Friday, August 11, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Arriving Early

Respecting Time

Effective this week, I am changing the name of my weekly column to “The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon,” in keeping with its changing focus. The addition of the adjective says that I am going from the general to the particular, but such is no surprise when you consider that the particular often gives us a view of the general, or leads us to it. In this case, it is found in the particulars of Yiddishkeit, Jewish culture and values. My hope is that you will keep on reading my column.


Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
Evelyn Waugh [1903–1966],
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)

“Afile der raykhster zeyger hot nit mer vi zekhtsik minut.”
[Even the most expensive clock has no more than sixty minutes.]

I don’t like arriving late, so, accounting for the possibilities of delay, I tend to leave early enough. The result of such a habit is that I often arrive early; I rarely am late and rarely arrive just on time. My wife finds it annoying to arrive early and, thinking that she has more time than she does, wants to leave later; she wants to arrive right on time, since she finds waiting a waste of time.

I don’t mind, particularly if it means not arriving late. I can always read, which is why I carry a book with me; or I can write, which is why I carry a notebook. I can also listen to the radio, if I go somewhere by car, which is often enough.

Being late, when you can arrive early, is surely a sign of disrespect, of rudeness. I don’t want to intentionally be rude. I don’t understand what it means to be “fashionably late.” Is this 15 minutes? 30 minutes? an hour? Speaking of fashion, I do like to dress for the occasion and this at times means being well dressed. Perhaps some people take longer to get dressed, but don’t they know how long they usually take? So, if this is the case I don’t see how this also means being late.

It is true that I (and my wife) more often than not arrive early at dinner invitations, community events and concerts of all sorts; although it does not always happen, we are the first to arrive. I always view this as wonderful. All the better, since this means we can find a good parking spot, or we can get to know the hosts, or we can have the opportunity to help out, or we can get the best seats or we can just have sufficient time to catch our breath and adjust to the surroundings. There is really no down side to arriving early.

It makes perfect sense to arrive early; it makes perfect sense to leave early enough so not to arrive late. I don’t understand why so many people are late, and why some people make a habit out of it. Are we back to the fashionably late excuse? I would think that it is best for human relationships to always try not to arrive late, if at all possible.

Invariably, there are people you can “count on” for showing up late. I have known a few such persons who were routinely late. One such couple, many decades ago, ensured me that under no circumstances would they be late for my wedding; they were, and missed the complete ceremony. They had an excuse; they left late and had gotten lost on the way to the khupe, in a beautiful Orthodox shul in Montreal’s Hampstead neighbourhood. (Yes, it’s as beautiful and wealthy as the name sounds.)

As for the couple, they always seemed sincere about it, so I chalked it up to their habits. At least they showed up to the reception on time. How they managed this I am not sure.

Perhaps such persons are worried that punctuality is equated with boredom, which is what Evelyn Waugh is quoted as saying. I don’t agree with Mr. Waugh, however, and I know his death many decades ago prevents him from defending himself, but I arrive early not because I am bored; quite the contrary. I am excited to get somewhere.

It can equally be argued that some make a virtue out of lateness, so in the spirit of Waugh, but without the wit of Waugh, here is a quick quip: “Lateness is the virtue of the careless.” It also invites and evokes thoughts and feelings of chaos. Are these desirable feelings? I don’t think so, but who am I to say?

There have been times when I have arrived late, but this was not the result of leaving late, but of encountering excessive traffic, getting the wrong directions or other factors beyond my control. I have never missed a flight or a train, and I have never arrived late for important life-cycle events. This is because I am careful about time and give it the respect that it is due. Some would say that I am too time-conscious, and so I am. I can understand being late some of the time, but not all of the time.

There is no such thing as arriving on time. People usually arrive early or arrive late. I would rather be early for everything except the time of my death. In that case, death can wait. Toyt ken kumen shpeter; toyt ken nemen a lange vakatsye.

—Perry J. Greenbaum, August 11, 2017

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