mansion on the hill

I was feeling sentimental a few nights ago, so I went to iTunes and bought a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s album Nebraska. I have it on vinyl, but I don’t have a turntable anymore. I’ve been listening to it on my late-night walks. Even though this album is more than twenty years old, it’s still pertinent today, perhaps even more than ever in George Bush’s America in 2008. As a nation, our people are getting poorer. The desperation of the people in these songs is the desperation of the times we live in. I feel that desperation, that pull of poverty, the burden of having debts that “no honest man can pay.” I’m a well-educated, fairly literate, professional-looking, forty-year-old married father of two. I’ve been pretty lucky. My parents both worked hard to keep a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs. I got a college education, the thing that was supposed to make the world my oyster. This is a country of merit where those who work the hardest get ahead, right? As Americans, we’ve been told that each successive generation is supposed to be able to make a life for themselves better than what their parents had. But I never expected it to be so hard. I know these are the musings of a westerner who is wealthy by most of the world’s standards. I want my children to have a better life than mine, more financial security. But how will they get there? The college where I work costs $50,000 a year. When my kids are old enough to go to college, it will probably cost $75,000. I’ll never save enough money to pay their tuition unless I win the lottery. Oil prices are so high, I can barely afford to heat my house, or put enough gas in my car to get back and forth to work every day. I’ve been returning bottles just so I can buy a gallon of milk. I’m tired of struggling, but maybe a Republican will tell me that I’m just not working hard enough. 100 hours of work a week between my wife and I isn’t enough anymore…work harder! they would say. But I feel like the characters in the song Mansion on the Hill, who stare up at the brightly lit windows from the cornfields down below, listening to the laughter, music, and clinking cocktail glasses, and who know they’ll never see the inside of a place like that. Much of America seems like that mansion right now, and there are so many more of us on the outside, hiding in those tall grasses, wondering if we’ll ever find a way to get inside.

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