Wherever the Land of Happy Endings is, it's the exact opposite place where a number of people who should be there aren't.
Early last fall, a relative of mine whom I'll call David, purchased a cute two-bedroom home in D.C. The size of the house is perfect since he's single and childless. The mortgage, however, is a whopping $2100 a month.
Back then I begged him not buy it. I've been an avid follower of James Kunstler for years. He predicted in early 2008 that the housing market, airlines, banking industry, and our economy was going to crash and burn. Indeed it has, and we're only seeing the beginning stages of the new Great Depression. Most folks who bought a house in the past year have seen it depreciate. I warned David but he didn't listen.
Anyway, he inexplicably quit his $60,000 per year job in December. David gave an odd reason which I won't reveal; let's just say it's fairly lame. He explained that he had enough unused vacation and sick leave time to float him financially for two months, and expected a tax refund.
Three months later, he was still unemployed and not looking. He may be family, but he's also a very close friend. I know he's never been able to save a dime beyond scraping up the minimum down payment for his car and his crib. This is because he's addicted to restaurants, where he eats everyday, sometimes twice. This adds up big time.
In the spring, I asked him about work.
"I'll go back soon," he said easily.
"Whatcha doing for money now?", I asked worriedly.
"I'm using my credit card," he explained.
Everyone needs a long break, but this 'sort of' new behavior was so strange that I wondered if he had been fired for some type of inappropriate conduct.
Here's a little more about his background... He's tries hard to be a decent person and always has. He rarely misses church, never used drugs, hardly drinks, and when he gets a date, the women are in their 30s. He might be both a closet homosexual and Republican but has always denied this; if he's gay no one would hold it against him except maybe his mama. He's also pretty fat, but this normally ain't too bad since a lot of women go for that teddy bear look.
Somehow something doesn't work for him, and he's become the poster child of the nice guy who finishes last. Anyway, I dug around and confirmed he's still licensed in his field, so if he was fired and didn't quit, as he says, it wasn't for anything that would result in the loss of his license.
At the same time, ten years ago, he was fired after a major screw up on his part. He already lived with his mother, but then spent nearly a year living off of her. She'd give him bus fare each day before she went to work in case he got an interview. Instead, he'd walk to the theatre or ice cream shop. That's when he was 30. He's 40 now.
By this past Easter, the whole family and many of his friends were asking, "When ya gonna go back to work?"
He admitted he hadn't even began looking.
Then came the lie - more to himself than to me. He pleasantly stated, "I'll start soon."
He's such a pleasant person. He's wears his pleasantness like Teflon body armor. I've been worried about him. His cash cow annual and sick leave checks and tax refund dried up months ago, and he's admitted that his credit is smokin' hot.
A lot of people in our nation are doing badly for the first time. They can't control the economy and have been victims of it. It occurred to me, however, that a lot of folks I know are doing poorly because they operate as though they've given up.
Is there something in the food, water or air that's polluting our judgment and killing our ability to live as independent, responsible adults? Or perhaps, subliminal hypnotism via TV shows, music or commercials that's negatively affecting a noticeable portion of the masses?
I wondered about all this two weeks ago when a cousin sent me an email stating that she now has a blog about friggin' astrology and wanted me to visit it. She's 50, not 15 or 20, and is, or should be, an attorney. I gave her a call.
"I never knew you were into astrology," I said in wonder. "I learned how to do charts back in college. I wish I had known you liked it too. We would have had a lot of fun talking about it back then."
"Really?", she replied. "I just got into it a few years ago. I don't know how to do charts, but my blog is all about Moon Signs."
We shot the breeze and I also learned she moved recently. She convinced a fancy-schmancy high-rise apartment realtor let her sign a one year lease. She hasn't been there three months and is already on the verge of eviction.
In her spare time, she's reading and writing about the planets and moon. Her attempts to find a job sound half-hearted and thin. She has no leads, and when I offered ideas where to find one, in or related to her profession, she didn't sound the least bit interested.
"My God, what you going to do if they kick you out?", I asked.
"I don't know," she said casually. "Maybe go live with my sister down South."
I didn't explore questions like, what about the cost of moving your furniture? It's cheaper to toss it all and buy new stuff than move it. Or, how will things be different with your sister, and by the way, does she know of your plan to freeload off of her and is cool with it?
Instead I recalled a conversation I had with her now ex-boyfriend around 1995. I remember the timing because it was just before I adopted my daughter who was born later that year.
I'll call him Lewis. He had a bangin' house with a pool, and they'd been dating for ten years and she lived with him.
"I don't why she doesn't do anything significant with her degree," he confided to me. "It's not hard making money as an attorney in D.C. She farts around with lame contract work that amounts to nothing."
"Do you need the extra income?", I asked, wondering if this was the real issue.
"Hell no," he said. "I've been begging her to marry me for years. She could sit her on ass all day and we could have one kid. She's 37 and needs to fish or cut bait, with either motherhood or her career, but she's doing nothing."
Three years later he cut her loose. From what I could tell, she didn't shed a tear. She should have, but at 40, she either didn't care or didn't get that she was getting old and her career and parenthood options were diminishing.
As I said, I've been thinking about all the family, friends, former clients, and people I simply know who are allowing themselves to unnecessarily self-destruct.
I'll mention one other person, a friend whom I'll call her Karen. She is or was a doctor who struggled all her life in every area you can think of - a bad teenage marriage that ended with the police escorting her safely out of their apartment, struggling through college with no financial help or parental support, having an untimely pregnancy where the boyfriend bailed out and the child had severe ADHD and emotional problems.
Her son's problems, in my assessment, were at least partly related to poor way she handles stress. Like her own parents, she's very rigid. She yelled and nagged that poor child to death. My own mama used to warn her that he'd grow up hating women if she didn't lighten up.
Well, he didn't hate women, but he did turn out gay. She hated this, almost as much as she hated his constant scrapes with the law over dumb shit, like the time she called me and said this:
"Guess what he did now?"
"He stole someone's credit card to order one of those little ballerina tutus, then had it sent to his address.
"His real address?"
"Yeah. I could kill him."
This would be funny as shit if he had gotten away with it.
It still was, and even she could laugh between the anger and sadness. Her son was 18 or 20 then, and like my own now 19 year man-child with piss poor judgment, he was dumb as shit to the huge consequences of getting caught for stuff valued under a hundred bucks.
She, not her son, paid for his consequences in the way of hefty attorney fees to keep him out of jail. She was too scared to take a chance with a free public defender which he was entitled too since he was on his own and broke. Her debt from student loans, house note, and his legals bills could make a grown man cry.
No matter how hard she tried, she could never get ahead financially or find love. Unlike my attorney cousin, she tried. She loved hard. She worked hard. She had lots of racism and sexism and crazy familyism dished on her plate, and the cumulative poison finally finished her off.
Frankly, I think Karen may be dead. She's disappeared from the face of the earth. I've checked everywhere except the morgue and Bureau of Death Records. I'm not quite ready to go there yet. Personally I hope she said fuck it and is living with a fine azz big black nigga in the Caribbean and sipping a pina colada as I write this.
I've been self-destructive too in the past two years. I started smoking again after 12 years of abstinence. It happened so innocently. I was in an extraordinarily stressful situation and driving my son, age 17 and a half at the time, to juvie court. He knew I was going to beg the judge to send him to a 45 day rehab. The night before he had stolen my car and wrecked the bumper while trying to parallel park, and he worried I'd snitch about that. He went into a suicide drama, right there in my friggin' car.
He flips out a knife out of nowhere and began threatening to cut himself or even kill himself. Since he had stabbed himself before as I discussed in a previous article, Pay Now or Pay Later, I tried to distract him.
I reached for his cigarettes. "Why don't you smoke one?", I said nervously. "It'll calm you down."
I lit one anyway and inhaled. One puff gave me an instant high and in that instant, I was hooked.
"Damn," I said. "This shit is great when you haven't had one in a long time!"
This changed the direction of his drama. He watched me smoke with his mouth hanging open. He finally grabbed it away from me.
"Stop that shit!", he yelled. "I remember when you used to have asthma attacks! Remember Disney World when I was little?"
I kept puffing. The shit was goooood.
"Stop it! They carried yo' azz out in an ambulance! Twice!"
My old nicotine addiction spoke for me. "So?"
He grabbed the cigarette and began to quietly smoke and fume over his upcoming hearing, but at least he forgot about his suicidal impulse.
Me, on the other hand, had a new problem: denial.
One more won't hurt.
Then, one pack won't hurt.
Then, I'll just do it for a week and quit, it's so much fun.
Then, hey, I don't have asthma anymore! Maybe I can keep smoking until I get it again.
All of these are the loony thoughts and rationalizations of any addict. In the meantime, I was depressed. The baby boy whom I had nurtured and sacrificed so much for was hitting bottom. That particular judge wouldn't even order rehab for him or even routine drug testing, since it was only possession of 'drug paraphernalia'.
Xavier laughed all the way home.
Juvenile Court had once again let him off the hook. That's what they do around here. They train the small fish to believe they'll never get consequences for minor Mickey Mouse weed offenses, so that when the fish turns 18, the cops can racially profile their azzes some more and the judge fry them with long jail sentences.
I never blamed Xavier for my descent into cigarette addiction. Part of me knew it was a sign of giving up. Part of me didn't care anymore. That's the selfish part of me that I hate. Hating any part of yourself is not good. It keeps you stuck on stupid.
I lied to my family, including David, and said, "well, at least I never got into drugs or drinking beyond the holiday glass of wine". This was a cop out. Chain smoking is gonna do me in if I don't stop. I know it. Might even be too late, but that's another form of stinkin' thinkin' and also a cop out.
It's a form of slow suicide, and I know that too.
Xavier finally did get court-ordered into rehab the month on a juvie charge, and he was sentenced as such the month he turned 18. Six weeks later he was moved into a Baltimore recovery house. He dropped his gangbang homies and stayed clean.
Peace reigned in my apartment. That's when my azz should've gone back to full-time work instead of living of my then-fat savings, but my soul was weary and I felt entitled to a rest.
As my late father used to say, "There's no rest for the weary. You have to keep on keeping on or you'll end up Shit's Creek without a paddle."
So even though I've been blessed with the information of the impending new Great Depression, I've played like a grasshopper instead of storing resources for the winter like an ant. If you don't get that metaphor, it's a story from Aesop's Fables. In a nutshell, the grasshopper dies 'cause the ants don't share what they worked so hard for and say serves ya right.
With all of this mind, I've been watching my favorite relative, David, sink deeper in denial. Nigga's gonna lose his house if he doesn't get off his fat ass and go back to work.
He'll be looking for a substitute mama soon - because his real mother sold her townhouse and bought a one bedroom condo last year as a strategy to get her 40 year old son off her tit and out her nest. This is the #1 reason why this financially successful but cheap, single, childless, church-going, lonely man finally bought a house.
On a hunch and out of the blue, I sent him this email the other day:
You are walking in darkness...
walking where angels fear to tread.
To give you some context, I had politely not mentioned his unemployment for two whole months. I wondered if he'd even know what the hell I was talking about. He did, and this was his response:
I'm unmotivated and have not been pursuing work. Call me lazy or call me depressed or say I'm in a financially self-destructive pattern; however I'm not living a wild life or failing to give thanks.
I play chess, go dancing, do church and Bible study and talk with friends. I accept your concern and the concern of those who love me.
Thank you. Peace.
Here was my immediate response to his superficially pleasant, head-in-the-sand bullshit and it came from my gut. It applies to many of us, including me:
Welcome to the Suicide Club!
You have been accepted into the Covert Chapter of the S.C.
In this chapter, members do what they do best:
They "accept" the concern of others.
They acknowledge that they are loved, even though they don't act like believe this. Being friendly and smiling pleasantly doesn't count, but they think it does.
They enjoy the attention without feeling the need to 'do' anything that would cause them to lose their membership.
They don't mind the name-calling and even suggest names to be called, such as lazy, depressed, or dig this cute phrase, "being locked into a financially self-destructive pattern."
The presumably religious or moral ones justify their hedonistic lifestyles by saying they aren't 'wild', which is another way of saying or lying that their dick or someone else's hasn't found it's way into an orifice, while conveniently ignoring the 'wild parties' they have with food, aka gluttony, which finds it's way to excess pounds on their body, or chain smoking.
They give 'thanks' by celebrating the present where they can continue dancing, playing games, farting around on the Internet, and for some, attending social gatherings and/ or church where they can shut their eyes even tighter to reality as they thank the Lord, while simultaneously saying no thanks to concrete actions which would enable them to celebrate the future. This is Orwellian double-think at it's best.
Some believe there is no future and that either WWIII will annihilate us all, or the Rapture is imminent. Thus, no need to plan. Others grieve over past mistakes in love, marriage, and family planning or missed opportunities in education or career choices. They are tired and have simply given up, figuring that the future will be more of the same.
As a new member of the Suicide Club, you are strongly urged to purchase, borrow, or steal a tent. Since you're in the Covert Chapter, you can pretend you want to go camping. It will come in handy after you become homeless and may discover that you aren't quite ready to pull the trigger or place a rope over your neck. If you are ready, but someone saves you from yourself, your membership will be bumped up to the Overt Chapter.
Until that time arrives, you are welcome to the Covert Chapter of the Suicide Club. In fact, you can have my spot, having learned and mastered many of the aforementioned techniques from me.
It's a tough membership to relinquish because it's so much damned fun living like a child without a single adult responsibility to anyone, even the God to whom you give thanks.
Thank you for unintentionally becoming my mirror.
I called him. He thought my response to his denials and excuses re: eight months of financial self-destruction was 'over the top'.
"Whatcha gonna do?", I asked.
He hasn't lost his sense of humor. He said, "it's clear to me that I have to continue buying lottery tickets to win."
Oh boy. There's truth under that joke. He does buy them.
Then David invited me to have lunch at his place soon. He said, "You can have a chance to break through my [psychological] defenses while I cook for you."
Ain't that nice.
Hey, I like a free meal, but I also know that strategy: Feed 'em, fool 'em, fuck 'em, and forget 'em. We don't fuck 'cause we're not into incest, but I know he'll try to fuck up my head with pleasant excuses and a lie that he'll try. I love him but I ain't buying it.
But I will enjoy his food and give it a shot. I know him well enough that not likely that a damn thing I say will make a difference in his life, but it might help mine.
You see, sometimes it takes us awhile before the most important messages sink in. Ones like, you're really all alone in this world and all you've got, or, there's no returning to the nest. It's gone. You have to build and maintain your own.
Sometimes we get too weary to continue our flight through life. The winds of hardship blow our way and knock us off course. Our wings might get injured or even broken.
If it's ever happened to you, you know exactly how devastating it is.
Most of us are lucky enough to heal, but we may have forgotten how to fly, or be afraid to try.
We have to. The predators of life are always looking for easy prey. They are undeserving of us.
You got wings, use them.
Fly dammit fly!
*puts out cigarette*
Then you can give up your membership to the Covert Chapter of the Suicide Club. I'm giving up mine as soon as I finish this last carton of cigarettes...
Oh hell, I'm lying.
Had ya fooled, didn't I? Sorry. That was my addiction BS'ing you.
Seriously, though, sometimes you cannot fly alone. The journey's too long and the wind is too harsh. That's when you need to hook up with some snow geese and become one.
To break it down, they some smart mo-fo's.
See them flying in a V-formation? That's what they do when they head north each summer, and there's a reason for this:
As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in "V" formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
If a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.
The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Finally, if a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay until he is either able to fly or until he is dead. Then they launch out on their own or join with another formation to catch up with their group.
That's teamwork at it's best.
We can choose our friends but not our family. We think we can choose who we love, but it's our heart really making that choice and it goes to war with our head when the two disagree. We can't help the color of our skin, the texture of our hair, the social class or nation we are born in, or many of the illnesses and accidents that befall us or our loved ones.
We look in the mirror and wonder why we aren't smarter or better-looking.
We are fortunate when we look into the eyes of someone less fortunate, and see what we could or will become if we don't or won't fly.
Snow Geese don't know a damn thing about any of this, but they know how to save themselves and each other.
They have no Suicide Club.