“The First Half” by Francesc West
After deciding once again that football was not the right path for me to take, I returned to New York with the intent of opening up a new chapter in my life. My priorities had changed and I all of a sudden felt the urge to be closer to my family at home. I moved back to Queens to live with my parents and go to college. Who knows maybe find a nice girl. I arrived at JFK just about the same time Hurricane Sandy struck. That should have been my cue to get the fuck out. It was only a sign of things to come. Immediately I started looking for a job and got my college application rolling. I was looking to be in a field I know best and that for me was Personal Training. I would be on Craigslist all day looking for a job. There was one problem though. Something that didn’t settle with me. There were very few gyms that were hiring at the time and the ones that did would take %70 of my hourly rate. Allow me to elaborate. Personal Training is very expensive. It could go all the way up to $130 for a session. Let’s say a client pays $100 for one hour of training with me. The establishment would end up taking a cool 75 of those dollars, leaving me with 25 bucks in hand. With the tax rates in NYC, I’d have ended up with maybe 16-18 bucks out of the $100. That for me was un fucking acceptable. Another shitty thing about working as a Personal Trainer is that you have to work to find your clients. It takes time to build up a strong clientele, and even then you’re not really safe. The gym may or may not supply you with a client here and there. Let’s say a client booked for 12 sessions, training twice a week Mondays and Wednesday mornings. Then you booked another client that wants to train on Monday and Thursday evenings. You would have to wait from morning until night for the next client, and come in for one client on some days. Only for the gym to pocket your earnings. This would probably go on until you build up a client base. You see with Personal Training, life is never stable. Clients come and go. One month you’ll make grand cash, the next month you’ll be living off oatmeal and cottage cheese. Specially with the difficult economic times we are going through now. Unless you are pretty well off you probably won’t pay a hundred bucks for one hour of training.
I had gone through a similar situation in Sweden. It took me 6 months to build up a good client base. Only for me to drop them all and leave Sweden. But people in Sweden are more into their workouts because there isn’t much else to do in the winter but hit the gym. That’s why people are so fit there. Besides, everyone’s minimum wage was higher than the average earner in the US, so they could afford sessions. Someone working in McDonald’s can make up to $3000 a month. Whereas in America, you’d be lucky to end up with $800 bucks at the end of the month. “Greatest country in the world.” they say. We don’t even have proper health care.
As an American I feel that Americans are one of the most arrogant, ignorant people on earth. People say “America is the greatest country in the world”. No, it’s not. We may be better off than most countries are but our negatives weigh it all down. For starters, we are one of the last nations to end slavery and segregation. America has come a long way in a short period of time. Though by no means have we brought any sort of progression to modern democracy. Unfortunately the core of America has always been and will always be about power and profits. Even in the presidential elections we choose the lesser of two evils. Presidents nowadays are just a puppet figure put forward by the government. I can count all the wrongs about the United States from our education system to the fact that in 2015 citizens still don’t have access to adequate healthcare. Whenever I meet Americans abroad or in my travels I talk to them about the issues in the country. Just to see their perspective and ideas on the matter. Some realize the country still has some ways to go compared to other countries. Others are plain ignorant idiots. I could write an entire book about this. Frankly if I keep going, I’m just gonna get pissed off.
So working as a pt in NY was out of the question for me. I went to Marcial in hopes of running some group classes for him. Turns out the studio wasn’t doing so well itself. One thing I didn’t wanna do was go back to the kitchen. I’d be on Craigslist all day sending out resumes left and right. I saw an ad that caught my attention. It was an agency who provided women with male escorts. I thought about it for a second. But then I threw that off the table. I must have sent out a hundred resumes. Some with no reply, some with negative responses. One day I got a call from a catering company based in the city that sent out staff for events. The pay was bad. It wasn’t what I wanted, but hell, it was a start.
All my life I kinda wished I had a job that required me to wear a suit. In life be very careful what you wish for. Turns out the etiquette for serving rich people was in a tuxedo. I would put on my black pants, white shirt, look fly as hell, then go serve people food and drinks. I was never the kind of person who did well under authority. That’s why I had problems with most jobs I held. As was the case for this catering gig. One day I was setting up the bar and the event manager came up to me and asked me to set it up in a different way because he didn’t like the look of it. I told him this was my bar and that he can suck my, okay I didn’t say exactly that. But it was close to something like that. They never called me for another gig again.
I was slowly having enough of the disappointments with jobs and not getting replies. Some interviews would go well and I would never hear from them again. I knew myself well enough to know I could never do something I hated. I knew I would quit within a week. I didn’t want to get a job just for the sake of having one. I wanted to be passionate about what I did. All the jobs that I could get were minimum wage. Nothing I could live off. I didn’t wanna end up having to get myself fired or quit over and over again. Turns out, there aren’t that many jobs that I wanna do.
At that time I was jobless and college was due to start in January. So there were 3 months to go. I was living at home, in the same room I had grown up in since I was a small boy. I’d look at my life, and think to myself ‘I haven’t achieved shit”! The walls of my room were closing down on me with every passing day. I would be home with Charlie smoking weed all day. I started feeling worse and worse everyday. Even working out was turning into a drag. I don’t know if you have ever experienced winter in New York, but it is the shittiest, coldest, windiest fucking place on earth. It snowed heavily on and off for 27 days that winter. I remember the ice didn’t melt that year until April. There is nothing to do and no place to go. Yes, in New York City. You can look at it from a tourists perspective and argue the opposite but I grew up there. I had been to every corner of this damn city. So for me there wasn’t anything left to see or do there. Besides I couldn’t go out anywhere and even if i did, I had no money to spend. It didn’t take long before I said “fuck this place”.
Growing up and throughout my life, I was never the kinda guy who had loads of friends or hung out all the time. I knew a lot of people but only kept a few people in my circles. I had my core friends in Kelvin, Farzan or Khalid. Kelvin and I grew up together, went to the same school. We were even in the same class. Throughout our friendship with Kelvin we never had an argument or a fight between us. Neither with Farzan for that matter. Although me and Kelvin would chill and smoke some weed from time to time, I never really saw Farzan that much. He was caught up in his own world with his new girlfriends. Around the time I was approaching the peak of my depression I met another friend named Pavel through my cousin Khalid. Pavel was a friend of his, and he was one of the nicest dudes ever. Him and I had a common interest that made us become friends instantly. We were both pot heads. We would sit in my Malibu, hotbox the bitch and chill for hours. Turns out him and I were not so different. He told me about his struggles and we shared our stories. There were no secrets between us. In the dark days of New York and in the midst of our depression we were there for each other.
This went on for a while. Some days were worse than others. There were times I would lock myself in the room, shut the light and sleep for days and days. Sometimes my cousin would come and check up on me. Although I would never attempt it, suicide was always in the back of my mind. The only thing that stopped me was the thought of leaving my parents with the grief of their only child killing himself. I thought things would get better once I started college. Maybe made new friends, or got out of the house. Maybe have some kind of responsibility. I thought.
Before I tell you the rest of my college story, you first have to know the conditions in which I decided to go college. I mentioned earlier there was nothing I wanted to do, nothing I wanted to really be. There were a few things in my mind but I was never really sure. First I thought about becoming a Physical Therapist. It was the logical choice for me given that I had worked in health and fitness with Personal Training. Rehabilitating people was something I enjoyed doing. I got an internship at a Physical Therapy clinic as an Assistant. Within the first hour I knew it was not my cup of tea. Massaging old ass people with broken hips and putting my hands on people’s disgusting pelvic area, ew! Ironically my ex-girlfriend in Denmark had become a physical therapist. Although she didn’t have to endure 8 years of school to become one. That’s right, it’s a doctorate program in the United States. I stopped going after the first day. I then thought about becoming a teacher. I went to a course in which I studied to become an English teacher abroad. I felt that it was suited for my personality. I’m the kind of person who is a natural leader. Comfortable in front of a crowd of people and speaking in public. I started looking at teacher salaries and spoke to real teachers about what it was really like teaching in a public school. The responses and my research had put me off. A master’s degree was required to be able to teach in the U.S. public school system and there were hardly jobs available for current teachers. Needless to say I wasn’t going to put myself through all those years of school and studying so I can end up jobless at the end of it all. A college degree unfortunately doesn’t guarantee you a job in the United States. Whoops, there goes your student loans.
When I applied for college I was under the impression that I could choose whatever class I wanted and study all the things I found interesting. They fucking lied! I got an appointment with a guidance counselor to choose classes and make a schedule that worked for me for the upcoming academic year. I went in there with all the positive hopes and vibes in which I thought it was going to play out. Then she told me about the mandatory pre-requisite classes that were required by the board of education. You should have seen me in that moment. “Let me explain”, she said. “Your mandatory pre-requisites are, Chemistry, English 101, Math and a Foreign Language. After 2 years of these classes you can go for the classes in the field you would like to pursue. Providing of course that your grades are high enough and there is space left.” I said ” Fuck that, & fuck school” then I left.
I don’t wanna get started on the American education system. The government really knows how to fuck its young citizens. All of my friends who went to good expensive schools had to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. They will be 60 years old by the time they are done paying it off. About 500 bucks a month plus the interest rate. Compare that to Scandinavia where schools are free. At the end of the day, it’s not about your grades, it’s not about which school you graduated from. It’s about who you know and what you can do. You can graduate from Harvard law with honors but if my daddy’s friend’s uncle owns the law firm I’m probably gonna get that job.
I have friends that went for their bachelors and masters degrees in their fields of interest. They all graduated from College only recently. Six years after graduating from High School. Most of them have jobs now and make decent money. Some sound miserable, and just work to survive. One thing they all have in common though. They all work their asses off. So they can one day enjoy the things they wanna do. It’s been 7 years since we all graduated from high school. When I look back at those years, I think “wow, i’ve done so many things”. Been so many places, traveled the world, lived different places, studied many things, held many jobs and learned new cultures. All the while my friends who went to college have been stuck in a classroom chasing a piece of paper. I feel sorry for people that take out thousands of dollars in student loans to enroll into college. That place determines the rest of their lives. Education is important but not when you graduate with a debt the size of a second mortgage. The right education can get you far, but you can study for years and that still won’t make you an “educated” person. Education never stops. Even after school. Most people chase degrees and at the end they never get a job or end up rolling into a completely different field in which they end up hating their lives in. I took a different path and went to different courses all over the world. I did the same thing as them except I didn’t do it between the college walls. Sometimes I envy the people that have always known what they wanted to be since they were kids. It sounds so much easier than bouncing around and not knowing who you are or what you stand for. I do admire every single one of them for having the patience and the courage to go through it. I don’t regret a minute of not going to college. I’ve seen shit. I’ve lived.
Prior to getting accepted into college I had to take a placement test for English and Math. Unsurprisingly, I did well on the English exam that they started me at the highest level possible. Fuck me! However, I failed the math. Which meant I had to sit through and take a semester of high school Algebra in which I would get no college credits at the end. I hate math! I hate it with a passion. I never liked it and never will. I had a feeling that the math was going to be my biggest problem and it most certainly was. Despite all of these things, I got my shitty schedule and started going to college. The campus was in Long Island and I lived in Queens. I had to take the Long Island expressway and sit through a bunch of traffic in the freezing cold. My 1981 model car didn’t have a heater so that didn’t help at all. When I would get there I’d still have to struggle to find parking in the snow. I’d have to park several blocks away and walk through freezing hell to get to a school I didn’t wanna be in, take classes I had no interest in, and listen to lame ass teachers who were just there cause their paychecks depended on it. Teachers who had no passion and no care for what the students learned. All this crap and I was still dealing with my personal issues. Things weren’t getting better.
Getting out of the house and going to school wasn’t helping with my depression. I was in the same state of mind, plunging further and deeper with each passing day. Sitting in math class one day, I asked the guy next to me if he understood anything from what was being taught in class. His response made me get up, and walk out of class. He had passed all of the required classes to graduate except for this one. It was his 3rd time trying to pass this class. He had failed the previous attempts. The way the class worked was all down to the final exam. It didn’t matter how you did in class. Attendance also plays a big part but if you failed the final exam you were basically fucked. I walked right out of that class and never returned to that Godforsaken institution they call “college”.
Now I had felt more like a failure. Even more hopeless. I waited all this time waiting for school to start and got financial aid only to realize it wasn’t really for me. Deep down I had a feeling though. If there was something I wanted to truly study to become something I really really wanted to become, then I probably would have stuck it out. The problem is a degree in “liberal arts” literally means nothing. It’s a degree that specializes in nothing. Never mind the fact that people going to college were graduating to a life with no jobs on the horizon. When Obama took office in 2008, he promised to create more jobs for Americans. While the American lifestyle hadn’t changed, times certainly had.
“American lifestyle”, meaning you take out a student loan to go to college. After you graduate to get a job so you can pay off your student loans. Then you need a place to live. You need a place to live so you rent an apartment and that’s another 2 grand a month gone. Then you decide you don’t wanna waste money on rent so you go to your bank and ask for a loan so you can get mortgage for a house. The nice guy at the bank then tells you that you need a down payment of $40,000 (which you don’t have) is required with an interest rate of 2.5% payed over the next 38 years. At this point you are thinking about how you’re going to save all that money while paying for your student loans and keeping a life going in an expensive city. Now you gotta work double time to save some money. You go back to the bank and everything seems normal. But wait, hold on a second! How is your credit score? “I’m sorry, my what?” “Yeah, sorry man I can’t give you a loan if your credit is bad.” Now you go back and for the next several years you pay your bills on time to get your credit score up. Then one day the bank finally gives you a loan and you buy your dream house. Congratulations! If you work really really hard for the next 38 years you can live mortgage free. Let’s do some math shall we!? Say you are 25 when you bought the house. 25+38=63! That’s how old you will be when you pay off your house. Doesn’t sound like a life.
The years were rolling by and I was getting older. I kept repeating the same mistakes over and over. I began to think the problem was not with anything or anyone else, it was with me. I was chasing something and I didn’t know what it was. If only I knew what it was, nothing could stop me from getting to it. I know my potential well enough to know I can conquer anything I want. I believe it was Warren Buffet who said “An idiot with a plan beat an idiot without a plan.” Another wise man said, “If you wanna hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”