BOSTON -- On my desk are two articles I diligently clipped and saved from this week's papers. They lie side by side on my desktop and, I must admit, in my brain.
The first is about time, or the lack of it, in our lives. If people drew up a January list of wishes instead of resolutions, suggests the author, our first wish would be for more time.
The second article is one I should file under home maintenance. In it, an expert warns that any decent germ-fearing owner of an ultrasonic humidifier should clean the tank every day with a cup of bleach.
As a certified humidifier owner and a bona fide citizen in pursuit of elusive free time, I find myself making a connection between this incongruous pair of messages.
Maybe the infamous time crunch of the '80s is not just a product of work and family pressures. Maybe we are not all just overachievers who feel lazy unless we are listening to Swahili tapes while running three miles in an event sponsored by a worthy social cause. Maybe part of the problem is the demands put on us by the burgeoning number of THINGS. Maybe we consume things that, in turn, consume our time.
Every thing, even the so-called time-saving device and energy-efficient machine, comes these days with an elaborate set of instructions for its care and feeding. Buying a machine has become more and more like buying a pet.
You get the feeling that you aren't worthy of owning a humidifier unless you promise to clean it with bleach. You don't deserve a coffee maker unless you faithfully give it doses of white vinegar. You don't warrant a VCR unless you run the head cleaner through it routinely.
And I haven't even mentioned the car.
As an owner, I am often guilty of thing-neglect. I am about as likely to get up every morning and pour bleach in my humidifier as I am to shave the pills from my sweaters. I have enough trouble remembering to floss.
But I am subject nevertheless to the ultimate way that THINGS devour time. By breaking. Without doubt, the two words that strike the deepest terror in the heart of a person whose life is contained in an Hour-at-a-Glance book are these: ''It's broken.''
This announcement conjures up two horror scenes. One of them is a classic rendition of waiting for the Godot Repair Company. This is an outfit that estimates its time of arrival in your city as alternate Tuesdays between dawn and dusk. The other is a road tour that leads you to the remote and highly specialized factory-service representative. This is located handily next door to a motel where you may check in and wait.
In my experience, the amount of time spent transporting broken television sets, answering machines and personal computers surpasses the amount of time spent transporting preschoolers to gymnastics classes they will not remember when they are in analysis. The amount of time spent waiting for a repairer to come fix a disposal or automatic icemaker surpasses the amount spent in a meat line in Warsaw.
And still I haven't even mentioned the car.
My own major culprit in this department is the vacuum cleaner I live with and for. This is a machine that breaks down so routinely I am trying to enroll it in an HMO.
I know that I am not the only person who wastes time on the things that were supposed to free time, or enhance time. We have all become machine caretakers in one way or another. We buy some thing in the flush of desire, the rush of romance; it's only later that we realize we've made a commitment to it.
It insists on being cleaned. It demands to be fed bleach or vinegar. At the very best it sits there nagging you to make use of it for the manufacture of yogurt or popcorn or videotapes. At the very worst it forces you to take it to be fixed. It not only gives, it takes . . . time.
This is one of the ironies of a thoroughly modern life. We are time-crunched. Not just by the number of things we have to do, but by the number of things we have. In the late 20th century, things have become our new dependents.
Now then, let's talk about the car.