There’s no viable reason to go to Arizona, unless you’re an old woman consumed by a predilection for tea houses or you’re attending someone’s graduation from the University of Phoenix. In Paul’s case, it was the latter. Well, it wasn’t a graduation so much as a show of support for his older brother, Noah, who had become so enthusiastic about pursuing his MBA in global management (in spite of never even toying with the notion of applying for a passport), that he decided to move to the state to be closer to the online-oriented school. At thirty-six, Noah was only just now pretending to get his life together—which is why Noah’s parents were all too eager to foot the bill for this ultimately inane degree. Because no, this was by no means the first academic pursuit Noah had executed. There was also culinary school in L.A. in the fall of ’05, sommelier school in Napa in the summer of ’07 and the New York Film Academy in the fall of ’11. With every enrollment, Noah’s parents were genuinely convinced that this—this—would be the time their investment in Noah’s self-sufficiency paid off. It would not be. Yet they were duped this round because of the nature of what Noah wanted to accomplish, something for the first time antithetical to creativity. For there’s no word that gets a parent harder with regard to talking about what their children do for a living than “business.”
In his own way, Noah wanted to prove the extent of his devotion to learning by moving to a cheap one bedroom in a generic apartment complex in Tempe, where the University of Phoenix environs rested just twenty minutes away by car. In truth, the other part of Noah’s motivations, Paul surmised, arose from wanting to move out of his parents’ house in Orange County. It could be very detrimental to one’s self-esteem to coast off parental kindness. Or, in some cases, the perfect boon to fostering delusional confidence. Paul, in contrast to Noah, had opened up his own restaurant in West Hollywood (he didn’t have to go to culinary or business school to do so either), where his signature Italian-Chinese fusion dishes had sustained a steady dining audience of gays for the past four years. Now, at the age of thirty-one, he still found himself coming to the emotional aid of his older brother.
Noah had established this dynamic of “come when I call you” so early on in the genesis of their rapport that Paul could never deny his brother when his presence was demanded. And though it vexed Paul’s boyfriend, Andrew—the chef, incidentally, at his restaurant—to no end, Paul’s devotion to family always took precedence over amorous love.
So it was that he found himself on his way to Tempe in what he later realized were the early hours of the morning on November 5th, unthinking in his departure choice about the unfortunate fact that it was daylight saving time. While, of course, in his—and any—profession, it was key to pay attention to hours of the day, for some reason, this year’s clock shift snuck up on him, and he wasn’t even aware of the alteration until he stopped at a gas station in Indio at what he still thought was eleven a.m., but in actuality, turned out to be ten. He supposed, in moments like these, he understood why people relished their smartphones so much, for if he was in possession of one it would have automatically dictated the new timeline of his day. Instead, Paul’s preference for a burner phone and a wristwatch dulled his awareness (even if he was of a higher consciousness than those with a smartphone in other ways).
It was when the cashier handed him his receipt for the pack of Marlboro Lights and bag of barbecue Kettle chips that Paul noticed the date and time on it. Looking from his watch to the receipt—it had always been ingrained in him by his accountant father to appraise one’s receipt before leaving the store—Paul inquired, “What time is it?”
The cashier, an acne-ridden seventeen-year-old with the congenital stoic expression of his generation, mumbled, “Eleven fifteen.” Though Paul should have been elated by the notion of having gained an hour, all he could think about was the surreality—the utter nonexistence—of time, so clearly contrived and manufactured by man himself.
Back on the road, Paul turned the radio to its AM spectrum, where, predictably, a droning voice was prattling on about the history of daylight saving time, so often erroneously called daylight savings time.
“And for those of you living in Arizona, you suffer the polarization of this time change most of all. For our listeners who don’t know, Arizona, like Hawaii, refuses to observe this formerly energy saving phenomenon. That is, most of Arizona refuses. The northeastern corner of the state comprising the Navajo Nation, on the other hand, chooses to partake in the fall back, spring forward pattern. But to convolute the division of the state’s compliance to the time change further, the Hopi reservation existing within the geographical parameters of the Navajo Nation does not adhere to daylight saving time—though there is a sect within that reservation that does. How’s that for—”
Paul switched the radio back to FM, where Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” seemed to presage some as of yet unrevealed horror. About an hour later, Paul found his navigational skills to have failed him somewhere along the way, even though he had meticulously written down the directions word for word from the internet. In a moment of whimsy—or perhaps a subconscious desire not to deal with Noah’s mental onslaught just yet, Paul continued down the wrong path on 40, heading eventually to the aforementioned Hopi reservation.
At the town of Winslow, Paul turned off 40 to get to Route 87, headed straight for Navajo Nation. He slowed down at Seba Dalkai, a place, unbeknownst to him, that was reported to have a population of 136 as of 2010. What would it matter to them to acquiesce to daylight saving time, so autonomous and microcosmic as they were?
He parked his taupe Fiat and swung the door open to place his black Calvin Klein loafers against the cracked mud of the desert floor, taking in the sight of the endless blue sky that topped the patchy, occasional shrubbery.
Out of nowhere, a girl who couldn’t have been older than nineteen appeared before him with an inquisitive look on her face, one that wordlessly asked Paul, “What are you doing here?”
Paul gazed at her for a moment before querying, “What time is it?”
Right when it looked as though she would respond, Paul was jolted out of his reverie by the screeching, scraping crash of his car into the back of a semi on the 10 leading to Tempe.
His time of death was declared as 6:17 p.m at the hospital. Some denizens of the Hopi reservation would insist 5:17 p.m. Time is illusory, yet death is not. It’s counterintuitive, to be sure.