1972 Memoir: The American Dream

[Note: This is another essay/memoir I wrote awhile back and just rediscovered. Decided to publish it here on Quriosity to give it the exposure and adulation it deserves. AB — 26 June 2009]

The American Dream
A memoir, mostly true, from Spring 1972
by Al Bredenberg
Oct. 10, 2006

Melissa (not her real name) walked with me across the quadrangle after our American Literature class. The sun shone on her curly brown hair through the tall oak trees, their leaves bright green in their early spring growth. Melissa had very large brown eyes and an ample figure that filled out in a pleasing way the tight dress with low-cut rounded neckline, a bright floral print on crinkly fabric like crepe paper.

I asked her to go out with me and was happy when she said she would.

The night of our date, I walked to Melissa’s dorm from the house near downtown Chapel Hill where I lived with my friends John and Linda. Melissa lived in Granville Towers, not exactly a dorm — more of a quasi-off-campus apartment tower for kids with a little more money. When I had lived on campus my first semester, I had lived in Avery, one of the plebe dorms on campus.

Melissa was what at the time I would have called a “straight girl.” I didn’t go out with many straight girls, but Melissa was very pretty and nice to talk to — a doll with cheerleader good looks. And when I asked her out she said yes, so that was a positive sign. That usually didn’t happen with straight girls.

To be honest, I don’t remember much about that date. Knowing my financial situation at the time, I doubt if we did anything that cost money. I do remember that Melissa dressed down for me, wearing jeans with a white blouse. I do remember walking together; there’s a real possibility that the entire date consisted of walking around Chapel Hill and the UNC campus. I remember I told her about the meditation and yoga classes I had been taking from Ananda Marga Yoga Society and about my recent initiation with an Indian teacher called Dadaji. Hearing all of this, Melissa listened politely but didn’t have much to say. I can’t imagine what she thought about this skinny, long-haired, bearded oddball with the expanding consciousness.

Besides American Literature, I was taking Latin, Music Appreciation, and Creative Writing. In American Literature we were studying The Great Gatsby — my second try at this novel, as it was one of the ones I was supposed to have read as a junior in high school.

One day, not long after my date with Melissa (not her real name), our professor, Dr. Allen (not his real name either) started using the phrase “the American Dream” during our Great Gatsby discussion. That phrase actually sneaked out of his mouth and drifted around the room two or three times before it slithered past me and got my attention. He used it in a familiar, pat, matter-of-fact sort of way, but I wasn’t about to let him get away with it.

“What do you mean by ‘the American Dream’?” I blurted out.

Dr. Allen leveled a smug gaze at me, a hint of a smile pulling up the corners of his mouth. He explained the concept in a soothing voice: “It’s the goal we all have as Americans: to achieve wealth and success through hard work and competition.”

I sat back, eyes wide, jaw dropping. “You’re joking, right?”

The silvery, balding professorial head tilted slightly. “That’s what we’re all looking for. That’s what happiness is all about, isn’t it?”

“Nobody really believes that, do they?” Titters arose from around the classroom. I glanced around at my classmates.

“That’s why you’re all here at college. To get an education, get a good job, get ahead in the world.”

“That’s crazy,” I said. “Nobody really buys that, do they?” More titters and a few guffaws. Dr. Allen smiled down indulgently. I glanced wildly around the classroom. “Is that what you all think? Do you really think it’s going to make you happy to make it in this world and get rich?” Their expressions gave me the answer.

“So did you think that was funny?” I asked Melissa after class, as we walked across the brick courtyard in front of the bookstore. Big round eyes, full face, rounded figure. She smiled and nodded.

It came to me that this was going to be my last semester at UNC, even though I loved learning and I was making good grades. I was going to finish the semester in a few weeks and go get a job as a carpenter.

“Why are you here at school?” I asked her.

She shrugged and spoke in a matter-of-fact, ‘well, of course’ tone: “So I can get a job and make a lot of money.”

“Is that really what you think is going to make you satisfied?”

A puzzled smile on her luscious mouth. So beautiful it hurt to look at her. “Well, sure.”

“I don’t believe in it,” I said. “It’s not real.”

Large brown eyes glistening. “I don’t understand what you mean,” said Melissa. Not her real name. Actually, I don’t remember her real name.

AB — Written 10 October 2006, posted here 26 June 2009


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