Some people inherit great wealth. A select group of inbred Europeans inherit noble titles and vast estates. Some people inherit beauty, brains or great physical skills. Hair color, eye color, freckles, height, weight, even some diseases are embedded in the DNA. Every generation inherits something from the previous generation.
In my case, I inherited the Bum Gene.
The Bum Gene, as my similarly afflicted friend, Bruce Diksas, explains it, is the component in the DNA that compels a person to make stupid choices, opting for instant gratification over delayed satisfaction. Faced with a choice between a brief moment of pleasure or doing something constructive, a person with the Bum Gene will choose fleeting pleasure, every time. Faced with a choice between being a productive member of society or giving in to your worst instincts, the Bum Gene-afflicted will always opt for the latter, no matter the consequences. In Aesop‘s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, the grasshopper was the one with the Bum Gene.
My father used to enjoy the old Rip ‘n Roar. He drank, smoked, gambled, ate red meat, cursed freely and, for all I know, had impure thoughts. If the stories I heard are true, so did my grandfather. And I, to borrow a line from Hank Williams, Jr., am carrying on the family tradition.
I started smoking at about the age of 13. I remember my first drag from a cigarette very clearly. It happened in Jefferson Park, in Gary, Indiana. There was an older kid, maybe 15, named Pete, who offered me a puff from his smoke. It was an unfiltered Lucky Strike and he handed it to me with the admonition, “Don’t niggerlip it.”
I took a drag, held it in my mouth, then quickly blew it out.
“No, man, that’s not how you do it,” Pete told me. “You gotta suck it into your lungs. Like this.”
Pete showed me how to inhale. and in a moment I was hacking, couching and gagging, while Pete was laughing his ass off. It tasted terrible, burned my throat and made my eyes water. Within a week I was a confirmed smoker.
I started drinking a couple of years later, along with a few of my buddies who had also inherited the Bum Gene. It’s funny how people with that particular gene seem to find each other. Anyway, since the drinking age in my town was 21, we had to find older people to buy our booze for us. Then we heard about Mr. Lucky’s.
Mr. Lucky’s was a bar and liquor store in Midtown, which was the black section of Gary. It was rumored that Mr. Lucky’s would sell booze to anyone of any age. Since we were paying a premium to obtain alcohol from older folks, who sometimes marked up our purchases 100 percent, we made the fiduciary decision to try Mr. Lucky’s. Since I looked the oldest, easily passing for 17 or 18, I was chosen to make the buy.
There was a large black man behind the counter when I walked in. He smiled when he saw me and asked, “What can I do for you, boy?”
“I’d like two sixpacks of Blatz and a pint of cherry vodka, please.”
“Darn, I left my wallet in my work clothes, in my locker, at work.”
“You a workin’ man, are you?”
The man regarded me suspiciously for a moment, then said, “Next time bring your ID. We can’t be breaking no laws here.”
“Sure, no problem. Oh, and can I get a pack of Lucky Strikes, too?”
When I started college, what do you think was the first thing on my agenda? Did I spend my time productively, buying books, sharpening pencils, scoping out my professors, figuring out where the library was? No! My first day at college was spent cruising the local liquor stores, trying to find one that would sell booze to my thirsty, underage ass.
As the years went by I went along my merry way. I was a child of my times, subject to the illicit enthusiasms of my age. I smoked, drank, toked and joked my way through life. The Bum Gene would not be denied.
If there was a party, I was in the middle of it. If there was a card game I had a seat at the table. If there was a joint being passed, it usually passed in my direction. If there was a way to avoid honest work, I found it, most of the time.
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of people inherit the Bum Gene and still succeed in life. Ulysses Grant was a drunkard. Bill Clinton was a serial womanizer. Dostoevski was a degenerate gambler. Keith Richards, well, let’s just say that he must have inherited Bum Genes from both sides of his family.
In my opinion, the main problem with the Bum Gene is that no matter how much you personally enjoy the condition, the last thing you want to do is pass it down to your children. I’ve got two lovely daughters and both of them seem to have avoided their father’s propensity for the high life, or, more properly, the low life. They are two hard-working, responsible young ladies. I’m very proud of them. But if I ever catch them with a pack of Lucky Strikes…
Editor’s Note: Still haven’t purchased Milo Samardzija’s masterpiece, “Schoolboy“? Whaddya waiting For?