Friday, July 3, 2015

Do You Have the Time?

            “Jesus Christ, why are we so early?!!”
            I can’t remember where Shannon and I were going during this particular outburst, but it hardly matters. What I am sure of is that we were in my car, because at some point in all of the trips we take in my car, I hear some version of the above.
            “It’s my clock,” I say. “Remember?”
            “Oh yeah. Why haven’t you fixed that yet?”
            What I haven’t fixed yet is the time. For the uninitiated who don’t have a personal time-telling device, traveling in my car can be disorienting. A little work is required.
But it’s really pretty simple. Currently, if you want to know what time it is in my car, you just add one hour and then subtract four to seven minutes. In the fall, when Daylight Savings Time begins (or is it when Daylight Savings Time ends? I can never keep that straight), you just subtract four to seven minutes. Actually, by then, it might be more like five to eight minutes. Or six to nine.
            Part of the problem is that my clock is on my car stereo, and there is nothing intuitive about changing the settings. So why not check the manual? you might reasonably ask. Well, I bought the car used, and the stereo was an after-market addition by the previous owner, so there’s nothing in the manual about it. I figured this out the first time Daylight Savings Time began (or ended).
But I’m nothing if not resourceful. I found my car stereo’s manual online and printed the “Setting the Clock” pages, which are now nestled securely in my glove compartment. And, for a while, I would dutifully haul them out whenever Daylight Savings Time began (or ended) or when the clock’s naturally hurried pace reached the five or six minutes-ahead-of-the-generally-accepted-time.
But then I stopped.
            My kids were the first to notice. As befitting their respective personalities, my younger son, Tony, was okay with it. For my older son, Nick, it’s been another story.
            Here’s a quick and relevant story about Nick: one morning I watched him eat breakfast. It was pretty basic—a bowl of Oat Squares in milk. Before he dug in, he went through a whole little process where he tamped down the cereal with his spoon so that everything was as level as possible and the milk-to-cereal surface tension was uniform across the bowl. He started at the edges of the bowl, worked his way to the center, and then gave an adjustment tap or two in a few stubborn spots. It took nearly a full minute.
            “What. Are. You. Doing?”
            He looked up as if I’d caught him with unmatched socks.
            “Nothing,” he said. Tap tap tap. “Prepping my cereal.”
            Needless to say, my imprecise clock is particularly vexing to him (I should also mention here, as long as I’m in full “parental embarrassment” mode, that he sleeps with his watch on). He’s offered to fix it, to bring my clock into tight and proper alignment with the scientific community’s best calculations of the earth’s rotation, but I won’t let him. It’s important to me that clock stays a little out of alignment. It’s a reminder.
My clock reminds me that I’m not in control. I can plan and organize and work to figure every angle—all skills I have in abundance—but in the end, things can still go sideways. I’m not in control, and I don’t ever want to live in the illusion that I am. There are many examples of this, but I keep coming back to the obvious: ever since the early 1990s, I have been exercising regularly and eating relatively well, and guess what? I still got cancer.
            That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped exercising or watching what I eat. Both things make me feel good, and I like feeling good. But I don’t fool myself into believing that they’re guarantees of anything. The truth is, we may know what time it is, but all of us run on a secret clock whose time is hidden, even from us.
            “But Rocco,” you might say, “isn’t your little metaphor flawed? After all, you’re the one keeping the car clock the way it is. You really are in control, but you’re choosing not to exercise your power.”

            Um, hey, here’s an idea—shut up.

1 comment:

  1. I keep my alarm clock fast by 10 minutes on purpose. It gives me a weird sense of having extra time.