Best Worst Year: Episode 60 (Or, Time–as in Tom Waits and Not Pink Floyd)

There is a slow and progressively growing army of watches amassing on the edge of my dresser. A collector’s obsession. A junkie’s addiction. A teenager’s impulse control. A steady paycheck. A molotov cocktail for vices and devices to those vices. On the deep end of my thirties, the vices have been boiled way. The bad ideas get distance between one another. They punctuate certain Fridays and Saturdays…maybe the occasional Tuesday. Maybe the new vice is time. Measuring it. Its awareness. How it ticks away. How it stands, suspended, in the presence of some. Maybe it’s an obsession with circles. How it spins and turns. Vinyl. Tone Arms. Hands. Gears. Needles. Movement. Swiss. Japanese. Analogue. Automatic. PVC. Records. Watches. They mark time one side at a time.

I like the idea of time winding and grinding through my wrist. The kinetics of my arm’s motion powering the movement of gears and hands. My Timex is a validation of my own movement through this life. What sustains time is how I pass through it. Stand still long enough, it’ll stop.

I don’t want time to stand still.

Christmas at the edge of the Cape wound hearts carefully. Slowly. Like springs in a trap. A different me. Less discrete. Careless to the point of careful–a pendulum swung so far it spun. In concert and in opposition to the days and hours–the interstate. Mass Pike. The roundabouts. My Buick was fishtailing through the turns. Black ice. We were in a hurry. We were always in a hurry to go somewhere. Where we went passed us by. Sustained motion. Like quicksand. The more we fought to stand still, the quicker it pulled us under. The gravity of timing.

I have a thrift store turtleneck. Camel colored. Found it in a Scranton Salvation Army my sophomore year of college. Carried it like a sense memory of that Christmas. Coworker crushes. Awkward me I couldn’t shake. Like a bad cold. Like a pervading thought. Like the fourth Teenage Fanclub record I would play in my tape deck to and from work. Wore that cassette threadbare and thin. Thinned my blood on salted rimmed glasses and rose colored silence. Not optimistic. Just quiet. Just afraid of learning how thin the ice could be beneath me. I always stood on shore. Cold getting colder. Turtlenecked above my nose. Fogging my Ray-Bans. Cold getting colder.

For the first time in nearly twenty years that turtleneck fits. Threadbare and cassette thin, it has holes and tears where the light of day can pass through. Smells like pine and pining. A different me pulls it over my head and shoulders. I wash two decades of symbolism out of it. Fits me better now. Better than it ever did when I was Teenage Fanclub and bottle shy.

Baltimore bottles of Natty Bo go down easy. Like home. Like no time has passed between bottle caps and bar tabs. Two summers? Three? Five years? Ships pass. What threads us together is time’s needle. I imagine hands passing over a bare wrist. Marking time by a pulse, rising slightly. You pay attention to names and faces you seem unable to shake. Like a catchy chorus. Like three chords resonating on 180g vinyl. Like a pervading thought. A grey scarf. I had this dream the other night about

There are noticeable gaps in what I remembered. That awkward sting is slightly embarrassing. Color comes to the surface. Like a bruise. Or a sailor’s sun melting into a blush rather than setting on your phone call. I was listening to Elvis Costello’s “Shipbuilding.” That Chet Baker solo. (For me it’s his last honest moment committed to wax.) Tarnished brass. Victim and suitor to his vices. Time doesn’t stand still in that trumpet solo. It doesn’t speed up. It just sustains. Rings true. His aim. Vinyl moguls slightly on the turntable. Where awkward fear would listen for the ice to crack, I know now that ice gives way to warmth and water. We don’t have to drown or freeze. We can swim. Whole. Fluid. In tandem. Time winding through the motion of our bodies. Devices and vices start and stop–we pass promises through them freely and independent of their demands. The needle and the threadbare feeling. Arms and hands flip albums from side to side and grind against a watchmaker’s work.

Green has return to the grass outside my office. Two weeks ago these ginkgo trees and dead earth looked tired. Empty. Stark. Naked. I had forgotten my Timex in my desk drawer. When I came back, it had stopped only a handful of days after I left for Charm City and points east. A few flicks of the wrist. A winding between thumb and forefinger and life returned to life by seconds, hours, and minutes. I accidentally set it an hour ahead.


Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals including The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Five Quarterly, and The Minnesota Review. It’s not that he dislikes Pink Floyd but seriously if you haven’t heard Tom Waits’ song “Time” what have you been doing up to this very point? For an audio version of this column, check out: Follow him on twitter @whoismisterjim.







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