The old man said he didn’t want to go to the thrift store anymore.
When I took him out to eat, we’d always passed the Goodwill. Whenever we passed, he’d always said, “Sometime I’d like to go to that Goodwill. I like going around and looking at all the things.”
I’d noted the Chinese buffet a couple doors down from the Goodwill. I’d proposed going there to eat, then going down to the Goodwill after. The old man thought it was an excellent idea.
So we went to the buffet a couple of times, then I wheeled him down to the thrift store after we ate. He seemed to enjoy the hour or so peddling himself around the thrift store looking at the junk. I was glad for him and I was pleased with myself for giving him something other than our meals to enjoy and look forward to.
But yesterday he said, “Next time we go to the Chinese buffet, you go down to the Goodwill and you can leave me behind to eat. I’ll stay and eat while you look around. When you’re done, you can come back and get me.”
I understood what was wrong. Last time at the thrift store he found a used karaoke machine. He wanted me to loan him the money to buy it. I refused. He became upset, demanding to know why.
I said, “Because you already have a trailer full of crap you don’t need. And you don’t have the money for it.”
“I have the money, I just don’t have it on me,” he said. “I’ll get you the money. You know I’ll pay you back. And since I’ll pay you back, I don’t understand why you won’t let me get it.”
I said, “You’ll have to beg your daughter for the money to pay me back. And she’ll be pissed off you bought a karaoke machine when you barely got enough money to pay your bills.”
“She controls all my money,” he fumed. “I got some money in the bank but she won’t let me at it. It ain’t right.”
“Well, you’re not gonna use owing me money as leverage for getting into your back account,” I said.
“It’s my damned money,” he fussed. “It ain’t right I can’t get at it.”
The pleasant afternoon at the Chinese buffet and thrifting had taken an unpleasant turn. I wanted to say that just because the money was his, it didn’t mean he had the sense for what to do with it. But I knew that would only make a bad turn even worse, so I didn’t say it.
“Besides, I ain’t using you for nothing,” the old man said. “I just need you to loan me a few dollars. I’ll pay you back with my own money. It’s my money and you’ll get yours back, so I don’t see why not.”
I imagined his daughter’s fury at finding her father with a karaoke machine he had no use for. I imagined her fury at realizing there was another piece of shit she’d have to get rid of along with the hundreds of other pieces of worthless shit she’d eventually have to dispose of once her father moved on to the nursing home or the grave. I imagined her fury at his wasting 20 bucks when she was already dipping into her own pockets to cover the electric bill since he kept his trailer at 83 degrees throughout the winter.
“No,” I said. “I’m not giving you the money for a karaoke machine you don’t need. Who you going to sing karaoke with in your trailer anyway?”
“Just me,” he said.
“That’s dumb,” I said. “It’s ridiculous.”
“I always wanted a karaoke machine,” he insisted.
“But you don’t need it. There’s a lot of shit I want too, but I don’t need it, so I don’t buy it. And maybe that’s why I got enough money to treat us to the Chinese buffet and you don’t.”
“I got the money to treat us,” he said. “But the bitch won’t let me at it.”
“Anyway,” I said. “It’s dumb wasting your money on something you don’t need.”
“I don’t need it,” he insisted. “I just want it. My daughter says the same thing – I’m always wanting things I don’t need. She says I waste all my money. But she wastes her money too on things like getting her stupid nails done.”
We had a similar conversation about a $900 cell phone he bought in the 80’s. He was still proud of being one of the first to have owned a cell phone. When I asked why the hell he ever needed it, he said it wasn’t about need, it had been about want. And the satisfaction of fulfilling the want more than justified the cost or any real need.
Concerning his daughter, presently, I said, “I imagine she can afford to waste some of her money on her nails. The difference is she can afford to waste and you can’t.”
“I can afford it,” he said. “I got money in the bank. It’s my money but she won’t let me at it. I don’t get why you won’t let me have this if I got the money for it. It won’t do you any harm to help me get it.”
“You want but you don’t need. And you’re not making the distinction between wasting and being able to afford some waste. That’s the major problem here.”
I’d come to know the old man well enough to understand his inability to control his impulses for wants to the detriment of his needs. The abject lack of discipline had probably plagued him his entire life. I imagined his daughter understanding it too, so I held firm and refused to loan him the money.
That was a few weeks ago when I refused him the karaoke machine. It was this week he told me about not wanting to go back to the Goodwill, saying he didn’t like going there and seeing all the things he wanted but couldn’t get.
I agreed to not take him back. I agreed in the future to leave him in the Chinese buffet while I went next door and browsed the Goodwill.
He said, “You know, I was cursed with having no patience.”
He went on to tell of the ways having no patience had affected him. Minor ways was all he considered. Mostly trivial or frivolous ways, like getting upset at wanting but not being able to get the karaoke machine. There were far grander ways too. More all-encompassing ways his lack of patience and discipline had affected his life. More broadly and thoroughly defining ways. But he only cared to mention the small stuff.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But it seems to me everything’s a choice. If you have no patience, then you’ve chosen not to have it.”
“No,” he objected. “It’s just the way I am. It’s not like I’ve wanted to have no patience.”
“Everything’s a decision,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“You know you’ve never had any patience. And you’ve accepted it. You’ve decided to accept that about yourself and live with all the consequences.”
He didn’t reply.
The old man has few pleasures left in a life that’s precipitously winding down. I feel bad about that. I feel bad that the karaoke machine might have given him some pleasure, and I denied him.
The old man has few pleasures left. Going to the Chinese buffet every few weeks is about the only one he has left. He thought going to the Goodwill would be another. I did too. But now, it’s crossed off the list and he’s back to just one.
Like I said, there are boarder ways our deficiencies – like a lack of patience – sometimes affect us. Boarder ways we fail to understand. Ways broader and more encompassing than merely being denied a used karaoke machine. If it had been enough to just look at the junk at the Goodwill, the old man would still have another thing to look forward to. Yet, paradoxically, his wants are such needs they’ve denied him half of the few pleasures he has left.