Skip to main content

COLLECTOR OF PERSPECTIVES


Here's a stat. In 1800 over 80 percent of the American labor force worked in agriculture. It used to be that you were born on a farm, never ventured off your property, married your cousin, had a dozen kids to help around the house, and died before you were 60. With so many children, you lived a busy if one-dimensional life. Not so any more. 

Nowadays you can jet-set around the world in the time it would have taken our farmer to pick a bale of hay. If inbreeding isn't your thing, just dial a bride 5,000 miles away. And if that doesn't work out, turn Soo Yin in for something with a bigger rear end. Russians have great mileage and handling ability, or so they say.

Seriously though, the percentage of American families in agricultural is down to 2, the average couple has about as many kids (2.4), and the average individual born this year will have as many jobs (12 to 15) in his lifetime as he would have had kids had he lived when Walt Whitman did. That's a lot of haves and hads. But the author of Leaves of Grass was an exception. He was not a farmer but a poet, and died unmarried and fatherless in his 70s, which even now is considered a ripe old age. Alone does not have to mean lonely. 

I too enjoy my own company. And I have had many jobs. Not as many as a 21st century digital boy, perhaps. But I have been bartender and waiter and caterer and teacher and doctor and office assistant and production assistant and manager. I have been a writer of articles and books and screenplays and so on. I have worked on Wall Street (for a day) and an Internet startup before that was the rage. I even worked in a women's boutique in Soho, don't ask me why. Oh, I needed the paycheck. Why else? While in New York I also met a rich old man who paid me $200 just to spend the afternoon talking to him. I guess he was lonely. While I was hard-up for cash.

Of course, I could never wear so many hats as a 19th century farmer living in New England with Emma always nagging me to milk the dang cows. Isn't that what the kids are for? No, I'd be wearing one hat, likely made of straw, and filthy.

I am not a fan of hats. They give you hat head and lead to hair-loss, although this is probably a myth. Nor am I a fan of compulsory employment, for I am not one to define myself by what I do or don't do. I think the world will be a better place once we install the much-anticipated universal basic income (UBI). It's a 500-year-old concept that policy makers are thoroughly re-examining, as TIME magazine reports. Thomas More wrote about it in his 1516 book Utopia, one of my favorite reads, and the UBI may be a way to combat technology-driven joblessness and as an antidote to poverty and the attendant crimes, like stealing. Imagine if every adult were paid a guaranteed sum every month, just for being alive. It's already being tried in Silicon Valley, where select families receive a grand or two to see what happens. And I thought, "I could live on that." Of course, the UBI has its share of detractors and will face an uphill battle en route to universal acceptance, may that day come. Watch the recent Intelligence Squared debate and judge for yourself.

I for one look forward to a time when we don't identify so strongly with our jobs, and not merely because we won't have any. I have played a ton of roles that didn't involve any money exchanging hands. My changing diet preferences alone have been diverse enough to feed a family of farmers, provided there are plant eaters among them. And these days nearly every family has at least one vegetarian. In high school I was Mr. Popularity, only to become a number in college, one of 40,000 at UCLA, where I got heavy and became a pimply, surly loner hankering for the days of yore. Can you be a has-been at not-yet nineteen?

I have run marathons and biked 100 miles just for fun, and in the same month; I have also been laid up for months in bed recovering from injuries sustained thereby. I have been a clean liver, shunning even caffeine, while at other times choosing to wake and bake and follow a bong load with a six-pack of beer, chasing it with cigarettes and maybe a little acid or ecstasy or whatever else was being handed around in the name of a good time.  Which can be exhausting.

I have earned straight As while taking twice the normal academic load and also failed a class as a part-time student. I have scored the winning goals as the star player on the soccer team and also road the bench as a reserve. I have hit home runs and struck out swinging, and not just literally. I have been reviled as a food server and revered as a physician. I learned that the best way to really learn something is to teach it. And also that those who can't do, teach. I have sported around in smart automobiles with fancy jewelry on my wrist and other times pedaled around on my father's hand-me-down bicycle with only enough money in my shorts to cover my next forty.

I have resided in a luxurious estate and other times crashed at friends' roach motels and spent my days shoeless and hanging out with the homeless. I sat cross-legged in an Indian ashram where with shaved head I chanted Om and read the Hindu epics. I have paid a prostitute for her favors ($200, to return the old-man's favor) and during my sexual peak also practiced strict celibacy. I have lived in several states and more than one different country, where as a beach bum I stomped around in flip-flops speaking the native tongue and sipping the local rum; and yet while at home I've been called a shut-in. Because what else is there to see.

Where does this all leave me, other than exhausted and a bit dizzy? Such is life at the extremes. Now, like Voltaire's Candide, after all this adventure, I am quite content to remain at home and cultivate my garden. But being a collector of perspectives has given me something to write about, albeit for free. I will one day be paid for my efforts, though not necessarily by you.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

GRAY MATTERS

I was watching the TV show Naked and Afraid last night as I sometimes do. The show teams together two strangers, a man and a woman, who attempt to survive on their own for a period of 21 days in some remote and isolated region. Some of the locales featured include the Australian Outback, the Amazonian rainforest and the African Savanna. The man may have a military background, or be an adventurist or deep sea fisherman. Sometimes he's an ordinary dude who lives with mom. The woman is a park ranger or extreme fitness enthusiast or "just a mom" herself. Sometimes the couple quarrel, sometimes one or both "tap out" (quit) in a fit of anger or illness. It is satisfying to see them actually make it through the challenge and reach their extraction point. The victors are usually exhausted, emaciated, begrimed and bare ass naked. 

Even more satisfying, at least for me, is the occasional ass shot, snuck in at strategic intervals to boost viewership, of course. It's co…

EVERYTHING'S INTENTIONAL

There is no such thing as screw-ups.

Case in point. My excellent friend Deej comes over to help me beautify the garden. He immediately dives in, crouching down on his knees and weed whacking with his bare hands. Before I can say yay or nay, he proceeds to remove a huge clump of daisy greens from the oblong patch of Earth adjacent to the driveway. The area instantly looks bare. Like the back of Woody Allen's head. Smoothing out the soil and shaking his head Deej mutters to himself "I fucked it up!" over and over again. We try everything. Planting succulents in the daisy's place. Covering it with rocks. But still the area looks barren. And every time you water it the water trickles down onto the sidewalk in the absence of roots to hold it in place. It's getting dark so we go back inside. The next day I return to the spot with a clear perspective and remove all the other daisies, leaving only rose bushes and the succulents that DJ planted, and depositing 10 bags of m…

SOUL CYCLE

This is not a commentary on the latest fitness fad. Because if it were, the little I'd have to say on the subject would be largely derogatory. I simply cannot see see how crouching in a stuffy, dark, cramped room surrounded by sweat-drenched strangers while expending a lot of energy and going nowhere deserves to be called fun, though aficionados tell me it is (fun). I tell these aficionados that if no pain no gain is your thing, discomfort can be had for a lot cheaper than $50 an hour. Try plucking your nose hairs. What we don't do for the sake of beauty. This endurance heir to the Stairmaster and elliptical is all hype. There's a name for the type who likes to run (or otherwise move) in place. It's called a hamster. 

This reminds me of a joke my father likes to tell, about what living with a woman turns a guy into. You go from a wolf to a sheep to a hamster. After nearly 40 years of married life, my dad has added cockroach to the zoological lineage. Which I'm sure …