SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 19, 2012

Column: No escaping this downtime

Bob Baker
The Salem News

---- — If it’s possible to be famous for not being famous, that’s me. That’s how I like it, too. My closest brush with fame — no biggie — was the I LOVERMONT idea I sold the Vermont Chamber of Commerce in ’81. They used it on shirts, bumper stickers, coffee mugs — even sugar packets. I still see it around. A guy on “Chronicle” was wearing an I LOVERMONT shirt the other night. My original design, too. Not one of the gazillion pharmaceutically inspired rip-offs throughout the years.

The idea was big in Vermont at the time, and burlaps elsewhere bought into it, too. But no air-quotes “Fame,” y’know. No paparazzi, hot-babe groupies, X-rated rumors about me in supermarket tabs, etc. The closest I got was a request for an interview from Modern Udder, or whatever the Vermont Dairy Association trade paper was called. I declined the offer.

My one shot at sorta-fame does cause pain. In the wallet — whenever I hear mention of audiobooks. (The almost-yawning letter dismissing my “books on tape” proposal to Time Inc. is dated June 26 — catch this — 1969. But in 1975, an un-yawning, “visionary” guy named Duvall Hecht founded Books on Tape Inc. in Costa Mesa, Calif. Subsequently rebranded as “audiobooks” (ouch), the industry today generates tens of (ouch) billions in annual sales worldwide.)

But, hey, no sense crying over a spilt billion or ten. Best to move on; contribute to the betterment of you deserving, enlightened few who understand that life is a game to be played, not a job to be worked. Share some ideas unrelated to fame or fortune — just livin’ easier.

The Escape Clause idea, for instance. As with many usable ideas, the Escape Clause is dirt-simple: It’s an everyday expression repurposed in the cause of freedom ... freedom from downtime. Downtime is the suggestion, no matter how well-intended, that you expend valuable time in boring, inane, irritating or otherwise counterproductive fashion.

Downtime suggestions sound like this: When someone says something such as:

“Hop on over Saturday night and feast your eyes on a couple hundred slides of our trip to Dubuque last month. There’s 17 sunsets over Wacker Plaza guaranteed to knock your eyeballs out! Y’never saw such colors! We’ll save those babies for last. With the angel food cake.”

“Did I ever tell you about my miserable childhood? Like, my sicko father threatening to barbecue my pet hamster? On my birthday? Hand me those Kleenex, would you.”

“Licorice soup may sound weird, I know. But let me just ladle you up a nice, steaming hot cup here and see if you aren’t hooked forever!”

“Our Melvin’s gonna steal the Senior Show Saturday, for sure! He’s doing ‘New York, New York.’ In drag, yet! You’d swear it’s Liza Minnelli! Lucky you, we got you a ticket!”

“Worst pain I ever felt ... humongous carbuncle on my right foot here. Help me off with this ... OW! ... shoe, would ya ... grab yourself a look at what ... OWWWW ! ... PAIN looks like!”

No sooner has the downtime suggestion been blithered than the Escape Clause zips from your lips to their ears. “I’ll take your word for it,” you say.

Implicit in “I’ll take your word for it” is a compliment to the downtime proposer of the highest order. The implication is: “I have such overwhelming trust in you, my friend, that any claim you make is — if anything — probably understated.”

You’ll, of course, want to customize/personalize the Escape Clause to the situation at hand, even accompanying it with a standard-issue Feeble Excuse. As in: “Joe, I feel your pain on that humongous carbuncle. But I’m late for the ukulele lesson. I take your word for it, my brother.”

The Escape Clause comes in handy in all sorts of situations. Not that you have to take my word for it.

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Bob Baker is a marketing/creative services mercenary whose memoir, “Playing the Game,” recounts his adventures in five Golden Ages. He lives in Marblehead.