Once Upon a Time

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I arrived a half hour early at the Jamaica, Queens subway station. I thought I’d kill some time at the nearby library before the weekly softball game that I always got chosen last for. I don’t know why I might have thought that it would be any different if I showed up early. I still got chosen last.

Killing time.

Playwright Dion Boucicault once stated that “Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.”

I was just browsing the “Self-Help” section – you know, where they put all those “coming of age” books and so and so’s journey back from whatever hell the author was in. That’s when she approached me and asked if I would help her find a book. Suddenly I had just one purpose in life.

We use many expressions that treat time, an abstract concept, as if it were a solid thing – make time, waste time, use time, pass time, spend time, save time, and so on.To the ancient Greeks time was anthropomorphized: “Father Time.” What would “killing time” have meant to them?

I don’t remember what book it was or even the category or type of book she was looking for. I remember her long sandy hair partly covering her left eye and her off-white sweater unbuttoned at the sleeves. There was a piece of grey lint on her left shoulder that I found hard to resist picking off. She wore a small silver cross around her neck and a Mickey Mouse watch which read 11:24.

There are many expressions commonly used about time: “Good taste is timeless,” “Time heals all wounds,” “There’s no time like the present,” for example.

I frantically drudged from my cognitive recesses what little I remembered about the Dewey Decimal System and managed to find the book for her.

She was wearing sandals and faded jeans torn at the knees before they became fashionable, down to mid-ankle, frayed at the ends. Her smile revealed braces on her top row of teeth. Not the bottom.

I gave her the book and she thanked me profusely. She was smiling with just the slightest tilt that we do when we are searching or curious or just wondering something. Maybe not. I averted my glance way too quickly.

Henry David Thoreau said: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” 

I wanted to ask for her phone number, or if she wanted to have a Coke or something with me, or maybe just take a walk. I could even show her where I play softball every week!

But I didn’t.

The entire interaction took less than twenty minutes. I think of it often. It happened over thirty years ago.


Copyright June 2016 Dr. Bill

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