11/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Off My Nut in Johannesburg

I am sitting in the airport in Johannesburg waiting for a flight to Atlanta. The wait is interminable, as is all waiting these days. I feel like beating myself about the head and shoulders with my briefcase. Maybe I'll knock myself unconscious and stay knocked out until I land in Georgia. Oh joy! But I resist. The guy sitting across from me -- reading a Suspicious Paperback -- might think I'm off my nut and hail the police.

It's probably time to call in the dogs, to call it a day. Truth be known, I've lost interest in money, and in work, and I have become a lot more interested in time. Sitting in the Joburg airport is an uninteresting use of time, and it cost a lot of money to be here, uninterested.

People always say that time is money, but I think they might be wrong. Everyone, I think -- yes, everyone, dear heart -- must reach some point when they've got more money than time. Money and time are not the same things, no matter what they say, and it would be a shame for either of us to die packing pickled peppers for Mr. Piper if we didn't have to.

One interesting thing about time is its dual nature, that it is simultaneously relative and absolute. An example of time's relativity is when you need a toilet and the sheer joy of finally finding a nice clean one when you can't possibly wait another second. Time crawls. Time flies.

And then it doesn't do either. An example of the absolute quality of time is when you never need a toilet again. (But, maybe that's about us and not about time. Who knows?)

So here I am, more and more conscious of time. Particularly of how little there is of it, and of how absurd it is to waste a minute of it. Spending time and spending money in the air conditioned nightmare of an airport, waiting for a fifteen hour ride in an aluminum tube, is a crazy thing to do if you don't have to.

The Suspicious Paperback the guy is reading is Dan Brown's new stew. "What a waste of time" I think. Then I think, "What the heck, it's his time. He gets to do what he wants with it. Mind your own business."

But what "my own business" is it that I should mind? I've got a list of business as long as my arm that I'm supposed to mind, but nothing on it inspires interest or, more to the point, anxiety. So what if the roof on the house is leaking or that the Senator from Tyson is now the Chair of the Agricultural Committee? My roof and Blanche Lincoln are both forms without substance.

I suppose I can fix the roof. If that's how I want to spend my time.

All the holy books say that the end of time is the beginning of time. The physicist Stephen Hawking says that time is a figure eight, infinitely looping around and around and around. And a kid I know who attends a local High School doesn't know what time it is.

"It's a quarter to four," I tell him when he asked for the time.

"I don't do quarters," he said. "Is it almost four, or is it almost three?"

"It's almost four," I said, "depending on how you feel about what happens at four. Four could be a long time from now, or almost right on top of you, depending, of course. Three will never be almost again, unless you're a Hawking fan. In which case, come back in six hundred and twenty six years and we'll review the matter."

There are a number of reasons why this kid doesn't buy books from me. That I am an unlikable, sour old geezer is the least among them.

If I'm not working and not minding my business how will I spend my time? Maybe I'll drive back and forth between my home in Berryville, Arkansas and the airport in Fayetteville. I'll go forty miles an hour -- like a genuine retired person -- and watch all the Whizzbangs behind me with planes to catch go off their nuts. And laugh and laugh.

Anyway, if you hear that I'm sitting in Johannesburg again next year at this time, I hope you will throw a net over me and send me off to wherever they keep the crazy people in Arkansas. (I am not talking about the State Legislature or the editorial office of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette -- I mean the State Bin.)