The right, wrong clock


In 1973, New Orleans blues-rocker Dr. John hit the charts singing about being in the right place at the wrong time.

In 2015, I rediscovered that gig. No, I didn’t buy an oldies CD. I bought an alarm clock. It wasn’t a genuine oldie, but something out of synch with the times, an analog timekeeper that was battery-powered instead of wind-up driven. It’s an anachronism in today’s do-all smartphone age.

And when it comes to the wrong time, well, this clock knows more about it than Dr. John. The thing loses 10 minutes every day.

Even though it’s the wrong time, it’s the right clock. Well, for me, at least. I find it symbolic of the difference between the old ways and the new ways.

So, while the clock is slow and feeble-minded, it soaks up a lot less time and attention than the fancy apps on my phone or tablet computer do. Things that used to be so simple seem to take so much more attention these days.

I listed some of the things I like about my timekeeper that can’t keep time, because once a streak of curmudgeonly atavism gets rolling, I don’t want to stop it. So here are some items:

It’s easy to read. I can just glance at it; I don’t have to touch the thing, much less manipulate it.

It’s easy to set. Takes just a few seconds, even accounting for the fact I have to bump the time forward by 10 minutes every day.

You can’t set the alarm for the wrong day. It doesn’t have a wrong day! Unlike many phone or computer apps, it doesn’t care what day it is. This clock doesn’t think it’s a calendar. It knows it’s a clock.

It doesn’t care what time zone it’s in. It doesn’t think it’s an airplane. Or a satellite. It still knows it’s a clock.

The alarm is easy to turn on. You can do that by mere feel.

The alarm is easy to turn off. You can do that by mere feel, too.

It’s easy to tell when the alarm is on. It’s easy to tell when the alarm is off. There’s no ambiguity.

It doesn’t have to be charged. It doesn’t need a power cord. It doesn’t need a power adaptor. It doesn’t care that you forgot to buy a travel converter after you wind up in some strange country that uses 8-prong outlets for its 528-volt, 7-cycle AC power grid. The clock runs off a single AAA-battery, which should last at least a year and takes about five seconds to replace.

And, incidentally, it cost $1.50. I’m talking about the clock, not the battery. That’s a piddling price for a token of defiance in the digital age.

The way I tally the score, the time-keeper that can’t keep time still puts me ahead of the game in terms of logistics, ergonomics, and convenience. As for its lack of accuracy, the worst that can happen is that I’ll wake up 10 minutes late.

By contrast, just about everyone I know has totally blown through a wake-up time when their fancy electronic devices were set wrong, or configured wrong, or ran out of power, and so on.

Which leads to my big, profound theory, and it’s bigger than a mere alarm clock: I’ll submit that nominal accuracy, and real-world accuracy, are entirely different things. What constitutes “improvement” seems like a pretty dicey proposition.

For a last word on this, well, it’s not too far from the first word. Since we opened up with a look at Dr. John of New Orleans, we might as well close with the fictional Travis McGee of Ft. Lauderdale, who, in the 1964 novel The Deep Blue Good-by, noted this:

“I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.”

Well, there you go. McGee knew more about today a half-century ago than we know about today, today.

Saipan has a few Travis McGee fans. I’m sure a few folks remember Dr. John as well. I don’t know how many residents are fans of buck-and-half clocks that can’t keep time, but maybe we can gin up some interest there, too, if for nothing else but the retro angle. We could start a club, meet for breakfast, and talk about the good old days.

I’m thinking early December. This will give us plenty of time to spread the word.

We’ll schedule breakfast for 7am at Shirley’s.

Uh, let’s make it 7:10.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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