A Brief Mystery of Time
Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) - I am writing this to you at some  time from some place, but I have no idea when or where that is in relation to you, to myself, to where I'm going today, or to where I've been. It's finally happened. In the past two weeks I've been to Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Houston and spent a couple of nights in each, and the truth of the matter is that I have finally arrived in a place where there is no time zone at all.

I know I am hungry. Let's start there. Do I feel like steak? Do I feel like eggs? Do I feel like steak and eggs?

Let's try again. Why am I awake? I don't know. I was dreaming. In my dream I was running. Do I have a meeting? Do I have a conference call? Do I need to be torquing myself up to a level of anxiety appropriate for the challenges that lie ahead? Or are the problems of the day behind me, with nothing left but relatively stress-free socializing?

Lord. Where am I? Which town? Which hotel? Why is it so dark in here?

Am I here to stay for the day? Should I be packing? Did I just get here, or am I about to leave? If so, where am I going? What time will it be when I get there? Will I be having breakfast, lunch, or dinner? And when will I come home?

Come to think of it, what is my home? Robert Frost said that home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Does that mean my home is the Best Western in Fresno? They had to take me in just last month when I couldn't get out of John Wayne Airport and was forced to drive up the coast until midnight. That didn't feel too homey, although they did have instant hot chocolate with those little plasticine marshmallows, which I thought was a nice touch. I had some at 6 A.M., when I awoke there, even though it was 3 A.M. where I ended up the next day.

When I got to the East Coast city where my putative legal residence is located, it was after midnight, so the clock was telling me to sleep. I was jazzed up, though, because on the flight I had taken a nap at what would have been about six in the evening if I lived in California, which I do a lot of the time, just not enough for it to have established time-zone hegemony in my physiological cosmos. Anyhow, I finally managed to get myself to bed on the early side, about 11 P.M. ... or 2 A.M., where my body was. It didn't feel so good when I woke up at 3:30 A.M., even though it was technically 6:30 A.M. and the sun was already rising.

Later that day, which I think was yesterday, I tried to get myself right by having breakfast for lunch, if you know what I'm talking about. I had a BLT. That was all well and good except for the fact that I pretty much had to have two martinis three hours later when I went out for drinks with the sales guys, who do that far too much and often force me to accompany them.

So far I don't think it's affected my work any. I have meetings at an hour my senses tell me I should be sleeping, eat meals on some crazy staggered schedule dictated not by hunger but by what other people seem to want to do, go to sleep when I'm tired whether other people think it's time to sleep or not. I call them naps, but they don't feel like naps. They feel like death, accompanied by drooling.

Ah, I know! I'm in Miami! It's strange, because it's warm and sunny here like L.A., but it's not L.A., and I keep having to remember that it's later here than there. That makes you nervous, because you don't have those extra three hours to fake things the way they do out there. Whatever time it is in Miami is the real time. I should probably know more than I do.

Like, I'm looking at the glowing dial on the clock radio across the room, and it says 4:00. The hotel has heavy curtains, but I can see a tiny sliver of light at the place where they meet. Daylight? Halogen? Swamp gas? I have no idea.

I remember now! I'm at one of those retreat things. We had a full morning of meetings, and then I was supposed to go deep-sea fishing, but I went up to my room and lay down and then ... Good gravy! I couldn't have slept 14 hours, could I? I need to know! If it's 4 A.M., I can go back to sleep. If it's 4 P.M., I should get up, take a shower, shave, and get ready for tonight's dinner. Should I be thinking about orange juice ... or vodka? Or orange juice and vodka?

Ha! The phone! Hello? Who? What? When? Really? Right now? No way!

They want me downstairs. I may live in a crazy tossed-salad zone that exists for me and me alone, but I do know one thing. Whatever time it is in here, I gotta run.

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com. Top of page