Living Among the Entitled

I don’t’ fit. I don’t need to or particularly want to fit. I come from a working class, middle class background, have worked hard all my life; nothing was given to me and I’ve never been taken care of. I’m not entitled. And now I’m surrounded by the entitled.

One definition of entitlement is an attitude, demeanor, or air of ingraciousness, especially when making excessive demands for service. They are the junior league types who’ve seldom worked so have generally been sheltered; they’ve hardly learned the life lessons that come from the dynamics of the competitive world.

And now they’ve retired to this intergenerational apartment building where I’ve lived for the last three years.  I really like the building. I have the privacy I want but also a sense of community; when I walk down for my mail several people say hello as they pass. And call me by my name. But as in any communal living situation, it’s a clash of cultures that shines through in my dealings with the entitled.

Like when Ms. A, a woman I barely knew, called and asked me out to lunch. She’d like to get to know me better, she said. I was taken aback, didn’t know what to say so said yes. She wanted to show me her favorite place, a tea shop she’d visited for many years. It turned out to be a place that time had forgotten, complete with outdated furniture and decor. Customers had forgotten it too since we sat in the dining room alone.

Ms A. had said on the phone that she wanted to get to know me. But when our lunch was finished and we headed home, I knew everything about her, her two daughters, their divorces and children. Everything about Ms. A. travels around the world with her husband due to his work. And she knew nothing about me. She hadn’t asked me one question. In fact, I’d said five words. I’m not judging her only I say that it’s very difficult to become friends with this type of person. Of course, she insisted on paying the bill.

We both went on with our lives. My minor frustration of that day faded until recent issues with the in-house book group and in the in-house library revived my concerns about dealing with the entitled. So, why is it these problems revolve around books and reading, my favorite things?

Since most members of the in-house book group no longer drive, we use a public library program that provides a bag with ten books sent to the library of your choice for pick-up.  Ms. B, a resident who does drive, calls to order the books, goes and gets them and also returns them. I facilitate the group discussion each month. The only thing members have to do is show up.

Recently Ms. B. approached me in a tizzy saying several people were complaining about the book. Seems it wasn’t the historical fiction we’d thought but a lesbian romance novel. There is such a genre, by the way. It was complete with several graphic love scenes. Since the book group is made up of devout Catholics, you can imagine the stir that caused.

“Should I get another book?” Ms. B nervously rung her hands and paced.
“No way,” I countered. “You’re already doing a lot. In fact, if you weren’t doing all this, I’m not sure we’d be able to have a book group. By the way, has anyone ever thanked you for all you do?”  Her pensive, downward look and slight shake of the head told it all. My inner voice warned me to calm down since my patience had been challenged even more in the in-house library.

When I moved into the building, I offered to help Ms. C, who’s been taking care of the in-house library for many years. I love to read and this seemed an easy way to be useful. But soon after I started, Ms. C and I went round and around about culling books from this very crowded and cluttered library. We only have so much space, I reasoned.

It took some convincing for Ms. C. to let go of a book that had been published in 1958, that was now tattered with discolored pages, written by an author no one had ever heard of. I succeeded only after her pained disclosure; she feared residents who had donated to the library might be insulted to discover their books were no longer on our shelves.

Resident book donations were a boon since we often acquired nearly new, hardcover best sellers. But then there was the junk we acquired, when over time, our return bin became a convenient dumping ground when residents moved or died. Instead of utilizing a community program happy to take any book, Ms. C’s solution was to keep adding more shelves. Higher the shelves went even though the elderly residents might be risking life and limb reaching for the latest Nora Roberts.

Then Ms. C began putting books in nearby public rooms on pianos, tables and any piece of furniture with a flat surface. How will people even find these books, I asked. After our sometimes heated exchanges, I reminded myself that this was her library and stayed out of her way; I made myself conveniently busy when Ms. C suggested culling. I only sorted magazines and shelved the books from the return bin. This worked fine until the day she fired me.

It was what I thought a minor infraction that sent her over the edge. Many, many tattered and used paperbacks were packed tightly in three narrow shelves along one wall. I stuck these paperbacks in whatever space was available until one day she told me she wanted them in alphabetical order by author. I gasped, thinking how I’d have to move mountains of books down to put that one book in just the right place.

But, before I could fully state my case, Ms. C said quite simply that she didn’t want me helping anymore. I’d never been fired before. I felt no shame, only relief and simply shrugged and walked away. Months later, I commented to Ms. D that the library was a mess and how I’d been relieved of my duties. I was comforted when she rolled her eyes and proceeded with a litany of quite similar frustrations of past volunteers who’d tried to please this librarian.

And that’s the thing about entitlement. Those who feel entitled make others feel guilty who fail to meet their needs. Ms. C loses sleep over not doing a good enough job in a volunteer library while also judging me harshly. Ms. B feels a failure when no one likes the book. Give me a break.

And that’s another thing; I actually feel empathy for the entitled. They seem trapped in the societal expectations of others. And while they are very kind and cordial people, becoming friends, real friends with the entitled is hard. There’s simply no comparison between them and the many really close and intimate friendships I’m fortunate enough to have in my life.

So I’m happy to have found Ms. E, Ms. F, Ms. G and Ms. H in the building who are as equally unentitled as I am. Four real friends from the inhabitants of one hundred apartments. Not bad. I’ve also resolved my dilemma of how to manage the entitled.

If and when Ms. A calls for another lunch, I’ll just be too busy or tired or another convenient excuse so commonly used in polite company. At book group, I nicely forced them to say thank you to Ms. B by reminding them what she was doing for us.

Regarding the library, I felt bad when I saw the disarray and heard about Ms. C’s recent health issues. In a chance conversation, we laughed together when she joked that she was getting better at culling books. We didn’t talk about the elephant in the room but I offered to sort the magazines once again. How can I fail at this simple job? We’ll see.




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