Saturday, November 27

Tim Dowling: Ask me how busy I am. Go ahead, ask me | Life and Style

SUBWAYMy friend Don Bowen may be the only person I know who has tried to coin and popularize a change of expression. He wanted his expression to grow organically, so he did not implement a viral campaign. He waited for people to ask him what he had been doing. And when they did, he would say, “Wow, I’m as busy as a horse on an escalator.”

So far it hasn’t had much traction, probably for more than one reason. People may lack the visual imagination to process the simile. Or they think the expression refers to a form of cruelty that was once common. I’ve done everything I can to help, on the rare occasions the opportunity presents itself.

It’s midmorning and I’m pacing around the kitchen table, head bowed and a folded sheaf of paper in my hands. I’ve been trying to memorize a few bullet points so I don’t have to refer to the document during a Zoom presentation I’m about to give. But at this point my mind has been wandering for a few minutes. I don’t even realize that I keep walking in circles until I find my wife on my way. It is his shoes that I see first.

“Busy day?” she says.

“That?” I say. “Actually, it is. In fact, I’m like … “

“If you’re not doing anything, can you come help me for a second?”

“Without doing anything?” I say. “I’m as busy as …”

“I just need you to check this email I’m about to send.”

“I’d love to,” I say, “but now I’m as busy as a horse on an escalator.” My wife looks at me for a moment.

“So I’m not busy at all,” she says.

“Have you ever seen a horse on an escalator?” I say.

“No,” she says. “You have?”

“It means I’m incredibly busy,” I say. “I’m about to give a talk.”

“Just come and look at this thing,” he says.

The dog jumps
The dove backs off. The dog lunges. Their fight takes them across the grass and around the corner. Illustration: Peter Gamlen / The Guardian

She leads me into the other room, where the middle one is sitting next to his computer on a kitchen chair.

“What are you doing here?” I say.

“He is my person on social media,” says my wife.

“He’s my podcast producer,” I say. “It is intended to produce my podcast.”

“You can have it later,” says my wife. “He’s busy right now.”

“He is busy?” I say. “I’m as busy as a horse on an escalator!”

“What are you talking about?” says the middle one.

“It’s not mine, it’s Don’s,” I say.

The next morning my wife is gone and I have my podcast producer to myself. We sat at the kitchen table, each with a laptop. It is a meeting of ideas and, as such, it involves a lot of looking into the middle distance, in silence.

“I really don’t understand the concept,” the one in the middle finally says.

“It’s about common expressions and how they start,” I say.

“And you’re going to talk about it for 40 minutes,” he says.

“We will have guests,” I say.

“Good,” he says. “But you have to email the guests, because I have no idea what to say to them.”

“I will,” I say, thinking: I won’t.

“Anyway,” says the one in the middle.

“Anyway,” I say.

“Ahhhh!” says the middle one. A disgusting thud follows directly.

Behind me, a pigeon has crashed into the kitchen window pane. I turn around in time to see him fall to the ground.

“Oh my gosh,” says the one in the middle.

The dog runs out the open garden gate to chase him. The dove, unable to take flight, decides to resist. The dog has not anticipated this, has never caught anything, and hesitates. The dove backs off. The dog lunges. Their fight takes them across the grass and around the corner.

“Uh-oh,” I say.

I call the dog. A few seconds later he walks into the kitchen with feathers hanging from his mouth.

“What have you done?” I say. “Did you eat his head?”

“Disgusting,” says the one in the middle. The dog coughs. The feathers float in the air.

I go out to look in the garden. In the end I find the dove, disheveled but with its head still on, huddled under a bench. He looks at me, but doesn’t move.

“You will die?” I say. “I have to do something?”

Fast guide

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This article comes from Saturday, The Guardian’s new print magazine that combines the best features, culture, lifestyle, and travel writing in one beautiful package. Available now in the UK and ROI.

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I go back inside, finish the meeting and yell at the dog. The next time I check the pigeon, it will be gone.

I try to get back to work, but I can’t stop thinking about that dove, crouched and still, staring around with wild eyes. Like a horse, I think, on an escalator.

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