“I am the Golux,” said the Golux, proudly, “the only Golux in the world, and not a mere Device.”
—from The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber
For some time now, my car Casper has been determined to prove he’s smarter than I am. I wouldn’t be troubled much by this, except that he derives great satisfaction from being deliberately alarming. In the past I’ve touched on his many methods to distress me. His favorites include:
• Just as I pull out of my driveway to leave for an engagement, he whines that his tire pressure is low—in all four tires. He’s lying.
• In a level restaurant parking lot, he complains that he’s on a steep grade, and begs me to secure him against rolling. He’s lying again.
• He harangues me to pull over on the toll road because his hood is unlatched, and both of us are barreling at 80 mph toward doom. Pants-on-fire lie.
• In January he butts in to say that the road surface is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and by gosh, I’d better watch my step. Okay, that time he was telling the truth, but I jumped when his warning chime went off, and I know he enjoyed that.
Casper and I have lived together nearly 3 years, and he’s well-acquainted with my anxieties. In fact, he’s had my number from the start. The first day I brought him home, he slyly set off his “low tire” warning chime and watched for my reaction. I panicked—he was lying, of course—and he’s been needling me ever since.
Now he’s moved on to more subtle manipulation.
A couple of mornings ago I had an 11:30 appointment in Austin. Because most destinations in the city are an hour or more away, I planned to leave the house by 10 a.m. to make the appointment with a bit of breathing room to spare, just in case. (“Just in case.” The anxious person has, for each occasion, a minimum of three scenarios that “Just in case” can cover.)
I noted the wall clock on my way out the front door. 10 a.m. precisely. I walked from the farmhouse to the driveway, slid behind Casper’s wheel and fired him up. His dashboard clock read 11 a.m. Panic and anxiety (mine) ensued.
How did I lose an hour walking 20 yards to the car?
Casper always knows what time it is. He’s a pretty smart car. He resets his clock when Daylight Savings Time begins and when it ends. He knows if I drive into a different time zone. None of those things had happened. It was October 4th, a month before the end of Daylight Savings Time. And my driveway, to the best of my knowledge, is in the same time zone as my house.
If I weren’t so annoyed with Casper’s tactics, I could probably learn a useful lesson from this. Don’t I have enough anxieties already? Should I permit time to tyrannize me this way? Is being an hour off—earlier or later—a reason to overreact? It’s not as if I was headed to a Harry Potter midnight release party.
Time is a construct many claim to be artificial—if it even exists at all. I can’t bring myself to go quite that far. I’m happy to subscribe to the illusion of time for some things. For instance, I watch the clock when baking. Leaving bread in the oven 30 minutes too long won’t lead to a loaf that looks like this:
And I’m thrilled when the calendar flips to October; it’s my favorite month of the year. I rush out to buy pumpkins and gourds to celebrate autumn:
One of my all-time favorite books—since childhood—is James Thurber’s The 13 Clocks. I still love the story of the evil Duke of Coffin Castle; his niece, the beautiful princess Saralinda; her suitor, Prince Zorn of Zorna; and the Golux, an enigmatic little man who wears an “indescribable” hat. The Duke is said to have murdered time, “slain it with his sword, and wiped his bloody blade upon its beard and left it lying there [. . .].” The Duke is a man after my own heart; I’d slay time too, if I could. I’d like not to have the constant pressure to rush everywhere, not to fret that I’m keeping someone waiting, to quit striving to be not just prompt, but early. I’d like not to feel that time is never on the same side I am. Pretty sure that ship has sailed, though. (Ships sailing: something else I’d have to be on time for.) It’s a lifelong issue. Casper knows me well.
An anxious person is always quick to fear, to assume the worst. But even I didn’t really believe I’d passed through a time slip on my way from the house to the driveway. So after freaking out a little, I asked my phone what time it was. My phone reassured me that Casper didn’t know what he was talking about, and that it was indeed 10 a.m., just as I’d thought. I had plenty of time to make my appointment.
“Quit worrying,” my phone said. “The car’s just misinformed.”
“That’s a relief,” I sighed, backing out of the driveway.
“Either that, or . . .” The phone snickered. “. . . he’s trying to gaslight you.”
A big thank-you again to Diana Conces, who wrote last week’s moving blog post, “Inside the Brown Bag” (September 29). Anyone who hasn’t seen that one yet, I urge you to read Diana’s wonderful snapshot memory!
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