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Need to know the time? Ask Bergson

When I ponder the question, “What is the most evil device produced by humankind?” I don’t have to go far to find my answer.

There are a lot of folks who would answer the question with something obvious, like “The atom bomb” or “The gas chamber” or “The microwave oven.”

No doubt there would be those who, given an advanced consciousness, would say something like, “The internal combustion engine and the automobile.” Or, “The chemtrail.”

I have a friend who would answer: “Sewage treatment plants.” Go figure.

Not me. I have no doubt it is the clock.

After I was cracked on the noggin several times as a youngster, I lost my ability to deal with most things linear so, of course, the concept of linear time is anathema to me. I’m not comfortable with the common understanding of time, despite the Newtonian temporal atmosphere swirling around me. Neither do I relate well to the devices that represent that understanding of time.

Fortunately, I discovered Henri Bergson.

Since then, time is duration for me. Clocks are a distraction, a nuisance and, at times, the favored instrument of The Beastmaster himself. I’ve never owned a wristwatch. Never will.

Try as I might, though, there is no escaping the spectre of Greenwich Mean Time and it’s menacing icons.

It happened to me recently.

We shifted from Mountain Standard time to Mountain Daylight Time, from a clock setting that provides more light in the early morning (so we’re inclined to get to work earlier and work in the fields), to the daylight saving scheme imposed during wartime to save resources.

I dread the change.

It pushes me into a direct relationship with the clock.

The most evil device yet invented by humankind.

My biggest problem with clocks: Since the advent of the digital age, I can’t figure the darned things out. They confuse me.

To start, with my case of ADD, I am not particularly good at reading and following instructions. The instruction booklets for digital devices look like the operations manual for a Cray Supercomputer. Moreover, I inevitably lose the manual shortly after I purchase a device with a digital clock, so I am flying blind when it comes time for adjustments.

Like Saturday night last.

Kathy is off to Denver to watch our granddaughter Forest play in a recital. I am eating cashew nuts and watching the 10 p.m. news on television and a woman with hair that looks like a hard polymer shell informs me I need to set my clocks forward an hour before I go to bed. She smiles.

I panic.

Oh, I figure I can reset the old-style clocks in the bedrooms — the clocks with hands. I can force the hands to the correct position. I can do this with ease. I understand force.

It’s the clocks on the kitchen stove, the computer, and the VCR that worry me. To make matters worse, these are the clocks my sweet, linear spouse relies on to tell her when to leave for work, to go to choir practice, etc. They are key elements in Kathy’s life.

They’re digital.

With no instruction manuals.

And no 12-year-old kid nearby to do the work.

I ease my anxiety by changing the clock in the master bedroom. I inadvertently bend the big hand and, when I try to straighten it, it breaks. I take the clock and exchange it for one in the guest bedroom. Guests have no need of correct time; they should be grateful they have a place to sleep.

Then, with great trepidation, I head for the kitchen. The display on the stove looks like the instrument panel in a 747. I punch several flat keys on the panel and each of them beeps back at me. Lights flash. The time on the digital readout flashes. It is 9:45. I push an arrow. The arrow points up. The time on the display changes by an hour. In the right direction. I am pleased. It is 10:45.

Next, the computer. It is a cleverly designed machine, with a thin metallic body. What could possibly go wrong?

I go to the control panel and click on a few things. For instance, a box labeled “Time.” A tiny digital display appears on the screen. It is ticking off hours, minutes, seconds. I highlight the hour, delete the number and replace it with another. I key the save function and the screen of the computer flickers. Suddenly, I am looking at a message.

“Are you sure you want to erase your hard drive?”

Heavens.

I click the box labeled “no.”

The computer asks me: “Do you want to save your changes?”

What did I change?

Adrenaline floods my system. I seize up. If I tell the computer to save my changes, what will it do? Did I alter something without knowing what I did, something of enormous importance? Like Kathy’s files and records? If I tell the computer not to save the changes, are my life’s writings instantly translated into Aramaic, never to return to the mother tongue?

I decide the wise thing is to leave the computer on. Until the machine decides what is best. It is much smarter than I am; it will do the right thing.

Finally, I deal with the clock on the VCR, in the living room. This is the master clock, since it sits directly below the television — the hearth of the modern home.

I locate the VCR remote control and push the power button. The screen on the television turns a bright blue — a serene, cerulean hue. I begin to hit buttons on the remote at random, hoping for a miracle. The color on the screen shifts to an alarming alizarin crimson. I scroll through a set of instructions in Spanish and move from there to what appear to be Korean characters. A row of letters, each of which looks like a poorly constructed house, is blinking, radiating rings that look like gas shells given off by exploding stars. I assume I should find a way to transit out of this electronic hinterland and seek safer haven.

Finally, after I cue three more colors and two more languages, a digital clock appears on the screen. I use the arrows on the remote to maneuver to the hour number. I press the up button and, bingo, the number is increased by one. I turn off the VCR and settle back to watch some TV before I go to bed. I tune to the Food Network and, across the top of the screen appears a date and time.

It is 111 o’clock and 340 minutes … February, 2301.

The date and time begin to flash on and off. I cannot make them go away.

The next morning, the stove wakes me. It is beeping.

I turn on the television. It is 119 o’clock and 214 minutes.

Kathy is due home late in the afternoon, around 126:150. It is obvious I am not going to correct my digital errors. Kathy will have to recruit a nerd to undo the damage.

I will make her a dinner of comfort food, to soothe her after a long drive and soften her discovery of the destruction of her well-ordered universe.

Meat loaf. That’s comfort.

I figure I’ll roast some new potatoes and steam a bunch of asparagus.

I’ll do it as soon as I find a way to fix the stove. At exactly 9:45 (120:130 on the television clock) in the morning, the broiler and all four burners went on and I can’t turn them off.

I shudder at the prospect of changing the clock in my truck.

I wonder what Bergson would do?

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