The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published May 8, 2004.)

More as a matter of habit than plan, we divide our days, weeks and years into parts that don't make sense. We're locked in by the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun "once every 24 hours," but that figure 24 is arbitrary. Cro-Magnon man should have worked out some decimal system for both time and distance. It might have made more sense to divide the day into 10 equal hours instead of 24. Each hour would be subdivided into 100 minutes and one minute into 100 seconds.

It has always seemed wrong to me that we sleep for seven or eight hours out of every 24, but apparently the body needs it. I don't know how eight hours became the standard workday, either. It seems probable that a few hundred years ago most work was manual labor and eight hours was about all of that the body could take. Daylight hours had something to do with it, but we're no longer dependent on the sun for light. Eight hours seems like a short day to me, but I'm not lifting anything heavy.

It's a surprise to Americans traveling abroad to find that in most European countries the workday is shorter than ours. In Germany, many people are working 6- or 7-hour days and 4-day work weeks with 6-week vacations. I feel sorry for people who find work onerous. Emerson wrote, "The high prize of life ... is to be born with a bias toward some pursuit, which finds him in employment and happiness."

We all look forward to our weekends. Shopping is a favorite pastime, so a lot of it is done weekends, even though many communities still have what are known as "blue laws" (origin unknown), meaning never-on-a-Sunday. Closing stores on Sunday is a custom based on the biblical warning in Exodus, "Six days may work be done but on the seventh day it will become something holy ... a day of complete rest ... ."

Most Christians are selective about what they take from the Bible to live by. The most devout who approve of keeping stores closed on Sundays would stop short of the next line in Exodus which reads: "Anybody doing work on the Sabbath will be put to death."

We ought to rethink who works which days and what hours. Traffic at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. has become a major waste of time for too many of us and a terrible source of pollution. We should not all go to work or come home at the same time. We've got to start using more parts of the day and more parts of the week. That would involve more of us working Saturday and Sunday and some of us taking our "weekend" on Monday and Tuesday. We could get used to that.

Pleasant though it is, it's wrong that so many of us take off every Saturday and Sunday. For example, 95 percent of all doctors are out of their offices every weekend. The weekend is when most of us have time to see a doctor, and more doctors ought to accommodate patients by taking their two-day break on days other than Saturday and Sunday. Doctors have us where they want us, though. There are more of us who need medical attention than there are doctors to treat us. No other business stacks people up in "the waiting room," and makes it hard for them to get any service if they get sick on Saturday or Sunday or before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m. weekdays.

Maybe what we need is a new Cabinet position. The President would appoint a Secretary of Time.

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