The other day, I cut my finger while shaving. This is no petty achievement. One has to be moving the razor so rapidly, and with such manic disregard for personal safety, that it sails from face to hand in a single swipe. Nearly impossible. On another occasion, I nicked my forearm.

"Are we surprised?" said Wink, my wife.

In the family, at least, my reputation is as a sprinter. Speed and small victories are my specialties. Results, that's another question.

I am adept, for instance, at making the bed in fewer than two minutes. When Wink arises in the morning, I have the sheet smoothed, blanket tucked, spread pulled back and pillows fluffed while she is still at the window checking the weather. "Mmm," Wink might say in the sleepy fashion of someone intending to crawl between the covers, "looks like rain." Then she will see the bed and shake her head.

"Already?" she will sigh. "Amazing."

Recently, we went for flu shots. A nice nurse said to sit for 15 minutes in case of reaction. After treatment, I immediately looked for the door. Wink was next and filed into a row of seats with other obedient people.

"Let's go," I said. "I feel great."

"Sit for a minute," Wink said.

In a minute, I nudged her. "C'mon."

"Impossible," said Wink, as we waved goodbye to the nurse.

This is my style, whether flossing teeth, ironing a shirt, folding laundry, spackling the wall or planting impatiens (my favorite species). I am beyond rehabilitation -- restless and hurried, always in a two-minute drill. Aha, an analyst might say. Of course. This guy fears the final whistle. It's a desperate, fourth-quarter bid for immortality. Elementary!

Could be. But let's not overlook Uncle Ken.

A former Marine officer, Uncle Ken lived in Southern California. We visited once when the four kids were little -- all of us racing across country in a cream-colored Volkswagen camper -- and Uncle Ken was many years into retirement.

Wanting to beat the desert heat -- it was 100-plus in Needles, California, at sundown -- we drove through the night and arrived at Uncle Ken's at 7 a.m. He came out, huffing and puffing, the marathon man, patting our two boys and two girls on the head, calling them squirrels and chipmunks as though they worked up the road at Disneyland.

Did we want breakfast, he wondered, at the same time opening the back of the bus and grabbing suitcases and duffel bags.

Uncle Ken hauled what seemed like all of our belongings into the house, ran toward the kitchen, put bread into the toaster, beat a dozen eggs, buttered a pan -- and then ran, again, outside. I followed as though carried by a jet stream.

He considered the VW, mottled by Mojave dust.

"Hey," said Ken. "Let's wash the car!"

"But. . . ," I started, about to inquire as to the toast and eggs. Ken was gone before I could utter another word. Back to the kitchen he ran. More bread descended in the toaster. Pan ready, Ken poured in the eggs and -- presto! -- soon dished them onto a platter.

"Siddown, squirrels," he demanded. "Anybody want seconds?"

A mere apprentice in the realm of hyperactivity, I was humbled by the master.

Ken was 40 years older, but I couldn't keep up.

Breakfast in the books, Ken was outside again, hose at the ready. The bus got an initial shower, a soaping, a rinse.

"Good," said Ken. "Wanna go to Mexico?"

We stayed with Ken for four or five days. Time flew. Ken was supersonic. He ferried us to restaurants and seaside spots. He insisted we take his big, air-conditioned Buick -- the VW was like a rolling sweat lodge -- for a day trip over the border, to a place called Rosarito Beach. He showed us the many banks in which he had small accounts because, back then, banks were inclined to reward new customers with gifts, not sales talks about credit cards and home equity loans. Toasters were Ken's favorite.

In the evenings, Ken told stories -- he had been on one of the polar expeditions of Adm. Richard Byrd -- delivered in rapid-fire style, pinching and poking the kids who looked at him, astonished, as though Ken might suddenly abandon the narrative and start another round of scrambled eggs.

Leaving Ken was like getting off the centrifugal force ride at the old Steeplechase Park in Coney Island. You weren't exactly sure that you could stand.

"Bye," Ken called out as we drove away. "Bye, you chipmunks. Be good." In the rearview mirror, I saw him rush inside. Something needed doing.

The impact of the visit was profound. Already inclined to go through life slightly above the speed limit, I now was encouraged to really step on the gas. Often when Wink says slow down, I say, I'm chasing Uncle Ken -- long departed -- and still not gaining ground.

We were at a hotel recently where checkout time was posted as 11 a.m. At five after, Wink was still drying her hair, and I began pacing.

"Do you really think they care if we go a few minutes over?" she asked.

"Dunno," I said. "You ready?"

"Be patient," said Wink.

"Can't," I explained.

We paid our bill at the front desk and left town. By the time we arrived home, there was no time to wash the car, but, I promise, Uncle Ken, it's on my list.


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