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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Better ‘Late’ Than Severed

Yesterday, my wife did one of the very worst things she could possibly do. She set the clock on the car dashboard.

So now it’s accurate. The horror.

You see, I’m one of those people who’s chronically late. At work, I’m late for meetings. When I was in school, I was late for classes. Even as a fetus, I took my sweet damned time popping out into the world — and my mother will never let me forget it. That was the start of my terrible tardiness, and nothing much has changed over the years.

I’ve tried everything I could think of to break the habit, too. In high school and college, I’d set my alarm further and further back, to have more time to be on time. That just led to a worn-out ‘snooze bar’. And when I actually did manage to wake up at the first alarm, I was so early that I’d usually get distracted by the television or a cereal box or some shiny object, and I’d still be late. Though I’d also know exactly how much niacin I just consumed in my bowl of BooBerries. They’re part of a balanced breakfast, you know.

“The alarm clock is key, of course, because it’s the one that gets the day started. If it’s ten minutes fast, then I’m already ten minutes ahead of the game. Or five, if I hit the snooze bar. Three, if I have to pee really badly.”

The only trick that’s ever worked for me in not being late is to convince myself that I’m already late. Luckily, I’m not terribly bright, so I’m easily outwitted. Just by setting a few strategic clocks ahead by a few minutes, I give myself the impression — desperate dread and sweaty palms and all — of being late, when really, there’s still time on the clock. I’ve found that I can get to most places on time now, just by setting three timepieces a little ahead — my alarm clock, my watch, and — you guessed it — the clock on the car dashboard.

Each of these has their unique advantages. The alarm clock is key, of course, because it’s the one that gets the day started. If it’s ten minutes fast, then I’m already ten minutes ahead of the game. Or five, if I hit the snooze bar. Three, if I have to pee really badly. And down to zero, if they’ve redesigned the side panel of my Count Chocula box. So hedging my bets with the alarm clock is critical. Also, it’s the clock I’m most likely to believe at face value without trying to calculate how much time I really have, because I’m a drooling, jelly-headed moron first thing in the morning, and math is well beyond my capabilities at that point.

As opposed to the rest of the day, when I drool slightly less often.

The wristwatch is important because it’s always with me throughout the day. If there’s an upcoming meeting, that’s where I go to check the time. I’ve found that it’s best to only set my watch a few minutes ahead, rather than ten or twenty or more. It’s great to be five minutes ‘late’ for a meeting, according to your watch, and show up on time. It’s not so nice to sit in an empty conference room for three hours because you over-earlied the meeting. Especially if the snacks haven’t shown up yet.

That brings us to the clock in the car. This is the one I have the most leeway with, and the one with which I’ve taken the most liberties. This clock is routinely set at least fifteen minutes ahead, to give me that ‘ooh shit, I’m already late!’ feeling as early as possible. Usually this happens when I’m driving to the office, so the time buffer helps to pad that ‘dead time’ we all forget to account for, including things like walking from the garage, waiting for the elevator, and sobbing quietly in the car because another work day is starting. And since the other time management tricks are meaningless if one doesn’t actually arrive at the office on time, the car clock is the linchpin of my whole convoluted system.

Or rather, it was the linchpin. Until yesterday.

It turns out my wife doesn’t have a tardiness problem. Other than the problem she has waiting for me to get my ass in gear, at least. And it seems she got tired of arriving at appointments and dinner reservations half an hour before scheduled, because she took the clock in the car to be literally correct. So she set it to the right time.

She also — and this is a very important detail — forgot to tell me that she’d set the clock.

So I drove to work today, confident that I had plenty of time to make my big early meeting. Sure, the clock said I was late — it always says I’m ‘late’ — but I worked out the usual adjustment in my head, and decided I had plenty of time. So I didn’t take my uber-secret shortcut. I didn’t rush through yellow lights like a leadfoot lunatic being chased by the fuzz. I even let that blue-haired old lady in front of me, as a show of goodwill — and didn’t lean on the horn or call her nasty names when she, predictably, drove seven miles an hour for the next four blocks.

Why get upset about such things? The car clock said I was only fifteen minutes ‘late’, and I was only ten minutes from the office. No biggie.

You can imagine my surprise when I strolled into the conference room, thinking about snagging an extra donut before everyone arrived — and found the meeting assembled, half the business addressed, and all eyes on the jelly-headed jackass who just arrived twenty-odd minutes into the meeting. They seemed to be waiting for some sort of explanation, so as I cringed my way over to an empty seat, I said:

Um, sorry. My clock is working, and I didn’t know.

One of the higher-ups — the sort that only seem to recognize you when you’ve just screwed up — peered at me and asked:

You mean your clock wasn’t working, and you didn’t know?

Er… no. It’s my wife, you see. She likes to, ah, know what time it is. Actually. Not pretend time.

He opened his mouth to say something else, thought better of it, gave me a final angry glare, and went back to running the meeting. I sat quietly in my chair without moving an inch until the meeting was over, then dashed out to my cube before anyone could ask to ‘have a word’ in their office. If I can get through the afternoon without a tongue-lashing, it should all be forgotten by Monday.

Assuming I change the clock back. I may have to buy the wife her own car, so we can live our driving lives twenty minutes apart. That’s the only way we’ll ever show up anywhere at the same time — and apparently, the only way I’ll keep my job. Who knew you could get fired for telling time correctly?

Permalink  |  4 Comments

4 Responses to “Better ‘Late’ Than Severed”

  1. shelley says:

    Best excuse for being late, ever: “My clock was working and I didn’t know.” I am so using that, and I don’t even have a wife.

  2. Kristine says:

    My car clock is always 14 minutes fast. ALWAYS 14 minutes — I once accidentally set it 14 minutes ahead and now I can’t deal with it being any different. Once I went to get a new car radio installed and they corrected my clock time and I was late everywhere for a week before I figured it out.

  3. Evel says:

    I actually pulled the fuse from my car clock. As soon as I start the car it begins at 12:00. So, I never know the actual time, just how long it is taking me to get to where I am going.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

  4. Kerry says:

    i tried a couple years ago setting the clocks 10 to 15 minutes fast because hubby was always running late for work. it worked great until he figured out i was doing it. then he would just add 5 or 10 minutes to the time as he was getting ready and he’d still be late.

    we do try to keep the clock in the car about 5 minutes fast, though.

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