Encounters at the gym are always very strange, and they make you reconsider your desire to be social to begin with.
I was just finishing getting changed when the man, (middle aged, African-american) began complaining about the discarded clothes that he was claiming had been left in the gym for well over a week. It somehow led to a conversation about the amorphous category ‘people’ and how much they suck. But one comment the man made struck me pretty deeply.
“Homelessness is a choice”.
Immediately striking was the similarity to the words of Kanye West (which is why I felt compelled to mention the man’s race in the paragraph above), and to an extent the conservative ideology it hints at. But the pause the statement gave me was my own brain wondering to what extent I agreed with it.
Automatically, I argued with the man, both because that seems like an oversimplification and because of the occasional stories I have heard about from homeless people about how they got there, particularly in a country like America, which has no social safety net.
It struck me as odd in Richmond of all places, which seems rather poor to begin with.
But this story is here mostly for contrast. It is here to make it very clear despite everything I am about to say, that I don’t think that things are always simply someone’s fault.
I mentioned in my previous post that I moved into a new house, and with the new house came a whole lot of residual drama from a previous tenant. I’ve tried to stay neutral in the whole situation, but that of course that is not possible. The original opinion I developed was completely wrong.
We can call this one flatmate M. When I first moved in M cried loudly how the previous tenant ruined his life utterly. He was now broke and his life was in shambles, and it was all the previous guys fault. This naturally made me feel bad for him, and made me want to help him out.
Let me paint you a picture. M wears a full head of hair that he wears rather well, and has piercing blue eyes. He speaks intelligibly enough about some topics, enough so to make you think that he could be a pretty intelligent if he goes to school and studies. He would also be objectively handsome, were it not for the fact that he is very obese. He is extremely affable, and is able to hold a conversation pretty well. He is also very good natured and friendly. But he talks a lot about his problems, and his desire to get his life in order. He had the ambition to study Japanese, and had two or three books of Kanji next to some sketchbooks, filled with drawing he was working on.
Who wouldn’t want to help such a person?
On my second or third day at the house, a bong appeared on the living room coffee table. The farthest it has moved is the kitchen table, where it is often placed near a grinder and a mason jar full of buds. I have not smoked in years, possibly because I have now built some pretty negative associations with it. But every morning when I make my coffee I have to look at it, and when I do I am flooded with both memories and temptations. It is more than a little annoying.
It’s even more annoying on those morning where I have nothing to do and stay in bed reading for a few extra hours. He will make it to the living room before me, and I will find him sat on the living room sofa playing video games, the whole room thick with the smell of marijuana and his bong next to him, smoldering. If he happens to have the day off, he will be in that exact same position, playing that exact same game, when I come back home late in the evening. It’s like this pretty much every day.
When I moved in I did so with an abnormal amount of kitchen equipment. Cooking is a hobby i take pretty fucking seriously, and I credit the fact that my health is not significantly worse to the fact that I can actually cook for myself fairly well. M saw this and asked me for a few pointers on how to cook. So one day that we both weren’t doing anything I spent damn near six hours in the kitchen showing him some pretty simple recipes. He cooked up a storm, and talked about how much this would help him get his life together.
A month later, most of that food is still in the fridge, only the tupper-ware he put it in is keeping it from reeking the whole damn kitchen. The coffee table in the living room that houses his bong is littered every night with Domino’s boxes, brown McDonald’s bags, and a select few bags from Jimmy John’s.
He doesn’t seem to bathe all that regularly. The smells, however, seems to be trapped in his room and the area immediately surrounding it. Unless he opens the door to his room, which he does occasionally.
When I first moved in I also bought detergent, and from that moment on the laundry machine was in continuous use for about a week. Neither of the flatmates had done laundry in a spell, it would seem. They now still do laundry more than once a week, for some damn reason.
Alright, here was the breaking point.
Early one morning I packed my laptop bag and began to head out. I found M on the front porch, smoking a cigarette and blaring the same song he had been playing repeatedly for months now. His flannel shirt was completely unbuttoned, and his large paunch was unashamedly exposed to anyone who would come by. I stopped to speak with him for what I thought would just be a few minutes, but ended up turning into almost half hour. He mentioned the same brace of problems that he seemed to be going through constantly; dissatisfaction with life, his job, his weight, wanting to get in shape, and being once again completely penniless. I asked him if twenty bucks could make life a little easier, and he said it would. He seemed genuinely grateful, and I was happy to lend it to him. I then finally left, first to a cafe, then to the gym.
At some point I received a message asking if I could but away the lunch he had prepared for himself, as he had accidentally left it at home. A little later I received messages asking me for recommendation about what to cook. I listed off a few cheap recipes that came to mind and then got back to what I was doing. When I got home, however, I not only found his lunchbox still on the table, but the same 20$ bill than I had lent him.
I must have heard him come in around 9:30 or 10, but i was watching a movie in my room and frankly had no desire to go out and greet him right then. Around midnight I left my room to use the bathroom, and I could hear the blaring of video games coming from the living room. The noises ended up being a YouTube video of the game he was currently playing, and M was currently putting back a sub from Domino’s. On the coffee table, another Domino’s box sat next to his smoldering bong.
The living room, of course, smelled of Marijuana.
I chatted with him briefly, and he was quick to tell how the former tenant had payed him a little bit of money and he was now a little better, and i could take that twenty dollar bill back (it was still on the kitchen table).
I didn’t buy it. Moreover, I no longer cared.
I read a lot of self help books. It’s become a genre I like, even though I do not find it to be terribly useful. A piece of advice that comes up in almost all of them is the idea that, at least to a certain extent, your successes and failures are entirely yours. One book put it thusly: you are succeeding at everything you do. The problem is you are likely not actually doing the things you claim to want to be doing. M is very successful at playing video games, smoking a shit ton of pot, eating Domino’s, not losing any weight and not having very much money. And that is why I am becoming increasingly resentful of him. Because I have been going to the gym more or less every day for a good long time now, but my weight has plateaued. I’ve been looking for a better job for two years, following the advice of friends (even when that advice is often in contradiction), and had no success. I’ve been looking for meaning in my own life and found none. M’s lack of effort seems to mock what I am doing.
So now we can finally go back to the random conversation I outlined at the top of this post. On the one hand, I know that M’s problems are his own, and they are all choices he made. But what about mine? As of this writing I am only really employed 10 hours a week, and I am quickly losing hope that I will have any kind of real employment anytime soon. Is this failing some kind of choice? Am I lying to myself when I believe that I am working hard to fix my problems?
The idea terrifies me.
I used to be a smoker. At some point the desire to quit was greater than the desire to continue. I am now an ex-smoker. Maybe one day the desire to be get his life together will overcome M’s slovenly nature. It is possible. But right now I don’t think he wants it enough.
And I am not going to hold my breath.