Notes: Type B, a-Wise

Life in the slow lane has its challenges

People with Type-A personalities— those uptight, compulsive, competitive, aggressive, sometimes hostile, insecure overachievers—can greatly reduce their chances for a heart attack by modifying their behavior characteristics, according to a study by San Francisco physician Dr. Meyer Friedman and Stanford Prof. Carl Thoresen of the School of Education. . . . Driving in the slow lane instead of the fast lane, stopping at a traffic light when it turns yellow, lingering at the dinner table, standing in the longer rather than shorter grocery lines, speaking more slowly, and learning to smile more at strangers were a few of the exercises tried.
—Item from the Stanford
University News Service

SATURDAY. ARISE, AS is my habit, at 5:15 A.M. Listen to news in course of sixty bench presses, a hundred sit-ups. Translate two of Horace’s “Epodes” into Urdu before scanning the Examiner and the Chronicle, Dow Theory Forecasts, Value Line Investment Survey. Brush teeth in shower. Down diet pill with instant espresso. Sort mail on porta-desk while . . . doggone it, she did it again. Second time since giving notice. Compose terse memo to maid on which way toilet paper should unfurl (blind carbon to wife). Turn roll around. Same damn story. Want something done right, got to do it yourself. Ticks me off. Already 6:20, and books still uncatalogued, Economist unread.

“Slow down, you move too fast,/ You got to make the morning last.” Words of song somehow percolate into sentience as I shave. Point conceded. Foot off the pedal. Deep breath, count to ten—0 . . . 1 . . . 0—urgently taking binary shortcut. Doesn’t work, still revved up. Maybe Doc Friedman right after all. Maybe time to road-test some pacing drills—win one for the ticker.

Switch at once from brace of Norelcos, deployed on both jowls, to single Wilkinson Sword blade. During 273 seconds this adds to task recall that Wilkinson Sword helped carry day at Omdurman, Kandahar. (Norelco, maybe, was at Grenada.) Don trousers one leg at time, soon get hang of it. Feel better already. Serene, resolute, join spouse for usual repast of Tang and Toaster Tarts. Laplume de ma tante est dans le jardin. Only seductive drone of Berlitz lesson disturbs morning stillness as we eat.

Resolve to linger for ten minutes after meal. Linger, linger, linger, linger, shred a napkin, tap a finger. Ever notice how mind slips into rhythmic rut during arbitrary waste of time? America is back, America is back. Or, worse, “Winchester Cathedral.” Linger, moreover, starting when? When I finish? When wife does? What if there are houseguests? Produce Heuer stopwatch and measure interval between first cleaned plate (mine, at 7:13:26.4 A.M.) and last (hers, at 7:24:53.9), determine midpoint (7:19:10.15), and calculate ten-minute period from there (can get up, in other words, four minutes, sixteen and one quarter seconds after wife puts down fork). Set egg timer. In ensuing restorative interlude can almost hear mitral valve murmur thanks. Heartheat downshifts gratefully into theme from Hawaii Five-0.

Ping! Time’s up. Next stop: supermarket. Direct route exists to store from home, no signs or signals. Chart course instead through twenty-six traffic lights, four “all way” stop signs. Opportunity, now, to brake for amber, practice relaxation skills. Tough snaring yellow light when you need one, even knowing synchronization pattern. Always arrhythmias in timing cycle. Keep having to wait at green. “All way” stop signs more reliable. Rule of road: First car at intersection gets right of way, other vehicles follow, counterclockwise. Here I exercise wholesome restraint. Let seven full cycles go by before asserting legal rights. Good place, by the way, to return phone calls while paying bills or, better, take time to smell the flowers (keep bunch within reach on passenger seat). Bad time, though, for (Honk!) Die Schreibfeder meiner Tante (Honk!) ist in dem Gar-ten (Beep-beep!). In occluded roadway to rear restive motorists bleat a path to Infarct City. Heart goes out to the bastards.

On to supermarket for time-absorption therapy. Grocery list organized so no two consecutive items will be found in same aisle. Doesn’t work out perfectly, needless to say. Always a slip somewhere. Turns out Tylenol next to the QT, antacid across from the Bisquick. Blessing in disguise, frankly. No choice now but suddenly to “remember” something never meant to buy—gosh, left off Belgian endives—and perambulate to Produce before turning back to Tums. Time filling shopping cart expands to one hour, fifty-eight minutes, exceeding estimate. Automated arterial-hypertension monitor near checkout gauges systolic blood pressure at 190. Big plunge since breakfast, but room for improvement. Won’t give up till down to zero.

Checkout time. Question: Which line at bank of counters is really longest? Is “longest” same as “slowest”? Checkoutline metabolism exceedingly complex. Store size, day of week, line length, cart volume, checker speed, payment method-only a few of twenty-seven identified variables. Embolism appears unpredictably, brought on perhaps by out-oftown check, unpriced foodstuff. Just as suddenly clot may clear.

Decide to leave nothing to chance. Divide purchases into several carts, nine items or fewer in each. Go through socalled Express Lane, always congested, as many times as needed (eleven) till shopping done. On each sortie insinuate baffling items into carts of customers in front, prompting further delays. (“Hey, hold it, whoa! Where’d those endives come from?” “Sorry, sir, I’ve already rung them up.”)

Ideal time, I discover, to smile at strangers, fore and aft. Less a smile, actually, than a lips-sealed, corners-piquantly-upturned conveyance of guarded bonhomie. Result confirmed in pocket mirror. Exhibit fifty-seven smiles in all, of which twenty-one, unfortunately, are returned. Median artery reveals pulse rate idling at ninety-eight.

Take interstate home, winding up workout with lap of slow-lane prophylaxis. Enveloped on highway by feeling of great calm, inner peace. Should have inaugurated new regimen years ago. Teeth grind softly as I savor prospect of quality time with son (three) home for weekend from pre-school. Been clamoring to learn how to snap a paper clip, cheat at cards. Got to pull up those Aminuses first. From behind, siren’s screak overtakes rich Slavic sonorities on tape cassette. Ease onto shoulder. “Do you know how fast you were going?” Pyɥκa TëTи B caДy.Repeat after me.PyчKa Tera B. . .“Turn that thing off. Do you know how fast you were going?” Smile number fifty-eight, not returned. Of course I know. Twenty-three and twotenths miles per hour. ДBaДЦaTЬ Tpи и ДBe ДecTƄIX. A speed you can live with.

Make sure to record benchmark in MemoMaster. Next time out must trim back those tenths. Courting another ticket, of course, but I’ll fight that one, too.

—Cullen Murphy