342 – The Guest

Glimpsed only in brief introduction as we curled our way into the city there’s little separating Boston from any place I’ve seen thus far into my residency. It’s a little greyer, perhaps, and a little colder, but this is December and we’re further north than our usual Jersey haunting, so a little extra chill in the air is only to be expected.

Or perhaps I’m already so jaded by everything America has to throw at me I fail to see Boston’s wonders, it’s own individual character, for though I’m a guest here, I am and always have been the worst possible kind.

It’s not the fault of our host, who’s a delight and bending over–as if she were limber enough–backward to accommodate our stay. She suggests activities and places to visit, puts on games and plies us with food and–if it’s our poison (and I, having been quite poisoned enough in recent memory, politely abstain)–tipsy drinks. Last night we visited nearby Salem, where in 1692 twenty-six people were tried and convicted for witchcraft and mostly executed for said crimes. In the modern era a tourist industry has sprung from their graves with museums and numerous shops catering to the thirst for magic and the macabre. It’s a town that feels safe, well-lit both by streetlamps and fairy light this close to Christmas, and our host–Liz–escorted us through its chill streets as we stamped freezing feet and flapped freezing hands. We met with one of her friends at a bohemian cafe known for its coffees and crepes, at which every customer was either a handsome young professional with an iDevice on his or her lap or–oddly–a child, seemingly attending a café-wide birthday party. After this we retired to Liz’s place, played Rock Band and ate from a calzone so big it comfortably fed the three of us with plenty to spare. It should have been a wonderful night and I should be writing about it in glowing terms–and not just because Liz is a constant, dedicated and much-appreciated reader of this blog, either.

But here’s the thing: I’m a rotten guest. It’s one of those psychological cogs set in motion too long ago to remember. Ill at ease often enough in my own skin, when relocated to someone else’s home, with their own activities, their own customs, I feel even more uncomfortable. I am not a coracle floating at the river’s whim; I’m leaden, unmovable and immutable, not easily worn down, too stubborn to shift. Hell, I’m limescale: stick near me too long and misery will build on you, too.

Taking me places is a chore. I refuse to eat out, claiming whatever’s on the menu is costly and not worth it, and that I can probably eat better at home for less. I don’t shop: I browse. I’m a shopkeeper’s worst nightmare, looking for things I can buy online for less. Majestic tourist attractions leave me unmoved. Fun local haunts leave me yawning. I’m at my happiest when listening to my own internal monologue, cut off and rewriting the world outside for later inclusion here or elsewhere.

I have no say in what to do next because there’s never any thing I want to do next. Indecisive, I’d rather let the other players take centre stage, then complain because I never spoke up. It’s always been this way: I was first a pushover, then a doormat, and now I’m placid and ungrateful and dissatisfied with everything. Other kids had the say-so at school and when visiting one another’s houses. It would be impolite, my parents told me, not to eat what was put on my plate, something which caused great problems when my hated enemy the Heinz Baked Bean was heaped in front of me at every given opportunity. It took a playmate taking pity on me to pipe up–“I don’t think he likes beans”–before I’d stop choking them down. When asked which replacement I’d prefer, my answer was always the same: “It’s all right. I’m okay.”

The answer persists to this day. I’d rather do or have nothing than put anyone out, but this is just as bad–if not worse–as being terminally fussy. The meek don’t inherit the Earth: they’re just as bothersome as those grabby brats who sulk if they don’t get their own way. My sulking’s a little more quiet, but it’s still the folded armed fug of an insolent child.

It’s martyrdom, something I’ve inherited from my mum. Depriving myself of the things I want makes me bitterly self-righteous. When things go awry I mutter of all the things I’ve gone without, all the opportunities I’ve afforded everyone else, and where did it get me? Nowhere, that’s where–but I’d never dream of changing my attitude, would I? I’m far too nice for that.

Infectious, it’s destroyed my enthusiasm for any multi-player activity. I have no assertion, I can’t command conversations: I’m a mobile audience politely clapping plays I neither enjoy nor understand.

It gets worse. Now, I actually find myself revolted by things other people enjoy, of which I have no real understanding. Where I should follow a policy of live and let live I find myself disgusted by the the hobbies of others. I sneer upon your scrap-booking, your flower-pressing, your choral singing lessons, your Ravi Shankar CDs. It’s not a regular dislike–none too healthy but present in everyone–but a deep sense that anyone who likes anything else is wrong. Who cares f it brings them joy? If it leaves me cold it should be left alone altogether.

As I sink into this malaise, I barely struggle to be free of it. I’ll never again find a new favourite film, or song, or CD. Why witness anything when it will surely be a crushing disappointment? Why go anywhere when I’ve already seen everything worth seeing?

The Internet dictates the few avenues along which I’m willing to travel. With a wealth of reviews at my fingertips, why visit any restaurant when I can find the best in town in a matter of seconds? Even my cereal-buying habits follow reviews from Serious Eats, Grub Grade, Slash Food-that-was. Why leave anything to chance when so many explorers have pioneered for me?

This grim, 4 a.m. funk sees me waking dry-tongued to type and drink Coke, and bitch about the hand that feeds me. It’s not that I’m not ungrateful–I am, truly I am–but I’m dissatisfied with myself. The residue of who I was persists, and as he was not a happy man neither am I, sadly.

Maybe it’s something I can get used to, grow into. Maybe I can learn to socialise rather than want to stick with the one person whose company I’ll never tire of. There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio.

Right now, luxuriating in my own filthy solace, I truly hope there are. For however many years I have left on this planet, I’d hate to be stuck being me.

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