What Time Is It When The Clock Strikes 13? #socs

The answer, if you remember Bennett Cerf’s Book Of Riddles, was “time to get a new clock.” As I started working in computers, where everything is done on a 24-hour clock, the answer became “1:00 PM.” Not quite as funny as the original, but then, the original wasn’t all that funny. I take that back: It was funny when I was ten. So were all of Bennett Cerf’s riddles. Bennett Cerf was a funny guy. Watch reruns of What’s My Line? from the 1950’s if you don’t believe me.

Time is sort of an obsession with me, so clocks are also of great interest. When I was growing up, I wanted to get my watch to the exact time. In those days, there was a number you’d call, CAthedral 8-5000. There a woman’s voice would tell me, “At the tone, the time will be, one fifty-six, and fifty seconds… (boop)… At the tone, the time will be, one fifty-seven, exactly… (boop)…” That would go on all day and night. Most people just got the time and hung up. I was the kind of kid that would sit there and listen for an hour or until my mother asked, “Johnny, who are you on the phone with?” And I’d tell her, “The time lady.” She’d roll her eyes, wave me off, and tell me to get off the phone.

Of course, nowadays you can get the exact time by looking at your phone or computer, because the time is synchronized, ultimately, with the cesium clock maintained by the US Naval Observatory (at least in the US; there are other cesium clocks around the world). There are clocks and watches that synchronize themselves with WWV, the time service of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which broadcasts on shortwave frequencies 2.5, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 MHz. Clocks and watches are actually synchronized with WWVB, which just broadcasts a digital signal specifically for that purpose at 60 kHz on the longwave band.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering why I’m so interested in time. No reason. Just am. When you think about it, time is an artificial construct. Cats can’t tell time, for example. Mary got into the habit while Tuffy (one of the cats) was still alive of opening cans of food at 3:00 in the afternoon. That was during Daylight Saving Time; when DST ended, the cats started nagging her at 2:00. They can’t tell time. They just know they’re hungry.

Albert Einstein once said, “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Others have probably said that, too, but it’s true. We’re the only people obsessed with time and the passage of it. I’ll be 60 in March, Jim just turned 58 yesterday, Kip turned 57 in November. Mom died on Good Friday 2000, Dad on January 25, 1967. Mary and I will be married 38 years on January 28. And so on. But it’s all relative. What’s a year? 365 days, 366 in leap years. What’s a day? 24 hours, 1440 minutes, 86,400 seconds. Why? Why is it important? Because we say it is.

In the end, that’s what everything boils down to. Here’s a song, “The Syncopated Clock,” by Leroy Anderson.


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I wrote all this stuff because Linda Hill gave me the prompt “-clo-” and I came up with “clock.” It’s all for Stream of Consciousness Saturday, and you can learn all about it at her site (just click the link).

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Author: John Holton

I'm a writer and blogger who writes and blogs about things that interest me.

11 thoughts on “What Time Is It When The Clock Strikes 13? #socs”

  1. I’m another one who used to call the “time lady”. I’m also fascinated by time. We have clocks in nearly every room of our house.

    I remember when the Late Night Movie used to come on in San Diego and the strains of the theme song could be heard–“The Syncopated Clock”. I’ve always liked the music of Leroy Anderson.

    Arlee Bird
    Wrote By Rote

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    1. A lot of his music was introduced by Arthur Fiedler. I remember seeing him on “An Evening At Pops” when I was in high school; when they did “The Typewriter,” Fiedler played the typewriter. His are some of the most fun tunes around.

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  2. So easy to go to my phone. I used to have a braille watch and a talking one before that. Time is crazy. My friend’s baby girl can’t tell time, but if she doesn’t get her supper at five at night she freaks out. How does a baby know?

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  3. I’m fascinated by the nature of time too.
    It’s one of the principal reasons I don’t bother with birthdays. My own, that is.
    If other folks want to celebrate the arbitrary anniversary of every 365 days, just because somebody once spotted that a couple of big lumps in space take that long to go round each other, that’s up to them.
    Just think if we lived on a planet that had a ten year solar rotation, I wonder what random time span we’d celebrate then…?

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    1. You know, I had the hardest time finding out who wrote that and all the other great songs he did. I remember seeing him on “Evening at Pops” back in the ’70’s and swore I’d remember his name, and just as soon as I said that, I forgot…

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