Sunday, February 24, 2013

Though it be Madness

My watch battery died.  Now I have to advance the minute hand manually.  It pretty much takes up my whole day.  This has given me a greater appreciation for people in the old days, before there were time-savers like batteries.  It’s no wonder it took them forever to get anything done, like, inventing batteries.  For example, it has taken me twenty-two minutes just to write the above, taking a break every fifty-five seconds to advance my watch.  Of course moving the minute hand only takes about five seconds.  The time-consuming part is counting “one Mississippi,” “two Mississippi,” etc., until I get to “fifty-five Mississippi,” over and over again.  (The only thing worse might be typingone Mississippi,” “two Mississippi,” etc.  By the way, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to Mississippi, but the scuttlebutt seems to be, one Mississippi is more than enough, and fifty-five Mississippies would be way too many---But this is getting us off track, or it would be if we had some sort of track, and if we were on it.)  

I believe I was speaking about manual watch advancement, before I so rudely interrupted myself.  The technical name for the psychological aberration caused by having to advance one’s watch manually is Manual Advancement Disorder, or MAD (you can’t make these things up).  I have no doubt that this disorder is in great part responsible for the fact that before there were watch batteries, insane asylums were so crowded.  Watch any old movie with an asylum in it, and you’ll find it was full, and that’s without counting the people in the padded rooms, who could only be seen through those tiny windows, or the one or two patients who, at any given time, were attempting to fly over the Cuckoo’s nest.  The facts are indisputable: no watch batteries and full asylums.  This can hardly be coincidental.

I suspect that Manual Advancement Disorder may account for quite a few mad people.  Take Mary Todd Lincoln, for example.  It was hard enough manually adjusting every family watch and clock when she had an indulgent husband and a few living children around to help.   But when she had to do it alone, it was maddening.  Not long after, she had to be institutionalized on account of her odd behavior.  If you bore that kind of pressure, you too might be jumping out of windows fleeing imaginary fires, or wandering around with tens of thousands in government bonds sewn into your petticoat.   “But,” you say, “Tommy Humphrey does that, and his watch is working.”  Yes, but Pretty Boy is a unique case (in countless ways).  For most of us, a tiny watch battery can keep us on the sane side of the great sanity divide. 
Adolph Hitler might have lived and died an unknown house painter if only he had a decent battery-powered timepiece.   But you try painting some frau’s living room when you have to stop sixty times an hour to reset your watch.  Soon he was babbling idiot, spouting nonsense in public and writing about “Mein Struggle.”  His struggle was to keep both accurate time and his sanity.  He failed.  Several years ago my friend Chuck Mitchell had a similar experience; he was painting someone’s family room when his watch battery died.  The next thing I heard, he was invading Poland.    

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark was quite sane as long as his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were willing to manually advance his fine Swiss watch, the Rose taking the odd hours, and the Guild taking the even ones.  But when they abruptly abandoned their service by dying with insufficient notice, it proved the cruelest cut of all.  Hamlet soon discovered that all the perfumes of Arabia couldn’t sweep that little minute hand along, and he didn’t need a ghost to tell him that.  Hamlet had to either advance his watch himself, or find someone else who would.  Alas, poor Yorick couldn’t do it---as he was dead.  There is no doubt that he was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.  (Hold everything, how the dickens did Marley get into this?---and let’s be honest, nothing wonderful can come from this story).

As I was saying, it was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for Hamlet (Wait--- I wasn’t saying that).  Ophelia, out of love for Hamlet, tried to advance his watch for a while, but it demanded a certain level of concentration (sort of like reading this) that she lacked; she soon gave up and got herself to a nunnery.  Macbeth might have done it for him, but he was, tragically, in the wrong tragedy.  McDuck was a cartoon character who would not be conceived for several centuries, hence he was of no use to Hamlet in this matter, and one wonders how he even managed to make it into this story.  Thus Hamlet had to decide if he was going to advance his watch himself, or throw caution to the wind, and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune without an accurate timepiece.   This prompted, as you know, the famous soliloquy which secured the great Dane’s place in English literature, not to mention in the Westminster Dog Show.
“To be (on time), or not to be (on time), that is the question.”

The Danish prince chose nobly, but poorly.  He resolved to keep his own time manually.  As you can imagine, attempting to accurately count seconds in one’s head before there was either a Mississippi River or Mississippi state proved nigh impossible.  Historians believe that Hamlet, with no knowledge of the one Mississippi method, probably resorted to counting “one Helsinki, two Helsinki,” etc.  Unfortunately the syllabically-challenged Helsinki would have left him advancing his minute hand every 50 seconds or so, causing him to gain ten minutes per hour.  Every six hours, he would have gained an hour, and soon he would have been as confused as any airline passenger stumbling into LAX.

As Professor I. Ben DërDundⱥt of Stockholm University put it:  “Dis vood almost certainly haf hastened Herr Hamlet’s descent into ze madness.” (1)

At the risk of stating the obvious, although the professor didn’t mention it in his tome on the subject, the prince had probably been on the road to madness since the day his mother Gertrude, who was something of a meat lover, acknowledged that he was named after a pig’s thigh.  But there’s no doubt that the watch business was the final straw.  Before long he was talking in riddles and stabbing people behind curtains before asking who was there---in other words, he was behaving less like a Danish prince and more like a certain South African Olympic runner.
I suppose I have to mention Rasputin, who was just your typical scary looking wandering Russian mystic when he received his first timepiece, a gift of Tsar Nicholas II.  A miniature sundial, it was designed to be worn around the arm or wrist.  Rasputin’s madness resulted, not from having to adjust his sundial, but from the fact that he couldn’t get it to work, due to the long Russian winters, when the sun was just a distant memory.  Half the time he couldn’t tell if it was day or night.  Sundials work better in Arizona.   

You may be wondering why, if the sundial was driving him mad, he didn’t just take it off.  If so, then it’s clear you’ve never received a gift from a Tsar, or for that matter, from a Czar.  Rasputin’s uncle, a prominent Saint Petersburg citizen’s advocate (we would call him an attorney) named Disputin, was once photographed without the hat he had been given by the Tsar.  The next time he appeared in court he had no ears. (2) Rasputin knew he couldn’t remove his sundial, so he had no choice but to go crazy.  Once he was certifiably mad, it is said that he attempted to take his own life.  He tried knives, bullets, poisoning, drowning, and reading Karl Marx, but he was reportedly unsuccessful.  It is believed that he is living somewhere in the Ural Mountains, and his beard is even longer than it was in those old high school history books.  He is now 143, which is old even in Ural Mountain Standard Time.
Of course the truly wealthy people had servants to advance their watches, which is why they didn’t go mad as often as the poor people.  King George III of England was a notable exception.  He had a servant to keep his time, and a servant to cook his food, and a servant to powder his wig, and a servant to stone wash his crew socks, and he still went mad.  I would not speculate as to the cause of his madness.  You frequent Wry Bread readers know I am not given to speculation.  But I’m pretty sure it was the harpsichord music---a little of that goes a long way.  Yes, it was definitely harpsichord music, and minuets.

Many don’t know that it was in the years before batteries that the modern watch got its name.  In order to operate it manually, someone had to watch it day and night. 
In the old days, people kept their watches on chains, just like many of their servants.  That way a wealthy chap could pull the watch out of his watch pocket and let his servant watch it while he went about his normal routine, like taking a carriage ride to the country to see his home town Yankees trounce the visiting Rebels.  The watch chain also kept the occasional unchained servant from walking off with the watch, seeing as how it was attached to the master’s vest.  I’m quite sure however that no servant who spent his days watching and adjusting a pocket watch would ever want to steal one, unless it would be to toss it in the nearest river, which is what I intend to do with mine if I can’t find a battery for it within the next 24 hours, or to be more accurate, within the next 21,600 Mississippies.

It is not uncommon for Christians to be accused of madness.  Sometimes, as in the case of Pretty Boy, the charge is justified, but often, it is applied unfairly.  The first century Jewish scribe known as Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor of what was, at the time, a new sect comprised of men and women who believed that Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified in Jerusalem somewhere around what we call 30 AD, was the Messiah promised in the Hebrew Scriptures.   But the persecutor Saul had an encounter with the risen Christ, and he was sent forth to declare the startling news that Christ was alive, and that forgiveness of sins and everlasting life was offered through His sacrifice for sinners on the cross.  As we might have guessed, this did not endear him to those Jewish religious leaders who had conspired to have Jesus put to death, and Saul was run out of more towns than Queen Gertrude was run out of all-you-can-eat buffets.
Fast-forward a few decades and we find Saul, now commonly known by his Greek name, Paul, charged by other Jews (not for the first time) with being a trouble-maker.  They hired an orator named Tertullus (no relation to Disputin) to argue their case before the Roman governor Felix (no relation to the cat) in the town of Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast, northwest of Jerusalem.  Tertullus said:

“We have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (Acts 24:5)

Paul defended himself before the governor, but Felix kept him imprisoned, hoping that Paul might be persuaded to pay a bribe for his freedom.  But Paul, trusting God’s providence in his life, was quite content to remain in jail, if need be.   After two years, a man named Festus (no relation to Marshal Dillon) succeeded Felix, and when Herod Agrippa II came to town (the great grandson of Herod the Baby-killer) Festus told him about Paul, and the fact that, as a Roman citizen, Paul had appealed his case to Caesar, and would soon be sent to Rome.  Agrippa wanted to hear from Paul himself, so it was arranged. 

Paul told the story of his journey to Damascus in order to arrest there the followers of Christ.
“At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me.  And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and stand on your feet: for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen, and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.  I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ (Acts 26:13-18)

Paul went on to describe that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision, but that he had proclaimed to Jews and Gentiles alike that they should repent and turn to God.  He concluded his defense with these words:  “…to this day I stand, witnessing to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come---that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” 
“Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself!  Much learning is driving you mad!’”

“But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason.’”  (Acts 26:19-25)
A world with no right, no wrong, no justice, no reward, no meaning, and no purpose, that would truly be a mad, mad, mad, mad world.   But declaring that Jesus has been victorious over death and that through faith in Him, we can be victorious over death as well---these are words of truth and reason.  On the third day, Christ’s tomb was empty; that fact there’s no disputin.

(1) I don’t expect anyone to read this footnote, so it shouldn’t be necessary for me to write anything.  But in case I’m wrong, Dr. I. Ben DërDundⱥt is the author of the book, Brief Candle, Hamlet’s Madness: Precipitated by a Timepiece?  This quote was taken from page---oh let’s say 237.

(2) It worked out for him though.  He designed the first ear muffs to hide his deformity. They caught on. He called them “Disputin’s Sound-Mute-ins” and he made a comfortable living.  Some older Russians still recall the jingle he made famous, which is roughly translated, “Yer darn tootin, we like Disputin’s.”


  1. I received an E-mail from someone claiming to be Rasputin ( He said he wanted to clarify: he never read anything by Karl Marx, he's not 143, he's 139, and his Uncle Disputin only lost one ear. I stand by the rest of my story.

  2. I'm so glad the Pastor of Liberty Church PCA is focused, but as an author he sure seems to suffer, at the minimum, from ADD and MAD... which is a bit SAD! No wait, that's Seasonal Affective Disorder. Does he suffer that too?

    1. Yes--if it has initials, it's a safe bet that he has it.