You Think I'm Working, But I Ain't
Ruston, Lincoln Parish
RealVideo clip (1:26)
This story was recorded September 16, 1993, by Pat Mire and Maida Owens.
Then I got another one. This is a true one. . . .
This guy, he was working on this farm for this guy, you know? And, they had what you call a big house. And this is where they kept all the farm tools--in the big house, okay? So, he had to get up every morning and go to the big house, and he'd hook up the mule and the old plow and he'd go out in the field and work, plow for them.
He had him a big old shade tree down there in the field, you know, and every morning he'd hook [his mule] up. Boss Man thinking he's going to work. He'd go out and get under that shade tree; he had a guitar with him out there. His guitar, his back up against the tree, get to singing a little song about [sings] "You think I'm working, but I ain't" -- oh, he did that for I don't know how long.
One of the Boss Man's [laughs] neighbors passed by one evening and heard him out there. So, he goes down and he tells the guy, "Well, you're just paying him for nothing," he said. "Because he ain't working," he said, "He's sitting under the tree, singing."
So [the Boss] said, "Well, that's all right. I'll catch him."
Next morning before day, he got up, Boss Man did, went out there and got up in the tree. Workman hooked up the mule, plow, then he comes by. Ties the mule up. Get right by that tree in back, he starts [playing] his guitar, [sings] "You think I'm working, but I ain't --" he says about two or three times.
Then the Boss Man fell out the tree, "Um-hm." He said, [sings] "And you think I'm going to pay you, but I ain't." [Laughs.] Yeah.
This is part of the popular "John and Old Master" series of African-American narratives, among the oldest extant American joke cycles. John is a clever old slave or servant who is continually finding ways of impressing his master.
For more information about this and related tales, refer to the book, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.