Tag Archives: late

Mr. Halfstrung’s oceanography

The bell rang, but none of the students wanted to be the first to get up and leave. Mr. Halfstrung had this ridiculous rule where the first person to leave class would automatically be given detention. Six years ago, when Mr. Halfstrung was still just Barry Halfstrung, his junior year trigonometry teacher Mr. Crenshaw had a similar rule, only his applied to the beginning, not the end of the class. Crenshaw called it the “touchdown rule,” where, in an effort to cut down on tardiness, the last student seated would have to come back for detention.


“Touchdooooown” he would hold his hands up in the air just like a football referee as everyone pushed and shoved their way through the classroom door. “It’s not fair! I had to go to the bathroom!” students would always protest with some sort of an excuse. And yeah, it really wasn’t fair, especially to the students who had to sit at the front of the room, because in the event of a tie, two students racing through the door at the exact same time, the advantage would always fall to whoever happened to have their assigned seat closest to the door.

There were often fights, one time it was either Billy or Pete, Halfstrung couldn’t remember exactly, but they were both barreling down the hallway and, right after whichever one of them it was who entered first crossed the doorway, he knocked down the trashcan standing right next the doorframe. And it worked, the other student was effectively blocked. But he either couldn’t see the obstacle or didn’t have enough time to slow down, because he tripped and chipped his tooth, and there was a lot of blood.

Surprisingly enough, even though the whole class saw how everything went down, Mr. Crenshaw never got in any trouble. As far as anybody could tell, nobody in any sort of position of administrative authority ever told him he might want to show a little leniency in his daily detentions. You would have thought that Billy or Pete would have gotten a pass after the accident. But nope, there was the crash, the blood, a visit to the nurse’s office, a trip to the dentist, and when he came back the next day, unable to speak through his gums stuffed with gauze, Mr. Crenshaw was standing there with a detention slip from yesterday. “You know the rules,” he said.

However draconian his methods, the man got results. And now that he was a teacher, Mr. Halfstrung wanted results too. Of course it would have been easy to just copy the touchdown rule, but Mr. Halfstrung ended up teaching at the same high school where he was once a student. In Halfstrung’s head, it wouldn’t have come off as flattering, no, it would have been a blatant rip-off. None of the other teachers had touchdown rules. It’s because that was Crenshaw’s thing. Hence the “first person who leaves after class gets a detention rule.” (He wasn’t married to the name. It was only ever meant to be a placeholder, until he could come up with something a little catchier.)

More than anything, Halfstrung craved Crenshaw’s respect, as an educator, as an adult. But it wasn’t happening like he’d envision. For example, did he really have to still call him Mr. Crenshaw? When could he start addressing him by his first name? There weren’t any rules, really, but on his first day as a teacher, they bumped into each other by the faculty lounge, he said, “Hello Mr. Crenshaw,” expecting something in return, something like, “Please, Barry, we’re colleagues now, equals, call me Dennis.” But all that he got back was a, “Halfstrung.”

His last-one-to-leave rule didn’t really take care of the punctuality problem, but it did ensure that students weren’t packing up too early, which is always a little distracting. Instead of prematurely eyeing the clock, everyone had to sit there and wait it out, sometimes well after the bell rang, which made everyone really tense. Like if nobody was willing to make a move, which was a possibility, then the next class would be waiting outside, peeking their heads in, kind of unsure of how long they’d have to stand there in the hallway.

This left the students in an increasingly weird end-of-class routine. The obvious choice would have been for Phil to get up first, seeing as how everyone knew he came from an almost comically broken home. “Come on Phil,” Doug would whisper in his ear from behind. “Why would you want to go home? We all know you’re just going to hang out outside Seven-Eleven for the rest of the day.” And sometimes Phil would do it, because yeah, there wasn’t really anything else going on.

The first time Phil agreed to stand up first, he thought he’d get maybe a thank you though, some recognition for having done something nice for the benefit of everyone else. But nobody said a thing. And then the next day when the bell rang, everyone was just staring at him, like come on man, let’s go. And now when he didn’t get up, people were giving him these overtly hostile looks, shoving him into the lockers in between classes.

Worst of all, this year almost a dozen students had Mr. Crenshaw’s trigonometry immediately after Mr. Halfstrung’s oceanography. And so every day it was this race, a pack of wild teenagers running down the hall, sometimes as late as fifteen minutes after the start of trig, which left some of the more unathletic students at a distinct disadvantage. Bobby and Stacy, respective captains of the boys’ and girls’ track team, almost never had to worry about a touchdown detention, regardless of how badly Phil wanted to sit there and tell himself that he wouldn’t be the one to ultimately stand up first after oceanography.

It was actually getting more than a little mean, bordering on vicious. Like this one time Phil refused, and Sally, the girl with the orthopedic shoe, eventually got up because she had to leave school early for some specialist foot doctor her parents had finally managed to get an appointment with in the city. Phil thought he was off the hook, but the next morning when he got to school, his locker was dented in several spots, a brick with a note wrapped around it placed at the bottom by one of his classmates who had probably been watching a little too much TV. “Don’t fucking do that again,” the note read, with a tiny little drawing of a girl with an oversized shoe giving the finger.

And Phil wasn’t especially frightened. If all he had to worry about at home were the occasionally threatening brick, he’d be a lot better off. But he had to go to the principal’s office, and Principal Hyde had to call the maintenance guy to help get Phil’s locker open. Phil kept saying how he was sorry, “I’m really, really sorry, man,” even though he knew he didn’t have anything to be sorry about. It was like he was conditioned to say sorry, and maybe he was sorry, just a little, that this was an issue, that he stood up after class that first time, that now he was a target, that the maintenance guy had to deal with this broker locker. Even though he never really fixed it. He opened it, sure, but it never quite closed right the same way again, like he couldn’t get the lock to stay shut. And when he went back to Hyde’s office, to see if maybe he could just switch lockers or something, Hyde looked up from his desk and just kind of sighed, a really dramatic exhausted sigh, like what is it this time Phil? And so Phil understood, he didn’t want to bother anybody anymore, not Hyde, not the maintenance guy again, and so, in an effort to say something, to say anything that wouldn’t involve lockers, he made up something on the spot about recently finding out that he had a mild allergy to sunflower oil, and he wanted to know if there was any way that they could check and see if they used sunflower oil in the school cafeteria.

Phil didn’t know why he said that, where it came from, or why he thought that this might be an easier problem to deal with than a broken locker. He certainly wasn’t allergic to sunflower oil, because back home there was all these empty containers of aceite de girasol that had been sitting on the kitchen counter for what had to have been four or five years now. Phil’s dad would make a move to throw them out every once in a while, but Phil’s mom would start screaming, “Don’t you fucking touch my fucking sunflower oil!” which isn’t really important other than to point out the fact that, one, Phil’s home is even more broken than a few empty sunflower oil container anecdotes can illustrate, and two, Phil couldn’t have been allergic to sunflower oil, unless his mother had never actually cooked with that oil, which would have been unlikely, seeing as how they were always lined up in the kitchen.

Principal Hyde sighed even heavier this time, he dropped the pen out of his fingers and let his head fall into his hands that were being supported by his elbows resting on the warped wood of his Soviet era public school principal’s desk. “It’s not a big deal, never mind,” Phil tried to weasel his way out, but Principal Hyde looked up. “No. No, no sit down, we have to take this stuff seriously. You remember last year, right? The Sanchez girl with that anaphylactic honey reaction? Something to do with bees? Yeah, well, we can’t have anything like that happening again, the district has all of these food allergy awareness measures we have to follow up on,” and he was already shuffling through a big stack of forms he had in one of his desk drawers. “Now, what did you say this was? Sunflowers?”

Which, there’s a good and a bad to everything, right? So in this case, Phil wound up spending the majority of the school day in Hyde’s office, mostly making stuff up about his non-existent minor allergy – “I’m sure it’s not serious, Mr. Hyde, I just wanted to let you know,” – which meant that he never wound up making it to oceanography, and so he wouldn’t have to worry about Halfstrung’s detention. But when he went to lunch that day, it was like the cafeteria workers already knew. They were all giving him a look, it was just like the maintenance guy from the day before, but this was worse, there were a bunch of them standing behind the counter, snarling at him, like thanks a lot kid, as if we don’t have enough to deal with trying to feed four hundred snot-nosed ungrateful jerkoffs, now we’ve got to worry about … what is this anyway, sunflower oil?

And how much food would you think that the school actually cooks with sunflower oil? It turned out to be quite a lot, actually. “Better safe than sorry,” the head cafeteria lady said as she handed Phil his special lunch, one prepared apart from the other students’ meals. Everyone else had bad chicken parm, and he wanted bad chicken parm too, even though he could never understand why everyone called it bad chicken parm, it was better than the bad chicken parm his mom made one time after watching an Italian themed episode of some daytime morning talk show.

But again, that’s another almost unnecessary detail regarding Phil’s broken-home situation. He’s definitely not the kind of guy that talks about it to anyone else, and so there really shouldn’t be too much more of it mentioned here. No, even though he totally has a right to, Phil doesn’t let the nuts and bolts of all of that hard-knocked-life stuff define who he is. He likes to think he’s an optimist, like this whole horrible adolescent experience is just the dramatic precursor to something big and great that’s going to happen to him years down the road. And so if he has to stay for an extra detention every day – it’s not like he didn’t try to get out of it, and trying is something, right? – that’s not so bad. He’s looking ahead, looking at himself years from now, looking back to this very day, and in his future, he can’t even remember anything about high school or detention or sunflower oil. And yeah, whatever, detention sucks, but it’s probably better than just hanging outside of Seven-Eleven. Maybe not now, not today, while the early fall weather still had a lot of that summer feeling floating around. But a couple of months from now? Yeah, detention will at least be warmer.

And so detention it was, almost daily, unless he found himself in a weird sort of funk. Even then, he’d only stay in his seat, make the rest of the class sweat it out for maybe thirty seconds to a minute after Halfstrung’s class officially ended. It’s not like he had Crenshaw’s trigonometry next. That would have been a little much, two detentions. Even though Phil’s a pretty decent athlete. If he had to race everyone else to trig, there’s no way he’d come in last, not on a consistent basis anyway. He’d without a doubt beat Sally with her orthopedic issues. Maybe he’d even make it there first, which would only add to his perpetual state of guilt. And the other kids, they’d exploit it the same way they did in Halfstrung’s class, the same way the maintenance guy made him feel guilty for having to come and fix his locker. They’d eye him down, everyone bringing up the whole Seven-Eleven broken home thing.

Crenshaw, meanwhile, thought the whole situation was absurd. In his mind, the touchdown rule made sense. It was a little harsh, yes, but it produced results. Years ago, administration had gotten all bent out of shape about tardiness, not just at South, but across the whole district. Teachers at various schools tried every way to incentivize coming to class on time. But it was Crenshaw who first came up with the idea of guaranteed punishment.

When he first announced his new idea, people assumed it was a big joke. But to show his students how serious he was, he retroactively applied the touchdown rule for the previous two weeks. There were protests, a big block of students attempted a boycott. But eventually faced with the very real possibility of failing geometry (Crenshaw didn’t start out teaching trig right away,) even the most stubborn resistors relented.

And even though most of the faculty hated the idea of being such a hard ass, Crenshaw’s strict approach to timeliness had an effect on the entire student body. Afraid that every teacher would start copying Crenshaw’s approach, students school-wide started showing up on time. Over the course of two or three weeks, lateness simply wasn’t a problem at South anymore.

Not once had Crenshaw ever seriously considered backing off, not until last year anyway, when Halfstrung started teaching. When Barry Halfstrung was a student at South, while he never really got along with any of the other students, he took quite a liking to the faculty. Yeah, even during his first few weeks as a freshman, Halfstrung knew that he wanted to be a teacher one day. He especially admired Mr. Crenshaw, for his no-nonsense approach both to mathematics and starting class on time.

Halfstrung was even lucky enough to have Mr. Crenshaw as a teacher two years in row, first for geometry, and then the next year when he was promoted to trigonometry. Unfortunately for Halfstrung, the admiration and respect wasn’t mutual. Sure, Crenshaw wanted students who were interested in math, who understood the importance of getting to class early, but there was something about Halfstrung, the way he didn’t even try to suppress that crooked smile every time Crenshaw announced, “Touchdooooown!” To Crenshaw, the whole idea was to maintain order, with a daily punishment the unfortunate means of enforcing student compliance. He didn’t necessarily like giving out detention. It always gave him pause to watch one of his students delight in the daily suffering of someone else.

After Halfstrung graduated, he got through college as quickly as he could, taking as many summer classes as possible, racking up student teaching hours in record time. It was only like three years later that he showed up back at South as an oceanography teacher. (He really wanted the geometry position, but Crenshaw lobbied hard against the idea of having to share the math department office.) Crenshaw saw Halfstrung’s last-person-to-leave rule for what it was, an opportunity to dole out punishment for punishment’s sake, all in the guise of copying an effective strategy aimed at curtailing tardiness. Maybe Crenshaw would let go of the touchdown rule after all. He’d been thinking about it since the start of the school year, but how would he just undo almost two decades of policy? And would lateness become a thing again? Would the faculty start getting all of those inter-district memos, the tardiness weekend workshops? Maybe this was a sign, that he’d had a pretty good run, that maybe now would be a welcome time to retire.


While everyone waited for Phil to make a move, across the hall, Suzanne should have been settling in for Ms. Heaferschafer’s third period World History. But Suzanne wasn’t having a great day. She wasn’t having a great week, really, but today was especially hard. She could feel it coming last night, the anxiety, worrying if she’d taken too much focus medicine too late in the day. It’s not like she had a choice though, not really, not if she wanted to get all of her homework done. Really it wasn’t that much focus medicine, and by the time she should have been getting ready for bed, all of the most active ingredients had mostly made their way out of her system. But just the idea that she might not be able to get to sleep caused her heart to beat a little faster, her anxiety swelled and eventually gave birth to a litter of lesser anxieties, all of them pulling her racing mind this way and that, eventually she saw the sun start to rise out of her bedroom window. Upon seeing that light of the new day, Suzanne went into a total freak out followed by a chemically induced catatonia.

This was because her Suzanne’s mother was up all night watching over her, worried that her daughter might be too worried about the focus medicine to get a good night’s rest. “Honey?” she’d ask every couple of hours or so, not too loud, not loud enough to wake her up, but if she were awake, which, last night, she was up the whole night, she’d answer back, “Yes, mom?” and Suzanne’s mother would say something like, “Just try to get some sleep baby.”

This went on until sunrise, when Suzanne’s mother saw Suzanne start to breathe a little heavier. “Mom,” she said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it today mom. I’m not going to be able to stay awake in class. I have a huge history test third period. Or, I will be able to stay awake, but I’ll be too tired to do well on my test, too tired when I come home from school to do all of my homework, and I’ve got so many assignments …” she started talking really fast, her sentences blurring together in the lead-up to what Suzanne’s parents have already come to accept as just another bump in the road of their adolescent daughter’s development, a full scale freak out.

“There, there, honey,” Suzanne’s mom broke half a tablet of a mild antipsychotic, along with some sort of a generic label tranquilizer, and yeah, it wasn’t an immediate effect, but twenty minutes later, Suzanne uncurled somewhat from the fetal position that her body had instinctively clenched into while she ranted less and less hysterically about unfinished outlines and after-school activities.

“Suzanne?” Suzanne’s name was called out during roll call. “Present,” Suzanne’s mom tried her best to fit in as she sank a little lower into daughter’s seat.

“Are you for real? Where’s Suzanne?” whispered Craig, one of the boys sitting across from Suzanne’s desk.

“Why don’t you be quiet and mind your own business?” Suzanne’s mom whispered back, although you could tell she was angry, or worried, because whereas Craig’s whispering went unnoticed, Suzanne’s mom’s reply caught the teacher’s attention.

“I’m sorry, Suzanne? Is there a problem?” the teacher asked.

“No, no problem. I’m sorry,” she picked her head up just barely enough to make fleeting eye contact with the teacher.

Honestly, nobody really expected her to pull it off.

“You’re crazy!” Suzanne’s dad tried to protest as his wife struggled to fit into her daughter’s clothes. “This is never going to work.”

“Well we owe it to Suzanne to at least try. She’s been working so hard this year. We can’t afford to have her start accumulating absences so early in the semester. I’ll just sit in for Ms. Heaferschafer’s history test, and then I’ll leave.”

They both looked at their girl, completely zonked out from the meds. She had been working really, really hard. But her mom had been working a lot harder. It’s just that, things were so much more difficult for Suzanne than they ever had been for her mom. And back when she was in high school, there just wasn’t as much pressure to succeed. Even though Suzanne had never let her down, Suzanne’s mom couldn’t shake the feeling that it was only because she was shouldering a lot of her daughter’s responsibilities. Yes, it was the science projects and the handouts. What parent didn’t correct their teenager’s homework before it was due the next day? But it was the study sessions, researching and writing every book report. Suzanne really tried, she did. It’s not her fault that, despite the hours of joint-study after school, she still couldn’t manage to stay on top of everything.

And so what was Suzanne’s dad making a big deal out of? It’s OK to hire an expensive after-school math tutor, but it’s wrong to dress up as your teenaged daughter?

As the history tests were passed out, as Suzanne’s mother wrote expert essays detailing communism’s spread across Southeast Asia in the twentieth century, she thought about what she’d say to her husband after she got home. “Ha! I told you it would work!” Suzanne’s mom imagined herself bragging.

Which was true, so far it had worked, but not in the sense that she thought. See, nobody was really fooled by the appearance of a forty-something year old mother sitting in a high school history class. Obviously that one boy had called her out, and it’s not like an adult teacher is any less oblivious to the students sitting in a classroom. It’s just that, in an uncanny stroke of coincidence, Ms. Heaferschafer’s mother was pulling off pretty much the exact same stunt that Suzanne’s mother was.

Yes, Karen Hearferschafer had been similarly coached by her own mother throughout high school. When it came time to go away to college, she couldn’t imagine the idea of living apart from her mom, and so she stayed home, continuing to receive the same intense help and supervision that allowed her to excel as a teenager. This pattern of support continued through college and graduate school, and now through her first year as a teacher.

“You don’t understand mom,” Ms. Heaferschafer would sob to her mother, having collapsed right after walking in the door. “It’s so hard. There are so many students. I’m supposed to be teaching all day. You have no idea.”

Heaferschafer’s mom had some idea, she had been a career high school teacher herself. “But things were so much easier back then,” she told herself.

And so what could Ms. Heaferschafer’s mom do? There was a test to be given out that day, and if Heaferschafer wasn’t there, how long would the school put up with an absentee teacher? She’d just go in and proctor the tests and nobody would ever have to know. Well, the students would know, but they wouldn’t say anything, because she’d threaten them with detention. And yeah, they didn’t say anything. Similarly, Ms. Heaferschafer’s mom didn’t say anything when she saw a much older woman sitting amongst the students. She’d been there, she knows how hard parenting a high school student can be, so much more difficult than it was twenty years ago.

Back across the hall, Phil still hadn’t made a move yet, and Mr. Halfstrung kept on teaching oceanography, not blind to the fact that Mr. MacCoughley had to teach Spanish II in that same room. All of the students crowded around the doorway, and finally MacCoughley got his way to the doorway, to grab Halfstrung’s attention, to give him a face, point to his watch, saying without saying, come on Halfstrung, let’s speed this up, all right? I’ve got a class to teach too. But Halfstrung just kind of shrugged, like what am I going to do? You know about my first to leave rule, right? Nobody’s left yet.

And even Halfstrung looked toward Phil, like come on Phil, somebody’s got to make a move. But Phil was in hurry a today. He was supposed to be over across the hall, taking a world history test that he hadn’t prepared for at all.

Open yourself up and get out there

You’ve got to be open to trying new things, lots of new things. You start getting complacent in life, doing the same old stuff every day, pretty soon everything’s boring, you’re sitting at your computer for four hour stretches at a time, the days are blending into the nights and you can’t remember off the top of your head what day of the week it is, what time you have to start getting ready for work, you’re getting all of these text messages from your boss like, “Are you coming in? You’re supposed to be here right now. Where are you?”


And so yes, text him back, tell him that you got mugged on the way to work or something like that, like they stole your wallet, luckily not your cell phone, because … OK, yeah, don’t text, just show up at work, maybe look a little purposefully disheveled, and tell him that the mugger stole your cell phone too.

No, you really can’t use a trick like this more than once a year. And so while you’re in the bathroom splashing some cold water on your face, staring at a reflection in the mirror that’s looking less familiar every day, telling yourself, all right man, just really, really make an effort to show up to work on time, just really make it a point not to be late again, also, at the same time, think about getting involved in some new activities. You’ve got to get out there and try some new things.

Lots of things. Like, I don’t know. Why don’t you take a cooking class? That could be fun, right? You can learn all sorts of different ways to prepare food. And then when you wake up in the morning, you can start thinking about going to the store, and buying all of those fresh ingredients. Do you remember what that okra looked like? Will they have okra at the regular grocery store? Actually, you probably should have gotten up a little earlier. You can’t expect to go to the grocery store, cook a whole meal, and still be on time for work. Just go to Subway, just grab a sandwich, just remember you’ve really got to be in on time today.

But don’t stop thinking about all of those new activities you’re going to get involved in. Life is what you make of it, right? Right. What about hockey? You used to play hockey in high school, right? Well, there you go, get involved. Or don’t get involved, I didn’t realize how expensive ice time was. And yeah, I didn’t really think about the cost of buying all new equipment. You sure you won’t be able to find any of your old stuff at home? No, I guess I don’t have a lot of my old high school stuff either.

What about tennis though? That can’t be as expensive as hockey. Just go on craigslist and find an old racket, nothing too old, but come, you’ve got to be able to find something decent online. Do you know how many people are constantly taking up new activities? I guarantee you that there’s got to be at least ten people within a five block radius that have made a commitment to get involved in a new activity, probably tennis. They buy brand new rackets, they sign up for a free intro lesson at the tennis center, and then it’s like ten months later and that racket hasn’t been taken out the case at all, it’s practically brand new still, just waiting to be plucked for a totally lowball offer on craigslist.

Look, I’m not saying it has to be tennis. It could be anything. Carpentry. Guitar lessons. Running. Gardening. Is anything sounding cool here? Anything jumping out at you? Painting. Bird watching. I don’t know man, you just keep shaking your head no, it’s like, what do you want to do? Huh? Because for me anyway, it’s like, I won’t really get into something until I at least give it a shot. And so what if you don’t like it after a while? Try something else.

You want to play video games all day? Well, I mean I guess that’s something. You could play online, right? You could talk with some of the other gamers. That’s an activity. Yeah. Making popcorn, sure, that’s something else. Think about people living three, four hundred years ago. I doubt they made popcorn. And if they did, they definitely weren’t making it in a bag in the microwave. No man, just count your blessings, don’t forget to look on the bright side. Is this helping? Are you feeling a little better? Just, after you’re done with that next level, let’s go for a walk, OK? Or tomorrow, sure, just, you let me know when you’re ready to get out there, OK? The world is your oyster, OK! Well, I was just speaking figuratively, there aren’t any oysters, not really. But if you’ve never had an oyster, you should definitely at least try it. Yeah it’s got a really weird texture, but I’m telling you, you get used to that briny taste, you start to really like it man, or you can just add some lemon juice and Tabasco until it doesn’t seem so weird just slurping it out of the shell like that.

No conception of time

I’m always going to bed way too late, like I try to commit myself to being asleep by midnight, but it never happens. I don’t know why, but whenever I try to get myself to abide by a schedule, time has a way of skipping past my consciousness in twenty-minute chunks at a time. So I’ll be on the computer, it’s eleven forty-five, I think, OK, fifteen more minutes and then I’ll go to sleep. And then it’s past two in the morning.


That’s OK, I’ll tell myself, as long as I get up early, I’ll make up for the lost time. But my alarm goes off and my body gets out of bed and walks across the room to shut it off, all without even disturbing me from my sleep. And then it’s ten o’clock. Which, yeah ten is kind of late to sleep in, but I work at night, and so it’s not totally unreasonable. And besides, I still have five or six hours before I have to head back to the restaurant, I should be able to make constructive use of my time.

And then it’s noon, and I’m still in my pajamas. And actually starting the day, it shouldn’t be this hard. But there are so many little steps that I need to complete to get past this late morning limbo that I’m stuck in. I need to brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, get dressed, make the coffee, take my dog for a walk, come back in, eat breakfast, and then brush my teeth and take a shower.

But I’ve been thinking about it too much, how I’m going to get started right away, how if I can ust concentrate on completing each mini task as efficiently and quickly as possible, I shouldn’t really have to spend more than half an hour, tops. But now it’s getting close to one-thirty, and so the idea of breakfast is slowly starting to merge into where lunch should be. I’m figuring that I’m probably only going to have enough time for one meal, something closer to three, I’ll make myself a big sandwich or I’ll buy some pizza and I can just eat my cereal as a dessert.

It’s too much thinking, I can’t believe I’ve already spent this much time not doing anything, two o’clock already and I’m still in my pajamas. Wasn’t I supposed to get some writing done? Didn’t I have plans to go for a run, maybe get to the gym? Nothing’s going to fit into my schedule anymore. And I’ve got to be real here, I don’t have a schedule, I don’t have anything, not even a basic conception of how long a minute lasts, ten minutes, half an hour.

Shit, I’ve really got to get going, at this point I’m going to be late for work. It’s OK, I’ll just drink coffee when I get to the restaurant. Hopefully I’ll have enough time to grab a stale bagel at the coffee shop next door. What about my writing? Well maybe I’ll get some done when I get home from work. That’s what I’ll tell myself, even though I know it’s never going to happen.

Or, I wish that I could tell myself that it’s never going to happen. If I were sure that there was no chance of me coming home and starting my productivity at close to midnight, I’d put it out of my head, I wouldn’t entertain the possibility that it could happen. But once out of every thirty or forty times, I actually will come home and start working. I’ll get this insane focus to just sit down and crank out some writing. And it’s not forced and I’m not compulsively checking the Internet every ten seconds.

I’ll plow through three, five, ten pages of writing, this is crazy, I can’t even get ten pages of writing out if I have a whole day off, something that I’ll dedicate strictly to productivity. And I’ll be so into it that I’ll start to fool myself, like yeah, I’m doing it right now, there’s no reason why I won’t be able to get this done tomorrow also.

And so I’ll wake up late the next day, but it won’t matter, because I’ll have gotten done so much work the night before. And I just loaf around all day before going to work but, whatever, I’ll just do that nighttime thing that I did last night. But I’m sitting at my computer and it’s happening. And then it’s three in the morning, I give up, I think OK, I’ll just get up early in the morning and make up for all of this time wasted. But why can’t I ever hear my alarm clock going off? And what am I doing all day when I should be up and going? Why does so much of my life feel like I have no control over anything, not big-picture stuff, not even minute-by-minute decisions? It’s like I’m sitting on top of a giant cork that’s exploding from a huge bottle of Champagne or … no, that’s ridiculous imagery, I’m trying way too hard, it’s like I’m on a really long waterslide, lots of twists and turns, I’m constantly feeling my body lift off the tube, and then I’m pressed up against the side, all I can really do is try to keep my neck somewhat straight, there’s too much water in my eyes for me to see, but hopefully I can keep my nose and throat open long enough for me to take the occasional breath of air … no, that’s equally crazy, I still feel like I’m forcing it, and I can’t believe this took me forty minutes to write, I was banking on twenty, and now I think I’m going to be late.

Just a little late

Man, sometimes I really don’t want to go to work. I’m in my comfort zone right here. I’m writing. I’m getting shit done. But I have to leave this house in about an hour and a half. Which means I have to get up off the computer in like an hour. But I’m always pushing my luck. It’s a really bad habit. I’m constantly aware of what time it is, of how many minutes I have left to myself, but despite that knowledge, I’ll always just kind of willfully ignore it.

So say I commit to getting off the computer at three forty five with the end goal of heading out the door at four fifteen. I don’t have to be at work until four forty five, which, considering that I have to get there and change into my waiter’s uniform, that really means four forty. I ride my bike to work every day so I know exactly how long this whole thing is going to take.

But that’s like four steps, four different time deadlines, plus the present moment, which is all that really exists anyway, but I’m not about to get all philosophical. I have right now, then three forty five, then four fifteen, four forty, and finally, four forty five, the moment when I give up any semblance of freedom and commit to following somebody else’s rules for the next eight hours or so.

I never get going exactly when I’m supposed to. I’ll always push it. Five minutes. Ten minutes. And each step along the way, each deadline invites multiple opportunities to keep pushing it even more. So I might not get up from the computer until three fifty, or three fifty five. That’s OK, I’ll just haul ass and rush through the getting ready for work phase. Maybe I’ll make up the lost time. Maybe I’ll just run around the house extra fast and I won’t be running late anymore.

But all of that hustling, I’m frazzled, I’m frantic. I don’t want to hurry out the door just yet. I’ve got to calm down some. So I sit in front of the computer for a second, or pick up a magazine. And then my brain is calming down, and I’m getting engaged in something else, an article, a web site, whatever. And I’m still constantly looking at the clock. It’s four ten. It’s four fifteen. And now, OK, it’s four twenty. I’ve got to get going, I’m late.

And now I’m riding my bike, I’m really pushing it. This part of the commute is the most difficult to make up lost time, because while I’m always feeling up to the bike ride, sometimes I’m just not capable of really giving it my all for the entire duration. Maybe it’s really windy. Maybe it’s raining, or I’m tired, or I’m hitting a bunch of red lights.

But I could still get there on time. Maybe be exactly on time. Maybe only five minutes late. Everybody else will be lining up for the pre-shift staff meeting, and I’ll show up with them. I won’t be dressed, and so I’ll say that I’m technically not late, but my boss might disagree, seeing as how I’m not ready to go, that I am technically late. But I always punch in right away, as soon as I’m in the door, so that way if, months from now, the higher ups all decide to come at me with a list of recorded tardiness, I’ll be able to be like, what are you guys talking about? I’ve always been on time.

And say I make it all dressed, ready to go at four forty five. There’s still time to fuck around. I’ll think, well, I’m pretty good on time here, let’s get a cup of coffee. And then I’ll get a drink. And a snack. It doesn’t stop.

I think I’ve said all I can say here. But it’s just that, I have to deal with this every day. I’m always looking for two, three extra minutes, time that isn’t there that I insist on having anyway. I just need to stop working, that’s the problem. Anybody want to start donating to the Rob Doesn’t Have to Work Fund? It’s going to cost you, I’m not going to lie. I don’t have expensive tastes, but I eat a lot, all the time, and I drink a lot of coffee. So yeah, that’s going to add up. Bills, utilities. But just, everybody give me a dollar, please, and then get your friends to give me a dollar too. Come on.