No time to say, “Hello”, goodbye—I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.
I’ve suspected that like eye and skin color, baldness and IQ, punctuality must be an inherited trait. My mother wasn’t just punctual, she was terrified of being late, always working herself up into a wild frenzy, “We’ve got to get a move on, get your coats and get out the door right now, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” she’d be shrieking as she hustled my brother and I down the hall.
She’d get worked up about the most trivial appointments, taking the car in to get fixed, taking the dog to the vet and God forbid she had a dental appointment or a 9:30 with her doc, Patty and her two boys would be on a dead run, “C’mon, c’mon, we can’t be late!”
When we were little we had go to every appointment with her so imprinted on our psyches was the absolute necessity of being “on the dot.” In our house, punctuality was next to godliness, if you were late, you’d pay big-time. The punishment for being late had to be so horrible it was beyond description, unimaginable, something akin to the horrors of hell, but much worse.
So we spent our childhoods rushing everywhere, herded around by our mother at breakneck speed.
And what do I do? Me, the one who’s inherited the got-to-be-on-time gene?
I marry a dawdler of the worst sort.,
Annie couldn’t give a fig about being on time. “What’s the big deal if we’re a few minutes late?”–is her standard line. Of course a few minutes morphs into a half hour and me? I’m a basket case, fretting myself into a noxious stew of anxiety, completely convinced that the God of Tardy is going to strike me dead.
But that’s not the half of it. What takes it over the top is my wife’s tendency to gear down, gradually winding down her preparation speed until she’s moving in slow motion. Honest to God, she moves like cold glue.
Say we’re going to a party. Start time is 6:30. Me, I’m ready at 5:45. Annie, she’s still sitting in the living room tapping away at her tablet, playing some inane game, oblivious to the clock ticking down to departure time.
At 6:05, she still hasn’t taken a shower and I’m beside myself. If I say anything, even the tamest suggestion such as, “It’s getting on, dear, maybe you should start getting ready?” I risk a further slowdown. Instead of a half-hour, she’ll stretch it out to an hour. And it’s not in retaliation, it’s an innate response. The closer she gets to departure, the slower she moves—like molten lava inching down a hill, only slower.
And the slower she goes, the crazier I get. So I have to stifle my rapidly accelerating angst by rapidly pacing up and down the front hall like some demented person, occasionally peeking into her dressing room to check on the lack of progress. Which just gets me more bonkers.
Now normally, I’d pour myself a glass of wine to calm my nerves, but in this situation, booze is off limits. Because with the Dawdler in full slowdown mode, one glass would turn into four and I’d be half in the bag before I even got to the party.
Occasionally, I’ll abandon good sense, stick my head in the door and suggest, “It’s already ten minutes to seven, you want to get a move on?”
She’ll turn to me, give me a sneer and say, “They never serve dinner until eight, what’s the rush?” Which, translated into Annie-speak, means, “Push me any more and I’ll just go slower.”
Now this has been going on for forty-one years, so you’d think Tony would have learned to turn on Netflix and watch Ben Hur, take the dogs for a long walk, sit down with a weighty novel, but no, I’m still wearing out the carpet in the hall.
When I’m almost at the breaking point, she breezes out of the bedroom and gives me a cheery, “Okay, I’m ready, let’s go.”
And when we get to the party, it’s still cocktail time and I get: “See? What did I tell you? You’ve got to stop being so crazy about being on time.”
That doesn’t stop my full-blown phobia. Let’s say I have a chiropractor appointment. It’s up on Rio and you know what the traffic’s like up there. So I leave forty-five minutes early, constantly checking the clock, fretting that if I’m late, the God of Tardy will put a black mark on my record. Enough marks, and its not pretty what happens.
Now I’m aware that that this level of anxiety is not healthy, so I try to throw some water on it, saying to myself, “Take it easy, Tony, it doesn’t make any difference if you’re five minutes late.”
But then the God of Tardy has me honking the horn at some slowpoke and I’m barely able to resist flipping the bird at him when I zoom past.
It goes like this, back and forth between the sane Tony and the loony one until I pull up in front of the chiropractor.
And I’m always twelve minutes early.
Some people never learn.
Like Tony and the White Rabbit.