If You're Not Early, You're Late
Good thing I'm always on time
I have a million things to celebrate in my life.
I was named one of Southwestern Connecticut’s Top 500 Comics to Watch. I got my left AirPod out of the toilet with a drain snake. My girlfriend is letting me have pizza and a beer on Friday because I’ve gotten so much better with my hygiene.
But there are some things I wish I could change.
The rent-seeking, for-hire dermatologists at Hims who prescribed me with finasteride at age 17, a-bombing my libido and leaving my worm to dangle limply forever. Our nation’s antiquated and cruel child support system, which does not accept that a few well-timed text messages per year actually mean a lot more to my growing son far than money. The tiny, bandy-legged man in a bowler hat who giggles sinisterly in the corner of my bedroom at night but disappears when I look at him.
And then, there are a few things I’m not sure about. In some ways, I like them. In other ways I don’t. This is known as a “Hegelian” or “materialist” dialectic. May we please fuck now?
Chief among these is that I am always on time. I’m not bragging about that. It’s just true. I can’t recall the last time I was more than five minutes late to something. If I was, it was on purpose, and even then, it was less than twenty minutes. I’m not some loser who shows up to parties right when they start. If the party starts at 9, I just plan to get there at 10:30 and arrive exactly then, precisely on time to being fashionably late. In other words, if I am ever noticeably late to something, I really, really don’t give a shit about it.
I don’t even know how I learned to be on time. My dad is one of those nuts who sets his car clock wrong in order to trick himself into being on time, gets accustomed to the difference, which forces him to set it further and further ahead until the clock is meaningless and he is even later. His family is even worse. Start-times for holiday celebrations are understood to be loose suggestions. My dad sometimes leaves late, knowing he can blame the traffic on the route between Connecticut and Long Island (a modern Silk Road of exotic goods and revolutionary ideas). Then that congestion is, of course, even worse than predicted, since even the ex-Mossad traffic engineers at Waze can’t predict the Long Island Expressway on the first night of Passover. So, everyone ambles in over a two hour window, despite the rest of the family living within a 10 mile radius.
My mom is decently punctual. And her mother is one of the earliest people on Earth. When she picks my family at the airport, she arrives at least hours before the plane lands. She gets to the waiting area in Fort Lauderdale at roughly the same time the plane takes off in New York. She routinely arrives at restaurants long before a reservation, just to sit there complaining that the table is not ready 45 minutes in advance. She shows up to people’s houses at the precise time she’s invited over, probably finding the host still in their bathrobe and just beginning to cook. I learned from her that while punctuality is largely about being polite, in excess it can be rude. Less about respect, more about control.
Someone once asked me if my punctuality is a trauma response to something, like being forgotten somewhere or scolded too harshly by a teacher. That never happened. Plus, if it did, it would not affect me, because my mind is an impenetrable fortress. (I went to ModernMD earlier to get a Covid test and the doctor diagnosed me with a “once-in-a-generation intellect.” Pretty cool!)
I just like being on time. And I really just don’t like being late. Good thing is, I find it pretty much effortless. Late people tend to think being on time requires a huge amount of planning and concentration. They imagine that I’m like Tom Hanks in the beginning of Cast Away, fretting around, obsessed with the clock, incapable of prioritizing my beautiful, intelligent fiancée.
But my system is simple. I have a mental map with color-coded sections radiating like a Like-a-Color Popsicle, each representing 15, 30, 45, and 60 minute travel times. If a destination is in between circles, I always round up. When I take the subway or bus, I check CityMapper to find the estimated time, then round it up to one of my increments. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
I usually do most 45-and-under trips on foot. I like to walk not only because it is a more interesting way to get around and good for clearing the mental cobwebs, but because it both eliminates unpredictable delays. This helps me avoid being “hurried” or “in a rush” -- the whole point of on time is to evade the stress of being late. I give myself so much time because I like to make small talk, drag my heels, smell the roses, take pictures of trash and roadkill to impress internet women named “r0landbarthes_bottombitch,” call into Mike Francesa under the name Anita Havseks, connect with talented young creatives in the public park men’s restroom, have my skirt blown around by a hot air grate in front of a bunch of construction workers, or just let my mind wander staring in the window of a yoga studio.
One time in college, someone noticed that I moseyed slowly down Locust Walk, the main drag of campus. The noticer was one of the nerds, dorks, dweebs, eager-beavers, and Type A strivers who prided themselves on speedrunning it like a West Wing aide, and she assumed that I was going so slowly because I didn’t really care about being on time. But these speed freaks (in more ways than one) were often late themselves. They took pride in being so busy that they had to be late, humblebragging a breathless faux-apology as they walked in. They loved racing from a 200-level Data Collection seminar to a Debt Collateralization Club meeting to volunteering at a local school helping underprivileged youth launch their own digital-native apparel brands with t-shirts cut for average guys’ bodies, with just enough time in between to snarf down a Sweetgreen Shroomami bowl. To be on time was a signal of un-conscientiousness, paradoxically. But walking slowly didn’t mean I wasn’t busy or didn’t care and that’s still the case; it’s just because a Dutch research chemical I consumed at a Nico & Vinz concert was absorbed into my spinal fluid and gave me a permanent sensation of moving through molasses.
The biggest downside to being on time is that in order to do it consistently, you usually have to be early. And since I understand that being slightly early is often ruder than being slightly late, I end up waiting around a lot. Bars are great for this, because I can just head in and find a seat and post tweets that will cost me my job in a decade. But for a lot of other things, I have to spend a few minutes doing laps around the block until it’s appropriate to go in. Tardies are always aghast when they hear about this, or worse, catch me. “How could you waste this much time, just to be on time? Think of what you could be doing with it!” It makes me feel like the man who is told that if he didn’t buy cigarettes every day, after 40 years he could afford a Ferrari. What do you have to show for all that time you saved being late? Where’s your Ferrari?
Being on time is my structure. I don’t have a workout regimen. I don’t keep vegetarian or vegan or lacto-ovo-presbyterian. I don’t count my drinks. My job is pretty much self-directed. If I don’t have somewhere to be, I always sleep through my alarm. Being on time is one of the fews ways I put constraints on myself, force some moderation, and keep myself on the rails. So thank you for reading my weekly newsletter about being on time. Which was seven weeks late.