I have reserved a corner of my brain for remembering how many days September hath, the relative positions of i and e in most words, and other maxims that seem essential for modern living. Also tucked away there is the standard device for remembering how to adjust the clock for Daylight Saving Time. Spring forward, fall back. That is, in the spring I turn the clock an hour forward, and in the fall I turn it back an hour.
It's a tidy system. I lose an hour, and then I get back. The clock giveth and the clock taketh away. The logic of it all is perfectly clear, but human beings are much harder to adjust than the hands of the clock. Even though the system was designed to make it easy for us, the change will leave many of us a bit frazzled this weekend.
We move into the new time frame on Sunday morning because not many people work on Sunday. We can rise, the theory goes, at whatever time we chose regardless of the official hour. We have a whole day of leisure in which to adjust to Daylight Saving Time before we have to face the scheduled structures of commerce - appointments, deadlines, punching in, punching out, business hours, banking hours and lunch hours. But lots of us have schedules for Sunday morning. What about people who have to be at church services at a specified hour? What about people who have a standing appointment to play tennis every Sunday at 10 a.m.?
If you add the chuchgoers to the tennis players and throw in the people who want to buy a copy of The New York Times before it's sold out at noon, you've got a large portion of the population out on the streets bleary and disoriented. Suddenly it's an hour later than it was yesterday at the same time, and we have a hard time coping.
We can tell ourselves that we will get our hour back in the fall. I look forward to a lazy autumn Sunday when I can sleep an extra hour. But when the day comes I don't sleep an extra hour. My internal clock has forgotten to fall back, and I wake at the usual time. All day long I suffer from a sort of mini-jet lag. I'm ravenous for lunch at 10:30, the bars aren't open when I want a drink, and nothing seems right for days until my internal time system finally matches the clock on the wall.
One year it looked like we were never going to have to face these problems again. Remember when year-round Daylight Saving Time was the solution to the energy crisis? We'd be an DST for decades, no more adjustments to make because the hour would never be returned to us. Perhaps, I thought, the hour would be given to some future generation. Here's an hour your grandparents left you, kiddies. You adjust to it.
The authorities have since decided to return an hour, and we'll have to contend ourselves with merely leaving our grandchildren the national debt.
All the tinkering around with the system, though, started me wondering who had invented it in the first place. What sort of person came up with the idea that would disrupt everyone's schedule twice a year?
Wouldn't you know, the first person to suggest Daylight Saving Time was an American. Patriot, printer, dispenser of proverbs and flyer of kites. Ben Franklin suggested the idea in 1784. Our fledging nation wasn't concerned with an Arab oil embargo back then, but Ben thought it might be a good idea to save on candles. The notion was obviously ahead of its time, since the major nations of the world didn't even agree on Standard Time until a century ago.
The real hero of Daylight Saving Time, however, is a man who has been forgotten by the history books. William Willet, an Englishmen, suggested a scheme to save hours of daylight in 1907. He wanted the clock set ahead 80 minutes in the spring and summer. He planned to accomplish this in four separate changes of 20 minutes each. Mr. Willet died in 1915 before he could persuade anyone to try his plan. Though his system seems a bit far-fetched, I think he was right. I'd vote for his method any day.
Imagine - no more violent shifts in schedule, not a full hour we're suddenly faced with having to kill or do without. Just a few minor adjustments, 20 minutes here, 20 minutes there, we'd barely even notice.
Getting everyone to change his clock four distinct times might well be a logistic impossibility, but, as I see it, it wouldn't make a whole lot of difference. Anyone who missed one of the changes would be only 20 minutes off, and he'd probably catch up sooner or later. If he didn't, who'd really care? I know people who have been 20 minutes late for everything for years.