Mission Impossible

A Geezer’s Notebook, By Jim Foster

When I was 14 (I realize we are about to discuss things that happened before most of you were born – and maybe your parents too) I worked at Hatley’s Grocery Store on the main street of Orillia. Just exactly what I was actually hired to do I can’t remember. Parcel groceries, I suppose, fill shelves, sweep the floor and a few other technical things that were important to the retail trade in the 1950s.

Oh! And slice bacon. That was a big part of my job. I remember the bacon business because I can still hear the ladies complain about their bacon strips being paper thin on one end and so thick on the other that they stuck up above the rim of the frying pan. Women were quite picky in the 50s. But I imagine if the women of today had to spend a whole day down at the lake pounding laundry on a rock, they would be a tad persnickety too.

Now, pay attention! What I’m about to tell you is really important.

I was taught a priceless lesson that summer, a lesson that has been a guiding principle I have followed religiously all my life.

I worked with a man named Roy Vollick and it was Roy who changed my life. His sage advice has served me well for lo these many years.

I can still remember the moment he called me off to one side to listen to his secret about how to succeed in the business world and yet do next to nothing. I don’t recall what I was doing at that particular moment, probably watching the girls walking down the street on their way to the park. That’s what I did most days.

Now the advice (Are you ready for this?).

“Whenever you have nothing to do and you see the boss coming, grab a piece of paper and walk as if you are going somewhere.”

What a profound statement! I am going to repeat his words so you won’t forget them.

“Whenever you have nothing to do and you see the boss coming, grab a piece of paper and walk as if you are going somewhere.”

So simple really, yet so infinitely wise. I think those words have made the world a better place – at least for me. Although I’ve gone through a hell of a lot of shoes.

As I look back, I realise the only problem with this priceless bit of information was Roy also told it to the other kids who worked there. In one entire summer none of us did anything, including Roy.

I think the store went under in the fall I can’t remember. One moment it was there and the next it was a furniture store.

How could it survive really? There was nothing on the shelves. The customers had to pack their own groceries. The floors were an inch deep in Dustbane or whatever the crap was that was supposed to keep the dust down but smelled like a pair of cheap running shoes in July. The entire staff was walking around carrying a piece of paper and going nowhere.

I followed Roy’s sage advice all my life and it has served me well. I worked in Personnel for 10 years, maybe longer, never did anything that I recall. I almost did something one day. The president of the company asked me to do something. I forget what it was but I’m sure it was important. I told him I would get right on it as soon as I finished my current project. Then I picked up a piece of paper and disappeared. By the time I got back, he had retired and we had a new president. I never met that one. He came to see me several times but I was never there, I was walking up and down the halls with a piece of paper.

Now I’m certainly not saying that Roy gave me some bad advice because it kept me out of trouble for lo so many years. But once in a while, particularly now that I am getting a bit senile, (quite a bit according to my friends) I look back over the years and think to myself, “I wonder what I would have become if I had actually done something.”

I could be the Prime Minister of Canada by now. Then I could order some other clown to carry my piece of paper.

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