Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Unreal Time

By Ellen Proctor

   Who is it? The phone rings, every hour on the hour. Actually, at about five minutes before the hour. I don't know who it is, so I call it, “It.” Whoever “It” is, its clock must be a little fast.
   I wonder if this is by accident or design.
   I set my own clocks to an unknown time, rather fast, because I am afraid of the humiliation of walking into someplace late. Not that I have anyplace to go, really. Still, it helps to know that it's always a little earlier than I think it is when I look at my clock. But if I want to know the real time, I have only to look out my bathroom window at the bank clock downtown. The problem with this is, sometimes I look out to see that it's 11:96.
   I wonder if this is by accident or design.
   I think some prankster has hold of my life. It calls, listens to the wild static on my phone, and hangs up after I answer. Or perhaps it's expecting someone else to answer. Sometimes, when I walk in the door, the apartment has the air of someone having just walked out. I begin to wonder whether someone else lives here when I'm not home, in some furtive and elaborate time-share arrangement.
   The local high school thinks someone else lives here. Some kid named Eric. I get a lot of telephone calls for him, sometimes from high school girls, but more often from the school. I tell them over and over that Eric doesn't live here, that this is not Eric's phone number, that I don't even know Eric, but they don't seem to believe me.
    The girls keep calling. The school never removes my phone number from his files. Enough people think this is Eric's phone number that I almost believe it myself. I know a little about Eric now. Girls like him. He doesn't seem to like school much. Instead of going to school, maybe he spends his time here instead. If he does, I wish he'd clean up the place a bit. He probably just sits here amid the clutter of unpaid bills and unwashed dishes, reading my books.
   Instead of cleaning, I sit, thinking about it. Who is It? My clock says it's 12:34. I'm afraid to look out the window, afraid it'll be 11:96. I'm afraid to look at the phone, afraid it'll ring. I'm afraid to leave, afraid Eric will come in and resume his own domestic life among my belongings.
   Of course, I don't really believe any of this.
   Or at least, not most of it. Eric's real phone number could differ from mine by one digit. These people could simply be misdialing. The every-hour phone caller could be a very persistent Someone with a wrong number, or perhaps Eric himself. Eric calling hourly to see whether I'm home, whether it's safe for him to come in, whether the coast is clear. The bank clock is simply broken, of course, although perhaps it could somehow feel me looking at it. Giving me a sly wink from its electronic eye. Signals from this prankster.
   I know people who rely on their “higher power” to get them through the minute crises of life. I don't think I can rely on mine. I think that this prankster is what passes for my own higher power. I think its name is Eric. It likes to play with time. I almost believe it's what's causing the roaring static on my phone. I wonder whether my phone is actually linked to some alternate dimension, where someone named Eric actually lives at this address, and where 11:96 is an actual time of day.
   Of course, I don't really believe any of this.
   What I really need to do is to set my clocks to the correct time, stop answering my phone, and go out of the apartment.
   Yes, I need to go out of my apartment and hide outside, where I can see both the door and the fire escape. Where I can see without being seen. I need to lie in wait for It … or Eric. I also need to sneak up on that bank clock. The trouble with the clock is that it's not consistent. Sometimes it displays a time such as 3:42, just like any other self-respecting clock. Sometimes my phone rings and it's actually for me. Sometimes there isn't even any static on the line.
   I wonder if this is by accident or design.
   I'm starting to feel a bit guilty about staying inside. I feel somehow responsible for Eric's not being here. I could be making him homeless. I like to say that I have compassion for the homeless, but perhaps I'm part of the problem instead of part of the solution. I think I should go out so Eric can come in.
   Of course, I don't really believe any of this.
   What I really think is that Eric is my alter ego, my shadow self, my animus. When the bills aren't paid, blame it on Eric. When the dishes aren't done? It's Eric's fault. Actually, it's not really his fault, because he doesn't really know what time it is. How can anyone be expected to do anything on time, or show up for school, in a world where it can be 11:96 at any given moment? What kind of time is that? 11:96 is not time to go to school. It is not time to run out to buy stamps. 11:96 can be a lot of things, but one thing it is not, is time.
  I'm starting to think that maybe I'm missing the divine message in all of this. Like this 96 thing. It could be an apocalyptic message from the Beyond, A key to the cryptic numerological warning in the Book of Revelations? Or, maybe, relating to the year 1996. A 9 is just an upside-down 6. There is a 6 in my phone number.
   I wonder if this is by accident or design.
   What would Carl Jung say about this combination of things? If this were a dream, his interpretation would say that all the images and elements would be, quite simply, parts of myself. The unreal time is a signal, he might say, of knowing I'm not ready to face these things. This is borne out by my sense that someone has always just left as I walk in the door, someone with whom I'm unable to come face to face. Walking in the door is, of course, a symbolic entrance into the dreaming aspect of my psyche. The telephone is a modern archetype of the voice of the unseen, the Higher Power, perhaps, attempting to communicate its cryptic messages.
   Of course I don't really believe any of this.
   It's 12:49 by my clock. It could be five minutes until twelve. It could be 11:96. The phone rings. Who is it? I hear static. I say hello. It hangs up.
   Suddenly it becomes clear to me. It's the archetypal divine prankster, Trickster. Telling me to look beyond the commonplace events of life. Telling me not to live a humdrum existence. Yes, I see it now. Life is not a series of minute crises. It's a series of little mysteries, to solve or not to solve. That is the real question. Trickster is here, in the telephone and in the clock, giving me clues about the nature of truth.
   Of course I don't really believe any of this.
   It's all true, and none of it is true. Anything is possible and everything is impossible (or at the very least, improbable).
   I wonder if this is by accident or design.

(Reprinted by permission - 5/3/2017)

Carl Sagan on God, Faith and Religion