9-9-6

 Sometimes less is more. Sometimes more is more. Sometimes more is less, and sometimes most is worst. 

***

The reason for that seemingly ridiculous statement is that I was recently reading about an American work trend known as 9-9-6. The idea is simple: the workday starts at 9 a.m., ends at 9 p.m., and lasts six days a week. 

 Which isn’t as bad as India’s version of 9-9-6; in which a 9-year-old worker makes 9 cents an hour stitching garments to help feed a family of 6. 

Or China’s version of 9-9-6; in which a worker clocks in at 9:00 a.m., clocks out twenty-four hours later at 9:00 a.m., only to clock back in because their workday is starting again, and they are expected to do the work of 6 people.  

Or North Korea, in which the workweek is simply ∞, which means you clock out after infinity is over, or you die, whichever comes first. 

Then there is the other side of the spectrum. France’s version of 9-9-6 has a person working nine days a month, nine months a year, with an average weekly intake of 6 bottles of Bordeaux. 

Or Venezuela’s version of 9-9-6; in which 9 windows smashed gets a person 9 loaves of bread, and 6 rolls of toilet paper.  

Or Russia’s version; in which 9 bribes to 9 different government officials buys a worker 6  days of reduced surveillance. Food and shelter not included. 

****

All of this leads to one very dismal conclusion: work sucks. Too much of it will kill you, and too little of it will make life so miserable you’ll wish you were dead. It’s one thing for a grown man to sit around his parents’ basement all day with his thumb up his ass, or more accurately, both thumbs on the controller of a video game, and it’s another for him to visibly deflate over an exhausting work schedule that leaves him little time for relaxation. If my math serves me correctly, a 9-9-6 workweek racks up a hefty seventy-two hours on the time clock. That leaves a person with little time to screw his head back on straight after twelve hours of spreadsheets, meetings, and Jim, the geek from marketing, who can’t stop talking about how HE would’ve ended Game of Thrones. 

For most workers, the free market comes with its own set of shackles. The proponents of 9-9-6 don’t want to unlock the manacles so much as convince their employees that they are, in fact, quite comfortable in them. Their campaigns are helped along by empty aphorisms like this one: 

“Don’t work till you’re tired, work till you’re done.” 

Tough shit then for most workers, whose work is never finished. For every task completed there are four more waiting. Although maybe I’m reading that line wrong. Maybe that last part doesn’t mean work till you’re done with a task, but work till you drop dead. Only then will an employer be convinced that an underling went as far as he could go. It’s the same screwy logic that governed the Salem Witch Trials, when a suspected sorceress would be submerged in water. If she rose to the surface then she was evil, and executed, and if she sank like a stone, she was innocent…and dead. 

The ‘work till you’re done’ slogan isn’t exactly a new one. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius declared it 2,000 years ago, or was it 3,000 years ago? 4,000? When did Marcus Aurelius declare things? 

Anyway, in the past, he penned this maxim: 

“It’s absurdly wrong that, in this life where your body does not give in, your spirit should be the first to surrender.” 

Which is funny, considering he was Emperor of Rome. What’s probably more accurate is Marcus Aurelius writing: “It’s absurdly wrong that, in this life, where your slaves’ bodies do not give in, their spirits should be the first to surrender.” 

Some things are easier said than done. I’m pretty sure no Roman emperor ever had to dig a canal. 

Which, I guess, leads to the big question: What’s the point? Is life a slog? Is it a seemingly endless arrival of toil, in which the individual sense of happiness collapses beneath a mountain of petty tasks. Or is it an Epicurean orgy of over-indulgence, in which every passing whim is satisfied with no broader appreciation of noble accomplishment? 

Maybe it’s some sustainable point between the two? 

You tell me… I’m going drinking, and I’m not going to drink till I’m tired, I’m going to drink till I’m done. 

More Alembics to come… 

The Modern Test of a Man

It is an exciting time to be a man, or a woman, or both, or neither. I used to identify simply as being male, because, that’s pretty much what I am. Surprised then, was I, to realize there is a whole new array of options out there these days. I try to be aware of current trends, if only to keep an eye on what is happening and not necessarily to integrate fads or paradigm shifts into my own personal “style,” if it can even be called that. I also tend to just go with the simple things that have always worked for me. I watch old black and white movies. I listen to NPR on the radio. I read books made of pulp. I sit in my backyard and watch fireflies shake their glowing asses at me.

As a culture we’ve never been more flush with invention than we are now. A capitalist society lives by the mantra, “The More Choices, The Better.” And so I may walk into a car dealership and say, “I don’t want any of that newfangled, fancy, space-age stuff. Just a basic, reliable automobile.” But then the savvy car salesman will point out certain creature comforts like seats that warm themselves, hands-free blue-tooth, satellite GPS, holograms, driverless options, rear-camera visual aids, and I may say, “Wow. I had no idea this stuff existed. It’s a whole new world. Thanks oily salesman.”

And so I tried to keep an open mind as I perused the new categories of human that were available to me, now that I was firmly entrenched in the twenty-first century. I could be cis-gender, trans-gender, heterosexual, homosexual, omnisexual, asexual, metrosexual, non-gender, nonbinary, intersex, gender nonconforming, gender fluid, gender hyperbolic, gender lethargic, a tucker, a taper, a candlestick maker, half-in, half-out, all-in, all-out, top, bottom, fem, butch, prissy, hissy, vulgar, misogynistic, androphobic, aloof, lecherous, ethereal, multiple sexuality madman, or madwoman, I suppose.

The possibilities were dizzying, and what’s worse, how do I keep myself from being forced into a category of my own definition, that, once employed, may be limiting to the options I may have for myself. Oscar Wilde once said, “To define is to limit.” Indeed, and considering his tastes and proclivities, he probably would’ve happily flipped for all the new kinds of male or female alternatives, and may even have morphed into something like an Olivia Wilde, which would’ve been something to behold. If a person can write like Oscar Wilde and look like Olivia Wilde, there probably isn’t much they can’t accomplish. Kind of unfairly superhuman.

I was always just a guy who liked girls, but that suddenly seemed lame and boring. And, considering the spectrum of masculinity and femininity, not as clear-cut as I may have assumed. For instance I had been mistakenly referred to as “Ma’am” on one or two impersonal sales calls over the years. I never had any reason to doubt my voice fell into the normal tenor of an adult male, but maybe I had been kidding myself all this time. I had once, while accidentally ingesting two tabs of ecstasy, (long story, I thought they were headache relievers; and in a way, they were), danced with my hands over my head. I had sipped a can of beer through a straw. I’m terrible at fixing things. The fight club I joined turned out to be a slap fest. I don’t go out of my way to watch contact sports. In fact, when I considered it, I never realized my own betrayal to the classical precepts of my gender.

It may have had something to do with a bartender gig I had awhile back. Every Monday night the bar had a drag show. Talk about a crash course in an alternative subculture. It was like being trapped in a Federico Fellini movie one day a week, with opulent dresses, wigs, pasties, fishnets, heels whirling by, and in the middle of it all feminine figures who were technically male-born, lip synching the Pussycat Dolls “Don’t cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?”

The place was packed every Monday for years, and I developed a fun and antagonistic friendship with all the performers. On some level I made it okay for straight guys to show up to the place with their girlfriends, too. Paddy the Duke, Ambassador. The guys could sit at the bar and talk to me, feeling comfortable with one of their own, and I would lecture them seriously on metaphysical principles as applied by Marcus Aurelius and Boethius, about how humans should strive for a kind of competitive harmony whose ultimate design is an implacable mystery, all while a Tammy Wynette look-alike crooned “Stand By Your Man.”  A vague philosophical principle takes on a whole new level of curiosity when it is spoken between the knees of a six-foot-five drag queen standing atop the bar, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with “her” rendition of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”

The performers were courageous, I’ll give them that. One of the drag queens I used to chat with would tell me, “It takes balls to do this. (Pause). You know what I mean!” She was right, too. One time the question was even put to me, “Are you man enough to wear a dress in public?”

The question froze me in a type of brilliant logical paradox, and “she,” the crafty Socrates, awaited my answer. If I said no, then I had to admit I wasn’t man enough. If I said yes, I might have to wear a dress in public, and the thought terrified me, and in a traditional sense, fear is generally associated with the feminine.

“Well, which one is it, sweetie?” My crafty interlocutor dared.

“Um, I’m going to go drink half a bottle of Grand Marnier,” I said. “That is my answer.”

“You’ve got a long way to go.”

“Well then, I might as well be drunk for the trip.”

More Alembics to come.