Press "Enter" to skip to content

Life’s losers and the eternal question of whether the beds we lie in are really those we make for ourselves

Part I. Part II runs tomorrow. Really. It’s already written and in the post queue.


I ran into T. the other day. I was arranging to buy two heavy bookcases at an estate sale and he was there helping the lady who held the sale move gigantic sofas and king-sized beds.

For many years T. has been the area’s go-to guy for yardwork and miscellaneous donkey hauling.

Thing is, T. is a fragile little guy, well into middle age now. To see him, you’d think he belonged in the third desk from the right in some bureaucracy, but he’s … just not there.

Nice enough guy, demonically hard worker when he works, but highly unreliable and maybe not the brightest bulb. So he’s doomed to labor, mostly outdoors. Yet — astonishingly — he’s petrified of a single drop of rain. Yes, here, where the rainy season is nine months out of the year and never really reliably ends, a man who makes his living outside will not allow rain to touch his skin.

I hired him to move those bookcases and he charged practically nothing. But he called up in a panic the day before the move was scheduled. “Can we get those right now, because if we don’t it’ll be pouring down rain and we won’t be able to move them for a week!”

“Pouring rain!” he repeated.

It sprinkled a little on and off for the next four days. There was one good drencher one afternoon that lasted about five minutes. But we did get the bookcases early because I knew he meant it when he said he wouldn’t work until the sky was completely clear again.

When I saw T. at that estate sale, he was hunched over and shuffling like an ancient man, though I’m sure he’s younger than I. Yet there he was lugging away, with giant armoires and chests of drawers about to tip over his battered old hand truck.

I thought, Oh spare me from such a fate.

The Car Guy

Not so long ago I was on a personal finance forum when I witnessed a discussion thread that beggared belief.

A new poster entered and laid out this scenario: His total income was less than $500 a month from some unnamed government program. And his credit score wasn’t very good. Could forum members help him figure out how to get financing for a new car?

Not a new used car. An off-the-dealer’s-lot new car. Nothing else would do for him.

When people quickly jumped in to suggest that perhaps he’d be better off saving up a few thousand and buying an older vehicle from a private party, he didn’t directly reply, but reasoned that since the government would increase his monthly take if he were paying rent, they’d probably up it by $4-500 a month — the size of his anticipated car payments — if he bought a new vehicle.

When people wondered what kind of program would do that, he simply did not respond.

Sensible advice repeatedly fell upon deaf ears. He did, somewhere along the line, concede that he might have to settle for a certified used car from a new-car dealer (never, ever anything from a used-car lot or a private party). But he was not going to believe he could not do, and should not even attempt, this thing.

Of course, the person — call him The Car Guy — wasn’t just your average run-of-the-mill fella with a slight stubborn streak. It emerged unsurprisingly that, in early middle age, he was hiding in some back bedroom in the house of a bunch of (so he perceived) domineering female relatives, unemployed, a school dropout, grumbling about how phony and unhelpful his so-called friends were, and resenting that the females “made” him take driving lessons when he wanted to spend his extra funds on his personal fitness and grooming.

Once you realize certain things, you start backing slowly away from the conversation. You don’t even bother thinking words like “troll” anymore ’cause above all you want to avoid poking this guy.


We all have ways in which other people can look at our lives and say, “Why can’t she see how obviously she’s messing up?” I have mine.

Continued tomorrow …


  1. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty September 30, 2015 7:03 am

    Oh yeah… The only remedy I’ve ever been able to think of is leaving everyone to make up their own mind, make their decisions however they wish (that don’t damage others physically) and steadfastly expect them to take full responsibility for the consequences – even if some people actually do help him out, one way or another.

    Too many people want “freedom” to choose, but demand that others pay for it or accept some kine of obligation to relieve them of the consequences of their decisions.

    So yes, though we all make mistakes and goof up, those who insist others take on the burden of those mistakes do deserve to lie in the bed they have made. And nobody is even obligated to point that out to them – for whatever good it might do. 🙂

  2. Matt, another
    Matt, another September 30, 2015 7:28 am

    The Car Guy reminds me much of my brother-in-law. Perfectly employable and with plenty of skills but at this time would rather bum off relatives than work. Relatives enable the behavior.

    I told my kids and several friends kids that when they turned 18 they were fully empowered and responsible for making their own bad decisions. No longer could they blame them on parents, the system, teachers etc. Both daughters embraced the philosophy, one by making some tough but good decisions, the other by racking up as many bad decisions as possible. Sigh.

    I agree with ML that many people consider “freedom” to mean freedom from consequences. They want all possible negative consequences to be removed from the equation before they choose “freedom” and would prefer to only have a couple of freedom choices since decisions are hard.

    I try very hard not to give advice to people even if they ask for it. I have learned that advice and warnings are seldom heeded. If I don’t provide it, it can’t be ignored and no hard feelings.

  3. Paul Bonneau
    Paul Bonneau September 30, 2015 8:40 am

    I always liked this article by Harry Browne:

    I have a ne’er-do-well sister who tried to mooch off us, at one point. My wife got mad about it, but I just laughed. Sis just went on to more willing targets. It is definitely true that the targets enable the behavior. I think she is doing better now that she has run out of targets.

  4. Ellendra
    Ellendra September 30, 2015 8:55 am

    I’m a QA at a call center right now. It’s basically my job to catch people making bad decisions and tell them how to do better. I’ve noticed that the patterns of not-listening tend to carry over everywhere. The ones who listens to my coaching and improve their calls, also tend to seek out and follow good budgeting advice, make careful decisions outside of work, and take responsibility for their own lives.

    The ones who don’t . . . don’t.

    There’s potential for a sociological study there somewhere.

  5. LarryA
    LarryA September 30, 2015 3:22 pm

    In some cases you can watch the prophesies self-fulfill. Had a co-worker once who was opposite of Car-Guy. He thought all cars were pieces of crap. So he never paid more than a few hundred for one, didn’t change the oil, ignored warning lights, etc. Then when he needed rides all the time he explained that our cars were reliable because we were lucky.

    Others are just bad cases of EarLock.

  6. MJR
    MJR September 30, 2015 3:42 pm

    We are the product of our environment and education. Compare car guy to one of my friends (R) whom I have known for 25 years.

    A year before I met R he was downsized from a good middle management job. When he was not pulling the bucks in his wife left him. He managed to get a delivery job which didn’t pay well but kept food on the table and had that job when I met him.

    The delivery job ended a few years later because the company went belly up, he looked for employment but being middle aged… Anyway since he had had nothing he had to go on welfare.

    I found out about his situation after dragging out the details from him so over a few days I coached him on basic maintenance of fire extinguishers. With just the basic information I gave him he managed to BS an interview enough to land a job for a small fire extinguisher servicing company where he learned the business. About 7 years ago that company went out of business so he started his own and has had that company for around 10 years.

    Yesterday we did lunch as we have done every 2 or 3 months. Over lunch he calmly told me that he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When I asked him how he was doing he looked me right in the eye, smiled and said “On the plus side pretty soon everything old will be new again.” This response didn’t surprise me. R is probably one of the toughest people I know. He reminds me of Joel over at TUAK blog.

    The difference between my friend R and car guy is that even though the universe has given my buddy a bad hand, he worked with it to make things as good as he could for his family. Car Guy is simply a parasite and the world would be better off if he managed to step in front of a bus.

  7. Jim Bovard
    Jim Bovard October 1, 2015 7:17 am

    Excellent riff. You should consider repackaging this & similar vignettes at some point for Kindle.

Leave a Reply