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.
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).