- Introduction and Coffee
- Why does Starbucks Coffee… um… maybe you should just read it.
- Why can we walk past beautiful artwork without noticing it?
- Calliope Jones and the Writer’s Cusp
- Why is the sky over Los Angeles that particular color of yellowish grey?
- What’s the real deal with gasoline prices?
- The Songs of Books
- Why do some people stay on the train past the end of the line?
- The Arrogant Writer and the Beached Mermaid
- Why do we get spam email that’s complete gibberish or random sentences from books strung together?
- Why does alcohol produce hangovers, and why doesn’t it produce hangovers consistently?
- Dog Reincarnation
- The Princess and the Wyverns
- Manannán mac Lir and the Isle of Ninjas.
- Why is there a disconnect between Art and Industry?
- Why are there Suburbs?
- Why do people check the time on mobile phones instead of watches?
- Prosperina: A Mythology of the Modern World Holiday Special
- Mythology of the Modern World: Aren’t I Just Ripping Off John Hodgman?
- Where do babies come from? I mean, really come from?
- The Souls of Toys
- The Fruit Fly and the Nymph of Time
- Why are the ideas of things scarier than the reality?
- Time Zones and the Witching Hour.
- Ball Lightning, Missing Socks, Drawer Crud and the Protectors of the Hearth
- Why do things break right as their warranties expire?
It was a week of system issues and exhaustion, but that is done and now it’s Myth Time again, and with a little luck we’ll be on the full on normal schedule again starting this week. Starting off, we’re going back to Banter Latte pal CrazyDave, who asks us:
Why have people stopped wearing watches and started dragging mobiles out of their pocket to check the time?
It’s something lots of people do. I do it myself. But it’s not ubiquitous. Lots of wristwatches are still out there and still being checked. Which makes it interesting, because it’s one of those rare things: a behavior in transition.
Which gives us something to talk about.
*** *** *** ***
People often confuse the concept of Time with the concept of Telling Time. Time is, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.” Telling time, on the other hand, is the skill one has in using either physical phenomena or — more often — artificial devices to determine at what point in a relatively arbitrary system defining the very real and yet very intangible ‘time’ said person is currently existing in.
Yeah, that’s way too thick a paragraph. Let me put it this way. There is Time, which exists, and there is Telling Time, which uses a system that doesn’t really exist to approximate and overlay comprehension onto a system that does exist.
One would think, based on that, that Time would be well represented mythologically speaking, and Telling Time would be barely represented if at all. In this, one would be wrong.
Telling Time has, in fact, always had a thick mythological basis. Its very artificial nature responds well to the interplay of imagination and perception that makes for the very best mythologies. When one is completely building their perception of time, and how to tell the difference between ‘then,’ ‘now’ and ‘soon,’ one has lots of elbow room and room for dissent. Throw in the difference between nanoseconds, seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, centuries, and millennia, and the potential mythological infrastructure is enormous. Now to all of that, add in mornings, afternoons, evenings, twilight, night, dusk, dawn, semesters, trimesters, seasons — natural ones like ‘Spring’ and less natural ones like ‘the Social’ — eons, ages, noon, midnight, yesterday, today, tomorrow, last week, this week, next week, last month, this month, next month, last year, this year, next year, before you were born, back when I was a kid, leaving it to your children, once upon a time and a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….
So, this gives us the Houris of the Hours, and the Guardians of the Months, and Day Nymphs and the Spirits of the Ages and the Scions of the Centuries and any number of other things, and you’ll meet some of them as we tell more of these stories. Sometimes they contradict each other, but that’s why we have arbitration. It’s really very complicated.
But as for Time itself? We have one guy. That’s all. That’s all that’s necessary. Time exists, and this one guy embodies it. And mostly, he keeps to himself. And we don’t think much about him. After all, the fact of time isn’t nearly as important to our day to day lives as telling time.
Really, when we discuss Time Himself, we usually just imagine he’s wearing robes, maybe carrying a scythe, and generally refer to him as Father Time. And sure, once upon a time he wore robes, mostly because at the time he was hanging around monasteries — he enjoyed illuminating manuscripts and that was where the work was — and pretty much everyone there wore robes. And he did own a scythe, since he had a garden and they only recently invented hedge clippers and gas powered mowers.
But one thing we’ve gotten right. He is a Father. Specifically of a daughter named Natalie. And like good parents since the dawn of time — which is itself an artificial statement about time which Father Time himself would roll his eyes over, since he was in fact there and there was nothing remotely dawnlike about it — after Natalie graduated from College he used his pull to get her a good job. Specifically, Natalie was named the Intendant of What Time Is It? To her fell the concept of both the question — “hey, what time is it, anyway?” — and the answer to that question. Under her was also found “how long until” and “how long has it been since,” at least for shorter periods of time. Which means that while there were hundreds upon hundreds of daemons and Loci employed by the Telling Time industry, Natalie got the crux question. Father Time was pleased. His little girl deserved only the best.
Over time — no pun intended — Natalie would feel somewhat differently about it.
Donal checked the watch on his wrist. It was beautiful. A masterpiece of the art of timekeeping. It was an eighteen karat gold Rolex Cosmograph Daytona — one of the most sought after watches the world had produced. This was one of the ones unofficially called the ‘Paul Newman,’ and it would sell for a remarkable amount of money, if Donal ever chose to sell it.
Which of course he wouldn’t.
“We’re going to be late!” he shouted up the stairs. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”
There was a pause.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” she called back down. She didn’t sound amused. She didn’t sound… anything at all, really. It was only the fact that she’d had to shout to be heard that meant her voice was raised in the first place.
“Just get ready. This is an important day for me.”
“They’re all important days for you.”
Donal snorted, and went into the study to fix himself a drink. Christ only knew how long the woman would take.
Finally, she came through the door. She had worn the Vera Wang in black. White accents. Well, good enough. “Finally,” he snapped. “Let’s get in the car.”
“I may not feel up to this,” she said, following. “You don’t really need me.”
“Of course I need you,” Donal said, opening her door. “Why would you even say that? This is the event of the year.”
“It’s the Midsummer Ball,” she said, sliding into her seat. “It’s no big deal.”
Donal snorted. “No big deal, she says.”
Donal looked at her. “Hey,” he snapped. “Look at me.”
She kept looking straight ahead.
“I said look at me.”
She turned to look at him, finally.
“I didn’t get my social standing handed to me by my father,” he said. “I worked for it. This event makes or breaks that standing for a year. The elite are on display, and I don’t want any of them to forget for an instant that I’m one of them. And that means you’re going to smile and be nice to people.”
She sighed and looked away. “Do we have to stay long?”
“You can do whatever the Hell you want, once we’ve done a circuit or two.” He pulled the Aston Martin out.
“You know, Sam and I used to do the Midsummer Ball each year,” she said, looking out the side window. Watching the trees and houses go by as they drove through Behind The Scenes of the World. “He was always so excited to go.” She chuckled. “They used to do a roast pork he loved. Every year. A month before the ball he would talk about that pork. ‘Natty, that glaze they use,’ he would say. ‘Oh, the empires that could be built upon that glaze.'”
Donal snorted. “You sure can pick them,” he said. “Thousands of loci in the worlds beyond the worlds, and you found the one man who went to the Midsummer Ball for the food.”
“Yeah,” she said. She kept looking out the window. “I sure can pick them.”
The dynastic powers were driven, of course. Their chauffeurs saw to the cars as they went in. Donal was self-made. It was a huge part of his identity, of his persona in society, so even though his car was worth more than most of the limousines, he drove himself and used that as pride. The valets drove the Aston Martin off as the two walked in. To the side, the Brownie at the door made the Announcement. “The Master of the Wristwatch,” he called out, “and the Intendant of What Time Is It?” His voice rose at the end, making it the question it should be.
“Do you suppose your father is here?” Donal asked, smiling amiably as he nodded to the peers as they passed them.
“Not likely,” Natalie answered. She had her professional smile on, greeting those she met in passing. “He hates these things.”
“I thought you were going ask him to come.” Donal’s smile never slipped, of course.
“Slipped my mind,” Natalie answered. Always smiling, always nodding.
“It would have looked good to be seen with Father Time,” Donal murmured smoothly, kissing the hand of the Duchess of Los Angeles.
“Then you should have asked him yourself,” Natalie answered, letting the Neighborhood Coordinator kiss her cheek.
“He’s your father,” Donal said, all too smoothly.
That was it. Natalie turned away from where the Viceroy of the Cul-de-Sac was waiting. “Yes, he is,” she snapped, just loudly enough to be audible. “And you should remember that.”
There was a hush. Donal paused, and smiled winningly as he turned to his girlfriend. “We’ll discuss it later,” he said. “Come on, let’s not keep our host waiting.”
“I’ll meet you there,” Natalie said, artificial sweetness in her voice. “I think I need a drink.”
Donal frowned, but Natalie turned on her heel and marched off. He watched her go, then chuckled. “You know, you think you’ve got them housebroken, but when you take them out to see company…”
There was a chuckle, strained from some, and Donal set back to work.
He found her at the bar twenty minutes later. She had a Cosmopolitan. And she was talking to Morris, the Digital Timepiece Developer. “–think that there’s a real potential for precision,” he was saying. “And there’s nothing innately unstylish about digital watches.”
“I always liked digital watches,” Natalie was answering. She had enough of a blush to her cheeks that Donal could tell this wasn’t her first Cosmopolitan of the evening. “It’s fun to watch the numbers change. I miss the LED displays, though.”
Morris chuckled. He looked out of place in his tuxedo. His glasses would look hipster, but his hair screamed ‘nerd’ instead.
Donal slid between Morris and Natalie. “On your way,” he murmured to the Digital Timepiece Developer. He nodded to the bartender. “Vesper martini,” he said. “Linnet blanc, Stolichnaya and Boodles British.”
Morris opened his mouth, closed it and stepped off.
Natalie snorted. “I was having a nice conversation with him.”
“He’s currying favor,” Donal snapped. “Trying to get in good with you.”
“And you wouldn’t know anything about that,” Natalie snapped back. “He work with me, you know.”
“He works for me,” Donal answered, glaring at her. “And digital watches didn’t work out. They’re ugly and they’re crass.”
“You’re just afraid he’ll do to you what you did to Sam.”
Donal snorted. “Our dear Count of Pocket Watches was fat. Morris is gangly. You came with me because I was smooth and stylish. Precise. You like precision, don’t you.”
“I’m sick of this,” Natalie said, looking into her drink. “I’m sick of you, Donal.”
“That amuses you?”
“Of course it does,” he said. “You need me, Natalie. Before me, no one could answer your question. Not effectively. I’m the logical conclusion to your aspect. Don’t pretend you can throw me over tomorrow without doing yourself a significant disservice.”
“You think people would stop checking their watches if I dumped your ass?”
“I think we’re not going to find out any time soon, little princess. You want to get drunk? That’s fine. Stay away from clockmakers and timekeepers.” He stepped off, and walked back into the fray.
Natalie stared at him, then nodded to the bartender for another drink.
“No offense, Miss What Time It Is? But your boyfriend’s a dick.”
Natalie turned. Her speaker wore his tuxedo a little more comfortably than Morris had, but he’d also loosened his collar. His dark hair was short. He looked roguish more than handsome.
“What Time is it,” Natalie corrected with a slight smile.
“You’re asking me? My aspect doesn’t even touch on time.” He smiled. “Jason. Proconsul of Portable Telephony.” He offered his hand.
Natalie shook it. “A pleasure,” she said. She looked out across the room, where Donal was laughing it up with the Right People. “Call me Natalie.”
“Seriously,” Jason said, leaning next to her. “That guy’s a total dick. You can do better.”
“You mean I could be with you instead?” She chuckled. “That’s what got me Donal in the first place.”
Jason snorted. “I don’t care if you go out with me or not. I just don’t like seeing guys step on their significant others.”
“That implies I’m significant,” Natalie said.
“Aren’t you? You outrank him. He works for you.”
“What a wonderfully black and white world you live in.” Natalie accepted her fresh drink. “He knows full well that if I dumped him tomorrow, he’d still be the most important man in my life, fully capable of demanding whatever he wanted from me. And as for me? I’m just like his Rolex, or his car, or his pretentious James Bond drink. I’m an accessory. I’m proof he’s arrived and the social world has to take him seriously.” She sipped the slightly tart liquid. “Most of the time, it’s easy enough. I barely need to see him.”
Jason shook his head. “And is that what life is supposed to be?” he asked her. “Is that what you ask out of a relationship? ‘I can’t stand him but I can’t get rid of him and besides — I never need to see him?'”
Natalie shrugged. “Every relationship I’ve been in has tied back to my work, somehow. They court me so that they can make it to the top of the heap. I was annoyed with how Donal dismissed Morris but Donal wasn’t wrong — Morris can’t look at me without seeing how I could expand the role of digital timepieces in the world.”
“So find someone who doesn’t have anything to do with the time,” Jason said. “Or find no one at all. Go it alone for a few years.”
“I like being in a relationship,” Natalie said.
“Do you like being in this relationship?”
“Besides, I’ve tried it with people who have no ties to the time. Date a locus with an unrelated aspect, and you end up never seeing each other. Your concerns and his concerns never touch, and ultimately you have nothing to talk about.”
“Then date a mortal.”
“I can’t.” She looked at Jason. “Some powers can get away with dating a mortal, but my aspect’s too big. Too all pervasive. I tried it once. I practically drove the poor man mad.” She looked in her drink. “Maybe I deserve someone like Donal.”
She looked at Jason.
“Bullshit,” he repeated. “He treats you like shit, Good Lady What Time Is It.” He missed the question at the end of her Aspect, but Natalie let it go. “You don’t deserve to be treated like that. You deserve to enjoy yourself. To enjoy a relationship. To have someone who treats you well and who you can treat well.”
“Someone like you?”
Jason rolled his eyes. “You’ve said that twice now. Do I find you attractive? Yes. And would I treat you better than the Watchkeeper? Damn right I would. But that’s not the point.”
“What is the point, then?”
Jason leaned in. “It doesn’t matter if I’d treat you better,” he said softly. “The point is he treats you like shit.”
She looked back out. Donal was in his element now. Networking. Showing off. He gestured in her direction once, but didn’t look her way. “So be alone,” she said. “Or go out with someone who has nothing to do with my life. Or drive some other poor mortal insane.”
“There’s another option,” Jason said softly.
“Find someone whose aspect touches on yours, but doesn’t depend on it.”
Natalie frowned. “Like who?”
Jason shrugged. “I dunno. Don’t computers have clocks on them?”
“But a computer locus wouldn’t rely on you. Your beneficence would benefit him, and his would benefit you, but you wouldn’t need each other in any unhealthy way.”
Natalie considered, then shook her head. “It wouldn’t work,” she said. “Computers aren’t ubiquitous enough. I’d still spend all my time with Donal or someone like him, only now he’d be bitter.”
Jason shrugged. “Then find something that is ubiquitous. Or that will be ubiquitous. If that’s how you have to define your relationships.”
Natalie looked at Jason. “Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Okay. Tell me about portable phones.”
Jason blinked, and chuckled. “I didn’t mean me.”
“Why not. Just because they’re niche products?”
“They’re niche right now, but they’re going to expand,” Jason said. “They’re getting smaller, and the batteries are getting better. They’re useful, and in their own way they’re as much a status symbol as your boyfriend’s Rolex. Only it’s the models that do more that get the higher status. And that’s only going to grow.” He shook his head. “One day more people will have portables than regular wired telephones. One day, it’ll seem strange when someone doesn’t carry a phone.”
“So, they’ll be ubiquitous?” she said, smirking.
Jason blinked. “Well, yes,” he said. “But then, I’m biased.”
“I’ll bet you are.” She drank the rest of her drink. “Did you ever think of putting a clock in a phone?”
Jason frowned. “A clock?”
“Absolutely. A digital clock, since I’m annoyed with Donal and therefore feeling charitable to Morris right now.”
“Well, there’s no reason we couldn’t….”
Natalie smiled a bit more. “Then let me ask you something, Jason of the Portable Phone. You’ve been very careful to at least sound like you’re just concerned about my welfare, not about getting me naked. Do you want to get me naked?”
Jason looked in Natalie’s eyes. “Maybe,” he said. “I don’t really know you.”
“Good answer.” She set her glass down. “Do you care what people think of you? Do you care if you seem outrageous or silly?”
Jason shrugged. “Not really.”
“Another good answer.” She looked back at him. “What’s my aspect again?”
“What time is it.”
“No. There’s supposed to be a question mark at the end of that sentence. Say it right.”
Jason smiled slightly. “What time is it?”
“Time for me to leave. If you’re willing to throw caution to the wind, you can follow me out.” And with that, the Intendant of What Time Is It? strode for the entryway.
Jason watched her go for a long moment, then set his drink down on the bar and followed.
Donal didn’t notice either one of them as they left.
Systems of time are artificial, but they’re convenient. For example, though Father Time himself simply knows that time exists, and that time continues to move, it makes everything easier for you and I if I just say that we close the scene we just watched, and then looked ahead several years, to another night, and another Midsummer Ball.
“The Intendant of What Time Is It?” the Brownie said. Natalie was in red this year, with silver accents. She looked good.
“Good Lady,” Morris said, stepping to her. They kissed each other on the cheeks. He was wearing wire rims now, and had moved towards ‘hipster’ with his hair. It was a better look for him. “You look smashing tonight.” He grinned.
“I feel smashing, tonight,” Natalie answered. “And I hope there’s a good Riesling with my name on it.”
“It seems likely.” Morris snapped his fingers at one of the walking waiters. The Satyr diverted, offering a tray of flutes. Natalie took one and sipped. Chardonney, not Riesling, but it was still nice. “Projections are looking good for the next quarter.”
“I’ll bet.” She smiled a bit. “But do we have to launch into work? It’s a party. I skipped lunch to make room.”
“We don’t have to do anything,” Morris said, grinning.
There was movement to the side. Natalie glanced and rolled her eyes. “Incoming,” she said with a smirk.
Donal half-stormed up to the pair. “We need to talk,” he said.
“Hello, Donal. You’re looking nice tonight. How’s your trick knee been acting?” Natalie smiled more broadly.
Donal shot a glance to Morris. “I need to speak to the Lady,” he said.
“And?” Morris asked. His bearing didn’t shift in the slightest.
“And that means I need you to go away.”
Morris shrugged. “We all have needs, Donal. But I was about to ask Natalie to dance.”
“That sounds lovely,” Natalie said. “Donal, be a good boy and wait at the bar. I’m sure I can make time later on.”
Donal pursed his lips. He turned and stormed off, but he didn’t say anything.
“Is it petty that I enjoyed that?” Morris asked.
“I hope not. I’ve been enjoying it for some time. I didn’t realize you’d disconnected so much from him.”
“These days? He needs all the watch buyers he can get. As for me — there’s lots of digital timepieces in the world.”
“There certainly are. I–”
“–all right since Bruce Springsteen! Madonna! Way before Nirvana — there was U2, and Blondie, and music still on MTV–“
“That’s me,” Natalie said, pulling her RAZR out of her clutch bag and flipping it open. “Hey, Jase. You’re late.” She sounded amused.
“Yeah, well, sue me,” Jason said with a chuckle. “I’m about a half hour out. Forgive me?”
“This time, sure. But I’m going to eat without you.”
“Go nuts. Love you, Nattily.”
“Love you too.” She folded the phone, and glanced at the front. 8:14. She could have known the time instantly, of course — it was her Aspect — but she liked the ritual. “Right. Let’s dance, Morris. And then we eat. I hope they’re doing the pork this year. They have a glaze — I swear to God, it’s to die for.”