Friday, April 7, 2023

Contemplating Eternity (reprise)

Cartoons by Antares

A Rabelaisian Discourse on Swiss Timekeeping, Scientific Orthodoxy, Satyriasis, and Saturdays


She read aloud from the glossy magazine on her silky lap: “’It’s the first time such a complicated timepiece will be on the market, so it’s difficult to put a figure on it. Certainly five million dollars…’”

“U.S.?” I asked, as if it made a difference.

She nodded and continued: “’Certainly five million dollars. But it could be much more.’”

“That’s insane.”

She glanced at me with mild disdain. “How typical! You’re only interested in the price!”

“But why on earth would anyone make something like that?”

“It’s to mark their 150th anniversary…”

“Oh well, in that case it’s perfectly all right. However, I’m afwaid we can’t afford it, m’dear. Teddibly sowwy.”

I was rewarded with a faint smile. “Look, if I showed you a picture of a Rembrandt in an art book, does it mean I’m thinking of acquiring it? There are so many beautiful things to enjoy in this world. Masterpieces! For me it is a pleasure merely to know about them. Contemplating these priceless objects is like… well, like an experience of higher consciousness. It’s almost spiritual.”

“Well put! And as for me, whenever I feel the onset of Despair, I need only focus my thoughts on the Hope Diamond…”

The cushion missed me and landed with a fat plop near the kitchen door. She pouted in feigned petulance: “Bogus peasant!”

“My love, your beauty alone is enough for me.”

Another cushion – one she had been lying on – tossed, not hurled. I caught it and nuzzled it with mock Italian ardor: “Inamorata! O sole mio!” I breathed. “I worship the miraculous spot where you have sat!”

“Kees my ass,” she said. So I leapt on her and did precisely that.

* * * * * * *

“THIS IS INSANE,” I found myself saying an hour later. I had retrieved the magazine from the floor and was reading the feature on the multi-million-dollar timepiece from Patek Philippe, the Geneva watchmakers: “’Nine years in the making… 1,728 parts, 33 functions, weighs over a kilo…’ and dig this… ‘Every 400 years a special mechanism reinstates the Leap Year!’ ¡Caramba!”

“Isn’t that amazing?” she said, with no trace of cynicism. “And they say it will be the most complicated portable timepiece in the whole world.”

“Portable? Yeah… for Arnold Schwarzenegger, maybe.” I tossed away the magazine and mimed a well-dressed gorilla with an enormous load on his left arm: “Duhhh… mmmph… ooof…” I gasped. “Please, please, please, whatever you do… DON’T ask me the time!”


Oh, she says it so delightfully. I decided to try for an encore. “Er, ‘scuse me, what time is it?” I grunted and heaved and hauled up my left arm up to consult my imaginary 1.1 kilo timepiece. “Wait… I need time to figure it out, it’s the world’s most complicated watch, you see… 24 hands! Er… could you come back in half an hour?”

“Stupido!” she giggled.

“Who, me? Or the gorilla with the five-million-dollar watch?”

“You! You belong to the Casio crowd.”

“Mine’s a Xonix, see! You know I’m not the good Citizen type – and I certainly can’t picture myself going into a Patek Philippe showroom and asking to see the cheapest thing they’ve got.”

“Which you couldn’t afford, anyway,” she laughed. “Do you know how much the cheapest one costs?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” I said truthfully. “An arm and a leg?”

“TWO arms and a leg!” she retorted. “You’d have to wear it around your scrawny neck.”

I sat down and murmured into her ear: “I can think of much more interesting places…”

“Jesumaria, you are insatiable!” she breathed, surrendering to the luxury of a lazy Saturday afternoon.

I AWOKE FIRST, feeling hot and sweaty. When I had showered away the sleep I came downstairs to find her groping for her cigarettes in the mellow half-darkness of twilight.

“What time is it, do you know?” she ventured, husky-voiced, mussy-haired, but divinely beautiful as ever.

“7:23,” I said, having long adapted myself to digital timekeeping.

She groaned and yawned, then lit a cigarette: “I had such a weird dream.”

“What was it?”

“Can’t remember…”

“That’s funny,” I scratched my head. “I had a pretty weird dream myself. But all I can remember is the bit about the monster watch… god, it was a pretty complicated dream!”

“What watch? You mean the Calibre by Patek Philippe?”

“Is that what it’s called, the five-million-dollar watch?” I shifted her legs and plonked myself down on the sofa beside her, reaching for the cigarettes. “Well, yeah. It was quite vivid. I was somewhere in the future, you know – somehow I knew it was the year 2400. Something about the date… February 28th.”

“Hmmmm,” she said, snuggling closer.

“You want to hear this?”

“Mmmmm,” she affirmed.

“There was a great deal of anticipation, it was in the air. Everyone was watching the same live telecast; we were glued to the holovision set. It was great: I could see this perfectly realistic 3-D image of that monster watch just dangling in mid-air… actually, I think it might have been some sort of vacuum column. Anyway, it seemed like the entire planet was eagerly awaiting the stroke of midnight. Everyone wanted to witness the miraculous Reinstatement of the Leap Year by means of that wonderful mechanism built into the watch movement. Mainly, we were extremely curious to see if the damned thing was still ticking after so many centuries.”

She reached out and borrowed my cigarette. Exhaling slowly, she sighed: “I know you’re making this up.”

“But why should I?”

“Perhaps to tease me?” she purred.

“Hey, it’s hardly unusual to dream about clocks and watches,” I countered, retrieving the cigarette. “Salvador Dali did it daily – or nightly at any rate.”

The languorous hint of complaint in her voice was quite exquisite: “You’re a very naughty man. I never know when you’re telling me facts and when it’s pure fiction.”

“So what? It’s of no significance.”

“You haven’t finished telling me your dream. What happens?”

I laughed and kissed her. “Okay… we’re sitting around watching this great event on HV…”

“Who’s WE and what’s HV?”

“You and me and a few friends… nobody specific, just a few good friends. And HV is holovision, dum-dum.”

She pinched me: “Don’t call me dum-dum!”

“Who started it? You called me stupido… look, let me finish telling you the dream before I forget it completely. Er… where was I?”

“We were watching the mostruoso watch on HV.”

“Ah yes. The announcer was saying it was now more than 400 years, or sixteen generations since the original owner bought the watch back in the 1990s. Then the midnight chime began: doong… doong… tooong…”

“And??” She was hooked. Her voice betrayed it.

“Well, the suspense was getting too much to bear. I was sweating like a pig in a sauna…”

“Pigs don’t sweat. I read an article the other day…”

“Please don’t interrupt, my dear. The monster watch chimed three times… four times… five times… six times… then I woke up.”

“Stronso!” she snorted, “that’s bloody cheating!” Shoving me off the sofa, she jumped to her feet and danced upstairs to shower for dinner.

The Universe according to Count Antoine de Patek and Monsieur Adrien Philippe.

THE FIVE-MILLION-DOLLAR WATCH popped up again a few days later during a ‘heavy’ discussion concerning Time and Timelessness. We were watching a popular science documentary on TV about the serious research going on at some gargantuan cyclotron complex in Switzerland. A Carl Sagan look-alike was leading us on a guided tour of the exciting new frontiers of quantum physics.

“What’s so funny?” she demanded after my third or fourth quiet chuckle. “Would you be kind enough to tell me why you find this program so amusing?”

“I was reminded of something Dane Rudhyar once said.”

“Dane who? And what did he say?”

“Rudhyar. You probably won’t have heard of him. He’s only one of the most remarkable renaissance geniuses of the 20th century.”

“So what does this Dane fellow do for a living?” she said drily.

“Nothing whatsoever, he died a few years ago. But he was a philosopher, painter, esoteric scholar and astrologer; a true visionary and a highly articulate holistic thinker. And what he said was: ‘It’s really all so simple! One should not have to talk about it, which is like trying to catch atoms with a butterfly net.’ I think he might have been referring to our Brave New Scientists’ desperate attempts to crack the Mystery once and for all.”

She yawned: ”Atoms are not my specialty, but don’t you think this is a good documentary?”

“See that particle accelerator? You realize how massive that goddamned thing is? And how much it costs to operate? And do you know how extremely tiny sub-atomic particles are? Well, they’re so small they only exist in the realm of possibility. They might as well be purely mythical.”

She shrugged, not quite warming to the subject. “None of my business what they do with their equipment. But I’m sure all that research will prove useful some day.”

“Where would Big Science be without you?” I said, licking her left earlobe. Whereupon Time took a quantum leap into Timelessness. The Wild-Quark-Chase science doco was long over when we re-entered consensual time and turned off the 7 o’clock news.

At some point during the cigarette break our conversation drifted back to metaphysics. “It’s a complete waste of time,” I remember saying, “like smashing a clock against the wall and then examining the broken bits to try and grasp the nature of Time.”

“You mean a complete waste of timekeeping devices," she said drolly. "But what else do you expect scientists to do? Meditate and write haikus?”

My laughter set her off and we ended up farting in unison. It was an entirely ridiculous situation. “That was pretty good” I said at last.

“What was good? Our synchronized farts or my joke about haikus?”


“I can just imagine Albert Einstein in haiku heaven,” she giggled.

“Now old Bert was no grant-grubbing High Priest of Science. His was perhaps the most brilliant mind after Nikola Tesla and Niels Bohr, and he managed to keep it open to a remarkable degree. However, most of your professional scientists are just overpaid technicians, faceless data-gatherers in white smocks caught up in their own myopic specializations.”

“You are, as they say, waxing lyrical.” She popped a peeled grape in my mouth and rested her magnificent head in my lap.

I was unstoppable: “So what do they do all day long? Chasing shadows with their high-tech measuring instruments trying to get a statistical fix on everchanging forms. ‘It’s a trick of the Light!’ the smarter ones conclude. And then, when night falls, they hold anxious conferences hoping to determine precisely why their data has suddenly become invalid.”

“You make them sound so stupid…”

“’Extreme cleverness is as bad as stupidity’ – Lao-tze said that, I believe.”

“But you must admit the scientific method has produced some very useful results. I mean, when I think of video and airplanes and washing machines and computers… I’m impressed. You’re prejudiced – because you don’t have any engineering or mathematical skills, isn’t that so?”

I was silent for a moment. “You’re right to a certain extent, but I’m not saying we ought to eliminate scientists. I just don’t want them to eliminate us.”

“Don’t you agree, science can work together with art to produce functional beauty? Take the mostruoso watch for example. God, the skill that goes into something like that, the dedicated craftsmanship!”

“You seem to have taken a real fancy to that overpriced watch, haven’t you?”

“Why not? To me it represents something unique and exquisite. It’s a celebration of human ingenuity and… at least it’s a form of attainable fantasy.”

“Oh, you terminal case of intellectual materialism.”

“Stop calling me names!”


“Bobble?” She glared at me. “What do you mean, bobble?”

“Bauble… B-A-U-B-L-E… a pretty little useless thing,” I said helpfully. “The sort of precious junk you’re so fond of admiring and collecting. Thank goodness you haven’t got unlimited credit.”

“If something makes you happy you don’t call it useless.”

“It’s that simple for you, is it? Buy a bauble and be happy. Just keep buying and live happily ever after…”

“You know I am NOT like that, Mister!” She sounded genuinely peeved.

“Hey, hey… relax! I was only trying to ruffle your feathers. I’m sorry I succeeded. Anyway, all I wanted to point out was this: not knowing what Time is all about, humans become obsessed with measuring it. They invent clocks and calendars, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to escape the Time Continuum. No wonder human affairs have become nearly impossible.”

“Who’s trying to escape from Time? Not me! And I love human affairs!”

“That’s splendid! You don’t even know you’re doing it!”

“Can you explain, please?” She started stroking my calves.

I lit a couple of cigarettes and handed her one. “All right… why do you pay so much for skin creams and Royal Jelly and extract of reindeer horn and that yucky seaweed stuff? To keep yourself looking young, right? What is age, after all? Merely a demonstrable effect of Time. We’re always seeking the Elixir of Eternal Youth – some secret passage to Immortality. Wait, wait, please don’t interrupt…”

She interrupted all the same: “I need a drink. You want some tea?”

“Brilliant idea. I need to use the loo, anyhow.”

* * * * * * *

MY THOUGHTS WERE SUBLIME as I sat on the pot. The tea was invigorating. We settled on the sofa to contemplate Eternity.

“Past, present, future – they’re mental constructs,” I informed her, feeling like some schoolboy iconoclast who’s just spilled the beans about Santa Claus to his chum.

Tea makes her attentive, so I charged on: “At certain levels of consciousness, Time spirals upon itself and nothing exists except the Moment… the Eternal Now.”

“I love it when you talk like a Buddha. Your face looks so calm.” She touched it gently.

I gazed at her with severe serenity: “The rivers of Time flow into Eternity, where the illusion of Time itself dissolves. So… why should anyone waste five million U.S. dollars on an overblown dress watch?”

“It’s an investment, darling. See what the Eiffel Tower has done for Paris.”

“Ah, but don’t you see? It’s this gnomish Newtonian notion about Law and Order in a Clockwork Cosmos. The Swiss have been obsessed with precise timekeeping for generations.”

“Don’t blame the Swiss. Blame the Chinese, they started this nonsense… as usual.”

“I’m afraid the habit began long before that, sweetheart. Timekeeping is one of the unfortunate and unnecessary by-products of higher intelligence.”

“Okay, why are you wearing that cheap watch of yours? Why talk all this high-brow stuff about Eternity? You use a desk diary, you look at calendars…”

“True, true… but I’m different, you see. I’ve managed to escape the Timestream and no longer take the passage of Time as seriously as other humans do.”

She chuckled: “Ah, my beloved Chronos, how I adore you – you are so marvelously arrogant!”

“Are you feeling peckish, Titania?” I asked, caressing her auburn locks. “I can run downtown and pick up some edibles.”

She tweaked my nose. “Hey, I’m not Titania… I’m Rhea,” she corrected me with no apparent umbrage.

“Of course!” I whacked myself on the forehead. “How could I be so forgetful? Mea culpa.”

“Anyway, I’m not very hungry… but this conversation is making me really homesick.” She sat up and looked me straight in the eye. “What do you think? Shall we take a break from playing humans? Just a quick little vacation, the two of us, hmmm?” Her painted fingernails traced a subtle pattern along my thighs.

I performed a swift mental calculation. “Okay,” I said with brow thoughtfully furrowed. “If we do it discreetly, nobody will get alarmed. We can use the new Antarean Gateway. It will take us right through Arcturus to Andromeda. But let’s set the Zuvuya beam to return in 16 gene cycles.”

“Why 16 gene cycles?”

“Well, that will spiral us back into this Reality Game just before Gregorian Year 2400, give or take a lunar phase.”

“Yes, but what’s the mission objective for that specific coordinate?”

“Don’t you want to watch our monster timepiece perform the miraculous Reinstatement of the Leap Year?”

“Perfect timing!” She winked and gave me the most sensational kiss I have had in aeons.

Or at least since Saturday.

Text & Illustrations by Antares © 1989
Painting: "The Children of Cronos" by Victor Hagea
First posted 27 May 2007, reposted 7 May 2019

Thursday, April 6, 2023


More than a few have expressed surprise when, in the course of casual conversation, they learn that I “dropped out of school” after sitting my A-Levels examinations as a private candidate at age 18. The A-Levels then were also known as HSC (Higher School Certificate) and were a necessary stepping stone to tertiary education.

“So you never went to university?” they ask incredulously. “I assumed you had a Masters!” To which my half-facetious response would be: “What? Not even a double PhD? Actually, I did spend some time at Universiti Malaya... but only to make out with my girlfriend who was staying on campus."

Among the many outstanding humans who have inspired me one way or another throughout my life, not one has impressed me because of their academic qualifications.

I regarded Bob Dylan as a Dionysian poet, Jewish prophet, and troubadour long before he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard (and later a Nobel Prize) in Literature. Dylan’s urbane sagacity has stood me in good stead over the decades, and two things he said have been indelibly imprinted in my soul: (1) “To live outside the law you have to be honest” and (2) “The best thing you can do for anyone is to inspire them.”

Frank Zappa taught himself music theory as a teenager by religiously reading text books on music notation, composition and arrangement in public libraries. Long after his untimely death of prostate cancer in December 1993, reputable orchestras and ensembles are performing his symphonic works to universal acclaim.

I regard Frank as the ultimate autodidact. He was also a brilliant electronics and audio engineer, sociopolitical commentator, and a self-taught authority on constitutional and copyright law who heroically upheld the First Amendment by presenting a strong case at Senate hearings for not censoring artistic output.

As an exchange student in New Jersey in the late 1960s, the only rock concert I attended was when Zappa & The Mothers of Invention played at the Fillmore East in New York City. I had a brief conversation with Frank afterwards and he gave me a chocolate teardrop which I ate on the journey home. I became the only Malaysian member of Zappa’s fan club, United Mutations, and often dreamt about him, which prompted me to write several letters to him. Years later, in 1977, Zappa actually responded. It was a bit like hearing back from Santa Claus.

John Lennon, another early mentor, had two collections of his wacky poems and Thurberesque doodles (In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works) published because of his celebrity status as a founding Beatle. His quirky sketches have also been exhibited in posh galleries and oohed and ahed over by the glitterati.

I owe Mr Lennon a serious debt of gratitude for his profound artistic impact and influence on my teenage consciousness. Looking back, I was a full-fledged Marxist (à la Groucho) and Lennonist (à la John) for the greater part of my adult life.

A fourth mentor appeared in my early adulthood in the form of R. Buckminster Fuller, popularizer of concepts like “synergy” and “holistic” - and who has been aptly described as “a genial genius.” Fuller was another university drop-out, whose claim to academic fame was getting expelled twice from Harvard. He regarded himself as a comprehensivist (as opposed to specialist) and that was precisely what I found myself aspiring to become.

Apart from his most famous invention, the geodesic dome, Bucky had a carbon molecule posthumously named after him. Indeed, the Buckminsterfullerene or C-60 has since become an increasingly popular anti-aging agent, owing to its remarkable detoxifying properties.

The most valuable takeaways I was gifted with from my close encounters with R. Buckminster Fuller were (1) The concept of applying minimum effort for maximum gain through leveraging (which, when you think about it, is what kung fu is all about) and (2) What Bucky said to me over dinner at the Equatorial Hotel in 1976 on one of his many visits to Kuala Lumpur:

“Just do what you feel you must do. Do it the best you can and trust that you’ll be looked after. Believe me, it’s true. I’m an old man, and I’m not in the habit of giving irresponsible advice.”

I quit my job in an ad agency a year after that and have remained gainfully unemployed since.

Bucky with a tensegrity sphere

When the results of the A-Levels were released I felt chagrined to have been awarded a pathetic C+ for Modern History, while getting straight A’s for all my other subjects. True, I was cutting it very close by opting for the minimum number of subjects (General Paper, English, Art, and Modern History) and I strongly felt I deserved an A for my Modern History paper.

The exam question, if I recall correctly, was what factors have had the greatest impact on world affairs since 1945. I remember feeling exceptionally inspired, and the words flowed smoothly from my pen as I postulated that, in the post-war years, the fate of nations fell into the hidden hands of covert agencies like the OSS (which subsequently became the CIA), MI6, Mossad, KGB, DARPA, and so on.

My essay concluded with the thesis that these covert agencies had transmogrified into a Frankenstein’s Monster – beyond the control and oversight of elected governments.

In effect their hubristic activities were clandestine, unreported, and unknowable to the public at large. My conclusion was that, unless these covert agencies somehow got their wings clipped by an authority greater than the merely governmental – unless they were effectively declawed and defanged, if not entirely dismantled, the destiny of the world, our collective future, was in grave danger of getting hijacked by criminal elements.

(Back in 1968 I hadn’t begun to research the Occult and knew nothing about weird shit like adrenochrome addiction and Babylonian blood sacrifice cults.)

"Critic of Chaos" by Ross Williams
I finished the essay with at least five minutes to spare, so I could re-read what I had written, and I felt satisfied that I had answered the question to the best of my ability. Now, whoever marked my paper may have felt a tinge of annoyance at my 18-year-old self-confidence and precocity but, even so, I surely deserved at least a B+ for my effort, not a paltry C+… because that would have awarded me a Higher School Certificate, enabling me to proceed with my tertiary education, if I so chose.

The only option I was left with was to re-enrol in school as a Lower Six student and resit the A-Levels in two years. No way, José! I decided it was the Cambridge Examinations Syndicate that had failed, not me. From that moment on, I turned my back on Academia and what I perceived, in later years, as a very cunningly crafted miseducation system, designed to format impressionable young minds in a manner conducive to their being absorbed into the Job Market.

Well, I had heard of a character named Job from dipping my nose into the Old Testament and I wasn’t about to fall into the same trap of being jerked around by some two-bit God-impersonator. After all, it wasn’t Employment I craved, it was a Sense of Meaning and Purpose. I deeply desired to know why I had taken on human embodiment on this planet. What was my mission this time around? Was it all completely pointless?

In any case, these ontological questions were set aside for a while, when approximately two weeks after getting the results of my A-Levels, I received a phone call from my girlfriend informing me she was a month late with her period.

In retrospect, becoming a father at age 19 was perhaps the best fucking education I could have bargained for.

7 May 2020

[Originally posted 7 May 2020, reposted 24 January 2023]