By Christopher Cudworth
When Ferris Bueller took his famous day off from school, he was able to pack a lot of activities into playing hooky. Ramming around with his girlfriend and nervous buddy was a work of art for Ferris. He knew how to play hooky the right way.
Those of us less blessed with such skills were glad for the few occasions when sneaking out of school was possible. It was always a relief to have a ready-made excuse like an orthodontist appointment to get out of class. That was an obligation too, so the playing hooky part was reduced the small window of joy when your mom or dad picked you up from school until you came back to class.
If you were really lucky the appointment might let you skip math and social studies and get you back in time for gym class before lunch. That was a good long time away from studies. Then all you had to deal with was the growing tightness in your teeth from the work of the orthodontist.
Really playing hooky by faking you were sick required a bit of talent too. With Ferris the trick of getting the thermometer to read a bit higher (a fever!) was just part of the act. But that was just the start of playing hooky…
There was always a bit of a guilty, lonesome feeling when you’d actually fooled your parents into letting you stay home from school. You could hear the call being made to school, “Chris is not coming in today. He’s not feeling well…” your mother would say. Then she’d come back into the room and check you one more time before heading off for the day.
My mother worked as an elementary school teacher so she was gone from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 or so. That meant eight hours of lonely bliss and usually some more guilt about the unfinished assignment that made me want to play hooky in the first place.
First there was morning TV to watch, often focused on the model hotties on The Price is Right. Then came the soup your mother set out and finally some actual sleep, or drawing, or doing something stupid you could not do if you were actually at school that day.
Playing hooky from work during later stages in life had much the same pattern. But as a guy with nearly perfect attendance at work I never had much use for playing hooky. One day I was invited at 10 a.m. to the home of one of my fellow salespeople for the newspaper where I worked. When I arrived at his house three salesman were sitting with their feet up watching TV and eating snacks. “I can’t believe you’re doing this today,” I offered.
“Today?” one of them replied. “We do this every day!”
Honestly that really ticked me off. I went home to talk with my wife that evening and was exasperated while explaining to her that all of them had better sales territories. Business tended to roll their way. My territory was weak in retail and required a lot of hustling around to stay in good graces with the business owners to earn the few advertising dollars they had to spend.
Ironically two of those salespeople with their feet up on the coffee table that morning went on to become managers at the company. I’ve often wondered how they would have felt if they’d known their top salespeople were now sitting home watching Mayberry R.F.D. and the Dick Van Dyke show. Just like they did.
Running away from guilt
The only time I truly played “hooky” was during the lunch hour. Occasionally I’d find a place to change clothes and go for a run. The one fitness club in the community where my sales territory was located did not then have a shower. It was pretty much one of those “lifter” gyms where huge dudes and overwrought gals trudged in and out to lift major weights. There was a basic locker room with one light bulb. I’d run, come back, towel off, thrown on deodorant and head back to the streets and more advertising sales.
I’d also change in the basement of a friend who owned a downtown barber shop. He had a hot tub so I could at least rinse off after a run.
We’ll drink to that
My schmoozy boss didn’t like any of us taking time for workouts during the day. His idea of a perfect lunch was two or three martinis with a client, closing a deal on more business. Anxious young man that I was, drinking during the day simply made me more nervous. I could never process details after drinking alcohol during the day either. So HIs way was not My way.
Getting in a run during that era was equivalent to playing hooky. Never mind that having time to think and process some of the pressures of sales might actually help performance and productivity.
It seems like companies have grown in their perspectives in these categories of thinking. But most still have policies limiting employees to one hour at lunch. You can’t get to a club or get changed and get much of a workout in that way. People do it but one wonders whether the mental benefits of exercise are compromised by the stress of having to rush through so much.
Now that I’m running my own marketing business there is a still a feeling of playing hooky if I go out for a run or ride during the day. It’s taking some time to realize that my main priorities are getting the work done, and done well. When that happens is not so important as how the client feels about the work, and how it works for them.
So the occasional bike ride does happen at noon, usually an hour or so in length. Then I get back to doing the project with a fresh, enervated mind.
It’s not playing hooky if you’re still contributing to the progress and the process of creativity and productivity. The more schools, companies and organizations that realize that, the better the world will be. But we’ve still got a long ways to go before feeling like we’re not playing hooky on the road.