The Mother of All Boredom


I have no idea why the bank hired me. Apart from a warm body and pulse, I didn’t have a thing to offer Ferneyhough Savings. They didn’t have much to offer me, either. Unless, of course, you count the $9.65 an hour entry level tellers make. To be honest, I didn’t even want the job. I was just trying to survive until ski season.

Bank tellers are a dying breed that have succumbed to a lethal combination of online banking, electronic deposits and Square Cash. Unlike my counterparts of the 1950s who actually worked for a living, I spent the majority of my day staring into space. Occasionally, a waitress would come in with a wad of cash and $234 in loose change she collected from tips. Once in a while, a kid would want to cash in his piggy bank, but that was about it.

This wasn’t the first boring job I’ve had. I’ve worked dozens of dead-end gigs while working my way through college. I’ve counted ball bearings, patrolled Six Flags parking lots in a chicken costume, watched paint dry, and inspected plastic tubing. At least with those jobs I was doing something. Figuring out ways to look busy as a bank teller was a whole new slice of pizza.

Unlike my abbreviated career at Three Mile Island, we weren’t allowed to sleep on the job. We couldn’t read, eat, surf the Internet, or talk on the telephone between clients. Yet, we were supposed to look busy, lending a professional air to the three customers that came in during the day. If it weren’t for the robberies, it might have been a boring job.

The first thing I tried was imagining everyone who came into the lobby was nude. I learned the technique at a Tony Robbins self-esteem seminar. Then, I tried to see how long I could hold my breath until I fainted. I got up to three minutes before the other tellers started complaining about the colors I was turning. After I compared the number of freckles on my left arm with the right, I tried to see if I could touch my brain by pushing my index finger up through my nostrils.

The next thing I tried was pretending to be on the phone. We weren’t allowed to have our own telephones, so I brought in an old headset from my last job and taped the loose end into the cash drawer. The great thing about headsets is no one can tell whether or not you’re actually on a call. There’s no red light that blinks when you’re occupied, like the outside of a confessional, so people tend to leave you alone. Whenever a customer came into the lobby, I’d pretend I was swamped by rolling my eyes, feigning resignation and making gestures with my hands, as if to say, “I’d love to talk to you, but I’m on the phone with this guy who just won’t shut up.”

If the boss was around, I’d add some compelling dialogue: “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, Mr. Melish. Your daughter came in yesterday with a group of Hells Angels and cashed your Social Security check. Something about needing money for her next score.” I didn’t even know she was into music.

Later, I discovered I could fill up hours simply by walking around, glaring at a clipboard. People naturally assumed that I was buried in paperwork. A friend of mine told me whenever he wanted to look busy, he’d walk around with a gallon of paint and a brush. No one walks around with a gallon of paint unless they’re in the midst of an important job. Then, there was the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza figured out he could look busy by wearing a scowl. If anyone approached him, he’d let ‘em have it. The technique worked so well, it was adopted by every cop, medical and CSI show.

Of course the mother of all boredom is the practical joke. Nothing is more dangerous than 12 bank tellers jacked-up on caffeine, with nothing to do. We’d make the rounds by gluing the manager’s telephone to her desk, sawing the legs off tellers’ stools or hiding a dead fish under the New Accounts desk. The usual stuff.

After a few weeks, the branch manager asked me to come into her office to discuss my struggling performance. “Mr. Smith, we’ve had a number of complaints about your conduct here at Ferneyhough Savings. The other tellers have complained about the colors you’ve been turning while sitting at your window. The customers have commented that you appear to be under an enormous amount of stress, yelling on the telephone, pacing the halls while carrying a bucket of paint and glaring at a clipboard. For God’s sake, man. Get a grip on yourself. You’re only an entry level teller.”

She was right. I was under an enormous amount of stress – trying figure out ways to look like I enjoyed my job. We finally agreed that Ferneyhough Savings wasn’t place for me. So, she managed to wrangle a job for me in the parking lot toll booth. I’ll probably be bored there, too. But, at least I wouldn’t have to pretend. Besides, I want to see how far I can stretch open my mouth, before something pops.



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