When I retired and became a man of leisure, I realized I was getting paid to get up in the morning. I wasn’t required to perform any other tasks. I could see a movie, read a book, write a story, ride a motorcycle, take pictures, or just sit on my butt and do nothing. I confess I can do nothing really well. In fact, I probably can do nothing better than anything else.
Doing nothing is harder than doing something. For example, my wife just asked me to help fix our back fence. I don’t like fixing things, especially fixing things that require the use of hammers and nails and wood.
Now, I know I can use hammers and nails and wood. I just don’t like doing it because I usually hit my thumb instead of the nail, and jamb a splinter into my finger. Both of these actions are painful, and I am adverse to pain. It also requires doing something instead of nothing. And, like I said, I like doing nothing instead of something.
I realized this when I was very young, but I also knew I’d eventually have to make a living. Making a living doing nothing is hard. I looked at the classified advertisements for work doing nothing. Somewhat ironically, I saw nothing.
I asked my father if he would support me so I could do nothing. What he replied is not printable, but basically he declined my request. I had anticipated his answer but I didn’t expect he would make me get a job right then. I. Think he did this to introduce me to life’s pain.
I was hired at 14 to stock a large walk-in refrigerator at the local liquor store with beer, wine, soft drinks, and other perishable items. I was also made to fill 10-pound bags of ice and place those bags in a freezer. The only good thing about the job was that I learned what and how much my friends’ parents drank, and business was good. Years later, when my own children were teenagers, I learned why business was good.
But I, as usual, digress.
Walk-in refrigerators are cold. I don’t like the cold because, well, it’s cold. I had no future as a stock-boy (sorry, but back then girls weren’t allowed to stock things so there were no stock-girls). Also, the job required me to do something and was classified as work. But I began to pay into Social Security so that when I was old I could do nothing.
I then thought I’d be a teacher because all I’d have to do was tell people how much I knew. But then I realized being a teacher is hard. For one thing, teachers can’t hit children anymore to control them. For another thing, I would have to learn things before I told other people things. And lastly, although I like my children well enough, I basically don’t like other peoples’ children. They usually smell of old gym socks and sweat.
A few years after graduation the Catholic high schoolI attended, the University of San Diego High School, claimed they were still owed several thousand dollars in tuition that my father must have forgotten to pay. Luckily, they kindly released my transcripts so I could attend college, but they had threatened to not release them. They never released my senior yearbook.
Meanwhile, I learned I could sit on the Mission Beach sea wall doing nothing for hours. Sometimes I drank coffee and sometimes I drank beer. Frequently I brought things to read. Sometimes I spoke with others and sometimes with myself. At any case, I was good at it. I mean, really good at it.
But, I still felt like Maynard G. Krebs, of the old Dobie Gillis television show, who considered work a four-letter word. “WORK?!” he’d shout and cringe while playing bongo drums whenever it was suggested he find suitable employment. Because of him, in sixth grade I bought a gray sweatshirt, a pair of bongo drums, and wrote what I believed was existential poetry. I didn’t know what existential poetry was (and still don’t) but I knew Maynard G. Krebs liked it, and everyone thought he was cool. In sixth grade that was good enough for me.
The biggest downside in doing nothing is guilt. I was raised Roman Catholic, and doing most things and doing nothing were both considered sins. One was expected to do something productive and receive an income. It was expected some of that income would be given to the Church. My parents expected me to grow up to do something productive so they wouldn’t have to support me, but they didn’t care if I gave any income to the Church.
“The Catholic Church has enough money,” my father would say. I figured that because he spent nearly four years studying to be a priest he knew what he was talking about. Those who knew him say he would have been a lousy priest.
All layers of government want me to perform useful and productive work so I can pay taxes. People who don’t pay taxes because they can’t find work get called lazy takers. People who don’t pay taxes because of sophisticated trusts and inheritance methods and hide their income offshore are called role models. The moral is be born to rich, smart parents who probably inherited their money, then dole out small amounts to charity instead of paying taxes. Those people are called philanthropists.
I decided the best way to do nothing was to get a job where I could sit and talk to myself, also referred to as thinking out loud, so I got a job as a magazine writer. Everyday I would go and speak to people and, because this was before Wikipedia and Google, occasionally I’d have to go to the library and do research. I would then talk to myself about what I learned and write that down.
We didn’t have to do much work. Once the magazine’s heating and air conditioning person, Kenny, asked if we did any real work because all we did was gab with each other and stare at typewriters. I told him that was the best part of the job.
After awhile I realized I needed more income, so I went to law school and got a job as a criminal defense lawyer. This entailed some actual work, but mostly I just argued with people called prosecutors and judges, who seemed to be the same people. It also provided a defined benefits pension plan so that now I’ve retired I can do nothing full-time. Rich people seem to hate Social Security and defined benefits pension plans because they think I’m getting something for nothing. Because they are rich, they apparently believe they deserve my Social Security and retirement money. They seem to forget I have paid into those accounts for decades, but that is a different story, and I am tired of digressing.
As I write this I am sitting at a Starbucks coffee shop speaking quietly to myself and writing things down. It’s a hard gig.