Tag Archives: long reads



“I don’t need friends. Fuck friends. I need pussy!”

The latest red-hot lover hits Lake Tahoe

1968 April

by Dell Franklin

I found a one-bedroom apartment in a triplex on the California side of Highway 50, a few miles from the south shore ensemble of casinos and hotels—a gorgeous spot among the pines, 50 yards from the lake. My landlord was JC Breedlove, who lived in an apartment on the other side of the one beside me, which was inhabited by truck driver Joe Lebeau and his wife and black Lab. Everything I owned was moved north in a VW I bought at a police auction after selling my Chevy to a man in Watts for $50.

Right off I was hired as a bar boy at Harrah’s Club casino. I was issued black slacks, two white shirts and a black tie. I was assigned to the large, rectangular Keno bar, the busiest bar in the house, and my job was to stock, wash glasses, replace empty bottles and canisters, empty ash trays, cut fruit, change water, keep the bar spotless. In short, I was a flunky never allowed to mix a drink, a gofer learning the business from the bottom up.

I was given the 3 to 11 evening shifts, worked hard and got on well with the bartenders, who were top pros, and heeded their advice and tutoring when they realized I wanted to be one of them as I scoped the cocktail waitresses in outfits revealing the most luscious breasts and asses and legs I’d yet glimpsed in person. One of the bartenders, Bob Brown, a blond matinee idol type around 30, decided to become by mentor. He had a wife and two kids, the wife a former cocktail waitress now working as an office person at Harrah’s after being demoted for growing fat. All the younger cocktail waitresses were after Bob and he was banging them steadily. His wife had wised up and wanted a divorce. He confided in me that he no longer desired his wife and that most of the older cocktail waitresses were ruthless money-grubbers disillusioned with men and there wasn’t “hardly one who wasn’t a can of worms when you opened them up, but they all wanna fuck, and the best way to make in-roads with them is in the employees’ cafeteria and lounge.”

I was so far biding my time, observing some of the lower level Keno-runners and change girls, wondering how I could casually move in on these gals in the cafeteria. Once, when Bob and I sat together on a break, he introduced me to Megan, a divorced cocktail waitress around 30 who issued me a fleeting smile and turned immediately to a bartender from the casino bar. It was obvious these women were not interested in callow bar boys gazing at their endowments in a drooling trance.

One afternoon on my day off, as I read the LA Times in the sun in front of my new digs, a huge Husky named Duke, who lived with a large family down the street, shoved his cold nose on my arm and peered up at me with piercing gray eyes. Joe Lebeau came over and said, “He doesn’t warm up to many folks, looks like he’s partial to you. That family of his don’t pay him the time of day. He goes off for a week at a time and scavenges, raids chicken coops…he’s been shot at and got buckshot in his ass. He ain’t a pet. He’s got that Alaskan wolf in him.”

No animal or human had ever looked at me like Duke did, and he was my immediate best friend, waiting for me to get off work, going for walks with me, sleeping on my porch. JC Breedlove, who had no dog, came by one morning. He drove a dusty jeep and spotless red Porsche and was tall and sandy-haired and very relaxed, almost insouciant, and Joe LeBeau, who’d rented from him for years, said he was a world-class skier who’d been an alternate on the Olympic team 15 years back, didn’t work, owned this triplex and other properties and investments, spent summers playing tennis and fishing, and skied all over the hot spots like Aspen in winter, and had literally fucked every show girl, dancer and cocktail waitress worth fucking in Lake Tahoe.

JC grinned at me, observing my rusty old VW. “So how’s the latest red-hot lover in Lake Tahoe doing?” he asked. “Making out?” He had to know that so far I’d spent every night home by myself. I’d seen him walk a new beauty to her or his car nearly every morning, kiss them and watch them drive off, or drive them home, and he always made it a point to wave at me as I read my paper.

“I’m workin’ on things, JC. Got a few skillets in the fire.”

“I see that tennis racket in your car. You any good?”

“I’m not very athletic, JC. Probably wouldn’t have a chance against a stud like you.” He was about six-foot-four, Hollywood handsome and oozed self-confidence. “But I’m probably a better tennis player than a red-hot lover.”

He laughed. “Hey, it’s only a matter of time before a good looking kid like yourself starts reelin’ ‘em in. I mean, if you can’t land ‘em here, yah can’t land ‘em anywhere.”


The cocktail waitresses were all on intimate terms with the bartenders, and ignored me as much at the bar as in the cafeteria, except for Ginger, a tall, long-legged blonde with a substantial high-shelved rack. She wore glistening ruby red lipstick and caked-on make-up and black fishnet hose, talked in a slow Southern drawl and, unlike the other waitresses, who would literally fight over a big tipper at craps and blackjack tables, was genuinely sweet and the most generous tipper to bartenders. She was the only one to smile at me and hold that smile when I hovered near the service station when a bartender mixed her a drink.

Bob Brown informed me she was “sucking off” fellow bartenders, including him once, a pit boss, dealers, and a security guard. He saw my jaw drop. “She likes to give blowjobs. She won’t fuck. Maybe she’s afraid to get knocked up. But she gives world-class head. You should go after her. She’s not a bitch like the rest of ‘em. Dell, you buy her a couple gin-and-tonics and she’ll give you hellacious head all night long.”

I wanted more than head all night long. I liked Ginger. I wanted to nuzzle her, suck those magnificent creamy tits, lather her pussy with my drippy tongue, and fuck her with triumphant passion and tenderness. I considered asking her to join me in the wee hours at the lounge show at the Sahara casino down the street, where Louie Prima and Keely Smith entertained in the wee hours. I savored the thought of us hanging out together and forging a relationship. So I bided my time, anticipating the perfect opportunity in asking her out, and hung out every night after work at the Keno bar with free drink tickets and talked to a chunky but pretty 22-year-old blonde Keno runner from Portland, Oregon, Gwen, who’d just graduated from Oregon State and was going to be a high school English teacher. She lived in a nearby cabin with her best friend, was pleasant, loved talking about literature and traveling. I confided in her I was a writer, and she wanted to see my work, but I could hardly show her a manuscript titled, “The Woman Hater,” which was filled with misogynist vitriol.

I bought her drinks with my tickets. I lit her cigarettes. One night I asked her to drive around the lake with me, since there was a full moon. She said she’d love to. We drove a while and stopped alongside the lake and sat on some rocks to watch the moonlight shimmer on the lake. When I put my arm around her waist, she stiffened. At the end of the drive I walked her to the door of her cabin and tried to filch a kiss but she held me at bay.

“Please don’t,” she pled. “”Can’t we just be friends?”

“I wanna be more than friends,” I croaked. “You’re a beautiful woman.”

“Oh I am not. I’m a plain Jane. You just want to sleep with me, because you’re horny. I just like being your friend, because you’re such a nice guy, and our talks are so interesting. You’re the only guy around who’s not about money, and gambling, and drugs….” She offered me a winsome smile, pecked me on the cheek and dashed into her cabin.

The following night at the Keno bar she sat down beside me and for the first time I did not buy her a drink or light her cigarette. She asked was I mad at her because she wouldn’t sleep with me, and I said yes, and downed a shooter of bourbon. She started to cry and I got up and walked over to a blackjack table, after being warned by Brown that the casino got back 60 percent of their employees’ earnings on the tables, and won $500 after spending four hours counting cards and felt much better after returning home at 6 in the morning.

Later on, perched in my chair drinking coffee, JC walked another dazzling beauty to her car. When she was gone, I waved him over and handed him $400, which covered my rent through August. Standing over me, he said, “Looks like Tahoe’s latest red-hot lover’s the hottest red-hot gambler, ey? Well, be careful, kiddo—sometimes winning right off’s the worst thing to happen to a guy. And hey,” he grinned conspiratorially, “ready to gamble some of that lucre on the tennis courts, stud? Say…twenty bucks a set?”

“Catch me when I get some sleep, dude.” I said. He gave me a long disappointing look and took off on his daily two-mile run through the woods, an accomplished man’s man in his prime, a near-perfect specimen in perfect shape—local legend.


June arrived and I still hadn’t gotten laid, though I was becoming chummier with Ginger, making her laugh, thrilled when she sat down beside me with her tray in the cafeteria and not fellow cocktail waitresses who did everything to sabotage her shifts and tables so as to squeeze her out of the big money and talked disparagingly about her drawl, her alluring shake of a walk, her make-up—a gaggle of vicious hens pecking away at a sweet, ripe chicken. She was from Memphis, and had come to Lake Tahoe to “get away from home and seek a little adventure.”  I told her of my desire to hitch-hike around the country and maybe the world, and work on a riverboat on the Mississippi River, like Mark Twain. She told me, “Ah jes’ luuuuve lis’nin t’ yawl, honey. Yawl’s so funny, just a doll.”

One night Bob and I ran into Ginger and the three of us went to the Sahara lounge show. When Bob excused himself early, winking at me, I asked Ginger out. She said she liked steak and I invited her for a barbecue at my place, and afterwards, “We could hit the cabarets.”

“Yawl sooooo gallant. A jes’ love that in a man.”

I bought two steaks, red potatoes, a bottle of gin, and picked Ginger up at the casino bar in Harrah’s. She wore heels, a red mini-skirt with black fishnet hose, and a red sweater. On a gorgeous evening, I started the barbecue around 7. Duke was there, and he nosed right up to Ginger, courtly, sweet. We sat in sun chairs, sipping gin and tonics. JC, heading for his Porsche, spotted us, ambled over, grinning. “You devil,” he said, beaming. “Looks like you’re entertaining the best looking gal in town.” After I introduced them, JC, like a fond uncle, said, “You take care of my boy now. He’s a fine lad.” We watched him zoom off in a cloud of dust.

The steaks and potatoes turned out perfect, and we shared them with Duke. Ginger raved about how beautiful it was and how lucky I was to live here and I asked her what she wanted to do with her life, and she said she eventually wanted marriage and a family after she sewed her wild oats, and when I told her of my desire to write novels she said, “Yawl still gonna be Ginger’s friend when yawl famous and they make movies from yawl’s books?”

“I’d like to be more than your friend, Ginger.”

“Yawl so sweet.”

We had several drinks. When it cooled, we sat on the furnished davenport and I kissed her. She kissed back, touching the back of my neck, and I nibbled her cheeks and neck, touched her breast, felt her shudder. I found myself lifting her skirt and tried to slide my finger into her pussy and she jumped up as if electrocuted.

“What yawl DO’in, Day’uhl? What kind-a girl yawl thank ah am?” She straightened her skirt. “Ah’m a propah suth’un lady.”

“That’s not what I heard. I heard you’ve fucked just about every guy at Harrah’s.”

She broke into tears. I sat quivering. “That is an awful lie…who told yawl them horrible lies?”

“Everybody gets it from Ginger, is what I heard, except me.”

“Oh God,” she sobbed. “A thought yawl was my friend.”

“I don’t need friends. Fuck friends. I need pussy!”

She stormed outside, a broken giraffe. I followed her. She got into my VW and demanded a ride home. Duke stared at me with concern. I took the bottle of gin to my sun chair and guzzled from it. Ginger held her face and cried in chest-quaking spasms, then jumped out and took off in her high heels.

“Nogood rotten bastard!” she screamed.

I finished off the gin and passed out on the couch and woke up with a head that felt like it had been clubbed. It was noon before I was in my sun chair, in the shade, Duke beside me. JC walked Ginger to his Porsche. While opening the door, he spotted me and shook his head slowly. I went into the house and tried to write, but all I could do was cry, and after I finished crying I went back out to sit with Duke until JC returned and ambled over.

“How yah feelin,’ stud?”

“Wonderful,” I sneered.

“Gotta watch the booze, kiddo—leads to bad decisions and foul behavior. Myself, I only have a few, keeps me in control.” He issued me his favorite fond uncle grin. “Ready for some tennis—say twenty bucks?”

I went for my racket. I was in sneakers, without socks. We drove to the local clay courts in his jeep and began warming up. It was a very hot day, the sun at its zenith, and sweat gushed out of me. Joe had fine strokes, as if he’d taken lessons, but he was not agile nor a scrambler. I had quick feet and good hands from being a baseball infielder and won the first few games by leaping and diving all over the courts. I sensed his frustration as he dashed back and forth and lunged at the net, swiped futilely at passing shots or galloped backwards awkwardly after lobs. Tennis was more my game, not his, and I let him get close; then closed him out in two sets, shaking hands at the net. He was not happy.

“I’ll get you back next time,” he said. “My serve wasn’t on today.”

“Hey, I gotta win at something, huh?”

He put his arm around me as we walked off. “I’ve watched you for months now, and you’re a mess, kiddo. I fear for you.”

“Guess I got a lot to learn.”

“Well, you don’t need to be doing it the hard way.”

“Guess things come kind of easy for you, huh?”

“Always have, good buddy.”

“Except in tennis, ey?”

He flashed me a hard look as we sat in his jeep, then peeled two twenties from a wad and handed it over. The drive back was silent.


I gave up trying to get laid and upped my drinking and hit the blackjack tables. Free drinks arrived at the tables after drinking several tickets at the bar and sometimes I didn’t return to my apartment until dawn or late morning. I was usually sleep-deprived and hungover behind the bar and found myself giddy and became a cut-up, life of the party, keeping the bartenders amused and often laughing throughout my shifts. The bartenders sometimes paused to gaze at me with expressions I took as questioning my sanity.

My after-work drinking/gambling became a sort of siege of the body and soul. In the employees’ lounge, I ignored wholesome white college sorority girls from the Midwest who were summer recruits to cocktail or run Keno or host or make change for slot machine players and were hit on in the ongoing and exploding sexual grab-bag by white All-American college fraternity boys from the Midwest who were recruited as bar boys and bus boys and Keno runners who partied and got laid while I sulked over Robert Kennedy’s assassination and drove around the Lake with Duke on that hellish night and stalled on my novel and felt the sting of Ginger stiffening in my presence and gritting her teeth.

I became a slave to the tables and ate deep into my bank account. Brown warned me to cease gambling. I had so little money that I used my tips to eat in the cafeteria and had hot dogs at home, if I ate at all. One night after work I hit the blackjack table with about $40 and within an hour had a grand. I’d been betting rashly when on a cold streak, and cowardly when I was hot, a loser. This time, when I got hot I ran with it, and no feeling in life compared to being so torrid you knew which card was coming, the heat escalating to blinding white fever, turning me momentarily bullet-proof and immune from the continual impression I had of myself as repulsive to women and waking up each morning with a painful hard-on and an empty bed.

I kept gambling, built my stack up to $1,500. I lost two hands and quit and had a drink at the Keno bar where the graveyard bartender, Wilkie, told me to “get my butt home.” Instead I went down to the Sahara and spent the morning losing it. I went back to Harrah’s and cashed my paycheck and lost it and borrowed $20 from a bartender at the Keno bar and lost it and later found myself waiting for the bank to open, only to realize I’d drained my account. So I drove to the electric company and withdrew my deposit and returned to Harrah’s and built it up to around $500 and lost it, hurried home, showered, dressed, went to work, made $35 in tips, lost it, went to the parking lot to discover my car wouldn’t start and, in front of beautiful college couples, arms around each other, kicked the car, jumped upon and crushed the hood in a cursing rage, returned to the Keno bar and tried to borrow from Brown and Fordyke and Holliday, who refused to loan me anything, so I hitchhiked home and collapsed.

Woke up on my day off and borrowed $5 from Joe Lebeau and walked a mile to the market for hot dogs, shared them with Duke and was about to doze off in my sun chair when I discovered a show-stopping statuesque redhead dancer from the Sahara sunning herself in a string bikini in front of JC’s apartment. JC came out, spotted me, grinned.

“Hey, you red-hot lover, ready to let me get my money back in tennis?”

I went for my racket. We drove to the tennis courts in JC’s jeep, the redhead sitting up front, the scent of her perfume having a delirious affect on me. The day was blazing hot. While we warmed up, the redhead sat on a chair holding a parasol. The match started and I attacked the net and ran Joe like a frothing dog. I gasped for breath and didn’t care if I died. I beat him the first set and gave him a vicious thrashing the second, at one point coming to the net when he made a weak backhand lob and slamming the ball into his chest. He gulped for breath as his redhead held both hands to her breasts in dramatic fashion. On one knee, he rose and nodded slowly in recognition of retaliation and revenge from a desperate man with nothing to lose.

After I polished him off, we shook hands at the net and he paid me off on the ride back, the redhead doting on JC, who was irksome. I walked to the local market for a case of Brown Derby beer and two sirloins to share with Duke, who now followed me everywhere, even to the market.


My regimen now consisted of working, drinking afterwards and blowing my tips on the tables, hitchhiking home, walking Duke down to and along the lake, and crashing. Fellow employees regarded me furtively. I hung with no one. I was warned by a senior bar boy to get a haircut and clean the crud off my tie. I threatened to strangle him and he scurried away.

One morning, around 2, I was hitchhiking home along Highway 50 when a car pulled alongside me and stopped. Inside was my father. He was 54, and owned a thick neck and meaty face with a thrice broken nose and eyes that were savvy, tough and missed nothing. Driving me home, he almost growled, “Your eyes look like piss-holes in the snow. You’ve lost at least twenty pounds. You look like a goddamn scarecrow. What the hell’ve you been doing to yourself? You haven’t turned to drugs, like the rest of these pussies, have you?”

“Of course not. I’m still your son.”

He heaved a huge sigh of relief. “I’m here because I checked your bank account after not hearing from you for months and saw that it was empty. I had a bad feeling. Looks to me like you’ve been on a drinking/gambling crusade.”

I nodded.

“Took me an hour to find your place. The damndest thing happened—I’m trying to look in the window, and I feel a big nose up my ass. I thought a bear had me. I turn around and it’s the biggest goddamn dog I’ve ever seen. He must be your friend, because he liked my smell. Helluva a dog. We had a nice visit.”

I explained that Duke was my devoted pal. Back at the apartment dad hauled in his overnight bag and howled, “Jesus Christ, this place stinks, and where’s the goddamn lights?” He worked a switch.

I lit a couple candles in the kitchen. “Gambled away the deposit.”

“What about water? You can’t live without water!”

“I got cold water, Dad. I’ve adjusted, like the Army.”

“This place is like the black hole of Calcutta.” He sat at the kitchenette which was littered with paper cups, paper plates, newspapers, napkins, wrappers, etc., and watched me plunk down on the sofa and remove my chewed-up low quarters. “I didn’t raise you to live like this.” He was getting emotional.

“I live as I choose, dad. It’s my life.”

“You won’t last long in life going on like this.”

I got up and walked into my bedroom and collapsed into a deep sleep. I awoke before noon and entered the living room, which was spotless, the lights on, coffee on the gas range, dad at the kitchenette, petting Duke. I sat down across from them with coffee.

“You didn’t have to do this, dad.”

“Finish your coffee and then let’s get some food in you, boy.”

We drove to a nearby diner and dad bought bunkhouse breakfasts and afterwards we went to the Harrah’s parking lot where my car had accumulated a month of dust, tree sap and bird shit. Dad was aghast at the crushed hood. “Looks like I raised a goddamn psycho.”

He had the car towed and mechanics put in a new battery and alternator. He followed me back to the triplex. We sat in the kitchen. Duke sat beside me. Dad gazed at me. I was his only son and he staked his life on me. His eyes grew moist and his face was etched with pain.

“I guess I don’t understand a lot of things,” he said. “Here you were a great prospect headed to the major leagues, and you fuck that up, and now you wanna be a writer? It doesn’t make sense. But it’s your life, and Dell, I got faith in you. Truth is, I’m proud of you for going against the grain. It takes guts to do what you’re doing. Thing is, I don’t want it to drive you to where you are now any more than baseball did.” He pushed a tear from his cheek. “Don’t be too hard on yourself, son. I know your heart, and you’re gonna pull out of this mess…by God, you’re my blood.”

It had been so long since we’d embraced, an act I’d always shunned as the tough son of a tough father, but we hugged. Then I walked him out to his rental. He had a long drive to Reno and the plane to LA. He petted Duke, grinned at me. “You made a good friend here. I’m thankful for that.”

We watched him drive off. He’d given me a $20 bill and warned me not to blow it on booze or gambling, but to eat. I went to my supervisor and asked for as much work as possible and since it was the height of the tourist season he gave me seven shifts a week and 12-hour shifts on weekends. I worked 35 straight nights and after each one I walked past the bar and the gaming tables and drove home to walk Duke and afterwards plunged into deep, dreamless sleep. I saved every penny until I paid off my debts and amassed a sizable nest-egg and informed my supervisor I was finished in October. I was headed to San Francisco, where the odds of getting laid were much better due to the high gay population, so I thought.

Before leaving, I cornered Ginger. “I want to apologize,” I said. “You are the nicest person in this damn snake pit, Ginger. I had you all wrong. I can’t bear to hurt you, and have you hate me. Please forgive me, you beautiful, sweet Southern belle. I’m sorry.”

“Oh Day’uhl,” she said, and actually touched my cheek “Yawl was the only boy ah wanted all along. But yawl’s so hungry…a man so hungry scares a girl.”

Back at the triplex, my car packed, Joe Lebeau and  JC and I shook hands. JC put his arm around my shoulders and walked me to the car.

“Gonna miss yah, kid. One of these days I expect to walk through an airport and see a best-seller by the greatest red-hot lover ever to hit Lake Tahoe.” He grinned and winked, and I laughed, and said, “Thanks for the tough love, JC.”

Duke had watched me nervously all morning. I knelt down beside my car and hugged him and he emitted a sound I’d never heard before, a deep, brief moan, and a shudder, and he snatched my forearm in his jaws and bit down hard, just hard enough to let me know how he felt.

I jumped into my car and took off. JC and Joe waved. Duke followed me half a block at a trot, then stopped when I turned the corner. Halfway to San Francisco, I still saw him in my rearview mirror—imperious lone wolf, eyes piercing, my best friend. §

Dell Franklin is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where getting laid happens almost every day.

Getting a living and throwing stones over a wall

CULTURE.THROWING STONES IILet us consider the way in which we spend our lives

by Stacey Warde

If getting a living, said Henry David Thoreau, makes you miserable, that’s not living.

Yet, some 160 years after Thoreau’s essay, “Life without principle,” Americans suffer more than ever from “not living,” despite the promise of American dreams about prosperity, getting ahead and building a life of one’s own.

We live in a culture obsessed with work, industry and busyness, making money and getting rich, hurling contempt at idlers and slackers, those who wish to spend their lives, as Thoreau might have, passing their days in the woods, gazing into the depths of a pond, reflecting on the passage of time and eternity, marking the change of seasons, writing poetry, actually living.

Thoreau says there’s more to life than working our fingers to the bone, breaking our backs, and spending our short lives by the sweat of our brows merely to earn a buck. Yet, almost everyone I know does just that, working, working, working, as if that’s all there is to life, as if that’s all that matters in a world that does just fine without our frantic labors for money.

He opens his argument by suggesting that we “consider the way in which we spend our lives.” Will we lower ourselves by seeking merely to get a living, or to go deeper into our being by devoting ourselves to “certain labors which yield more real profit, though but little money”?

He then launches into a lament: The United States is little more than an infinite bustle of business, with no rest in sight, and it is “nothing but work, work, work.”

“I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business,” he adds.

Little has changed since Thoreau’s time when states kept slaves, justified in the name of commerce and industry.

In fact, it could be argued that, while not slaves, millions of Americans suffer from a different kind of servitude, and are worse off today than when Thoreau lobbied for a life whose value is measured by depth and character rather than by the machinations and manipulations of getting rich. Opportunities for workers have decreased, and workers themselves devalued and used as tools and pawns.

Labor, the nitty gritty workforce, has never been held in high esteem in the U.S., with the exception perhaps when working men and women organized and fought for their share of the commonwealth. Slavery takes many forms and the U.S. has mastered the art of it, where men and women are esteemed less for their humanity and more for their worth as slaves in the marketplace.

We still see it in the form of lower wages, reduced benefits, enormous wealth inequalities, lack of opportunities and work that is little more than throwing stones over a wall.

“Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to them in throwing stones over a wall and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages,” Thoreau wrote. “But many are no more worthily employed now.”

Isn’t that still the truth for millions of Americans today? Perhaps even more so as jobs that once provided a decent living continue to vanish and more laborers find themselves working not just one job, but often two or three jobs, and still they are unable to make ends meet.

Wealth inequality will only make things worse, fostering more of the wage slave economy emerging in the U.S. today.

Little in our culture promotes the value of activities that don’t make us rich or financially independent. We don’t get paid to dawdle, meditate, ride a bicycle, take a walk through the woods, pass an entire day at the edge of a pond, bake a pie, or write poetry, for example, but these at least make life rich in a way that money can’t.

If I show an interest in writing poetry while neglecting an opportunity to earn a few bucks digging trenches, Thoreau offers, I will be considered an idler, a no-good lazy bum, which is something my dad used to say about those who seemed to be doing nothing constructive with their time, such as getting ahead, making money—the end-all and be-all of enterprise in the U.S., where utility and industry reign supreme over all other endeavors.

A person’s value is measured only in what he might earn for his labors, or more importantly what he might earn for those who employ him for his services. But if that is all, he is diminished, less than a man and merely a tool for those who stand most to gain from his efforts.

“If the laborer gets no more than the wages which his employer pays him, he is cheated, he cheats himself,” said Thoreau, who argues that the true idler is the one who merely earns money.

“The aim of the laborer,” Thoreau opined, “should be, not to get his living, to get ‘a good job,’ but to perform well a certain work; and, even in a pecuniary sense, it would be economy for a town to pay its laborers so well that they would not feel that they were working for low ends, as for a livelihood merely, but for scientific, or even moral ends. Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.”

Always, whether we like it or not, as Thoreau suggests, there remains the question of gains obtained beyond the pecuniary. What do we get for our labors beyond the security of a paycheck? Increased purchasing power? A home, or a place to call our own? Two weeks paid vacation? A defense against poverty? What life beyond the money we take home? And if our paychecks offer no security at all, what then?

And, living in the U.S., how can one “spend” a life without money?

My parents taught me that if you worked hard, made the right choices and did as you were told, you could earn a good living, and not only that, but create a lifestyle that suits you, makes you feel as if you’ve done something worthwhile with your life. Thoreau called it, “getting a living,” whereby through “honest, manly toil,” which makes our “bread taste sweet and keeps society sweet,” we perform “the needful but irksome drudgery” of our labors.

Thoreau didn’t begrudge work but kept it in the perspective of what in life was most important to him, to live well and to live independently, with a higher purpose than merely getting a paycheck.

If you worked honestly, gave your best effort, and stayed out of trouble, you’d get ahead in life, my parents would say, and maybe own your own home one day, keep a few toys in the driveway or garage, build a pool in the backyard, and there’d be money in the bank, as if these were the only measure of doing well and living well.

Mostly, that’s true, I guess, when opportunities and options for choosing well are available, but I’ve done all those things and I’m earning less, not more, than the previous generation that believed in getting ahead, even for blue collar workers who, for a time, could count on building something to call their own, and actually got, a living.

These days the prospects for getting a living, for better and more engaging employment, don’t look promising. The American economy isn’t anything close to what it was when I was growing up. The industries that helped build a thriving middle class—aerospace, steel and autos, for example—have all but disappeared. In their place, we’ve created service jobs in big box retail outlets, fast food chains and tourism that pay half to a third of what my parents earned during their productive years.

There’s less focus on getting ahead and more on simply getting by. It’s hard to give ourselves over to the nurture of our hearts and minds, as Thoreau would have advised, when our time is taken up with mere survival.

And now, I’ve reached the age of early retirement, the period of life when Americans allow themselves the rare luxury of “idle” amusements such as traveling across country, going fishing and cobbling together a few hobbies to stay active and interested. But for many, like myself, that option sank into the abyss of greed where, to increase their profits and pad their accounts with more luxuries, the captains of industry shipped American jobs overseas, reducing opportunities for the millions of hardworking Americans who made this country what it is.

Instead, aging boomers like myself face the very real prospect of working until the day we die, earning a pittance for our labors, valued only as a means, much the way slaves were, for the wealthy to increase their obscene wealth, with little or nothing left over to show for our efforts but poverty and oppression.

Back in the day, if you didn’t like what you were doing, you’d just go get another job, find something more suitable to your skillset and experience.

That possibility seems to have vanished. There are no jobs, none with the security and perks of my parents’ generation. Today we work two or three jobs, go to night school to improve ourselves, and…for what? Less and less of the pie that gets swallowed up by the filthy rich, who have put little of what they earn back into the system, hoarding their wealth and mocking or blaming the poor for being lazy and unproductive.

Life for millions of Americans is less an adventure in gains and opportunity and more like indentured servitude, laboring incessantly, never having quite enough, unable to relax and celebrate life and doing what they do “for love of it,” as Thoreau suggested.

The physical exhaustion that accompanies constant labor without reward or respite would be enough to trouble anyone’s mind but tack on the mental and emotional frustration of lack, of working so hard for so little, and you have a recipe for personal and social breakdown and disaster, collapse, total dismay, discouragement, a disheartening sense of failure and doom, and perhaps, eventually, revolt.

Early on, I developed the notion, like Thoreau, that there’s more to life than being a wage slave, that there’s a place for poetry and philosophy, which may not feed the body but more importantly give sustenance to one’s deeper passions, to that thing called “soul.”

It’s much easier to navigate this American life when there are options; without these options, life becomes a prison, where at a minimum, I suppose, we might more passionately consider the ways in which we spend our lives. §

Stacey Warde works as a farmhand and is publisher of The Rogue Voice.com.