Work Is Easy -- The Art Of Accomplished Leisure Is Hard

by Phil Rockstroh

November 3, 2003


Yes, like everyone these days, I'm overworked and stressed out; I feel a bit lost, baffled and addled -- that events and circumstances are moving too rapidly for me to discern any emergent patterns in the unfolding of events, as, all the while, I suffer this nebulous dread that something essential has been forsaken, because I lack the time to even feel human, to contemplate neither the intricacies of my own life nor those of larger existence, nor be to granted the blind luck to momentarily blunder out of this perpetual state of bewilderment, so that I might gain a fleeting glimpse into how this situation came to be -- and to where its trajectory might be propelling me. I do my utmost to suppress these thoughts; otherwise, they might grow to torment me, night and day, roiling my mind with uneasy questions about my life, threatening, at anytime and at any given moment, to overwhelm my tenuous image of myself and my place in the world, whether I'm standing lost in my own insignificance beneath the mystery of star-stippled nighttime sky or waiting at the supermarket check-out line when the cashier asks me to answer the timeless conundrum of whether I desire paper or plastic.

Recently, I had this dream:

The first part of the dream was much like the life of a dreamer, boring, unextraordinary, a virtuoso opus of epic tedium, then, like a freight train/church bus collision on the monotonous flatlands of a rural Kansas blacktop, the scene changed, in an instant, from dull to horrific.

It began at my office where I had taken a break from my dreary job, in which I crunched numbers for a major marketing research firm in midtown Manhattan. Feeling tired, empty and discouraged, I went down to the street to find a snack to distract myself from my meaningless life. Then the scene shifted: I found myself leaving an ice cream parlor in the middle of a vast desert and trudging across sand dunes that now covered Madison Avenue. Above the skyscraper canyons, the mercilessness desert sky was a flat-screen TV where endless advertisements, sound bites, and infomercials beat down upon me. The dried bones of last season's hot properties were scattered everywhere. A hot wind wiffled through the empty, sun-bleached skulls of fallen boy bands. Reality Show contestants begged for another sip of fleeting fame and then withered into the sands of oblivion. Seething clouds of stinging, black flies of the corporate media swarmed, filling the air with a hideous buzzing and laying their voracious, twenty-four-hour-a-day-news-cycle maggot offspring upon the newly perished. Buzzards with the face of Ann Coulter circled over head waiting for their turn to devour the carrion of dying democracy.

I staggered onto 42nd street and stumbled westward until I came upon a small oasis inside Bryant Park where the opening of the blossoms of cluster of cactus flowers tore the desert air so suddenly and with such force that the violent concussion of displaced air dislodged the head of my ice cream cone. This accidental decapitation of a frozen dairy product by an act of floral ebullience so rattled the ghosts of my empty appetite that they were temporarily driven from me -- and they floated out of the city into the limbo of greater America where they wandered the food courts of forgotten gods, muttering resentfully about their lost ice cream and seeking solace in titanic scoops of ectoplasmic Haagen-Dazs at the Mall of Eternity.

It was such a moment of rarefied beauty that simply being witness to it caused my spirit to soar to the level of mere crankiness, while the voluble cosmos eulogized the death of my vanity, struck dead, inflicted by the sudden knowledge of its own insignificance. (Though the cosmos hardly knew the deceased at all -- it had seen enough just like it to give it a wholly adequate send-off.) (Though the expression "wholly adequate" caused my vanity to twist with annoyance while suspended on its hammock of flames during its hours of leisure time in hell.)

Thrown into a crisis, I went to see my spiritual advisor, who is a seven foot, two inch hermaphrodite tree frog, the most wise and wet Rabbi Sacky Balzac who reads, like teas leaves, the brackish waters of the Swamp of Zeitgeist.

He proclaimed: "You are simply a cipher, a mere reflection of your times and we are living in an era of the triumph of the towering lie, of the ubiquitous and ascendant sales pitch, of a colossus of marketing fraudulence that now bestrides the globe -- as the truth dies, unseen and unnoticed, shriveling like a worm on the sun-baked sidewalk after being driven from the veritable earth by the drowning deluge of advertising. You feel wretched, because your are just a little lie who keeps getting beaten up and having his lunch money taken by bigger lies."

Then the amphibious and auto-didactic rabbi croaked out the prophesy that "...One day, the hollow icons of this empty age will be smashed. Your fallen scoop of ice cream, cast from its sugary throne, is a sign that foretells what is to be: The flat-screen edifices of the commercialized ego will topple.... Virtual Vines and phantasmagoric wildflowers will twine through the ruins of the Temples of TV Narcissism: There will be no survivors of Survivor. Only the hymns of honey bees will hum where there had once been a constant chorus of commercialized self-referential reverence: American Idols will fall to earth like drunken high school girls. At twilight, amid the crumbled remains of our shattered temple of commodified dreams, we will gather in the gloaming, peering through its collapsed roof at the waning sickle moon of the negligible market share of our shrunken souls and we will pray -- pray to the banished gods of integrity, pray that we may hear the truthful insights of ash and salt and starlight and behold, and be beholden to, the risen heart of world's reborn veracity. In other words, we corporate whores are going to be bitch-slapped hard by the Mack Daddy of Eternity."

(Note: I cannot vouch for the accuracy of his augury though: For it was before noon on a Monday and the Rabbi Sacky Balzac had already broken the seals of a few bottles of sacramental, Sabbath wine.)

Before dawn, the demon of exacting empiricism that passes itself off as my alarm clock shrieked out its daily dream-grinding admonition and I was awakened from the mortifying dream -- but, oddly, I had not set the alarm to go off as early as it did -- It had sounded at its own volition, It was afraid of something -- for something big was coming.

Then I thought I must still be dreaming as the alarm clock scuttled off my night stand and scurried across the floor like a cockroach to the dark recesses of my bedroom, as a numinous light bloomed before me. It seemed some kind of sore-head super-being had arrived. He was wearing winged, white loafers, a pale blue linen suit, a cloud-white dress shirt, and a tie made from the fabric of the sear-sucker sky. He announced he was an Angel of Leisure and warned me not to look directly upon him -- or else -- I would be unemployable for life and probably for a long time thereafter.

"Once, I did some ecstasy that had a similar effect on me," I told him. "You liked that batch, huh? It took half an eon to get the mixture right," he replied.

"Why are you here?" I asked him. "Does everything have to be an agenda?" he answered. "All right," I said, "but I'm not doing any more of that ecstasy of yours, I'm barely employable as it is." "Oh, don't be such a clinched sphincter. Do you think there is any good reason on earth or in heaven for that useless piffle you perform at your wretched job to even exist? It is a divine truth that: Work is easy -- the art of accomplished leisure is hard. Most people, when they're not working, just sit around watching TV or wandering around malls or murdering innocent plants in their yards with poisons and weed-wackers, or any of the million acts of imbecilic passivity or obsessively empty motion that cause their minds to be churned to spittle." "Like taking your ecstasy doesn't?" "I guess I'll have to defer to your extensive experience in regard to the effects of brain damage. You know you should realize you're talking to an Eternal Super Being here -- and if you keep annoying me -- I can turn your little testicles into dust-bunnies, then scatter them to the ends of the cosmos. Do you get me?" "You can bet your celestial ass I do."

There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversion. In a futile gesture of self-protection, I crossed and recrossed my legs, fearing the swift leveling of an act of cosmic castration upon my little, wholly-insignificant-to-the-vast-scheme-of-things gonads, but the angel, mercifully, changed the subject. "The Truth is: I didn't come here to chat with you, as much of a giggle and a gas as that has been. I came to have a word with your alarm clock. I haven't seen him since the Rebellion and the Fall. You know he wasn't always evil -- He used to be a music box in the House of the Lord but he grew jealous when God went through her pre-puberty fixation-with-horses period...." "God is a little girl?" I asked. "God is everything, nitwit; any over-caffeinated college freshman divinity student knows that: Everything from a squalling infant to a frail old man, from lowly slime mold, to the great inter-dimensional, time-bending, clairvoyant, horn-billed sky hippopotami of the immense gas-cloud planets of the Pleiades. Where have you been?" I ignored the dig and told him, "Satan's little helper fled for the shadows when you showed up. I'd try looking for him under the bed, because the only other place to hide is beneath that pile of dirty laundry in the corner -- but between the combination of my sweaty socks and the trice-worn underwear -- I don't think even a denizen of hell could abide that stench."

The Angel of Leisure had arrived in my bedroom to begin the final confrontation between the true forces of good and evil -- between exploitation and exaltation, between inspiration and enforced tedium, between slavery and inspired goofing off... He had come to head off a war not start one: Wars were trite -- and have been done and done to death; only an asshole or an idiot would seek one out, he told me.

He had come as an emissary of peace and forgiveness -- to offer the alarm clock its old job back. All would be forgiven -- Its place among the keepsakes, novelty items, and tchotchke on the shelves of heaven would be restored...

At this, the alarm clock's shrill cry was transformed into a gentle sobbing. Its red, digital eyes pixilated with tears of joy and reconciliation as it rose in the air and ascended heavenward.

I slept in very late the next morning, even floating into early afternoon upon lullabies played by the music boxes of eternity. Although, in the grim realm of the tedious now, I was fired from my slime-sucking job as a mindless minion to professional liars. Maybe, there is a benevolent God of Creation after all.

Now, if I could just stop having this reoccurring nightmare of Ann Coulter landing on my fire escape and staring through the window at my fleshy, ice cream-fed haunches, I might get another decent night's sleep.

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America the 'beautiful' on Swans


Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).

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Published November 3, 2003
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