14. Thoughts. Friend or foe?

One noiseless Sunday morning Benny had a dream, and it was infuriating. Not because of anything that was particularly annoying about any of the happenings slowly morphing around inside his imagination, but because nothing much went on at all — nothing memorable anyway. It was a funny thing, but while Benny would wake up and more or less forget his dream, because there was nothing much to remember, I knew that the picture show he had played for himself over that lazy waking-up time was really boring… jelly-like, slow and dull. He may as well not have had the dream at all.

When he awoke, late that morning and in a daze, and there was a text message waiting on his phone. Benny didn’t see it until he got up because the phone, which he had bought online, was charging in another room, which is also why he assumed he hadn’t heard the message arrive during the night — the text’s time stamp was for around 1am, so he was glad to have missed it and not been woken up.

“I didn’t really look at the text straightaway because it couldn’t have been that urgent, seeing as it came in hours ago. But the weird thing is, when I got around to reading it, the text was from one of the people I was meant to be meeting at a local coffee shop that morning, and he wanted to change cafes to one that was a couple of doors up because he said the first one had run out of muffins. But how could he have known that from the night before? Then there was the sound of another text arriving asking if I’d got the first one and did I know where to meet them now, so I rang and said yes I knew where to go and I’d got the earlier text, but hadn’t it been sent in the middle of the night? and he said no it was only minutes ago. I guessed I must have the wrong time set on my phone, but when I checked that wasn’t it either. It was a bit confusing. But I thought I was probably still waking up, so headed out.

“As I walked along I couldn’t figure out how my phone, if it was set to the right time, which it was, would display the message as arriving in the middle of the night if it had really only been sent earlier that morning. I re-checked my time setting just to make sure.

“I had more or less put the text timing confusion out of my mind over breakfast, as I was really hanging out for coffee and something to eat. It was when the others started talking about getting in touch with a friend who was overseas, and what time it would be in the country where they were, that an idea sprang on me. Time zones — my phone could be set at a different time zone than for here.

“I checked the settings later in the day. Sure enough, there were a few zones to choose from, and it seemed that while the local time could be displayed and adjusted as usual, there were also zones to choose. As it was, the phone was set on a ‘GMT (UTC)’ of zero. I had to search what the hell that meant, and also found out that where we were was ‘+10’, which was one of the 20 or more choices. Even better, the time zone selection could be set on automatic, which made better sense, and I was surprised the phone didn’t come pre-set that way.

“This reminded me of an old Peanuts comic strip which people resurrected a few years ago to discredit the doomsday nuts who were saying the world was meant to end. Maybe it was the rapture or that Mayan prediction thing. I hadn’t seen the original cartoon, but I was told people here liked it because we got a mention. Apparently Charlie Brown or Peppermint Patty or one of them said the world couldn’t end that night because it was already tomorrow in Australia. It was a good point.

“Anyway it was a relief to sort out the message time stamp thing. Just a minor irritation I know, or it should have been, but the goofed up assumptions that tripped up the start of the day was strangely disorienting. Although it was good to get an answer to the seeming weirdness of having a friend text about muffins running out before they were baked, in the fuzzy theoretical situation my mind played with that morning, mixing international time zones into the solution to that riddle added a strange element. It was almost like too sophisticated an answer… too global, just for a very little local strangeness.”

Benny’s feeling of disorientation, of a disconnect between where his thoughts took him and the prompts that led him there, seemed almost reinforced when he realised that the confusion he experienced was directly contributed to by a perception that was based on extraneous things. It was the way things were set up and established that strained the way his thinking connected the dots, a reliance on arrangements that were meant to help make sense of the here and now that, when you step back and observe, are essentially off somewhere in the left field and seemed foreign to normal everyday life.

“It was like the end-of-the-world dingbats. I’m sure they actually believed the conclusion they came to. I read that some of them apparently even quit their jobs, set up bunkers, settled scores. How the hell could their minds have got to that point, to so believe in a theory that they would change their lives to match what was proven to be in the end just another misguided thought bubble. All that effort and change, all driven along by their empty string of thoughts. It must have seemed to them that lots of things were happening, but really nothing was happening at all.”

If anything, the quiet low-key moment of confusion, and the clarifications that followed, served as a handy reminder for Benny to not fall too readily into his own empty string of thoughts — and a sense of protection settled on our surroundings.

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