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Wednesday, 14 March 2007 00:00

High time for a new morning ritual

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I don’t wear a watch. Why should I? Everywhere I look, I see the time of day. In fact, no matter where I go or how hard I try, I can’t seem to escape the passage of time. It’s on my cell phone. It’s on the oven AND the microwave in our kitchen. It’s on my computer screen, lurking down in the right hand corner.

It’s on the dashboard of my car. It’s on the television screen every time I change the channel, and if don’t change the channel, it is right there on the old VCR — yeah, we still have one. I know they don’t manufacture movies for VCRs anymore, but we still have a few of the old VHS tapes in our collection, and the machine does, after all, keep accurate time.

As a teacher, I most assuredly do not need a timepiece. Every day, the world around us changes so fast it seems we ought to be strapped into something to avoid being flung into orbit. Simple tasks become complicated burdens. I have been known to stare at gas pumps in astonishment, looking at the assortment of options spelled out for me on the pump and the equally astonishing assortment of cards in my wallet, trying to figure it all out as if it were the riddle of the sphinx. Do I want to pay inside? Pay out here with credit? Where is the button for debit? How do I qualify for the three-cent-per gallon discount?

Things change, yes. But students don’t. From the very dawn of education, students have always been reliable indicators of what time class ends. For example, if a class is scheduled to end at 11 a.m., at precisely 10:59 a.m., regardless of what else may be happening in the classroom, students will begin the ritualistic process of shuffling all papers on their desk into a neat pile, unzipping backpacks with more verve (and noise) than the average teacher feels is necessary, and stuffing all desktop materials into said backpack in a manner that falls somewhere between matter-of-fact and aggressive. By the time their backpacks are zipped up again, it will be exactly 11 am. Class is over. I know what time it is.

Why then, am I suddenly living in a state of constant confusion in my own home, surrounded by all of these various clocks? Answer: I live with a deranged (but very beautiful and charming) person, a person whose sense of time does not conform exactly to most people’s. Most people do their best to ensure that all the timepieces upon which they rely are set as precisely as possible to reflect the accurate time of day. This gives them a sense of confidence and stability in the world around them, enabling them to get to work on time and avoid being late for any important appointments or social engagements.

For my wife, knowing the “correct” time offers no such comfort. For curious reasons that, for all I know, may be cosmic or even congenital, the woman does not, cannot, respond well to the actual time. If it is 7:15 and she needs to be somewhere by 8, she will do whatever is necessary to make sure that she arrives there by 8, everything measured out as carefully as ingredients in a cake recipe. But even if every step falls perfectly into place, she will arrive not one minute earlier than 8:20. I have watched this play out again and again over the past few years, and I simply cannot figure it out. It is not logical, but it is a fact. She’s the 20-minutes-late person. There may be more than one. I’m pretty sure it’s a cult.

But now she’s getting out of that cult. A few months back, without telling me about it, she decided to take some dramatic steps to treat her 20-minutes-late condition. The first thing she did was set the time on every clock in our house 35 minutes early. Why 35 and not 20? I have no idea, unless 25-minute late people have developed their own mathematics to go along with their own sense of time. More likely, she just enjoys the 15-minute cushion.

The next step — and this is the one I really hate — is that she sets the alarm clock to go off at approximately 5 a.m. — so that she will be able to hit the snooze button about 14 times, before finally rising at 7 am. Each morning, I am yanked out of sleep by the grating, eardrum-piercing, whiny caterwauling of some George Jones wannabe on KISS FM singing about a Fourth of July picnic or his long lost daddy or some other nonsense a sleeping man ought not have to hear at 5 a.m. All on a scratchy transistor radio turned loud enough to rattle skulls from here to Nashville.

I don’t mind being disoriented. I am used to that. I’ve had years of practice. But I do mind having Randy Bob Dumptruck waking me up every morning singing sweet nothings in my ear. So here is the compromise. She sets the alarm clock to go off at the proper time, and we just ignore that little old daylight savings time deal. You all go ahead and spring forward if you want to. At our house, it still gets dark around 6 p.m. And in the morning I get an extra hour of sleep. Or do I? I’m too tired to figure it out.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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