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Suburban Island

Late, Late, Late?
Thursday, Jul. 01, 2004, 9:45 p.m.

QUESTION: Me, late?

WHAT I LEARNED: It's good to look around.

I must confess that I loiter on the edge of tardiness upon occasion. I donít want to be late. I donít plan to be late. No indeed. Instead I set my car and laptop clocks five minutes fast to give myself a few minutes leeway and set limits for myself about how many times I can really hit the snooze bar on any given morning.

Still, reality intrudes upon the best-laid plans. There are all those things I meant to do the night before that become requirements in the A.M. There is that briefcase to pack, cell phones and sunglasses to locate, an outfit requiring a touch of ironing, kids that need waking, an attempt at hair and makeup artistry, coffee to get, gas tanks to fill, and traffic to fight. The battle with time is one of my toughest battles and I often cut it close to the deadline.

For instance, this week I arrived at the office for a noon meeting with not a minute to spare. I ran into a coworker in the reception area who was supposed to be attending the meeting too. Oh no - I'm late. We're late. The door to the conference room was soundly closed. I shouldn't have stopped for coffee and really who needs sunglasses, cell phones, or gas in the car when there are meetings to attend in a timely manner.

This is the part where assumptions make an ass of you and me, as Felix Unger once so astutely pointed out in an episode of The Odd Couple. I assumed that we were both late for the meeting since she was still standing there and since she seemed eager to walk into the meeting with someone else and not by herself. There seemed to be no doubt about it - we were both late for the meeting. The closed door seemed to intimidate her entrance into the gathering but not so with me. Rather than read the sheet of paper posted by the closed door that explained what meeting was running when, I assumed that the meeting in progress was our meeting and that there was nothing to do but grit our teeth and walk in late - immediately.

I opened the door. Oh the humiliation of being late for a meeting. Everyone and their mother was sitting there. There were only 2 seats left in the whole conference room and they were in the very back of the room. My supervisor was running the meeting Ė crap. My technique in these situations is to employ a head-down, no-eye-contact, move-quickly-to-your-place sort of motion. Perhaps it helps me delude myself into thinking nobody can see me slinking in.

I barreled back to one of the two empty seats gesturing to my tardy buddy to follow suit. Why did she look so confused? Why didnít she get a move on? Why did everyone pause for a second when we arrived that seemed an instant longer than the time needed to silently gloat about one's own prompt attendance at office meetings?

Could it be? Was it possible? Was this the right meeting or had we strong-armed our way into the earlier meeting now running rather late? I looked at my manager Ė a man who likes a long meeting more than anyone else I know - and I looked at the meeting attendees as they gathered up their things a few minutes later to depart the meeting. My no-eye-contact donít-look-at-anyone-because-Iím-late meeting entry style had caused me and my also-late buddy to be - not ridiculously late - but ridiculously early.

Now thatís a first.

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