Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's Just a Matter of Time

I have mentioned before how thermally incompatible George and I are, but recently, it’s come to my attention that we are also temporally incompatible on several levels.

Consider our mutual interest in history. I love all things medieval and can talk intelligently about the effect of longbows on military tactics in the 14th century, the monastic revivals of the 10th and 12th centuries, the Norse invasions of the dark ages and the resulting linguistic oddities in English place names, as well as the impact of the bubonic plague on medieval sermons. But don’t ask me much about American history because I haven’t touched that subject since 10th grade when I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

George, on the other hand, knows a scary amount of both American and world history covering the past 200 years. He is appalled at my level of ignorance on the more recent past and wonders how I have the mental capacity to stand upright and, you know, walk around without assistance. He has always accused me of being the intellectual snob. I don’t think so. Hmmph.

Anyway, our temporal incompatibility extends beyond history to daily time-keeping. It’s really all the military’s fault. You see, George’s training as an aviator in the United States Air Force deeply inculcated the idea that you live and die (quite literally) by Zulu time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time. George was a weapon systems officer on bombers, so it was his responsibility to tell the pilots where to go, how fast to get there, when to turn, and so forth. It was also his job to drop bombs on target. On time. No exceptions. If he screwed up the timing, the bombs could kill the wrong people.

I seriously don’t know how he handled that responsibility, but I do know that before he went to war, he had nightmares about killing civilians or our own troops with an ill-timed bomb. His nightmares didn't come true, though, because he’d learned his lessons about being on time and on target very well.

For USAF aviators, if you’re not in your seat five minutes early for mission planning, you don’t fly. The rest of the crew will find someone else who wants to fly. George can not turn off this programming even though he no longer flies. He and I are always early to everything, including parties. This freaked out some friends who had said we could come a little early to a dinner party at their new house in another town. Thanks to George, we showed up two hours early because he didn’t want us to be late and we might get lost on the way.

Our hosts were incredibly gracious (the husband was also a navigator, so I’m sure they understood), but the whole experience was so embarrassing. We tried to made up for our egregious earliness by pitching in to help get ready for the other guests…who showed up fashionably late.

George retired over two years ago, but he’s still obsessed with the right time. When we spring forward or fall back, he’s the first to climb on the step ladder to reset our kitchen clock. I’m certain he checks his computer and cell phone clocks to make sure they self-adjust properly. The clocks he never looks at (our bathroom, the stove, the microwave) can stay wrong, but not the clock in his car. It’s definitely set to the correct time all the time.

Months ago, my car needed a new battery. It’s a VW Passat station wagon and I love it, but those silly German engineers designed the innards so that changing the battery takes an hour and can only be done by someone who knows what he/she is doing, which isn’t me. The service station’s parts supplier sent the wrong battery, so they installed it and told me to come back in four days, when they would replace that battery with the correct one.

Do these sorts of things happen to you? Am I the only one?

Anyway, knowing that they would replace the battery, I didn’t bother fixing the dashboard clock since I’d just have to do it all over again in four days. During the wait for my new battery, I had to take George’s GTI for an oil change, so he drove my car. Sure enough, the next day, I noticed the clock in my car was correct. George couldn’t even drive my car for a single day until he’d fixed the clock setting.

Oh, by the way, I did reset the clock in my car for daylight savings time—yesterday.

When I had Nick, I entered the time warp I call Baby Time. I totally lost control of time and was forced to go with the flow and not watch the clock much at all. If the baby wanted to play at 2:00 in the morning, I had very little choice in the matter. Knowing the precise time somehow made the whole thing more painful. Now that both my babies are big boys, time isn’t so warped, but I’ve sort of lost my ability to worry about time. Can you imagine how frustrating this is for George? Poor man.

George is an amateur chef, and I’m often enlisted to help with the more basic preparation, like cleaning green onions and making rice or pasta or mashed potatoes. When I was growing up, my mother never timed her pasta; she went on appearance and taste and whether or not the spaghetti stuck to the wall when she threw it. George’s mom, on the other hand, timed her pasta. After almost 24 years as husband and wife, George still expects me to set a timer for pasta, and he is shocked every time to see that I have not.

Last Saturday night, we had burgers and fries for dinner. George fretted over the timing of the fries I had popped in the oven.

“How much longer on the fries?”

“Twenty-five minutes.”

“Okay, I’ll put the burgers on when the fries have fifteen minutes to go.”

Some time later, he asked, “How much longer on the fries?”

I glanced at the kitchen clock. “About 15 minutes.”

“That can’t be right! I asked you seven minutes ago, and you said, ‘25 minutes.’ It should be 18 minutes until the fries are ready!”

“If you knew, why did you ask?”

When we sat down at the table and started dressing our burgers, I looked around and said, “Oh, no!” I’d forgotten about the fries, ran across the kitchen, and got them out of the oven. They were fine.

The very next night, George asked how long it would take to make the mashed potatoes so he would know when to put the leg of lamb on the grill.

“About 35 minutes,” I replied.

“Is that 35 minutes from putting the water on to boil, or 35 minutes once the potatoes are boiling?”

Long pause. “Um, maybe 40 minutes from putting the water on to boil.”

“Are you sure?”

I wanted to say, “No. No, I’m not sure, and what the heck difference does it make because if everything comes out close, who CARES!?!? It’s not a matter of national security!” Instead, I said, “Pretty sure.”

Then HE screwed up the timing. He put the water for the potatoes on the stove and told me, “Your water is on.” I finished preparing the potatoes, and dropped them in the water. Ten minutes later, I noticed the pot still wasn’t boiling. George had set the burner to low, not high. When I pointed this out to him, he panicked. The lamb was already on the grill, but you’ll never guess what happened.

The meal came together just at the right time and everything was scrumptious. It’s a good thing I was wrong in my estimate of the time for the potatoes.

I’m thinking that somewhere between the two extremes George and I represent on the time-obsession spectrum, there is a reasonable, moderate place where time is everyone’s friend and we can all get along. Neither George nor I are moving toward that moderate place. It was made worse recently by the fact that I lost my favorite watch—a daintily pretty silver-and-gold Bulova I’ve had for about 15 years. Now, the only watch I have is a horridly uncomfortable and bulky sports watch I bought for eight bucks at Target. Needless to say, I’ve been doing without.

Eventually, I will drive George completely insane or, at the very least, burn something in the kitchen.

It’s just a matter of time.


  1. I loved this! I'm kinda like George. I need a clock or watch or even resort to the phone if necessary. And I do need to know what time it is if I wake in the night. Now cooking is another thing...seats of the pants sort of thing, except for baking. I need my timer. Yesterday I burned up my roasting almonds because I forgot to set the timer. What will become of us time people?

  2. OK, NOW I know where my husband came by the 'always have to be early' trait. He also was in the Air Force. Did not fly the planes, but worked on them. Must have rubbed off on him. Drives me crazy! But we are never late.....
    Another grand story Susan!
    Lu C

  3. 54 years of marriage to the same guy has taught me God meant us to be opposite about MANY things, not the least of which is time. He is EXACTLY ten minutes late to everything.

    It's one of those quirks I hated all the years until recently when it went on the list of his traits I KNOW I will sorely miss if he goes to heaven before me. Funny how antiquity converts pesky "quirks" into "endearing foibles."

  4. Yep, I'm a time person just like the big G and I married a person who thinks time is optional.

  5. Hi there! I found you through your Simplicity blog and have been lurking both places for a while. This post inspired me to comment.

    My husband is former USAF, and I'll be darned if I can get him to be ON-TIME for anything, lol! I'm the time person like George and it drives me batty. :oP

    However, when it comes to cooking, he's like George and I'm like you. I guess we sort of balance each other out that way.

    This was wonderful. Thanks for the smile and chuckle. :o)

  6. This is so good, Susan! My husband and I are both pretty much right-on-timers, maybe a couple minutes late to things that don't matter so much. But I get very stressed if I think we're going to be late to a wedding, because then we'd be walking in with the bride: "Hello, hello, don't mind us." Actually, I am very stressed about possibly being late to church, and I know that is the legacy of my grandmother (who helped raise us for a few years after my mother died). She hated to be late to church and always had us there super early, which I found annoying at the time but have now internalized. (She also hated for our hair to be in our faces, and now I am that way too.)

    Anyway, back to time: I recently became watchless too (I just need to haul my five or six watches down to the store and get new batteries for them all), but I can always check my cell phone if I am out and can't see a clock. But the clock in my car is another matter entirely. The light in it recently went bad, and I missed it terribly for the couple of evenings until my husband replaced it (after I made sure it was on his urgent to-do list, not his perennial to-do list). I was amazed how much I missed it--I would glance at it many times over just a short trip. I also need to know what time it is when I wake up in the night.

    American culture is MUCH more time-oriented than many others. Your George would hate it in the islands (Bahamas, etc), Africa, southern Europe. So many other cultures just don't view times for events the way we do. If you say something starts at noon, people might start showing up at about 2 or so. I couldn't even bring myself to type 2:00, because that is so contrary to how they do things.

    I greatly enjoy your essays here!

  7. Thanks for the giggle this morning - I wouldn't say hubby and I are major clock watchers, but I do HATE those who are habitually late... We now live in south TX (practically Mexico) and I'm STILL having a hard time with the lackadaisical approach to time and schedules in general

    (And on a side note, I drive a 2005 Passat Wagon. We lovingly refer to it as our family Tank :)


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!