Countin’ Flowers on the Wall by
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(141 Stories)

Prompted By Boredom

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“Shlog dein kup en vant!”

This is as close as I can get to what my parents said to me in Yiddish when I was a child, if I ever said “I’m bored, what should I do?” It means “go bang your head against the wall.” It was said lovingly, and of course I knew they didn’t really mean I should do that. But the message was clear – figure it out yourself. We had lots of board games in the basement, as well as a ping pong table, but those are activities that you need another person for. There weren’t any other kids in the immediate neighborhood, and my sisters were much older and generally not that interested in playing with me. I did have flowered wallpaper, so I could have taken the Statler Brothers’ advice and counted the flowers on the wall. Or played solitaire, as I appear to be doing in this picture, taken when I was not quite four years old.

Once I learned to read, I could spend endless hours reading. So many worlds to discover between the covers of all those books. One thing that was not allowed in my house was to watch random shows on television (a specific show, cleared in advance, yes, but not just whatever happened to be on), except on Saturday mornings. For some reason, that was the one time it was permissible to watch TV for a few hours. Not cartoons though, my middle sister and I would watch reruns of old sitcoms like “Topper” and “My Little Margie” and “Our Miss Brooks.” I loved those shows, even if I may not have understood all the humor, and their names still pop into my head now, more than sixty years later.

In college, a few classes were boring, generally ones I had to take to fulfill a requirement, but a good professor could make even the most boring topic interesting. I would love to say that all my professors at Harvard were like that, but sadly some were not.

In law school, I found Real Property to be incredibly boring, and the fact that my class was at the ungodly early time of 9 a.m. made it even worse. Looking at my notes from that class, there were times when my handwriting got wobbly, and then the line of ink dribbled off the edge of the page, indicating that I had dozed off. But I somehow managed to make it through.

The practice of law could be pretty boring at times too. If you want to feel mind-numbing boredom, try responding to the hundreds of interrogatories which are usually promulgated in civil litigation. Or answering a complaint, “defendant denies, generally and specifically, each and every allegation contained therein” over and over, to each paragraph. At least computers, once they arrived, made it possible to copy and paste ad infinitum. Before that it was writing it out every time, or a note to the secretary that said “same as answer to paragraph X.” There were certainly interesting aspects to the practice of law, and as I said in an earlier story, the only other career that I could imagine pursuing was rock ‘n’ roll singer, which was not a practical choice. But when I think of boredom, I do think of being in my law office.

In 2007, when I retired from the Attorney General’s Office after thirty years, people told me I would be bored and want to come back to work, which I could do as a retired annuitant. I didn’t think I would ever feel that way, and I was right. I haven’t been bored for a minute. There are so many fun things to do with all my free time. New York Times crossword puzzles, and mah jongg, walks in the park and Words With Friends, as well as reading several books each month, either for one of my two book groups or just for fun. And, since 2016, writing stories on Retrospect. That only scratches the surface of how I spend my time in retirement.

Kids today never seem bored because they always have their phones to entertain them. So much packed into one little device – music and movies, games and memes, twitter and instagram, and even the ability to talk to someone, although they rarely do that. My own kids (who are now young adults) do still read books too, but probably not nearly as much as they would if they didn’t have these phones.

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Characterizations: been there, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love the song title, Suzy. And I, like you, am quite good at entertaining myself. As a child I used to like to play with my dolls and make up fantasy situations by the hour. I also loved the TV shows that you mention. The only daytime TV we were allowed to watch was the Mickey Mouse Club, and then Rocky and Bullwinkle. No educational TV in our day. I had forgotten, until thinking about the lyrics of your title song, that I used to play solitaire on my bedroom floor sometimes. But boredom wasn’t an option.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. I didn’t even discuss the pastime of listening to the radio or records and learning all the words to the songs. Now, of course, it’s too easy, you can look them up online. Then it sometimes required multiple listenings to catch all the words. You probably did that too.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, I love that Yiddish expression, which is not one I knew before. But it perfectly captures the notion of past generations that we were responsible for our own entertainment. I was also a huge fan of solitaire as a kid (two younger brothers and no girls on my block once we moved to suburbia.) I also loved Topper, My Little Margie, and Our Miss Brooks, although I had to fight for TV time with my brothers and my parents, who were not fans. I agree that retirement is not boring as I feared it might be. One can choose to be bored, but why not do what you love instead?

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you Laurie. I’m surprised you didn’t know the expression, I somehow thought it was one all Jewish parents used. As to your last point, I don’t think anyone ever “chooses” to be bored, it’s just that sometimes people are not creative enough to come up with something interesting to do.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific story, Suzy. I thought that any stories about boredom would be, well, boring, but yours absolutely was not. Of course, your focus is not just on what is boring — and, let’s face it, we all have some of that in our lives – but how not to be bored.

    You obviously have heeded your parents’ advice well. And, with my own retirement looming over me at the end of the year, I had better start heeding it myself — though we don’t seem to have much flowered wallpaper around.

    • Suzy says:

      I had to laugh at your comment, “You have obviously heeded your parents’ advice well” – since their advice was to bang my head against the wall. I never did heed that advice, not even to try it out and see if it might be fun.

      I do miss wallpaper. In my house growing up, all the walls had wallpaper. Now everyone just uses paint, which is easier, but not as interesting.

  4. Need to touch all the bases here, Suzy: Solitaire with a deck of 51? Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo? I don’t think the Statler Brothers knew from law school but I agree with you that Property would have eliminated all pretenders to the crown of most boring. I always thought the Rule Against Perpetuities (non-lawyer readers: don’t ask) should have been an absolute prohibition from having to hear it explained for the umpteenth (and more) time. But NYT crosswords as pastimes? Absolutely. Btw today’s was nasty.

    • Suzy says:

      There might have been 51 cards in that deck in my picture from 1955. But in truth I don’t think I was actually playing solitaire there, although I did when I was a little older. And I definitely watched Captain Kangaroo!

      Glad you thought Property was boring too. Obviously there must be those who find it fascinating and go into that for their career, but they are probably pretty boring people.

  5. Marian says:

    Love the Topper reruns, Suzy–I enjoyed those as well. Your childhood activities were similar to mine. Too bad about the boredom of law. Sounds like the regulatory editing I had to do for a couple of years, but at least that was the minority of my work life!

    • Suzy says:

      The boring part of law was the minority of my work life too. I did enjoy most of what I did over those 30 years, but given the prompt, I wanted to mention the parts that were boring.

  6. I’m guessing you would have made a pretty good rock and roll singer, but even then, the musician’s litany remains: don’t give up your day gig. Love the practicality of your parents’ advice and the timeless assumption that no kid of theirs would ever take the words seriously.

    Never went to law school but I do remember sitting in the balcony of one of the larger lecture halls at college and dozing off during a 9:00 a.m. lecture on pre-Socratic philosophers. Pre-Socratic? Are you kidding me? and the professor had a kind of raspy, honky voice that kept waking me up. Ugh.

    The photograph was intriguing. I’ve never seen such a youthful solitaire player before, especially one who plays solitaire sideways. Never mind the law school and rock and roll, that kind of cardplay takes talent!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence in my singing! And you’re right, of course, a musician still needs to have a day gig, unless she turns out to be Bonnie Raitt.

      As for playing solitaire sideways, it must have been a trick I picked up in Vegas in a previous life. Pretty clever, doncha think?

  7. John Zussman says:

    I love the image of wobbly handwriting drifting off the end of the page, signifying dozing off! My graduate psychology program at Stanford had the temerity to schedule a required statistics class at 9:00 am, which pissed all of us off royally, but unlike many others I actually enjoyed statistics so I wasn’t actually bored, just exhausted.

    I remember being bored on Saturday mornings when my friend Bud and I would be dropped off for our piano lessons, each lasting an hour and a half. Fortunately the den where we waited for the other had a TV. That worked until the cartoons ran out and I HAD to watch Topper or My Little Margie or Sky King and the boredom settled over me like a suffocating blanket. No accounting for tastes, I guess.

    • Suzy says:

      John, I can’t believe you were bored by Topper. The ghosts? The St. Bernard? Leo G. Carroll as the stuffy yet charming Cosmo Topper? I would love to see that show again, and I bet you wouldn’t be bored now. Never heard of Sky King, had to look it up, but I would think the “cowboy with an airplane catching criminals” plot would be just what a young boy would fancy.

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