When some people get a day off from work, they do things like mow the grass, do house repairs, or get out to the lake with their boat. They go fishing, fly kites, and walk their dogs. Activities with family and friends, even in this era of social distancing take their attention.
But not me. I’ve worked 80 hours or more in the last eight days. I only found out I had today off yesterday. Given this news, I began to scheme and plan. I set up scenarios in my mind that had in all kinds of endeavors.
I knew, right from the beginning there was only one thing I would do today. I was going to goof off. Period.
There’s nothing I like better and it may come as a surprise to people who know me as a driven, goal-oriented person. After all, I’ve accomplished a lot in life, taken on all kinds of careers. I walk, backpack, canoe, and ride bike. But, really, in the end, I’d rather lay around the house, reading. A nap is one of the major goals I have for a day off.
Before I started working for the postal service, I was able to work at teaching and take care of things around the house. At the same time, I did a lot of goofing off.
What exactly do I mean by goofing off? It’s any number of activities that equate to nothing but personal satisfaction, a comfort in knowing that I’ve done nothing useful or productive. Nothing gained. Nothing accomplished.
Sure, I read books. I love reading books. Right now, I’m on a Cormac McCarthy binge. I’ve decided to read all of his ten novels, including the ones I’ve already been through. It might not make me a better person. It won’t increase my earning potential. But it will change the way I look at the world and perhaps cut into my goofing off time with inspiration for more writing.
I also get the shopping done. Laundry gets cleaned. Central, important items that we can’t live without.
Other than these unavoidable unpleasantries, I don’t mend harness. I don’t get up with the light of day. I don’t do anything that expends more energy than I’m willing to give. I do enough of that during the workweek.
Fifteen miles a day changes a person. Their priorities shift. What was once important dissolves and become mere mirages.
Goofing off seems inconsistent with my character to most people. They see me as a walker, and I have done a lot of that. I have walked a long way in my life. As a matter of fact, one could say I’ve devoted a good deal of my life to walking. It started when I was a kid and my dad wouldn’t take me to my grade school basketball games. Whenever I wanted something, I had to walk to get it. I remember John Denver once entranced me. To get his album Rocky Mountain High, I saved my birthday money and walked, at nine years old, to the shopping mall record store to get it. In fact, I had to walk twice, as I had to return the first record I bought as defective.
Then, it was the basketball games. In high school, I caddied. The country club was four and a half miles away. I walked there and back to make five dollars for a round. The time I needed to get there was so great that I would often caddy two rounds so my haul for the day, a total of 17 miles on foot, would total ten whole American bucks.
I walked all the time, even after I bought my first car. I walked all through high school. Then, to and from college. I trekked across country to Montana. Backpacking trips took me all over Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Arizona. The streets of great American cities like Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver, and New York have met my shoes. I’ve seen more of Flagstaff, Arizona, than people who live there.
Then, Europe. I still know the city of Trier like the back of my hand. I was there a year ago and navigated the streets as if I had never left, though it had been 30-some years since I had been in parts of that city. I can look at a map of Rome and still see the buildings along many of those streets.
Despite all this great accomplishment, I’d rather, most of the time, have laid about in cafes, reading newspapers. Walking was never about getting anywhere. It was always about finding enough time afterward to goof off. That’s what I did after every trek. Each day, I would build enough time into my day to lay around and smell the flowers, drink tea or coffee, and write, if I wanted, in my notebook.
Mostly, I did nothing. Or, I should say, I did what goofing off entails, because goofing off is, in itself, an activity. It’s not doing nothing. It’s active, benign indifference. That’s sometimes a lot of work. It’s a skill that takes time, ambition, and determination to acquire. A good day of goofing off is as satisfying as making an old engine fire up again. It gives a sense of accomplishment. It makes me feel as if I’ve given time and attention to what really matters. It puts productivity into perspective.
So, on my day off from carrying the mail, I hate to break a streak. I get up at an hour that suits me. I drink my tea and take my first pull of tobacco. Then, I settle into getting done what needs to be done, which, hopefully, is nothing. Today, for instance, I did get the car to the auto shop for brakes. But then I took a nice nap, read some Cormac McCarthy, and watched a movie. Fiddling about the house passed some time. Looking at social media has turned out to be a good goofing-off tool.
Then, I picked the car up from the repair place, came home, and did some E-mails. By the time the day ends, I can be proud about not doing much productive for the duration of my day off. I can take satisfaction in knowing I’ve not wasted a day being productive. I smelled flowers. I felt the muggy heat of the day, which, by the way, I’ve come to love. I watched a skink slink around the front deck then sit in the sun, goofing off in its skink-like way. We were brothers for those moments. We were of a kind.
Eight days straight is cumulative for a guy my age. The muscles need time to mend. The body wants to lay about as out ancestors did after killing a fine mammoth or buffalo and eating it. I know that I’ve participated in a tradition as old as humanity itself.
Yeah, there was stuff I could have done around the house today but didn’t. Goofing off. That’s my favorite.