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How To Be a Bum

It seems my earlier article “I Am A Bum” has touched a nerve with modern America. Many readers out there seem to be inspired by my total lack of success. Cries for help have poured in from across the land. Here I thought I was just some crackpot spewing a heap of hooey. Ok, so maybe I am. Still, how can I sleep at night if I don’t answer these desperate pleas for help? The Secret to becoming happily worthless needs to be shared. No self-respecting lay-about could sit back and let fellow humans wallow in the depths of prosperity. Well… actually I could but I don’t have anything else to do. So, here I must offer my twelve-step manual for chucking it all and becoming a sincerely contented failure. After all, the true American Dream is not becoming rich and famous. That’s the dream according to Hollywood and Corporate America. The reality is they’re pulling a big scam on you to get your money. It’s working too. Nope. Real Americans dream about the Endless Summer Vacation. It’s a place where the Man can’t poke them with a cattle prod to stimulate production. So here’s The Secret on how to do it (or not do it, as the case may be).

Step One: Be honest with yourself. Is the life of sloth really what you want? Sure, it sounds like paradise, but it’s not as easy as it seems. Sit down in that comfy chair with your favorite libation and do some real soul-searching. Yeah, yeah, I know, soul searching hurts. Tough beans. Sometimes you have to jab yourself in the leg with a fork for your own good. Now is the time. Get out the nastiest grilling fork and jab it in hard. Does it hurt? Well, of course it does. What are you stupid? Being a bum takes commitment. Ok, you haven’t had enough to drink yet. Drinking is an essential part of being a bum. Keep at it until you’re feeling no pain.

Step Two: Hammered? Good! Look around at your stuff. How important is this pile of rubbish? If you had a dumpster delivered to your house what percentage of it could you toss in? Now, I’m not just talking about the debris out in the garage. That goes automatically, except for the power tools. I’m not crazy. I’m speaking of those priceless possessions strategically placed to make your peers envious. Those Ping golf clubs, that 72-inch HD TV and that Joe Montana autographed football are the things I mean. Cool stuff and expensive! They gotta go. Heck yeah, it hurts! What do you think the fork training was all about? Ask yourself, what is it from this heap that I really need? It’s probably nothing. Fill up the Yard-A-Pult and toss it all over the fence now… Finished? Good. Have another drink, you need it.

Step Three: Where do you live? Are you renting a trailer next to the auto salvage yard or do you own a 15,000 square foot custom home in upstate New York? Most likely, you are residing in a basic three-bedroom two-bath tract home made out of ticky-tacky. Well, if your digs are a trailer then congratulations, you already are a bum. Have a drink to celebrate. If you are afraid your “friends” will lose respect for you then you don’t have what it takes. Bummer. I suggest you get out the 50-year-old cognac and drown your sorrows.

If you are like most people and live in the Babbling Brook Residential Development, you’re the guy I’m talking to. You need to know the truth. Sorry to burst your bubble but your house is crap. I’m sure you have a healthy thirty-year mortgage and the house is beautiful. It also looks exactly the same as all the rest in your neighborhood. Torch it! Not literally you fool! I mean figuratively. DO NOT actually set fire to your house without adult supervision, sober or otherwise. Look, you don’t need the junk so you don’t need the space and therefore you don’t need the house. People all over the world live in boxes a fraction of the size of an American home. You don’t hear them complaining, do you? They’re often quite content. You don’t need to live in a cardboard box near the bus station either. An Airstream trailer sitting on cinderblocks is a fine abode. But be advised, a monstrous Winnebago motor home is not! That’s cheating.

Step Four: This is a toughie, even for me: The car. It has got to go. A lot of people buy whatever SUV gives their Ping Golf Clubs the most space to rattle around in. Sorry but SUVs are completely useless gas-guzzlers. If you have one push it off a cliff and be rid of the eyesore. Unfortunately most guys are linked to their cars below the waist. I’m one and I admit it. I have a 1960 VW microbus. It is the one place where I am in control of my world. I did not bring it with me to Grand Cayman. I know about that fork torture first hand. Walk out to your beloved and take a good hard look, sit behind the wheel, feel the Force. Now say good-bye. How did you fare? Did you burst into tears? Remember it’s just a thing. It can be replaced. I don’t care if it’s a Ferrari F-50, a 1966 Corvette or a Messerschmidt three-wheeler. Bend over and kiss it good bye… It’s gone. Flotsam.

Ok now, I’m not an unreasonable task master. You don’t have to send your beloved to the crusher. You can pay to ship it where ever you go. It’s going to cost a heap. More likely you can drive it. However, if you ship it to an island like mine, be prepared for the sea air to turn that beauty into a rusty piece of yard art in a few years. That might cause excessive anxiety. Sell it to a good home rather than doom it to an early demise. Or, you can do what I did. Put it in storage and wait for the day you can be reunited. Tough decisions, I know, but they have to be made if your goal is to be a bum.

However, be advised, some cars go well with the bum lifestyle. Old VWs, pre-rusted jeeps, Country Squire station wagons, 1966 Falcons are the types of rides that shout to the world that you are the Real McCoy. If you own a high-end motor vehicle (motor homes included), it ain’t in keeping with being a bum. We do have a reputation and an image to protect here. There will always be the black asterisk of “poseur” next to your name if you’ve got a Lotus Turbo Esprit hidden away. If you have a conniption fit when The Precious gets a scratch, your car is interfering with your life’s dreams. Divorce it.

Step Five: Now then, what about that meal ticket? I don’t have a clue how to build a career or even get decent employment. Well, what can I say? I’m a natural born lazy sod. You do want to learn from the best now don’t you? Of course you do. As far as careers are concerned, I may not know what I’m talking about but I have seen a lot of suffering. So, just what is it you do that is actually important? Are you a doctor? A baker? A candlestick maker? Or are you a sniveling lackey? Ah ha! I thought so! Whatever it is you do, in reality you’re spending all day, everyday, figuratively turning a crank on a wheel. Something like sausages or latex gloves pop out the other end. You only get to keep the defective ones, at a 30% discount to boot. Many of us are quite happy at this. If you are one of them, congratulations! You’re a loser but sadly you’ll never make a good bum. Stay put. You will probably fail at being worthless. In fact, were you to actually chuck it all you’d most assuredly suffer GWS, Grindstone With-drawl Syndrome. This can have serious medical consequences. It can result in, and I shudder at the thought, excessive drinking! So be careful here. Only you can answer the question as to whether you can cut the mustard and live on a diet of sloth dogs. The truth is we’re looking for a few useless men.

Step Six: Location, location, location. Where are you going to go? I’m not too keen on trying to be a bum in an affluent area or big city. There’s heaps of pressure to be wealthy in those places. The true bum doesn’t care. Sadly, the cold hard fact is it’s mighty depressing to be surrounded by “success” when they won’t let you past the velvet rope. All too many Americans spend way too much money on credit giving the illusion of prosperity anyway. It’s that old keeping up with the Jones’ thing come hell or high water. This runs totally contrary to sophisticated Bumming Philosophy. So, my advice is get away to someplace where showing off that useless heap doesn’t factor into the equation. I mean you really don’t want to live in a place surrounded by people who have all the crap you tossed out in a drunken stupor do you? No siree Bob!

The first logical location that comes to mind are tropical islands, like Gilligan’s Island. They are nice. However, I can tell you from experience, they are still expensive; there may be visa issues. There is no Ginger the “Movie Star” or even a Mary Ann. But there are plenty of Mrs. Howells though. There are also bugs from your worst nightmares. And island fever is very, very real. Most ex-pats who move to the Cayman Islands bail after a year or two. Almost all of us have to fly back to the real world at least once a year to maintain our sanity. Nevertheless, for the right bum it’s a great place to be. How do you get to one? That’s tough to answer. The fact is, I’m plain lucky to be on Grand Cayman. And it’s mine! Go find your own damn island! Ok, just kidding. But islands are still tricky. What is a more realistic option is some hick town in your own country. Look, people are flooding to the cities for the excitement, the career opportunities, the pies in the sky. All of this is causing the stress that you, the aspiring bum, are seeking to escape. So… run the other way! Move to the rural areas. Duh! How hard is that to figure out? Altoona, Kansas, Pahrump, California, Muskeego, Wisconsin are all fine locations. And there are many, many more.

Step Seven: Now what do you do? You filled four dumpsters with junk, had a garage sale every weekend for three months, sold the house, quit your job and are homeless and unemployed. What are you, insane?! Nothing like jumping off that bridge before you get to it. Unfortunately you are going to have to do something. You’ll go nuts if you don’t and then you really will be living in a box by the bus station. You do have to make money and that’s the cold hard truth. Before you do anything rash, do your homework. See if you can get a job where you’ll be going. Don’t be greedy now. You’re going to have to give up that coveted Assistant Manager post at the Chum-Bucket Seafood Buffet. Maybe you should be renting roller-skates and bicycles to tourists or selling fishin’ flies at the sportin’ goods store. It’s not real work and at least then you’ll be doing humanity a service.

If you are a man, one of the tricks of the trade is to do what I’ve done. Be mom! That’s right, put on that apron and encourage your wife to pursue her career. They love that! Women have been playing this dodge for centuries. Now it’s our turn! However, sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you do take this route, believe me, make damned sure the house is clean, vacuumed, the laundry and dishes are done, and the dinner is ready (and delicious) when she gets home! If you fail at this, she’ll replace you toot sweet. You’ll be alone, living in your ’66 Falcon, and testing pooper-scoopers for imperfections. You will be a bum, yes, but it won’t be the cushy bum position you crave. This is a real difficult thing to ask simply because most of us men are totally inept at domestic chores. I know I am. But I try my best and fake it. That’s what counts. Remember, when you’re home alone cleaning you can blast Lightnin’ Hopkins or Junior Brown on the stereo (like I’m doing as I write this). Normally you can never, ever do that. It’s an unseen perk. How bad do you want it?

Another route is to work like a madman for thirty years or so but live well below your means like a… bum. Accumulate a mountain of moola and retire early. This only works if you survive. I know it’s been done. Good luck if you try it though. This one’s out of my realm of expertise. Not recommended.

I still like the idea of moving to the Boondocks and looking for some mindless low-pressure job so you can stay. For example, a good buddy of mine found a job managing a campground in Northern California. He gets a free cottage, lives in the woods and has his own “farm." He has no pressure and little to do but read, tinker with his VW microbus, or spend hours watching the toilet flush. He’s outdone even me at being a bum. And I’m the master!

Steps Eight through Twelve: Sorry, I’m too lazy to actually come up with twelve steps. Hey, I’m a bum. You didn’t seriously think that there would actually be twelve steps did you? Here’s the last step anyway. Don’t believe anything I say! Don’t take my advice! Are you bonkers? I’m a complete failure not to be admired or emulated! So anything I’m likely to tell you has got to be a load of hogwash. If you take the plunge and it doesn’t work out I do not want the blame! Life’s a crap shoot where snake eyes come up 90% of the time. The trick to being a bum is all mental. It’s all up to you to identify what is really important in your life and what is extraneous balderdash.

Then, and only then, you must have the courage and commitment to flush the useless turd blossoms of your life down the swirly bowl and take the plunge. Go West Middle Aged Man! Go West and fail! Or go East if that works.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers helped edit this article but I wrote it!

February 15, 2005