The Coast News Group
Photo by Chris Ahrens

Work and other four-letter words

The Worst Day of Surfing Is Better Than the Best Day of Work

— Popular 1980s bumper sticker

The imaginary line between childhood freedom and adult drudgery ends with that first full-time job. They used to call it the “rat race,” that never-ending marathon resembling a hamster wheel where we, the rat or hamster, chase nothing in pursuit of an illusion.

But, hey, everybody has to contribute something to keep the show going, right? Right. Well, sort of. Some jobs do not contribute to the general good of society, but instead tear it down. Such soul-crushing, environmentally damaging labor demeans everyone involved.

For many years, I have managed to avoid work whose only reward is a paycheck. That paycheck was spent on necessities and, if anything was left over, maybe a surfboard or a trip to Baja or Hawaii.

The tradeoff in my case is that physical poverty is traded for spiritual freedom. While I get buyer’s remorse at 7-Eleven, I have not dreaded a Monday morning for 40 years. I work because I enjoy it and have the flexibility to take a midday hike or run to the ocean for a few waves. Stress is as much a stranger to me as are riches.

Outside of writing for a living, my three favorite jobs were as a dishwasher, barman and paper stuffer.

The dishwasher gig was in the then-tiny town of Queenstown, New Zealand. For three hours each night, I scrubbed pots and pans in exchange for a room with one of the world’s great views and a key to a refrigerator containing everything from venison to lobster. Each day was spent tramping through the surrounding verdant hills or trout fishing in streams as clear as the air.

Prior to that, and also in New Zealand, I spent my evenings serving 7-ounce glasses of Steinlager beer to grateful customers for a penny an ounce.

The paper-stuffing gig was for the Pennysaver on 2nd Street in Encinitas. There, I worked one day a week for 12 hours. It was tedious work, but I spent several days in absolute bliss, surfing until my arms gave out, then dreading the day I returned to stuff flyers into the newspaper. Poor me.

It’s rare but there are days when I hate writing for a living. Not the creative part; that’s nearly always fun. But the editing, struggling to find just the right word and punctuate sentences so readers get the meaning. I’m fighting that now with my latest book on Windansea.

Every writer knows the brain pain that haunts dreams, waking at midnight with a phrase in your head that must be included in the narrative. The accompanying frustration of either forgetting those words in the morning or, after scribbling them on a napkin, reading them the next day to realize they were lifted from “Lord of the Rings.”

Last summer, I was in a writer’s funk, sitting in my home office, wondering when the torment would end. It was the hottest day of the year, and I was sweating and miserable. Relief came not with a cold drink but in gazing across the street to see laborers on a roof, mopping hot tar.

After that, I smiled gratefully, returned to the task at hand for a few hours, loaded up my favorite surfboard and spent the afternoon in my favorite pastime. Next time I complain about work, you are invited to tell me to shut up. Thank you.

Leave a Comment