Saturday, August 14, 2021

Being Grown-Up


Grown-ups are expected to take care of themselves.

As a kid, it was always frustrating that grown-ups were in charge of everything and made almost every decision in your life.  On the other hand, it was comforting being a kid and knowing that other than having to turn in your homework the next day, your responsibilities were pretty limited.  The prospect of "growing up" and supporting yourself and having a job and all that, well, it seemed kind of daunting.  In fact, it scared the shit right out of me, when I was a kid.  It is the reason, I believe, that schizophrenia sets in around age 18 - people freak out at making the transition from kid to adult.

Most of make out in one way or another.  But some folks fall down the socioeconomic ladder, and we are told this is because of "bad luck" or misfortune.  In fact, some people like to call such folks, the less fortunate as if working for a living, doing without, and saving for the future were easy things that anyone would do, but only if they were lucky.  Effort doesn't enter into the picture.

What got me started on this - and it is a continuation of my previous two posts about the squatter Hobbit dude - was a young man I met in a gay campground.   He wasn't more than 25 years old, and he was working at various low-wage jobs (which today, means $15 an hour!) in retail.  He loudly proclaimed, on more than one occasion, that he was looking forward to getting his car back, once he had the breathalyzer put back into it.  Yes, he had two "OUI's" as they call them here in Maine (instead of DWI or DUI) because, you know, Maine has to go their own way.

You have to be pretty fucked up to have a breathalyzer installed in your car to begin with. How it ends up being removed is anyone's guess.  The staggering cost of car insurance for this young man boggles my mind.  But that wasn't the worst part.

While he was saying all this, he was clutching a brown paper bag with a fifth of Jim Beam "Apple" Bourbon (the horror!) which he admitted he had been toking on since breakfast. By the end of the day, the bottle was empty.  He kept it with him at all times like a life support system.  Sometimes I worry I might drink too much.  Then I see something like that....  Man, I have a long way to go before I hit that rock-bottom!  At such an early age, too.  What a shame.

Now to be fair, the difference between him and me is that I was never caught at a lot of bad things I did in life.  And even when caught, I was able, as a youth, to talk my way out of more than one situation.  Destined to be a lawyer!   But back then, life was different.  The drinking age was 18, and in many States, you could legally drink while driving, provided you were not "drunk" - and what constituted drunk back then was a lot more than blowing a 0.09 on a breathalyzer, a machine that largely didn't exist in that timeframe.

I noted before that we had a horrific wreck on I-95 a couple of years back, where some drunk drove the wrong way down the Interstate and hit a van loaded with a family coming back from Disney, killing nearly all of them.  For some reason, drunks survive these crashes.  He had several DUI's, had been in jail many times, and was driving on a revoked license with no insurance, blotto drunk.  They can never seem to stop people like him, but they can catch your secretary on the way home from the company Christmas party, after having one-too-many eggnogs, and ruin her life, even though she was hardly "drunk" and never hurt anyone (and but-for the DUI checkpoint, she would never have been arrested).  The law is only good at catching the law-abiding, in many cases.

But I am not sure this young man is an innocent, based on his swigging of bad Bourbon.  Speaking of which, I had another life experience or "dancing lessons from God" as Kurt Vonnegut called them, at the local liquor store.  Nice place run by a nice Indian lady, and they had Juame Serra for $7.99 a bottle - even the pink kind.  Anyway, before we could get to the counter, a 20-something young man marches in, demanding a pack of Winstons and a half-pint of "Fireball" (the horror!) but doesn't have enough money to pay for both.  Which deadly vice do you choose?  He went with the Winstons.  I was going to hand him a buck so he could get blissfully blotto on Fireball, but thought better of it.  It is a panhandling trick, I found out, to claim to be short of cash, and hope someone in line behind you will throw in a buck or two just to keep the line moving. 

But talk about poor life choices - Fireball and Winstons.   And half-pints.  It was his whole life's story played out right there, and it was a sad one.  Particularly at nine in the morning.

But getting back to our OUI dude, did I mention he has thousands of dollars of tattoos on him?  Nice ones, too - expensive ones.  I am no expert in these things, of course, but you can spot good ink after a while - the colors, the definition, the details, the size.  Oddly enough, he had a large tattoo that covered most of his back.  It was of a voluptuous stripper, pole-dancing.  I thought this was an odd thing for a gay man to have on his back, and mentioned this to someone else, who quipped, "Maybe it is a picture of his mother!" and I nearly spit out my drink.


Now, the point of all this isn't to sit in judgement of this poor young fellow, or to mock him.  Well, everyone does that, I guess - it is the dark side of human nature.  But I got to thinking about what I had written about in the last few days and it sort of put it into focus.  This young man was making a lot of poor life choices - and was hell-bent on making more.  Blathering on about "getting your breathalyzer put back in your car" while waving around a half-empty bottle of booze in a paper sack was the ultimate in irony - and he seemed to fail to realize it.

OK, it's a free country.  Make poor life choices.  Just don't kill a family of six in an "OUI" accident. That's why we have laws like that and force chronic drunks to install breathalyzers in their cars (which no doubt, is not cheap).  But should I feel sorry for this kid?  Should I hand him my money?  Or more precisely, should you and I fund this lifestyle through taxpayer largess?  It isn't like he doesn't have money - the tattoos attest to that.  As I noted time and time again, the poor have a lot of money pass through their hands but save little of it.  This fellow can't afford to have a breathalyzer installed in his car, but can afford thousands in tattoos - and a fifth of Bourbon every day.

Of course, maybe a good way to start is to give up the Jim Beam - or at least not scarf down a fifth of it on a daily basis, starting with breakfast.  But as the "Friends of Bill" will tell you, people have to figure this out on their own - hit rock bottom and seek help.  You can't coach or help an alcoholic or stage an "intervention."  Well, you can, but it is just a means of feeding your own narcissism.  It rarely cures alcoholics or drug addicts.  And I know this firsthand, growing up with an alcoholic Mother.  We tried everything - watering down the booze, disconnecting the ignition on the car, and so on and so forth.  It doesn't work.  You can't "fix" people - they aren't machines.

But one thing I have learned is that people like that can also be very dangerous - like wild animals.  At best, they just steal your shit.  At worst, they assault you or even kill you. Back when I lived in Syracuse in the 1980's there was a hairdresser, "Mr. Pinky" who did all the society ladies' hair.  He was found dead in the trunk of his gold Cadillac Coupe-de-Ville, which was on fire.  Seems he liked to take in "troubled young men" as his neighbor put it ("He was such a giving man, always trying to help!") and one of them murdered him and took whatever he could lay his hands on.  Such folks are like wild animals, and you read in the paper, every day, about folks who try to "help" such troubled youth - sometimes their own children - only to be murdered by them.

You can't "help" them anymore than you can a wounded lion, unless you are a highly trained veterinarian who specializes in big cats. And no, that doesn't include Tiger Joe.

But getting back to the title of this posting, we are all expected, as grown-ups, to take care of ourselves.  It is our obligation to society not to be a burden to others.  And yes, it is daunting sometimes, because it isn't easy.  We are all tempted to take the easy way out - to go to the government or family members and beg for assistance.  And since we are a nation of decent people, by and large, we help out people who ask for help.  Supporting yourself is hard, to be sure, but not impossible.  And when I see some young man who clearly can support himself but chooses not to, my sympathy evaporates quickly.

What is sad, to me, is to see this happen so young.  You can make life changes - I did.  In a way, he and I weren't much different. At age 25, I was drinking cheap beer and smoking as much pot as I could find - spending money on one ill-conceived thing after another.  I was able to turn my life around, and I hope our OUI boy can do the same thing.  It gets harder, the longer you wait.

So yea, maybe I am "lucky" that I was able to figure things out.  But then again, the luck theory negates all the efforts you make in life.  And giving up drugs, drinking, and spending wasn't easy.  My friends were against me trying to improve my lifeEven my parents tried to discourage me.  To them, drinking was like a religion.  My own Dad would pour me drinks and put them in front of me, after I had told them I had given it up.  "Sure you don't want some?" he would say.  Nice Dad.  He's dead now.  He started buying me drinks in restaurants when I was 14.  Today, that would considered a crime.

So yea, "Adulting" isn't easy.  And maybe that is a sign, if you use the word "Adult" as a verb - as something to do on occasion as situations demand, before you revert back to child-mode - that you may be headed for trouble.  Because while personal responsibility is hard - and never easy - the rewards are far greater than what you get as a child or a supplicant.

And as for squatter Hobbit dude?  He's a fucking grown-man for Chrissakes!  Why does the media feel the need to feel sorry for him (or try to make us feel sorry for him) and treat him like he is some sort of "special needs" child?   Once you are grown-up, you are expected to take care of yourself, and living on someone else's land (and then inexplicably claiming the shack you built was a "fishing cabin" but at the same time, claiming it is a home) isn't an example of being a responsible grown-up adult.

Why should we let so many people take the easy way out, and not be held accountable for their actions?  Because the rest of us are, every day!  And that, right there, is the real unfairness in life.