It is time. I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, in one form or another, from a book, a somebody, a computer screen. I thought I heard it in those strangulated snap gasps of bubble wrap I’ve been stomping in the garage. (I’ve reached that time in a man’s life when he decides to finally clean out the garage.) Time’s up. It’s time. The words are sometimes accompanied by guitars, sometimes by line drawings, sometimes by LEDs. Sometimes it’s the ringing of all those clocks in Pink Floyd’s “Money.” If I were to watch more television I suppose I’d hear more about time than I already do, and with a lot more repetition. Time shares. One week only! The Good Times, animal migrations, the timeless ocean, relative time, drum fills, Lands Time Forgot, in good time honey, once upon a time, geologic time, horoscopic time, the bar’s closing Norm, pigs will fly, Father Time, idle time, time-saving gadgets. Time to record, time to erase, time’s up boys and girls. Clean up time.
Harmonizing to all this talk about time I’ve been hearing lately is the notion that none of it matters a hill of rosary beads. Even Time itself doesn’t care about Time. How could he (she)? Time isn’t a sentient being. It’s simply the fourth dimension, there but for counting even if no one is around to finger the beads. If no watchmaker is required to make birds and bees and turds and knees, but only a few billion years and appropriate environmental conditions, then why does Time need a timekeeper? Oh, you could claim that it’s all the mysterious workings of God – it’s his Time Clock we’re all punching – but if so, then you have to admit the timing is sometime screwy, not to mention inscrutable. Why should the Titanic hit the iceberg at that particular instant? Why were those 1500 people born? Why not another iceberg, another ship, another moment? And why should Jack tread freezing water while he soliloquizes to Kate? Why didn’t he seize the moment to climb up on the raft with her before beginning his speech? There was plenty of room on that raft, or at least that seemed to be the case from where I was sitting. Did not Jack think the time ripe for action?
The other day I read that if you trace your family tree back far enough, from you to your father to his father to his father to his father, and so on, and do this for 185 million generations, you come face to face with a fish. It’s you. You’re a fish. Remember that? Who among us has such moral confidence in the permanence of memories, or even that memories have meaning, that they can stare down such a fish? Not even the most enthusiastic Jungian celebrating the collective unconsciousness can comprehend such a creature. (If there was such a person, would he be called a Jung-fish?)
On another day in the space-time continuum I read that in 1914 a young Serb named Gavrilo Princip and six of his friends crossed into Sarajevo where the heir to the throne of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdniand, had come to visit the town hall. Gavrilo Princip’s idea: with righteous zeal, and some pistols and bombs, they would kill Franz and thus, miraculously, perhaps in the way that memories are created, Bosnia would separate from the Austrian empire. Independence!
On the 28th of June the archduke’s train arrives in Sarajevo. At 10:10 the archduke’s car encounters one of the assassins (they had been positioned along the preannounced route of the royal motorcade). The assassin throws a grenade at the archduke’s car, a convertible with the top folded down. The grenade hits the back of the car but rolls off, just like bombs do in those old Buster Keaton silent movie comedies. No harm is done to Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, although the delayed explosion injures some a few spectators and the people in the next car in the motorcade. The assassin swallows a cyanide pill and leaps into the river; the pill fails, the river is only about four inches deep where he jumps, and he lives only because the arresting police prevent the outraged crowds from beating him to death.
The mission is a cartoon failure of Keystone Cops magnitude.
And that’s really what happened. We have eyewitness accounts, we have photographs, we even have the Archduke’s convertible, a 1911 Graf & Stift Bois de Boulogne tourer, which you can visit in the Military History Museum in Vienna. The man who threw the grenade was named Nedeljko Cabrinovic.
Franz Ferdinand and his wife made the planned meeting in the town hall. He even gave the speech he had prepared. However, he did allow himself to utter, with justifiable indignation, “So this is how you treat your guests, with bombs?”