Like Clockwork

Composed on the 8th of November in the year 2006, at 2:23 PM. It was Wednesday.

I’ve spent much of the afternoon working out a way to use the line “My relationships start like romantic comedies and end like Dear Abbey columns.”

That was it. Clumsy, but effective.

That’s not precisely what this essay is about, but it may gain relevance as the plot goes on. This is about the clock on my stove, which, I recently discovered, in a moment of blinking shock, is displaying the right time. The clock on my stove has been wrong for months. It got set once the day we arrived, and kept time for about three weeks. Unfortunately, the mechanism for setting the timer is the same as the mechanism for setting the clock. Equally stupid methods in their own right, their combination on the stove, delineated by a toggle switch of indeterminate position, is only a little bit more sensible than the nested menus on my six button TV/VCR, which was made in 1672.

In short, it’s easy to hit the minute or hour button forty or fifty times before realizing you’re changing the clock, and not the timer. It may only become apparent hours later when the smoke alarm goes off. We’ve never fixed the problem because both I and my roommate have our own alarm clocks, cell phones, and computers in our rooms. We also haven’t fixed it because we both work on computers every day, and having one less clock seems a small price for saving our carpal tunnels the 100 or so button punches it would take to make clock 7 tell the right time.

It reminds me once or twice a week of the saying, “Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”, which is one of the many sayings imparted on children to convey the point, “Even if you’re a total loser, the nature of the universe may give you what seems like nice day once in a while, as long as you don’t think to hard about it.” Which is nice, I guess. My response was “What if the clock is five minutes slow?” to which my teachers responded “You’re missing the point,” but to which my parents, bless them, responded, “Well then you’re totally fucked.”

This occurred to me throughout the last decade, because of the inevitable summer disaster. It looks like I’m about through the latest one, so I can approach the issue with some humor again. Here are the cliff notes, as far as I remember them:


  • 1994 : Became alienated from summer friends.
  • 1995 : Thought I was over it. They weren’t. Told them all to fuck off.
  • 1996 : Crashed car. Lost license.1[1]
  • 1997 : Commenced smoking weed in earnest. This summer is fairly dim; I may have gotten off that year. No! Wait, slept with best friend’s girlfriend. Stupid.
  • 1998 : This one seemed good, actually, but had a lot to do with
  • 1999 : losing car, home, cats, girlfriend, and job one week. Spent the summer homeless doing yard work for cigarette money. Gained a speed addiction, lost thirty pounds. Still looking for most of those pounds.
  • 2000 : Severely disappointed that Y2K never happened, I opted to do a lot of acid for a while. Had a nervous breakdown after a bad trip and two weeks without sleep. Spent a lot of time thinking I was a robot sent from the future to herald the reign of Christ reborn. Got better, but not until fall.
  • 2001 : I have no recollection of this summer. I think it involved a lot of alcohol. Oh, yes, I was working as a lobster cook. Not so bad, except that I had absolutely no sex all summer, and that trend stuck until
  • 2002 : In desperation, I slept with a one of my friends, who seemed the most stable yet open-minded of my circle of friends at the time. I was wrong. Fallout destroyed circle of friends.
  • 2003 : This one was okay, except for yet another extremely poor decision about what to do with my sex life. The end of the summer marked the beginning of one of my closest friends and then roommate not speaking to me for five months. There are few things as taxing as living with someone who won’t speak to you. Stupid, stupid, stupid. During all this, I was being stalked by the ex-girlfriend of my then semi-girlfriend.
  • 2004 : Lost job. Evicted from apartment. This could have been worse. Meant going home again.
  • 2005 : This summer started strong. Great job, tail end of a madly passionate two+ year relationship with a gorgeous girl of insatiable desires, and got a hand into new york from my best friend. Was laid off from my job after being stiffed for two months of 12 hour days,2[2] and “insatiable desires” sounds great until you think about what it means. Sent girlfriend home and settled in for five months of unemployment.
  • 2006 : Stalked by recent ex. Never quite got to restraining order, but definitely on the level of psycho-obsessive.

So no, I was never drafted or saw my family and friends ripped apart by rabid weasels. This was drama, despite what I always thought was an ability to avoid drama. I’ve recently accepted that this ability is delusional, and I should have just written to Abbey.3[3]

At this point, I still don’t believe in prophecy, but I do believe in self-fulfillment. I’m also open to the possibility that some of these summer crescendos had to do with excessive reliance on self-fulfillment during 2000 and 2001. Regardless of the cause, mistakes were made, and to keep this metaphor on the rack, the feeling is of a clock running further and further out of sync each year until the alarm finally goes off during dinner and you decide it’s time to fix the thing.

This phenomenon is not pure abstraction. The click (or tick) moment was five minutes after putting the disaster of 2005 on a bus back to Maine, when my cell phone alarm went off. This was surprising because I’d set the alarm three months earlier, and it hadn’t gone off in all that time, nor had I been able to reset it. So after getting elaborately drunk courtesy of a sympathetic bartender, I decided to develop a better relationship with my clocks, and tried to reset the stove clock. Ten minutes of righteous, double-vision poking achieved nothing, so I gave up.

The next attack on the clock was made by Martian half of our couple on the couch, who stayed with us after coming back from France. Having lost the love of his life, through what he claimed was his own misdeeds, he seduced his French film teacher, and, in the finest advertisement for Ax body spray I’ve seen to date, convinced her to come back to the states and sleep on our couch for two weeks. About a week into this, our stove started beeping at him at three in the morning. Suffering from a hangover and extreme emotional duress, he simply started beating on the stove until the sound stopped.

Though I haven’t asked my roommate about his personal relationship with the clock, such events seem enough to classify our clock as the apartment’s emotional whipping boy. And why not? I hate clocks. Nothing will send me into an anxiety attack faster than ticking. The digital age is the only reason I can to keep a schedule without becoming a drooling collage of nervous twitches. Most of my friends with ticking wall clocks have gotten used to me taking their clocks down and removing the batteries before I go to sleep. I could never sleep with a mechanical executioner pushing my life through a little ratchet guillotine at sixty parts per minute. Human perspective is so good at navigating XYZ, but is stuck with clocks as its cane with which to tap through the time, where all we find are scrapes of the day before. With seasons and days, we mark out patterns and repetition, trying to make sense of the algorithm that maps our lives from one end to the other, and what it means for our long term investments.

So daylight savings time withdrew, and I awoke, made coffee, and found the clock telling me the right time. I checked my cell phone clock to make sure, and when they said the same thing, I checked my computer to make sure my cell phone was right. Somehow, sixteen months of frustrated cooking and sexually charged beatings added up to an accurate readjustment. And, oddly, right at the end of 2006’s summer surprise.

I would like to say this marks an end to over a decade of bizarre tribulations. That this is a shout out from serendipity, appearing in the early second act of life to say that a long series of angry accidents can produce something that works well enough to do its job, whatever that job is.

But I believe in coincidence. The accidents of life providing pleasant surprise add humor to the overall tragedy, and it does a disservice to our best coping mechanism to try and force the odds into meaning. On the flip side, laying meaning upon the happy and unhappy accidents is how we outrun the boulder of the future in our minds and lives. A candid approach to the uncanny is the best we can hope for, and it the best of all possible worlds, it can lead to accepting that this is the only possible world, and it’s doing the best it can.

1 Two different occasions.

2 Always read the contract.

3 Relevance.

This is actually a picture of an ex-girlfriend.

Hi there! You should totally go buy my book for the low low price of 6.66! It's like buying me a beer at an out-of-the-way dive bar in Brooklyn! Not in Manhattan. Manhattan prices are ridiculous, though there are a couple of decent Irish dives where you can snag a drink for five bucks. Otherwise, you're looking at a two or three book beer.
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