The Gentle Art of Blackmail

2006.Aug.16 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Life, Popular Posts

“I think it taught me to be independent and never expect a handout and never wait for anybody to hand you anything in any aspect of my life.”

– Jesse James

Part of living in a new culture, and interacting with people who have grown up with different precepts, values, standards, and just general ways of life, is discovering the moments when those clash with my worldview. I grew up in the midwest U.S., with its still fairly strong work ethic, where self-reliance was something taught to children at a young age. My parents were by no means wealthy, but we were comfortable “middle class”. I started working, after school and on weekends, while in high school, as did many of my friends. Spending money was something to be earned. Even an allowance from my parents required the performance of a range of chores. By the time I moved out of the house to go to college I was working fulltime, and continued to do so up until last year, thirty years later, when I moved here. Even here, I actively work part-time, and find myself taking on projects – both to occupy my time and to support myself.

Henry and his friends come from a different background. Most come from a level of income that can only be described as poverty, though a few come from a relatively comfortable “lower middle class”. I hear time and again from any one of them, and from discussions with local friends of my own, about how difficult it is for anyone to make a living here. Yet, I know plenty of people who do. And, from a somewhat subjective observation point, my view is that many, if not most, of those that I’m interacting with are simply lazy. Given his choice, and if I were willing to pay for everything, which I’m not, Henry would simply never work and would lie about the house watching television and entertaining friends. When he wants to do something that costs money, his first impulse is not to figure out how to earn it, but to figure out whom to ask for it. Over time, he’s stopped asking me, as he knows that it’s unlikely he’ll get anything. But if the effort that he (and this extends to virtually every one of his friends whom I’ve met, with only a few exceptions) puts into attempting to get someone to “lend” him money, were put into working, he’d be fairly well off. I can easily demonstrate that to him – when he runs out of people to ask for money, it rarely takes him more than a day to earn it – between his massage business clientele and odd jobs. However, as soon as whatever it is that he wanted is paid for, he stops making the effort. (He lost his last fulltime job, as have several of his friends in similar circumstances, because he “didn’t feel like working” for about a week at one point and simply didn’t show up – no call or anything – and the owner of the business replaced him, something he still doesn’t understand why, “as I was planning to come back the next week.”)

Now, why am I bringing this up? Well, one of his friends has been staying with us for a couple of days. He’s in the process of moving between two apartments, and the timing between having to leave one and the new one being ready left a three day gap. So I was told when Henry asked me if his friend could leave some boxes in our apartment for three or four days. No boxes ever showed up, just a suitcase and the friend, ready to stay on a mattress on our living room floor for “a few days”. Last night (and going into our third day of houseguest), after getting home from my pizza blitz, the conversation with the guest went something like this:

Him: Dan, can I ask you a question?

Me: Of course.

Him: launches into a five minute story about his life and asperations and how some day he’s going to be successful and wealthy and famous and rich and life will be good and lots of money and…

Me: waiting with a sinking feeling…

Him: So, can you lend me two thousand pesos? My sister was going to, but she backed out today because she says I never pay her back.

Me: Sorry, but I really can’t.

Him: I’ll give you a check for that amount.

Me: If you have the money in your account, why don’t you just use that?

Him: I don’t. But some day I will, I know that I’ll be successful and wealthy and famous and rich and life will be good and lots of money and…

Me: How much do you have?

Him: About eleven hundred pesos.

Me: So why aren’t you using that and just asking me for about nine hundred pesos?

Him: Because I don’t want to use that for my apartment, that’s money to spend on other things.

Me: And when do you think you would have two thousand pesos in your account?

Him: See, here are my checks, look at them, you can see that they’re very good checks.

Me: But I can’t cash them or deposit them because you have no money?

Him: Well no, but someday I’m going to be successful and wealthy and famous and rich and life will be good and lots of money and…

Me: I can’t lend you the money.

Him: five minutes of bursting into tears and some relatively inarticulate speech about how his family doesn’t love him and no longer gives him money to live on (mind you, by the way, this is a 35 year old person who hasn’t lived at home since college)

Me: You do have a job as a salesman, right?

Him: Yes, but that’s a lot of work, and I only make maybe fifty or sixty pesos a day as my base salary. To make more I’d have to go out and sell things and that’s hard.

Me: So it would take you about forty days of work to make two thousand pesos, right?

Him: I could do it in less if I sold some things, but they have to pay me my minimum even if I don’t. Besides, I have to keep paying for the new apartment, and there are things I want to buy, plus going out with friends and stuff.

Me: So, you want me or someone to give you two thousand pesos, but you don’t really plan to pay me back?

Him: Well someday I’ll be successful and wealthy and famous and rich and life will be good and lots of money and… then you could probably, if you still have it, cash the check, but I think the checks are only good for ninety days after I write them.

Me: I can’t give you two thousand pesos.

Him: What am I supposed to do?

So, here I am with a houseguest on the floor, who can’t pay for an apartment he had supposedly already paid for, who basically wants me to pay him seven hundred dollars to get his body off my living room floor. He’s not getting the money, and I’m guessing that by the weekend, I’m going to have upset a few people around here… stay tuned.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

dan August 17, 2006 at 10:22

Sometimes these things just work themselves out. The next day, our houseguest found a check cashing service that was willing to take his checks, I have no idea if they took one or more of them post-dated, or if he’s going to end up bouncing one or more. He also decided that I was uncomfortable with him in the house and that maybe he’d overstayed his welcome (you think?), and moved to another friend’s house for the next couple of days until he can move into the new apartment. Or at least that’s the story I got when I got home and he wasn’t there anymore.

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