“The First Half” by Francesc West
After deciding once again that football was not for me, I returned to New York with the intent of opening up a new chapter my life. My priorities had changed and I all of a sudden felt the urge to be closer to my family at home. I decided to move back to Queens, live with my parents, work, go to college and who knows maybe find a nice girl. I arrived in JFK, just about the same time Hurricane Sandy struck. That could have been the 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 pt gig. 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. Let me explain. Personal Training is very expensive. It could go all the way up to $130 per session. Let’s say a client pays $100 for one session to train with me. The establishment would end up taking a cool 75 of those dollars, leaving you with 25 bucks in hand of which is not even after taxes by the way. With the tax rates in NYC, I’d have ended up with maybe 16-18 bucks out of the $100. That is un fucking acceptable. Another shitty thing about working as a Personal Trainer is that you have to work and hustle to find your own clients. The gym may or may not supply you with a client here and there. Let’s say you booked a client 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 5 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 super rich, you won’t pay a hundred bucks for one hour of pt.
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 shit else to do in the winter but hit the gym. That’s why people were so fit there. Besides, everyone’s minimum wage was higher than the average earner in the US, so they could afford pt. 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 my ass.
As an American, I feel that Americans are one of the most arrogant, ignorant people on earth. For most, America is “the greatest country in the world”. It’s not. We may have certain positives. But our negatives weigh it all down. For starters, we are one of the last nations to end slavery and segregation. It is a fact that America has come a long way in a short period of time. But 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, you choose the lesser of two evils. People are quick to blame the presidents when there is so much shit going on behind the curtains that they don’t even know about. The president is 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 free healthcare. Whenever I meet Americans abroad or in my travels, I talk to them about important issues about the country. Just to see their perspective and ideas on the issues that matter. Some are realistic and realize the country still has some ways to go compared to other countries. Others are plain old red necks who are exactly what is wrong with America. 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, so he had to call it in. 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 an ad I had sent out my resume to. A catering company based in the city that sent out staff for events. The pay wasn’t half bad either. 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. Be very careful what you wish for. Turns out the etiquette for serving rich people was in a suit. I would put on my black pants, white shirt and red tie, 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, that I was the one serving, and that I was in charge of this motherfucker. They never called me for another gig again.
I was slowly having enough of the disappointments with jobs, not getting replies, the interviews that would go well and never hear from 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 it to be the right job. 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. Turns out, there aren’t that many jobs that I wanna do. And the ones that I do, require a master’s degree in some bullshit.
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, myself and think ‘What the fuck have I achieved”? The walls of my room were closing down on me. I would be home with Charlie smoking weed all day. I started feeling 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 place on earth. It snowed heavily on and off for 27 days that winter. 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 case, but I grew up there. I’ve been to every corner of this fucking city. So for me there wasn’t anything left to see or do. 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 the words “Fuck this city”.
Growing up and throughout my life, I was never the kinda guy who had loads of friends and hung out all the time. I knew a lot of people but only kept a couple of people in my circles. No matter what, it was always Kelvin, Farzan or Khalid. Kelvin and I grew up together, went to the same high school, in the same class and lived almost in the same neighborhood. 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. He was caught up in his own world with a new girlfriend he had found. Around the time I was approaching the peak of my depression I met Pavel through my cousin Khalid. Pavel was an old 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. After all, it was our medicine. I remember meeting him with his new vaporizer. Of course we went outside and tested it out. I guess I like my weed the old-fashioned way. Roll me a joint or a blunt any day. After that day Pavel and I started hanging out more and more. We would sit in my Malibu, hotbox the motherfucker and talk for hours and hours. Turns out, him and I were not so different. He told me about his struggles and we shared our stories as if we had known each other forever. 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. Hanging out with Pavel, smoking weed. 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. Make new friends, get out of the house, 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 Personal Training, rehabilitating people. I got an internship at a Physical Therapy clinic as an Assistant. I swear within the first hour I knew it was not my cup of tea. Massaging old ass people with broken hips, 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. 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. Just to get the taste of it. I felt that it was suited for my personality. I’m the kind of person who thrives on leading, being in charge, is comfortable in front of people and speaking in public. Because like I said in an earlier chapter, I just don’t give a fuck what people think. I started looking at teacher salaries and spoke to real teacher about what it was really like. The responses and my research 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 doesn’t guarantee you a job, but it does open up some doors.
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. I went in there with all the positive hopes and vibes in which I thought it was going to play out. She told me about the mandatory pre-requisite classes that were required by the board of education for being able to study whatever field I chose. You should have seen my face! In my mind I was thinking “Fuck you, fuck the education system, fuck this school, and fuck Uncle Sam”! She explained to me how it works. “Let me explain”, she said. “Fuck That”, I 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. Why the fuck would I wanna take chemistry? When will I ever need fucking Algebra in my life? Mind you, it’s the same bullshit even if you pass these classes. Providing of course that your grades are high enough and there is space available. “Fuck you, fuck the education system, fuck this school, and fuck Uncle Sam!”
I don’t wanna get started on our education system. The government really knows how to fuck over 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 husband’s son’s dog owns the law firm, I’m 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. After 6 years graduating from High School. Most of them have jobs now and make decent money. Some sound miserable, and just work to survive. They 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, and i’m looking back at those years and thinking “wow”. I’ve done so many things, traveled the world, lived so many places, studied so many things, held so many jobs. All the while i’ve been living, my friends have been stuck in a classroom chasing a piece of paper. I feel sorry for people that roll into the college life. That place determines the rest of their lives. Education is important, but not as important as living. The right education can get you far. You can study for years but that 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 they end up rolling into a completely different field in which they hate their lives in. I went to different courses all over the world that I found interest in. I did the same thing as them except I didn’t do it between college walls. Then again sometimes envy people that have always known what they want to be. It sounds so much easier than bouncing around, not knowing who you are and what you stand for. I do admire every single one of them for having the patience and 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. I did so well on the English exam that they started me at the highest level possible. Fuck my life. 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 for. I fucking hate math! I hate it with a passion. I never got 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 hell of traffic in the freezing fucking cold. My 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 there just to run the class. Teachers who had no passion, and no care for what the students learned. All this bullshit, and I was still dealing with my personal issues.
Getting out of the house, going to this school, wasn’t helping me. I was in the same state of mind. I was sitting in math class one day, and asked the guy next to me if he understood any of this bullshit. His response made me right then and there get up, and walk out of the class. He had passed all of the required classes to graduate, except for this one. It was his 3rd semester trying and failing. The way the class worked was all down to the final exam. It didn’t matter how you did in class, if you failed the final exam you were fucked. I walked right out and never returned to that Godforsaken institution.
Only now I felt more like a failure. Even more hopeless. I waited all this time waiting for college to start, paid all that money, only to realize it wasn’t for me. The years were rolling on by, I was getting older but I kept repeating the same mistakes over and over. I started to think that the problem was not everything and everyone else. That it was probably me.