Well, if coach Meyer would have ever observed any of my cars, at any time in my life, but especially when I was 18, and a pretty damn good athlete, he would have instantly termed me as “downright lazy and a total mess” and wanted nothing to do with me, and justifiably so.
Actually, though, I’m sick and tired of people like Coach Meyer always ballyhooing hard work and putting down us lazy slackers possessing little of the maniacal initiative he and other fanatical nut case football coaches espouse. Every time I hear an athlete or a coach or an actor or a business mogul or anybody who is successful and famous and supposedly rich give credit to hard work, I want to gag at the whole idea of America’s dedication to the waste of a life time at onerous, deadening toil and the glory accompanying it.
* * *
All my life, from my grandparents and Dad, all I ever heard was the “value of hard work and a strong work ethic,” and how it rewarded you with pride at being useful along with accomplishment and the material items to prevail in our tough world of survival. It seemed nobody could outwork my father, who grew up in the Great Depression, where it came down to “who worked harder than the other guy if you didn’t want to end up in the poor house starving to death.”
The dreaded poor house never registered in my mind because we always had meat and potatoes on the table at night and as much milk you could drink, and I was so jet-fueled by this bounty that I was a veritable demon on athletic fields and gyms where I grew up in Compton, California, a melting pot where fathers seemed in competition over who could work the hardest and prove it by their latest acquisitions—most notably a shiny new car for the wife and a shiny new bike for the kid.
In these pre Hippie days of rebelling against this world of capitalistic materialism and the American Dream, I was already a firm disbeliever, especially when I went to work in dad’s wholesale rubber and shoe findings business at 12 and listened all day long about their deals, investments, etc, and most ghastly, a propensity to work harder than the next guy and demonize anybody not up to their standards as a “lazy bum” proving an anchor on the system THEY were supporting.
Almost instantly I felt a premonition I might end up one of these so-called lazy bums because I saw no sense in hard work or the goodies it brought. Nevertheless, to please my demanding, controlling father, I worked fanatically hard when he was looking and made sure never to be late for work, an act Dad respected as much as he despised any puke late for work!
Dad employed my uncle Russ, an Irishman married into my mother’s Jewish family of six sisters, and before the war had been a successful musician/entertainer and flamboyant personality, who was struggling and had proved unemployable in the harsh environment of the real rat-race world. Dad gave him a chance, and immediately observed him to be a “goddam temperamental prima donna who thinks he’s a prince,” and was actually shocked a man could be this downright lazy. Well, this uncle and I got along just fine, having in common the unquenchable urge to exchange bullshit and the identical aversion to hard work and the nonsensical patter bombarding us daily by Dad’s hard-working shoemaker customers and the salesmen stalking him daily with good deals, all of them in competition over who worked hardest in this world of hard working maniacs out to fuck you out of your livelihood if you didn’t work harder than you were even capable of!
I felt that even more ridiculous than working, and working hard, were people talking about their jobs and how hard they were working. Like Coach Urban Meyer, they were too busy to talk about much of anything but work and bored me to the point of fleeing them before I grew depressed at the possibility of ending up in their world.
* * *
Since I was hell-bent on avoiding this nonsense at all costs, I decided after completing my army enlistment, I would pursue a livelihood where I could work in spurts and have some idle time to loaf during the dreaded 8 hour work shift. Bartending fit this job description, with a back plan of driving a cab, since I’d often observed cabbies, between rides, reading or working crossword puzzles in their sedans or standing around bullshitting. I realized working in bars involved a busy Happy Hour followed by a dinner time lull during which time one could sip a drink and schmooze with others like myself who were only too happy to make passing and totally meaningless and aimless and colorful small talk about sports and other useless subjects while accumulating a nice buzz. What sane person would pick an 8 to 5 slavery gig lasting for some 40 years over such a life style, or be so motivated to work over-time at some white collar grind-mill to achieve a state beyond the affluent suburbs and perhaps a gated community full of nervous wrecks driven to near insanity by their ambition?
In this lax milieu, which took place in Manhattan Beach in the 1970’s and early ‘80s, I was privileged to run in the company of people who saw things exactly as I did and worked even harder to accomplish less than nothing, if humanly possible. One such cohort was E Randolph Larsen. A lanky basketball player and Stanford grad with a degree in English who preferred waiting tables 3 nights a week and spending the remainder of his time on the beach either playing board games with his girl friend or reading escapist mystery novels and never anything remotely serious or fulfilling in a literary sense, Larsen observed me immediately as a person in hot competition with him in laziness and pure, unadulterated slacking and gaming the system.
He set out to show me who was boss by going on unemployment insurance and vowing to outlast me in surviving without having to work after I quit my job at the busiest bar on the beach and perhaps in LA after a 31/2 year siege of the body and soul. E Randolph, a very talented basketball player, had saved money from a brief battle in the stock market while I’d amassed a sizable nest-egg bartending and paying small rent in a studio cave, which prepared me for this competition.
During drinking bouts, which took place nightly at a couple beach bars, and sometimes after league hoop games, Larsen and I discussed the folly of retirement and the sight of old dodderers at 65 finally released from the work load, but hardly able to enjoy the fruits of a life time of labor that wore them down either physically or mentally or both. Larsen and I both felt the least amount of work possible and a full schedule of play made for a very pleasant and often amusing and sometimes exciting young adulthood that hopefully continued for decades. Larsen and I felt wanting valuable and supposedly necessary things other mortals coveted, and especially kids, was a huge detriment in our drive to out-lazy any poor bastard who felt he could compete with us on the beach. Larsen and I felt “sleeping in” was a luxury best inured into our systems and accepted as indispensable to our sanity if we planned to be healthy at 70. Larsen and I felt laboring under anybody else’s authority or supervision was an insult to our intelligence and common sense. Larsen and I felt a good game plan for our success involved an unwavering schedule of daily events not to be tampered with under any circumstances: Coffee and a long breakfast with the LA Times in the morning; basketball in the afternoon if we had no league game that night; dip in the ocean afterwards and some body surfing to ease aches and pains from athletic activity; a big juicy steak and a potato for dinner to prepare the stomach for a night of boozing and discussing important subjects like basketball and women that could last anywhere from 7 until closing and almost always included wooing the available bar fly—a title for women we considered god’s gift to such creatures as ourselves; forever on the prowl and acceptable for a lasting relationship with the proper woman only if they conceded to all our wishes and demands and had no desire to push or motivate us to get off our asses and get a “real” job and make money and amass fortunes.
E Randolph Larson knew I took a 6 week pub crawl in the British Isles with a bartending pal and smugly claimed victory when, upon my return, after a 31/2 year hiatus, I took on a job as waiter at a bar and grill with nary a dollar left in the bank and only a glass of quarters. He lasted another six months and actually became a fellow waiter at the same joint where the food was good but not taken seriously but the ongoing floorshow by good-time Charlie waiters drew articles of praise in the local weekly alternative paper, where pictures of E Randolph and myself emerged in OP’s and T shirts with towels neatly placed over our forearms in the way of the stiff French waiters of Paris.
* * *
Over the years, no matter where I have lived, posing as an adult at least in physical growth, I have been observed during the usual day time working hours (I’m either unemployed and on unemployment insurance, driving a cab or tending bar at night) lounging in an easy chair, feet propped up while reading a paper or book or working a crossword or just plain contemplating life and trying to slow down time. Always dressed in thrift store rags to prove a point, and surrounded by scant yard-sale junk furniture, smiling and waving at those driving their shiny new un-paid-for cars as they observed my paid-for filthy and messy two decades old jalopies, a trusty Lab dog at my side with tennis ball in mouth, I have felt my advantage at having subsisted some 70 plus years being mostly lazy, and only motivated when it came time to replenish myself with meat and potatoes, while never out of booze and the celebratory cheap cigar.
Sometimes a nearby radio will waft the sounds of an interview with somebody like coach Urban Meyer, living legend, reiterating his pride in hard work leading to success by the work ethic instilled in him by his father and all the rewards it has brought, (and of course he’s an inspirational motivator, ala Tony Robbins, receiving massive sums for sermons, but who experienced a near complete nervous collapse along the way) and gaze around me, perhaps watching the neighbor cat trying to snare a humming bird, or hearing a groaning heap draw near, knowing the town drunk, who I might have a drink with later on at the local pub, is driving it and preparing to hurl a milk bone at my dog and waving at me because his horn doesn’t work.
Meanwhile Sir E Randolph Larsen, possibly at this very moment, sits poolside at his time share condo along the beach in Puerto Villarta, a rum and coke and detective novel close at hand, and a lady in the chair beside him, either to share with him a board game or deliver a massage to sore spots accumulated from a life time of avoiding hard labor. During his visits to the states he usually stays with friends, who are prepared for his needs in exchange for the good company of a man who has traveled the world, tells excellent war stories, and sees no justification for his existence whatsoever and has no problem with it.