“Time is a jet plane; it moves too fast.” -Bob Dylan
Beat the Clock was not the best of the 1950s television game shows, just the most prophetic. Bud Collier, the gangly, affable host, had been the radio voice of Superman before he found his true calling – convincing “everyday people from all walks of life” to bury their spouse in a vat of ping pong balls or lime Jello on national television. Bud, with his bobbing Adam’s apple and trademark bow tie, was so unintimidating that contestants soon found themselves crawling through a maze of hula hoops with a bucket of goldfish in their mouths. Bud’s low key approach to the activities made you think that he may just put on a marshmallow sport jacket and leap through the hoop of fire after the show, before going home to Scarsdale.
The most memorable element of the show was the clock on the wall. Not only were you expected to somersault 30 feet with a raw egg in your mouth, but after a look at the clock on the wall – you have 90 seconds! Nowadays when I am running errands (like searching for a plastic replacement widget sprocket release for a Dino-juicer I could live without), the show comes back to me. Much of what I do is absurd and time-consuming. Leaving the absurd part to French existentialists and college sophomores, I think about how the giant clock on the wall dominates my life.
I am not a busy person doing important things like addressing the United Nations or convincing the Walker Art Center to take the stack of large iron landmines that grace the east wall back to where they found them. I am more a plodder and a grazer, continually baffled by things like how to access the PIN number on my credit card from a touch tone phone. Yet there is the constant press of time in my life.
Even sidewalk conversations with neighbors need to be timed because someone has karate lessons and the business call has to be returned before five. Then eat quickly and drop off the library books (that are on the grace period) on the way to more kid pickup. Granted this is not the stuff that would rival Roots, it is merely ironic that with answering machines, faxes and VCRs, we have only managed to rearrange our inconveniences. After years of life experience and technology, I still have 20 minutes to rest before a meeting, ten minutes until guests arrive…
A friend calls the unclaimed time between two scheduled activities her leash, as in “I was on a 20-minute leash between the dentist and Girl Scouts.” Twenty minutes is a pretty impressive bit of free time. My friend chose to spend hers attempting to get out of a gridlocked parking ramp downtown. It was cunning old crewcut Bud (he looked blond on our snowy old black and white Philco) that began to prepare us for a world of short, disjointed, seemingly random experiences that would be further robbed of meaning by a strict time clock. “There is no gestalt,” Bud would snicker off-camera.
Bud would never tie together people who were not married. It was the 50s, after all. But he loved joining newlyweds and very heavy couples with rope or tape. Then he would announce the task.
“Walk the balance beam with an apple under your chin, trade apples, skip back and ring the bell.” The couple would smile, mentally spending the $200 prize money while those of us at home squawked that Bud had gone soft and sold us out. Then the best part, Bud would grin and in a nonchalant manner add, “You will be blindfolded, and you have 90 seconds – GO!”
To this day as I receive a difficult but doable assignment, I hear Bud’s voice saying, “Oh and you will be blindfolded.” The blindfold is meant to pay respect to those who function courageously without sight, and remind me how fortunate I am to be sighted. It is also a metaphor for the kicker, the ‘oh by the way’ part that people and machines tend to throw in as an afterthought, to thwart the successful completion of the job. (“Normally we fix these, but yours was made in Occupied China when pure steel was rare, hence the oxidation level forces covalent bonding when we increase the amperage…”)
So Bud even taught us to expect serendipity in life. I miss the old rascal.
Here’s wishing you an enjoyable summer on a very long leash.
Tom H. Cook is not a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis. He would, however, accept a sincere draft.