(Sally: I think this is actually ok for you to read. You already know about the worst things I talk about in here. I hope you enjoy this one.)
A few nights ago I was talking with my good friend, Carter, on the phone while we were playing backgammon against each other online. This was a throwback to when he and I were roommates in Virgina during our late teens, and then again in our mid-twenties, when we would sit outside on our balcony, smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, and playing backgammon until the sun came up. Then we would walk over to the McDonalds a block away and get breakfast (this was before a McDonalds breakfast would cause me to spend the better portion of my day reading in the bathroom). While we were playing the virtual game the other night, he started reminiscing about the days when we were living lives that were more or less void of any sort of responsibility. Instead they were filled with nights of playing backgammon while sitting at Mike’s Diner with a group of modern day self-prescribed beatniks, drinking coffee and waxing on philosophically about the simple fact that “2 is always less than or equal to 4.”
At the time though, our lives didn’t feel as though they were void of responsibility. Just like with any point in life that period of time was filled with strife and stress that seemed as though it was weighing us down. Only upon looking back on the time period does it seem as though they were carefree days. As Carter and I waxed on about the idea of being completely responsibility free and how those days were days to be longed for again, I started to remember those days of “carefree living”. It is true he and I did not have had a lot of responsibility at the time. I was waiting tables at whatever crappy family chain restaurant I hadn’t been fired from yet, and he was working at a pool hall, which I hung out at on a regular basis. It was there that he and I met Albert (not his real name), and both of our lives would never really be the same again (which is such a stupid statement, because there is never a time that lives will ever be the same after any instance).
Albert was in his early thirties at the time. He had dropped out of high school and spent most of his teens and twenties working on being the quintessential misanthrope. He was a pool player, a poker player, a fisherman, a writer, a painter, an adventurer, among many other things. There was this one time in which he had been stabbed in the lung with a screwdriver by a prostitute. He then went three days living his life normally, albeit in copious amounts of pain, with a collapsed lung before going to a hospital (I now wonder if it was a Phillips head, or a flat head. I can see the benefits of both in that sort of attack).
My idols at the time were legends like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, and the likes. Albert had read all of them and knew their work extensively. I was finally hanging out, and talking with someone who understood these people and their philosophies. My parents thought my heroes were losers who became famous because they were losers and the time period of rebellion in which they lived. I read them all and in their words I heard my voice, essentially meaning my parents were calling me a loser because I could identify with them. Albert understood what I was going through. He knew about my teenage angst, and instead of berating me for being a self-indulgent, moody teen, he encouraged me to explore the inner workings of that angst to aid in my writing.
At the time of meeting Albert I was starting to experiment with drugs. It started out simply enough, smoking a little pot with my girlfriend at the time, Michelle. I remember that first high. Time seemed to have slowed down to a stand still, but I couldn’t remember what I had just done. I understood what my friends, who were much more experienced than I was, meant when they said “The moment lasts forever, but forever lasts a moment.” It was a pretty great experience. I couldn’t believe this wonderful drug could be illegal. Then I started wondering what other drugs would be like. So I tried harder, stronger (let’s be honest, better) and much more illegal drugs, and they were just as, if not more, fun. Luckily for me I started realizing early on I could potentially have a problem. I decided I needed to stop using so many drugs, and when Michelle and I broke up this was basically an easy task (years later I would start using again, but that’s a story for another day).
Now, a little while after I had decided to stop using the hard stuff, and had cut way back on how much pot I was smoking at the time, a stripper friend of mine had given me a dime bag of some weed she insisted I had to try. I thanked her, put it in the glove box in my car and completely forgot about it…until I saw blue lights in the rearview mirror one day. My heart sank as I remembered I was in possession (and at the time didn’t realize I could just say no to a search, and then ask if I was being detained), and I knew I was about to get arrested.
Hanging out at the pool hall later, talking to Albert, stressing about my second arrest of that year, he said something that has resonated with me ever since. He mentioned that he didn’t see why I would get arrested for possessing something I wanted to put in my body, that didn’t hurt anyone else. I had never thought about it that way. I could smoke cigarettes, I wasn’t old enough to drink yet, but I would be able to in a few months. Why was it okay for people to use this list of things, but not this list of other things. It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
After the pool hall would close Carter, Albert, and I (as well as a plethora of randomly rotating people) would venture out to Mike’s Diner where we would eat greasy food, drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, do crosswords, play backgammon, and talk about philosophy. These nights would last into the early morning hours, many times causing a race against the sun, hoping to get into my room and close my eyes before the first evidence of daybreak started to creep through my blinds. I had a policy where if I could get home before I heard the first train whistle the next day would be a good day, if I heard it on my way home, or didn’t hear it all, I knew the next day was going to be a rough one.
Albert was truly about individual freedoms (to a point, his hypocrisy is a point of contention between myself and others). He didn’t believe we should have to wear our seat belts if we didn’t want to. He was against motorcycle helmet laws. He thought you possessed the right to put anything into your body you wanted. With him on this I agree. Carter, the one who injects himself with drugs more often than any of us, did not (he’s a diabetic, not a heroin addict). It was during these conversations I started embracing my Libertarian beliefs, even though at the time I didn’t know what being a Libertarian was. It made sense to me that as long as we weren’t doing anything to hurt our neighbors it really shouldn’t matter what we were doing in our homes. The way I saw it was my refusal to wear a seat belt really doesn’t hurt anyone else. I actually argued this point with my dad once and he said he believed it was best this law was in place for the safety of the community and in order to keep insurance rates down. He is the same man who thinks making people wear helmets while riding their bikes is stupid…but I digress for the time being.
Sometime after I got fired from, yet, another family themed crappy chain restaurant Albert decided to leave the pool hall to start an underground poker game. He hired me as one of the card dealers. I actually have written another story about that experience entitled Best Job Ever, which one day I may post, but until then know this was a wonderful job I could not get fired from…no matter what I did, or how much of it I did either (this is in reference to the drugs I had quit using earlier. I was back on them at this point). My parents worried about the legality of this job, and what would happen to me if the game would ever get busted by the cops (They were concerned parents, who didn’t want to see their only son end up in prison). I argued we were only providing a service to people who wanted to play poker, what we were doing shouldn’t be illegal. After all, we weren’t predatorily going into the community and actively advertising to, and recruiting, people who were spending their savings on prayers to get out of financial woe (unlike the state sponsored lottery).
I am grateful Albert was there as a source of guidance during the times in which I was essentially searching for a path in this world. Much of what we discussed became the foundation of how I view the world now. Unfortunately though, Albert was not a survivor. He subscribed to a victim’s mentality that holds back many people who possess the potential to be successful.
He blamed society and its views on his brand of sexuality in the 1980s on why he dropped out of high school. He blamed karma seeking revenge on actions that occurred in his “previous lives” (not how people say, “oh, that was a different life for me though.” No, he meant in past lives from which he had been reincarnated) on why he could never break through his self-perceived ceiling and become successful. When the poker game got robbed of upwards of $10,000, it wasn’t the fault of a deceitful, terrible, mean spirited, little woman from Maryland, it was because the universe was out to get him and anytime he was on the brink of a big score he would be punished. He would constantly look for, not only the most outlandish or spectral excuse but, any excuse in which personal responsibility was not a factor. Slowly, as the years passed and I started to grow and mature in ways Albert never truly did, I started noticing I was doing the same thing.
I truly believe in everybody’s personal freedoms. We should be able to do whatever we want to do whether it be drugs, drinking, having sex with people (between two consenting adults), wearing seat belts or not, drinking 32 oz. full flavored sodas, eating a lunch consisting of nothing but Big Macs and large pizza slices, as long as what we do does not affect another’s personal freedoms. Encompassed in that I believe we should accept total responsibility for our lives and decisions (with personal freedom comes personal responsibility). If you eat Big Macs and pizza for lunch every day, it is not the universes fault you got fat, it is yours. If you smoke cigarettes and end up with cancer, God doesn’t hate you, your lungs do for smoking. If you do not succeed the way you envision due to the decisions you made in life don’t blame it on the universe seeking payback for something that happened before you were even born. It is just a weak excuse for not wanting to admit you made poor decisions. Take responsibility for your actions. It is not the responsibility of the government, your friends, or your family, to make sure you are doing what is best for your life. It is your life. Own your decisions.
Along with his strange predilection to blaming the entire universe for singling him out and focusing on his life to destroy (which, if this is true, thank you, Albert, for taking the focus off of me), Albert was a fringe member of this little known group, posing as a religion, called Scientology.
At the time I was a fringe Christian. This was before I fell off the wagon completely and embraced being an agnostic. Even then, I felt as though my religion didn’t make a lot of sense, but his, based on how he described it, made no sense. Whenever I would disagree with one of his ramblings about religion he would piously brush me off by stating I was not well versed enough in [insert pretentious activity here] to understand what Hubbard was saying, and how the universe works.
Albert’s victim mentality started to become more apparent the longer Carter and I were friends with him, and during the short time Albert and I were roommates I truly started to see other aspects of his demeanor that were more annoying and obnoxious, as opposed to something I would want to emulate. Semantic arguments about our lease, stemming from semantic arguments about conversations he and I had shared and the basis of philosophy in understanding, friendship, and contracts (There really isn’t a fine line between the “Letter and the Spirit” of a contract. If you sign your name to, and then blatantly disregard sections of because you disagree with you broke the agreement. Learn to negotiate better) slowly started to rapidly deteriorate our already waning friendship.
Soon after we decided to be roommates I was looking for excuses to move out. With Albert came a specific brand of baggage, as I am certain I also carry baggage, but I only like to travel with carry-ons, and never accept bags from anyone else. After a little over a year we parted ways. I went to Philadelphia to start over. He went on to pursue his dream of being a sci-fi novelist. I google his name every now and then to see if he ever achieved said dream, but I have yet to see his name come up in any searches (Edit: I did recently find his mugshot in a recent search I did, so at least I have an idea on where he’s been over the last few years).
A few years ago we spoke briefly, he was traveling back from Los Angeles to Virginia via train and was going to be stopping off in Tennessee and wanted to hang out. I told him we could and it would be good to see him again, and I was honestly looking forward to it, but that was the last time I ever heard from him. I can’t say I’m all broken up about this fact. I do appreciate Albert’s role in my life, because without him I would not view the world and it’s available freedoms the way I do today, and also, I would not view the world in reference to claiming responsibility to one’s own actions the way I do either. It is not the universe’s fault you are not as successful, or healthy, or well liked as you want to be, it is your fault for not putting enough work into achieving your dreams, your personal well being, or just you as a person.
Now I can look back on my arrests, and even though at the time I wanted to blame others for my incarcerations, I can see I was the one at fault. I may not agree with all of the laws I broke, but the fact of the matter is I broke them, and I was punished for breaking them. Just because I don’t agree with the law, doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to me. So whenever I am arrested, or whenever one of my projects fails I don’t blame things on past lives, since I can’t really be punished for something I never really did, at least that’s the way I see it. I can only blame my failures on me, the way I feel about the world, and the way I operate within in the confines of the world I live in.