Slice of life: Timing is everything



If you were born around 1950, you might remember a very popular children’s television show that ran for a few years called “Ding Dong School.”

It began with the smiling “Miss Frances” who would, bell ringing, lovingly welcome her TV class to school. But there are rarely bells anymore. In fact, the only “ding dongs” in the schools nowadays are in Albany at the State Education Department. The bells are now electronic tones, to which students move every 41 minutes in Pavlovian response.

At my school, if a student arrives “after the bell,” they are required to check in at the front office before coming to class. They sign a book and record their time of arrival after checking the large analog clock perhaps 10 feet away.

Want to know something? Easily 75 percent of them don’t know how to read the clock, especially if the minute hand is past the “six.” If the hour hand is halfway between the twelve and the one, and the minute hand is on the “seven” or “eight,” they do not know how to record the time digitally, as in 12:35 or 12:40.
“Clockwise” is an almost foreign concept to the present day student, and to perhaps more than a few adults.

If I instruct a student to take a pan of chicken out of the oven at 1:45, and because cell phones are not permitted for use during class, the student must rely on the one or two classmates in the room who will know that 1:45 is when “the little hand is almost at the two and the big hand is on the nine”.

Aha! There it is! Did you see it in the last sentence? One of the main culprits for this serious learning disability?

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know, I don’t have my phone.”

Can you imagine how stupid that conversation would have sounded even 20 years ago?

“I didn’t ask you for your phone. Why would you have your phone anyway? Isn’t it attached to your house? Why do you need your phone to know what time it is?”

Years ago the smart-aleck response to “What time is it?” was “Time for you to get a watch!”
Can you imagine “time for you to get a phone” instead?

A short while ago I filled in some silly three or four question survey online after visiting a testing-materials website. The “reward” for completing the survey was the choice of one of three “gifts” that would be sent in appreciation. I figured it would be something like a two-day supply of blemish cream or a mechanical pencil, but surprisingly, one of the choices was a wristwatch. Really.

I instantly thought of the joy on our daughter’s face this past Christmas as she opened a small box containing a beautiful watch given to her by her husband. She had spoken of how she missed wearing one, and she had admired one just like the one she now held.

I chose the watch as my gift, filled in all the address information and closed the page. Probably really cheap, but for nothing? Why not?

After returning from a week’s vacation, helpmate alerted me to the fact that I had received a box in the mail, probably a part for a waffle iron or my truck, or maybe mandolin strings.

“No, I think it could be a wristwatch.”

It was. It is. It’s not really cheap, it has a gold and chrome band and it came in a nice box. I took it to a jeweler to have the band adjusted. I’m wearing it now, and I really like it. The numbers are large enough so that I can read it easily, it has a second hand that moves 60 times per minute, and a stem that I can actually use to set the time without using any tools but my fingers.

On the mantel over the fireplace there’s a little plastic-domed case in which hangs a gold pocket watch that has been in my family for maybe four or five generations. The craftsmanship is exquisite, an example of the finest watchmaker’s art from the early 20th century. This is how people told time then:

“My good sir, could I kindly impose as to request the present hour?”

With a nod and a polite smile, the man would reach into a pocket in his vest specifically designed for the purpose, produce a watch on a chain, pop open the cover and say, “Why certainly, it is just 15 minutes past the hour of two.” After which, with a slight flourish, he would return the timepiece to its place. I know this is true because that’s how they do it on Downton Abbey.

You know why wristwatches were invented? To save people from the inconvenience of having to produce a watch from their pocket. Where do most people go today to get the time if you ask them? They pull their cell phone from their pocket.

Recently I turned in my smartphone for a dumb phone, just a standard flip phone, which lasts for days without charging instead of mere hours, can be dropped from three feet on to the pavement without serious damage, costs half the amount per month to use, and most happily gives me an excuse to engage in real conversation instead of burying my face in the phone checking every minute for messages, mail, alerts, directions, or all manner of esoterica available at the point of a finger.

So now, I can see what time it is … without wasting any of it!