Too Busy To Work

Phil Garlington

Does this man look busy?

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Since being downsized by my corporate employer a few months ago, Iíve come to realize that I donít have time for a job. I donít know how I ever managed to fit a cumbersome, chronophaging work ethic into my crowded life. Unemployed, I have been busy every moment, without even eight minutes (much less, eight hours) to spare for a bossí agenda.

Initially, I thought that being mowed down in the recessionís first wave would leave me with time hanging on my hands like training weights. Instead, Iím amazed that anybody is able to organize a life that includes (as mine once did) a freeway commute followed by the usual eight/five holding down a pod amidst countless other drones, all with foreheads spot-welded to the tube.

Now if I review my day I find no gap where I could shoehorn a remunerated effort. Itís not that Iíve become a lazy slugabed, either. I arise as always when first light hits the window. Nor do I dally over the coffee pot and the crossword puzzle.

Here is what happened.

After being dismissed abruptly, corporate-style, I admit to being a little miffed about how easily the company dispensed with services that the day before had commanded a living wage. During these first weeks I began to take long morning walks, to replay in my mind all the events leading up to the catastrophe, and to mull the appropriate revenge.

The autumnal air was brisk, the trees changing hue. The county watershed hard by my apartment complex afforded interesting trails. The morning mile of my past began to stretch out incrementally until today the minimum daily requirement afoot has lengthened to two hours. Opium-like endorphins flood my brain and trigger Coleridge-esque reverie. A few months of these long morning rambles and my paunch melted. Iím lean as a hickory, and my 57-year-old integument, which had just begun to accumulate all the ordinary crotchety aches, now feels, not youthful by a long shot, but pleasantly well-tuned. In a very short time it has become obvious that a long walk every morning is vital for my well-being and mustnít be shouldered aside by bagatelle.

On the way home from the walking trail I pass the neighborhood shopping center, which is typical in every way, with the usual mix of corporate outlets (Albertsons, Rite-Aid), except, that to combat an outbreak of skateboarders and other teenage Yodudes, the management has taken to playing over the loudspeaker a repertoire of classical music. This has exterminated the teens. A Korean doughnut shop offers comfortable alfresco seating and a cup of Joe for $.60. An additional two bits delivers a large bundle of reading matter. Nothing could be more pleasant than to listen to Mozart in a milieu free of obnoxious youths, sip a restorative beverage, and muse an hour over the panoply of far-flung events. Itís the best time to do it, too, since the lingering exercise hormones dilute the choler I used to feel at breakfast over the worldís repetitive idiocy.

The point here though is that by the time I get back to the apartment I share with Comrade Jan lunchtime already has arrived. Jan used to be a teacher, but lately she has thrown that over to retrain at college for a job as a dental artisan. At first she showed signs of alarm at my professional setback, since her own income at the moment depends on student loans. But now she too marvels how I ever had time for a job.

Back at home, a peanut butter sandwich, a glass of water, and a drowsy languor steals over me.

When this feeling overtook me in the workplace I would head upstairs to the cafeteria to recaffinate. Now the couch beckons. I settle a pillow under my head... A million words have been written in praise of naps, and I neednít add any. But isnít it the finest sort of snooze, to drift off in the droning afternoon?

It so happens that bookcases surround the living room couch. These carry the usual collection of volumes that any two college-educated adults will accumulate, plus hundreds more purchased over the years with good intentions, but which remain unread. When I wake up my eye immediately falls on the spines of books that at one time I very much wanted to read. Itís only natural to take one down for a minute, which becomes another...

Now I canít see how I could have existed without this interlude of several hours of serious reading for pleasure. Itís an indispensable part of a full life and canít be squeezed out to make room for annoying martinets and pointless meetings.

Jan returns from her class around four, and since my layoff we have taken up the habit of tea. We arenít Anglophiles at all, and probably arenít taking tea properly anyway. Itís just the teapot and some homemade biscotti. But what usually happens is that the table talk turns to some mild dispute over this or that. The preferred pronunciation of the word ďintaglioĒ (-tal-yo). Or where the phrase, ďeat, drink and be merryĒ comes from (Eccles. 8:15). To get this settled, the reference books come down, and one question leads to another... Before we know it the time has come to drape the blankets over the windows and to light the candles.

We have found in the last month that the candlelit dinner really is preferable to having electricity. There as never anything on TV anyway, and my battery-operated portable brings in the classic station almost as clearly as the stereo did. As I put on my sweater and mittens, Jan starts cutting cabbage for soup. Then I begin to hunt up the evening reading, (another innovation since my pink slip.) The reading sort of stands in for the saying of grace in a more religious household. Jan sets the topic (ďspiritual renewal,Ē for instance) and I try to find some appropriate lines in one of the college poetry anthologies that we have lugged around from one apartment to another for two decades. Lately I go straight to Wordsworth, since the old gasbag pretty much had a sentiment on everything. This new-budded ritual reminded me that even though I once passed through the gut of a university Iíd never actually read Wordsworth, or any other Lake poet either, being too busy preparing myself for what I no longer have time for.

Now I accompany the generic cornflakes with readings from Lords Byron and Tennyson, in place of the East Coast newspapers we no longer get.

Iím not saying here that work might not have its uses. As a character-builder for youth. Or as a path to power for the ambitious. And even though I no longer seem to have time for a job, Iím not saying Iíll never turn my hand at something again. If Golden Opportunity knocks at my door tomorrow, I suppose Iíll answer.

Although if itís the landlady, I wonít.

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