Hobbies were once the exclusive province of the idle rich. Like the concept of lawns, they were meant to display that one had such an excess of resources that they could be squandered on pursuits with no gain but pleasure. “My basic needs are so thoroughly met that I can spend time and energy paying to do work that accomplishes nothing, unlike the forced labor of the peasants who make it possible!” In hindsight, it’s amazing that guillotines aren’t used a lot more.
Now hobbies are much more accessible. Time and energy once spent trying to get three of your nineteen children to survive until adulthood can now be put into pastimes such as collecting vintage hats, slicing bottles of water with a sword you bought off eBay, and ranting about women and “illegals.”
But what about those who need a diversion most? The tired, the overworked, the burnt-out, the working poor? Those whose lives are a blur of thankless drudgery, commutes, and insufficient sleep? Don’t they deserve hobbies, too? You’d like to have a pastime like you see on TV like a basement full of an intricately detailed diorama of a town so detailed you can see the citizens walking, shopping, and beating on the front row of a Trump rally with street signs while a model train speeds merrily by. Have no fear, because Sneer Campaign is here with a guide for Hobbies on a Budget!
Gardening is the art of piling up dirt and burying incredibly delicate plants that only seem able to shrivel and die. At the same time you have to constantly keep out a biome’s worth of other plants that could thrive in a thimble full of pencil shavings. At the end you’re rewarded with either flowers that wilt and die after blooming for a week or vegetables that will be devoured by the animals whose forest was bulldozed for your condo. It’s more the journey than the destination.
How do you do this when you just finished a double shift at Arby’s and you’re too tired to even get in the shower to wash the steak sauce out of your hair? Not to mention you only have $7.34 to last you until payday, which is two weeks from yesterday. The answer is window gardening.
First you need dirt and a pot. Look in your refrigerator, all the way in the back where the old box of Chinese takeout is. The box is your pot and, let’s face it, whatever was in there is now pretty much potting mix, including the chopsticks. All you need is a plant. We know the guy next door has a closet full of them, but those are not well-suited to being placed in a window. Go to the entrance to your apartment complex, out to where the property management corporation planted some begonias in an attempt to attract new tenants without resorting to weekly rates again. You’ll find a few seeds under the cigarette butts and other fire hazards. Place the whole setup outside of your blackout curtains and then forget about it until next April.
Painting is using paint, a brush, and canvas to give form to the thoughts and feelings within. Famous artists will angst for months before finally painting a single lopsided circle over the course of a five-minute frenzy. Then they immediately sell it for seven million dollars before going to Paris for six months to recharge. You know this because you see it on TV. It also seems to involve something called an “atelier,” which you suspect is a kind of Belgian paintbrush cleaner. Better grab a couple of those.
Painting is a great way to express inner emotional turmoil, even if all you feel is the stifling gray of physical and mental exhaustion. A good example is your thankless job that demands you cheerfully accommodate callers so enraged that the only reason they aren’t attacking you is because they can’t find you. The executives who mandate you start and finish every call with a sales pitch for other products don’t have to tell an enraged octogenarian that his pacemaker is out of warranty. The red that memory makes you see is a good contrast to the endless gray..
For painting, you need three things- colored material you can smear around, a surface to smear it on, and something to facilitate smearing the material on the surface. For paint, look to your junk drawer and all of those single-serve packets of condiments. You’ll have most of the primary colors, and you can get blue by leaving an opened mayonnaise one in the window next to your plant for a few days. For brushes, use the clumps of hair that have started falling out since you were “promoted” to Customer Retention. Remember how your performance is now measured by how many people you can bully into not terminating their service by offering “deals” every time they say “I want to cancel?” That’s artistic gold. Just remember to use your ateliers to keep the clumps clean or you’ll have to ask for overtime.
The surface is the easiest part. This can be anything reasonably flat that your paint won’t slide off of. Try the stack of old pizza boxes next to the door. You want to throw them away, but you apartment management got rid of all but one Dumpster and they keep that one locked. Now you have to ask for the key during its “service hours” of 4-6:45am every third Tuesday, and they charge you a $70 “service fee” for more than one bag of trash per month. This was all announced in the cheery letter sent out last Christmas describing it as their new “eco-friendly” policy. If nothing else, the rats will eat it up. Gnawing is high praise.
Cooking is the mysterious process of taking edible items called “ingredients,” often perfectly good food you could eat with no further effort on your part, and combining them into more complicated forms of food that can boast things like “flavor” and “nutrition.” You, however, remember when you were young, naive, and energetic enough to boil the ramen before you ate it. They say food is best enjoyed with others, but the only people you socialize with at all anymore are your coworkers, and all they want to do is watch Fox News on the break room TV and talk about how people wanting affordable healthcare is sending the country straight to hell.
Cooking needs a few things to work. First, you need a recipe. These can be found on cooking shows, where the host uses thousands of dollars worth of highly specialized equipment and liberal editing to make things like a three-tiered quiche-serole over the course of thirty minutes, minus commercials. Or you could check the internet, where you can find recipes for anything you can think of.
But only the ones for pipe bombs and molotov cocktails don’t involve reading through a 7,500-word blog post about the author’s summer in Ethiopia, as well as requiring ingredients that can only be found on a single farm in Senegal and must be flown in within 48 hours to be usable. I suggest picking up a copy of the “Better Homes and Gardens” cookbook from the 70s, the one like your grandmother had during your childhood, when the world was simpler, some people were kind, and there was a fresh bowl of cattle brains in aspic on every nightstand.
Once you have a recipe, you need something to cook with. Your kitchenware consists of a saucepan with no lid, a muffin tin with penis-shaped cups, a cracked ceramic plate, a partially melted spatula, and the store brand whipped topping container where you mix expired cereal and tap water for most of your meals. But never fear, a saucepan can work as a small frying pan if you’re dextrous enough. And even microwaving canned soup can count as cooking, particularly if it’s the kind you need to add water to. Mmm-mmm good, champ.
Gaming is a pretty broad category, covering all forms of video games, as well as board games, and pen and paper RPGs. Think back to the happier times of youth, playing Street Fighter II Super Deluxe Turbo Limited Championship Gold Box Edition at your neighbor’s house. Your neighbor would invariably pin you in the corner of the screen and beat you just by spamming the same kick, perfectly timed to make it impossible to move, until you finally got so frustrated you slammed your controller into the wall and his mom kicked you out. Or in eighth grade when you saved up your money for months to get the Dungeons and Dragons starter set but all anyone ever wanted to play was Monopoly. And then your mom sent you to the bible camp where they shock if you think of the Naughty Things. Games enrich us all.
First you need a console that works with the old CRT TV a friend gave you fifteen years ago when he got married, moved away and stopped returning your phone calls. Most consoles that old are collector’s items, so try flea markets and closeout stores for “third-party” gear. You can find something called the “WeeTendo” for $17 that comes preloaded with dozens of obscure and slightly altered versions of games from the 80s. It shuts down on its own a lot, but that’s a good way to moderate your play time. Don’t give up until you’ve thwarted the Noid once and for all.
Your social circle is exclusively automated marketing emails and pornbots on Facebook, so as far as board games go you need ones you can play by yourself. Solitaire is a perennial favorite, but why not live a little and make up solo rules for “Scrabble” and “Trouble?” While away the hours with the “Pop-O-Matic Bubble.” “Cards Against Humanity” lends itself well to solo play as the object is apparently to upload the “outrageous” card combinations to social media. Solo Dungeons and Dragons is fiction writing. See below.
Hiking is where you find a forested area and wander around until you’re no longer depressed. You know it cures all mental illness because the “live natural” blogs linked on your health insurance company’s website say so, alongside entries about homeopathic oatmeal and organic floor cleaner. Admittedly it’s easy to get distracted by the five thousand dollar deductible and the list of in-network providers, which is just one doctor who is two hours away and is never taking new patients.
For hiking, all you need is some comfortable shoes, a bag full of a few supplies, and a place to go walk around. First, look at your shoes. You got them at a thrift store three years ago and the tread was worn smooth then. You’re pretty sure they were originally a completely different color, and a this point you can even feel carpet through the soles. Maybe you should save them for special occasions. Instead get some old socks and use a can of spray rubber to give them soles. You can use a permanent marker to draw laces on the top if you’re feeling fancy. It’s like the first day of school all over again! Nothing makes you want to run like the judgemental eyes of your peers drilling into you like lasers. Shame is not such a bad motivator if it’s all you’ve ever known.
Next you need a bag for your bottled water and the sandwich bags full of expired cereal you’ll pretend are trail mix. Fanny packs are expensive, but you can make your own with duct tape and shopping bags. The cashiers at Walmart might look at you funny but will seldom say anything if you walk up to a checkout lane and stuff a few bags in your pockets. Use more duct tape to affix your new fanny pack to your pants. If you’d like a walking stick, one can easily be fashioned from the crutches you paid $675 apiece when you sprained your ankle running back from the break room. It kind of sucks that the breakroom is six minutes away, but think of all the money your employer is saving! That fall got you another writeup and a chat with your boss reminding you that there are always at least ten people waiting desperately to take your job.
The easiest part is finding a place to hike. The greenway is a mere sixteen blocks away! Getting there and back is like having two bonus hikes. It is lush and overgrown, full of rusty old appliances and the occasional murder victim. You won’t have to share it with many other people- the ones who live there like to keep to themselves and anyone else will be too busy smashing old liquor bottles against the concrete slabs where park benches used to be. It had really better be the best antidepressant because you can’t afford the $70 copay for prescriptions.
Writing is a masturbatory, hubristic time sink for fools and degenerates and should be avoided at all costs.