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COMMITMENTS : Time Bandits : There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who arrive on time, and those who don't. And one of them's ticking off the other something fierce.

August 14, 1995|VICTORIA CLAYTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ding ding! Pick your corner. Those who are perpetually punctual and those who are terminally tardy are slugging it out, as always. But now maxed-out schedules and too-busy lives are causing the punctual people to revolt even louder against those who just can't make it on time.

People who are always late are missing a cell in their brains, jokes Susie Watson, marketing director for Timex Inc. And the same people who are always late are the ones who would never dream of apologizing for it.

Watson may be a bit too close to the subject. Timex recently launched the first five-alarm watch that links wirelessly to time-management computer software. A chime reminds you of up to five appointments. With technology like this, she can't believe anyone would have the audacity to be late.

Others--perhaps relics of a slower time--can't believe anyone could be so uptight.

A five-alarm fire wouldn't help Mary Goodstein, now a home-based public relations writer, arrive on time.

"Even when I leave the house with what I think is enough time, something goes wrong," Goodstein says. "Usually I just don't leave enough time. When I had to be in the office at 9, I'd spend the whole trip going over in my mind which excuse I was going to use: The garage door didn't open, I had to get gas, I had a leak in my house, the dog got sick, you name it."

After she endured too many mornings with her heart racing, stomach in a knot and white knuckles clenched around the steering wheel, she resorted to even more drastic measures:

"I'd have the secretary turn on my light and my computer so it looked like I was already there. Then I'd kind of sneak off the elevator and hope nobody saw me. I always felt terrible but people do expect you to be on time and I have always been a late person."

In Los Angeles, there's a definite distinction between people who are usually on time and people who are usually late, says Goodstein.

"I have a friend who always complains about me because she can't stand to be a minute late. I feel so much pressure that it's tough to make plans with her. It's divisive among friends. Those of us who are always late know each other and are tolerant."

The issue can sever friendships, hurt careers and cause major frustration for both sides.

What brought this age-old friction to the meltdown point? Some say corporate downsizing and the computer age have put a squeeze on many Angelenos' time.

"Time is a commodity," says John Cabrinha, CEO of Mercury Media, a company specializing in buying television air time for infomercials. "It's Economics 101: as demand rises so does the value."

Perhaps because time is in such short supply these days, people who habitually are on time are sick of waiting for those who aren't. "Fashionably late" has become decidedly unfashionable.

Cindy Frank, a West Hollywood makeup artist, should know. After 25 years of minor confrontations with friends, four years ago she had a knock-down-drag-out fight with the clock that nearly ended her engagement to now-husband Charles.

"We almost broke up because I was so late," says Frank, regarding a two-hour tardiness to Charles' important office Christmas party. Charles thought her lateness was so inconsiderate, he asked for his ring back. That was the wake-up call Frank needed. She gave him permission to harass her into being on time and she pledged not to be late with him.

"Now he constantly nags me. 'Hurry up! Hurry up! You have 10 minutes.' But I'm not late anymore," she says. "My husband has reformed me."

But press her further and she admits to occasional lapses when her husband isn't involved.

"I'm still a procrastinator, let's put it that way," she confesses.

Frank could have an innate problem getting to places on time, says Dr. Michael E. Reding, a San Francisco-area psychiatrist. According to the theories of psychologist Carl Jung, people are born with tendencies that can directly affect punctuality.

"Jung divided people into 'lofty intuitives' and 'realistic sensates.' They handle time very differently," Reding says. "Sensates are very accurate with time. Intuitives often make errors--they could even be early, or they could be late."

*

But takes on timeliness don't stop with basic personality differences. Woody Allen is famous for saying 70% of life is showing up. There's a good reason he didn't mention whether or not you had to be on time.

Unravel the subject of punctuality, and you have a complex issue encompassing cultural differences, neuroses, fears and insecurities that even Allen would have trouble dissecting. Yes, all this--and you just thought you were sick of people being late.

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