“On Time” by Evelyn Martinez

They say that time is of the essence, but what, exactly, is time? Of more immediate interest, where does it go? Time, that is. How does it slip so effortlessly through my fingers? The earlier I get up, the harder I work to finish my chores in a timely manner, the more flagrant my tardiness. Why is my time frame so dramatically different from that of other folks?

I am one of those maligned people who is forever tardy. This compels me to write in defense of all latecomers, late risers, late bloomers, Johnny-come-latelies.

Merely setting the alarm or the right intention does not work for me. May I take a moment of your time to inquire, as did Chicago in 1969, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”[1]

I would suggest the answer is no, and yes. According to Einstein, it’s all relative. So what is this societal obsession with getting anywhere on time? It’s physically impossible. The data of millennia has shown that time waits for no one. We know it marches on, running out on us when we need it most. It flies, yes frequently, whether we are having fun or not. When we’re not looking, it will quietly slip away. Occasionally, impossibly, it stands still, just because it can.

Surely the weight of time bears down upon all of us. I may not be able to tell time, but time always tells on me. When you are a poor judge of time, society judges you harshly. I know I am pressed for, and by, time. I need a time-out, a way out of time, whether or not time permits.

How much time does one need? Here are a few of my very excellent excuses for being late: Unavoidable delays. Unseasonable weather. Unyielding traffic. Late buses. Late sleeping. Up late the night before. Insomnia. Incontinence. Out of toilet paper. Paper due. Cat ate my paper.

I tried to keep time, but it would not stay. It needed a proper timekeeper. I have often chased, butterfly net in hand, after fleeting moments in my life only to capture and release them. Nevertheless, I soar on the wings of time—the night owls, not the early birds.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy[2]. Fall forward and spring back. Leaping lizards, it’s leap year. Set your clock. Ready, set, go. To everything there is a season. “A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war, a time of peace. I swear it’s not too late.”[3] Count the seconds, minutes, hours. Nanoseconds. Digital, analog, quartz, atomic, solar. Big Ben. Grandfather. Father Time. I hear he waits for no one. Rolex/Timex—takes a licking and keeps on ticking.[4] And then there was my beloved Mickey Mouse watch. It told me when it was time for Mickey Mouse Club—or was that Howdy Doody time?

Then there is work and the time clock. Punch in. Punch out. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.

Morning, noon, night. Crack of dawn, crack of noon, afternoon delight. On your mark, go. Mark your calendar. Reckon time. The day of reckoning. Living each day as if it was my last. Linear, straight line, one-dimensional, but life is three-dimensional. I cry out, “Go slow. I fall behind.” My 1980s deity, Cyndi Lauper, gazes back with the mantra “If you look you will find me, time after time, time after time, time after time.”[5]

Forgot to set my egg timer. Not to worry. My biological clock already had my eggs timed. They were done twenty years ago. So much for stalling for time or buying time.

I dream of time travel, of cramming myself into a time-released capsule and escaping into a time warp, rather than being warped by time. The minutiae of life are time-consuming. I neither desire to be consumed by time nor to be merely a consumer of time.

I yearn to be like Mick Jagger as he brags that “time, time, time is on my side,” but then a Rolling Stone gathers no moss.[6] Is it true, as Sister Ann Michael said, that I will be late for my own funeral? I worry that time will pass me by even as I am passing away.

Once upon a time in another galaxy far, far away…I found you just in time. In 1973, Jim Croce said, “If I could save time in a bottle… I’d save every day till eternity passes away…”[7]  Three months later he was dead at age thirty in an airplane crash. They termed it an untimely death. His time had run out, slipping through his fingers, like sand through an hourglass. He left a durable musical legacy. Was his hourglass half empty or half full?

I believe it is charitable to donate your time to a good cause. I could use about three years if you have time to spare. Consider it a time-share investment. There is no time like the present and there is no present like sufficient time. Is this an idea whose time has come?

On the philosophical side of things, why hurry up and wait? Better late than never. I don’t care to be early for life’s events. I am content to simply arrive in the nick of time. Time is precious and I hate to waste it. But don’t get me wrong. I am prepared to kill time before it kills me. I intend to be not a time balm but a time bomb. But only in my free time. How do you free time when it is all tied up? I’ll do it on my break time. How many pieces can you break time into?

So you see, to say I have no sense of time is nonsense. “I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”[8] Mistimed again, maybe I need a new timing belt. Still, if I take my time and yours and his and hers, maybe I won’t be the last one to get there.

Will being born under the sign of Aquarius find me a sympathetic ear, especially if I leave out the part about Uranus rising? After all, I am just a good-natured airhead, trying to be ahead of my time. Did I oversleep and miss the dawning of it? If time waits for no one, then what’s a few minutes among friends? In the end nobody ever beats the clock. “And, therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”[9]

Okay, so I have missed boats, trains, planes, and buses. I have lost out on first acts, first courses, opening acts, last acts, last rites, last-minute preparations. Lost in space, out of time, and out of touch with the reality around me, I rush and run to no avail. I am always a back-of-the-packer in the race against time. Is timing really what it’s all about? More importantly, are there clocks in the next life?

My untimely definitions: watch. To observe carefully or continuously, to look and wait expectedly or in anticipation. To guard, to tend, to be informed on. A small portable timepiece. Post or period of duty of a guard or sentinel. Watchdog. Watchword. Instrument for measuring or indicating time. To time as with a stopwatch. To measure speed of. Clockwise, counterclockwise. Like clockwork, with machinelike precision.

Confession: I refuse to trust a watch or clock or even a sundial. Every instrument of temporal measurement in my house is dysfunctional—too slow, too fast, broke, stopped, hopelessly corroded. Will I be caught wearing the vestiges of time? But I wear them so well. Tried sewing that stitch in time, going for a timeless look.

So, where am I heading with this riff on time and the endless conundrum of the transient nature of our lives? How can you rein in infinity? Listen to Einstein and don’t worry, be happy. We’ll synchronize our cosmic watches all along the theoretical watchtower. So time is a nonspatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession. Ha! They also say you can turn back the hands of time. Even while doing hard time in the school of hard knocks, I am surviving and, for the time, being. Time stands still. But like Elton John “I’m still standing.”[10]

Are my lapses in time a form of time-lapse photography because I move slowly but experience my life at accelerated speed? I am resistant to the time-honored tradition of accepting the clock at face value. We each manifest a unique timeline. Chronologically mine runs chronically a few seconds/minutes/hours behind yours. Every one of us works off an individually modified timetable.

Are we all just marking time until we meet our maker, or reincarnate, or simply fall into the Big Sleep, which I think is something like the Little Death, or maybe the Big Easy? One day at a time, one foot in front of the other. Maybe there is no continuum—no time past, no ghost of Christmas past, no “Days of Future Passed” despite what the Moody Blues told me in 1967.[11] It is now for always and forever until…I disappear into the rabbit hole, or black hole, or the hole in the ozone layer.

I hear the alarm ringing, the chimes pealing—peeling away my defenses. “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me,” says The Who’s Tommy.[12] Time heals all. All rise for the judge. I know we are all terminal. Can’t I just let the Fifth Dimension take me “up, up and away” in its beautiful balloon?[13] As death’s rattle gets me rasping and gasping, will my last sorry request be “Give Me Just a Little More Time”?[14]


[1] Lamm, Robert. “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” Chicago Transit Authority, Columbia Records, 1969.
[2] Fitzgerald, Ella. “Summertime.” Ella A Nice, Fantasy, 1983.
[3] Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3; “To Everything There Is a Season.” King James Version, 1611.
[4] Russ Alben, Timex Corporation, “Timex – Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking” Corporations: Watches for an Impulse; March 1963.
[5] Lauper, Cyndi and Bob Hyman. “Time After Time.” She’s So Unusual, Portrait Records, 1983.
[6] Meade, Norman a.k.a. Jerry Ragovoy. “Time Is on My Side.” Kai Winding, Irma Thomas. Verve, 1963.
[7] Croce, Jim. “Time in a Bottle.” You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, ABC Records, 1972.
[8] Rabbit, White. “I’m Late! I’m Late! For a Very Important Date!” Alice in Wonderland, Sammy Fain, Bob Hilliard, 1951.
[9] Donne, John. “Meditation #17.” Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1623.
[10] John, Elton. “I’m Still Standing.” Two Low For Zero, Bernie Taupin, Geffen and Rocket, 1983.
[11] The Moody Blues. Days of Future Passed, Dream Records, 1967.
[12] Townshend, Peter. “See Me, Feel Me.” The Who, Track Records, 1970.
[13] Webb, Jimmy. “Up, Up and Away.” The 5th Dimension, Soul City Records, 1967.
[14] Wayne, Edythe and Ron Dunbar. “Give Me Just a Little More Time.” The Chairman of the Board, Invictus Records, 1970.



Evelyn has attended numerous writing classes and workshops at the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of California Berkeley Extension, and the Berkeley Repertory Theater. She also studied with Charlie Varon. Most recently, she participated in a Poetry Boot Camp. Evelyn has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Nursing degree from the University of California, San Francisco. She’s been a corrections officer, a theater usher, a quilt conservator for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and a family nurse practitioner. Evelyn has traveled extensively, and her favorite place in the world is Antarctica.


"A Short Eternity" by Feng Gooi

“A Short Eternity” by Feng Gooi