I spent my summer vacation alone, aside from the company of a kitten for a spell, writing in a cluttered Art Deco apartment in St Louis. It got stifling, so I hopped a train west and became a river rat. I wandered a hot and humid holler on the Osage River, sloshing in mud and exploring an abandoned house, where, thrilled, I discovered a beat-up and waterlogged copy of the 1932 edition of The History of Piracy. I chased lightning bugs – or, rather, ran obliviously from the territory of an unleashed Pit Bull into obvious Copperhead snake country. Choose your own version of that adventure.
I was trying to stop my flitting brain. The more I time I spent enthusiastically failing to catch frogs, instead of locking myself in Le Corbusier’s closet, the easier the words came. Like the flood plain I trod, the river of thoughts swelled and subsided.
“Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is merely the bemused spectator,” wrote Charles Simic, who penned one of my favorite poems, gloriously titled, “Breasts” (which I expect Counterpunchers would appreciate of late). Toward the end of my trip, he wrote some wonderful prose for The New York Review of Books, “Summertime.” He longs for laziness and preaches its virtues – the luxury of contemplation. “Indolence,” he writes, “requires patience, – to lie in the sun, for instance, day after day – and I have none left. When I could, it was bliss. I lived liked the old Greeks, who knew nothing of hours, minutes, and seconds. No wonder they did so much thinking back then.”
A few days prior, a pitiful ditty appeared in the Toronto Globe and Mail by one Leah Eichler, founder of Femme-o-Nomics, the “content portal for professional women” and some “mobile collaborative” thing called r/ally, which sounds like a term paper on Derrida gone wrong. Eichler admitted that she prefers to work on holidays and refuse vacation rather than play Plato by the Aegean or Osage. “I can’t help myself,” she confesses, “and honestly, vacations are not something I find comfortable.”
Eichler refers to a study wherein 25 percent of Britain’s work force chose not to take vacation and “guilt” is most often the cause. She pleads for a “new definition of holiday” because leaving the office is far too “drastic” for the committed Femmes-o Nomic and r/allies.
A June article from The Canadian Press service revealed that companies in the United States are encouraging employees to sell their vacation and sick time to their lazy colleagues. Stalwarts at Texas-based Kimberly Clark can sell five vacation days. At other businesses, workers sacrifice a week’s pay for a week off. It’s a way for corporations to pretend to offer benefits, but charge for disloyalty.
The Economist’s August 3 edition isn’t self-immolating like the Femme-o-conomist. They just get honest: “Why should vacations be immune? … Maybe Labour Day should be a day of labour.”
The New Yorker of July 22 lectured about “Why Summer Makes Us Lazy.” In hot weather, workers are “mindless” and in a “good mood.” Is clearing your head mindless and unproductive? The rat-racers of Midtown Manhattan say yes. The Hamptons be damned.
Over at Salon, we find the piece, “Living in America Will Drive You Insane – Literally.” Psychiatrist Bruce Levine says the drudgery of “more degrees, compliance, ass-kissing, shit-eating, and inauthenticity” makes us passive, depressed and self-destructive, ergo, wacko and wacked out on benzos and Bupropion. Levine refers to a Gallup poll from June: 70 percent of American workers are “checked out” from their jobs, ill from work loads and corporate mindspeak, and terrified of job loss.
Levine’s answer to our crazy crisis: When we have room to breathe and think and, as my daughter says, “chillax,” then we recharge and create friendships beyond that insipid office ritual of the TGIF happy hour. Rebellion becomes a matter of flushing the Ativan down the toilet and dreaming up strikes. But 99 percent of the United States can’t afford to chillax if you need to duck from Sallie Mae’s wrath and afford to shop at Costco.
And here we turn to our fearless leader, Barack Obama. In July, POTUS chose to announce his solution to our job insecurities by hooking up with Amazon, a union-busting corporate citizen, in Tennessee, a union-hating right to work state. Ironically, unionized workers at Amazon warehouses in Germany have been striking this summer.
Just one day prior to Obama’s jetting to Chattanooga, thousands of workers at fast-food restaurants went on strike in the Midwest – St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, and Flint. New Yorkers also participated. They want just $15 an hour, not even a vacation. Did Obama fly to, say, bankrupt Detroit, to express support? Nah. He had more important, slippery things to do inside the beltway.
Simic’s “Summertime” includes a moment with a homeless woman in D.C. begging for change. He hands her a dollar and she asks, “Can’t you hear the rattling noise these snakes make as they crawl up the steps of the Capitol?”
Published in the August 2013 issue of CounterPunch magazine.