Procrastinators take a timeout from punctuality


April 20, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

I telephone Les Waas on Friday and leave word that I have a very pressing newspaper deadline, so naturally he does not call back until the deadline has passed.

"Deadline?" he says yesterday, when we finally make contact. "I had to look up the word to see what it meant."

Deadline, schmeadline. The way Waas sees it, deadlines are merely a more or Les matter. Les is president of the Procrastinators Club of America, where time is always taking a sabbatical.

"You had a question?" he asks yesterday, from club headquarters in Philadelphia.

"About taxes," I say.

"They're due?" he asks plaintively, a mere four days past that moment when the IRS begins getting picky.

What else would you expect from such a fellow? Not long ago, the Procrastinators Club roused itself and protested the war. The War of 1812. Club members attempted to get the Founding Fathers to fix that crack in the Liberty Bell. Also they traveled to Spain to raise money for three ships with which to discover America.

"Got there a little late, did you?" I inquire.

"That wasn't so bad," says Waas, whose name is practically the very verb for expressing the past tense. "In 1974, we went to see the Christians battle the lions at the Circus Maximus. The tickets said 10/26/74. We didn't know it meant 74 A.D. We were only 1,900 years late. We should have known, when the tickets were engraved in stone."

Anyway, about this income tax business, Waas is naturally joking. He wishes to make this clear. He knew taxes were due on April 15, and even had his completed on time, with nine hours to spare, despite having an accountant who also is a Procrastinator of America.

This timeliness puts Waas ahead of many Americans, a fact I know from late on the night of April 15 in Baltimore, when I am leaving Little Italy and approaching the Jones Falls Expressway from the south.

At Fayette Street, I am met with this spellbinding display of lights coming down the expressway, a line of cars so long and so backed up that it is quite unable to move.

As it is now roughly 10 o'clock on this Thursday night, and I am quite insightful and smart about these matters, I am immediately seized with an uplifting thought:

"Downtown is really alive!"

Until, turning my head right at Fayette, where all of these cars are trying to turn, I see more cars approaching from the east and suddenly realize the attraction: the central U.S. Post Office, where all these people are frantic to drop their taxes before the midnight deadline.

This leads me to call Waas, who -- when we finally, belatedly connect -- proceeds not only to defend procrastination, but to redefine it. It's not a matter of being late, so much as using your time wisely.

"We believe," he says, "in practical procrastination. A good practical procrastinator prides himself on being late. If he's late to meetings, he's the only one who doesn't have to wait for anyone. There are anti-crastinators, rushing through life. They have a tendency to leave this world at an earlier age. Then we call them the late so-and-so, which is kind of ironic.

"Listen, you can't do anything in life without procrastinating on something else. Like, talking to you when I could be getting TC haircut or going to the bank. But, more than that, people tend to move better when they're running late."

This is a fact of nature not only to procrastinators, but to the most compulsive and uptight among us, as well.

"Our club members," Waas says, "spend a lot less time than the average person on taxes. They wait until the last minute. The reason is simple. If you have a deadline to meet, and you have two hours, you'll take two hours. If you have two weeks, you'll take that.

"A good, honest procrastinator doesn't make excuses. If he's late, he doesn't have to say, 'Gee, traffic was bad.' Everybody's heard it. You're there, that's the important thing. Even the government anticipates this. Look who came up with the idea of filing late. That wasn't a taxpayer's idea, it was the IRS."

And this, says Waas, is why his members don't get too uptight about deadlines, not even the big one each April 15.

"Smell the flowers," he says. "Enjoy life."

He's enjoying it. Even if he is running a little bit late.

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