Problem Addict

The Two Bags
Every man, according to an ancient legend, is born into the world with two bags suspended from his neck. A bag in front full of his neighbors’ faults, and a large bag behind filled with his own faults. Hence it is that men are quick to see the faults of others, and yet are often blind to their own failings.
-Aesop’s Fable

“You need to learn to trust people.”
“I trust people!”
“No you don’t. You think everybody is conspiring to leave you standing all alone in the desert with nothing but your dick in your hand.”
“My dick?”
“Never leave home without it.”
“I trust plenty of people.”
“Name two.”
He can’t. This is Joseph, who for two years now has been my only connection to the outside world. Outside of my little cubicle. He’s my lifeline, much like the Diabetes home testing kit to Wilford Brimley, or the letters young Marines get in boot camp. Or yes, the one person I’d call if I were a contestant on Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? If it weren’t for Joseph I’d probably go insane and start asking customers over the phone what happened on my favorite sitcoms, or what the score of the hockey game was, or what the president said last night.
I am a telemarketer.
We sell uniforms to people that work at businesses all across the country. 50 states. Pizza places, laundry places, grocery places, office places, even other telemarketing places. Every night I come home hating another state of people. Each night I think of all the clever things I should have said to retort but didn‘t.
“How’s that data entry job working out? That’s what you really wanted to grow up and do?”
“I’m going to yell loudly into the receiver so you can hear me in your huge cubicle.”
“I may not have gone to college, sir, but I also don‘t have a dress code. How does that feel?”
“If you’re not going to learn the language, don’t get a job where I have to call you.”
“Hey fucker, buy some polo shirts.”
The first commandment of telemarketing: Thou shalt not deviate from the script.
Joseph works here too, but he doesn’t require the constant flow of money that I do, or at least he doesn’t seem to put that as a priority. He’d rather work on projects at home, mixing songs in his basement studio or redubbing tapes for bands he’s had the misfortune to be acquainted with. Once he paid off his audio equipment, coming to work here seemed more of a formality. A kind gesture to repay the company for its years of audio funding. Sometimes I think that if it were up to him, he’d quit and starve to death, clutching a Shure mixer under one arm and a Cardioid mic in his other. Police would find him in at the bottom steps to his basement. Found that he’d gnawed off his toes in a fit of hunger, that he’d prefer to die cold and alone than hawk any audio equipment.
As for me, I prefer the comforts of life. Comforts that only money can buy. The second and last commandment of telemarketing is that you make your quota each week.
This is our smoke break. I don’t smoke tobacco, but its not as if I have anything else with me. So here we are out on the smoke deck wasting the few precious seconds before we’re expected back at our desks, talking about our neuroses.
“Everybody has some inordinate irrational fear. Yours is trusting people.”
“I’m afraid of spiders.” He says impatiently, blowing a long stream of smoke from chapped lips.
“Would you trust a spider?”
“Brown recluse spider hides under your sofa,” he says, ignoring me, “you stick your hand in to get that Frito that went down there. He bites you. Now you’ve got about fifteen minutes to call an ambulance, if you can move, that is.”
“We’re going to try something.” And I stand.
It had been quite a few months now that Joseph was beginning to display symptoms of a much more disturbing nature than usual. His disease being melancholy. Not one to pry, but the sort that sort of gets thrown into others’ problems whether I liked it or not, I offered to help.
Symptoms of melancholy include, griping, complaining, antisocial behaviors, moodiness, gloominess, a propensity to looking at one’s feet, and in extreme cases, threats of suicide to get people’s attention.
Melancholy, or melancholia, comes from the Greek word for “black bile,” melankholia : melas, melan-, black + kholê, bile.] Joseph’s had the black bile for quite some time, though its getting annoyingly obvious as we progress in our friendship. Joseph’s also been smoking tobacco since I’ve met him. That may explain the black bile.
No real risk exists to the patient, other than his friends hate to be around him, his girlfriend of many years wants to leave him, and he has no will to continue with his career. Just clutch that microphone and wait for death.
And it’s my contention, since I’ve been hurled into the matter, that it all stems from his unwillingness, nay, inability to trust people. This includes me, his girlfriend, his own mother for crying out loud.
Makes me want to cry out loud.
So I stand. And I tell him to stand. He, annoyed and reluctant, puts out his cigarette, twisting it against the table we were sitting on, and stands.
“Now,” I say, “Turn around.” He does so.
“What is this?” Is the only sort of objection he can muster.
“This is an exercise.” I remove my jacket, the increased mobility will aid in the lesson for today. “Now you’re going to fall backwards and I’m going to catch you.”
“What? Fuck that. That’s stupid.” He swivels around again to sit down.
“No no. This is easy. It’s a simple step. You fall, I catch you.”
“You’re just going to let me fall and crack my head open on the cement.”
“Joseph,” I feign, “I’m insulted! What would I have to gain by doing that?”
“To prove some point. You’re always trying to prove some point.”
“Yeah, but–”
“And it’s not like anybody ever learns anything from your preachy zen. We gain nothing.”
Sting.
“Look, I do want to prove a point, but in order to do that I need to catch you. And in order to do that, I need you to fall.” Perhaps we should try a different tack.
“I know,” I continue, “You can catch me.”
“No. This is stupid. Fine, I trust nobody, you are correct. Sit down.”
“I’m turning around.”
“No.”
“I’m falling.”
“No.”
“Here I go.”
This is what I really want to do. To just fall. When I was seven, my parents took me on the Queen Mary, the largest still floating cruise liner in the world. I looked over the side. Most kids fantasize about spitting over the edge, but the trouble they’d get in deters them. I fantasized about jumping over the side and enjoying that eternity of falling. The only deterrent for me was that I knew it wouldn’t be long enough.
And then Joseph catches me.
“See?”
“See what? That you trust people? Yeah fine.”
“No, Joe, I trust you. Now reciprocate.”
“Aw, for the love of–” He turns around. Actually, I turn him around, but let’s not get bogged down in details. He looks back at me imploringly.
I gesture that he stare at the wall opposite, away from me.
He folds his arms.
He closes his eyes.
He lets go.
“You did it.”
“I did it!”
“Yeah, now next time, don’t bring your foot back to brace your fall. I know it’s a reflex, but it sort of undermines the purpose.”

After only two more tries, the final time I simply kicked his foot out from under him, he let me catch him without any support. The kicking sort of undermines the process as well, though.
Then, relieved more than he could ever imagine, Joseph sits down, hands shaking, to light a cigarette.
“Did you think I wasn’t going to be there?”
After a pause, “Well… yeah.”
Several cigarettes later, we anticipated our boss screaming us back to work.
“So, what’s your irrational fear?”
“Hm. Turtles. Can’t stand ‘em.”
“Bullshit. I know what it is.”
“You do, huh?” Makes you wonder why he asked then. Asshole.
“You’ve got a fear of intimacy.”
“What?” That absurdity came out of left field. And it’s a bit of a stretch. Commitment, maybe, but intimacy?
“You can’t get close to people.”
“I’m friends with you. Hell, I had sex with Tina in accounting just last week.”
“Yeah, yeah, you haven’t stopped bragging about it. Maybe intimacy isn’t the right word. More like, touching. You have a fear of people touching you.”
“I don’t know what kind of weird sex you and Jaime have, but–”
“No, no. You know what I mean. You can’t let somebody in. A loving, requited touch. Not just sex. Not holding me as I fall down. I mean holding a woman as she cries. Holding her in a long embrace that doesn’t involve foreplay. When’s the last time you petted a kitten?”
“Kittens are right under turtles on my list.”
“Fuck that. You can’t touch somebody. You can’t touch the world.”
“Touch the world? What kind of fucking Hallmark card crap is that? I can’t even fucking see the world outside the view of this smoke deck. I get in here early morning hours, with all the overtime I put in I won’t get out of here until ten! I go home and sleep!”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“I’m not. This is just the natural progression of the conversation.”
Joseph raised his right eyebrow, which is what he does. It’s like a bullshit detector. You try to pass something over on him, and up goes the eyebrow. What I don’t know is, is if the eyebrow goes up in response to his detecting the bullshit, or if he detects bullshit because he feels his eyebrow going up.
“We can do an exercise if you want.” He smiled sarcastically. “Want to hug?”
“You know what? I have to get back to work.” Now it is my turn away indignantly.
“You can dish it out back you can’t take it, is all.” He calls after me, quite unprofessionally, I might add.
He stood out there a few more seconds shaking his head in disapproval.

The only thing I fear more than intimacy and turtles, is when Joseph is right and I’m wrong.

It’s not as if Joseph is Sigmund fucking Freud. If that were the case, maybe he could solve his own problems and people could stand to be around him. My point is, I already know about the “fear of intimacy.” I’ve known about it for some time. It’s been lodged down there in my subconscious. It’s been saying, “hey, fucker, get some platonic loving!” I just tend to ignore the voices in my head. It’s not my place to pry there.
It’s been a week since my last haircut. Well, not a week, but close to it. And it’s not as if my hair grows particularly fast, its just, well, when you have to face your fears, fall back into waiting arms, you have to start somewhere. And I’m not going to pay for a hooker to come over and hold my hand in a sexless, reassuring way.
Plus, when I started doing this, I did need a haircut. I saw this fat woman through the window that reminded me of my mother. Big, unattractive bosoms, an unruly bun in her hair. You know, the sort of bun where half of it is escaping and flying in the air like the American flag. But it means she’s a good barber.
Here’s a riddle: You go to a town, we’ll call it Mayberry, that only has two Barbers. Floyd and Tennyson. Tennyson’s haircut is total crap. Even the most polite people tell him so. Floyd’s haircut is real nice. Which one to you go to? The one with the crappy haircut. It’s obvious that they cut each other’s hair, not their own. Or maybe Tennyson does cut his own hair, and Floyd’s wife cuts his. Whatever, the riddle is flawed.
So I walked in, very reluctantly, and sat down. No. I signed in first. Then I sat down. Pat Benatar was playing. I remember that. Then I sat down. Then I picked up a Reader’s Digest. Paul Reiser was on the cover. Then I opened it up. At the end of the article was a joke. You know, down near the bottom of the page. Sort of like how normal magazines put advertisements in theirs. Reader’s Digest is selling their self-indulgent “wit.”
Here’s a joke: This guy looks out his window, sees he has a gorilla in his tree. He calls the animal control guy. He shows up with a shotgun, a stick, handcuffs, and a Chihuahua. He says to the guy, “You hold the handcuffs, I’ll climb the tree and poke the gorilla with the stick until he falls down. When he hits the ground, the trained Chihuahua will run up and bite him in his privates. The gorilla will bring his hands down there, instinctively, and you put the handcuffs on him.” The other guy says, “Well, then, what’s the shotgun for?” The animal control guy says, “If I fall out of the tree before the gorilla, shoot the dog.”
I love any joke that ends in “shoot the dog.” It’s why I loved Old Yeller so much.
Then, and I’m not ready for this, I get called up to the chair. Like those guys who signed up to fight for the army, then when Vietnam came around they were nowhere to be found. Hey, dumbass, when you were turning your head to the side and coughing for a military doctor holding your balls, did you not consider that you’d get shot? When I signed my name to the hairdresser’s register, did I not expect someone would touch my scalp?
So here comes my irrational fear. It’s not sexual, it’s not even meaningful. But if I want to tango or hold some future wife’s hand on our wedding day, I’ve got to let this bosomy Super-sized lady touch my head.
And she smells like SPAM.
Across from me, a child was screaming in mortifying pain, “BUT IT ITCHES!!”
“I’ll need you to take off your glasses, honey.”
Curses! My last defense! And there they go. Powerless. Naked. Exposed. My head free for anyone to touch. My hair open for cutting season.
Snip Snip.
“MOMMY, WHY DOES IT ITCH SO MUCH!?”
I felt like smacking that kid upside the head and saying, “Hey, dumbass, did that hurt more than the itching? Maybe itching isn’t the most difficult thing you’ll face in life.”
As the pudgy hands graced what I admit was overgrown and greasy hair, I suddenly felt a wave of relief through my bones. It shook outwards from my muscles, losing its power like a tidal wave coming ashore, until by the time it reached my skin it was just comforting warmth. I hadn’t been comforted, babied, coddled in so long, since I was four, that I must confess it was all so new to me.
Not erotic.
Just cathartic.
Suddenly, my issues, my irrational fears didn’t seem all-important. Sure, I wasn’t going to cure myself that quickly, but this was a big step. It meant that now I knew this wasn’t the end of the world. It meant that now I knew, it wasn’t the most difficult thing I’d face in life. This knowledge, this feeling, was soothing. I became an addict.
A few weeks later I was a regular.
Next week after that she playfully teased me that I got haircuts even when I didn’t need to.
I worked up enough courage to go for the shampoo.
From there, I went across town, found an unattractive girl to clean up my cuticles.
Had my feet done by an elderly woman.
Got a massage from some guy with psoriasis.
Took in a day at the spa.
Sat in saunas with middle-aged men.
Got a mud wrap from a woman with no legs.
Tango lessons from a woman with more warts than a bullfrog.
I did already say that I loved the comforts of life.

It’s not really a fear of intimacy. It’s not really a fear of commitment. It’s not really a fear of a good platonic relationship. It’s a fear of when all three coincide.
It’s not that I’ve ever been hurt before. I haven’t. My longest relationship, if you can call it that, lasted three weeks. It’s hard to say you’re afraid of love when you’re never known true love. It’s like fear of the unknown. Just a little more specific.
And it’s not that I don’t believe in love. I believe in love, I’m just more of an agnostic.

Well, this day, I walked into my barber shop. My shop. Where I was a regular. My salon, even! And who was there? Not Clarice, I can bloody well tell you that! No oversized ass, warty cheek, over-make-up-ed face. No ‘Clarice’ name tag on her oversized canvas of a blouse.
Instead, I looked at a nametag that read ‘Iris.’
Her name was Iris.
Her name was Iris and she was fuckin’ beautiful.
I can’t even describe it.
{Place image of beautiful girl you know here}
Her blouse, much more befitting her than her predecessor Clarice, was unbuttoned a little at the top. Her eyes, a pale gray with an amusing and amused sparkle about them, seemed confident. Sexy.
{So long as she’s the one who lights up your life, the image will do nicely}
Her dark red hair, in contrast to Clarice’s, was perfectly neat. Like a Siegfried and Roy tiger, it had the appearance of being wild and untamed, but it’s quite obvious that hours were spent each morning domesticating it. Before every showing.
“Hi, there. It’s nine o’clock on a Saturday. You must be Anthony. Clarice told me she had a regular today. Don’t get many regulars here.”
“Mmmpeh.” Don’t ask me for much, folks, that’s the most intelligent thing I said the entire tenure of our first meeting.
“What with the commercial district and all. Most people are either going to or coming from somewhere. It’s nice to have a regular, I guess.”
“Whemph.”
She switched to a fake, but nonetheless entirely effective, sexy voice. “It’s okay, Anthony, you’ll be my first.”
“Ygneh?”
“Regular that is.”
I stopped attempting to make noises.
“Well, then. Why don’t you have a seat, and we’ll get started. You getting the shampoo today?”
“No!” I blurted. It seemed as though I could form words after all. Unless that was just a happy coincidence.
“Oh. Okay then. Just a shave and a haircut.” She smiled, top teeth, perfectly white, peeking down from curvaceous and full lips. I thought about what it would be like to part them with my tongue.
“Hm. Two bits.”
This was not fair! My black and white world was shattered. I was not ready, not prepared for this. I get sexy women into bed. Meaningless, emotionless, physical sex. I never see them again. I find unattractive women to do all my platonic stuff. Every female friend I’ve had has been unattractive. All my cousins, my aunts, my own mother. All unattractive! If I have to deal with an attractive woman, it’s because we plan on fucking under the bleachers or in my Chevy Nova. THIS SHATTERS EVERYTHING! FUCK THIS! I REFUSE TO SIT IN THIS CHAIR AND LET A SEXY, CLASSY, INTELLIGENT WOMAN TOUCH MY SCALP! I REFUSE TO LET ANYONE IN! THIS IS MY REGULAR PLACE! I DON’T WANT TO KNOW HER, I DON’T WANT TO SEE HER! I DON’T WANT TO DISCUSS WORK OR HAIR CARE HISTORY OR WHAT HIGH SCHOOL I WENT TO. I DON’T WANT HER CRACKING JOKES AND TOUCHING ME IN…. THAT WAY.
Like an idiot, like one of those guys that goes to the police and confesses to a murder from twenty years ago even though there was no way he could have committed it, you know, a compulsive confessor, I sat down.
She grabbed the electric razor and turned it on in the style of an old B-movie mad scientist, raising one eyebrow. “You may feel some pain, but this passes. A good shave is worth it.”
She stood square in front of me, shifted her weight and adjusted her legs. Her hand landed gently on my forehead and bent it back. She started by cleaning up my sideburns.  The way her body was leaning over mine, I couldn’t help but notice the globes pushing up at the blouse, assigned to her by some uniform company for sure. Probably over the phone. Maybe even my company. I tried not to stare, but the perfectly rounded, not-too-large, not-too-small pale Irish breasts arced up to the shady area where they each meet the chest plate. This negative space, as they call in art class, left leading down to the bottom of the blouse, this is the real eye treat. Why? There’s nothing there but air. The fact that the air is between two breasts shouldn’t alter the fact that it’s air. But it is. It’s by far the most interesting air in the entire universe.
“If I leave a scar, you can always come up with some cool story to go along with it.” She said this softly, yet still jokingly, two inches from my ear as she worked the fade up and around the back.
“Women love that. You could tell them you’re a Marine, or an adventurous archaeologist, or a… a…” she seem either stumped for another career, or too engrossed in hair-cutting to finish her thought.
“Or a pirate.” I finished. I regretted it as soon as I said it. There was silence as she thought about this. The buzzing motor of the razor stopped.
“Yes. Or a pirate. Go with pirate. Chicks love pirates.” She turned to replace the razor, apparently done with it. She opened the lowermost drawer to look for something within. I attempted to do the gentlemanly thing and look away, but… I mean… c’mon!
If you had a good mental image of the breasts and the eyes as I painted ‘em, don’t even get me started on her ass!
You guys know what I’m talking about. Women too. We look for it, they aspire to it. Not too flat, certainly not too big, but plenty big enough to hold onto, should the need arise. Wider, wider, wider, then thinner again down to the waist itself. I don’t mean to sound piggish. It’s just that sometimes a large ass is… helpful… in certain situations. It has utility.
Right now, I’m supposed to be enjoying a platonic haircut from an unattractive gender-neutral hairdresser. I want ambiguous hands firmly lathering my scalp. My head requires this. Instead I can only think of her present bent over position, one hand resting on the counter for support, the other searching through barber supplies, and the tight little pants that she’s wearing. Of all the unspeakable things I’d do to her, and for her, if she only gave me an hour or two of her time. Of all the new things I’d get her to try, to experiment, if she only gave me a little open-mindedness about it.
How I’d have to find a new barber and never call her again because the new things I got her to try would make an outside-world, normal-people conversation too awkward for me.
I try to focus on the blue liquid in the jar of combs that flashes with the light of passing cars outside, and not on the supple round curves of her thigh.
I suppose I could get what I wanted to do done in forty-five minutes, if I had to.
“Do– you–?” I started.
I stop myself and turn back to the combs.
“Do I what?” She turned and looked up naively, still stooped over the drawer. A single strand of hair had escaped from the rest of the perfectly molded form, and lay over her brow.
“Do you… go for pirates?”
“Oh.” She found what she was looking for. A pair of antique, menacing-looking scissors. Brandishing them with the relish those poster girls for the NRA do their AKs, she stood and spun on her heel to face me. “I used to go for pirates. But I had a couple bad experiences with a couple of them. One of them put a rufy in my grog and gave me scurvy. I kicked his ass to the plank.”
She finally elicited a dry smile from me, which obviously pleased her. Don’t ever tell her that it was forced. Anyone else I would have wanted to stop making bad jokes.
She grabbed my head forcefully, take-charge-fashion, and checked the mirror for her progress. For symmetry. She was surprisingly strong for such a delicate frame. Her chest was pressed up against my back and part of my neck. It was, simultaneously, the most enjoyable and most uncomfortable thing I ever had to endure.
Almost sensing this dilemma telepathically, though it was more likely totally unrelated, she let one foot press upon the lever of the barber chair, sending me flying downwards. She walked around to my front again, and reached forward to trim the little cow-lick in front. Stretching in this way, and now lowered to the position I was, I found myself staring directly at her bare midriff. After a few seconds, she leaned back, her shirt fell back into place covering her belly-button.
She was apparently very comfortable with her body and other people.

To make a long story short, I didn’t fuck her. But I think I made incredible progress today. Next week I may even get the shampoo.

Joseph Kaplan, unchallenged king of the Friday night telemarketing rush, aspiring audio god, mixing champion in three clubs this side of town, another one on the east side, perfect (though untrusting) son, and from what Jaime tells me, one hell of a lover, now stood in front of his bathroom mirror. He closed the cabinet door above the sink, which also served as the mirror, to get a good look at himself. What swung into view was a twenty-two year old, angular face, perfectly trimmed goatee, tinted lenses, and a backwards baseball cap, holding a .38 revolver in his mouth.
Under his baseball cap was about a week’s worth of washcloths. When that bullet came out hard and fast, he didn’t want to make more work for somebody else, especially his girlfriend and her roommates.
Live fast, die hard, leave a pretty corpse and try to keep the mess to a minimum.
Lined along the shower, which wasn’t particularly large or clean to begin with, was all of the towels that weren’t for guests. Disposable. One step above Bounty. And what he needed was a quicker picker upper.
“Awreet Jshosheph,” he sputtered to his reflection, around the metal tube between his cheek and gums, “jish ish it. Jish ish de end. No note, no will, no phukin lash reqweshts. No nashtalgia. One cleen shot, you weent even pheel it.”
This wasn’t a cry for help. It was just part of his daily routine. Sort of like those obsessive compulsives who have to flick light switches on and off eighty times a day. Or check to make sure the door’s locked. But mostly it was practice. Joseph was de-sensationalizing suicide so that when the real moment of truth came, there wouldn’t be any setbacks. No crying jags. No doubts.
Get all your doubts out of the way now, he figured, and next week will be the real deal.
That gun wasn’t even loaded.
His door bell rang. It would have saved his life had this not been a drill.
He very calmly removed the gun from his mouth and the washcloths from his hat. He put the linen back where it belonged on the shelf, and opened the mirrored cabinet door. He took the Emergency First-Aid Kit, opened it, and replaced the gun to its normal resting place. Right next to the band-aids and gauze. He put the kit back in the cabinet, and after checking the room for any other inconsistencies, he ran to get the door.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” He muttered impatiently, low enough that the person on the other side of the door wouldn’t hear.
He could still taste the metal in his mouth.
Here he opened wide the door. It was me. The author. I.
“Joseph. Hey. I know I’m unexpected but I need to talk to you.” I rushed in to go straight to his refrigerator.
“Come in.” He said after I’d already pushed past him.
“Thanks. I thought you’d like to hear this,” I said hurriedly. I grabbed a Snickers and an orange, “you were right. I admit that you were right.”
“That must have been hard for you to come to terms with.” Joseph would have closed the front door and redid the double-bolt, paranoid as he was, but was trying to usher me out.
“Yeah. But listen, I’m working on it.”
“On what?”
“My irrational fear? Fear of intimacy. Or touching. Commitment, rejection, getting close, whatever it is, I’m working on it. I admit I have a problem and I’m working on it.”
He sighed impatiently, then closed the door with a solitary index finger. Double bolted the door.
Joseph wasn’t responding, so I continued, unabated. “I think the reason I’m so ready to try and fix your problems from a distance is because it distracts me from my own. The more I talk about you, the less I have to open up myself.”
I went to sit down.
“Eh!” He motioned erratically, as I was about to sit on the case that housed his precious mixing board. 36 channels. Digital. You can see his why he‘s upset.
“Oh, sorry.” I moved my ass over to a milk crate that was nearby, and decided to eat the Snickers first. Took a bite. “Anyways, I just thought you’d like to know. It‘s… well… coming to terms is fun! Try it.”
“Yeah. Great.” He brushed off the comment, nay, the whole conversation.
I looked around uncomfortably.
“Where’s Jaime?” I asked innocently.
“Her sisters’ dorm. For a while.”
“I see.”
More uncomfortable silence. It’s sort of… well, uncomfortable.
“Look at the bright side,” I proposed, “you could have a party here and nobody would say shit about it.”
“Yeah, that’s about to happen.”
Sensing I was unwelcome, I stood up to stretch.
“My, look at the hour.”
Joseph jumped to life, realizing his one life line was about to exit.
“Wait. I’m sorry. I’m being rude. Let me get you a beer. You can stay a while.”
“No, its cool. I do have shit to do. Work tomorrow.”
“Well,” he hesitated, “There was something I wanted to talk to you about.”
I sat back down. Musical chairs without the benefit of music.
“Shoot.” The irony of the phrase eluding me.
“Yes, well…” looking around, he nervously sat down on the milk crate behind him. “You ever get the feeling that your problems really don’t amount to a hill of shit?”
“Hey! You’re the one who told me I–”
“No, not your problems in particular. Mine. I mean, in my situation– That is to say…”
“Hey,” I stopped him. “There’s two guys out there somewhere. One of them has the least important problems in the world, one of them has the most important problems. I really doubt either of those guys is either of us.”
“Probably some billionaire and some starving kid. In Africa.” He mused, unsmiling. “Respectfully.”
“I don’t know. Who’s the judge of that? Maybe the billionaire’s problems really are most important. The starving kid’s isn’t. I mean, a poor island village doesn’t know it’s poor until white man comes along and tells them how much money they haven’t got. And a millionaire’s juts got to have millions of problems, one for each dollar in his account. There’s some juxtaposition for you.”
“Suppose you wanted to rid the world of your whiny little problems? Your melancholy depression when every little thing goes wrong?”
“Well, I haven’t got that, so I assume we’re still talking about you. And since you aren’t the kind to read self-esteem improvement books, I assume that by ‘rid the world of your problems’, you’re talking about the great plunge.”
“Hypothetically.”
“Of course.”
“Right.”
“Exactly.”
“Okay.”
We stared at each other quizzically for a second or two.
It was true what I said about Joseph not being the sort to read self-esteem improvement books. Part of this, he claimed when it was brought up before, was because this section of the bookstore was unnecessarily close to the Gay and Lesbian Studies section. Those of us in the know, actually, realize that its because Joseph has become accustomed to his problems. They’re so ingrained in his psyche, that he’d be lost without them. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow with vital parts of your personality gone. And maybe this is okay. Maybe we’re all like that a little. Maybe self-improvement is the worst thing we could ever do to ourselves.
It’s just that Joseph has so many problems.
“What were we talking about?”
“The great gig in the sky.” Joe remembered.
“Right. Well, I think the only two people who should commit suicide are those two guys. The guy whose problems aren’t important enough to bother the world with, and the guy so miserable his problems have no hope of being solved.”
“Yeah, but if they commit suicide, then the next two guys on each end inherit those titles.”
“Granted. And they have to commit suicide.” I said, tongue in cheek. “It’s the only way.”
“So eventually it comes down to you and me.”
“Well, I doubt we’re exactly in the middle, but for argument’s sake, yes.”
“So, in that case, suicide would be justified.”
Either somewhere in the conversation, we’d taken a very dangerous and a very wrong turn, or this was exactly what Joseph needed to hear. Sort of staved off his suicidal tendencies until he was the last man on Earth. Then it’s not like anybody’s really going to care. Women always tell him that they wouldn‘t screw him if he was the last man on Earth, anyways. Even his girlfriend.
When you read pamphlets or web articles on how to stop your friends from committing suicide, it always says to be non-confrontational. Saying things like, “suicide is so gay” or “only losers kill themselves”, is usually frowned upon.
I stood, orange in one hand, and held out my other to shake goodbye. Not knowing if it would be the last time I’d see him alive.
“Until that day, my friend…. until that day.”

A good friend, one who reads those pamphlets, would have stayed with him all night to prevent his killing himself. But I try not to pry.

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