HOLLYWOOD—In the cafÃ©, where I’ve been hanging lo these many years, I overheard a man say, “I always wanted to write a story about clocks, but I never had the time.” I’d like to set that fella straight, poor schlub desperately seeking a way out of time’s twisted labyrinth. Listen buddy, as long as you let us keep calling the shots, you’ll be at our mercy. We: the silent occupying army of wrist watches, cell phones, Big Ben, LED displays, the sun dials, and sundry timepieces that now infiltrate modern life in the unkindliest of places.
"Between a clock and a hard place."
According to statistics, an average clock gets looked at 36 times a day by the average person. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Rolex or a Timex, people enter into an escalating one-sided dialogue with us clocks, they might feel good or bad, depending; they might lash out at a toddler dragging their heels to preschool; they might decide to pour a drink or take a nap. But, boy, once people accept the notion “I’m late,” it’s all over. Then the poor man who would write the story about clocks will make all kinds of foolish concessions, like deciding that retying his shoelaces is not a priority. Our victim, having accepted his enslavement and relinquished his free will to the clock will clothe his face in a sour, tense look, which will only intensify after he picks himself up, and dusts himself off, after tripping on his wayward shoelace.
Once the poor dupe accepts as incontrovertible fact that he is late, he will assume a repertoire of tense, nervous motions, all aimed at telegraphing, “I’m busy. Don’t even think about detaining me. I’m going places.” This translates directly to the gymnastic language of those daredevil cars that dart madly in and out of morning traffic and honk when another motorist, waiting for a light to turn, zones out for a nanosecond when their gaze has strayed to a dashboard clock and the light suddenly turns green.
Believe me, I and my clock brethren, get tired of being the center of attention and getting all the blame for you humans’ time woes. We’d like to chill. Let the minute hands rest. You think you humans got it tough: time stops for no clock, we’re always running and the minute we stop; it’s straight to the garbage heap. Why not go on a clockwatching fast? Reduce the number of glances and time will stretch out inviting as the sands on a warm, tropical beach. If you feel your eyeball unconsciously twitches toward that hour tucked in the computer screen’s corner, nip the impulse in the bud. Ditto the compulsion to glance at the clock on the cell phone or microwave, on the dashboard or on the bank corner in gigantic retro-futuristic numbers loudly proclaiming, “You are here now when you should already be there. You are LATE!”
Purge these time-hungry glances, and you may live to see dissolve the picture of a universe that mocks our intent to be in time. Then. . . the time vampire becomes a friendly person again. No longer recoil at the perceived threat of being detained and buttonholed by a mindless chatterer: you shall be a mindless chatterer yourself. Lay off the clockwatching, and the motorist will recover a bit of his eroded humanity be free of exasperation at the two-legged for taking at eternity to cross the street. And the two-legged will be freed of their kneejerk contempt for motorists. Lose that fiend who gets on the phone with a friend for the first time in months, you are on the brink of saying something real and exposing vulnerability, and one of you mumbles “Gotta run” or "I've gotta move my car." Do yourself a favor; stop looking at us clocks; stop talking about us. O.K.? Look at yourselves for a change, and you might smile or at least cringe.
I see and hear a lot in the cafÃ©, where I’ve been on the wall for years, gathering wisps of dust on top. You know, I've been slowing down a bit; my battery is fading and my minute hand lags a good five minutes behind atomic time. The man who would write a story about clocks, lulled into a false sense of security by my lying face, has not yet realized his car is being towed. Soon, very soon, he will see it glide past. And then what a show there'll be. Ah, sweet schadenfreude--there's always time for that.
You can reach Grady Miller at email@example.com