Time After Time

August Men's Room

The trouble started when my car lost its most valuable feature: the clock.

Sure, the vehicle has a workhorse engine and super-reliable transmission. The heater rivals the output of the Sonoran Desert, and in case of a power outage, the air conditioner will keep my frozen foods icy solid for weeks.

But that clock – digitized blue numbers in the middle of the dashboard – made the vehicle worth the investment, including title, taxes, and tags. As a guy who never wore a watch, I depended on that clock all the time.

Then it started flickering, and before long it was shutting off for extended, uncertain periods. For a while I could reawaken it by rapping my fingers against it, but eventually it gave out, and while driving at night all I had was a dark spot reminding me that I didn’t really know what time it was.

I tried to have it fixed, but when the mechanic said, “First, we’ll have to take out the whole dashboard,” I decided the time had come to wear a wristwatch. I had a couple in a cabinet, and, as usual, both had dead batteries – which is why I’d given up on watches in the first place. And so began an obsessive search for battery-free watches. Soon, I found a solar-powered watch and grabbed it. Then, I found another and another. In no time, I had amassed an army of cool-looking watches, all lined up on a table and ticking in unison as they soaked up the natural light. I wondered about the psychological implication of my quest: Was I trying somehow to capture time and hold onto what, for all of us, is a finite and fleeting amount of it? Did I hear the ticking of my own mortality?

I’m not that deep. I just figured that if I had a reliable reminder of the current time, I’d be less likely to show up late for work.

It takes me 30 minutes to drive to my office and settle at my desk. However, on any given day a few questions determine whether I’ll be on time (rarely) or late (almost always).

First, will the dog cooperate when I walk him just before I leave? Or, will he drag me on a slow, meandering route past every fire hydrant, leg-high shrub, and fidgety squirrel in the neighborhood? Will he decide that some distant signpost is the perfect place to deposit his business? Will his hypersensitive nose lead us on a goose chase of some long-gone goose?

Second, while I walk the dog, will I run into one of my retiree neighbors, who will appear to be toodling around with a water hose or lawn edger but really is looking for someone to talk to? If so, my departure for work will be delayed further as I respond to such questions as, “You think we’re in for rain today?” and “Are you walking that dog, or is he walking you?” and “Aren’t you supposed to be at work about now?”

Then, when I finally manage to get into my clockless car and leave, will I encounter yet another fender-bender or construction crew or one of those mysterious, maddening tie-ups on Wilmington’s clogged arteries?

Throughout all of this, I’ll take frequent, panicked glances at one of my new watches, which will serve as a precise, to-the-second reminder of just how late I am. Again.

 

Tim Bass is coordinator of UNCW’s bachelor of fine arts program in creative writing.

 

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber's work, visit www.markweberart.blogspot.com.