THERE is a breed of men, neither aloof nor detached, who differ from ourselves in no respect whatever except that they really make use of their pockets.
Do not get me wrong. I do not mean that they are forever forking out money or throwing away that fine but plentiful dust which accumulates in all pockets.
No, these are men who seek refuge in their pockets in much the same way as an ostrich hides his head in the sand when danger threatens. Let me give you an example.
Some months ago, I ordered two pairs of thick woolen socks for use when trout fishing.
The man from whom I ordered them assured me on his solemn word of honour that he would have them in the space of three days.
I returned dutifully after the aforesaid time to collect my order and was told because of the foot and mouth disease there would be a hold up.
“What,” I asked, “has the foot and mouth disease got to do with the delivery of my socks?”
To this the man made no answer. It was as if I had never spoken. Instead of answering my question he put his hand into his breast pocket and started a furious search for some object or other.
I watched him with fascination and in my mind was born the happy thought that he had been only codding me earlier and that the socks were secreted all the time in his breast pocket.
He was giving me a surprise, so I waited patiently and allowed him to derive full satisfaction from the joy of giving. Imagine my astonishment when he withdrew his hand with nothing in it.
No sooner had he withdrawn his hand from the breast pocket than he immediately thrust it into his right-hand coat pocket.
During all this time he never looked at me. I might not have been there at all. He again started the same furious search in the coat pocket. There was a look of worried concentration on his face as though he might never really find what he was looking for.
I started to get worried myself, and was of the opinion that he was after mislaying a large sum of money. In my heart I hoped that he would find what he was looking for. The search went on until, finally there was no pocket left to search.
Now, I told myself, he will look under the counter and then he will go through all the shelves of his shop.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong, for at once he instituted a second search, beginning in the same pocket as the first search.
Slowly the truth dawned on me. The pocket searching was only a diversion. What he was actually hoping for was that I would go away.
I should have guessed this when he did not answer the question I had put to him earlier. This was also the reason he did not look at me. He was driving me off with his pockets. I got the message and departed.
However, he put me thinking. Up to this time I had never really taken notice of the professional pocket searcher.
To tell the truth, I did not even know that he existed.
Then I began to search my memory for examples of other pocket searchers. I remembered a boy with whom I shared a seat at school.
Whenever anybody asked him to fight he would immediately start to search his pockets, safe in the knowledge that it was as big a crime to hit a man who was searching his pockets as it was to hit a man wearing glasses. It was a classic diversion.
Then there was another school friend who, when asked embarrassing questions by his teacher, would stick his hand into his pencil pocket and commence to search.
Most teachers quickly moved on to another pupil and forgot about him, but there was one teacher who was not so easily fobbed off.
“What in the name of Moses,” he would ask, “are you searching for?” But there would be no answer.
The teacher ordered him out on the floor and repeated the question. The boy who was searching his pencil pocket refused to recognise the court.
Instead he put his hand into the pocket of his trousers seat and with a worried look on his face, walked out of the classroom. The teacher was baffled. He couldn’t very well follow him and leave the class masterless.
Now that I am fully aware of their existence, I meet professional pocket searchers every day of the week. You meet them too and I am prepared to lay you odds that there is some acquaintance who cannot answer a question without first searching his pockets.
It is a useful dodge and one which I propose to employ personally in the very near future.
Think about it, and should your bank manager ask you what you intend doing about that overdraft, my suggestion is that you put your hands in your pockets and keep searching until he goes away.
The late, great John B Keane was a Leader columnist for more than 30 years. This column first appeared in our edition of June 17 1972