This is a hard diary to write. I’m pretty sure every American of my generation has heard the song “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra and assigned it’s signature line “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere!” to the whole of our nation as well as the city of New York.
The title of this diary is, in many ways, humiliating to me.
I SHOULD have been able to make it in America, shouldn’t I?
Why couldn’t I? What the Heck is wrong with me that I can’t do what so many others manage to do? That’s been the subject of many, many a grey night’s restless reflection.
In my defense, I was given nothing to make it any easier. There was never any inheritance and college wasn’t even a dream. Quite the opposite, college wasn’t for the likes of us- that’s how dad put it.
But I can’t lay the blame for my inability on that. Even after I attained a certificate as a heavy diesel technician, it didn’t get better, luck plays a part in that, and mechanic was a skill, one of two available at my community college, that I took out of necessity- there was nothing else available. It wasn’t my dream career, being a choice between that and welding, but it paid the bills until I hurt my spine (There weren’t many jobs open for cannon crewman in Wyoming) and after- once I kind of healed.
Let me be clear. When I was 16 or so, I proudly wore a “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out!’ cap- my road to actually being a progressive democrat wasn’t a particularly long one but it did exist and I had to come from a VERY white wing position to find my own level. You know, as water does, eventually. But, when it did become clear to me, it became VERY clear to me that there had to be a better way. One that included fairness, dignity, equity- you know, all the things the hardcore capitalists both pooh pooh as unimportant while trying to strangle the concepts aborning.
The problem wasn’t laziness, I’ve worked. I’ve worked so much and so hard over the years, my body is scarred, partially broken. I’ve left my spine on the altar of capitalism and live with the pain of that every day- the military and the civilian work world took my hearing. I’ve nearly lost my life three or four times between the military and some of the civilian jobs I’ve done. Nor was it the quality of my work. I’ve received the accolades for jobs well done- many, many of them. That was never the problem.
Not making it in America wasn’t because of a lack of trying. Or was it? More on that in a bit.
Nor can I lay it down to a lack of innate intelligence. It isn’t that I don’t understand the system, it may be that I understand it too well to accept it in all of it’s, sometimes dubious, glory.
Despite all of that, I don’t fit well enough to make it in America. My dilemna came about when I really understood that no career field open to me, no amount of money that I could potentially earn legally and honestly, would be sufficient to truly compensate me for the loss of my free time and freedom to decide.
Minimum wage is and was a pittance and by the time I was able to earn more than that, the cost of living had gone up so high, what I took home might as well have been minimum wage for all the real effect it had on my lifestyle.
I don’t want to TRY when the playing field is tilted against me and both business and government are spraying water to make more mud for me to run through while happily tossing obstacles into my path. That’s just the powerful screwing with the plebes and I’m not going to DO that. My rebellious nature comes up immediately at the very idea. One of the problems with telling us all over and over again that we are all equal in America is that some of us, not the rich, actually believe that and expect to be treated as though it were true and not just propaganda.
I understand the need to eat, pay your own bills and make your own way, though, and screwed down my expectations so I could make enough money to live. I was also forced to realize that, seeing things the way I do, I was never, ever going to be happy working two full time jobs with a third part time on weekends to “Make it”. This is MY life and that’s not how I want my memories to look when my last day comes.
I think I took exception to the changes forced on me. They say I’m a boomer, but I had none of the perks of those who actually populated that generation. May of 1964 I was born and by the time I was sixteen and had quit school, I was already being told to pull myself up by my bootstraps because the days of leaving one job in the morning and starting a new one in the afternoon- that was late sixties stuff- were gone. My dad got to enjoy that- I’ve been living in “Hard to find” employment times my whole life. Moreover, I’ve been told by Republicans and some blue dog democrats that it is all MY fault. From my perspective, those who went before used the heck ouf of the perks then decided that there was none left for me or my generation.
Not being stupid but being incredibly rebellious, I took a GED instead of finishing High School- the poor teacher assigned to do the grading was almost crying as I stubbornly refused to go back to classes. “Please, these are the highest scores I have EVER seen on a GED, please reconsider- there is no reason for you to DO this!” I didn’t reconsider. Perhaps I am stupid. It’s a consideration- often, it feels as though I have self sabotaged in the worst ways all through my life. I wonder if that’s because of the chaotic, loveless home I grew up in? I don’t know, however, a part of me takes myself to task because despite that beginning, I SHOULD have been able to take it all in hand and master things after I became an adult. Somehow I just never did until my age was so high all the chances were gone.
The military took me in with open arms and I did that off and on for a long time- Until a Catholic chaplain counseled my wife and I to get a divorce so that I might better serve the needs of the Army- that ended that one. I’m not a Christian but I was fairly certain that answer wasn’t going to fly and I became a civilian.
When I married my German wife, Anja, that’s where it went awry. I was inevitably forced to see the conditions that people lived under in Germany and, well, you do make the comparison, don’t you? I’ve moved to Germany, fleeing my inabiity to earn enough money to support all of my children in my own country, only to get angry at myself for needing the German social net to make it at all and moving back. We’re talking selling everything and starting over- boy is my wife tired of that! I think we’ve done that four times or so. Rinse and repeat and while it made for a lot of incredible memories for my German wife and I, it didn’t help me in the “Making it” bit.
I did all of that only to find out America just got harder to live in while I was gone. Realizing that a person like me needs that social safety net, yeah, that was a pretty bitter pill to swallow but not as hard as swallowing the idea that you need that help and it does not exist for you.
Illinois, Ohio, Wyoming, Oregon- by the time I left Oregon, sick with extremely acute diverticulitis and about to become truly homeless because I couldn’t work or afford the surgery and convalescence on top of a $1500.00 a month apartment, I had no idea of any place in America that I wanted to try to build a new life in even were I to be miraculously healed.
I mean, what’s the point?
I’m never going to go to the church my boss goes to.
I’m never going to bow my head and take the rotten deals that the working class is offered, never. There is no path to happiness for me in the land I was born in. The only way to get along with the system is to get out of the system and in America, that means acquiring wealth. I don’t have the ability to do that or the inclination to grub after the dollar to the exclusion of all else. That’s Trump’s schtick, I’ll leave it to him and his ilk.
That was the last time I made the decision to leave America and I feel like I won’t be back.
I cannot make it in America. That is a simple statement of fact, a realisation, it is my fact- good only for me. I wish I could though.
I’m never going to be happy with any set up that requires me to work multiple forty hour weeks to pay for rent and food. I don’t want to do that, it is my personality and I don’t see that as a fair reimbursement for my time and skills. This gets me nowhere in America. “Suck it up or starve, snowflake!” is what meets you when your head is laid out as mine is. I’m supposedly a pragmatic, they say, but I have an inability to knuckle down, accept “My lot” and do what society says I must do to “Make it”.
I don’t have that problem in Germany and friends, I cannot begin to describe to you the difficulty I’ve had coming to terms with that- or how satisfying it is to be allowed to be me. Heck, I was raised with a healthy portion of “American exceptionalism” infused into my baby formula- some of these realizations sting.
In the German constitution, the words
Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany. Art 2. (1) Everyone has the right to the free development of his or her personality, provided that he does not violate the rights of others and does not violate the constitutional order or the moral law.
are written. That last refers to the idea that if your personality requires you to be a mass murderer to develop, well, that is a step too far. There are limits.
This idea that the individual has a right to develop as they wish to and need to, that says I don’t have to be a wage slave to billionaires if that set up warps my personality. That fits me because the Germans back that up with good day to day policy. I’m a misfit, some of us are- here, you can be a misfit and still live a decent, dignified life. Here, being a misfit is a protected right.
I am contracted to work 160 hours a month in my civilian job. My wife, two years younger than I, is contracted for 120. Germans have set their society up so that is enough for we two to live our lives pretty close to the way we want to. We both get full health care for that and we both enjoy 31 days of vacation per year- my legal right to a vacation as a worker is 20 days from year one as a bare minimum if I work a five day work week- the employer has the ability to better that and they often do in their search for good personnel.
Granted, we aren’t extravagant- we have to save for higher ticket items, but that isn’t a problem for us- we expect to have to do that.
I’m not so unaware that I don’t understand that, here as in America, if I were to put in more, I’d get more money out- it is STILL capitalism- but it is controlled capitalism. Other people burn to be able to put in more, and they can do that here if they wish- the social society doesn’t put limits on your ability to work yourself to death- it does however stop you being required to do that to live a dignified life.
The capitalism is bound firmly into a social framework that tries to protect everyone’s interests. It’s an attempt made at the fairness I was missing back home. Fairness, that’s all I ever wanted- treat me as fairly as you want me to treat you. You want my best work, I want your best pay. You enjoy time off, remember that I do too!
Did I tell you that human dignity is also guaranteed in the German constitution. That tends to color the way things are done, here.
We’re even managing to save some of what we earn now that the kids are grown. That is an absolute first and makes me feel proud.
My personality will not let me make it in America. If Fox news profiled me, they’d call me the man too arrogant to do what he needs to do to make it- in America. That’s most likely true. I admit it, I own it. What hurts is that here in Germany, living in a social society, this American is thriving.
What’s the point of this diary on a site that is dedicated to electing more and better democrats?
The point is that I don’t think I am a “Unikat”- unique, at all in my views.
I see so many people trying so hard to do all they can to “Make it” back home and I read/see/hear the fatigue and resignation streaming from them. “This is NOT the life I want!” I hear it in their sighs, see it graven on their too tired faces- but what can they do? They can’t get out from under it because the whole system is set up that way. it is not FAIR!
(Factoid: Do you know that payday lenders do not exist in Germany? There is no need for them.)
I see the unions FINALLY taking back their power and that fills me with so much happiness, it’s a long road, but one that won’t be walked if we don’t lift our feet and put them down on it’s surface. Doing nothing gets us nowhere.
The democratic party is the only one I can see that has any chance of one day addressing this and making it better, easier, more dignified- something. We are the only ones who might have the will to create a better system.
Let me give you a small case in point. Gillette Wy. was an oil and coal boom town when I got there in the early eighties. To drill for oil you need water- so “Water services” were offered by companies in the area. Those companies made good money using tank trucks to haul water out to wherever the drill sites were.
I knew one of those company owners- I’ll call him Jack. Common knowledge, confirmed by Jack, says that when he came to town he wanted to get rich. With that in mind, he stole a water truck that had the keys in it and opened up his own water hauling service. Five years later, as he told it to me, he put the truck back where he found it after he had enough money to buy a legal replacement. In Wyoming, he’s still seen as an enterprising businessman.
I see him as a crook, a thief and he’s one of those people I’d not let in my home or associate with beyond necessity. I always wondered how the fortunes of the guy from whom he stole that truck went? You know, the guy who bought the truck so he could try to do it right?
However- Jack “Made it” very well in America- nor did his criminal behavior stop with that first theft. He died a rich man, honored by the chamber of commerce and everything. That IS the system in place- look at the trouble we’re having with the bringing of Donald Trump to justice because HE’S THE AMERICAN HERO- He stole his fortune in a way that we find palatable and all that counts is the end success, apparently, of the thief doing the stealing. I absolutely hate that.
I never wanted to be that, I never wanted to DO that to make my own living- steal or lie, screw people over. I sure as hell don’t want to be rich if it means I have to sell my soul to the dark side to get it- or disadvantage someone else so I can live well. Yes, I have flat out quit working for companies that were screwing over their customers, just walked out- I have to live with myself. That preserved my moral compass but it does make it hard to eat. When your belly starts playing tag with your backbone, well, what do you do. I’ve washed a lot of dishes in my life.
Others don’t have my self imposed strictures- which automatically puts me at a disdvantage.
Reference the Trump family here- or hell, even my own. I’ve got people in the family that are well acquainted with the criminal justice system from the inside out. I have a brother so greedy that he’d chase a rolling penny off a cliff trying to save it from a horrible fall and death- and maybe that’s working for them, it doesn’t for me.
Perhaps that is a form of the free development of their personality that Germans are guaranteed- but it wouldn’t be a goodness to me were I to receive laurels for criminal or immoral behavior. I don’t wish to be rich, to be held up as a civic leader because I was able to steal from my fellow citizens in a way that they accepted or found palatable. I actually think that’s quite horrifying.
If I cannot open a business and pay you a fair wage for your work, then I will not open that business. If I own a restaurant, I will not take your tips. I find all of that to be “THE WAY THINGS SHOULD BE!” and if I cannot create that and be successful. well, I’m not going do it with cheating, lying and stealing. Nor will I work for a company wherein that is the norm. I just cannot do it.
That leaves me, often, sucking hind tit in the words of my southern father.
Where does such a culture lead us, long term? It leads us not only to Trump as a symptom but to a society where at least thirty percent of people feel that to “Make it” it’s fine to screw over your neighbors, family and anyone else- so long as you get yours.
Trump is a heroic figure to them because he got his, no matter how. Remember, in their world, everyone has to “Make it”- they’re just surviving the best they can. That’s a ready excuse “I didn’t make the system, but I have to live in it!” however, it isn’t one that has any weight for me personally.
I think America can do better. I think that is the job of our government, to make the system better for all people, not just the rich or those willing to do anything to become the rich.
(Side note: The ONLY redeeming quality I have ever found in Mike Pence is that Trump found him “Too honest” to make it in American politics- his one good facet, in my opinion.)
So, no, I cannot make it in America. That is my pragmatic assessment of my own abilities and my weird, strange personality. It’s difficult to come before you, my people, and admit that- difficult but, I feel, necessary if we are to have this conversation.
I cannot make it there, but maybe, just maybe, America could make it a little easier to- “Make it” everywhere- for everybody.
Vote for democrats and a better future.