Porkpie Hat—Don’t be a Busy Monster

“pity this busy monster, manunkind” – e.e.  cummings

Here is a deep philosophical question for you to ponder, dear readers: Is it better to earn one hundred dollars, or to find one hundred dollars? Perhaps there are many stoic, puritanical souls amongst you who answered that it is obviously more rewarding to have worked for the money.  After all, you have come by it honestly, have been fruitful, have contributed to the economy.  For that response, I salute your ethical nature.  For me, it will always be far more delightful to come across two crisp fifties sticking out of a snowbank (I swear this happened to your indolent narrator about two weeks ago) than to have earned it by the sweat of my brow.

To me, there is no money more delightful than found money—moolah that was not earned by devoting precious hours of my life to some soul-sucking job.  By the same token, there is no time more deliciously spent than stolen time.  How many of you, like me, find ways to skive off your job, taking extra long lunch breaks, or checking your social media when you’re supposed to be paying attention during some meeting devoted to the latest bullshit-flavour-of-the-month shift in corporate philosophy? How many of you create fantasy hockey teams, or compose epic poetry, when you’re supposed to be returning emails? (Honestly, do employers truly believe that people are capable of spending eight hours a day committing themselves to tedious, repetitive tasks?)

For as long as I can remember, I have kept a Moleskine notebook hidden in the top drawer of my desk.  I take it out whenever I can and hide it whenever I hear my boss’s heels clicking down the hallway.  Its pages are filled with random jottings and doodlings.  This is where my mind manifests its lazy and creative nature.  Opening the notebook at random, to a page created last winter, I see several roughly drawn sketches of strange fish with human faces.  There are a few lines devoted to an odd dream in which I was standing on the beach at Vancouver’s Spanish Banks, and an ocean freighter suddenly sprouted wings, flapped them, and flew off into the night sky.

There is also a description of a wonderful stolen afternoon I spent that winter.  I had phoned in sick at work and headed to my favourite Exchange District restaurant in the company of a good friend.  The whole city seemed silent, blissful, muffled by tumbling snow.  According to my notes, we each drank a Tanqueray martini, then shared a bottle of pretty reasonable Beaujolais, and some perfect chicken livers sautéed in brandy and heavy cream.  We exchanged stories of old adventures and plotted some new ones.  I remember there was classical music playing softly in the background—Bach, I think.  It was perfect.  And, I can’t help but think about how many wondrous, stolen hours I have devoted to this sort of exquisite idleness: wandering through art galleries or along forest trails; taking off on a Friday for the ski hills; sitting in a darkened movie theatre on a rainy afternoon, watching a Stanley Kubrick double bill.

I often think of my great uncle Cornell for inspiration.  Corny, as he used to be called, was a colourful and somewhat controversial figure in our family.  He had rarely been gainfully employed.  Whatever cash he had was probably gained by dodgy means.  To my knowledge, he had never owned a house of his own, apparently living his life as some sort of never-ending “royal progress,” travelling about the world, sleeping on the couches of relatives, friends, and newly-acquired acquaintances for as long as they were willing to have him.  As I recall, this was a source of major resentment on my father’s part, but my brothers, sister, and I relished all the time he spent under our roof.  He showed us card tricks, taught us origami, told us hair-raising stories about his exploits in Thailand, Cairo, and Bali.  For all of his shiftlessness, he had a deeper appreciation for the beauty and possibilities of life than most of the people I have ever met.  He made us children feel that the world really was our oyster, that life was not some grind, something to be endured like a chronic skin condition.  He helped us understand it is to be lived with a sense of fun and just a little recklessness.  For me, at least, he never outstayed his welcome.

I am sure some of you good souls are saying to yourselves at this point “But wait! Wouldn’t the economy just grind to halt if everyone conducted themselves in such an immoral and slothful manner? Wouldn’t civilization itself collapse?” And you would be absolutely right.  Of course it would.  Just the same as if everybody on the planet decided to book a flight to Kuala Lumpur at exactly the same time.  Don’t worry, there will always be a majority of people who are too honest, or else too sheep-like, to bend or break the rules.  Most of us will continue to unquestioningly serve whatever self-serving system or overlord holds the whip-hand.  We will not lapse into a lackadaisical apocalypse.  So go ahead, dare to eat a peach, steal back some free time for yourself.  The world will keep rolling along, towards whatever productive fate awaits it.  But perhaps you will have created a few more pleasurable memories for yourself and others along the way.