Take it or leave it.

Monday, April 17, 2017


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 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. But I will one day be paid for my efforts, though not necessarily by you.

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