“Oh, it’s not that bad!” and other adventures in being human
Both were digital alarm clocks with that formerly ubiquitous red LED display, though Ray’s was a large print display, because without his glasses, even if he picked up a regular alarm clock and held it so close that his nose was almost touching the display, he still couldn’t read the numbers. My alarm clock was a clock radio, and I always set it to start playing NPR about a half hour before I needed to wake up, then the alarm when I had to get out of bed. Because I was less likely to be a Grouch Monster™ when the alarm went off if I’d been eased into waking up by the radio. After Ray died, I kept both alarm clocks. For one thing, while my eyesight had never been quite as bad as Ray’s, I liked the fact that I could read the large print clock from the far side of the bedroom when I didn’t have my glasses on.
When Michael moved in with me the year after Ray died, he already owned an alarm clock. And since he also had a job where he needed to get up at different times each day for work, it made sense to have a separate clock. But we didn’t get rid of my second clock. Instead we moved the clock radio to the far side of the bedroom, which I found made it less likely that I would hit the snooze alarm a bunch of times and oversleep. Over the years, the clock radio had to be replaced a couple of times. And Michael’s clock’s display went wonky and had to be replaced, but the large print clock which had been Ray’s just kept chugging along.
Or at least, that’s what I told myself.
I don’t know how old the clock was, because Ray already owned in when we started dating in 1990. But that means it was at a minimum 27 years old this spring when Michael and I were packing. Not surprisingly, after 27+ years of use, some things didn’t work as well any longer.
- One of the features the large print clock had which was innovative and unusual in 1990 was a battery compartment in the bottom of the clock so that if you kept fresh batteries in there, the clock wouldn’t lose time during a power outage. The clock wouldn’t actually stay lit up or sound its alarm when it was on battery back up, but you didn’t have to reset it once the power came back on. Now it is pretty standard for electronics to have a in-built mini rechargeable battery for this purpose, but back then it was unusual. The battery backup stopped working years ago. You don’t want to know how many times I changed the batteries and cleaned the contacts in the battery compartment, or shone a flashlight into it while I peered through a magnifying glass trying to fix it before I admitted to myself that the memory chip or whatever it was that the batteries powered must have failed.
- A couple years after the battery backup stopped working, the alarm became inconsistent. You could set the alarm, and when it came time for the alarm to go off, the clock would try to sound an alarm. But sometimes all you got was a click and a single weird little chirping noise. other times the buzzer would sound, but it wasn’t very loud. Other times it chirped and chirped and chirped until you turned the alarm off. Very rarely did the buzzer just buzz loudly. But since by this time I had a clock radio that had two alarms in addition to the radio, I didn’t really need the alarm on this clock any longer. But the large print display I still had a use for.
- More recently, the power cord had gotten twitchy. By which I mean, if you bumped the power cord, it would temporarily lose power. And because the battery backup wasn’t working any longer, that meant that basically if you sneezed in the vicinity of the clock, the display would go dark until you jiggled the cord again, and then you had this enormous blinking 12:00 on the screen. Now, I’m not saying the cord was frayed or otherwise showed any sign of the sort of wear that would make it a fire hazard, I think the iffy connection was actually inside the body of the clock on one side or the other of the rectifier (this is the part inside most electronic devices that converts the household 110-volt alternating current into the much lower voltage direct current that circuit board and chips and such use). So this didn’t represent a fire hazard, just an annoyance.
- Cosmetically, the faux-gold coating on some parts of the plastic bezel around the display had been wearing off. The labels on some of the switches and buttons necessary to setting the time had faded to the point of being difficult to read, and there was a half-inch-long crack in one corner of the display.
When I actually type these things up, it seems really ludicrous that I hung onto the clock as long as I did, right? And it is ridiculous. But it’s not that unusual for people to let small annoyances like this build up to a ridiculous point and try to keep muddling along. How many times have you known someone in a relationship which had obviously soured or become awful over time who didn’t notice the thousands of little ways they were walking on eggshells to keep the peace?
Yeah, part of the reason I was more willing than was reasonable to overlook the growing list of problems with this clock is because it had belonged to Ray. And I am a sentimental fool, so of course I don’t want to get rid of something that had any fond memories attached. And yes, the alarm clock did have fond memories associated with it. Not to get too graphic, but it was the only light on in the room the first time we made love, after all. But the other part was the human tendency to make-do with something because it seems easier to keep the thing we’re familiar with than to replace it.
As it was, the clock radio, though many years newer than the large print clock, was also beginning to develop some issues, and the alarm clock on Michael’s side of the bed had a crack in the display that made it difficult to read from some angles. And so Michael bought a brand new bedroom clock for the new house within a day or two of the move. And he found a single clock that replaced the functions we had actually been using on the three old ones. The main display shows time, day, date, and the temperature in the room. It has a radio, multiple alarms, alarms you can specify for different days of the week, and it has an adjustable, focusable laser display that projects the time on the ceiling or a wall in very large print so I can read it in the dark (and it doesn’t have to be that dark, just dim in the room) from across the room without my glasses.
It’s a very big improvement, it wasn’t expensive, and one little clock takes up a lot less space than the three old things we had before.
Change doesn’t have to be bad!