In Praise Of Free Time

What could be more delicious than to wake up without the incessant intrusiveness of an alarm? These instruments from hell make one’s skin crawl, like nails on a chalkboard. And what could be more decadent than finishing a dream and waking up naturally, flushed from a sexual tryst on a beach in the French Riviera with Nicole Kidman or Matthew McConaughey—or both? Sleep is a powerful seducer, hence the terrifying inventions our institutions have developed to fight it. 

Furthermore, how enjoyable it is to live every minute of the day and night without a timekeeper of some kind. As my favorite rock band of the seventies so astutely asked, Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?

Freedom from time cannot be overstated. As one of the lucky few who was able to get rid of those accursed chronometers at the age of forty-seven, I feel well qualified (fifteen years later) to say a few words of testimony about my salvation. 

During my frenetic career, I witnessed all sorts of horrors about retirement. It certainly did not help that almost two decades of my working years were spent in Florida—the epicenter for people who have fled the northern winters to die a slow agonizing (albeit sweaty) death. They first try to bake to death on the beach or shoot their age in golf. 

But after a few traumatic trips to the dermatologist or chiropractor, they settle into their pre-fab homes for an eternal summer’s nap while watching FOX News. Twenty-four hours a day they medicate their aches, pains, and loneliness by letting their new choice in religion pummel them into self-righteous anger with constant stories about protests, violence, starvation, genocide, political corruption, death, scandal, theft, home invasion, cabals of Satan-worshipping Democrats, and pedophilia. FOX is like porn and S&M for old people. 

And then there are the deviants who end up at The Villages. They can’t afford a house on the beach so they buy a postage-stamp lot in the humid armpit of Central Florida, so they can pay up for Viagra and sweat and fuck themselves to death. I suppose there are worse ways to spend the last years of life (skin cancer and a hundred-plus handicap come to mind), although the venereal diseases that rage in record numbers can be an excruciating payback for the debauchery. 

Our institutions (church, state, family, and school) propagate this fear of free time and therefore Americans will do anything to avoid what is disparagingly labeled as “idleness.” After all, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” They know idle people tend to become thinkers. And thinkers are not welcomed by our institutions. Under no circumstances are you to inspect the contents of your own mind. 

How much better would life be if we began the day with a leisurely cup of coffee and a poem or a good book, rather than email, media outlets, and social networks with their cesspool of fear, hate, envy, jealousy, racism, and division. These things (like pornography) are merely a diversion from the self.

Speaking of good books, one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, in his essay The Critic as Artist says this: 

“Action is the refuge of people who have nothing whatsoever to do. It is the basis for lack of imagination. It is the last resource of those who know not how to dream. People of Action ask “What are you doing now?” But “What are you thinking?” is the only question that any civilized being should ever be allowed to ask another. The contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being, and not merely being, but becoming—this is the gift free time bestows upon us—the gods live thus.”

Let’s talk about food for a moment. It is one of my favorite subjects now that I have “retired.” People of Action eat fast food. People with free time savor slow food. In fact, a group of left-wing Italians who were appalled by the cultural contagion of fast food developed the Slow Food movement to bring pleasure, quality, variety, and humanity back to the preparation and consumption of food. When it came time to choose a logo they chose a snail. Their Slow Food Manifesto says, “A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.” Free time is about developing taste rather than deadening it. 

On to naps. If there does prove to be a heaven (which I seriously doubt) I believe with absolute certainty that there will be a daily nap time. Naps are one of the few things in life that are a perfect pleasure. The siesta is the traditional daytime sleep of Spain and derives originally from the Latin word hora sexta “sixth hour” (counting from dawn, hence “midday rest”). 

Naps are a sensible use of free time—warm temperatures and a hearty intake of food at the midday meal contribute to the feeling of post-lunch drowsiness. Not only that, but a nap can offer a foreshadowing of what dreams may come later that evening. It offers a midday glimpse of gods playing and demons cavorting. A sense of euphoria overwhelms the troubles of the day and somehow the afternoon feels a bit more manageable. 

And then later (the gods be praised) comes cocktail hour. Every afternoon at our home, no matter if we are at the beach (EST) or in the country (CST), an exultant phrase echoes off the walls, “It’s five o’clock somewhere. Cocktails?” Even our dog Remy knows the word and magically appears from her long afternoon nap. 

Out comes the whiskey and bitters, ornate crystal tumblers, various mixology paraphernalia, and the bar area cheers to the sound of ice cubes and tinkling glass—a collective lifting of the spirits takes place. For at the Elrod home, when one says cocktail hour, one means at the very least, sixty minutes of pleasure. 

An extended conversation about the day’s events, menu planning, the anticipation of dinner, a question of the day, and dialogue about what happened in each person’s free time fills the air. There is sublime magic to that first drink of the evening. 

Author and fellow idler Tom Hodgkinson says it this way: “Cocktail hour is when the soul opens and we are seized by the need to chat. We are liberated. After spending the day either living in the past (regrets, reports) or in the future (anxieties, Zoom conferences), the first drink of the day brings us into the present moment: we become Buddhists.”

According to the actor David Garrick, when the fabled English writer, poet, and playwright Samuel Johnson was asked what were the greatest pleasures in life, he answered fucking and the second was drinking. 

From D. H. Lawrence to Anais Nin to Hugh Hefner, the history of riotous, easy living and the quest for free time has been bound up with the pursuit of sex. But as in most things, in America, fucking is caught up in the striving ethic. It has become like work. Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health magazines are full of endless lists of what makes people good in bed, lists of activities that we must explore and experiment with.

Late-night pay television and the Internet have not helped matters. If our boobs or dicks are not as big as the actors—we feel compelled to have surgery to get bigger boobs and bigger dicks. The plastic and frenetic way the people copulate on these shows intimidate us.

Sex for those of us who value free time should be laid back and messy, and drunken, and bawdy, and yes, dare I say it, slow. It should be devilish and wanton and lewd—to the point where it is embarrassing to look at one another in the morning. Instead of a five-minute masturbation (which just happens to utilize our partner as friction), perhaps we should allocate an entire day to play with each other in our imaginary sandbox or on an enormous pile of velvet cushions while smoking, drinking, and laughing. 

Once again the Buddhists and Hinduists are the trailblazers. Tantric sex can be the ultimate communal experience for those of us who care to free up our time. When was the last time you languished in bed with an intimate partner, laughing and playing games, sipping wine, listening to music, unburdening our souls, and teasing each other’s body for hours?

We could talk about fireplaces, tea time, coffee hour, conversations, parties, meditation, sleep, holidays, night skies, pubs, smoking, drugs, fishing, walking, hangovers, long lunches, masturbation, long baths, and so much more. They all just require a bit of free time. 

We could go on for hours. But then, it is getting very close to cocktail hour and I have a standing appointment with two engaging females named Gina and Remy who totally get my need for more free time.