What’s the score?

Knowing just to know

I got to the coffee shop and the people I was supposed to meet hadn’t arrived yet. I thought I was on time, but I wanted to check to make sure, because there was something deep inside me, left over from elementary school probably, that wanted to know the score. Who was tardy? Not me, teacher!

I don’t like being late for meetings, even casual, social ones. I don’t like the other person to be late unless I am, but if he is I don’t mind.

I first had to drag my stupid cell phone out of my pocket. I say drag because my stupid cell phone has a case whose texture clings to any cloth, such as that of any pocket, which usually turns inside-out in the process. I bought the case online.

When Erwin France, an administrative assistant to the first Mayor Daley in Chicago came back from China in 1972, or so he was wearing a new gold watch with a blank black face that showed the time digitally in little red numbers when he pushed a button on the side, and when he stopped pushing, the face went black again. This gizmo was so cool that he’d paid $400 for a timepiece that took two hands to operate—when accurate watches were going for $25—and Mr. France was an exceptionally smart man.

Thirty-eight years later, I had to drag out my cell phone and push a button to unlock the screen and show the time in tiny numbers in the upper right corner. I am not an exceptionally smart man. I usually take 2 o’clock to mean 2ish, especially with certain persons, so two-oh-three is the same as two, and even later is no big deal. I still wanted to know who was late and who wasn’t. What’s the score?

This time, before I managed to get out my stupid cell phone and push the button to unlock the screen and show the time in tiny numbers in the upper right corner, I stopped caring what time it was. It dawned on me that I had no fixed limit on waiting for someone who was late anyway. In sub-zero blizzards maybe, but I was in a cozy coffee shop and would soon be sipping an excellent Mexican mocha, and I’d probably suffer no permanent damage from being by myself for a while, even with a raisin-oatmeal cookie.

My impulse had been to find out what time it was just to see who was late. I wasn’t gonna do anything differently. I just wanted to know. I think I unconsciously expected to be graded. I realized that the only grader was me, and then I stopped. Whew.