For the longest time, I just assumed that nobody could read digital clocks. They’re such jumpy bastards, unreliable in their clarity. Obviously, here was a situation in which analog was overwhelmingly superior.
“What a strange invention,” I would think to myself in high school mornings, munching on cornflakes and staring at our microwave. The bright red numbers wavered in their black desert like a magical oasis: a promise of time, unrealized, intangible. Was it 6:55? 8:55? 3:58? It became a fruitless game of chicken. I would stare at that clock until I felt nauseated and had to look away.
I like to think that my assumption of universal trouble with digital displays was completely and logically founded. I’d had the usual eye checkups as a kid, and every time I was applauded out of the doctor’s office. “She’s got some eagle eyes, that one,” the nurse would tell my mother. This was no surprise to anyone: whenever my mom lost the back of an earring she’d send me into her bedroom to find it; I read text backwards, upside down, reflected in mirrors, in the dark. It’s practically a party trick: joke books have never really worked for me, I’ll read the hidden punchline before I get to the set-up. Obviously, if I couldn’t read digital clocks, no one could.
So it came as some surprise to me when in the laundromat a couple years ago, a friend asked me how much time was left in my dryer, and to my response of a merry scoff they tilted their head questioningly. “Uh, dude,” I said, “I can’t read that freaking thing from here.”
They looked up and across the machines. “You have twenty-eight minutes left. Seriously? You can’t read that?”
I stared. The numbers wavered, glowed, became fuzzy. And thus, at the age of twenty-three, I learned that the reality I’d always assumed to be accurate was, in fact, flawed.
And this has revolutionized my world: I can’t stop thinking about it. Every time we wait for the approaching bus, every time I hit snooze on the alarm, every time I watch the laundry spinning in its elaborate cotton ballet instead of those dizzying neon numbers, I wonder: how many other things are like this? And how does one write, constantly doubting where the universal ends and the personal begins?