I believe that being an artist/stay-at-home dad and husband for a couple of decades has made it easier for me to give up the ghost and welcome the arrival of old age. I have not always seen this as a gift, as I now do. Many of my peers will struggle through, right up until retirement, until the hour power releases them from its neurotic grip, and then it might be too late for tight minds to unwind leftie-loosie. Curmudgeons aren’t born, they are made. Modern society is the factory that churns out new artificial trends each day, and we dutifully hoard them. For those who can’t/won’t keep up (little children, artists, poets, and the elderly), there is persuasive (forced) adaption or reluctant acceptance in store for the rest of their lives. The young adapt, the artists and poets fight (some of them do anyway), and the elderly cling to routine as opaque ghosts holding up the line to nowhere. Their stubbornness might give the appearance of a “fight”, but I think many are just pissed off at themselves for being hoodwinked into managing a repetition 40+ hours a week for fifty years of their lives.
But I really don’t know.
I am still not at peace with the vision of death, nor have I got on the path to “right living”. I am in limbo, a waiting, that makes me feel awkward and uneasy. The modern term for this is “anxiety”, and it’s the catchword of a psychological vicious circle. People who live and teach and breathe the air of anxiety, give lessons to control it. For example, analysts provide an ear for the neurotic to talk freely to another neurotic. The analyst orders chicken fries at Burger King®, and put his kids in the best affordable daycare (while he practices being an analyst). If he cannot steer himself onto the path of “right living”, what chance does the patient have? Likewise, yoga offers effective relaxation techniques, but no yogi worth his salt would ever ride in a car. So who’s teaching yoga?
Sadly, there is no school of “right living”. Existentialists claim that the diploma and degree is already earned and awaits for our selves to grant it. They say realize freedom. Camus and Sartre would be nobodies today (like yogis) if they took their own advice, rather than partake in the struggle for immortality, producing intricate abstractions of meaninglessness. Their egos were no different than today’s middle manager in the company of capitalism. Nietzsche said “all joys want eternity”. I say “all sorrow seeks immortality”. That means Nietzsche was a very unhappy, neurotic philosopher. I think any person alive or dead, whose name we have heard of, has never reached enlightenment. Why listen to the wise men and women who seek their names in print? They’re just lying to you for fame. A deep truth I get from those who chose celebrity is that they failed to live a life worth living. I think enlightenment is obtainable for some of the best losers of contemporary society. The winners didn’t take their freedom. They took stuff instead.
I don’t think I am on a path to enlightenment, though I do get glimpses of sweet contentment (“right living”) when I stop longer than usual to observe bird behavior, or wonder at a bright orange pie pumpkin in tact in the compost after a long winter. A desire arises for purposeful laziness and promises to lay back in the lounge chair and make the most of doing nothing in a day. As I ascend to meaningless, I pray my world becomes more natural. It might not be a true path to enlightenment, but I find comfort in knowing that purposeful do-nothingness will help ease my quest to become as inert as the path. It would be great to achieve death without so much fear and trembling.
For the time being I take naps to lighten my guilt load for gaining the world and wasting my life as a neurotic. Sometimes they’re “awake” naps, where I just sit and do nothing but look, listen, smell, and touch. I don’t taste because that’s taking, and we take enough already. In fact, in my lifetime I have taken more stuff than all my ancestors (before my grandparents) put together, going back 200,000 years. That’s no good. At least by napping more often, I’ll waste less of what I already have too much of.
The nap life isn’t attainable for everyone. I can choose do nothing because I have gained the privilege to. Until people figure out how to collectively outlaw the human-made abstraction of money, there will remain wide gulfs between the haves and have nots, the nappers and workaholics, the contented and the harangued. I have cleared one path to naphood (there are many) by pairing up with a willing partner who also sensed the waste of striving, and the inherent value of nap taking. She provides for my naps, and my life too.
A test to check your freedom. Take a nap today at 1:30 p.m. (No cheating for those who work graveyard shifts.) Step outside, find a bench or some cushiony grass, and close your eyes. Sleep deep enough to visit dreamland, and let only the natural causes wake you back up to the real world.
Did your supervisor see? Are you in trouble? Did you explain that you were trying to save the world and reach enlightenment all in one nap? Did you get written up, fired, mocked, ruined, destitute, homeless, spouseless, childless—all for one nap out of time, on work time, the bosses’ dime? There is no freedom anywhere where a nap cannot be taken when a nap is desired. When it comes to universal napping rights, the United States sucks just like Finland and New Spain. No one is free who cannot willfully take a nap at any moment in their lifetimes.
Retirees get all the naps they desire, but this doesn’t mean napping is accepted as a universal right. They still expect someone younger to come when they call, whether she’s the supermarket cashier, or the human voice on the Medicare hotline. They’re free to nap and bound to believe that abstaining from naps for 50 years earned them the right to drool on a pillow in the early afternoon. They too have privilege, it just came later than mine, and unfortunately with more aching bones and weakened stamina. Some allow regret to creep in and take over. “Youth is wasted on the young,” they say, and dream of 20 as the final days of joyous abandon before falling in lockstep on a 50 year long march to a freedom they already had and relinquished.
The youth aren’t young “in the head” any more or less than the 80 year old with a spring dream. I think the older generations are remembering (and pining for) more innocent times before the days of acclimation. Eventually, the gripping power of social conditioning coaxes the most radical young minds to believe that repetitive work through modernized, gainful employment is the one and only path to retirement.
And what a loaded word, “retirement”!
Land sakes, what are we retiring from? Wrong living? Is it healthy for a person to walk away from 50 years of volunteer routine? Did it take that long to find out the game not worth the candle? Sure, any regimen carried into old age will dim for certain habits and tasks, but a candle still makes light as long as there’s wax and a wick to burn. Isn’t retiring from a career another way of saying, (All right, I was pressured into a way of life that lasted 5 decades. I guess I had to pay to play never realizing that it hurt more to begin playing the game at seventy. Instead of traveling around the world or building my own house, I got Wednesday night Bridge and summer walks around the neighborhood on days my knees can take the weight.) Jesus, why did we wait so long to stop? How were our minds kept locked into patterns of living that many of us openly regret at retirement age? Shouldn’t the elderly be warning the young not to take the same path? To become gypsies instead? Cat burglars? Artists as part time wage workers sharing rent and groceries a decade at a time and seeing what happens? Or is retirement more like joining a private club of secret keepers. “Shhh. Don’t tell the kids that it wasn’t worth it. We know damn well that our younger bones could have made better use of time. No one should have had the power to use us at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday. But we ran with it, week after month after year to finally arrive here. Don’t tell the kids what a waste of time that was, or we’ll have to face the truth that we botched the only life we ever had.”
So, a modern (productive) life begins at 20 and ends between the ages of 65 and 70 years. Then it’s back to where we began. That’s one helluva pause put on “gathering ye rosebuds”! Point to the young scholar taking a nap this afternoon using her journal or book on Zen as a hard pillow, and I’ll show you a future fringe artist, or bum. All non-human life, even perhaps the entire cosmos, will congratulate her decision to nap. Her own family, friends and mentors, however, will have all sorts of future ostracization-degradation scenarios planned for her, post graduation. No more napping, except on the weekends, until after the second partial.
We understand this phenomenon. Monkey-see-monkey do. It’s the life our parents led, and we’ll do it better as long as the economy plays nice. That is, continues to exploit expectantly.
Which is what the non-nappers of humanity do best.
I selfishly nap for me, though I’m aware of its benefits to the environment. More naps means less economy, which are fewer choices in the hair care aisle, and gradually, less chemicals coagulating in animal sperm. Napping won’t save us. It’s too late for that. Microplastics have already lured human sperm into the guiltless dreamworld of napping. No life, regardless of how small and temporary, wants to be even partly responsible for birthing innocence into dystopia. Sperm get this, so they’re napping for better things to come, even if it means abandoning any hope of enlightenment, and the discontinuation of a species.
I have friends retired and nearing retirement, and they’ve been napping for quite some time. I bet most of them do it better than me, when they can. I’ve been living retired-like for so long that I’ve molded the lifestyle into some kind of career clone which has held me back as forcefully as any traditional one might have. I’m a bore, living by the work clock of my wife, and always guilty if I veer off her path for even a second. If I appear to be having more fun painting or going for a walk, just wait until she sees me scrubbing the bathroom floor. I act as mendicant butler to her work day when I’m not doing this (writing) or making that (painting). Behavior born of Puritan roots and before that, probably Daddy issues going back a hundred generations. If I can’t provide, then dammit, I better be ready, willing, and able to suffer. When I retire I’ll probably be wary of the catnaps I am taking today, and drag my wife through all sorts of silly outings, like block parties and rock concerts.
I think the following witticism fits, but I don’t know why. I’ll think about it while I close my sleepy eyes this afternoon and pretend it’s a way on the path to enlightenment.
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
Earning a Living
This one is going to be difficult. Thoreau wrote about it a hundred and fifty years ago in his essay, Life Without Principle. Sure it can stir you up and change your mind, and perhaps even get you to finish this life with some dignity, but you must be a poet to believe it, and the true poet is already clearing a dignified, happy existence path. That is, if he exists at all. No, Thoreau’s works are nearly forgotten. They breathe long-winded paragraphs to quote in your letter to the boss. Thoreau is read and used like the Bible. He and it are quoted when it is necessary for the quoter to get more money. Nobody believes the whole man or the whole Bible. Hypocrisy does not exist until someone else sees it to say so. I see it every minute of the day in myself. Yet I will take the entire Thoreau and Bible into my thoughts. That’s how I know I am a poet. Thoreau I understand, however the Old Testament is insane. Read the latter like you would People Magazine, that is, without a fake faith, but an interest in the teeth of Tom Cruise. Quick! Put it back on the rack. Abraham has a thick purple crust on his skin. Sara looks like an emaciated baboon.
The same goes for Walden or Life Without Principle—these works were written for people of another time, living and being on another planet. Not enough sex, violence and flatulence for today’s easy reader. I understand Thoreau only because, in truth, I am a reincarnated nineteenth century sensitive man, and consider myself to be one of his closest, most trusted friends. Yet, because I am here, near pavement, it is impossible for me to copy him, no matter how close I feel to his spirit. And that’s going back merely a hundred and fifty years! Whoa! Try reversing four thousand years to identify with the man slaughtering a lamb in the desert. All right, now imagine a pilgrim in Bethlehem today wearing plastic sandals and carrying a Bic lighter. The only thing in common he has with the ancient friends of Jesus is that they also stank to high heaven!
Anyway, Thoreau wrote a little essay—worthless today to anyone besides college professors and very, very quiet men. But he wrote the truth and the truth must be sought after and discovered in order to be repeated. I intend to make his truth (which is my truth) readable and understandable to today’s layman. I don’t want to wake anyone up. It would be better if we never woke up. This foul city was not built by sleeping men. Nor was it constructed by innocence. I wish we could stay innocent and sleeping. What a difference a hundred and fifty years makes! Thoreau made an attempt to preserve the innocence of his contemporaries. Most of them knew a cow’s teats personally. Even the brainy ones. Thoreau wanted to remind his neighbors of a very recent past. He would have them eliminate their big illusion of improving comfort, a recent phenomenon infecting the lower classes. The poor wanted to copy the wealth of the king, the president, and the shipping merchant, no matter how vulnerable each appeared sleeping in wool pajamas.
Of course no one heeded Thoreau’s advice. That is why we have television. And why very few can pass a day alone by their own invention. That is why Thoreau is useless.
Well, I am a twenty-first century useless man. Yet I too want the truth. I want the bones, not the skin. I want what that tree has in my front yard. History, poetry, innocence! I’ll make friends with a dead book before I get through to my neighbor. I shall write my version of Thoreau’s essay for the 21st century un-man—you, the guy with hands in his pockets, the pot belly donning a baseball cap, the laborer working for money to exchange for a car, a house, and always the grand illusion of a supportive and loving family. You, who earns a living by the sweat of your brow and have more material possessions to show for it than all the dead pharaohs of Egypt. The only difference is your treasures are mass-produced plastic parts made in China and sold at Walmart. Your decorative candle-holder is plastic instead of gold. The cat’s dish is factory printed with mice silhouettes, not studded with fine, red rubies. And better for you, no bedside servants need carry your toilet water away, (modern plumbing is more sanitary and far less embarrassing). Meat stays edible longer. Every vegetable grown on the planet can visit your refrigerator within twenty-four hours.
You even possess more ease and comfort than pharaoh. Sure the couch is just a cheap wood box of staples and glue, but at least you have one. There’s a bed with a bed spread, several tables, too many chairs, maybe a soft carpet, pillows, pillows everywhere, electricity for light, and oodles of cheap, sometimes smutty entertainment—the kind of stuff to make the envious god Ra irate over the measly human flesh sacrifices offered to him throughout the centuries.
You have everything and more than the wealthiest ancient king. You’re a janitor, mechanic, teacher, programmer, lawn mower, film maker, waitress, student, salesman, nurse, doctor, teller, policeman—I could name the millions of occupations we occupy each day. For we truly are just fillers of space. If the world’s movements came to an immediate halt, and we were left with what we have earned up to this point in time, most certainly we could survive several more generations wealthier than any person inhabiting this globe from the birth of man to the brighter day some genius decided to separate his shit from the water supply. With a crash course to teach us how to extract seeds from the rot in our refrigerator crispers, some sun, rainwater, and dirt, we could live quite large just recycling the immense piles of crap we have accumulated thus far.
We occupy space. We accomplish nothing of note. Our drive is boredom. Boredom clones sheep. The sheep eat and sleep without the wealth of pharaoh. They were born, and therefore earned their living.
We occupy space, turn in circles, get involved in delivery from one end or the other, and collect some money on Friday.
We occupy space, call it progress, fill more positions, and slap each other on the back. “Good job! You’ve earned it Frank!” “Thanks Tom, you’ve earned it too!” Frank maintains dishwashing machines for a restaurant chain. Tom works the hot press in a manhole factory.
One day, back in the mid-1800’s, Thoreau laughed to himself while observing a man and his ox trudge through town pulling a gigantic rock. The rock was to adorn the estate road of a wealthy merchant. A full day would go by until the rock was safely set and ready to admire. The rich man got his rock—the poor man his wages and an aching back. Thanks to the economy of vanity, the laborer walked home with his head held high, believing he earned the right to eat. No. He made a fool of himself. He was reduced, from man to rock-puller. He earned the right to eat the moment he was born. He performed unnecessary labor. He spent a day playing foreman to an ox, wiping sweat off his forehead, and thinking about money.
In my town, Bridge Street is the main thoroughfare. From one end to the other, on any given day, you will find over five thousand people employed, and not one who possesses less in material treasure than an Egyptian pharaoh, a French king, or ancient Japanese emperor. Couch is in the parlor. Milk in the refrigerator. Shelves littered with unnecessary toiletries. Kitchens cluttered. Bedrooms smothered. Attics of memorabilia that everyone forgot. We will begin our walk down Bridge Street on the west side, at the university. A veritable city of activity. Professors, students, and the thousand day laborers who take care of them. Janitors in the dorms, so near their pensions, wipe vomit off floors and toilet seats. Secretaries order paper, take calls, and organize efficiently. Administrators study data and mysteriously move money. There are leaf-rakers, lawn-mowers, nurses, police, cafeteria cooks, retail workers, and a slew of managers to oversee the lower positions in each department—that means someone to watch the cook overcook the beef. The college is built and maintained for a hundred years, rebuilt during a surplus—millions of dollars spent to teach the scholars, among other things, that it takes millions of dollars invested in architecture to persuade tiny bits and pieces of useless knowledge to penetrate their thick skulls. Who gets knowledge? Most graduate with the opportunity to pull their own rocks to the rich man.
I am not qualified to teach in this state, even though I have a lot to say about certain subjects. To be a teacher in my community I need a chair, secretary, union, paycheck, curriculum, subject, attendance sheet, car, clean criminal record, house, fireplace, and several insurance policies. I have none of these things. Yet a class of ten students would not be a burden. I would teach them ways to avoid earning a living, refusing to ready them for the real world. To instill in their souls a love of truth and poetry. Four years with me and a degree in “Four More Years of Living” from The University of Ron Gave Us Book Lists and Taught us How To Cook Beans and Wash Our Underwear.
A thousand dollars a semester from each student and I can acquire the wealth of pharaoh and feel good knowing that I prepped ten kids to walk the road of future prosperity, without the repetitive embarrassment of earning a living. I receive some purchasing power and educate ten more outcasts. I take the first ten interested. Absolutely no testing to see how well a young person can memorize that he is not an individual. I don’t provide housing, weight rooms, racquetball courts, or macaroni and cheese dinners. In fact the first class meets outside my door. “How will you earn a living?” will be the only topic of discussion. I’ll ask each student the same question. Harry wants to build rocket ships. Fine Harry. Here’s a book on rocket ship construction. I want you to walk four miles in that direction. Sit somewhere. Read the book. Take notes if you wish. Then walk back here following a different route.
When Harry returns I ask him to tell me about his walk. If he begins talking about the sunset, or the color of the lake, then he is expelled from school on the spot, for his own good. Yet if his walk was mostly rocket ships, then Harry wants to be a rocket ship engineer. After the initial walk the next years are a breeze. One day of walking and reading followed by a day building a rocket ship. Each evening he will return to my door step to talk about rockets, until the day he doesn’t feel like talking about them. Then Harry graduates. Now it is time for him to earn a living. He will occupy most of his awake time providing rocket ships to himself and the rest of humankind. This is Harry’s occupation. Once it was a desire—now get to work!
To continue our walk down Bridge Street then...
There’s a diner, where several people earn their living by cooking and serving three hundred eggs a day. Mondays off to enjoy the fruits of labor. To buy things. To guarantee a lifetime of cooking and serving eggs.
At the bottom of the hill, in that abandoned building, a Dunkin’ Donuts is coming soon. The exaggerated importance of constructing a waterproof box to sell coffee and fritters. Presently it has the employ of masons, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, sheet-rockers, and painters. They get paid a handsome wage to build a square, electrify, plumb and paint it. Next month the donut company will employ ten high school kids, two housewives, and a repeat offender to stand next to donuts and earn their livings. It is a scam and a farce, but more than that, the building and maintaining of a Dunkin’ Donuts is insane.
Jesus, I don’t know if I can break that down without sending myself to cuckoo land.
But I will try.
What touches the Dunkin’ Donuts? What goes in to the coming out of you getting your cup of hot, black coffee? Begin at the pavement you drive onto—no, wait! First you’d have to deconstruct and identify the car that brought you to the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru. Without it, there is no drive thru, and for 99% of the American freak show, that means no Dunkin’ Donuts. Count all the pieces that make up your car, even the CD cases and dirty tissues on the dash. Return each piece to the human hands that formed it—and no stopping at Detroit! If that door handle is plastic, find out where the plastic was made, how it was made, who made it, and how much money he made making it. It matters because a steaming cup of black coffee does not just appear in your hands, especially on a frozen morning with pavement under your seat.
You step out of the car after counting the thousand or so hands that went into its making. To your left, newspapers stacked in a metal box. Here we go again! Not just the paper, but the reporter, the janitor mopping the reporter’s bathroom floor, the janitor’s break room, including his glass ashtray and fifty key-key chain. Break it down while I go upstairs and wake up my wife. We could use an alarm clock, but I prefer to wake her with my voice and a little nudge. That seems to make the morning less complicated. Don’t forget the metal box that the newspapers are stacked in. Nor the quarters and their original home before the smelting. Be back in a few minutes.
Okay, touch the Dunkin’ Donut’s door. You know what to do. Now the tile floor, the booths, the old men sitting in the booths. What are they wearing? My God, this is going to take a long time! To your left is the coffee shelf (I almost forgot where we were). Break it down to coffee forests, coffee pickers, sorters, loaders, drivers, flyers. Those paper bags were a tree. Where? Who gets his living printing bags for Dunkin’ Donuts? Finally something that is Dunkin’ Donuts. The Dunkin’ Donuts printer. A human being earns a living printing twelve letters and an apostrophe on a bag. Thank god we have him! Yes, he has earned the right to live, raise himself and a family, and grow old printing millions of Dunkin’ Donuts logos. I wonder though, is it really Dunkin’ Donuts, or is he in the employ of a company that contracts with Dunkin’ Donuts to print its coffee bags? Oh no, he probably is. Break it down!
Hmm. Nice counter. Stainless steel. Break it down!
Employee uniforms. Break them down!
Is that a head set? For coffee? Break it down.
Two hundred colorful donuts, muffins, bagels, croissants? Break them down. Look at your server. Look beside you at the old woman with the big purse. Behind her a construction man with boots and a tool belt. Is it just me and you who are breaking things down today? Are we the only ones fixing Thoreau’s true gaze before getting our coffee? Coffee! All of this for coffee! Can we truly assume that we are useful at all? Jesus, does the sun itself have anything to do with a Dunkin’ Donuts? Will it continue it’s shine for the infinite count of human hands involved in the construction of a donut and coffee house, if this donut and coffee house suddenly goes up in flames? The way things look, it’s like half the human world would starve to death if Dunkin’ Donuts ceased to exist. Half the world would be out of work and unable to earn a living.
Now a moment please to write about the useless.
Last night Marie and I sat down on our thousand dollar couch to watch The Simpsons on TV. By the way, The Simpsons accomplishes in a one half hour TV slot what the greatest writer could not complete in a lifetime. It is the only TV for me because it has a very advanced understanding of the useless. Of course, one need only break it down to see the million hands helping in its construction, and the writer’s life doesn’t necessarily become useful, but at least it saved a handful of people from realizing their uselessness and attempting suicide.
So there we are resting our bones on a semi-comfortable, thousand dollar couch watching The Simpsons. Break for fifteen commercials. I grab the remote and switch over to the PBS station. The BBC news hour starring anchorman Hugh S. Less. Correspondent Tim Fatstomach is in Ethiopia with his stuffed TV crew filming a mother and child sitting under a tree. The child is naked, bony, and almost dead. The child is naked, bony, and almost dead. One more time. The child is naked, bony and almost dead, crying, hopeless, helpless, baby of God; more useful than the Church of Christ, the shrine to Buddha, the priest, rabbi, and all their families, friends, and neighbors. Break it down with our dirty cup of coffee. Break it down to nothing and you get a useless dead boy under a tree. We are kicking him in the head. We are rubbing his tears into dry dirt, ravaging his mother, burying his father. The latter got his wrists chewed in a coffee grinder and bled to death. Gourmet Ethiopian coffee of course!
Switch back to The Simpsons. Yes fools! Marie and I wear our individual useless badges too. We are no better than the American child pouring pure maple syrup on pancakes while the flies lap the last traces of salt from the eyes of a naked, bony dead boy lying under a tree limb in Africa. I see Marie. I see her face. She knows what I am thinking. Now she knows why I am angry. It is not 1840. Thoreau might have known they were starving in Ethiopia. Sure, so he went for a walk to the pond to read. He ate potatoes for dinner. Perhaps some butter and a glass of cream. He was useless. He knew he was useless, before and even after earning his living. He did not wake up to the radio alarm, roll out of bed and trudge twelve feet to a toilet. He never stood in a shower rubbing three different brands of soap onto his skin. No blow dryer, Q-tips, nose-hair clippers, or aftershave. He stunk in the winter. He bathed in the lake in summer, and dried off while reading a book in the sun.
Yes, Marie and I are useless. But damn it, we are affected! We are sensitive, caring creatures. Now what are we going to do about it? I will tell you what I am not going to do. I will not leave my mind open anymore. It is closed and securely locked. No nation, no people, no god can woo me with lies any longer. I would rather starve to death. I am not useful, do you hear? I have no illusions of the useful. I am a consumer, a mass producer of waste, and nothing more. Do not even try to make me useful. I am already affected. I am nothing. I don’t vote, hold a job, wash my hair, nor give a pickle if a city is bombed and gasoline prices soar through the roof. Until the human world if fed and warm, it’s all cuckoo like The Simpsons, like $1.06 for a cup of black coffee, like the little nameless boy whose dried up brain is starved of oxygen because I’m coveting the latest Lou Reed CD, and lunch for me and you is always more than just a fire-ash potato.
Break it down. I know we can feed them. You know we can feed them. A K-mart commercial starring an obese country singer telling women in song, to spend. Feed them her.
Now back to The Simpsons.
I can see by the look on Marie’s face that this guilt will wear on us for a couple hours at least. We will laugh about it after The Simpsons because we both know that it is wiser to laugh. Laugh as though there is not a dying boy or girl anywhere in the world. Laugh for five more minutes and then talk about it. I must attempt to explain it away. We are not guilty Marie. Lazy, yes, but not guilty. Jesus, it wasn’t our fault we were spit out of our mother’s womb into a room full of electronic equipment. Who would have thought at that moment to break it down? No, we cannot be guilty for a world we did not create. You know dear as well as me that money spent on a day of bombing Iraq would feed every Ethiopian child for life and give them a college education to boot. We know this. We even pay for this. We pay taxes so we don’t go to jail or lose our house, couch, TV, automobile, our arborio rice. We pay because we enjoy the freedom of acquisition and gluttony. Oh shoot! We are guilty. Back to our old plan of sending an anonymous gift of rice to Ethiopia. It’s the only way to quell the moaning agony of our guilty consciences.
Or is it? No. We could become outlaws. If Robin Hood was not a hand of God, then God is a crippled, starving, useless little boy of Africa. We could put much effort into starving ourselves of civilization. We can redefine what it means to be civilized. Come inside and not let anyone else in until we have practiced human loving-kindness often enough to start over with the proper strength. For without it we are worthless, not useless, and believe me there is a difference. Come inside and do not be guilty for owning a pillow, a kitchen sink, electrical outlets and food. Don’t be guilty for washing your hair, even though you broke down the shampoo inside the bottle and figured yourself entirely useless. Guilt for the starving boy? No, it’s better to have compassion for him and a burning hatred for things like airplane fuel and the 6 o’clock news. The Congress of United Fatstomachs can spend all the money it desires paving roads for the umpteenth time. They must keep people working in a complicated economy, or else they are out of a cushion job. A flagman is necessary. He can earn his living holding a flag. Don’t hate him because he doesn’t question like you. Still, there is no reason to love him either, unless he and his orange flag are wasting away under a tree in Africa.
If you come inside and stay inside, and learn to love the things you touch, then naps happen more often, and naps are inversely proportional to world suffering and starvation. That means for every nap achieved, a hungry boy is fed. I swear to God it’s true. Each nap takes a bite out of the illusion of earning a living, which is solely responsible for your bloody hands and guilty conscience. Seven naps a week feeds seven children. Let us stop by Mr. Jeeper’s liquor store to illustrate my point.
“Oh damn!” says Benny American. “The sign on the door says, ‘Nap time. Please come back.’ Shoot, it’s my day off, and the bars don’t open for an hour. I was gonna get a buzz on at the river and then scoot over to Gary’s Bar to watch TV. Damn Jeepers, what’s he doing taking a nap? Well I guess I’ll just go stand outside Gary’s, smoke some cigarettes, and play a bunch of scratch-offs until he unlocks the door.”
Do you see? If Mr. Jeepers is sleeping, then Benny can’t get any liquor. Break it down. See for yourself how the little boy gets fed.
It’s nap time at the liquor store. Benny American is thirsty for booze and is prepared to spend an hour’s wage on Juicy Whiskey. He’s got a crisp ten dollar bill. The bottle is on the shelf, but Benny can’t get to the shelf because Mr. Jeepers is taking a nap. The bottle is not sold. It sits on the shelf and gets counted in the next inventory. The order is sent, one less bottle of Juicy Whiskey. A ten dollar bill not spent, waving in limbo (actually, getting scratched off a lottery ticket with a penny).
The man at the wholesale liquor warehouse takes inventory and places his many orders. One goes to the Juicy Whiskey distribution center in New Jersey. There a man calls in an order to Kentucky for 299 bottles of Juicy Whiskey. It would have been three hundred but remember, Mr. Jeepers was taking a life-saving snooze.
Now the man at the distilling plant calls a grain mill in Iowa and places his order for five hundred and ninety-eight pounds of cracked corn. Why not six hundred? Because Benny American stayed sober until noon.
The grain mill man in Iowa makes a call to the farmer. The bundles are arranged less so many pounds of corn. It will rot at the silo while waiting for the next order.
Now’s the time to act. Benny American’s failure to obtain a bottle of Juicy Whiskey has resulted in a surplus of corn in the farmer’s possession. Remember that Benny’s failure is owed to Mr. Jeeper’s insistence on having a nap. For our story to become a success, however, one of two outcomes needs to happen. Either the farmer must be a benevolent, compassionate soul, and take this opportunity to feed an unknown dying boy (which is unlikely), or the critical vote needed in the Congress of United Fatstomachs to kill the bill that if passed would make it a law to feed mankind, must take a nap that afternoon, (possible with a sufficient bribe).
If neither happens, then Robin Hood wakes up from his long nap to do what he does best.
You can see how the nap can feed mankind, yes? And when I say Robin Hood, I mean that Marie and I become outlaws, and promise to take more naps. Because we wish to feed the starving boy, and robbing another in order to give to the needy child is not a manner in which we choose to earn our living—we have decided to go upstairs and take a nap.
Naps. Oh grown men and women of America, you must know by now that we are all such guilty failures. Take of the work clothes, slip into your cozy pajamas, and hop into bed. There is nothing doing today that needs you. A long nap will do some good. And I promise it will feed starving children, indirectly—that’s the best way to keep your hypocrisy out of Ethiopia. The loud, content snores of secure, overfed Americans. A sweet song to the human hordes of fly food suffering in the sand. Earning your living. Pooh! You sell smartphones. You guide Grandma’s twigs through a grinding machine. You clean tropical fish tanks. You paint houses. You park cars. You scrub bedpans. You make bedpans in a bedpan making factory. You are insured with sick time, vacation time, personal days, and a fattening pension, after six thousand days spent casting bedpans from hot steel. Don’t you see the eternal embarrassment of this life exchange? How do you go to a high school reunion and tell the old bully that you’re in the business of bed pans? I know. Because the bully installs security systems. You’re one up on him. A higher salary, a bigger house, a prettier wife. Bully asks, “Hey Tom, how do you earn your living?” Tom says, “Hey Joe, I repeat a silent, agonizing boredom day after day. But it pays well, wink-wink; how about another drink?”
From now on when I get trapped in the illusion of earning a living, I will ask a starving toddler to justify my work. If he cannot find a smidgen of good in the path I have chosen, and suggests a nap to save his life, I’ll probably quit my job again, mask my quilt, and crawl into bed in the middle of the afternoon.
Solutions. First of all, no one earns a living. That is a common symptom of illusion. Easy to diagnose. Perhaps a thousand years from a cure. I can offer preventative action to those interested in spending life, and not earning it.
For those of you who cannot take naps to save your life, visit your public library and take out Training of a Zen Buddhist Monk, by D.T. Suzuki. Read it. Then gather all the human strength you feel and copy that life for a day minus the meditation. For if you can’t take a nap, then you are a universe away from meditating with any semblance of composure. Fill that gaping time slot with a self-manicure or a climb up a tree. I don’t know. But you must do something by yourself, without mechanical aids. One day of living. You’ll want to pick up a broom or smooth the dirt out with your hands in the backyard. For after reading this book, you will notice that Zen will not tolerate laze-abouts. It wants you to work to eat. It just does not give a crap what you do for work, because it’s all wacky anyway. In fact, if you really want to help the world, spend the work part of your day doing something you think is useless. Comb your dog’s fur for an hour. Collect tiny stones into a bucket. Search for rare truffles beneath the cellar steps.
Spend the day the Zen Buddhist monk way. Maybe even take a hot bath before bed. Can’t turn on the water though. Remember, no mechanical aids. Lake water heated on an open fire. You get the picture? One day of living life like Bubba the Buddha or Henry Thoreau, and a twilight of a calm you won’t recognize envelopes you. With effort, we can shun the illusion of earning a living. One day a month. Even one day in the rest of your life would feed the almost dead child in Ethiopia. One empty day is medicine to kill the illusion of being a doctor, corn farmer, or financial planner. We are never what we think we are until we become complete, useless living human beings. Then it’s all cream and sugar.
Phew, that was a long one!
If you’re still interested in nap taking, pour yourself a glass of Juicy Whiskey and read about the Siesta here.
Thanks for visiting!