60-Something: Whatever happened to jobs that kept you "looking busy?"

2013-10-08T15:01:00Z 60-Something: Whatever happened to jobs that kept you "looking busy?"Denise DeClue nwitimes.com
October 08, 2013 3:01 pm  • 

I talked to a couple of folks the other day—self-employed self-starters. A realtor and a producer of trade shows agreed with me that they, too, sometimes wish they had go-to-work-in-an-office jobs.

We'd get up in the morning, put on nice clothes, go to an office, do our jobs, eat lunch at a nice restaurant. When we came home in the evening, our houses would be as clean as we left them. Nobody would have left any dirty dishes in the sink. Nobody left piles of half-read newspapers around, stacks of books on the porch. Nobody forgot to put the orange juice back in the fridge.

Remember the kind of jobs where you were paid to “look busy?” In my day, I was pretty good at looking busy. During high school Latin, my doodles would have proved some of Freud's more outlandish theories. In Geometry, I perfected the Perfect Palmer Method of penmanship. In Chemistry, I had to re-learn the Algebra I missed, while reading banned books.

After school I got really good at looking busy. I worked at a drug store where I dusted things. I waited on a few customers. I desperately wanted to read the cheesy True Crime magazines that were displayed near the front of the store. I dusted "Grisly Quadruple Knife Murder" and "Tragic Bloody Love Triangle" over and over. I dared not open them up. That would look "unbusy."

I tried on lipsticks and mascara (they weren't plastic-covered in those days) and doused myself with perfumes like Evening in Paris. I doubled-dusted all the over-the-counter (but discreetly the behind-the-counter) hygiene products, including slippery elm bark.

I goofed with the local winos, Hoink Jackson and Hadley Briscoe who came in to buy muscatel or sherry wine, in the little pint bottles. I couldn't sell them liquor because I was underage, and I couldn't sell them paregoric, an opium-based mixer-of-choice for the ancient civil-war vets who hung out on the bluff across from the courthouse. The pharmacist had to wait on them, but I always loved saying, "Muscatel, Hoink?" "Nope," he'd answer, "Sherry." And of course, if I said, "Sherry?" he'd say, "Muscatel."

One day when the pharmacist was actually busy, Hadley Briscoe came in and said he wanted to buy something that sounded like "Rbbbbmmsmm."

"Excuse me, sir," I said, in my most ladylike southern manner. "I didn't understand what you said." Mr. Briscoe repeated his request several times and I still didn't understand. Finally he bellowed it out so loudly you could hear him across Main Street, "Rbbbbmmsmm!" The pharmacist came to the rescue and headed to the prophylactic department, behind a side counter next to feminine hygiene products which I had dusted assiduously for months. Hadley Briscoe with the huge goiter on his neck? Really?

I went back to looking busy.

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