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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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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!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Yet Another Opportunity to Be Less Like Me

I don’t know about you, but I spend an awfully large percentage of my life being late. Late for work, late to meetings, late getting home, late going to bed… I’m always somewhere I’m not still supposed to be, or rushing like hell to get to the next destination. It’s been that way my whole life — I was always late for class in college (when I bothered to go… damned eight o’clock classes), tardy in high school, and rolled in after the last bell in elementary school. Hell, I was even born late.

(And after thirty-odd hours of labor, which my mother will never let me forget. Hey, did she ever stop to think that maybe I was busy in there? Maybe I was doing something important, dammit. I can’t be bothered every damned time some woman dilates, fer chrissakes… what about my needs?)

Anyway, after a while, you can get used to anything. So I’ve come to recognize my various modes and moods that crop up when I’m late, and I’ve learned how to deal with them. Which is not to say that I do deal with them — I just know how to deal with them. So, in the off chance that my experience with nincompoopery can help some of you out there, I’ll tell you what the various types of ‘lateness’ are, and what you should do when faced with each. And then… what I actually do most of the time. Because I’m a moron that way. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, people. There can be only one.

So, on to the ‘Six Stages of Tardiness‘:

Stage 1: ‘Hmmm… I Bet I Could Do One More Thing Before I Go’

Description: This is the onramp to the road of lateness. At this point, you’re not actually late yet. But you’re about to be. You know you need to be somewhere, but you look at your watch, or your clock, and see that the time hasn’t yet arrived. You’ve still got ten, maybe fifteen minutes. You’re cool.

Of course, what you fail to take into account is that you’re still in bed, and your meeting is ten miles away, on the other side of a shower, shave, and a hair-raising commute. Or you’re heading to bed, but your ‘one more thing’ involves a two-hundred page book, or watching Roots on TV, or… I don’t know, twins.

Any way you slice it, that ‘one more thing’ is gonna cost you too much time and a nice big slice of sanity. It’s best to just say ‘no‘.

What Should Happen: Um, you’d just say ‘no‘.

(Well, duh. What’d I just say?)

You’d get off your ass and get whereever the hell you’re going. That ‘one more thing’ would wait, and you’d actually have a steam-heated snowball’s chance of getting somewhere on time. For once.

What Actually Happens: The lure of the ‘one more thing’ grabs you by the scalp and sucks the smarts out of your brain. You fiddle, and piddle, and fart around for the ten or fifteen minutes you had, then ten or fifteen more. You’re now officially late, and you’re no closer to your goal. Congratulations — you’re officially a lazy-assed chowderhead. Proceed in an orderly fashion to:

Stage 2: ‘Sure, I’m Late… But I’m Not Late Late’:

Description: This is where you realize that you’re not going to be ‘on time, per se, but you find a way to convince yourself that you can still be reasonably on time. Close to on time. Approximately on time. Not ‘on time’, but something vaguely similar. You are now dabbling in the black art of ‘airline logic’, where ‘twenty minutes late, with no peanuts and a damned kid screaming in your ear the whole trip’ somehow counts as ‘on time’. It’s the Twilight Zone, and you’re on Bizarro World time. You can come up with any kind of outlandish shit, and it makes perfect sense to you.

Your optimism is unmatched — ‘Well, I can shower in thirty seconds, as long as I don’t actually use any soap…

Your grasp of physics down the tubes — ‘Lessee, thirteen seconds to dress, two to comb my hair, and eight seconds to brush my teeth…

Your mathematical skills on hyperdrive — ‘Six minutes to downtown, two to the parking lot, another two to get in the building, up the elevator — I’ll only be five minutes late!

Never mind that you always take time during your shower to actually bathe (and to sing the Rubber Ducky Song, which is — at best — disturbing), that you can’t even get the damned cap off the tube of toothpaste in eight seconds, or that you’ve never managed to negotiate the gridlock between your house and your office in less than thirty minutes, much less ten. Because this is stage two — anything is possible, just so long as you don’t actually think about it too hard, or use any of your past experience as a guide. You’re Superman, without the cape accoutrement. You’re invincible.

What Should Happen: Panic should be setting in at this point. You should be wrapping up whatever the hell distracted you for this long, and getting your ass in gear. If you’re late for something where other people are involved, you should be looking up their phone numbers, trying to reach them to say that you’ll be just the teensiest bit late. Covering your ass, managing expectations, saving your damned job — whatever you want to call it, now is the time to pull your shit together.

What Actually Happens: The seductive power of your pseudo-chrono-logic washes over you, giving you a false sense of confidence and security. You pooh-pooh those sensible little voices in your head telling you to get on with it — ‘Hey, I’ve been late before,’ you say to yourself. ‘And didn’t I just say that I was only gonna be five minutes late? That’s nothing. Hell, I should almost wait a couple of minutes longer. If I’m gonna be late, I might as well do it right.

At this point, the still-functioning brain cells are cowering in fear in the back of your brain. They’re planning a revolt to snap you back into some semblance of reality, but they don’t yet have the numbers to fight through the web of lies and fairy tales that you’ve constructed for yourself. Finally, though, your lump of working neurons reach critical mass and revolt, tailspinning you into:

Stage 3: ‘Oh Shit, My Wife/Husband/Parents/Brain/Boss/Legal Guardian/Pimp/Dominatrix Is Gonna Kill Me’:

Description: Like a shot through the eye, it finally hits you — you’re late. And you’re not just late; you’re really fucking late. Whereever it is you’re supposed to be, the time has come and gone. Maybe the meeting’s already started without you, or the plane’s about to leave the ground, or your date is actively huffing and stomping around and cursing you and all who share your gender. Or maybe it’s just way past your bedtime. Whatever it is, you’re cooked. And you’re about to get served up on a platter with a side of fries, and be chewed the hell up and spit the hell out.

(Or chewed out and spit up, depending on who’s got the knife and fork in their hands. Pimps can be so unforgiving.)

What Should Happen: A steady stream of profuse, sincere, creative apologizing, preferably in person, but at least on the phone, if you haven’t actually made it to the site of your flogging yet. You must tell anyone who will listen that you are sorry, that you’re a nimrod, and that this will never, ever, EVER happen again.

You should be begging for your life, or your marraige, or your job. Or, if it’s your brain you’re pissing off by being late to bed, you should be begging it not to make you fall down the stairs in the morning, or let you walk out of the house with your fly unzipped. Whatever the case, you should be in full-on, knees-to-the-floor grovel mode. Wide-eyed, repentant, and above all, sorry. And make it convincing.

(No matter how many times you’ve given the speech. And believe me — it gets harder to make it fly every time you go through the spiel. You can only cry wolf so many times before your grandma gets eaten. Or… um, something. You know what I mean, dammit!)

What Actually Happens: In your panicked state, you finally stop horsing around and start moving toward your goal. In your rush, though, you cause more problems than you solve. You fumble your car keys across the floor, or you turn the wrong way down a one-way street. You accidentally tie knots in your shoelaces, or forget your briefcase and have to retrieve it. Essentially, at this point you’re a little sound and a lot of fury, but you’re not actually accomplishing anything. It’s wasting time, without all that lazy-day, devil-may-care enjoyment. You’re running full-speed on a treadmill, or going around and around in a revolving door. Wowsy wowsy. Woo woo.

And if you’re not being part of the problem, then the rest of the damned world is picking up the slack. Your computer shuts off, with just one more paragraph to finish. Or the traffic lights line up in a chorus of red, red, and more frigging red. Grandmas drive in front of you. Your office buidling elevators are under repair. Funeral processions block your path.

(Lousy damned dead people, anyway — who do they think they are?)

Finally, you realize that you’re not going to get out of this with the truth alone. If it gets out that you’re late because you just had to finish the chapter of the book you’re reading, or you simply couldn’t leave the house until you finished that mission in Rainbow Six, you’re gonna get creamed. And so, like swallows returning to Capistrano, you find yourself in the familiar clutches of:

Stage 4: ‘I Had Better Invent a Damned Good Excuse By the Time I Get There’:

Description: This is it — you’re on the spot, and you need an explanation. And after the dubious math and questionable planning you’ve been doing so far, there’s little hope that you’ll be able to save your ass convincingly. What you need is a plausible lie — one that could be true, that isn’t easy to verify (or in this case, refute), and one that doesn’t need a lot of detail, lest you get your wires crossed and blow it. This is where you need a cool head, a cunning mind, and nerves of steel.

(Or, in my case, lots and lots and lots of practice. Bleh.)

What Should Happen: You should take a few deep breaths, calm yourself down, and think of several scenarios that you could use to cover your ass. You should examine each of these potential alibis, and rate each one on plausibility, complexity, verifiability, and whether or not you’ve used that excuse in the past three days or so. (At least in front of the person or people you’re about to lay it on.) In the end, you should have a lie that even a child could tell and get away with — simple, elegant, and utterly believable. It should almost tell itself, stepping up like a big brother, or a good lawyer (oxymoronic though that may be), to defend your good name, on your behalf.

What Actually Happens: As the walls of your self-imposed prison close in on you, you start to hyperventilate. Realizing the trouble you’re in, and unable to quiet your pounding heart, you reach for the first batch of ludicrous bullshit your fevered brain can sling, and cling onto it for dear life. Other wild and outlandish crap may come zinging across your field of consciousness — some of it clearly better than that first bit of nonsense — but you hold fast to that first intuitive stab at an excuse. You have to take the contestant’s first answer, no matter how preposterously asinine it may be.

And so, you arm yourself with ‘Well, there was this big kangaroo escape at the zoo…‘, or ‘I’m sorry, I had to perform an emergency appendectomy at… um, my poker club…‘, or even ‘No, really, I was abducted again. Seriously! Them little green men just can’t stop with the anal probes — I dunno whut I ever done ta them!

If you’re lucky, you’ll still have one little glimmer — just the merest hint — of sanity left. And it will tell you, in no uncertain terms: ‘That shit won’t fly, man! If that’s the best you’ve got, you are screwed! Kiss your ass goodbye right now.‘ And you’ll realize that you simply aren’t equipped to make your appointment at all at this point. Welcome to:

Stage 5: ‘Another Ten Minutes and I Could Just Not Go at All’:

Description: You begin to weigh the benefits of just bagging your appointment, or date, or meeting altogether. Sometimes, it’s better to miss the whole thing, rather than stepping in an hour late. Weddings are often like this, as are most first dates, and many school exams. If you’re late getting to bed, this is the time you realize that you might be better off just staying up all night. Well, ‘realize’ is a bit strong, I suppose. ‘Imagine’, maybe. ‘Pretend’. ‘Dream’. But not ‘realize’; yeah, that’s not really it at all.

What Should Happen: You should again keep a cool head, and soberly determine whether being conspicuously absent is going to hurt you more than being painfully obviously late. Weigh the pros — which really boils down to ‘more time to think of a good excuse’ — against the possible cons — unemployment, divorce, dementia, failing out of school, being burned in effigy.. whatever.. Decide how likely, and how severe, the punishment might be, and just how silver-tongued you’d have to be to get out of ditching the whole thing altogether. It’s rare, but every so often — once in a blue moon — this really is the way to go. Rarely. It’s a risky move, only to be undertaken after long, careful consideration.

What Actually Happens: As soon as the merest hint of the thought of even considering the idea of not showing up at all enters your mind, the decision is made. You’re not going. You never were going. You can go back to whatever the hell you were doing, and it’s going to be fine. You’ll find an excuse, and you’ll make it up some other time. You can say you were sick, or called out of town, or you had a ‘family emergency’.

Ah, yes, that ever-so-personal, rarely-questioned, never-detailed gem of an excuse — the ‘family emergency’. That’s all you ever need to tell people — just look solemn, and bow your head just a bit, and mumble, ‘I’m sorry. I had a… a… family emergency.‘ It’s like a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. Nobody will ask you about it, and you’re not obligated to tell. It’s a private matter, a family emergency. Unless you’re actually trying to pull a fast one on a parent, or your spouse, you’re in the clear. Just don’t use it every damned time, of course. This isn’t a frigging soap opera, now — no family this side of the Ewings has a damned emergency every week. Be cool, and you might get away with it now and then.

But, assuming you don’t get away with it — maybe it is your wife you have to fool, or the event is just too important to even be late for, much less miss — then you’re down to your last choice. The end of the road, with nowhere else to turn. You’ve gone and done it now; you’re reached:

Stage 6: ‘Well, That’s It Then — I Can Never Show My Face Here Ever Again’:

Description: There’s really no choice to be made here. This happens when you miss your own wedding, or your child being born, or the plane to Vegas for that trip you’ve been planning with your buddies for the past six years. There’s simply nothing you can do, other than pick your life up and plop it down somewhere else. It’s over — you’re screwed, and there’s no magic potion or salve on the planet that can unscrew you now. This is where you cut your losses and walk away.

What Should Happen: You should pack all your things, hop into your car, and drive in whichever direction points toward the biggest stretch of dry land to drive on. When you get tired — but a minimum of five hundred miles later — you can stop, and try to find a new niche to fit into. Change things up, if you want — become a beekeeper, or a belly dancer, or a professional skywriter. Do something fun, or interesting, or just different. But do something, because you ain’t never going back, child. This is your new life now. Get the hell used to it, dickhead.

What Actually Happens: Honestly, I don’t quite know. I made it to the church on time, I am so not having kids, and that Vegas trip hasn’t come together yet. So I haven’t sunk quite this low yet — though I admit I’ve been close more than once. I got very good at answering just enough test questions in the last twelve minutes of a class to pass the damned thing. Which is good, because I showed up more than once with just twelve minutes left, unshaven and still in my jammies, desperate to stay in school.

(Where the beer was. What the hell did you think I meant?)

And hopefully, I’ll never have to go down this road. I may be hanging on by a thread, flirting almost daily with Stage 4 and Stage 5, but I’ve not bitten the big fat one quite yet. Still, I keep a bag packed, just in case. Given my sad and chronic condition, it’s only a matter of time, and I don’t know how long I’ll have before people come looking for me, torches and pitchforks in hand. So I made sure to be prepared. I’ll take all the lead time I can get.

So, I hope this little lesson has helped you. Maybe you can avoid the shame and embarrassment my wretched disease has cost me in the past. And, frankly, still costs me. Hell, just look at me now. The clock’s turned over to Tuesday, and here I am, wrapping up this post (‘Ooh, just one more thing before bed!‘) at — what the hell is it now, two? Two thirty?

Two thirty-nine, actually. And I’ve got a nine o’clock meeting in the morning. Which I’ll be late to, of course. As usual. Hell, I’m almost late already! I’m in Stage 4 of ‘late for bed‘, and almost in Stage 1 of ‘late for the meeting‘. Woo — look at me multitask!

Feh. Screw this; I’m going to bed. I’m sure I’ll read this later and better appreciate the delicious irony of being made very, very late for bed by blogging about always being late. But for now, I’m just pooped. And I’m out of lame-ass excuses to stay awake any longer, so I’m hitting the sack. I just hope I’m not too late for that meeting in the morning. I’d hate to hit Stage 6 so soon — I was just starting to like my new job. G’night!

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One Response to “Yet Another Opportunity to Be Less Like Me”

  1. Lara says:

    You and I are TOO much alike in this respect. Are you SURE we’re not related? Could you be my long lost twin? You’ve described my thought processes to a T! Spooky.

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