A Senior Moment
'A Licence to Confess'

February 26, 2017

New Perspectives


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February 28th will be a difficult day for me. This is nothing new. Each year I anticipate with dread this last day of our shortest month.

Painful memories will force themselves into my consciousness and dizzying waves of guilt will hurl themselves at my beleaguered conscience. It is all about my history of renewing our automobile’s licence plates. (I think I have my facts right about former renewal procedures but would welcome correction from readers. I googled for information without success.)

Back in those “olden days,” every car owner in Ontario would have to annually buy brand new licence plates by the same deadline---February 28th of that current year. Naturally, this allowed many of us to procrastinate, putting off our purchase until that very last day.

I was living in Eastern Ontario in the 1970s. Licence plates could only be bought at our town’s Chamber of Commerce office. The “last-minuters” would inevitably gather at this location annually on the 28th and, after a few years of lining up together, we began to recognize and support one another as serial procrastinators.

The licence issue place was on a high traffic road for both cars and pedestrians. The line-up always stretched down the steps of the office and along the sidewalk, exposing us to the scornful gazes of smug passersby who had wisely renewed their plates earlier in the year. Braving the February cold, we stood and shivered, huddling close to one another as protection against wintry blasts, while promising to do better next year.

One typically frigid February 28, likely in the middle of that decade, I was feeling beleaguered at my job by the workload ahead of me. Our annual meeting was looming like a dark cloud and, as Director of my agency, I had reports to write and an agenda to prepare for the Board. Who could blame me if I had no time to stand in the cold to line up for hours for those stupid plates?

Now comes the guilty part!

My secretary (no office administrators back then) volunteered to hold my place in line until I could appear and sign the requisite documents. She would do so over her lunch hour. (I expect this would not be considered office protocol these days but the work place was less tightly-regulated in past years). My rationalization was that I was skipping my lunch hour to meet the agency’s demands. Why shouldn’t she sacrifice her own sixty minute break for this worthy cause of supporting my efforts? After all, we were on the same team! Off she went. We’ll call her “Susan.”

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After an hour or so had gone by and I remained in my office obsessively focused on my work, I noticed the front desk phones were beginning to distract me from the many tasks still awaiting my attention Where was Susan? Why wasn’t she back at her desk?

It suddenly hit me; I had forgotten about her standing in line for me.

I rushed down the street only to find Susan shivering, but still languishing at the end of a long line of chilled procrastinators. Still at the end? Seeing my disappointed look, she explained through chattering teeth that she had finally reached the head of the line a half hour ago, but I had failed to arrive as promised. Being unable to sign my forms, she had despairingly been dispatched once again to the end of the queue. Susan had already been subjected to those aforementioned scornful, judgmental looks from passersby. Then she had to endure the belittling stares and muttered comments from the procrastinator gang who assumed this newcomer had somehow messed up her paperwork and now was relegated to the end of the line as penance.

Miraculously, Susan soon forgave my thoughtless behavior. Obviously, I have been less successful in forgiving myself, especially as the anniversary date approaches each year.

Some years later, the Ontario Government changed its system so that licences now expired on the owner’s birthdate. Gone was our annual gathering of procrastinators. I missed their fellowship. Drivers could also keep their licences and simply purchase tiny stickers to place on the plate itself.

In 2003, the Government made another change of procedure: it now offered an on-line means of licence renewal. Still, less than 12% of the 17 million transactions make use this system (Toronto Star, July 16, 2016). Most of us must still prefer the personal touch available at a ServiceOntario site, even at the risk of incurring those once-dreaded, but now much shorter, lineups.

The March issue of Maclean’s has a reassuring article about procrastination. “Deadline Trauma” explains that hardcore procrastinators are not bad people. Experts are quoted. They explain that it is all about the slow development of a teenage brain.

I felt a temporary release from guilt---until I remembered that my sin of procrastination occurred when I was already 35. Obviously, a late bloomer!

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Sunday, February 26, 2017