(Eric Shansby)

Gene is on vacation. This column first ran in 2007.

This just in from a Mr. Alvin S. Datt, writing in response to a column:

“I will never get back the time I spent reading the horrible article you have written.”

I felt awful. Something had to be done. But what?

First, I phoned Peter “The Time Man” Turla, nationally known expert on time management.

Me: Is there any way I can give this guy back the three minutes he wasted reading my column?

Turla: Unfortunately, no. Time is an irretrievable resource. All I can suggest is: Try to write something that is twice as good next time, so you deliver double the value.

Me: I’m afraid that’s not possible, for me.

Turla: Well, then he is out
of luck. Unless ...

Me: Yes?

Turla: Time is relative. Einstein once put it this way: If you sit on a hot stove for one minute, it will feel like one hour. But if an attractive young lady sits on your lap for one hour, it feels like one minute.

Me: So you’re saying ...

Turla: You could send an attractive young lady to sit on his lap.

Me: Right! Relatively speaking, he’d gain 59 seconds every minute. So she’d only have to sit on his lap for three minutes and a little more, and we’re even!

Turla: Right.

Me: Is this legal?

Turla: I’m not a legal expert. I’m a time expert.

So I made another phone call.

F. Lee Bailey: If she is properly dressed, I wouldn’t think it’s a crime. But I’m not aware of a specific legal precedent. You need to talk to a prosecutor in the appropriate legal jurisdiction.

Mr. Datt had read my column in a Florida newspaper, so I called Sandra Spoto, a Florida prosecutor of misdemeanor crimes, including prostitution. Spoto said that if it was simply lap-sitting, and not lap-dancing, and if Mr. Datt consented, I’m good to go!

I was about to call him to make the arrangements when, as is so often the case, everything was ruined by my editor, Tom the Butcher.

TtheB: This newspaper is not paying a woman to sit on someone’s lap.

There was one hope left. Einstein had started this debate; perhaps he could finish it.

Phillip James Edwin Peebles is the Albert Einstein professor emeritus at Princeton. I asked him if there was any answer in the laws of physics.

Accelerating Mr. Datt to a velocity approaching the speed of light would work, Professor Peebles said, because it would slow his aging. But that’s impossible, he acknowledged. There was a long pause. A stench of defeat was in the air.

Finally, he said, “Have you considered using the gravitational blueshift?”

Me: Duh.

Peebles explained: Time moves faster at the top of a tower than at the bottom, due to differences in gravitational pull. The greater the height of the tower, the greater the difference in the speed of the passage of time.

Me: So...

Peebles: So you could put this man at the bottom of a mine shaft. He would age more slowly than everyone else.

Me: I like that!

Professor Peebles started calculating: “If the shaft is one kilometer deep ... the acceleration of gravity is 980 centimeters per second per second ... so ... multiply by the height ... Yes! Other people would age about 10 seconds more each year at the top of the shaft, so your man would get his three minutes back in ... 18 years.”

Voila! I was about to call Mr. Datt when Peebles phoned me back. He had grievously miscalculated. In 18 years, he reported, Mr. Datt would have only gained about 54 millionths of a second of his life back.


Peebles: Sorry.

Me: Well, at least he’d be getting something, right?

Peebles: I agree. It’s the right thing to do.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

For stories, features such as Date Lab, @Work Advice and more, visit WP Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.

E-mail us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.