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The Economics of Time

Nate Haskins had a very loose relationship with his watch. He glanced at it now and then, but more often than not his mind went to the man who had given him the watch, his maternal grandpa, Ray Lever. Sometimes he saw the time and was likely to leap up and take off for some appointment he had completely forgotten.

He managed to race in five minutes late to most of his college courses, dates with his pretty girlfriend and basketball games he had drummed up himself. Nate was not a rude person; it was not that others time and feelings were less important than his own. It was just that he had laser focus on what he was doing. And believed that whatever he was doing, whoever he was with, was the most important thing in the universe. For that moment in time.

And so, skidding to a halt in front of his usual seat in Economics, he tossed himself into the wooden chair and quietly opened the desk out for his books. Which he set softly on top, feeling many eyes on him. Lifting his face to the front of the class, he saw Mr. Woodbury, the professor, staring with tilted head at Nate in back of the hall.

“Well, good morning, Mr. Haskins,” he drawled out sarcastically, “so good of you to join us.”

His classmates were not given to tittering at the professor’s remarks, but they did all gaze in his direction with smiles and some friendly nods. Nate had the manners to blush.

“Sorry, Mr. Woodbury,” he breathed softly.

“Please see me after class,” the professor added in his direction, then turned to continue his lecture while scribbling numbers on the chalkboard.

Nate tried to listen to the information, and turned the pages in his book and took notes. But his thoughts kept drifting back to his grandpa. Ray Lever loved to give wristwatches as presents. But it was from Grandpa Lever that he had inherited the late-gene. Grandpa would be late to his own funeral, his children often said of him. He had actually been late to his wife’s funeral last year. He had been in the car, weeping alone, as the service finally started without him. He had drug himself in and plopped down by Nate fifteen minutes later. His five children sighed as one. But this time, no one commented or scolded. Grandpa would be totally lost without his Lindsey. Lindsey Lever had been the cement that held the family to congregating at birthdays, holidays and whenever she took a notion they needed to do so. Nate smiled thinking of her now.

He had asked his grandpa why he gave watches to everyone, when he himself never seemed to consult his own. Grandpa had only stared at him, mystified.

“What do you mean?” Lever finally asked him, everyone eventually called him Lever – as that is the only way Lindsey referred to him.

“You are always late, Lever,” his grandson patiently explained. “Why do you wear a watch, when you do not let it help you get places on time.”

“On time is a funny expression,” Lever had responded. “Did you know, Einstein said time does not really exist.”

Nate had sighed in Lever’s direction, then laughed and gave up on his wayward grandfather. Just as he had apparently given up on himself in the area of punctuality.

Finally, the lecture ended and the slamming, stomping sound of students leaving the building was a comforting background noise as Nate made his way to the podium up front.

Mr. Woodbury was an aged man, having taught class at this university for over 40 years. But he was sharp and a professor students raved about for clarity and fairness. He stood nervously with his hands clasping his books in front of him as armor while Mr. Woodbury erased the chalkboard.

“Ah, Mr. Haskins,” he said, turning to face the uncomfortable young man. “It’s Nate, isn’t it?”

“Yes, sir,” Nate replied quickly.

“I want to talk to you about your proclivity for coming in five to ten minutes late each class,” the professor started out, leaning back comfortably against a huge oak table behind the lectern.

“Yes, sir, I really am so sorry, I seem to have…” Nate began, but was interrupted by a raised hand from his elderly instructor.

“Now, none of that,” he told his student. “This is more than about your being late for my class. Though I hear through the grapevine that you are late to everyone’s class. At least you are democratic about it.”

Nate coughed lightly with increasing nervousness.

“But you must see,” Mr. Woodbury continued, “that when you have graduated – and you will no doubt do that with honors, you are a brilliant mind – when you get a job, being late takes on a new dimension. Once you have established your career, you may find leeway with the right employer. Or you might start and run your own business and no one can say when you are late or not.”

Again, Nate opened his mouth as if to interject something, but his professor was on a roll.

“You will be canned, son.” Mr. Woodbury said bluntly. “And if it continues, you will get a reputation, a poor showing resume, and what could be a bright future will grow dim. Not to mention that people like girlfriends, wives, children and friends often feel slighted when you are always late for a meeting with them. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Nate replied.

“For instance,” the professor added, “where are you supposed to be right now?”

Nate looked up at the clock on the wall, it said 3:20 pm. He gasped and started to turn to run out the door.

“I have to be across campus five minutes ago!” he replied as he turned.

“Stop where you are!” commanded Mr. Woodbury. “I told your next professor, Dr. Geary, that you would be late due to me today. When he understood what I was going to talk to you about, he agreed and will catch you up after class, if need be.”

Nate suddenly felt weird. Why would a college professor – professors – take such pains to lecture someone about their lateness.

He looked with renewed interest at Mr. Woodbury.

“Did you know, Nate,” the teacher began anew, “that I had your Grandfather Lever as a student when I first started teaching here?”

Nate was startled by this, though he knew Grandpa had gone to school here, he never knew they had a professor in common! That was unheard of, as far as he knew.

“No,” he admitted.

“Well, I did.” Mr. Woodbury said. “And I know you come by this troubling characteristic naturally. Maybe genetics can account for a lack of promptness. I don’t know. He about drove me crazy that first year. He was much later than you are most of the time, as much as 30 minutes on occasion. He also was a brilliant student, and I followed his career down through the years with pride that I had helped create a businessman such as he. But I understood that he would never have made it if he had not run his own business. So, I just wanted to talk to you, son – give you a chance to go to some counseling or something to help with this idiosyncrasy of yours.”

Nate looked into his professor’s keen, blue eyes. He felt a warm connection to this man who had taught and liked his grandpa. He made a decision.

Squaring his shoulders and nodding in thanks for the little private lecture he had just received he replied, with an evil grin growing on his lips:

“Thank you, Professor Woodbury,” he offered, “but it seems that the old saying fits well here.”

“What saying is that?”

“When it comes to teaching our family members, it is better Nate than Lever.”

And turning on his heels, he raced off for the sweet life set out before him.


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