The decision was a marriage between unpreparedness and impulse. Jimi played the reasonable older brother and voiced his concerns but gave in without much fight. I think he gave in knowing it was likely to blow up in our faces and then he would be able to smile and we would know what he thought. It’d be the moment a lot of us wait for but would probably never admit we waited.
“I told you so.”
There are high school students in Temecula who are entrapped for selling pot in a state where one can obtain said drugs legally with a quick visit to the Doc. “Hey Doc my back really aches and I think some Mary Jane could help.” That’s all it takes in most places.
Then Doc writes you a note and you go to a little shop where you can purchase the most potent ganja available in the whole US of A. But you can be permanently disadvantaged were you to sell a shitty dimebag to one of these undercover cops who want to keep Chief Deputy proud by making arrests. No federal funding for college. No public housing were you to fall on harder times later in life. Meanwhile the undercover agents keep the bosses happy all the while having the opportunity to collect paychecks and legally hang out with fourteen to seventeen year old girls eight hours a day.
Furthermore, it’s been said–though I’m not sure how reliable this bit is–that a disproportionate amount of the arrested have some disability.
But there in Binghamton, just a few feet down from that stone archway to Johnson City, Jimi was concerned about the future opportunity and joy and privilege of saying I told you so. That satisfaction from being able to make your friends acknowledge that you knew it all along, what a great, important feeling. Whose to blame him though? It’s something we all possess, and the feeling is so satisfying. It’s no wonder we give in to the easy pleasure. No harm if it doesn’t come true, but so much pleasure if it does!
After submitting our completed leases, Natalie told us we would be able to move in in August of that summer. None of us planned to move in the first week because Homeschool’s last semester didn’t start until the end of that month, Jimi’s job transfer hadn’t officially been approved, and my new job wasn’t slated to start until late August.
Even though I didn’t need to move in right away, I felt a more urgent need to get out of my parents’ house than my roommates. That summer I had told my parents I wasn’t going back to SUNY Albany in the Fall and I hadn’t anticipated the existential crisis that followed, culminating with that regretful summer night of drunk-driving with Frank. Even before my drive with Frank, I’d faced a series of struggles alone while in China when I made the official decision to stop attending classes there and at home. Having been home for a few months now, I believed I needed some geographical distance from the people I knew at home who’d probably approach me with run-of-the-mill questions I was once excited to answer.
“What are you up to nowadays?”
“How was China?!”
Before dropping out these were opportunities to boast about how well I was doing, to relay how great my life was, to show how I was coasting along the right track to wherever society tells you is a good place to end up. These conversations were a chance for me to feel good and for whoever I spoke with to feel good and go relay that good news to whomever they knew who knew me about my good news.
But now these simple questions were painful and I avoided them by staying away from familiar places. Somewhere along the way I’d learned to pay attention to the things people told me would create happiness, and failed to question whether that’s what I wanted or even if these “ideals” were healthy. So I began evaluating life.
**Cue existential crisis.**
In order to cope with whatever was going on, I took the advice Ryan holiday and started learning from those who’d already lived through struggles. To learn from the past I spent a lot of time reading biographies and autobiographies.
“It was time for me to find Knowledge, but that meant first I had to find Knowledge of Self.
This is one kind of knowledge you can’t seek. It’s something you have to let happen to you–through meditation, sitting quiet and alone, in contemplation.”
-RZA, The Tao of Wu
Later on I’d find ample opportunities to sit in quiet meditation. But until then, my anxiety persisted while Natalie continued to give us the runaround. Her urgency and mine had an inverse relationship where I would call and press her about moving in and she would respond with an apathetic non-answer. Through these non-answers my roommates and I began to learn about Natalie’s conniving ways. One of us would call to inquire about the move-in, “Hey Natalie, we’re just checking up to see when we’ll be able to move in. How’s it coming?”
And she’d avoid an answer to my question with a web of non-sequiturs that made my desire to move in seem like I was asking Natalie to guide me through the Amazon.
“Oh, we are still cleaning. Khristoff has finally moved out upstairs, but leaves me all his stuff. He is such a pig. And David. David,” she’d say, shaking her head. “David is up to no good and will not leave. I tell him he must go. ‘David I do not want you here anymore.’ You know what he tells me? ‘But Natalie, where am I supposed to go?’ And so I cannot get him out. My lawyer, no help! What am I to do?”
Yes but when the fuck are we going to be able to move into the apartment we already started paying rent for?
“Okay Natalie, we’ll check back soon.”
Patience stretched beyond its limits, I began moving in without telling Natalie. Homeschool followed suit, but Jimi decided to put off his descent into self-imposed poverty. This decision would also leave him with the short end of the deal in regards to room choice, but he would only have himself to blame for that.
Our first possession dropoff had almost no problems. After scanning the grounds for Natalie we snuck into our apartment, forgetting we’d had the legal right to enter for over a week. Before setting down any of our belongings, both Homeschool and I noticed that, aside from a few cleaning supplies in the corner, the apartment looked the same as it did the last time we stopped by.
The stove top still caked with grease, the oven black and charred, the floor covered in an indiscernible brown mixture–floor wax? spilt curry? grease?–I wondered what sort of cleaning routine Natalie had been following. Maybe the act of carrying the supplies into the building constituted “cleaning.”
“Guess it’s a good thing we started moving in. Would’ve been a few months if we waited for Natalie to finish,” Homeschool said.
“Yeah this is ridiculous,” I responded.
In some ways, the grunginess seemed worse than when the last tenants still lived there. At least then their mattresses covered up much of the floor space, hiding the blackened floors and dust that collected in the corners. Apparently the “cleaning company” Natalie mentioned consisted of herself and the blackened supplies she carried in her little red bucket.
“I’ll call my mom to see if she can come help,” I said.
On our way out, Natalie appeared. “Hello guys, so sorry. Two days, apartment will be ready. Promise.”
“Don’t worry about it Natalie. We’re gonna start moving in,” I said.
“Yeah. We can handle the cleaning. No worries,” Homeschool added.
“Oh, oh, thank-you guys but it’s okay. I will clean. All done soon.”
“No. Natalie, it’s okay. Really. Don’t worry about it. If you want to help clean you can, but only until we start sleeping here,” I said.
“Ah fine. We will be done soon. I will keep work on kitchen.”
When I called my mom she seemed eager to help. By the end of that same week she made the three hour trip to Binghamton and took control of the process like a real cleaning company, delegating jobs to both myself and my younger brother who’d made the trip down with her.
Homeschool’s mom also came down from Ithaca to help us move and clean. More friendly than myself and Homeschool, Homeschool’s mom had active conversations with Natalie, something we avoided at all costs. During these interactions she learned how Natalie’s face became so burned.
“Oh thank the lord I am alive every day. It is a miracle, you know. My whole house burn down and my husband die, but I survive and am only left with scars. Terrible accident. So thankful to god.”
“Oh my gosh, Natalie, that is incredible. You are so strong,” Homeschool’s mom told her.
“No, the lord makes me strong, but thank-you. And now my daughter is away to college. She do well. I am so lucky. And you too! Your son, so handsome. What does he study?”
“He studies biology. I’m not sure what he plans to do though. I don’t know if he knows either.”
“Amazing! He is going to be a doctor. Doctor Handsome.”
And that is when Homeschool became “Dr. Handsome” to Jimi and me.
Though there were some roadblocks to moving in, things finally seemed to settle. I’d heard from an old Albany friend he was in Binghamton now, and we made plans to hang out. I’d also seen an old friend from high school and she said she’d found a job in Binghamton. Maybe things weren’t turning out as bad as Jimi anticipated…