As soon as the telephone rang, I snatched the portable receiver from the cradle and examined the caller identification.

As soon as the telephone rang, I snatched the portable receiver from the cradle and examined the caller identification.

I would have picked it up on the first ring, but my service is designed to weed out the telemarketers, so I had to wait for the second ring and the name or number to appear.

The name of my neighbor, Debbie, popped up. I hit the green button to talk.

"What are you doing over there?" she asked.

"Staring at the computer screen and waiting for one of the countless e-mail messages or telephone messages to be returned," I said, irritably.

"I don't know how you do it," she said.

"Do what?" I asked.

"How you can patiently wait all day for people when they probably won't call anyway," she said.

"Do I sound patient?" I asked in the gruff manner to which she has become accustomed.

She chuckled.

"Hey, it's Friday night, do you want to do something?" she asked.

"I can't for a couple of hours," I said, "just in case someone decides to return a call."

"I saw your lights on when I came in from work early this morning," she said. "You have been at it a lot more than eight hours."

"I know," I said, "but I can't finish my work until they call. I have to give them a little more time or it looks like I'm not doing my job. It's bad enough that I was accused of procrastinating a few years ago."

"No, you were not!" she said, sounding flabbergasted.

I shared the same comment with my cousin during dinner a few months ago and I thought Vic was going to spew cola all over me. She was in the middle of a big gulp when I told her that I was once accused of procrastinating. She sputtered and choked and finally forced the diet drink down her throat.

"How long have you worked there?" she asked.

"Fifteen years," I said.

"For journalists, they aren't very observant, are they?" she asked, laughing.

When Vic and I were in college, I rode her constantly about procrastinating. As soon as our assignments were handed out, I took mine home and began working on them.

A few days later, I would ask Vic if she had turned in her assignments.

"No," she said, avoiding eye contact.

"Have you started it?" I asked.

"No," she admitted.

"Are you planning to start soon?" I asked.

"Sure," she said, trying desperately to change the subject.

Vic and I both knew she would not consider the assignments until 9 p.m. the evening before they were due.

"Vic, what are you going to do when the Air Force tells you to detonate a bomb? Never mind. I know the answer to this one. 'Sure, I will set it off just as soon as I finish watching this episode of 'Star Trek,'" I said with sarcasm.

Time and time again, we went round about her inability to start a project.

Vic never changed, nor did I.

I start my stories right away, but the outcome is not solely dependent upon me. If I could make up the answers, maybe I, too, would win a Pulitzer, but it doesn't work that way.

"I can't believe anyone would say that you are a procrastinator," Vic said, shaking her head, "not Miss Type A personality."

"All right," I said, "that's enough."

"Did they also say you are irresponsible?" she asked.

Another friend nicknamed me Atlas, because I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.

"Not as far as I know," I said, "but let me tell you what was written in a performance evaluation one time."

"What's that?" she asked.

"They said my work station requires improvement," I said.

The eruption of laughter coming from my curly-headed cousin sounded like a volcanic explosion. It caused me to hunch down and scan the restaurant in embarrassment.

"They've never seen your desk, have they?" she asked.

"No," I said.

Next to my computer, in an out-of-the-way cubbyhole, are four highlighters, a pencil and a black pen. Sometimes when I am feeling especially crazy or working on a special project, the highlighters are joined by a red pen.

The highlighters are arranged from yellow to orange. Yellow is used for highlighting important issues. Blue signifies the information already included in my story. Pink is an exceptional detail and orange reminds me to save the information for future use.

Never are the highlighters allowed to get out of order.

When I am on the phone and not taking notes on my computer, I roll the highlighters around to make sure the large lettering is on the same side.

Classic books, ranging from "The Portable Cervantes" and "Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen" to "Mrs. Dalloway" and "The Scarlet Letter," are neatly lined up on the shelves of my workstation.

Cassette tape recordings are marked with tiny Post-It notes so I can pull out whatever I need at a moment's notice.

Only the notes I am using for a particular story are allowed on the desk next to me. If I am working on a couple of stories at a time, they are arranged numerically.

No one is allowed in my office for fear they will disrupt the order of things.

"So your co-workers think you are a procrastinator, but you're not," Vic said deliberately. "They think you have a messy work station, but you don't. Do they know the clothes in your closets are color-coordinated and you have a pair of shoes and underwear to match every outfit? More importantl,y do they have any idea how crazy and obsessed you are?"

"Of that, my dear cousin, they are sure," I said.

"Listen to your cousin," Debbie said, recalling the conversation. "Quit obsessing over work and let's go out shopping. Maybe you can go crazy and buy a blue ink pen."

Cathy Wogan is a staff writer for ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

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