wrong key. Dread filled every bit of his being as he knew this day would get no better. He headed back to the building, tail between his legs. His pride was pretty much shattered by now.

Just then, his dog licked his face. He turned over and checked the clock. It read 4:31 AM. It had all been a dream. He had two hours to sleep before the day began. He laid in bed dreading that this life could somehow be the American Dream.