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?”
“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.