In the Wristwatch

Is the hour change in October from Normal Time to some other kind of Time, or is it the reverse? I, for one, am still trying to decide whether the new kind of Time means ahead one hour or back one hour from the old kind. Uncertainty always leads me to hedge my bets, so I've turned half of my clocks and watches ahead and half of them behind. Then there are the ones I haven't changed at all, because I don't know how.

This includes all my wristwatches. They are programmed by means of mysterious buttons flanking the dial, the use of which remains an impenetrable secret. One of the wristwatches, acquired in Europe, came with a complete operator's manuals in four languages. Although I can read all four languages, the manual has not been a great help. The ostensibly English page is rich in phrases like:

    Hold button B for two seconds, when day of week is flashing then each push of B when pushing button C will setting day, hour, and minute as to hold button D.

The French, Spanish, and Swedish pages are equally transparent. This may be clear as day to someone familiar with non-parametric statistics, but what I need is something more straightforward, like Minoan Linear B.

One of my wristwatches has an alarm which mimics the sound of a rooster crowing. At some point in the distant past the alarm was set, God only knows how, to go off in the mid-morning, and I have no idea how to change or cancel its now irrevocable setting. Until recently I wore this watch every day. When the rooster sound went off in class or in a meeting each morning, I played innocent, looking around the room as if to discover where the sound was coming from. Eventually, this ruse began to fail, and to avoid further embarrassment I gave up wearing the watch.

In one attempt to kill the alarm, I put it in my freezer for a week, but that didn't faze it. Not knowing how to unprogram the thing, I feared to throw it away, out of superstitious dread of what the garbage-men would think when they heard a rooster crow from inside my dumpster. I finally nailed the watch to the wall in my study, where it remains, sturdily crowing every morning at what it thinks is 9:41 AM.

In fact, I am getting just a little spooked by all the electronic devices that surround my life. This morning, a voice at my ear awakened me with the words: "If you want to keep hearing the insights and reflections of Scott Simon, just call up and pledge..." at which point I cut off the voice by throwing its host-device across the room. Then, I heated my coffee and doughnuts in the microwave, which fused the doughnuts and their plastic wrapping into a tasty amalgam, and went down to my study in the basement level to listen to the rooster crow.

Passing through the central room of the basement, I paused to turn off the TV, which turns itself on early every morning. My retarded son Aaron, a frequent visitor, long ago programmed the thing to do that, and I haven't the faintest idea how to un-program it. In my study, I picked up the ringing telephone, only to hear a monologue by a dead voice which claimed to be the mother of a candidate running for the senate. Normally, I interact with these robot voices only when I call any office for information, but now they are calling me, for God's sake, and they are somebody's mother.

Other than this message from the robot mother, my connections with American politics are limited to a


placard posted outside my house. I thought deeply about where to post it, and it came to me that the most appropriate location for the Green Party would surely be a tree. So I nailed it to the tree outside my house. It looks good there.

My own political tendance owes something to my encounter long ago with Count Sforza, an Italian nobleman of the old school. I met him at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, a period of some anxiety for most of us. But the Count, who was a reserve officer in the Italian Cavalry, viewed the dangers of nuclear war with perfect serenity. If war broke out he confided to me, he knew exactly what to do: put on the white gloves, get his sword out of the closet, and rejoin his cavalry detachment within 48 hours. This presented an odd picture because the dashing Count in fact had one artificial arm. In action, he presumably held his horse's reins with his good arm, and attached his sword to the prosthetic limb mechanically.

As we talked, I visualized the outbreak of World War III: tens of thousands of nuclear missiles are launched, all 30 minutes from impact, hysteria reigns all over the world, but Count Sforza, with his sword nailed to his wooden arm, heads calmly for the nearest airport. It was a comforting thought. If the Count is still with us, I am sure that he is quite unperturbed by all these self-activating electronic devices and robot mothers.

Tomorrow, I think I will pry the rooster watch out of the wall in my study, and nail it to the tree, next to Ralph Nader. Perhaps its quotidian crowing will help to get the message out. If only I could also arrange to join the Italian cavalry myself, then I think everything would be all right.

--- Dr. Phage


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