No being late

"Better late than never" doesn't cut it when you gotta pay for every tardy.

Photograph: Dan Eckstein

I racked up 16 detentions my senior year of high school because of the 42 “lates” on my report card. I once arrived at a wedding after the couple had walked down the aisle. I was tardy to my last three job interviews. I am late to everything.

So when I was challenged to be on time for a month, I knew it would be impossible. Yet having a hard time saying no is a common trait among the punctually troubled, so I accepted, agreeing to pay $10 to charity for every time I got “held up.”

Week one

Before starting, I put aside $40 toward my impending failures—I know me, and step No. 1 is being honest with yourself and others.
Biggest challenge: Getting out the door early enough to allow myself a 20-minute buffer before meetings—especially since I’m up past 2am every night watching TV or reading comics.
Lesson learned: It sucks to wait for people. Twice, I got to a scheduled meet-up 20 minutes earlier than planned. And then everyone was 20 minutes late.
Late:6 out of 27 times. $60 to the pot, plus an additional $50 in cab fare to get to places on time.

Week two

Seeing that it’s possible to not be a total failure, I bragged about my “on time” status. People didn’t seem as impressed as I was. I guess it’s expected in most circles.
Biggest challenge: Trying not to make any excuses. How many times can I tell my friends the bus was slow when they know I ride the subway?
Lesson learned: Arriving early increased my stress level but decreased friends’ anger.
Late: 5 out of 26 times. $50 to the pot and another $30 to cab expenses. A slight improvement over the previous week. And one time a friend made me late. Honest!

Week three

Having turned over $110 to charity, I limited plans with friends and gave more realistic deadlines to several projects. It turns out people are understanding when you tell them you can’t do everything they want when they want it.
Biggest challenge: Can I meet downtown at 7pm even though that’s when I leave work? Um… saying no is tough.
Lesson learned: Keeping a weekly calendar—even if it’s in an old-school paper book and not iCal—works.
Late: 4 out of 27 times. Another $40 to the pot, and $30 in cabs.

Week four

Upping the ante to see if I could improve even more, a new punishment was established. For every lateness, a friend gets to take one of my valuable action figures.
Biggest challenge: After three weeks, I was getting complacent, accepting my B grade. The new penalty would be my incentive to score an A.
Lesson learned: Getting used to saying no reduced my overall stress level. Saying good-bye to my Power of the Force Han Solo in Carbonite hurt my soul.
Late: 2 out of 26 times. A slight improvement over the previous weeks. $20 to the pot and $20 in cabs. Plus Han (just $9) and a Murdock A-Team action figure (priceless).

My overall grade was 84 percent. That’s a considerable improvement (the week before the deal started, I scored myself at 54 percent). And that wedding I almost missed? This month was their two-year anniversary, so I finally sent their gift. I really am a changed man.

Editor’s note: This piece was turned in late.