The Idle American: Are you busier than a cranberry merchant or happy as a clam?

A cranberry bog in New England.
A cranberry bog in New England.


A guess–not even an educated one–is that the average person these days believes himself or herself far too busy for engagement in conversational drivel about, uh, who we are “busier than.”

Where we live, quasi-retired, our busiest hours precede twice-a-month housecleaner visits.

My wife simply can’t abide the thought of the cleaner-upper catching us with a disorderly house.


   “Busier than” comparisons brought smiles for the longest stretch, even when we’d heard the expressions dozens—maybe hundreds—of times. Rarely did we give thought to deeper meanings. (“Googling” sounded like something we’d do with crawdads; even then, most of our thinking was done at the shallow end of the pool.)

My Uncle Mort, 101 in July, remembers being asked occasional “what-do-you- think” questions.

After a brief pause, he’d answer, “If you’re interested in anything that calls for thinking, you’ll do well to ask someone with more experience in thinking.


   Anyways, thanks to Google, we’re mere seconds away from learning origins of almost anything, including hundreds of expressions about folks we’re “busier than.”

When first hearing of a guy claiming to be “busier than a cranberry merchant,” my mind whirled. Why, thought I, would a merchant dealing in cranberries be any busier than a strawberry merchant? Or dewberry? Or raspberry?

Add your own “infinitums.”


   A couple of computer clicks and I learned what should be obvious: Need for cranberries peaks sharply in November, thanks to Thanksgiving, of course. It is for this annual national observance that our turkey population is thinned out. And what would Thanksgiving dinner be without turkey AND CRANBERRIES? Or cranberry sauce? Or assorted cranberry-flavored something or others? Such augmentations are “musts.”

No doubt, farmers, processors, distributors and grocers truly are exceedingly busy meeting the demanding crush for cranberries.

At other times of the year, perhaps growers and processors—mostly turning out cranberry juice–have long lists of people busier than they are.


   I once knew a travelling salesman somewhat like Mr. McFeely, the little guy perpetually hurrying his “speedy deliveries” on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. My friend always looked forward to twice-monthly visits to a certain town.

He stayed at a modest motel there, always requesting a room on the second floor. It had a small balcony, and he loved the sound of a babbling stream down below. In fact, he often dropped a line in the water, enjoying a few treasured fishing moments. But he was torn—they had pinball machines in the lobby–and he loved pinballing, too.

An idea light flashed when he devised a way to do both. He tied the fishing line to the phone receiver before hastening to the lobby. Every few minutes, he’d call his room, and if the line was busy, he’d hurry upstairs to fetch the fish.


   A florist friend thinks there ought to be a mention of the “busyness” of his profession—at least at Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, when about three-fourths of the year’s roses are sold.

In fact, he said if I’m lucky, my demise will occur outside these annual holiday periods. “There are just too many possibilities for errors,” he said. I asked why.

“One time, a customer ordered roses for a business that had re-located, and another ordered roses for a funeral. There was a mix-up in the messages attached. One wished for the new business to ‘rest in peace,’ and the funeral note extended ‘best wishes in your new location’.”


   I know—there are many expressions worth chasing down that have nothing to do with how busy we are. We’ve gotten sloppy with a lot of ‘em, sometimes fragmenting them badly.

How about comparative happiness? We’ve all heard the short version—“Happy as a clam.”

It is important to add the often-omitted phrase: “at high tide.”


   Clam aficionados believe that except at high tide, clams are no happier than mussels, snails and other water-loving organisms.

Bring on tidal elevation, however, and they’re happy to be alive, straining in their shells to be the life of the party.

Now you’ve got a “bone to pick”—or maybe a shell—but my office—like our kitchen—is “closed until further notice.” You wouldn’t believe how “unbusy” we are.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury Web site:

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