June 2010

A timely admission

By David Feela

I love the season as it approaches summer, when daylight stretches luxuriously from horizon to horizon, never in a hurry. What I don't care for is that adjustment we make twice a year, especially in the spring, when daylight savings time kicks in. I run around the house advancing my clocks by an hour. It’s completely normal. Everyone living in a DST area does the same.

What’s not normal, perhaps, is how many timepieces I own.

What’s even more not normal (I hesitate to use the word “abnormal”) is that I had to silence one of them, because trying to synchronize three chiming clocks became too much of a challenge. I was running up the stairs at the sound of one bell and running back down at the sound of another. The third chimer still keeps the hour, but it does so quietly.

I've always been fond of clocks, gadgets that have fascinated humanity since the beginning of (I have to say it) time. From the sundial to the most sophisticated titanium atomic radio-controlled watch that will gain or lose only one second over a 20 million-year period, clocks rock.

Here's the rub. I have 24 clocks. Only five of them reset automatically.

Here's the double rub. I’m not including my wristwatches, pocket watches, or the disabled clocks that I own. When I include these, the total winds up at 51. More or less. I know I’ve overlooked a few.

Of course, I don’t try to keep all 51 running. Not at the same time.

I own a clock that’s over a hundred years old. It’s called a seven-day kitchen clock that belonged to my father’s family. I call it Gerald Mc-Boing-Boing, after an old cartoon character my wife remembers from her childhood. It makes the most absurd boinging noise when a tiny hammer strikes a coiled wire on the hour and on the half hour. I wind it with a key once a week, and when I wind it up the clock runs fast. By the end of the week it’s running slow. I have to adjust.

I own a few railroad pocket watches, one that my grandfather carried when he worked on the railroad. I never knew until a year ago that the hands had to be set by unscrewing the crystal and pulling a tiny lever out from under the rim. I thought up until then that the watch was broken. Now it’s official: I have a pocketsized grandfather clock.

Isn’t it strange how nearly every electronic device you buy these days comes with a digital clock? You finally figure out how to set them and then the electricity goes out, and you reset them, and the electricity goes out, and you reset them again, and the electricity goes, well, you know here it goes. Eventually you let them blink and try to ignore their little digital fit.

One of my watches came with a DVD to explain how to manage its many functions. I watched the DVD six times before I understood how to manipulate all the buttons. The watch tells the date, barometric pressure, altitude, and temperature. It has a digital compass, lap time, a stop watch, and it displays cute little sun and cloud icons to indicate what kind of weather is happening if I don't care to look up at the sky. It also keeps time. I store it in the drawer beside my bed. The watch, that is. I'm not sure where I put the DVD.

This fall when our clocks fall back an hour I’m planning an unconventional party. I want to sit up until 2 a.m. when the signal in Boulder connects with my only radio-controlled wrist watch. Supposedly those little sweep hands on its face spin like a pinwheel. They must have lunged forward an hour this spring, but as usual, I was asleep, like most normal people at that hour of the morning. And clocks aside, I really am normal. Just don’t get me wound up.

David Feela writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.