I'm not late. . . I just smell late

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I was born more than three weeks past my due date and haven't been on time for anything since.

In fact, I have such a reputation for tardiness that people have said I will be late to my own funeral, which is fine with me because I am in no big hurry to get there.

From the day I entered this world, I have been the late Jerry Zezima. But now, at long last, there may be hope for me. It comes in the form of a study that has just been released by my favorite mad scientist, Dr. Alan Hirsch, founder and neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation (smellandtaste.org) in Chicago.

In the study, "Effects of Odor on Time Perception," Hirsch found that the smell of baby powder can make time seem shorter, while the smell of Colombian coffee can make time seem longer.

I use baby powder because a boy just likes to feel pretty, and I drink coffee because a geezer just needs to stay awake, but since I am always running late, I had never taken the time to smell them. So I called Hirsch to get up to snuff on his latest scientific breakthrough.

Hirsch, the author of several books, including the recently published "How to Tell If Your Teenager Is Lying," said that, like me, he is notorious for being late. "I'm always running behind," he acknowledged. "Maybe I should put baby powder out for my co-workers to make it seem like I'm on time."

Hirsch used 19 nonsmokers - all men - ranging in age from 28 to 43 for his study. They wore surgical masks that had the scent of either baby powder or Colombian coffee, and they didn't do anything they would ordinarily like or dislike. Instead, they sat in chairs while Hirsch recorded their perceptions of the time that had elapsed.

But the masks could work in everyday situations, he said. "If you are doing something pleasurable, like eating chocolate cake or having social interaction of an intimate nature, you could put on the coffee mask and you will perceive time to be longer," said Hirsch. "Of course, it's tough to eat cake while wearing a surgical mask," he admitted. "And the mask may discourage further social interaction. But it could be fun to try."

Conversely, the smell of baby powder can make a bad experience, like waiting in a doctor's office, seem shorter. "It could be part of the new health-care initiative," Hirsch suggested. "Unfortunately, it wouldn't work with my patients because they can't smell."

I can smell - and often do if I don't use baby powder - so Hirsch mailed me two scented masks. "You can use them to conduct your own study," he said.

After they arrived, I was going to ask my wife to have social interaction with me while I wore the coffee mask, but I thought better of it. So I wore it while watching a football game. It went into overtime. Or at least it seemed like it did.

The next morning, I wore the baby powder mask so I wouldn't be late for work. The main reason I am always running behind is that I take long showers, but since the mask would get wet, I put it on afterward.

I took it off to have breakfast and put it on again to get dressed. The morning seemed to fly by and I left the house a little earlier than usual. I had to stop at the bank, so I took the mask off because I didn't want to get arrested, which really would have made me late for work.

Unfortunately, after I ran my errand, I hit a lot of traffic, which I tried to avoid by taking an alternate route. I got lost and arrived at the office 15 minutes past my start time.

As we tardy people always say, better late than never.

Jerry Zezima is the author of "Leave It to Boomer: A Look at Life, Love and Parenthood by the Very Model of the Modern Middle-Age Man."

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