You know what bothers me? People who want to know the time. The one who come up and say to me “What time is it?”. As if I am personally responsible for keeping track of such things.
Sometimes they’ll phrase it a little differently. They’ll say “Do you have the time?”. I say
(Translated into English) “No, I don’t believe I do. I did not have it this morning when I left the house. Could you have possibly left it somewhere? You know now that you’ve mentioned it, I believe the Americans have it. Their Navy. They keep it in their observatories. They let just a little of it out each day. Not too much of course. Just enough. They wouldn’t give us too much time. We might not use it wisely.”
Sometimes, in a playful mood, when asked if I have the time I’ll say “Yes!” and just simply walk away.
I do that because I hate to disappoint people. You see there is no time. There’s just no time. I don’t mean “We’re late! There’s no time!”, I mean
There is NO time.
After all, when is it? Do you know? No one really knows when it is. We made the whole thing up! It’s a human invention. There are no numbers in the sky. Believe me, I’ve looked.
We made the whole thing up.
So when are we? Sometimes we think we know “where” we are but we really don’t know when we are. For all we know it could be the middle of last week! The time zones are of no help. They’re all different. In India, the time zones actually operate on the half-hour instead of the hour! What is that all about?
Does anyone really know what time it is?
The major calendars (Chinese, Moslem, Hebrew, Julian/Gregorian) disagree by thousands of years! No telling what the Mayans and the Aztecs would say if they were still around. I guess their time ran out. These are calendars we’re talking about. Instruments specifically designed to keep track of time and they’re all different! They’re not just off by a couple of weeks, it is thousand of years we’re talking about here! How did that happen?
Our current calendar is such an amateur show. Every four years we have to cram in an extra day just to make the whole thing work! We call it “February 29th”. Personally I really do not believe in that. Deep down I really know it is March 1st. I mean it just feels like March 1st, doesn’t it? But even that simple quadrennial adjustment doesn’t fix things so every hundred years we suspend that rule and dispense with the extra day! Unless, of course, the year is divisible by 400 in which we suspend the suspension and add the extra day.
Here’s how we got to this sorry date. The Julian Calendar was introduced in 46 BC, the Roman year 709, but it was off by 11 minutes a year so by 1582 there was an accumulated error of 10 days. Accordingly that year, Pope Gregory XIII decided that the day following October 4th would be called October 15th. They just skipped 10 days and threw them out of the window! Officially in 1582 no one was born in France, Spain, Italy or Portugal during the period of October 5th to October 14th. Weird.
Even weirder, the Gregorian wasn’t adopted until 1752 when they dropped 11 days out of September! That was the same year that the New Year was moved from March 25th to January 1st.
You thought that big millennium party you went to was right on time, huh? We try hard to keep track of time but it’s futile. You can’t pin it down! For example, there’s a moment coming. It isn’t here yet, it’s still in the future. It’s on the way. It hasn’t arrived. It’s getting closer! Here it is! Shit it’s gone.
We use words like “now” but it is a useless word because everytime you say it, it means something different. “Can you tell me the time?”. Which time did you want, now or the time you asked me? Or how about now? Is this the time you want? Speak up! This stuff isn’t standing still.
Think of the phrase “just now”.
“Did you hear that?”
“You mean ‘just then’?”
“Yes. Just then. Wait, there it is again!”
Everything we think of as “now” is either the very recent past or the very near future. There’s no present!
“Welcome to the present!” *seconds later* “Aw it’s gone again.”
It’s also imprecise that people don’t bother with minutes and hours at all. They keep things purposely vague.
“What time you got?”
It’s amazing how something precisely calibrated as time can be described so loosely, especially where short periods of time are concerned. We say “at once”, “immediately”, “right away”, “just like that”, “no time at all”, “nothing flat”, “at a moment’s notice”, “a jiffy”, “a flash” often. Do you know which is quicker? A jiffy or a flash? Or maybe “a twinkling of an eye”?
Another vague word is “soon”. For me, soon has an emotional quality. It has great potential for sadness.
“Is daddy going to ever visit us again?”
Here’s a spooky one: “Sooner than you think”. Wow. Sooner than I think! That’s like “before you know it”.
“I’ll be back before you know it!”
“Holy shit he did it!”
“Sooner or later”, “one of these days”, “any day now”, “from time to time”, “every now and then”, “a little way”. A little while is nice. So gentle. “I’ll be home in a little while!”. That would not bother you, would it? I think anyone could wait a little while. It does not sound too threatening.
“Your father is sick but he still has a little while”. That’s different from “a short time”, isn’t it? A short time sounds terminal. “Your father has only a short time”. If I were about to be executed I’d much rather have a little while than a short time.
Do you have a favorite period of time? It isn’t easy to select a favorite period of time. There are so many appealing ones. I have a few. To me the most useful period of time is “five minutes”. That seems to be the one most people choose when they are pressed. “I’ll be there in five minutes!”, “Give me five minutes will you?”. That’s all most people want. Five minutes. A good, solid and respectable period of time and it goes by fast.
Well, “Fifteen minutes” is a popular period of time but it has an institutional ring to it or a regulatory quality. Sounds like it is associated with something either compulsory or forbidden. “The exchange window will only be open for fifteen minutes!”, “You have fifteen minutes to fill out the forms!”, “In fifteen minutes we will be coming around”.
I like “twenty minutes” better. Twenty minutes sound kinda free and sporty. “I’ll be back to pick up those test papers in fifteen minutes! Then you’ll have a twenty-minute break”, “Hey guys! Cover me with the boss will you? I’ll be back in twenty minutes!”