Clocks from John Kelly’s collection are a reminder that punctuality has not been his strong suit. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

The other day, I was thumbing through a 1938 issue of the Journal of Social Psychology, as one does, when I came across an article titled "A Qualitative Study of Punctuality," by George J. Dudycha, a professor at Ripon College in Wisconsin.

I imagine Dr. Dudycha must be dead by now, which would make him the late George J. Dudycha.

That’s a punctuality joke.

There’s nothing funny about the first sentence in his article: “That promptness is essential in industry, business, and the school is rather generally accepted; but this acceptance gives no assurance that the majority of people are punctual in these situations or that their behavior is consistent with their attitudes toward punctuality.”

So, in a nutshell: Promptness is essential! And yet: There’s no assurance people’s behavior is consistent with their attitudes!

This hits close to home. I am often running late. Sometimes, running late is the only exercise I get.

That’s an unhealthy BMI joke.

When you’re in grade school, teachers employ a special term to describe you when you’re late: “tardy.”

I always hated that word, which to my ears sounds like a cross between "tawdry" and "dirty," with a whiff of the scatological: "Oooh, Johnny's tardy!"

I wasn’t tardy as a kid. Like drinking rioja and watching the “Masterpiece” TV series, it’s a habit I’ve grown into as an adult.

I used to think I was often late because I was so busy, my schedule so jam-packed that I can’t move on to my next task until I’m done with my previous task.

But then I examined my calendar and discovered that, no, there’s actually not that much on there. Yes, there’s the daily deadline of my day job, but, to be honest, when you’ve been doing this as long as I have, it becomes part of the diurnal furniture, no more fretted over than the regular performance of my ablutions. (“Um, Kelly,” I hear some of you saying, “fret a bit more, please.”)

My Lovely Wife says I’m late because I’m poor at envisaging temporal volume. She says I’m like the child who fails his Piaget test because he thinks a tall, skinny beaker has more colored water in it than a short, wide beaker. To me, she says, 15 minutes is the same as an hour. It’s all some immeasurable chunk of a mysterious thing called “the future.”

I don’t think she’s right. No, I suffer from a complex set of conditions. The first is FOBE: fear of being early. I hate the thought that I will arrive somewhere too early and have to stand around like a doofus, like the first party guest.

“Oh, hello,” the startled hostess says when she opens the door and finds me there. “Um, Steve’s still in the shower. Can you help me fill these bowls with chips?”

I adopt that mind-set in other situations. But it turns out that while you can be fashionably late to a party, you can’t be fashionably late to a job interview or a doctor’s appointment. You’re just late.

Also, I've come to realize I get a thrill when I leave late but arrive on time. It's similar to the shot of adrenaline that a free-falling skydiver receives when the parachute opens successfully: I've never felt so alive! All you drab, gray, lifeless drones thought it would take me 50 minutes to get from Silver Spring to Alexandria and I did it in a half-hour!

But, frankly, that thrill is fading. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself pounding the steering wheel in traffic, imagining the basilisk stare of the dental hygienist when I slink in . . . tardy.

I’ve found myself doing that ungainly walk-run — my necktie too tight, my sweaty shirt stuck to my back — as I skedaddle from the Metro station to an event that the invitation to which sniffily points out “Begins promptly at 10 a.m.”

Being late just isn’t as much fun as it used to be. I never thought I’d say this, but the early-bird special is looking better and better.

Tardy like it’s 1999

What's your worst — or best — running-late story? Did you miss something important? Do you have a loved one famed for his or her tardiness. Send the details — with "Tardy" in the subject line — to john.kelly@washpost.com. By Friday, please, slackers.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.