Some people come into your life through the front door. Others are gifts, they arrived unannounced and their impact is indelible. And then there are those, the undesired, the unassuming, the unexplainable. The characters we had no choice but to cross paths with, and our lives are changed forever because of it. That third scenario is only scratching the surface of my interactions with a man I will call “Nate.” (Not his real name.)
Their car broke down around 150 miles outside of Portland. They slept in the car over the weekend, waiting for a tow truck company to open that would tow them the remainder of the way. Nate and Jesse (also not her real name), were a couple of acquaintances of my roommate. They were on a road trip when their car started wigging out. Long story short, they were now homeless, they’d towed their car to our complex, and it turns out the car wasn’t worth it’s weight in tin. Like actually. With everything they owned in their arms, Nate and Jesse took up residence in our living room.
I’d like to think of myself as a genuinely nice guy. I’m a people pleaser. And when people are really down and out on their luck, I’m even more inclined to bend over backwards. I was more than happy to accommodate them while they figured out what their next steps were. It was almost the weekend, it could be fun to hang out with some new people. But little did I know the Pandora’s Box I was opening when I told them they could place their stuff in the corner of my one-bedroom apartment.
“Hey man,” Nate said to me, as he walked around my living room. “Isn’t it weird thatthat a Christian says ‘hallelujah‘ to praise the Lord, but then asks that God bless the United States of America? That’s hypocritical to me.”
“Especially when the alleluia is phonetically similar to Allah, as opposed to ‘God.'” Nate continued, “Where did the word God even come from? Religion is used to create war for money, man. That’s why I don’t work. It’s all part of the machine and I don’t want to be any part of that.”
Shit. What did we get ourselves into?
Over the next few days, Nate revealed himself to me through long, theosophical and religious diatribes and discussions, which to no surprise, often went nowhere. He told me when he was a teenager, he stole some money from a neighbor’s house. He doesn’t remember why he did it, he claims he was just being a stupid kid. He was sentenced to two and half years in jail. He did his time and when he got out, he still had thousands of dollars in outstanding legal fees he had to pay. He went to music festivals and sold acid, making barely enough money to scrap by. He and Jess lived in a homeless facility in San Francisco. Unable to pay his fines, he fled. My house guest was a fugitive.
I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. I knew at least a couple of felons, and I’m sure among my friends there are a few others I didn’t know about. Everybody makes mistakes, right? But as you get to know somebody, perhaps even superficially, you learn more about the human being behind the actions, and the thought processes that goes into a bad decision. Some “accidents” are a result of interior chemistry rather than exterior circumstance. Especially when it comes paired with an affinity for psychedelics.
It wasn’t his uncollected thoughts on the Keys of Solomon or the King James Bible that seeded my eventual disdain. It was the societal framework that he’d constructed in his mind, deeming all forms of commercial exchange, and labor, as evil. That was the reason why he didn’t have a job. That was the reason that he didn’t have an ID. That was the reason he had pigeonholed himself as the constant benefactor of the kindness of others. Namely, Jess, but currently, us.
“You say you’re spiritual but you use the dollar religiously…” Nate said. Everything he said was ultimately about the dollar.
When Nate wasn’t filling the air with his ramblings of the world’s religious and moral quandaries, money, or stories about his acid trips seeing the Vitruvian man, he was quite personable which made him hard to say “no” to.
For eleven days, we provided for Nate and Jess. Every time we made food, there was a palpable obligation to share our food with them. Six packs of beer lasted one night, rather than three. Whole pizzas never resulted in leftovers. Coffee, toilet paper, and paper towels went quickly. Without an ID or money, Nate was often a non-contributing companion on trips to the grocery store (in Oregon they’ll ID everyone present if buying alcohol). They did try to contribute, occasionally making full pots of brown rice or collecting blackberries from bushes in the park nearby. Nate was especially fond of concocting a honey, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger solution that resembled a salad dressing more than a tea.Eventually it got to a point where the “Thank You’s” just weren’t good enough anymore.
“Bear with me here… what if they switched the map on us?” Nate asked me one day.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Like…” he looks around, “What if Africa, and Egypt, were actually here. What if Jesus was born in Glendale?”
I was fucking shocked.
If I had to point to a moment where I officially checked-out of this crazy parade, it would be a hard decision, but chances are it was this question that did the trick. I couldn’t take it anymore. This psycho babble bullshit’s got to stop.
Nate is younger than I am, so part of me naturally tries to take on the “wise elder” angle when it comes to some off-kilter concepts about money. I didn’t belittle him. I didn’t degrade him for his drug-addled perspective on life. I didn’t embarrass him. Instead, I asked him questions. I asked him to elaborate on his outrageous points of view, and brick by brick they fell apart.
On an afternoon walk, Nate had befriended some people on the frisbee golf course who eventually ended up giving him a disk. (I told you, the guy’s personable.) He and I went for a walk to play a couple of holes. It was an opportunity to talk, man to man.
“Jesse’s grandparents want to fly her home so she can stay with them. I’m telling her not to do it.” Nate started as we walked down the fairway after the single disk.
“Why are you telling her that?” I asked.
“Because it’s wrong. She’s just gonna go and they’re gonna pay for everything and take care of her. That’s wrong, man.”
“Why is that wrong? They’re her family.” I said.
“She doesn’t need that. She doesn’t need anybody to take care of her. We’re fine.” he said.
I stopped. “Do you not think we’re ‘taking care’ of you both right now?”
On our way back from the disc golf course, I had to make one more request,
“As a man, Nate, I hope you’d appreciate the fact that my roommate and I both pay rent for our apartment, and we would like to spend time in it alone. I’d like you to figure out a gameplan soon.” I think he got the picture.
When I told this story to some of my friends, they were utterly shocked they lasted that long. “I would have tossed them out 15 minutes in,” I’ve been told more than once. But I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I’m a good guy. Maybe because I’ve been (close to) there. Maybe it’s because I needed a reminder of how things could be worse. What I didn’t want to become.
I think Nate has the best intentions in the world. He wants to live an existence based solely on love and respect as the primary currency. He has delusions of living on a boat and growing mushrooms, coming ashore just to give them away. He believes that America has bound control over it’s citizens through their social security number, so he posted his on his Facebook page. He wants to walk across the country for peace.
No matter how well intentioned you may be, you must contribute in order to participate. An unwillingness to participate means drawing a line in the sand, to cross it compromises yourself, not society. Nate refused to participate in the “war machine” (a.k.a. having a job) but wouldn’t think twice to accept a generous offering from those who do. Is there a difference between “entitlement” and a “forced sense of obligation”?
Nate and Jess got to researching and making phone calls, and over the next few days they crossed their remaining obligations off the list. They were looking for jobs, but they eventually did scrap the car and land a rideshare to Sacramento. But never fear, I did return home to a corner of their leftovers and the lingering smell of unwashed travelers. (They did take showers at our house.)
I wish them both my best. I really do. I hope Nate stops running and he finds an opportunity to clear his name (and his mind) to discover how to aim his passion in a universally beneficial direction. Because, if you are contributing to society and you love what you do for a living, you’ll never work a day in your life, and love will be your currency, right Nate?