There are two kinds of person in the world — punctual ones and inconsiderate assholes.
My parents, whose reflexive deference I came to deplore, were the sort of people who, when they were due to meet someone — anyone! — would spend 45 minutes killing time in their car just up the road from where the meeting was to take place, rather than risk keeping him or her waiting. I hated all the waiting I had to do with them as a kid, but am proud to be one who only once every few years turns up late for anything.
Of course, my respecting others’ time has an unsavoury flipside — my seething intolerance of others not respecting mine. Before I left Los Angeles again a year ago, I had a band. Pretty much every rehearsal would begin with me seething at the singer for turning up 20 minutes late. “It wasn’t my fault,” she would explain, fluttering her eyelashes. “The bus got stuck in traffic.” There are buses on Hollywood Blvd., whence she was coming, every 15 minutes or so. She seemed either unable or disinclined to master the concept of catching an earlier one.
Some of my bitterest (at least until things got really bad between us) shouting matches between me and First Wife were to do with her forever making us late to things. “I just can’t help it,” she’d pout. “If that’s so,” I’d wonder, “How many airplane flights have you missed in the past 10 years?” I knew her not to have missed any at all. “Obviously,” I’d say, “you can manage punctuality when you choose to.” Whereupon she’d accuse me of being…controlling, and I'd accuse her of being twice as conrolling because it was she who seemed to enjoy the idea of people waiting for her.
My next life partner wasn’t an improvement. She was the sort who, instead of a gift, would give you on your birthday a cute handwritten note promising you a gift at some unspecified later date of her choosing. Having to give one on the actual day went against her fervently rebellious nature. On one memorable occasion, we’d agreed to go see Dancing With Wolves on Polk Street, around 25 minutes’ drive from our home in the gloom of the Sunset district. I was finally able to get her out the door around 15 minutes before the movie was going to begin. “What did you think it was getting,” I wondered at an immoderate volume when we found ourselves immobile in traffic, “earlier?” It was one of those fights that ended with us both convulsed in laughter, and it turned out missing the first 10 minutes of the movie didn’t make the balance of it entirely incomprehensible.
I’m especially ashamed about two instances of my own uncharacteristic tardiness. In both cases, my lateness wasn’t deliberate, but psychologists believe that mistakes are the subconscious’s way of trying express something we’re not comfortable about expressing more straightforwardly. On one occasion, my mother, the timidest person in human history, and a borderline agoraphobic, was flying up (to San Francisco) from LA to see me and my daughter. When my dad had died not long before, I’d been overcome by shame and rage at the realisation of what a horrible job I’d done of defending him from her — at how, in fact, I’d allowed her to hoodwink me into believing that she loved me so much more than he did. As the Queen of Catastrophic Expectations, she must have been terrified arriving at SFO and finding no one waiting for her. At the time, that thought gave me some small, perverse pleasure, though I wouldn't have admitted it at the time.
The other occasion was shortly after my daughter had started riding Golden Gate Transit down to San Francisco on Friday afternoon, saving me having to make a 110-mile round trip to and back from Santa Rosa. I’d meet her at the bus stop on the edge of the Presidio, the former military base in The City’s northwest corner. The bus stop wasn’t well-lighted, and there were neither homes nor commerce nearby. I think that my becoming mesmerised by a design project I was working on and arriving 90 seconds after she did — 90 seconds that might well have been very uncomfortable for her — was a function of how hurt I was about her not wanting to see me on weekends. And, as noted, I am deeply ashamed. It was my job to be bigger that.