Vices we love: Things not to do: throw your life away

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Things not to do: throw your life away

They just took J to the hospital with cancer. It's a recurrance. Odds are, I may not see him again. I have no feelings about this and that bothers me. Didn't I work with the guy for five months? Didn't I live right across the hall from him? Shouldn't I feel regret and sympathy? Maybe...but I don't and don't believe in faking it.

J is somewhere around 53. A typical EFL vagabond, he spent a year or three in the fleshpots of Thailand (that's Thighland in EFLese), ran out of dough and caught a flight up north. A charming enough fellow on the surface, he had a tendency to rag on and on about whatever subject pops into his mind. His beer intake was roughly a liter a day, with some whiskey and vodka to spice things up of course. I spent exactly one evening in his company, which ended when he nearly threw a shotglass at me and called me a sonofabitch. I tend to inspire that reaction in people.

In the five months that I have known him, J has complained endlessly and relentlessly about his surroundings, about the town, the students, the teachers and so forth in the grips of a sort of pedantic depression as he recounted the thousands of great opportunities that he had missed out on in his life and expounded on how great they were. It was almost like living in Harlem again, where numerous not-so-young men declared time and again that the reason they have been sitting on the stoop and collecting welfare for the past decade was because America is full of racist bastards who don't give them a chance. But J was worse. A White Christian American with two Masters degrees, he had all that this profession requires. (I had mentioned before that being white and spouting a few key phrases from old J.C. was all one needed to be set in EFL and I stand by that.) Hell, he had all that most people require since most are superficial bastards and only care about feeling comfortable around a person- competence is a secondary issue in most fields. But J decided to piss it away. Wandering from the oil fields of Louisiana to the sands of Oman and onto the bountiful whorehouses of southeast Asia, carrying his trusty bottle and tape recorder (which played some of the most goddamnawful zydeco music ever recorded.)

Nevertheless, out of desperation more than anything else, I asked him to take my classes for the two weeks I would spend munching pierogies. He agreed in his half-hearted way, and I paid him a week's wages upfront in a mix of currencies. I was not the least bit surprised, upon my return, to find an email from him about how ashamed he was that he had cancelled two days of class due to being ill. It was then that he told me about the cancer.

I knew nothing about it- it's a fucking awful disease but not one I know much about. The only choice I saw was to invite him over so we can talk and maybe grab dinner if he wished. I thought it was the humane thing to do. He looked worse than ever- rail thin with sunken eyes- and although I did not relish his company, I thought that I owed him at least that much. He thanked me for the invitations but did not take me up on it. I had considered knocking on his door to remind him but held back. Why? Was it his notorious sensitivity to noise? Was it because I sensed that he wanted to be alone? Was it because my sympathies competed with my dislike of his personality and did not want to be around him THAT much? After all, I am a notorious pest. Why wasn't I pestering him that night? Am I just plain bad?

I saw him again that same night as he entered the building ahead of me. His Southern accent more noticeable, J growled "I don't particularly want to talk to you" as a way of greeting while passing me by. Later still, while bringing up the laundry, I passed him again. His sunken eyes regarded me with a mix of hatred and astonishment that I have never quite seen before. Soon after that encounter, he banged on my door. Remembering my promise to him, I opened it and asked that he come in- he did not, calling me out to where the students were talking on the stairs, their voices carrying into the residences.

"I have to listen to this all night," he began again, on a running theme. I tried telling him that it was not THAT loud- that he should try to get some sleep. But the subject turned to myself. "I just wanted to tell you that you're a sonofabitch you know that? You're a fucking bastard." I excused myself at this point and ignored his knocks for the remainder of the evening. That was the last I saw of him until a few hours ago when the police broke down his door and carried him out crying to the hospital.

Not my idea of a grand finale.


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