Unpublished: 2010 – 2700 words of Whistler Fiction
It Sounds Too Much Like An Old Blues Song.
By Ben Wannamaker
Volunteering on the glacier drastically tapped my bank account. Nevertheless, I dug less than I skied up there, ate three free meals a day and the rent at my place hit my savings like a fist. Skiing and digging are both very much in my blood and neither showcase any capabilities of surrender, so what can I say? I knowingly sacrificed a few bucks.
But then, with the onset of dead season, I got laid off from my bread, butter and board as a ski technician and, for the first time in my twenty-five years, had to sheepishly file for E.I.
Almost instantly, I’d become a super frugal man with a privileged past that made me quite susceptible to a broad range of expectations. I’m from an upper-middle class family and that fostered a noticeably easy sense of entitlement regarding ‘common-sense’ aspects of my every day life. The availability of luxuries like: food, hygiene products and other basic comforts had me obeying a social infrastructure I wasn’t previously aware of (for further inquiry, see: doing what’s ‘accessible’ before doing something that one may not intrinsically want to do. Like: picking up an accent or synchronising one’s stride whilst walking beside a speedy friend.)
I began pinching canned goods here and there from closer and closer friends who I (unbecomingly) began to look at as easier and easier targets. My inner circle of friends saw me as the new mooch, the parasitic cling-on. The guy who lurks around, unable to take hints, milking his friends for bro-deals on wax jobs while they work behind the bench, asking “What gives? How long have we known each other, man?” (And in our periphery, a supervisor looks on – at me and the awkward, only somewhat familiar cashier who I only kind of know – as he gets his job blatantly jeopardised.)
Rather than shopping right or hunting the lowest advertised deals on essential life sustaining super foods, I simply became finer at thievery and even began priding myself on each act’s ingeniousness. However, I failed to see the underlying emotional tolls that the ethical shortcuts took and henceforth spooned unknown parts of me out like pumpkin innards.
I couldn’t take my girl anywhere and immediately left her. I had no reputation to speak of, nor money to treat her. Beyond her control, I labelled her ‘high maintenance’ and rendered out relationship to be impossible. I decided quite easily that I would appear too broke with her on my arm; and so to save face, I cut the thing off. With me, the heart goes easily first because I’ve always inherently felt that the rest dies easier when that’s been thoroughly rung out (kind of like clocking a landed fish with something blunt. (Of course, I too endorse Kevorkian.))
Autumn was hitting Whistler with a well-rainy and snappishly que’ed up right hook. Summer skin got covered to the inch and things inside me ached. I’d neglected my cell phone bill to buy that one vixen I’d been courting a beer or three, and all too regularly at that. To say it needlessly, my phone predictably went unpaid and the man ‘had to’ mercilessly cut it off. I could die with one of those bills remaining and so lost little sleep over the loss of it (and too the thought of being a still, grin-ridden, corpse.)
Losing access to my phone did however have quite unsettling and resounding affects on my day to day relations that left shockwaves so strong that I swore I heard them echo. I watched my friendships, casual acquaintances and even minuet interactions with strangers crumble apart like French croissants in the most strange and deceiving ways; forcing me to fall into an isolated kind of despair that a very good few write their saddest songs about.
As for the old world wide world of the Internet to spare me from my isolation, self doubt, boredom and despair; I didn’t care to pay that bill either and consequently, my room mates also lost the service, really tensing up my home life. I had zero funds to spare and credit cards are far from my style. Sorry those-that-I-share-a-fridge-with. (p.s check out how Islamic Banks work. NO CREDIT. Kudos to that and here I find my vibe because it’s truly a dog-shit-on-other-dog world out here in the West.)
Besides, people: this forces my housemates into town to find alternate internet sources much more often then usual. Obviously to stave off the guilt they inherit from using whichever establishment as simply their very own makeshift office or wi-fi hub, they’d buy more lattes and support the local businesses! You’re Welcome Whistler Economy!
Obviously, denial was getting bad, the best of me. I had to find either a source of help or get the fuck out of Dodge for the rest of dead season to allow Whistler’s revolving door another orbit or two; miraculously renewing all the bridges I’d burnt and giving me the freedom to wander around the village stroll once again free of anxiety and paranoia. Sorry Dad, I know you said setting any relationship aflame would leave me cardinally cursed, and oh how right you were.
Could I even survive if I left town? Without familiar friends to mooch off elsewhere in the province, would I become some travelling criminal hitchhiker; destined to set off car alarms; force barks from the loyalest mutts, tire the collapsed eyes of shopkeepers and pick locks with some old man’s robbed plastic?
‘Fuck it’ I thought one day while reviewing my financial status. I’ll just go to the food bank and shave a couple bucks off the old expenditures column, allowing for a modest six pack of beer by the river once or twice a week to clear my head. But once actually in the arms of charity, I clearly remember having to shake myself because there I was: inside the little building beside the Catholic Church, perilously about to choose from some stranger’s donated goods: their industrial sized tins of coffee and burlap sacks of rice on the floor; their five kilograms of Kirkland pasta and their kegs of blood red sauce… it was then that I decided to take another course of action; one for myself. I spun on my heel, nodded, said: ‘thanks, anyway’; and left without a morsel.
Drastic times call for drastic experiments and if I wanted to a) stay in town and b) save my reputation, it was clear that I had to take some responsibility for my own well-being. I had never before survived days on bus change alone and the anxiety I’d succumbed to while doing so called for truly finding the root of my compulsion.
I searched and searched for ways to get a little less broke: self help books, Buddhism, economic nihilism; I bounced I.O.U’s and even whole-heartily entertained a loan shark’s proposition to create fake money and spread it around town like some sort of mafia mule.
During my research and/or personal hand busying, my psyche became overly crowded with questions about the multiple faceted nature of how we psychologically respond to money itself. As well as: the history of the long standing contract between the Royal Canadian Mint and Petro-Canada (if I don’t want to support gas companies, should I too opt of federal currency?) and if there was perhaps a historical, economical or even psychological basis for the governments choice to integrate notes (which we are capable of spending faster than coins) long after coins were our one type of legal tender. In this period, everyone on every scale was a suspect to me and even though paranoia and anxiety reigned, it was still utterly undeniable what I had to do: which was to simply stop spending.
But was it patriotic to be a miser? I wondered. To be that economic pacifist who earns what they can and lives with only the least their life needs (Marx says that: the man, who has more free time, has more time for free movement and acquiring new forms. That same man who is evolving and learning can’t help but find discipline in the process and can potentially contain within his own head, the collective wisdom of a society.)
But committing to anything, even to ‘not committing’ remained a chore, as my psyche houses more than simply Marx, but regardless: my time for snapping-dog-at-it’s-own-escaping-tail consideration had long since passed. Again, the rent was almost due, and again I teetered with hunger pains; once even fainting at the foot of an old boss whence begging for extra cash work to stack on top of my E.I. scraps.
“Who cares what an asshole I am,” I remember having said, before fading into sightlessness and his clean white shoes, “I’m dying here.”
I knew my neighbour’s were vacationing. I knew because being so poor got me used to doing lots of watching. Watching is free. At 7am, when the old European couple left, I took the laptop from under a ‘friend’s’ pillow and with the neighbours wi-fi, managed to ward boredom off while simultaneously continuing my search for hints that would help my current economic affliction out. That was when I found it.
Under their abandoned porch light; that shocks and shines on unknowing intruders, racoons and the like. After consulting numerous neo-hippie self-help websites, I finally stumbled across the NHL. Wait the NLH, or The Neuro-Linguistic Hypnotists: where I found, amongst a list of their serviceable cases: “Compulsive Shopping and Overspending
“This is a compulsion that can really cause you huge financial hardships as well as embarrassment and pain. It is difficult for you to resist the many occasions when you are oh so tempted to spend money, isn’t it? If help is needed for compulsive shopping and overspending, NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and Hypnosis are exactly what you need.” (Direct quote)
This sounded like exactly what I needed!
During the ensuing free telephone consultation (a 1-800 number… the convenience of a cell phone remained a desert mirage at this stage) the other voice and I ascertained that my condition was indeed over-spending.
Some call it being spend-thrift; possibly relating to the current trend in mass-media fuelled Shopaholicism. The consultant informed me softly and strictly that the real hope of our potential sessions would be to teach me how to program my brain with it’s own ability to deprogram itself, and increase my own internal motivations to instate personal short term financial goals. However as the conversation came to a close, I learned that, from the small personal survey that I gave to narrow down what else I could be treated for, was looking something like this: exam and interview nerves, blushing, panicking, P.T.S.D (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; also their helping hand could be lent toward my: wedding nerves and (in order) canibus, chocolate and caffeine addictions; my social anxiety and easy susceptibility to bad dreams, jealousy, grieving and more things that affect every healthy person who allows some natural amounts of distress into there life afflictions could too be cured by the transcendental, homeopathic powers of neuro-linguistic hypnotisation. I began doubting the validity immediately.
Their expansive menu made me distrust their one-stop-shop of self-help though, and I began to see the process of ‘self-help’ in a very different light: Was self-help itself its very own perception altering addiction? I hung up the phone, dejected and turned off. I returned the laptop to its original resting place below my southbound friend’s crime-proof pillow and began the short saunter home.
In the following dire weeks and months I tried reading Adbusters, Psychology Today, and The Scientific American. They stroked my ego, filled me with radical ideas strung together with large words and gave me one of the falsest senses of security, I’ve experienced. I remained alone and internally distraught without anyone to rebound all of these brand new ideas off of. I wasn’t doing any actual participating in the human experience. I had no anchor. I was self-inducing a moral and ethical overhaul because of a few bored laps around the 7-11 that found me in front of a few other people’s influential words that were stronger and entirely more informed than my own.
With strong ascending paranoia, no phone, no friends, no opposite sex and no fantastical reality of cyberspace, I remained in my room, poor and bored; ever closer to spontaneous combustion.
Time went by and everything in the woods began to look edible. That’s how hungry I was. To get my coffee’s dressing, I took to pacing around the Husky Station because I knew crook tricks now, like: busying my figure while my hands pocketed Irish cream, hazelnut and French vanilla one-a-cup coffee creamers. I still read magazines when I could, yet somehow with far less fervour than before.
One wet day, as I took shelter in the Husky, the gas station’s Japanese cashier Atsuko gave me a formidable start when she and her blue shirted shadow politely tapped me on the shoulder. Wondering what she was cradling the store’s phone in the crook of her cast-wrapped arm for; I looked her in the eyes with rapt inquisition and she offered the phone to me without explanation.
It blinked a number I didn’t easily recognize (I knew a lot of phone numbers now, reading and re-reading them on small pieces of paper helped me develop a knack most cell phone users lack) on the phone’s out-dated call-display screen. I brought the ear piece to the treble-clef on the right side of my head and heard a man with an accent say my name.
“Who is this?” I replied.
“Adrian Furnham PhD. I teach Psych1001 at UCL in London, England. I’m the man you’ve been looking for.”
“Tell me what you know”, I said and turned my back to Atsuko – still bowing with both her hands out, flat, waiting politely as I hunched over facing the well-lit glossy gauntlet of rags and my back to her – she would remain as such until the Psych Professor and I closed the conversation and she could re-holster the phone in its correct resting place.
“How did you find me?” I asked nervously; an offering he most fortunately ignored, having already begun speaking in sing-song concords.
“Turning to money for security can alienate people,” Furnham said, quoting from ‘The Psychology of Money’, one of his 700 scientific papers. “Mainly because significant others become seen as a less powerful sources of security than the notes and coins themselves.”
Interesting, I thought. “Go on,” I said weakly.
“Building an emotional wall around oneself can lead to fear and paranoia about being hurt, rejected or deprived by others.” He was onto something I thought, but allowed him to continue with strong dosages of swallowing and self-restraint.
“Money has powerful emotional associations,” he said. “Ask people what emotions are most frequently associated with money and research provides the following rank-ordered list: anxiety, depression, anger, helplessness, happiness, excitement, envy, resentment.”
I rose slowly while simultaneously turning toward the statuette of Atsuko, waiting in her state of suspended simplicity.
“Why are you telling me this?” I asked him sternly.
He informed me of the rampant pace in which I called his London University’s suicide hot-line. Must have been a kind of ‘poor-man’s amnesia’ or ‘economic-solipsism’ that only the truly morally bankrupt are capable of perceiving; Christ, when was that? And why did I call them in particular? Did I actually consider suicide as a cure for my financial illness? Some of those times I was too hungry to stay receptive to the world in the scarcest of senses, I very well could have done some things I don’t recall; but this?
Fuck, I thought. I must have been convincing enough: Dr. Furnham was indeed the big guns.
“… As Vic Oliver observed:” Dr. Furnham went on, “‘If a man runs after money, he’s money-mad; if he keeps it, he’s a capitalist; if he spends it, he’s a playboy; if he doesn’t try to get it, he lacks ambition; if he gets it without working, he’s a parasite; and if he accumulates it after a lifetime of hard work, people call him a fool who never got anything real out of life.”
“Well, what’s the bottom line here?” I asked, insistently sporadic.
“Perhaps there is no way to be normal with money,” he said. “Did you ever consider that?”
As the doctor hung up, I fell to the gas station’s chessboard flooring and Atsuko caught the gas station’s home phone without any difficulty.