Archive for March, 2011



By Ruth Minshull


I’ve been a bit of a clock nut for some time.

Right now I count ten of them in my office.  Four I made myself.  Another is a blue ceramic fish clock that I picked up at a yard sale.  There’s one that came free with an order from an office supply company.  (This one is rather pedestrian, but I can’t bring myself to discard it.)  Another novelty clock has a pendulum with an octopus swinging between two fish.  My cats found it immensely entertaining at first, but they’re now bored with it.  Another is a compact little travel alarm that I fold up and take along when I go out of town.  I also have a clock that I won in an office contest (a Dallas company for whom I work part-time as a Web site analyst).  This one is cleverly constructed of parts from a computer’s innards, and it’s signed by the artist who created it.

And then there’s the “atomic clock”.  More on that later.

I have numerous other clocks around the house.  Most every room contains at least four.  Many of them are handmade by artists and are quite unusual.

You might think I’m obsessed with time.  It certainly appears that way.  However, even though I try to be punctual, I never worried too much about whether or not the clocks were accurate.  I collected them for their novelty, because they were aesthetic or unusual decorations.  In fact, sometimes I forget to replace dead batteries.

My indifference to the clocks as actual timepieces was brought home to me one day when my son said, “You know, from where I’m sitting here in your living room I can see six clocks, and I still can’t tell what time it is.”  I laughed and dismissed his complaint as irrelevant.

To me a clock is as close as an inanimate object can get to being a living thing.  Although it doesn’t breathe, it ticks away like a heartbeat marking the passage of life.  It’s much more than just a pretty face.

Still, it was with a certain fascination that I regarded my first Atomic Clock in a department store.  Here was a timepiece (the blurb on the box asserted) that is accurate to within one second in one million years.  I need this thing, I decided. So what if I have to reset it every million years.  I can live with that. I bought it and took it home.

That evening, while a friend and I were watching television’s daily dose of bad news, I installed the battery and opened the instruction book, ready to learn how to set the device.  As I placed the clock on the table beside me, I noticed that it was steadily flashing numbers.  That’s odd, I thought, the thing has gone berserk.  I’ll have to find out how to fix that.

According to the instruction book, I soon read, the clock would set itself automatically by tuning in to the signals of the official U. S. Atomic Clock located in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Sure, I snorted cynically, we can’t even get a cell phone or beeper to work here in the middle of the sand dunes.  This thing is supposed to pick up a signal from Colorado? Such arrogance these clock guys had.  They’d never tried to get radio or television stations or any other transmissions in a place like this.

But somewhere in mid snort I glanced over and saw that the clock had set itself accurately.  It even exhibited the correct month, date, day of the week and the phase of the moon.  “This is amazing!” I exclaimed.

And then simultaneously my friend and I both wondered, “But how did it know what time zone we’re in?”

“This is freaky,” I said.  “Obviously it’s in touch with its mother ship, but can it really tell where we are?”

When I quit marveling and went back to the instruction book I soon learned that the default setting was Eastern Standard Time (where I live).  That helped to alleviate some of the sense of weirdness, although we were still amazed that the device could actually be reached from Colorado.

Now this little baby resides happily on my office wall and calls home several times a day–just to reaffirm its accuracy (and say “Hello” to Mom?).

Since that time, I have acquired another atomic clock for the den, a small travel-size one and a watch.

So, if you ever need the precise time, I can give it to you.  Of course, sometime in the next million years I could be off by as much as a second.

But I hope you’re not going to be picky about that.

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©2011 by Ruth Minshull

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