Relationships

The Art of Not Working Yourself to Death

June 03, 2013


Though it’s medically possible to work oneself to death”€”especially among the Japanese“€”I know more people who are digging their own graves by not working at all.

Day after day, more and more people around me seem to be turning off, tuning out, popping pills, and joining the Anomie Army. The ranks of the gumption-deficient seem to swell with every passing minute.

I was reminded of this by the saga of Michael Cole, an on-the-dole British alcoholic in his 50s who recently murdered his wife then botched a suicide attempt due to an all-consuming sense of hopelessness. With no jobs, no children, no future, and no apparent motivation, Cole said the only bright spots in the couple’s bleak and barren lives were when they found something worth watching on TV.

“€œThe ranks of the gumption-deficient seem to swell with every passing minute.”€

I”€™ve known far too many people like the Coles: those who painted themselves into depressingly numb and comfortable corners and allowed their spines to disintegrate while basking in unearned income, intoxicants, and endless television.

There was a writer I knew who exploited the well-intentioned but ultimately misguided kindness of a wealthy benefactor who essentially wiped his middle-aged anus for him whenever he made a poop on the floor, which was often. He had a roaring Xanax addiction”€”up to four bars, AKA 16 doses, in one swallow”€”and would fritter away most of his days playing video games on a computer while a TV perched right above the computer blared in his face. His benefactor paid for his multiple stints in rehab as well as all his medical bills. Her generosity was rewarded with a searing and repugnant ingratitude”€”if she didn”€™t cover his bills quickly enough for his liking, he”€™d call her an asshole”€”but never to her face, since that might have jeopardized his free ride.

There was a girl whose father had allegedly been the West Coast’s wealthiest pimp until he died and left her a sizable inheritance, enabling her to essentially act disabled. Her house was a dusty, cobwebbed, cluttered amalgam of Miss Havisham’s abandoned wedding feast and an episode of Hoarders. Her dietary regimen consisted of two packs of cigarettes and two six-packs of beer a day. This was supplemented with tomato juice that she”€™d pour into a morning glass of beer next to her night table. As a large-screen TV continued droning by the foot of the bed, she”€™d sip the vile concoction while puffing on the day’s first cigarette, often falling asleep and adding another hole to a blanket already pockmarked with at least a hundred cigarette burns. On especially exertive days, she”€™d go down to the corner store to buy more beer and cigarettes.

There was a Vietnam veteran with a back injury who subsisted on government benefits and swallowed what seemed like a cupful of prescription painkillers and opiates daily. He would never awake before 2PM, at which point he”€™d rouse his flabby husk and plant himself in front of a large-screen TV, where he”€™d passively sit without burning a calorie until he fell asleep and the cycle began anew. Doctors at the VA hospital spotted something grapefruit-sized growing on his kidney, but he didn”€™t fret in the least about it. When I asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he said he didn”€™t know or care.

And there was a girl who, after a series of personal setbacks, fell into a rabbit hole of Xanax, antidepressants, and a full-blown relapse of prior heroin or meth addictions, if not both”€”I”€™m not sure. The inside of her house looked as if it had been hit by a hurricane. She could never keep a job and sucked money lamprey-like from the government and everyone around her. And none of it seemed to trouble her a whit.

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