Money magazine (published by Time, Inc.) and Changing Times (Kiplinger) are both aimed at people who want advice on how to make, spend and invest money. I've noticed that my wife may not always find the time for Business Week or Forbes, but she does read Money and Changing Times.
So when I came upon an astonishing item in Money the other evening, I called out to my wife, "Did you see Money's article about the Civil Aeronautics Board?"
"No," she said as she looked up from her own reading. "What does it say?"
"It's in Avery Comarow's Washington letter in the back of the book," I said, "and it explains how the CAB decides which flights are to be counted as having been 'on time' and which are to be judged as having been late."
"I think I know the answer to that one," she said. "If the plane arrives within five minutes of its scheduled arrival time, it counts as having been on time."
"That's one down and nine to go," I said.
She offered an amendment. "Ten minutes," she said. "Even if it's 10 minutes late it counts as being on time."
"Two down and eight to go," I said. "And I'm afraid you could guess all night without getting it, so I might as well tell you. Money says that the CAB considers a flight late only if its actual flying time is more than 15 minutes over its scheduled flying time. Mind you they're not talking about arrival time, they're talking about flying time. In other words, if what is normally a 50-minute flight leaves New York two hours and 10 minutes later after flying for an hour, the CAB counts it as being on time. Does that sould like a government regulation, or more like Alice in Wonderland?"
"I don't see anything wrong with it," my wife said. "When I'm an hour late meeting you for dinner at the Press Club, I don't think I deserve the sour looks you give me, or your smart-aleck references to 'the late Mrs. Gold.' How can you expect me to arrive on time on nights I'm not able to leave on time? Do you know what I think? I think I'll write a letter to President Carter praising the CAB for having the patient and forgiving attitude my husband ought to have - but doesn't."
A good idea," I said. "And if you don't get you letter posted before Mr. Carter's term expires, don't worry about it. So long as the Postal Service gives your letter overnight delivery, the CAB will count it as arriving on time."
And why not? In Washington, as in Wonderland, words mean whatever Humpty Dumpty chooses to have them mean, and people don't necessarily mean what they say, or say what they mean. Why, then, should "no time" really have to refer to being on time?