What do acrobats, five-star generals, stock brokers, comedians, good cooks, and jazz musicians all have in common? They are some of the people in this world who can attest to the fact that timing is everything.
I ask myself: what would have happened last Friday had I not stopped off to buy beef shanks? If the pharmacy hadn't delayed me by screwing up my prescription? If everybody in ice-bound Chicago hadn't been driving and walking like geriatric penguins? If my friend Rosa - for no discernible reason - hadn't turned onto that unfamiliar street, just at that moment?
We would have missed being the punchline to a cosmic joke.
Last Friday, I was going home after living with my mother for eight long weeks, helping her cope with an illness. Eight weeks of emotional roller coaster rides, hospital visits, doctor appointments, cooking, laundry, fighting with insurance companies, drug stores, ice storms, and reruns of "Frasier". No offense, Mom, but I was ready.
So last Friday, Rosa - who is one of the beautiful people in my life who enable my paranoid, non-driving lifestyle - offered to be my chauffeur. After running some errands and doing some last minute housework, we set out on the blessed journey homeward. I was just bubbling with gaiety, profusely thanking Rosa for her kindness, and talking about all the wonderful things awaiting me at home, and going back to work, and going on and on about how this was a happy, happy day for me, when...
...Rosa discovered she was going the wrong way and, in order to reverse our direction, turned down a random street, and...
...as if on cue from Joel or Ethan Coen, a large black cat came out of nowhere...
...and slowly crossed our path.
Because Rosa and I are able to apply to ourselves the same twisted sense of humor that allows us to enjoy Coen Brothers movies in the first place, we took the time to laugh appreciably at our situation. And then to quietly accept our doom.
"I don't need seven more years of bad luck," Rosa said.
"That's breaking mirrors," I replied, trying a positive spin. "I think black cats are a one-shot deal."
In the dictionary, next to "buzz-kill" is a picture of that scene. Either that cat's timing was really good, or ours was really, really bad. And my life since that moment has certainly lent credence to my initial reaction.
Of course, the far-reaching effects of good timing is evident all around us. Adele would never be so ubiquitous on the "lite rock" stations if she hadn't made her debut just when every other female pop singer on the planet got the memo to limit their vocal range to two notes, and just when Oprah Winfrey retired, thereby leaving a hole in the "beloved large woman" spot on the hierarchy of human needs. Kim Kardashian's baby timing is brilliant, for her (good job, Kanye!), a disaster for her K-cousin across the pond.
And look at the role timing will play in Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects. Sorry, Hil, but I'm pretty sure that both John McCain AND Mitt Romney would have whipped your butt at the polls. However, you should have NO trouble with Marco Rubio.
Examples of bad timing include cutting your hair short on the first day of winter, showing too much nostril to a paparazzi, and being the Thai customs agent on duty when 2000 dangerous snakes come in disguised as a shipment of fruit.
With time there is no rewind, and often there is no second chance to get it right. We can practice our timing, but it is an indifferent force, and we are all its subjects. This theme is explored in film and literature, notably "Run, Lola, Run" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray", the latter of which makes me wonder if Rupert Murdoch's very existence is keeping some stud of a tabloid writer young and alive somewhere.
By the way, my daughter is joining us for dinner tonight. She just called to say that she missed her train.