THERE WILL come a day when the elite few individuals who totally grasp the concept of Time will be treated like rock stars. They will be tailed by throngs of fawning groupies, all of them shouting things like "Do Daylight Savings Time!" and "The spacetime continuum! The spacetime continuum!" They will date the top models. A few will die of drug overdoses and plane crashes and from the gunfire of obsessed fans.

Time was a lot easier to understand in the old days, when the only person who had to keep track of it was the hunchback who rang the bells down at the local cathedral. The sun rose, the sun set, and it was a more comfortable existence except that everyone suffered from horrible strains of pox.

Now, in the modern world, Time is more sophisticated. A "second" used to be defined as a fraction of a day, but it is now defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a Cesium atom -- approximately. And the fact is that it's getting faster. Scientists will not admit this, of course, because they say time doesn't even have an objective existence, that it is merely a dimension by which we describe the behavior of matter. Fine: But it's still getting faster. That's why you can't keep up with kids. They've been living since birth in the New Time, they're calibrated for it. All this stuff is in the category of Things Everyone Knows Except Experts.

The ultimate mental challenge is Daylight Savings Time. It's critical that we make this adjustment every year. Otherwise, you know what happens. Yes: The daylight will not be saved. And that leads to darkness.

Twice a year, Daylight Savings Times strikes unexpectedly, a sudden announcement in a little box on the front page of the newspaper. The newspapers don't even know this is coming. Late on some Saturday night a moth-eaten editor screams in a phone, "Stop the presses! The clocks are moving ahead!"

The reason it gets complicated is that to gain an hour, the clock must lose an hour. In other words, by getting ahead we actually get behind. After studying this for a prolonged period of time -- approximately an hour -- we then turn to our spouse or smart school-age child and say, "Does this mean I can sleep late?"

Daylight Savings Time comes to an end in the fall, when we return to Eastern Standard Time, except for people who must live in some kind of West Coast Deviant Time. In between is "Central" Time -- it's hard to imagine an interesting person coming out of such an area -- and the obscure "Mountain" Time, which as far as anyone knows only applies to about nine families who live in cabins and trap beavers for a living.

Then you have the Newfoundland problem. Newfoundland is, as you know, one of those parts of Canada that no one has ever visited, and perhaps one of the reasons is that the time there is 30 minutes ahead of (i.e., behind) the adjacent provinces. We can only presume that Newfoundland is governed by a committee.

Worse yet is the situation in Guyana. This is a small South American country that has a proud and colorful history. There, the time is 15 minutes later than the country to the left of it. It is 3 hours and 45 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. Why the entire time system is based on a run-down hippie-dippie neighborhood in New York City is a mystery. In any case, in Guyana a "minute" is defined as the length of the king's forearm.

Now I'm going to let you in on a little secret about how you can learn to cope with all these varying time zones: Only move north and south. Avoid all even-numbered interstate highways. And don't go too far north, or else you'll hit Newfoundland.