Now, I shall speak of time and the marking of time.
Once I may have said, “the keeping of time,” as in, “My granddaddy’s watch keeps good time,” but that’s a misleading verb, isn’t it? Time is not kept; it continues to pass as the watch ticks.
I do not have trouble pondering the space-time continuum. No kidding.
If I leave my home on the third week of the month – especially when I journey to different climes – and if I stay away for a week, it feels as if it should be the fourth week of the month when I return. But no, it is a new month.
My father had dementia in the last years of his life. He came to having a bit of a time-warp all his own; he thought he was fifty the same year I was forty-eight. I was advised to take him for an evaluation of his mental state. When we arrived at the geriatric-psychiatric hospital, the cheerful admitting nurse asked, “So, Mr. Irwin, can you tell me what day of the week it is?”
I had just come off the road, so I had to think before I answered. “I believe it’s Tuesday.” The nurse stared blankly at me. I said, “Oh, then is it Wednesday?…”
Right. I hadn’t been the “Mr. Irwin” she was talking to.
• • •
I depend on little reminders to tell me what day it is.
After any given road trip, on the first morning of my return I rise at the crack of ten, have my coffee and Cheerios with a banana, jump on my bike and ride through the cemetery to town. My first stop: the post office to check my PO box. There I often get to visit with the people who are the generation ahead of me. I love the post office.
Then, I go to the bank.
I prefer to bank by going into the bank. I know all the people who work there by name, and they know me. My bank is just off the Square in the Turner Building, the same building where I got my first checking account at The Bank of Covington. Of course, that was two banks ago. Now it is a branch of the BCB – Big Corporate Bank. (If you live in this town, and you don’t know which building is the Turner Building, you now have a quest. You may have to sniff around a bit.)
The entire building houses the BCB, but back in the day, along with the bank, other smaller businesses shared space in the Turner Building. Last year when I was getting a car loan, it was fun to sit across from Miss Susan the Banker in her little office, stick my finger in the corner of my mouth, stretch my lips to expose my molars, and truthfully say, “I got these fillings in this very room.” Indeed, that space had been my uncle’s dentist office. My banker did not believe me.
Now, somebody at Big Corporate Bank’s headquarters has made arbitrary decisions about my “customer experience” in the bank lobby.
First, they went and installed a wall-mounted television!
This is a noisy distraction, and it takes away from the business-like atmosphere. Nothing in the bank should be louder than me.
But here’s the change that alarms me the most:
I was writing my deposit when I glanced up to check the date, just as I had been doing since I was eighteen – just as my forebears for untold generations had done – when I discovered that the perpetual calendar was gone!
I mean, it’s called a PERPETUAL calendar!
“WHAT?!” I cried. “How do I know what day it is?”
From her teller’s station, Miss Melody gave me a the same pitying smile she gives me when she corrects my arithmetic, “Just use your phone, Mr. Andy.”
My protestations became full-blown whining. “But I don’t wanna use my phone! Should we let the Courthouse clock run down just because we all wear watches. But wait! Noooo! Let’s throw away our watches because we can check the time on our phoooones! Silly me.”
It was quite a scene, I’m afraid.
• • •
One of my prized childhood treasures was a little perpetual “flip” calendar my mother brought me from Chicago. This is the sort of souvenir that was most likely purchased at the airport gift shop.
A kitsch object with an elegant mechanism, it was a two-faced disk, mounted on a pair of hinges. One slowly flipped the disk forward and the metal numbers advanced. At the top of each side of the disk it read “CHICAGO.” On one side there was a picture of the two cylindrical towers of Marina City, on the other side, the Old Chicago Water Tower.
When I was a child I flipped it and flipped it. Slowly. Watching the numbers fall.
And when I flipped it backwards, the numbers would go backwards. To this day, that still seems miraculous.
I was in Chicago a few weeks ago.
I found myself standing before the sand castle-like structure of the Old Water Tower, the same tower pictured on my childhood perpetual calendar. I sat on the tower’s limestone steps and stared down Michigan Avenue.
Then I threw my head back.
Looking up at the tower behind me.
Attempting to slow down time.
When I was about eleven years old, my mother and I were cleaning out a small outbuilding we all called The Pack House. This was a single-car garage-sized structure on the property next to the house in which my mother grew up. The Pack House may have been a smokehouse....