Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Bailing on life

What would it take to bail on life? Do people do this? Is it even feasible? What would become of me? What would happen if I gave up my cherry government job, my nice Capitol Hill apartment, health care, vacation, and the comfort and reassurance of a steady paycheck? And what if I gave this all up, not to swing like a monkey to another plumb branch, but rather to just exist -- sell everything except for my car and my climbing gear and travel around, climb, see the world … just exist? Would my friends and family be disappointed? Would I regret my decision?

Obviously this has been weighing on me lately. The “why” isn’t essential for the purposes of this post. Suffice it to say that I’ve been enjoying the safety and escapism of having this murmur of a plan in the back of my head for some time now. But only recently has it crescendoed from a distant tinnitus between the ears to a persistent, brassy bellow. It has now become something I must do. But the “why” isn’t essential. The “how” and the “what” are the important questions.

People joke about this all the time. A bad week at work or a lousy run of luck will have any average citizen contemplating dropping off the grid. But does anyone ever really do it? Anyone in real life, that is? Movies and literature abound with characters giving up on the “main stream” and following a more … OK, fuck, I’ll say it … spiritual path. My favorite example has to be the second diner scene in Pulp Fiction, when Jules explains to Vincent that he wants to “walk the earth and get in adventures.” (Approx. 2:15 on the video.)

Jules represents an enlightened man. Or, hell, maybe he’s a lost man. The point is, he doesn’t feel like he can carry on being that version of Jules anymore. He wants to bail on that version of Jules. For his part, Vincent represents the powerful pull of conformism through his sarcastic response: “They got a name for that, Jules. It’s called a bum. And without a job, a residence, and legal tender, that’s exactly what you’re gonna be. A fuckin’ bum.” Notice the disdain in Vincent’s voice. Although he’s a friend of Jules, he can’t condone, or even contemplate, what Jules has chosen to do. Such is the power of society’s influence.

Another classic cinematic portrayal of the struggle between conventional and alternative lifestyles comes in a terrific scene from The Big Lebowski between the Big Lebowski (David Huddleston) and the Dude (Jeff Bridges). The scene takes place in the Big Lebowski's office. The two characters have just met for the first time, yet the Big Lebowski aims some truly vitriolic invective at the Dude, who was only trying to get restitution for his rug. So foul is the stench of nonconformism that Lebowski can smell it on the Dude within a minute of meeting him. “Your revolution is over.... Condolences! The bums lost!” But being kicked out of the Big Lebowki’s office is nothing compared to what the Sheriff of Malibu does to the Dude!

The message is clear. Live life by the rules. Don’t be a bum.

If there is a subculture that is accepting of “bums,” perhaps the climbing community is it -- or was it. In the Golden Age of climbing, being a dirtbag seemed like a badge of honor. I’ve read countless tales of romance and adventure about life in Camp 4 and other such places where the climbers of yore would congregate. But things seem to have changed. Climbers are no longer just a gnarly crew of disheveled ne’er-do-wells. Without consulting any research, I’d guess that the majority of climbers are upper-middle-class professionals with disposable income. Gear is expensive, gas is expensive, and rangers will hound you incessantly if you try to camp illegally. Being a climbing dirtbag isn’t quite as romantic as it once was.

Nevertheless, people still do it. Maybe not for long, but it is done. And I plan on giving it a try. I just need to formulate a plan. The “what” and the “how”! I’d like to start next spring -- walking (or driving) the earth like Caine from Kung Fu, getting in adventures. I’d like to use this blog to further explore this idea. I'd love to hear suggestions from people who have done this or have thought about it. In return, perhaps I’ll post up some road trip schedules, big objectives, ideas for fixing up my transportation, and other logistical concerns. Or, maybe I’ll bail on this idea, too. Call me what you will -- bum, dirtbag, deadbeat, vagrant, vagabond, or regular old member of society. One thing’s for sure: I’ll always be a bailure.

1 comment:

  1. Woah. I thought you might be suicidal from the title. Glad to see it's just that you want to be a bum.