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Punctuality

My issues with time started early, when I kept my mom in labor so long that Dr. Rabban finally came after me with tongs.

In grade school, I routinely missed the bus and had to be driven to school -- manually -- by same mother. How, she wondered aloud to the dog, could her son spend 30 minutes playing with floaties in the gutter?

The bus driver called me his "tardy tot" and waited as long as he could. He had fancied me ever since that day I asked who closed the bus doors when the driver got out.

In high school, I grew my hair long and rebelled against the whole "time thing," a horrible approach to curfew. Without a clock, we relied on neighbors for the time:

"Would you quiet down already?! It's two in the morning!"

Can you blame us for boycotting a world where people wake up to ALARMS and fight RUSH hour traffic to meet arbitrary DEADlines? It's enough to make you drop out, cat, and recite poetry in beatnik cafes:

"This watch, a parasite on my wrist, a tick ... tock ... a tick ... tock ..."

My dad was surprised to hear that I owned a watch. He had always been more fussy with the time. Like Big Ben.

Recently, during a family outing to the park -- Santa Anita -- my dad called me for an ETA (estimated time of apology). He seemed to be gnawing on his Rolex.

"Why," I asked, "is it so important for us to leave two hours before the bugle?"

"Because," he said, "we like to get there early and relax."

So it goes.

On-time people invented the sharp. "We're leaving on Sunday, 10:00 sharp ... machete sharp." And tardy tots countered with the ish. "I'll be there 10:00ish," which could mean 11:00, 12:00, or Monday.

My long-hair philosophies broke down in corporate. At job interviews, I deflected the time question, saying, "Punctual? You betcha. I always use commas and periods."

The manager would laugh and move on, freeing us from the cold, hard reality: I had no idea how time works. I was late for so many meetings that I finally ran out of alibis. Eventually, it was just, "Sorry I'm late, but I was somewhere else."

We who suffer from time denial don't allow for things like showering, traffic, floaties in the gutter. It's like we all own telepods and can materialize anywhere at a moment's notice.

"The play is at eight? Perfect! I get off at eight!"

Fortunately, most people soften if you show up with make-good -- flowers for the girlsies, beer for the boysies. You might also bring a joke.

"If I were a mayfly, I would have been born in June. But seriously, how late am I?"

I also carry a speeding ticket, which acts like a doctor's note in case of emergency. This policy was inspired by the bona fide emergency of five fuming bridesmaids.

Tardy tots mean no disrespect. It's just that the only thing worse than being late is being early. Sure, the early bird gets the worm, but he also sits around reading Highlights magazine. And that time is never refunded.

So in our effort to be neither early nor late, we skitter through life like chickens with our heads cut off, only chickens have the good sense to die. Twice I've locked my keys in the car WHILE IT WAS RUNNING.

My Scottish mechanic had the same expression both times ... "bloody eejit."

People suggest that I simply start earlier, but what they don't understand -- thank you for sharing -- is that time rises to its own level. There will always be floaties in the gutter. I could start showering the day before and still reach my ETA.

My shrink, cunning devil, showed up 30 minutes late for our last appointment just to show me how it feels. He found out later when I paid half the bill.

Friends may gnash at their watches and fume from the ears, but someday, when that tick bleeds me dry, they will realize that it was nothing personal, that I was basically a decent man who lived before his time -- before the telepod.

And they will be given to ponder these things as they sit around at my funeral waiting for the casket of the late, late Jason Love.

 




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