Much Ado About Doing Nothing
I was walking down the street, when this guy riding by in a pickup truck yelled at me, “Hey, freak, why don’t ya get a job?!?” If he could have heard me, I would have asked him, “Why would I want one?” The question would be sin-cere; I really don’t understand why people want to give away the time of their lives to make other people rich and do the same thing over and over day after day. After all, in my wander-ings, I’ve seen what this fetish for work does: People rushing willy-nilly staring at, talking to, fingering their god-boxes, almost bumping into phone poles, street signs, … me! People sitting in offices, cafes, restaurants, even bars, staring into their god-screens, typing in their prayers to the omniscient, omnipresent internet. People in such a rush to get to work, to the mall, to their devotional duties of production and consump-tion, sitting for hours in their cars with increas-ing rage, because that sacred urge to get things done has brought them to a standstill. But at least they still have their god-boxes and god-screens, so they can continue their prayers and oblations. Always, always, always, having to get something done. Just watching it leaves me exhausted; I think I’ll go take a nap!
Well, my nap was refreshing, but it was time to get busy, I had a whole lot of nothing to do. So I decided to go find my o-o-o-o-old friend, M. G. Krebowski. He was a beatnik back in the 1950s, and has a gift for doing nothing better than anyone else I know.
It was after noon, so I figured the best place to find him would be the Cat’s Pajamas Tavern. It had been a bebop club in the 1950s, and even as it evolved, it remained his favorite dive. I walked in, saw him sitting in a booth, his glass of chianti in front of him, reading a book in the dingy room by candlelight, a faint smile in the surrounded by a wispy, white goatee. I got my beer and walked over.
“Hey, Krebs, how’s it goin’?”
“Cool, man, how’s it hangin’ with you?”
“Not bad. I just got up from an early nap. This morning I had a non-encounter – some guy yelling at me out of his pickup truck.” I told Krebs the story.
“Ah, a believer,” he said, “but he sounds more like he believes purely out of habit. Not like some. You dig?”
“I think so …” I said hesitantly.
“Well, you see, he’s probably got a job, been taught all his life that you have to work, and never really thinks to much about it. To him, slavery is just life, because for him life is what happens to you, not what you do. I kinda feel sorry for cats like that. Believers out of habit, not passion.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. They’re kind of pathetic, and not really happy in their delu-sion. The ones who get to me are the true be-lievers, the ones who actually beg to be slaves.”
His smile broadened into a sardonic smirk, “I know who you mean!”
“So you remember when I passed through town a few years back. We hanging out in that plaza across from city hall, when a huge crowd of people came marching up, holding signs and chanting in unison.”
“Oh yeah, I turned to you and said, ‘Icky, it looks like another one of those public religious rituals you see everywhere these days – mass prayers to some deity.’”
“I remember it well. The believers had their prayers written on signs: ‘JOBS NOT JAILS.’ I said, ‘I don’t like jails either, but I know that no god they might pray to is going to get rid of them.’”
“But you know, Icky, there’s no knowing when we’ll be rid of the fools who believe that someone more powerful than them will give them what they want.”
“I know, I know, Krebs. And these worshipers were quite confused. They prayed for the end of jails, and in the same breath asked for the eight-hour-a-day jail as the alternative.”
“Well, we both know, fanatics just don’t think clearly. Religion is a mental fog.”
“Yeah, and the fact that this was a religious service became quite clear when preacher after preacher started giving sermons telling the be-lievers what they already believed and leading their congregation in oral prayers – mainly repetitions of the prayers written on their signs.”
“Yeah, that was when we both figured it was time to split. Who needs more hot air in Aug-ust?”
Sarcastically I responded, “And it was great fun dodging the evangelists of the various sects who were pushing their sacred literature: ‘get the real proletarian view on the Iraq war!’ ‘Prophet Marx predicted the crisis!’ ‘Get the Gospel according to little Bobby Vacant and the Ching Chump Cheerleaders!’”
“I wish they’d had the cool to be that amus-ing, Icky. But the Holy Church of Activism – like most churches – mostly just bugs me.”
“Yeah, I dig it, Krebs, but I do get a laugh out of all the contending sects. But, like most the sects of christianity, and even the guy in the pickup, they all seem to share a belief in the glory and efficacy of work. They all promote the work ethic. Just the other day, I walked past an activist outreach center and saw this sign: ‘Activism can’t be outsourced … will work for change.’ It’s kind of funny, because from all I can see, work is what keeps everything pretty much the way it is. The fact that people keep on taking part in their enslavement is what keeps society going. And yet, nearly everyone believes in it.”
“It’s true. The doctrine of work, the so-called work ethic, is one of the most ecumenical doc-trines there is. Not only activists of all stripes, but christians, jews, moslems, communists, capitalists, socialists, even many so-called non-believers believe in it!”
“Well, there are plenty of pious atheists, Krebs.”
I’m not a believer. I don’t believe in work. I don’t have a work ethic. I prefer to wander, play, do nothing – which is to say, do what I want to do and what I need to do to get what I want and create my life on my terms. The same with Krebs.
After another round, we left the tavern and went to the park to lie in the shade of an old oak and plot more ways not to succumb to the call to be slaves. A toast, my friends, to the rebel idlers and wild-eyed insurgent layabouts!