I love to share. Really, I do! When you’re an only child, you often get a bad rap for being stingy and selfish but I actually like giving stuff away. When I was a kid, I used to get yelled at because I’d take my Barbies down the block to play and would come back with half of them because my friends said they liked the dolls so I handed them over. I get a lot of pleasure out of making the people that I care about happy, sure, but even I have my limits.
Man, there’s nothing like a moocher, is there? Freeloaders, leeches, sponges – call them what you’d like, but the ultimate hide-chapper in my book is someone who takes everything they can get without giving anything in return. I don’t mind the occasional dose of “gimme gimme” syndrome. We all go through that. But when a person takes advantage of my generosity, I have a problem.
Case in point: A few months ago, my old roommate figured out that I’d started to occasionally smoke and knocked on my door one afternoon asking if she could bum a cigarette. She was pretty stressed out with post-grad work. “Sure!” I said. “I know what it’s like when you need to unwind!” I promptly pulled one out of the packet and handed it over along with another to give her “for later”.
Perhaps I sealed my own fate with that gesture, as her requests for additional cigarettes occurred more regularly after that. She stopped knocking on my door but would instead wait for me to be in a common area, when she would enter the room and stand there with her hands on her hips, sighing loudly before commenting on how anxious she was, or how overloaded with her thesis or any other number of tales of woe. I always responded sympathetically, but I also was aware of what was coming, and inevitably within the next minute or so, the “Can I borrow a cigarette?” question was asked, and I pretty much always said yes.
I’m not sure about you guys, but the last time I checked, “borrow” means “take with the intention of returning or repaying in kind”. You know what I got back? If your guess is “a new pack of cigarettes,” the answer is zilch, zip, zero. Nothing. Nothing besides additional requests for more of my cigs. I once asked her why she didn’t just buy her own, to which she replied, “Oh, I would, but I can never finish a whole pack!” Funny, that, considering she’d managed to go through an entire one of mine!
One of the big problems with moochers is that once you allow them to establish their pattern of moochery, it knows no bounds. The moocher becomes brave and almost arrogant with their assumption that what’s yours is theirs. What was once a request for a single smoke became the usage of my food, my alcohol and along with it, my patience. Many times without asking!
To add insult to injury, I was going through a period of financial turmoil for a while and had made it clear on several occasions that I was strapped for cash. The freeloader in question was from an affluent family and was living quite comfortably off of money provided by them as well as a generous stipend she received as part of her post-grad work. This was a woman who only shopped at the expensive local food co-op and ordered a cappuccino maker for our kitchen “just for fun.” Meanwhile, shelling out the $12 for a pack of Marlboro Lights sometimes meant I would have to live off mac & cheese for part of the week.
I finally put a stop to this madness one night when, after I had handed over yet another cigarette, the ex-roommate returned to the living room where she proceeded to pull her normal sigh-and-cry routine. She then said to me – and I’m being absolutely serious here – “I”m trying to decide whether I should have another cigarette before bed or not.”
My brain was all like, Oh no she didn’t! But instead of vocalising that thought, I just let it wash over my face and stared hard at this brazen broad in a way that let her know she must’ve bumped her head. Then, silently, I turned my head back towards the TV. I give her credit for getting the hint, though: after gauging my response, she quickly came back with, “You know what, I think I’m tired and need to sleep. Goodnight!”
She never asked again.
Jennifer Still has an overwhelming fondness for pizza, afternoon naps and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. She rarely changes out of pyjamas during the weekdays. Or the weekends. She writes at stilljennifer.com and tweets at @jenniferlstill