May 19, 2006

Who invented the snooze button? This is a serious question. Someone looked at an alarm clock and said, "Hey, I’ll install a button that will give people an excuse to sleep through the entire day…in five minute increments." And all of us have woken up and thought, "Ach, I hate the sound of that alarm clock. I’ll just press this big button so I can torture myself with it again in five minutes." Who was this guy? Obviously he’s now hiding out in Paraguay with Elvis, Andy Kaufman, and the inventor of pet rocks so he can never be extradited to answer for his crimes, but it’s too late anyway.

The snooze button is as much a permanent feature of alarm clocks as the digital readout. In fact digital displays are almost good enough to compensate for the evil that is the snooze button. Even when I was a kid, back in the Middle Ages when digital displays were just starting to be widely used, I recognized the potential of the digital display. The only thing I ever flunked in First Grade was the lesson on clock reading. The teacher said, "The big hand is on the twelve and the little hand is on the three, so what time is it?" I said, "Time to get a new clock."

Of course I think there is something comforting about old-fashioned clocks. A digital display just wouldn’t look right in, say, the grandfather clock that my grandfather made. That my grandfather made grandfather clocks is one of those weird ironies life throws at you. Another of those weird ironies is that he was a brilliant craftsman and engineer while I have trouble operating a folding step-ladder. It’s possible to inherit things like a clock or a baseball signed by Bob Feller, or heart disease, but for some reason I didn’t get a skill I could use. I don’t know whether it really qualifies as weird or not, but it is ironic that my grandfather built clocks that will probably outlive me while he had a bad ticker himself. And I’m not sure that I inherited my grandfather’s heart disease, although after reading my family history the first question most doctors ask me is, "Do you startle easily?" In fact I’ve been told that using an alarm clock increases the chances that I’ll have a heart attack because it jolts me out of sleep. I think this is really a ploy to sell one of those clocks that’s supposed to wake you up by gradually raising the light level in the room, although for me all that’ll do is make me pull a pillow over my head. If I have a bad heart I’ll do what I can, like cutting down and eating only three candy bars deep-fried in bacon grease every day, and climbing stairs (unless there’s an elevator) and hope that my heart doesn’t have a snooze button.

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