You’re Either Early, Or You’re Late

“Steve Winwood, a friend of mine, said that he teaches his kids that if they’re not early, they’re late. There’s no in-between.”

–Eric Clapton, Esquire Magazine, Dec. 2007.

OK…I know someone will slam me for this, but in my opinion, Clapton, overall, is a little overrated as a guitar player. Still, it’s hard to argue with the guy who wrote “Layla” and played the solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.

But it’s impossible to argue with the philosophy of Steve Winwood, who, as a blue-eyed Latesoul teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, sang “Gimme Some Lovin’”, only one of the five-greatest songs of the rock era.

You’re either early, or you’re late. There is no in-between. And as I am writing this, at about 11:50 a.m. on Saturday, August 17, the person I am waiting for has definitely leaned into the late side of The Tao of Winwood. She is 20 minutes late.

The person I am waiting for is The Buyer. She works for a local children’s clothing store. If you have kids, you’ve probably been to one of these places. They take in “gently used” clothing from parents whose kids have outgrown [or in some cases, never got around to wearing] all the adorable outfits that parents and relatives can’t stop buying for their little ones. This store, in particular, gives you store credit for what you bring in. That way, you’re roped into bringing some commerce back in through their doors, where a pair of shoes for a four-year-old can cost $50 or more.

No, this is not the Goodwill. It’s not snooty, either, but there’s no denying that it’s the kind of place that appeals to moms who name their kids after “Grey’s Anatomy” characters. Lots of wood on the toys for sale here, too. They wouldn’t want little Addison to accidentally lick the lead paint off some toy car made in China.

The reason I am waiting here is obvious. My wife and I have two little girls and enough clothes for about 200. They are outgrowing stuff every day and as we [Actually, mostly my wife] buy new things, the dresser drawers and closets are becoming untenable. There’s so much stuff bursting out of the place that it’s a miracle we can find the kids some mornings. The girls end up wearing a lot of the same things over and over simply because we just wash the stuff and put it back on top in their drawers and don’t have time to get to the several feet of clothing beneath. I know that both of them each have at least four dresses that, due to weather, activity, or the girls’ own tastes, have never been worn.

But finding time to go through all this stuff is, admittedly, a pain in the ass. We practically need to hire a sitter to come over and watch the girls just so we can begin to start digging our way out from under this mountain of clothing.

And then there’s the Memory Factor. You start going through things and then you come upon a shirt that your daughter wore that one time she did that one thing that was so adorable and you JUST CAN’T LET IT GO! So, it goes into a bid for “keepers”. And before you know it, you have more keepers that nobody in your house can wear than clothes that actually fit your kids.

Eventually, you get maybe a garbage bag full of stuff you feel OK about giving away. And then it sits in the room for three weeks because, since you have two little kids that demand 100% of your attention 100% of the time, you don’t have any time to take all these things to the kids’ clothing store. And The Buyer is only there from 11-2 Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take a day off from work to look like a hobo and haul a trash bag of laundry around town.

Luckily for me, The Buyer was making a rare appearance on Saturday. My wife said I had to deal with it.

“Just take it and don’t tell me about it,” she said to me on Friday night. “If I see any of it, I’ll start to cry and we’ll never get rid of it.”

So, I made an appointment for 11:30 Saturday morning. And if anyone knows anything about me, the two things I hate more than anything else in the world are

1)    Littering
2)    Being late

But it’s hard to not be late when you have kids. It’s no surprise to show up at 3:30 for a party that started at 2 because one, or both of your kids, had an “accident” just after you got them dressed and were headed for the door. Someone always wants a snack at the last minute. And never mind the times when you hear one of the little ones suddenly open up and start WAILING INCONSOLABLY because she tripped over her own feet or her sister did something terrible to her. Like give her a loving hug.

This day, however, I was going solo. And like Steve Winwood, I was early. At least 10 minutes early in fact, when I got into the store and dropped my stuff off at the counter. This was the last time things went according to plan.

“OK,” said the woman at the register. “The Buyer just went over to the Post Office, but she should be back, soon.”

Needless to say, I gave up hope at the words “Post Office.” I knew the Post Office of which she spoke, and if you have been to a Post Office in, say, the last 50 years, you know there is no way anyone gets out of there in less than 67 minutes. It was a Saturday, too, so I knew that everyone who wasn’t able to go mail their package to mom during the week would be adding to the line The Buyer was in. I sat down on a nearby sofa and proceeded to play with my iPhone.

Within two minutes, I was getting stares. Natural, organic-living moms carrying their babies on their chests in natural, organically made torture contraptions eyed me warily. And why not. No other guy was in there by himself, without a hint of a sign of a wife or kid around. I hadn’t shaved and was wearing shorts, a button-down, shortsleeve shirt and a ballcap. For all these women knew, I was just the local pedophile coming ‘round to hang out where the kids were.

And there were a lot of them in the store. One rambunctious ankle biter ran a toy car over my foot. Several kids grabbed clothes off the racks. I got a glimpse of my daughters’ future husbands as a boy, about five, was wearing the same matching jeans as his sandwich-slopping dad. Unfortunately, the kid’s jeans, just like his dad’s, were sagging WAY down below his butt, with the pockets close to grazing the floor. I wanted to hide.

So, after being there nearly 30 minutes, I saw the woman at the counter, who was not The Buyer, start to go through my clothes. About five minutes after that, The Buyer returned from her Post Office sojourn, looked at my stuff for all of 15 seconds, and then called me over to say how much of a credit I was going to get.

I held my tongue, as I wanted to say something about how that $34 in credit equaled about a buck for every minute she was late. Instead, I just smiled, thanked her, and went on my way. I figured there was no point to getting into an argument. There’s no in-between when dealing with the professionally late.

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