|First one to arrive...again--note the wristwatch|
(As a compulsively prompt person, I have gained the impression that promptness is rather passe, even a little gauche. Maybe it's telling that both of those terms are French...
Anyway! If everyone else is late, then maybe I'm actually running two events behind. I can't help it, though: I arrive everywhere five minutes early, no matter what I do, even though I never have a working timepiece. Even if I mosey around the block for hours, or do the NY Times crossword puzzle at a nearby chain cafe, or sit in my car and re-live the painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in real time, I am still five minutes earlier than everyone else. I have taken to peering into parked cars outside to see if there are other guests staking out the place, waiting to see when the first pigeon arrives--"okay! She's in! Let's go out for a drink at that really secret, super-hip place that only cool people know about and come back in a few hours!"
But getting ready to go someplace with other people--so I can find out where those super-hip places where people go so they can be fashionably late--is a bit of an agony. I follow them from room to room, watching what they're doing: putting on underwear; taking underwear off; putting on different underwear; examining underwear in mirror by standing on a chair and jumping up and down. Trimming toenails. Trying out different outfits by holding it in front, leaning back slightly and sticking out one foot; laying down and read Proust with a Diet Coke and Cheezits.
"You know, I never read Proust when I was supposed to in college. I totally did Clifnotes in school," she says. "I don't know why, but I kept the book for some reason...What time were we supposed to meet them?" she asks. She puts on a pair of pants. Progress.
It takes me a moment to answer her, so maybe I'm the one making us late. Do the underwear make her look thinner? Sexier? I honestly can't tell. I decide it must be more fashionable and I am suddenly ashamed that my bra does not match my panties. She goes in and out of the bathroom doing things with irons and eyelash curlers and sponges. Does it make her look more luminous? Thinner? Is she in there tossing chicken bones and muttering some sort of glamour spell--mirror-mirror-on-the-wall? Am I missing something I should have learned in girl school?
"Seven o'clock," I answer. "They made our reservations six months ago for seven o'clock."
|this guy cares about promtness.|
"It's six thirty right now," I say, looking out the window at the weather. "But maybe she said six." This ploy of telling late people to meet you an hour earlier than you actually will meet them never works--they sulk that you would stoop that low.
"They're saying a cold front is coming down from Canada, maybe I should put on different underwear."
"No!" I say, blocking the way to the underwear drawer. There is a sharp yowl; I have shut the cat in the drawer. "The cold front called and said it'd be late. It's taking AmTrak."
"Did you slam my kitty in the drawer???"
"Oh, my god! You've probably broken her paw or something!!!" She wriggles the drawer open; the cat flies out across the room and shoots under the bed.
"See? She's fine!"
"Oh, poooooor kittty!!! Kitty!" She's on her belly in her underwear trying to coax the kitty out from under the bed. "I wonder if I have any chicken bittles to coax her out?" She starts to go to the kitchen. "Wait--maybe I should use Bitty Kitty Nippies..." She goes to her purse.
"Wait," I say, throwing myself down on the floor and grabbing Miss Nitty Kitty by the back leg and dragging her out with a mop of dustbunnies clinging to her fur. "See? Perfectly fine!"
"I think I should call the vet." She's standing in her underwear, her hand to her mouth, like a doctor in a daytime drama, examining the comatose patient as the cat writhes out of my hand and sprints for the window.
"Why? She's fine. She's just creating drama hobbling around on three legs like that."
"I used to have my vet's number on my cell, but then I dropped my cell in the concrete walk and I couldn't get it out before the concrete set. Do you see the phone book anywhere?"
"Come on! It's seven thirty," I say, "your vet will be out eating dinner."
"Maybe I need to take her by the emergency vet. I'll need to change. That vet's office is always freezing!"
She starts to change her underwear again.
"No, look!" I say. The cat has clawed agilely up my leg. "See?" I point. She beams. "She's as good as new!"
"But you've ruined your sweater," she says with a frown, looking at the Cheezit crumbs, old toenails and cat hairs that have clung to my cashmere sweater. "We'll have to go by your house so you can change."
"It's eight o'clock," I say, using her tape roller on my dress. It leaves a carpet of cat hair on my front with the Cheezit crumbs. "See? Perfect! They'll think it's beading."
She frowns. "Well, I don't know..." Then she brightens. "You can wear something of mine! That red Jil Sander would be perfect!! It needs to be ironed, though, and oooh--then you'll have to change your shoes...oh, and your underwear aren't right."
"It's eight-thirty." There is no way in Hell I'll let her see my black bra, which I wore under my black cashmere doesn't match my pink Spanx that go so well under the pink wool pencil skirt.
I know that the person we're meeting is also late, doing the same sort of thing with her cat, her Cheezits, her copy of Proust. I know this, but I can't feel it. It feels like the person we were supposed to meet an hour and a half ago met up with somebody really cool and went off to have a drink with them at the bar that only the cool people know about and I will have missed again.
"You'll also need to re-do your makeup to cover up those gouges in your eyes from where you dug at them with your fingernails..."
After waiting in restaurants for twenty minutes, I'll phone.
"Are we still on for lunch today?"
"Oh, yes. I thought so."
"Well. You did say 12:00."
"And now it's 12:20. And I need to get back to work and--"
"I know! I know! It's just that I got into a huge argument with the exterminator and--"
"About spraying those chemicals in the house!!"
"That's mostly what exterminators do, you know--they spray things in your house."
"I know but it's just so terrible for the environment! And so toxic for your health!"
"Then cancel your exterminator."
"Ew. And live with all those bugs? I told him that I was going to call his manager and write a letter!"
"Wouldn't it be easier just to get, like, a lizard--one that eats bugs?" I suggest, motioning the waiter to come over with frantic pawing signals. "You could just let it crawl around your house and be done with it."
"That's what I suggested to the exterminator, and he told me straight out that the company didn't do that. I told him I was going to write him to Greenorg!"
"Did you ever settle that dispute with your lawn company?" I ask. She was late for a rather important business meeting last month because she got into a bit of a row insisted that they cut the hedges by hand; she could hear the bushes screaming, she said. The police were called. But no one could understand that she wanted to press charges on the gardeners for assault on bushes with a deadly weapon.
She doesn't remember the little, constant dramas that distract her for approximately 25 minutes to an hour and a half for each appointment she makes. I don't want to remind her; she'll check her journal.
"Anyway, I'm sooooo sorry I'm late!"
"So are you coming to lunch?"
"I'm just totally stressed out."
"I understand." And I do. I'm stressed out just listening to the little grenade of chaos that comes with each excuse. I've communicated, through sign language, that I would like the chicken caesar salad to go--I've made the little fork-to-mouth actions and the international sign for 'chicken' which is to put your hands under your armpits and flap your elbows.
"So 'no' to lunch, then?"
"Do you mind? I'm soooooooo sorry."
"Yes. I know.
"My husband got me another watch for our anniversary. I've told him that nobody wears watches anymore. You're sure you don't mind if we reschedule?"
No, I don't mind. But I finally get my chicken caesar and drift away. Into my own little time/space continuum. Some other time zone altogether.