Time is relative

I want to talk about time relativity today. You know, Einstein and his tongue kind of relativity. Only a little more absurd.

Part one. My wife, like the rest of us, drives a car. She has had several of them, some she loved and some she hated, some took care of and others let be on their own like unwanted puppies. No matter where her affection landed for a particular car, not a single one of them ever, and I mean ever, had the clock set to the correct time.

Not a few minutes fast or slow which could easily be explained by looking up time in one source, remote from the car, and while traveling to the car to actually set the clock, being distracted by kids, a magazine, some shiny object or chicken.

And not a full hour ahead or behind which is a direct result of blunt disrespect towards daylight savings.

What I’m talking about is the odd one hour 22 minutes fast, as it is now in her Honda Pilot. When I drive her car, I almost cry every time we are late and it’s so obvious it’s because of that damn clock. My weak attempts to confront the time regime were met with stern resistance. I changed the clock once in my wife’s earlier car and was almost kicked out of the moving vehicle. To this day I find it mind bending how she could arrive at one hour 22 min difference. I think my wife lives in a different space time continuum from the rest of us. Or she may be an alien.

Part two. As I already conveyed in my earlier post,  I work for a very large company. The nature of my job is to provide support to other people, mostly internal clients, who take the results of my insights and research and further develop product and marketing strategies. What I do is less important. How I do it is most relevant. I aim for 100% on time delivery and accuracy, and I’ve never been known as a slacker or scatterbrain. Basically I’m a good old employee and my heart is generally in the right place.  More often than not, I work on projects that involve a certain degree of urgency. Not efficiently managing my clients’ expectations in the past – a cardinal corporate sin I was made aware of throughout the course of many performance reviews – I have rarely since succumbed to the temptation to let my annoying clients hang dry or figure out the stuff themselves. Basically, I’m always there for them, and with a ridiculously punctual update schedule for every step of the way.

And yet, occasionally, there is someone who ignores the laws of my universe and keeps pounding me with donkey-like questions “Are we there yet?” What I tend to do as a result, unbeknownst to that person, is commit another crime known as shirking. Popular in the 1920s, it was a technique for workers to slow down productivity so that the boss man wouldn’t end up expecting them to do even more. Basically Taylorism term for slacking off. That way I create my own timeline, which casts a shadow over the  entire analytical profession but keeps me sane. If only they let Shrek do what he does best, the world would be a better place.

Part three. My mom. Wonderful human being for the most part, aside from certain episodes in her earlier life. My mom has an awkward relationship with time. My dad, married to my mom in the past, firsthand experienced that awkwardness too. That entire relationship (with time, that is) is based on a premise that her own time exists in one parallel whereas everybody’s else’s in a different one. Here’s how.

Imagine the timeline which entitles my mom to a certain benefit. For example, timeliness of phone calls on her birthday from relatives and friends. If the day is kind of getting away from her, like just before lunch, and she has only received a handful of calls, say 20% of the total expected yield, that could be a strong reason for her to consider that day a complete waste. Her birthday mood would be turning from pale to gloomy, and certain conclusions could follow (like, they all forgot about me).

Imagine now a different scenario.  My mom is out shopping. She made plans with me or my dad or whoever else to meet at a certain time and in a certain place. This of course goes back years, before cell phones were widely available, so the arrangement of that sort would’ve been akin to a letter signed with  blood. And so it goes like that. My dad, me, whoever else whose own schedule so unfortunately depended on my mom’s, would be stranded in a strange place for a long, sometimes very long, time facing a series of ridiculous dilemmas. Stay here or look across the street? Outside the subway station or did we say inside, in the underpass? Or maybe, just maybe, I thought it was 3pm but in fact we agreed on 5pm? Or was it 6? The conditions for this suffering could vary from brutally cold to brutally hot, and were always accompanied by a burning regret for the time lost. Then, when all hope was gone, my mom would show up, walking slowly down the street towards you, still window shopping with quick glances and perhaps muttering something poetic while obviously thinking of far more interesting matters that the letter signed in blood.

I can’t express how much anger would befall on her when she’d finally meet up with her date. Where it gets interesting, and Einstein would agree with me, is the reasoning behind being late. Most of the time it was lack of clocks – an excuse so unbelievable, considering we lived in a city that was literally covered with street clocks (only pigeons were a more frequent resident). Or that there were clocks, but, alas, all of them showed the same – and inaccurate – time. Often 2 hours behind or so.

Years later, it is impossible to hold the grudge. There wasn’t much grudge in the first place, just a strong feeling of the time wasted. But again, in the end, everybody’s got their own sense of time.

Part four. I had a friend in the past. An OK guy as far as I was concerned, with hardly any long term prospects for us to hang out forever, but we shared the love for night clubs, music, drinking and relationships – exactly what guys in their late 20’s typically care about. Let’s call him Tom.

Now, Tom had a full appreciation for finer things in life, like a good company, sharp dress, thoughtful drink over a thoughtful conversation, and all of that with some hint at style. You would expect such person to be balanced in every respect or at least stylishly approach the difference in opinions, right? Wrong.

What happened every time I had pleasure of making plans with Tom was that he turned into a complete maniac in trying to stick to some kind of self-imposed schedule. I could drop by his place five minutes later than agreed, to pick him up, and even if I was a designated driver, he’d meet me with his eyes wide open and the whole mood one step away from complete hysteria. “We are late!”, he’d proclaim in disgust and after thirty seconds of a rapid fight with laces, jacket, wallet, sunglasses and other essential carry-ons he’d rush out the door. First, this was innocent enough that I didn’t care. Later on I asked him, what is it that we are late for, dude? Did you make plans with other people? Is there a deadline to get into a club? Is the world coming to an end? What is it, damn it??? And he’d just say, “No, none of that. It’s just that we’ll be late to have fun”. To this day I find it ironic how it was worded. I guess he never really left work, even when he was off work. But … you know… it’s all good, as long as it’s on time.

Part five. Me.

My relationship with time is nothing remarkable, really. Being in the mid-forties with 2 kids, full-time job, a house and a mortgage, time is often a concept so rare to me and my wife, that we hardly even realize it exists.

But despite that I find sometimes a little bit of it to reflect on my contribution to the relativity of time. I remember when I was much younger, my parents could say something like, “Oh, it was like yesterday and it’s been 20 years … Doesn’t time just fly?” I often listened to them in absolute bewilderment – what are you talking about? This year has been forever!!! Remember such and such did this and that … well, that was a long time ago, in April!

Or they could something like, “Oh, you are so young, you have your whole life ahead of you”. And me again, annoyed with that statement – don’t patronize me! I am not that young, look at such and such, he’s old, he just turned 30.

Well, I’m sure all that sounds familiar to both sides of the Turgenev’s divide. And yet, not a day goes by that I’m not thinking along the same lines. A little less dumb and pretentious thoughts, with more wisdom that life has finally hammered into me, but generally within the same theme. 50 sounds much older, I’m thinking. I am not that young but younger than a 50-year old. What is it like when you are 50? And it’s not that I don’t respect the elders, I really do, but I think our civilization made it a norm that being young is preferred over being old – with all opportunities still ahead of you and the physiology to match.

I guess, in a way, we just never stop hoping for a miracle.

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