Make time for some temporizing Hour: An essay follows, on tempus and how it fugits, with a seasonable reminder to reset all timepieces.

October 25, 1997|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Frankly, it's up to you to remember to set your clocks back an hour tonight. You're big boys and girls.

Until then, perhaps we could take one second -- based (as you know) on the microwaves emitted by the vibrations of hot cesium atoms -- to ponder the profoundly metaphysical and timeless questions of the universe:

1. What is time?

2. What is a "good" time?

3. What does "metaphysical" mean, exactly?

But there's no time for these timeless questions. 'Tis high time to move forward in time. Time is on my side. (Just killing time here until this story gets rolling ) Time, the thief you cannot banish.

You can't turn back time.

What a timely error! We can turn back time, and tonight's the big night. The republic docks itself an hour -- except in Hawaii, Arizona and most of Indiana. They don't observe Daylight-Saving Time. But they probably don't observe United Nations Day, either, so don't give them the time of day.

Rather, spend this time pondering this: If you could, what hour would you take back? Hath he not reason to turn back an hour in a day? He hath. In fact, he hath probably need of a whole day, like Bill Murray had in "Groundhog Day." In that gem of a movie, Murray keeps re-living one day until he gets it right.

Maybe some of us need a whole year, but Congress would never authorize setting back the calendar a year. Imagine it, though. At 2 a.m. Sunday, we set our calendars back to 1996. Think of the savings! And we get to miss Ellen coming out and coming out.

But we have only an hour do-over (them's the rules). Some point in time when all was nearly lost. Winston Churchill's second volume about World War II -- "Their Finest Hour" -- comes to mind. As does, of course, Orioles pitcher Armando Benitez. Could he have a do-over in Game 6?

"Or how about this?" suggests Washington lobbyist Jim Benfield. "Have Robbie Alomar bunt down the first-base line instead of the third-base line in Game 6. The runners would have advanced. Instead, the Indians got the lead runner at third."

Benfield is so much more than a lobbyist; he's a crusader of odd causes. He directed the Washington-based Daylight Saving Coalition, which prodded Congress in 1987 to extend Daylight Saving through April. Benfield raises a profound point about one-hour do-overs.

Daylight Saving punches out at 2 a.m., so "Think bed here," he says. "It's that affair that you didn't quite complete. You had to get her home on time."

Frank Gifford sprints to mind. You gotta think he wouldn't mind having that hour back he spent in a hotel room with Susan What's-her-name, who's now having her one quarter of an hour of fame.

Yes, a do-over hour could be a wonderful thing. Not bet a horse you wish you hadn't? Erase a horrible job interview? You know the one -- everything went well and you got the job and you've still got the job and it's still horrible.

Then there are folks who work intimately with time. You can set your watch by their jobs. Talk-show host Marc Steiner has probably logged more than 1,200 hours on the air at WJHU-FM. So many thoughtful, interesting hours. Memorable times -- except for that one hour in 1996.

"My interview with Ray Bradbury," Steiner says, nearly choking with laughter. "I'd love to have that hour back."

Steiner was impeccably prepared for the interview. He had grown up reading everything Bradbury wrote. In his first question, Steiner referred to the works of Orwell and others who also wrote of authoritarianism. Obviously, Bradbury told the radio host, you haven't read them and don't know what you're talking about. An awkward, timeless moment. "The whole damn show went to hell," Steiner says.

If there's a radio god, let Steiner have that hour back.

Biblically speaking, the word "hour" first appeared in the Book of Daniel, who lived more than 500 years before Christ. It's possibly the first reference to chronological periods of time, rather than the view of time or "times" the Bible stresses. On God and time, the Bible is clear.

"Scripture," according to the New Bible Dictionary, "roundly asserts that God is not limited by time as we are, that he is 'the king of ages.' " In other words, He doesn't need any hour do-overs.

Other spiritual channels exist in our quest to turn back time. "Turn Back Your Biological Clock!" reads New Worlds of Mind and Spirit magazine. Through psychic rejuvenation, through stress expiation, through "PK illumination," through the U.S. mail, you, too, can turn back the clock. Now repeat after the article: My powers of rejuvenation are now being unleashed to permeate my total being with the glow of youth and vigor.

Say you want your time of birth back -- that hour before your splashy, dramatic emergence. To have 60 minutes again before having to face the world and everything in it: your older brother, Chuck E. Cheese, Johnson's baby shampoo. How cosmically cool that would be. But, alas, this is small-time thinking.

Everyone knows the idea of absolute time was abandoned at the turn of this century and replaced by imaginary time. "Thus time became a more personal concept," theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote in "A Brief History of Time." Page 143, to be exact.

"There can be no important difference between the forward and backward directions of imaginary time," Hawking said. Hence, setting your clock back is a meaningless gesture in the scheme of the universe.

Our time is up, class. When setting your clocks back an hour tonight, why not try setting your life back, too? Close your eyes, breathe slowly and rhythmically, and repeat after us: My powers of rejuvenation are now being unleashed to permeate my total being

If it doesn't work immediately, give it another hour.

Emily Dickinson, William Shakespeare and Mick Jagger contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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