Tabletop Clock

I had trouble telling time when I was a kid. The whole short-hand/long-hand, numbers-in-a-circle system struck me as prohibitively complicated.

I knew you were supposed to glance at your wristwatch or a wall clock and instantly recognize that it was 3:47 or whatever, but it always took me a few too many ticks of the skinny hand.

I must have felt bad about this deficiency of mine because I still recall the hot burst of shame from when a babysitter once asked me to pick up the watch she had set aside and tell her the time, and I stared at the dial and said, “Uhh . . .”

“Can’t you tell time?” she said. Her disdainful tone conveyed that I basically had zero credibility as a big boy.

I wish I had been like, Listen, I haven’t been in the world all that long, okay? Sorry if I haven’t completely mastered your arbitrary method of dividing up time’s countdown to death.

Some grownups tend to fault kids for stuff they don’t know yet, but those adults shouldn’t forget that a large portion of the boring crap you’re supposed to know about (time, money, classic rock) is based on invented rules and assumptions that adults have accepted as self-evident truths but are, in fact, completely made up. So maybe give kids a chance to learn the ropes.

I can tell time now that I’m an adult myself and therefore have less of it. In childhood, the passing hours either float by without notice or, when you’re looking forward to something such as a holiday, they drag at the excruciating pace of an Iowan on a Midtown Manhattan sidewalk.

Either way, time, when you’re a kid, is disposable—something you have too much of and don’t mind wasting. But as with gold or new Rihanna music, value increases with scarcity. Grow older and you inevitably start wondering where all the precious time has gone even as it slips through your fingers with alarming speed.

All of this has been remarked upon by approximately three bazillion previous commentators, of course. To cite two standout examples, I refer you to Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and to Jessie Spano of Saved by the Bell.

Wigging out while in the grip of an addiction to caffeine pills that evidently have an effect similar to that of bath salts, Jessie shouts, “No time! There’s never any time! I don’t have time to study. I’ll never get into Stanford. I’ll let everyone down. I’m so confused. … I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so . . . scared!”

I’d say that about sums it up.

I don’t want to give you the impression, though, that because I’ve learned the value of time I live each day to the fullest. I can’t even drag myself out of bed in the morning without pressing snooze half a dozen times.

I’d like to be one of those go-getters who pop up at the stroke of 6am to run a few miles and prepare a multicourse yet healthy breakfast before getting a head start on the day’s projects. But the truth is that about all I do before 9 in the morning is grope blindly for coffee. And judging from my own experience, I’d have to conclude that caffeine must have been a lot stronger back when Jessie Spano was on the stuff.

Wasted hours can make me feel guilty or anxious but apparently they cannot transform me into the type of person who seizes the day. I am far more likely to give the day a limp handshake that causes the day to assume I have never changed a tire or satisfied a woman.

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