After I stopped working I thought some things might change. I was chronically late for most of the thirty four years I worked at YSB. It was a busy place, and I liked to stay busy. I used every bit of time before grant deadlines, sometimes driving the grant to the city where it was to be mailed on the day it was to be submitted. By 5:00 p.m.. By working this way I never gave myself extra time to do things. There was always a certain amount of tension around time, especially travel time. I would stay in my office in Ottawa working until the last possible minute before leaving for a meeting say, in LaSalle. I would do the same thing for long distance meetings in Springfield or Chicago. I got speeding tickets. The smallest things could make me late, a train, a red light or two. And getting lost? Forget about it. If there is no deadline I actually enjoy being lost. But throw a wrong turn into the carefully measured amount of time I’ve spared to travel to an appointment and I’m screwed. Might as well turn around and go home, which I’ve done on occasion. Being held up in any way really makes me mad. I am nearly always alone in the car so no one hears me yelling. It is my place to let off steam. Occasionally, I would whack the passenger seat with the back of my arm. That hasn’t happened in a while. It was road rage of some different type, not directed at other drivers in any way, but at the clock. Time rage I guess. You’re right. That’s stressful and unwise. I know that.
I knew exactly why I was trying to cut it so close. I hate small talk, both listening to it and trying to start it. If I arrive at the appointed hour just on time, or a minute or two late, I encounter nothing but meeting with no time to fill. No chit chat. For example, I ran a meeting, the Children and Adolescent Local Area Network (C&A LAN), in LaSalle on a regular Friday (second, last, I don’t remember) that started at 1 p.m.. I could leave my Ottawa office as late as 12:44, head out on Route 6, get on I-80 at 178, take the LaSalle exit, cut over on the road past the Flying J, hit a little blacktop, and be walking into the Mental Health Center between 1:00 and 1:04. My secretary was already there, the agenda and minutes were passed out, everyone would be talking, catching up, socializing and having a chatty moment or two. I would walk in, sit down, call the meeting to order, and away we went. It was my favorite meeting I think. I miss it a little.
Why did I grow to hate being early? Hard to say exactly. There is this. My family went to a Presbyterian church in Danvers, three miles from our farm. After I quit going to Sunday School, when my Dad returned to church after a long absence (long story) my parents insisted on getting me into the car more than a half hour before church started, driving the short distance to Danvers terribly slow, checking out everyone’s fields on the way, and being perhaps the first people to enter the sanctuary. We sat, in our same pew every week, and did nothing. Said nothing, read the bulletin maybe, looked at the stained glass windows, suffered the silence of an empty church. Why in God’s name would anyone do that? As people arrived my Mom and Dad would smile at them, perhaps exchange a greeting, or go over and talk to them in a low voice, or they came to us. It was maddening. I sat there not believing I was in that place, at that time, doing nothing. Did I vow to never again in my life be early? Could be.
The money for the C&A LAN ran out just as I retired. I don’t think they have that meeting any longer. People would bring stumper cases to that meeting, kids and families that defied our fitting them into neat categories, that fell through the cracks (those were never cracks, but rather gaping holes). We would brainstorm. School people, special education folks and social workers, joined with mental health people , child welfare providers, social workers from different agencies, psych hospital people, the whole gamut of organizations and institutions that dealt with problem kids and families. It was a meeting not about one organization but about people who needed help. We tried to find the strengths of families rather than dwelling on their weaknesses. We came up with creative solutions or not, made one another aware of resources and programs that could be used for a family’s benefit, maybe. It was not about us. That was refreshing. When needed we drew from a small pot of money to buy services, or hard goods, or make a rent deposit, or anything that may get a family over the hump and into a better place. We used it all kinds of ways.
When the meeting was done it was the middle of Friday afternoon and most everyone went home as soon as the meeting ended. Week over. Friday afternoon meetings are the best. Everyone leaves immediately when they end. No small talk on either end. It was perfect. When that meeting was over I would go back to work. Friday afternoon was a popular one for skipping out if your work was done or you had worked late early in the week. Seemed like something always came up though. Besides that it was quiet. I would go back to Ottawa, get organized for the week to come, work till 5:00 without interruption. Interruption, that’s the killer.
At some point early on I said I had an open door policy but in reality as the years went on I shut my door more and more to keep people out. I read a lot, and wrote grant applications, wrote all the time really, thinking problems out by putting them on paper. I had talky organizational meetings, yes I did, and talked to people, and told them what I thought, what I believed our organization should do and not do, and listened to the same kinds of things from my staff. But rarely did I act on anything without putting it first on paper, into words, and responding to it in writing. So I was in my office, like I am now in my shack, writing.
That’s why I loved, loved, loved e mail when it became a tool of the trade. I could write my staff, my board, my peers, my funders with a measured response, reread it, change it, edit it, get it the way I wanted it, deliver it immediately, and expect a response. No doubt about what I meant to say, that I said it wrong, that something went wrong in the hearing of something or other. It was in writing. That’s the way I communicated. And then came texting, which practically took me away from speaking all together. So when someone came to my door and wanted to talk, to throw some situation up and want an opinion, a solution, in spoken word on the spot, it put me off. I don’t really care to talk much, then or now.
And when they wanted to talk just as I was leaving, when I had exactly sixteen minutes to make it to LaSalle, barring trains holding me up, when they wanted to talk to me as I was putting on my coat and trying to get out the door, I was probably plain rude. I didn’t have time to talk. Talk is slow. I was late. I was always late. I was OK with it. Still am.
So why would I be late now that I’m retired? That is hard to say. I have very few things for which I must be on time, and absolutely none of them really require my attendance. There’s Yoga at the YMCA at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. I swim Monday and Wednesday, Friday too if my blog is done. As far as the pool goes, if I’m not there at noon kids swim on some days (I can’t remember which) at 1:00 and if I’m much later than 12:15 I can’t get my laps in. Choir practice is at 6:00 on Wednesdays. And that’s the extent of it really, day to day. I have a church on a regular Tuesday night at 6:00, second Tuesday I believe. Beer club is a regular Wednesday March through November that conflicts with choir at 6:00 for part of the year but still let’s me make the second hour, have a few beers and some food, and see the guys. I’m sure I’m missing something. It is not what you would call a grueling schedule. Am I on time for my appointments? No.
I’m the last to come into Yoga, but often they haven’t gotten into their first pose. I sneak behind everyone, get a mat, a blanket, two foam blocks and a strap. We’re usually into the first pose within a minute of my arrival, or I’m a minute or so late. Perfect.
At choir, as I go up the stairs, I often hear my choir mates warming up. I know the warm ups, and begin them on the stairs, shucking off my coat, getting my folder of music, taking my place between the fellows in the back row. Nice.
Being late for swimming sometimes jams me up without a lane of my own, but not often. It’s a small town, a small Y, and there’s always room. When I’m late I swim fast. I go for 56 lengths if I can, and if I can’t, that’s OK.
It happened yesterday morning. I was writing, and watching the clock on my computer. I knew I had but 11 minutes to drive down the hill, park at the Y, climb the stairs, put my membership tag under the little scanner, get into the locker room, take off my regular clothes, put on a T shirt, jock strap, and sweat pants, lock my locker, and get up a second set of stairs before the rest of the class broke into sun salutation, or downward facing dog, or whatever we start with. I knew just how much time I had but instead of going straight to the garage and leaving, as I should have, I cut through the kitchen, I don’t know why, where I encountered my wife who chose that particular moment to tell me about the Dave Letterman show. She had watched it while I was sleeping the night before.
“You should have seen Dave Letterman last night. Jennifer Lawrence was on? (My wife has fallen into uptalk.) You’ve seen her before on Letterman haven’t you? (Doesn’t wait for me to respond.) It was so FUNNY! Dave asked the staff to look something up for them and when it took a long time Jennifer Lawrence said to Dave ‘You want to get out of here’ and they just walked off the set and the camera followed them down these little halls and stuff. It was wild. And then they broke for a commercial and when they came back Jennifer Lawrence was in Dave’s chair and he was the guest. I tell you. She’s crazy.”
“Uh huh,” I said.
“You don’t look interested in the least.” She knows me well. I wasn’t interested at all. I like Jennifer Lawrence but only as an actress. She was terrific in the movie about meth in the Ozarks, but I could care less about her as a person and what she does on the Dave Letterman show. Like it never mattered to me what Dennis Rodman did off the basketball court. To me he existed to rebound, and that was it.
“I’m not interested. I’m sorry but I don’t have time. I’m going to Yoga and if I don’t leave right now I’ll be late.”
“Good bye. Maybe later today you’ll find time to talk to me.”
I can be more honest with my wife than other people. With others I get caught up into being polite and standing there pretending to listen as the minutes tick by and I feel lateness creep into my future and tension seize my body. Thankfully my wife knows this about me, this self imposed rush I get into, and holds it against me only occasionally. Actually, she holds it against me more than that, but I find ways to make up for it. Unbroken attention. Eye contact. Don’t look at your phone. Real listening. I should do that more often.
It may not be good, this practice of leaving no time for transition, or it may be inconsiderate of others. It’s probably rude. I know that. But that’s what I have going on. Call it a bad habit if you must. First you recognize and admit to a bad habit and only then are you perhaps able to change. Isn’t that how it goes? I see absolutely no value in being anywhere early. I think it’s an awful waste of time. And time, even though I have a lot of it these days, is still not something I want to fritter away. I may well continue to do what I choose to do until the last moment I possibly can, and then leave in a rush. I like it that way. Too much maybe. But I’m exploring other options. And while I am certainly not committed to change, I am considering it. I’m being honest here. What else can I say?