I spend more time waiting for people in front of theaters, concert halls, and nightclubs than anyone I know. The reason is that I’m always given two press tickets to the shows I see, and I always invite a friend to fill the second seat. (Actually, I didn’t have the nerve to ask anyone to accompany me to All Shook Up, but that was an exception.) Since I’m at shows of one kind or another at least three nights a week…well, you figure it out.
I try not to get my knickers in a twist when little things go wrong, and I think I’ve become fairly good over the years at avoiding needless exasperation. (I used to be awful at it.) On the other hand, I really can’t be late to the shows I see, since I’m there for professional reasons, so I start to get antsy whenever a guest fails to arrive at 7:45. After years of pointless suffering, I finally started giving the same speech to all my escortees: Meet me in front of the theater fifteen minutes before curtain time. If you’re not there five minutes before curtain, I’ll leave your ticket at the box office in your name and meet you inside.
My fifteen-and-five plan made it possible for me to consider the behavior of my friends from a detached, even sociological point of view, and I soon noticed that only one of them, a woman in publishing who makes a fetish of punctuality, can be counted on to show up at 7:45 on the nose. Another is habitually early. (She is, unlikely as it may sound, a jazz singer.) The rest are late to varying degrees. Most show up at some unpredictable point between 7:50 and 7:54, looking mildly anxious as they push their way through the crowd on the sidewalk and catch my waiting eye. A few like to arrive at 7:55:30, usually as I’m scrawling their name on the ticket preparatory to depositing it at the box office.
This leaves five friends who usually come to the theater between 8:03 and 8:05. (No eight o’clock curtain in New York ever rises before 8:05.) They are, in ascending order of delinquency:
• Two writers from the outer boroughs who work at home and come straight from their desks to the theater, thus exposing themselves to the caprices of mass transit.
• A reporter who has a way of getting stuck on the phone just as she’s getting ready to leave the office.
• A civilian who is so notoriously unreliable that at one time I made it a rule never to take her to a show without our dining together first, thus ensuring that I’d know where she was at curtain time.
• An artist (I won’t identify her medium, though she knows who she is) who has never been on time for anything in her life, though she always has interesting, sometimes spectacular excuses for her lateness. I’ll never forget the time she called me on my cell phone from the wrong theater six blocks up the street, then ran all the way to the right one. (Thank God she works out.)
Back in the benighted days before I came up with the fifteen-and-five plan, I used to get irritated at these five delinquents. Then I realized that to do so was pointless, since they clearly weren’t going to change their lifelong habits for me (or, I assume, anyone else). I didn’t want to deprive myself of the pleasures of their company, so I figured out how to manage their chronic lateness in such a way as to make it tolerable. Now it doesn’t bother me, except in the case of the artist, who cuts it closer than anyone I know. More than once she’s run down the aisle and dropped into her seat just as the house lights were dimming. She drives me crazy, if not quite enough for me to stop taking her to shows. Quite. Yet.
Most people don’t have this kind of perspective on their circle of friends, just as most people have never been unlucky enough to edit an anthology containing essays by a dozen of their best friends. (I’m pleased to say that I managed to do so without alienating any of the friends in question, though I did consider murdering two of them.) But I do, and what puzzles me after all these years is this: why is it that only two of my friends meet me on time? Because none of the others do, not ever. As in never. N-E-V-E-R. And you know what? Even though I know they’re going to be a little late, and have an ironclad policy in place ensuring that I’ll be in my seat when the curtain goes up, I still get antsy waiting for them, every damn time.
Might it possibly be that I’m the one who’s in need of an attitude adjustment? Surely not. That would be blaming the victim, right? No?