Why be Busy?

By Erika Hoffman

Loneliness: The word creates an onomatopoeic effect. I never experienced loneliness much as a child, a teen, a young adult, a working adult, a middle-aged woman or a 50-something. Now a decade older, I’m starting to comprehend its meaning. No longer do I pursue a career. Inside my home, I complete mundane chores, watch the dogs and write. Never have I minded being alone. In fact, I relished personal time when my four kids were small. Never was I an overly busy person. I could say “No” to committees, clubs and voluntary obligations. For me, being part of a pack was not that attractive. Pioneers, lone rangers and solo hikers on the Appalachian Trail were my idols.

At this stage of my life, I qualify for senior discounts. Yet, my husband still works 24/7. I’m no one’s caregiver anymore, and the house is quiet. Occasionally, the phone rings with a solicitor of some sort, and that may be the only voice, human or robotic, I hear all day other than the drone of the TV. Sometimes, I make myself change from PJ’s to a housecoat. Often, like Thomas Jefferson, I answer the door wearing slippers. The UPS deliverer doesn’t bat an eye.

I’ve always prided myself on being independent, not needy, a “child who can entertain herself” – that I was and did with Barbie dolls, eons ago! Nonetheless, now when 4 pm strikes and I have ne’er seen a soul since my “better half” exited the house at 7:30 am, I hunger for human contact, and he won’t return until 9:30 pm.

On a dreary, rainy day which followed a slew of dreary, raining days where “global warming” skipped over North Carolina or at least my part of the state, I decided to head to Barnes and Noble and cash my $25 gift card my eldest mailed me for Mother’s Day. I corralled my dachshunds, threw them some Beggin’ Strips and off to the mall I drove with squeaky windshield wipers wiping away the drizzle of a gray, London-like day.

First, I located a bestseller, heard about from a friend, then a couple of books by Roy Peter Clark on the craft of writing and lastly an Alfred Hitchcock magazine. No queue and only one cashier. No wait. I placed my purchases on the counter and attempted to engage in small talk with the captive audience – the 30-something girl behind the counter. She’d have none of it. All business was she! I don’t recall which joke I told, but her dour expression told me she wasn’t biting!

Because I carried some Belk coupons in my wallet, I ventured down the wet sidewalk to that near empty department store. Red dot sales and bonus buys on bountiful rows of clothing made me sheepish to ask if my 20% coupon applied. I found three blousy, casual shirts to try on and proceeded to the far fitting room. I noticed only one other door was closed. Occupied. As I was pulling the third shirt over my head and avoiding gazing at my flabbiness and age spots in the ceiling- to-floor mirror, I heard a man outside my door robustly shout to the woman in the fitting room down the corridor.

“Open the door, Sexy. I want to see how it looks on you!”

“No,” she answered.

“Come on now, Honey. Show me!”

“No!”

“I bet you look cute!” he cooed.

“I’m not fully clothed.”

“Come on out. No one’s here.”

“Yes, there’s someone else!”

At this point, I coughed to let this eager suitor know that I was alive and behind door number five. And actively eavesdropping!

I gathered my shirts together and opened the door wondering if this young-in-love or in-lust couple would feel embarrassed at seeing me, a grandma, emerge – someone who had heard all their flirting banter.At the same time as I stepped out of my cubicle, so did she. This lady must have been at least 60. Her girth made overweight “moi” look petite. On top of that, she had a short peroxided, punky haircut with each strand standing straight up like yellow straws or like that singer’s haircut – the one who sang Ice Ice Baby. Multiple piercings, too. I’m sure my eyes bulged. Then, I caught a glance at her sweetheart – a tall, gaunt white-headed man with deep creases crisscrossing his face and whose short-cropped hair also stood straight up on his head, almost like a Mohawk. He was a septuagenarian!

I slid past, with eyes averted as though wearing horse blinders, suppressing my giggles and skirted to the cash register with my 1x-sized tops.

“Find everything you need?” a young African-American salesclerk asked with a broad, bright smile.

“Yes, I did,” I said. “You know I felt lonely today. Getting away from those four walls for a few hours and coming here has served me well.” She grinned and then looked up serious for a minute and said solicitously, “You should get a dog.”

“Got two!”

She looked perplexed. So I added, “Needed a break from them!”

En route home, I mused on how often I had prided myself on my solitary life and ability to amuse myself, and suddenly I realized that everything is good – only in moderation. It may be as one gets older, it’s not so smart to isolate oneself. Perhaps, it’s good to be busy sometimes. Just listening to the silly banter of two flirting souls in a fitting room of a department store – two souls not acting their age – turned out to be good medicine, a cheerful remedy to the blues. Sometimes, the antidote to loneliness is being mindlessly busy with unserious stuff in the company of others. Man wasn’t meant to be alone; so God created Eve. Nor was woman meant to be lonely. And so…there came to be… department stores!

About this writer

  • Erika Hoffman Erika Hoffman views most travel experiences as educational experiences and sometimes the lessons learned are revelations about oneself.

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5 Responses to “Why be Busy?”

  1. Jane W says:

    Love reading Erika Hoffman’s writings and her take on things. Always enjoyable and thought provoking. Keep up the good work!

  2. Barbara Margolis says:

    Erika was certainly channeling my life with her engaging essay. Humor is certainly the best medicine for what ails us. I’m off to the department store this very afternoon!

  3. Linda O'Connell says:

    Erika, you have done it again, you’ve made me laugh out loud with this one.

  4. Rose Ann says:

    People watching (or listening) can be so entertaining! And you can get great story ideas!! Funny essay.

  5. Sandra Knight says:

    Thank you for making me laugh out loud Erika! I will have to start listening more.

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