Monday, March 14, 2005
Note: The following was written in my late undergraduate years. Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Yes. Really...
(With apologies to my good friend H.D. Thoreau. . .)
I came to college because I wished to live independently, to face only those issues which interested me, and not, when I come to die, discover the reality of an outside world in which people have actually to labor. I wanted to live deep and suck all the beer from the can, to experience life through such a haze of drug-induced hallucinations that it should seem effortless and appear to be kind. And should life prove after all to be mean, I would surely know it, for it would back me whimpering into a corner until at last I should be forced to don a Wal-Mart smock and join those who live lives of quiet desperation, stocking shelves 38 hours a week without promotion or benefits.
Perhaps these pages should most properly be addressed to poor students like myself, who will no doubt glean what useful thoughts as they can from these writings. All others may like it or lump it, each according to his own tendencies, as his character dictates. I wish to assure my readers that I would not burden them with an account of my means of living had not many of them expressed an interest in university survival, often voicing curiosity as to how I spend my time, procure nutritional substance, and as to whether or not I fear that my chosen way of subsistence may at any time prove impractical. Nor would I so much concern myself with an account of my own existence were it not that I am the most interesting person I know.
It has come to my attention that for the most part you who read these pages are in fact slaves to the obligations society would have you believe are yours. I have seen students without number studying late into the evenings, the dim glow of a lamp in a dorm window standing witness to a laboring individual within whom strives the spirit of a free man oppressed by the expectation, nay, the demands upon him, that he should devote his life to furthering the aims of his society for good.
Obviously, I am not suggesting that one should expend his energies in order to contribute time and effort toward good, as good is defined by the majority of society, who would have us all giving away our own clothing to those who could never appreciate them. [If, however, by some sudden attack of beneficence, a man should donate his money or material possessions to charity, he would do well to be sure he acquires a receipt for it, and see that it is not merely abandoned without adequate proof of its contribution, in the unhappy event that his parents should betray his cause and refuse to claim him as a dependent upon their own taxes, leaving him thus exposed to the evils of the Internal Revenue Service and need such proof in order to shorten the length of his most conscientiously provoked incarceration.] If you were to inform me that a man was on his way to my abode with the express intention of doing good unto me, I would surely load my gun and meet him at the threshold. A man is not good in my opinion simply because he professes to have my best interests in mind, invites me to the religious institution of his choice, and warns me of the eternal damnation I tempt every moment of my pagan life. I can find you nearly any fundamental evangelical who would do the same. As for doing-good, I have tried it, have thought often and seriously of joining Greenpeace or PETA or of driving my ailing grandmother to a doctor’s visit, and can honestly say that I am satisfied it does not agree with my constitution.
Perhaps the most generous action a man can take without the risk of doing good and compromising himself in such manner, is to permit his fellow-men to have an interest in whatever enterprise he sets forth to undertake. This I accomplished by promptly borrowing at least the half of my mother’s dishes as I set out upon my new life at the prestigious educational institution of my choice, assuring her as I departed that I would return for the remainder on a later date. Because I had decided to live as simply as possible, I immediately discounted the purchase of an automobile and instead located a structure within walking distance of a friend whose sole ownership of such vehicle would otherwise have surely been a heavy burden upon his conscience. As I told my father, the swiftest traveler is he who borrows rides, for surely he reaches his destination swifter even than the vehicle’s owner, since whatever time the burdened owner spends in feeding his meager coins into the parking meter, the traveler has gained in happy distance toward his goal.
The structure in which I had determined to live was a simple two-story dwelling, myself to be the sole occupant of the second story, the ground floor being leased to a hamster and four other persons of doubtful reputation. I was to take possession of my apartment at eight o’clock the morning of the fifteenth, and indeed, at eight met the downstairs inhabitants, who were moving their belongings into a car, having been evicted only the previous evening for disturbances of the peace. One car was sufficient to hold the whole of their belongings—beanbag, blender, two weeks’ worth of soiled laundry and three cases of leftover beer—all except the hamster. He took to the wall spaces behind the paneling and became a scavenging hamster until, as I later found, he trod in a trap for mice and so became a dead hamster at last. I watched the former residents of what was now entirely my abode begin their journey down the street and considered the number of articles they were obliged to carry with them. I was sorry, not because they had so little to relocate, but because they had an abundance in excess of the necessary. I would have been glad to relieve them of their beer.
My housekeeping experiences soon proved my theory of simplistic living to be one of great value. Those who own quanities of furniture soon find themselves slaves to their possessions, it being necessary to dust and clean such property daily. My own scant inventory consisted of a kindergarten nap mat, a folding chair for the use of my company, a desk, and an aged, rusty, milk can, should I ever endeavor to put the desk to use. I had three textbooks on my desk, but I was terrified to find that they tempted me to read them when I had not yet finished my nap, and I threw them out the window in disgust.
Because I have found that few can give an accurate account of the victuals with which they have sustained life, and I wanted to prove the worthiness of this undertaking, I attended to the matter with the watchful eye of the ever-vigilant vulture. Here is a record of the sources from which I made purchases to maintain robust health during the first week of my liberation from our society’s extravagances:
China Garden Buffett.............$38.29
Yes, I did eat $140.19 all told, but I should not so admit it did I not know that the majority of my readers are at least as guilty as myself on this account. The final day of the week, my resources being depleted and another check from my parents not yet having arrived, I went so far as to remove a package of frozen hamburger from the refrigerator and devour it, partly out of hunger and partly for experiment’s sake, but though it afforded me momentary enjoyment, notwithstanding the fact that I’d neglected to first cook it, I would not advise the general populace to make common practice of its use, at least not while it should remain frozen.
All told, I consider my college experience to be a great success in the practice of self-reliance. For an entire week I adequately provided myself with food, clothing—for I made the sacrifice of using that worn in previous years—and water, which I procured at public fountains whilst campus security guards were otherwise occupied in issuing tickets for expired parking meters. My laundry is the only matter not yet finished, and as soon as my mother should complete her three hour drive to deliver it unto me, that too shall be accounted for. Indeed, such has been my success in this endeavor that I do heartily recommend it to anyone seeking a respite from this sorry world’s most self-absorbed and unreasonable demands.