Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A QUESTION OF TIME

They say time flies when you're having fun, but this is getting to be ridiculous. Since I moved to Buenos Aires, time seems to be in a perpetual race -- a never-ending 50-yard dash -- with Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet? Greasy kids' stuff. Time is playing to win.

I'm not just referring to the fact that I've been living abroad for more than 27 months, and it only feels like half that. I'm talking on a much smaller scale. I'll settle in for my afternoon siesta at 1pm, and before I know it, four hours have taken off, reached a comfortable cruising altitude and just flown by. And I rarely even spend more than half of the flight actually sleeping! No wonder bar owners in BA set up their happy hour (or "after office" as they call it there) to last twice as long as it does in New York.

It's not just my down time that seems to be smashing every acceleration record known to man. Last week, I spent several days doing some freelance editing for Time Out Buenos Aires in their downtown offices and at home. I had so much work to do, and I didn't want to spend all day doing it, so although I was being paid by the hour, I prayed for time to go by as slowly as possible. But God must have been lounging by the pool or stuffing His face at one of those asados that are so in vogue this time of year in BA. I'd sit down to start editing, blink, and several hours already had gone by -- and I still wouldn't be halfway done!

It's the same when I'm writing this very blog. I guess I shouldn't be totally surprised: The tired aforementioned cliché does say that time flies when you're having fun, and I find all of the above -- from the tossing and turning through half of my siesta to the editing and writing while sort of wishing I were taking a siesta -- to be great fun. But it wasn't always so. In fact, my last few years in New York, when writing and editing had ceased to be sources of pleasure and an afternoon nap was just another reason to feel guilty, it was rarely that way. No matter how busy I was or how much work I had to do, on days when we weren't closing an issue and therefore could go home before all the work was done, I'd always find time to check my watch to see when the drudgery would end.

"Time will crawl," David Bowie sang on his underrated (even by him) 1987 CD, Never Let Me Down. And it did. As an aside, I remember that particular album being hailed as a return to form when it was released, and I agreed. But years ago, when I interviewed David Bowie, he basically dismissed it, along with 1984's Tonight and 1983's Let's Dance, as crap. I don't recall his exact words, but he said he was basically a singer for hire during most of the 1980s, showing up in the studio for the money. I didn't agree with his assessment of at least two of the albums (guess which two), but boy, did he have a point when he sang, "Time will crawl." Whenever I was doing something I wasn't 100% into (which was more often than not), it barely kept up with the snails. (Editor's note: I'm not talking Time with a capital T here -- weeks, months and years fly by and always have. I'm talking about moment-to-moment time.)

Fast forward -- or rather, slow forward -- to 2006. "Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strain. Ch-ch-changes," Bowie had sung many years earlier, well before his hack period. Double checking the lyrics on the internet, I just realized that there's a faction that thinks he was actually singing, "Turn and face the strange." If I ever interview him again, I'll have to ask. But whichever one it is, that's exactly what I had to do when time stopped crawling and permanently picked up the pace.

But my clockwatching continued, continues -- only now I'm wishing the hour, minute and second hands would slow down rather than speed up. It's returned in full force these last few days when I'm online in my hotel room in Lima because Wi-Fi access arrives via a username and password that last exactly 300 minutes. I've already gone through at least four of them, and I don't think I've spent that much time online. Have I? Who knows why this system is in place (even on the community computer in the lobby, which, incidentally, has been out of service since I arrived), but I'm secretly looking forward to having 24/7 Wi-Fi in Bogota without constantly having a clock in the bottom border of my computer screen counting down, reminding me that time -- and my life -- is whizzing by.

Right now it's five minutes to 6pm, and I'm wondering, How could that be? Wasn't it 6am just a few minutes ago? Kylie was right, too, when she sang, "Time will pass you by." Today, it has. Right on by. On an express train to nowhere fast with zero stops to smell the roses. Too bad it won't settle down and take a minute or two to consider the plan laid out by Kylie on her later hit, "Slow." It's not as if I've passed this decidedly un-manic Monday Monday in a whir of activity. In fact, I've been more immobile today than I've been in weeks. But time doesn't seem to give a damn. All he (or she) wants to do is outspeed Superman.

Speaking of the man of steel, Smallville is on. I'm not a fan, but I'm too lazy to reach for the remote control in my hotel room and find something else to provide the background noise. No worries. Time may take a licking, but it keeps on ticking (as is that stupid Wi-Fi countdown clock below) and still kicking Superman's butt (as is Lex Luthor in this particular episode...ouch!). That may not be good news for the final four months and one week of my thirties, but at least it means that Smallville won't be on for long. The next hour is guaranteed to go by just like that.
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