It all started with a wristwatch. One wouldn’t think such a ubiquitous item would end up making or breaking a guy’s sincere attempt at self-improvement, but it did.
Since I had so much time on my hands during the unfortunate COVID-19 shelter-at-home, I vowed to improve some aspects of my personality. I targeted my obsessive-compulsive inclinations—wanting everything just so… so right. Specifically, I decided I’d identify the many compulsions in my daily life and do just the opposite—sort of ‘obsessive un-neurotic’ if you will.
So back to that timepiece. I’m still an analog kind of guy, thus my favorite watch is one that needs winding regularly. Well, that’s not exactly true. Actually, it has an automatic winding movement, which means as long as you’re wearing it and moving around, it keeps running. However, since I didn’t have anywhere to go, let alone anything to do at a certain time during shelter-at-home, I didn’t wear my watch very often, so it stopped frequently and required resetting. This is accomplished by pulling out and turning that little gizmo on the right side (no doubt an unnerving revelation to any reader of this under the age of 60). That inconvenience and the means of addressing it made my watch the perfect focal point for my initial attempt at compulsion salvation.
You see, prior to this bold experiment, whenever I set my watch, I just couldn’t help myself. I had to synchronize the time to no less an authority on the exact time than the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s NIST F-2 Cesium Fountain Atomic Clock, appropriately, https://www.time.gov/. NIST is located in Boulder, only 45 miles away as the crow (and electrons) fly. With F-2 so close, I figured I even have that otherwise counterproductive signal delay issue from their website factored in, thus increasing my ability to start my watch precisely to the second.
Compounding my problem further is the date function of the watch. This of course means I also have to make the AM/PM thing right or the date would be off 12 hours during each 24. Only yours truly would notice that, but it was troubling nevertheless to any bona fide obsessive-compulsive.
Now I hope you can understand the magnitude of my dilemma each time I neglected to wear said wristwatch for a few days. And if you’re still reading about my trivial—to you, not to me—travails, I’m sure you’re asking, “Well what did you do to assuage your anxiety over this well-meaning attempt to break your copious compulsion cycle?” Why, I just glanced at the nightstand alarm clock (an aged manual windup without a second hand), inaccurate though it might be, pulled out that little watch gizmo I mentioned above, started to set what would gratifyingly be an imprecise time and… I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t break the overpowering need to get it… right.
However, all was not lost. I instead dialed the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock (202-762-1401), 1,492 miles away (as the crow and telephone signals fly) in Washington, D.C. This was my previous standard for feeding my obsession, but supposedly NIST is even more accurate. Given the greater distance, thus increasing the likelihood of at least a nano-seconds greater delay in accuracy, I did in fact satisfy my desire to be optimally less than efficient when I reset the watch.
Not entirely un-neurotic uncoupling, but liberating nonetheless!
Having at least somewhat broken the compulsion cycle, I decided to move on to another obsession—un-alphabetizing the canned goods in the pantry. On second thought, maybe I’ll wait for the next stay-at-home crisis to tackle that and just take a nap instead.
Phil Goldstein writes Tales from Timnath periodically for North Forty News. Phil is a 10-year Timnath resident who serves the Town of Timnath as chair of the Timnath Planning Commission. Phil is finally using his journalism degree after getting sidetracked 47 years ago. The views expressed herein are Phil’s only. Contact him with comments on the column or suggestions for future columns at NFNTimnath@gmail.com.