The Roosters Don’t Like It

Illustration of a rooster pulling the hour hand of a clock back, as a disembodied finger resists
Robert Grossman

AN HOUR OF TIME for an hour of daylight. If that wouldn’t sound fishy to an unnumbed person, I don‘t know what would. How about an acre of space for an acre of prime bottomland? A gallon of volume for a gallon of honey? Time to trade time for light, the bland newscasters tell us two Saturday nights a year, in April and October, and we do. Without protest. It is the contemporary thing. It makes me nostalgic for the activist sixties, when I was living in Georgia among people who would not take Daylight Saving lying down.

In Georgia in those days, the question of ordained time was thrashed out where God meant for bedrock matters to be thrashed out: in the legislature. Under the federal Uniform Time Act, a state could opt out of DST from one year to the next, and plenty of Georgians annually resisted traipsing to and fro through time just to keep in step with complete strangers.

Maybe time is supposed to be a raw deal. If you mess with it, maybe it gets worse. In fact, held the traditionalists, so-called (“so-called was a key political term in Georgia at that time) Standard Time was drastic enough: since Georgia was in so-called Eastern Time but was close to the so-called Central Time line, it was actually, according to what county you were in, only 8:41 or 8:38 or even 8:29 when the Boston/New York/Washington axis was trying to shove 9:00 down honest people’s throats.

Why pretend that a Winged Chariot with endless corridors of shifting sand is subject to administrative fiat? Because these are dynamic, future-oriented times, said the daylight Salvationists.

In the parliamentary battle between these two world views, one solon charged that under Daylight Saving “the sun sets too long after dark.” You may not think time is a moral issue. But for every extra dollar that some Atlanta wheeler-dealer made by peddling a water-ski-rope-bobber or some damned thing in the glare of artificially prolonged afternoon, there was one more rural schoolchild who probably got lost trying to find his way to the school bus in the pitch dark of so-called morning and was never seen again. And the converse could be put, and was.

The debate, it seemed to me, should have been staged as an outdoor pageant. There was a very successful one in the North Carolina mountains that depicted how Andy Jackson cleared out the Indians, a noble people who never harnessed tourism’s potential. Today, when an imposing percentage of Americans in every state own a water-ski-rope-bobber and yearn to get enough of an edge on the economy to buy a new model, the issue of Temporal Relativity vis-à-vis the Spiritual Absolute may seem moot. But no more so than that one about the Indians. In the eighties, it seems appropriate to reflect that a person might enhance his capital position, and hearken back to days of eternal verities, and also hearken back to days of modern, futureoriented dynamism, by getting himself commissioned to create a pageant along these lines:

At the crest of the highest hill in Georgia are gathered a myriad of interestsdrive-in-theater operators, stock brokers, poultry, airline-reservation clerks, schoolchildren. TV folk, Jaycees, and cattle. They fall into two camps, God’s Time and Up-to Date Time, from which are heard, contrapuntally, the following cries.

G.T.: It ain’t decent to go to the drivein before dark!

U.T.: Do you want Eleven Alively News at ten?

G.T.: You want noon at 1:37?

U.T.: The Leisure Industry feels . . .

G.T.: You ever gotten up at 2:30 to milk?

U.T.: What can you know of jet fatigue?

The two camps advance upon each other menacingly until . . .

The Sun rises over the hill.

SUN: What on earth?

DIRT FARMER: it ain’t natural. I get up at dawn every day anyway and when I do it under Daylight Saving it makes my day twicet as long and the roosters don’t like it.

STOCK BROKER: NO, listen here. In the summer when it’s 4 P.M. here, unless we have Daylight Saving Time, it’s 5 P.M. in New York. So when I call Wall Street to broke a stock at 4:45 here, the man I want to broke it to has left the office. I call his home and his wife says, “Wait a minute, I’ll see if I can get him, he’s out playing Red Rover. Red Rover with the children.” Of course he is in no mood to deal. And by the time I get home, I have only two hours of daylight left to play Red Rover, Red Rover with my children in. Surely you can see that?

DIRT FARMER (cannily): Red whut, Red whut?

STOCK BROKER: There is no talking to these people!

cow: Uhmm, I don’t know. Uhmm‘but it looks like the feddle gummunt running ever‘thing. Uhmm’but it can’t run cows. And somebody said you ever had to get up at 2:30 to mmmmm’ilk? Mwell I jus want to know did anybody ever have to get up at 2:30 to be mmmmm’ilked?

CITY BUSINESSMAN: I appeal directly to the Sun! I represent EHEU-Georgia, the state affiliate of Extra Hour Enthusiasts United. And I would like to remind the Sun that Daylight Saving affords every citizen of Georgia an extra hour to water-ski or swim or boat or fish or go crabbing or ever what form of recreation he so may choose—and all in the Sun! I also sell boats.

DIRT FARMER: NOW, wait a minute.

You ain’t gittin’ twixt we’uns and the Sun. We is the ones that labors from kin till cain’t.

TV PERSONALITY (raised God knows where): What till what?.

DIRT FARMER: Yessir. From when we jist kin see the Sun till we jist cain’t. Yessir. And we ain‘t sittin’ still for no satchel-totin’ boorycrat to tell us when we kin and when we cain’t. How ‘bout it, Sun?

(There is a pause.)

SUN: Friends, your Sun is deeply moved by these expressions, on both sides, of confidence and love. What your Sun would ask is that you live in peace and harmony, under the Sun. Regarding this great and crucial question you bring before me, I find myself in no position to comment further publicly at this time. Your Sun has this morning accepted from the National Science Foundation a federal research grant of . . .

DIRT FARMER: The Sun hath come under a cloud!

CITY BUSINESSMAN: Want to buy a boat?

IT MAY BE OBJECTED that this pageant is too “down.” Something brighter and more timely may be desired. For are we not enlightened enough today to recognize that there are, in the true sense, no opposing camps? Surely daylight, time, business, farming, East, West— matter itself, for that matter—are all pretty much a matter of each other. Most of matter, we now know, is daylight, in the sense of space. As in the song

When was the last time you’ve seen us In the dark nibbling each other’s ears? We’ve put lots of daylight between us Over the last few years.

Daylight is like time m that something we would like to change about both of them is: they make us look older. What we might have in the pageant is a scene in which we turn forty, and the not necessarily reliable Time-Light chorus intones, “Well . . . you . . . don’t . . . look . . . forty.”

Now through multi-media effects we hash forward thirty years, to the chorus filing past us and intoning, “Well . . . they . . . certainly . . . don’t . . . look . . . dead.”

But we deceased don’t let it go at that. We come back with something. We have squirreled away enough daylight in our time that we are able to burst incandescent for just one instant and crack: “Okay, y’all, be cool. We got to roll around heaven.”

And sink back down.

And then what?

Then we spring right spang back up, fling out our arms limberly, and dance! Risen like a water-ski-rope-bobber released from the deep, we sing of how dark, musty, exhaust-filled time wall henceforth become moment upon moment lit so well from within that without is no real problem. Old time is restituted, new time saved, indeed, for we have pulled it off, we have come to light, we have outslicked Ramona in the Dark Glasses.

Here’s what happened. We caught a glimpse of that certificate the chorus was handing around. It gave the time of our passing as 2:15 A.M. the last Sunday of April. And there is no such time.