The clock reader

Jill Pertler

I have a friend who reads clocks. Not reads in the typical sense of noting the time, but reads as in looking to see patterns in the numbers. There is a certain beauty in discovering order or meaningful sequences and my thoughtful friend finds this in clocks.

After she told me about her habit (slash obsession), I was intrigued. What patterns could I find? Before you could say “time out” I was in. Ever since I, too, have been a clock reader.

There are countless numerical sequences a clock reader observes at specific times during the day. It’s a combination of a game and an art form intertwined in a delicate dance of numbers.

What I find intriguing and enticing is that even though numbers are rigid and unchanging, there is an abundance of creativity involved with clock watching. The patterns are practically infinite, as long as you stay within the 4-digit, base-60 system that time is based upon. (The technical term for this is sexagesimal. I slipped it in because I thought it was a sexy vocabulary word we all should learn.)

While a clock reader isn’t confined to any certain patterns, a few are obvious. One of the most undeniable is 11:11, which is so well known it even has its own Wiki page. Some say when you see 11:11 on the clock you should make a wish. Others say you should pray. Still others believe it is a sign of good luck. I just appreciate the pattern. As I do for 10:10 and 12:12, even though they are not as pure, in my humble opinion.

I also watch for the palindrome-ish times: 10:01, 12:21, 1:01 and so on. They read the same forward as backwards, which is almost as exciting as riding in a race car.

The same goes for orderly clock times, the main one being 12:34 and lesser so: 2:34, 3:45 and of course 4:56, but it ends there as there is no 5:67, which I suppose would technically be 6:07 if we are being sexagesimally correct. (See how I found a way to sneak in our vocabulary word?)

You can also go backward with the order. 6:54, 5:43, and so on. But I’ll refrain from remarking on the obvious.

Algebra exists in time. 3:39 has a certain synchronicity when you realize 3 multiplied by 3 equals 9. Once you understand the formula, times like 4:48, 7:43 and 2:24 will never be just random numbers ever again. You can’t disavow knowledge like that. It’s like gaining the key to a secret world.

Then there are dates. My wedding anniversary is July 11, so I have the opportunity to see 7:11 at least twice a day. I hardly ever catch it. My husband’s birthday, June 8, equates to 6:08. My kids’ birthdays are, 11:18, 2:05, 7:28 and 11:28. Each day of the year has a corresponding clock time. Every 24 hours we have the opportunity to see our own birthdays not once, but twice. Finding the joy and excitement in details like that is what clock watching – and life – is all about.

Finally there are familiar number sequences found in the commercial world. 7:47 reminds me of airplanes; 4:11 is the number I call for directory assistance; 5:05 looks like a cry for help. I could go on and on, but I probably already have.

Despite my lack of actual math skills, I’ve always found numbers comforting. I count when faced with a stressful or difficult task – like exercising or giving birth. I find a semi-enjoyment in balancing the checkbook each month. I enjoy studying statistics – as long as they relate to fantasy football. And I’m a clock reader. Right now it is exactly 3:33. There’s a certain tranquility in that. At least there is, for those of us in the club. (You know who you are.)

Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.