[APAK logo] Issue #66, August 29th, 1996

About Time
by Lesley Reece

Until a couple of years ago, I never wore a watch because I didn't need one. At my various jobs, there was always a clock hanging nearby, just in case I wondered how many minutes had crawled past since the last time I looked at it. On weekends, I found I could usually guess what time it was if I thought about it for a minute. If I couldn't, it didn't matter anyway, since no one was expecting me to show up anywhere.

When I went back to college, though, I discovered that due to some campus-wide wiring defect, hardly any of the clocks at school worked. Those that did were completely untrustworthy; no two of them told the same time.

"No problem," I reasoned, "I'll wear a watch." I did have seven of them, after all. Over the years, people had kept on giving them to me, apparently thinking that the reason I didn't wear a watch was simply that I didn't have one. I dug them all out of my jewelry box and looked at them. Some of them were pretty darn ugly. Most of them looked as if they wouldn't work even if I got batteries for them. I decided that getting a new one would probably be easier.

It wasn't. All I wanted was an analog watch with a small face that wouldn't overwhelm my other jewelry. Eight stores and three days into my search, I was beginning to wonder if the manufacturers had decreed that henceforth all reasonably-priced watches would have digital displays that could be seen from at least fifty yards away in a thick fog. By the time I got to the ninth store, I was ready to buy a travel alarm clock and wear it around my neck on a piece of string. But I was lucky. I only had to pester the clerk a little bit before he stomped off to the stockroom and came back holding exactly what I wanted. I put it on before I even paid for it.

After that, I was able to get to class more or less on time. Unfortunately, I also discovered that the question among watch wearers is not what time it is, but exactly what time it is. What I mean is, if I'm standing around with a few watch-wearing friends and someone asks us for the time, that person will get as many answers as there are watches. Then there always follows a short yet pointed discussion about which time is "correct." I usually defer in these mini-debates, mostly because I've taken to setting my watch five minutes ahead in an attempt to make myself be on time. (It seems like that wouldn't fool me after two years, but it still does.)

This "correct" time phenomenon has made me realize that even though I wear a watch now, I've always thought of time as a basically arbitrary construction. Victor once told me about an incredibly accurate atomic clock somewhere around Denver, which works by counting the number of particles emitted by radioactive atoms as they decay. I wondered about that; I mean, who needs to know the exact time that badly?

I suppose the military would be able to use it for a lot of different things. And there's always that guy on "Mission: Impossible,"the one who always had "exactly five seconds" before whatever it was he was holding would "self-destruct." If that were me, I'd want to make damned sure I had a watch that wasn't slow. Until that day comes, though, I think I'll just hang on to the one I've got.

There must be a sinister explanation.

[APAK logo] Issue #66, August 29th, 1996

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