Step right up!

Tick, tick, tick

My grandmothers clockTime.

An artificial construct.

A futile attempt by humans to control
yet another immutable piece of the universe.

What is a second, a minute, an hour, a year? Purely random segmentations that have no real meaning.

At least that's what I tell myself when my birthday rolls around.

We have a clock that also has issues with time measurement. It's a lovely handmade German timepiece that belonged to my grandmother.

When I was young and living in the same small West Texas town as my grandparents, I was at their house often. And each time I was there, I admired the clock.

I loved the dark wood, the carvings, the clicking of the pendulum and, most of all, the twice-an-hour chiming.

My grandmother noticed my fondness for the clock and left it to me. In each of the homes we've had since Mam-ma's passing, it is one of the first items to be unpacked and hung in a prominent place.

It is really striking, a lovely diversion amid all our prints and paintings, a moving, working piece of timeless art.

It's a good thing it's so attractive, because the use of the descriptor "timeless" has a dual meaning. We can't really depend on the clock to tell the proper time.

Over the years, we've discovered the timepiece's idiosyncrasies when it comes to actually measuring minutes.

First, it must be hanging completely level to work. And by level, I mean what the clock perceives as level. It's not like it slants 30 degrees, but sometimes, looking at it from across the room, it seems to be a bit off kilter. (What's that, dear husband? Maybe it's me that's off kilter? Such a … wit, that's it, a wit … my man is!).

Jokes aside, until I figured out the alignment quirk, the clock drove me crazy. I got an inkling of how John Harrison felt as he tried to conquer longitude's measurement!

OK, now I know. I simply nudge it a bit as I walk by and Mam-ma's clock works.

Well, it runs. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast. I've yet to find the exact pendulum adjustment that keeps it within even 10 minutes of our other timepieces.

Then there's the chiming. It's a great "bong." Since it's a wall clock, it's smaller and doesn't have that overwhelming blast that holds your conversation hostage or overrides the last (or first, depending on whether it's running fast or slow) few moments of whatever television show you're watching. Just a nice, full tone that vibrates for a few seconds afterward.

But it doesn't chime consistently. So I've taken to pulling the clock mechanism out slightly so that the hammer arm just misses the chime. Or I try to. When I rewound the clock yesterday, I thought I did so as always. But in 15 minutes (give or take a few) it chimed. Six times. It was 10:30 a.m.

The hubby and I were having a late breakfast and we just started laughing. "It's a free-range clock," he said.

Or maybe it's just my dear grandmother's wise way of telling me that sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Time's a-wasting: If only the IRS felt that way. But the tax agency is pretty much a by-the-book, by-the-calendar and even a by-the-clock operation.

Today, March 17 (Happy St. Patrick's Day, by the way), the deadline for sending in your 2005 tax return is just one calendar month away. We get a couple days reprieve this year since April 15, 2006, falls on a Saturday, pushing the due date to the next business day.

That means that if you're filing the old-fashioned way, you've got to get your return to the Post Office on April 17 so that the envelope's postmark will indicate that it was, in IRS-speak, "timely delivered." Every year, local television stations send a reporter out to their city's main postal facility for film at 11 (10 Central time) of last-minute filers dropping envelopes in special pickup boxes.

The emergence of e-filing has changed that ritual a bit. Now you just have to hit the "enter" button before the stroke of midnight on tax day. A word of advice: Don't wait that long.

Last year, around 30 million people put off filing until the last possible minute. I don't know how many of them filed online, but I personally don't want to take the chance that my Internet connection might be slowed down, or God forbid, crashed if even a fraction of that number is filing procrastinators cramming cyberspace, trying to get their forms to the IRS at the very same 11:55 p.m. time.

Yeah, that's probably not a valid concern. But it does seem that my computer itself picks the absolute worst times to crash or lock up. I don't want to have to be frantically rebooting and then trying to recreate my tax return in a panicked few last minutes.

So mark your calendar and set your alarm. You've got a month to get your act together and your taxes done before the IRS bell tolls for us all.


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