MY father gave me a wonderful gift, a wristwatch that not only tells the time of day but also acts as a stopwatch. He chose this sports-watch model knowing that I had taken up running and would probably enjoy timing myself. The gift has had several interesting and unforeseeable effects on my life, effects that have taught me this: In accepting a new possession into one's household, one must sometimes go through a period of adjustment. To begin with, the watch came with the wrong instruction booklet. The text described a model of the same brand but with considerably different features -- as I discovered when it said, ``Activate the speedometer function on the rotary bezel by pushing button C,'' and I could find no button C and no speedometer function. (There was a rotary bezel, but 1 out of 3 wasn't close enough.) The store clerk said he would have the watch company send me the correct booklet, but that it would take a week or two.
In the meantime, I was wearing a most mysterious mechanism on my wrist. It would emit a single, high-pitched beeping sound at what I soon deduced to be hourly intervals. More baffling was the succession of five urgent beeps that seemed to go off randomly. Late at night these five beeps would sound, and I would wake up with a helpless feeling. It was as if my watch wanted something from me, but I didn't know what.
Still, I was a proud owner and could not resist wearing the gift in public. The proper time and date had been set (presumably by someone in the store), and I was eager to give a bright answer to anyone who might ask, ``Have you got the time?'' Instead, I found myself in an elevator with five urgent, and seemingly amplified, beeps emanating from my wrist, and I was asked, ``What's that for? Some sort of emergency?'' I replied, ``Well, uh, I won't really know until the instruction booklet arrives.''
At home, I examined all the watch's features to see if I could solve the riddle of the five beeps. Under the watch face heading marked ``Points 1-8,'' various timings had been programmed, and I strongly suspected that these were beep-eliciting numbers. But other headings on the rotary bezel, such as ``Training'' and ``Repeat,'' were also unfathomable and could not be ruled out as suspects. I thought of the time when my brother had taken a watch apart, thinking he could fix it. There he was, thoroughly befuddled, looking at the watch's insides. But here I was, equally befuddled, looking at a watch's outsides.
Of course, when the instruction booklet finally arrived, all mysteries were solved. The beeping was part of the function that allowed one to store projected interval times while running. When an interval time was reached, the alarm went off. It was easy to shut off this procedure.
This wasn't the end of my rough beginnings with this watch, however, because as I read the instructions I became fascinated with the stopwatch function. Soon I was timing myself to see how long it would take to empty the trash, how long to brush my teeth. When I made a phone call, I would time how long I was on the line, thinking it would be interesting to compare my timing with that listed on the phone bill. I became a font of domestic statistics in no time. (Precise numbers on just how long ``no time'' was are available on request.)
At my worst point, conversation at dinner included a remark on the order of ``I noticed you took 8 minutes and 15 seconds to eat the fish but only 5 minutes, 18.4 seconds to eat dessert. The difference probably has less to do with the amounts than with the bone factor. You don't expect bones in your cake, so you chew it less carefully.'' I was on a path that surely would lead to solitary dining.
My experience was, I believe, comparable to that of the sports broadcaster who can't resist overusing statistics. I was so thrilled to have data right in front of me that I didn't consider whether any of it was worth measuring.
Eventually I regained perspective and used the watch in the way it was intended. Its functions were no longer a mystery. I was in control of its beeping noises. The period of adjustment was over, and it hadn't really been all that lengthy a time. But don't ask me exactly how long this period lasted, because I might tell you to a tenth of a second.