Playing chicken

I was nearly killed by a rubber chicken.

My 11-year-old son needed a rubber chicken for a skit he was performing with his classmates. The novelty shop was fresh out, so my wife special-ordered it from wherever they make rubber chickens (rubber plantations?). It was my job to fetch the chicken.

We had a full day's notice that the chicken had arrived, but I put off picking it up. The store was near my sons' school, so I figured we could get it on the way home. But just as I was leaving the house, I realized that my plan involved turning two boys loose in a novelty shop. I decided to swing by the store -- alone -- before I picked up the boys from school.

I drove quickly, one eye on the dashboard clock, measuring whether I could round up the chicken and still make it to school on time. I hurried into the store, plunked down $10 (ten bucks for a chicken you can't even EAT?) and raced back to the car, bird in hand.

I was cutting it close, and hurriedly weaved through a mile or so of city of traffic. I was so intent on watching the clock, I almost didn't see a truck barreling toward me until it was too late. Screeching brakes. A quick twist of the steering wheel. Shouted prayers and curses. A near-miss. All because of a rubber chicken.

But wait, you say, it's not the chicken's fault. I was nearly run down by a truck because of my own procrastination. If I hadn't waited until the last minute, I wouldn't have been speeding through traffic.

You're right, of course. And that brings us to the point of today's column. (What? You couldn't tell there was a point? You thought I was just looking for an excuse to print the words "rubber chicken" again and again?)

Ahem. The point is that I and, no doubt, millions of other American adults who work at home are constantly rushing from place to place. We have dozens of errands to do and we're always running late.

How does this happen? One reason we choose to work at home is that it allows us to make our own schedules. The day is entirely flexible. We should be able to plan ahead so that our trips out-of-doors are leisurely cruises along our appointed rounds. But we wait until the last possible second, too busy with e-mail and phone calls and other chores to pull ourselves away. Then we race through traffic, risking our own lives and those of untold numbers of rubber chickens.

Our days are spent rocketing through time and space, trying to get from the dry cleaners to the office supply store to the supermarket and back home again. At every turn, it seems, are slow-moving tourists and road construction and other obstacles, all conspiring to make us late. If we survive the traffic, we arrive at our destinations harried and breathless, our mouths gaping, our eyes wide. We look, in fact, like rubber chickens.

Repeatedly, I resolve to get an earlier start. Every time, I'm distracted by the clothes dryer buzzing or the phone ringing or a near-victory at Free Cell. And then I look at the clock and realize that I have five minutes to make a ten-minute trip. Late again.

I know other work-at-home parents face the same problem. I see them in traffic, teeth clenched, both hands clutching the steering wheel, committing one moving violation after another in an attempt to make up lost time.

The rest of you can help us poor harried parents. Watch for us in traffic. Get out of our way. We're late again, and you don't want to be a victim of our procrastination.

And if you see a rubber chicken on the seat next to a stressed-out driver, you might want to just drive up onto the sidewalk and wait for the car to pass. It'll be safer for all of us that way.

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