The following is a true lesson I learned and I sometimes forget it, which is why I needed to write this and rethink about my position as it stands now . . .
I once had a longhaired teacher with odd ideas about the world and deep views about music. He spoke often about guitarists, like Clapton, and talked about the meaning behind lyrics to songs like, “Almost Cut My Hair,” by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
He was a teacher in name, yes, but he was also somewhat of a personal mentor that moved away from the norms of public school systems —and instead, he chose to teach the unteachable students like me that struggles with various social and chemical disorders.
After a short conversation about the meaning behind current music and music from back when bands played on a farm for three days, which was owned by man named, Max Yasgur, I had a need to check the time. However, when I asked the teacher if he knew the time he explained, “I don’t wear watches,” in a sort of, “Free flag,” kind of way.
“I don’t wear watches,” he said to me, which was odd because I saw him as an adult —and to me, adults were older. Older people were supposed to be responsible. Older people wear watches. And he was a teacher too; and I thought teachers are supposed to wear watches. It was like . . .a rule, or something
He asked, “What is time to you?”
“What do you mean,” I responded.
“It’s a simple question, really. What . . . is . . . time?”
I never really thought much about what time is. I never thought much on how to define it either. Instead, I suppose time was always this impending thing, unending, and unchanging.
Trying to allow my teacher his deep moment and expecting some kind of hippie like answer, to which there was, I answered inquisitively.
“I don’t know. You mean past, present, and future kind of thing?”
“No,” answered the teacher.
He answered like a man with a riddle. It was very clear to me then that yes, this man once sat in big fields with longhaired friends, listening to bands like the Grateful Dead in tie dyed t-shirts while experimenting with mind expanding substances; however, now, much older and with years of clarity —perhaps some of the hippie stardust this teacher experimented with still twinkled in his mind.
“It’s a simple answer,” explained the teacher.
“And that’s why I don’t wear a watch.”
Still lost, but smiling and intrigued, I remarked, “I don’t get it.”
“I know you don’t get it,” responded the teacher while munching into a sandwich made by us, the involuntary students, living on a farm and following a set of guidelines, which we call, “The House Rules.”
“I guess time is a measure of minute. It’s how we measure a day or something like that.”
“Is that it?”
“No,” I added. “Time is like now and what we do with it.”
I thought this was where the teacher was going, but he shook his head, smiled as if he were in tuned with music I could never understand.
“Time is money,” offered the teacher while finishing his last bite of food.
“And what is money,” he asked.
“It’s how we buy things,” I said.
The teacher giggled.
“Yeah, well that’s true. But money is the root of all evil.”
The teacher explained, “And that’s why I don’t wear a watch.”
In his view, my teacher wanted to pay attention to the moment and not the time on the clock. “I lived a very different life once,” explained the teacher. “And I almost lost myself while living it.”
“Everything was about time and money. That’s why I do what I do now.And this is why I won’t ever go back to the way I was.”
Not totally understanding but enjoying the conversation because it made me think, I smiled sarcastically and asked, “Then how will you know when your next class starts if you don’t wear a watch?”
Wiping the breadcrumbs from the sandwich out of his beard, he explained in a matter of fact way, “They have a bell that rings. And that’s enough for me.”
I once had a similar conversation about time with a dealer I knew over by East New York, Brooklyn. While waiting for someone to show, the dealer told me, “The only time you need to know about is the first and last. Everything else is just the meat in between.”
Of course, time and money meant different things to the dealer —and to him; his time was cut short when the business he chose is the same business that killed him.
But the question is still valid.
What is time?
What does time mean to us?
Is time just this ongoing, unending process that’s been around forever? Does time ever end or can it end? Or, is time this valuable thing, which we misunderstand because we lack the understanding of what a single moment is?
Every so often, I try to count the days I’ve been doing things like say, “How many days have I been working for a living. Or, I’ll try to see how many days it’s been since the last time I saw an old friend, or The Old Man, or Mom.
I’ve counted how many trips I’ve taken to and from work. And I’ve tried to count the average hours I have slept in the span of one year. Figuring I slept 6 hours each night, which is hard to say, but on average —let’s say six hours of sleep per day for 365 days; this means I will have slept for 2,136 hours in one year, which is the equivalent to 89 days. So, with 24 hours in the day and six of them gone towards sleeping, add the time in the bathroom, lets combine this to another hour of time —then add commuting hours, which is about three in total. Add working hours, which are no less than 8 to me. Added together: let’s see 6 hours of sleep, plus one hour bathroom time, is seven, plus three hours commuting is ten —plus 8 hours at work is 18, and 18 minus 24 is 6, which leaves a remaining number of 6 hours in a day that aren’t committed to basic life — but we have to subtract another hour for bathing and hygiene and then take another hour away for eating or waiting on line someplace, and the amount of time we have to ourselves is a small limited portion that belongs to us. And since this is so small, what do we do with our spare time that makes it count?
(My math might be off, but I think you get the picture. At least, I hope you do)
I remember that teacher very well. We talked about music and the understanding of what it mean to go to a record store, which is an entirely outdated and antiquated business these days. We talked about politics and things, which at the time, I thought were useless.
I remember after the conversation we had about time, the teacher put his hand on my shoulder and told me, “Look, you’re only gonna get one shot at whatever it is you choose to do.”
He told me, “Time will always be around. But we won’t be.”
Like a true mentor, my teacher explained, “Just try to use the time you have as best as you can. Okay?” He said this with hope in his eyes. He said this as if to see hope in my future. But before walking away, the teacher asked, “Now tell me the name of the band that sings your favorite song.”
I answered, “Metallica.”
The teacher shook his head and laughed, “So much for the hope I had.”
And walking away he laughed, Metallica, he says . . . fuckin kid is lost.”
I remember this time well. So to me, whether I can tell you about the true meaning behind the music of say, Jethro Tull, or feel the blues in my soul while listening to the voice of Janice Joplin —I can tell you that time is the most irretrievable thing in this entire universe.
As far as time is concerned, I can only do one of two things with it: I can find a way to make it useful to the best of my ability, or, I can let it waste and wake up one morning, angry, and wondering where the hell my life went.
By the way, I still like metallic though. The old stuff, I mean . . .
I suppose I sound like my old teacher when I say music today just ain’t the same. But he was a good man. So I’ll take this as a compliment.