Saturday, September 25, 2004

Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call Sometimes when I have a spare minute, or even a spare second, I remember a time, a long long time ago - a time bathed in filtered light gently shining through green leaves, when I lived twelve thousand miles away, in Melbourne Australia.

The recollections vary only slightly. I am lying in a hammock in the rambling garden of a house in Northcote. Sometimes I'm reading. Sometimes I'm talking to a friend who has dropped by. Sometimes I'm just thinking of what I will be doing when night falls. But some aspects of these recollections remain constant. I'm always relaxed, and considerations of time are far way.

I know now, though I didn't then, that these time considerations were just waiting for me, twelve thousand miles and three thousand six hundred days away.

New York 2004.    There's no time. Or not enough time. New Yorkers have no free time. Moreover the time they do have is labelled. There is "quality time", "scheduled time", "night time", "day time", but never "My Time".

Time is a precious commodity. Time is money. Money is time. We don't even have time to see our friends, even if we had the time to make them. We have promises to meet, "some time".

We don't have time for conversations. We phone "friends" when we know they will not be home - so that we can leave a message on their voice mail rather than have an interactive (and therefore longer) conversation. A few days later we get a voice mail back. And so on.
Time is an asset whose value varies according to the "owner" of the time. We have always accepted that some people's time is less "expensive" than other people's time. It is a matter of supply and demand. A blue-collar worker's time is worth less than a dentist's time for example. This is because (1) there more blue-collar workers than dentists; and (2) dentists spent more time in the education system than blue-collar workers. I call this "capitalistic time" as I have acclimated as they say, to American society, and can now think like an American.

"Capitalistic time" now applies to things other than hourly pay rates. If you are a doctor, your time is more valuable than that of your patients. You cannot be expected to waste a second between patient appointments. So you double-book and patients must wait. After all, they are ill and therefore their time is of less value.

That is, unless the patients have paid more for their time. At some surgeries, patients pay to join something similar to the airlines platinum member clubs. The "reward" is a level of service that one could expect in a civilized society - you don't have to wait - well you don't have to wait as long as the plebs in coach...

I used to wonder why, in a city where even time units are qualified by the city name - "New York minutes", its citizens wait so patiently in queues, euphemistically called "lines". I now understand. If you don't pay for time then you cannot have it. Time is a consumable in limited supply, more valuable than oil.

I value my time. I have even learned to squeeze out some semi-leisure-time from hours once devoted to sleep. Time is now a consideration in my everyday life. Not so for my happy band of care-free friends in OZ. To them the only thing about time of concern, is what the time is in New York when they phone me.

I can see them in my mind's eye now. Sitting around in the middle of a lazy Melbourne day. Perhaps the friends who have dropped by have left for a leisurely drive home. Perhaps they feel like using one of their many idle moments to establish a connection with their faraway friend. Who knows? But somehow, when it is between 10:00 am and 2:00pm in Eastern Australia, they'll decide to phone.

Invariable, their first question is, "What's the time there?"

After I've told them - "Three bloody AM!", and put down the phone, I try to go back to sleep.

This doesn't take long. I just have to remember a peacefully time a long long time ago - a time bathed in filtered light gently shining through green leaves, when I lived twelve thousand miles away, in Melbourne Australia.

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