The screen on my watch went blank, so I changed the battery. The watch reset and the dial showed a time of 12:00, with the seconds counting upward. I put the innards back into the case and reattached the watchband, pleased with how easy the process had been. But when I tried to set the time and date, the display went blank. Feeling less pleased, I removed the band, opened the case, took the battery out, and reinstalled it.

Just like before, the display showed 12:00 with the seconds active. On reassembly, the display again went blank. I viewed several how-to videos, followed their unhelpful suggestions, and finally removed the battery one last time and threw the watch in the trash.

Before I got a new watch, I repeatedly consulted my bare wrist to check the time. I made fun of myself by saying out loud, “It’s a hair past a freckle.”

I learned that expression in my childhood. It was a joking response to someone who asked the time. The jokester might be someone who had no watch and looked (as I did) at their bare wrist. Or it might be someone with a watch who couldn’t be bothered to give a real answer.

There are variations to the response: Two hairs past a freckle. Two freckles past a hair. A quarter to a hair. Half past a freckle. Eastern elbow time. And so on.

Another response is skin-thirty. Or the embarrassing: half past kissing time, time to kiss again. (How I longed for a girl to say that to me. None did.) A more abrupt answer is: it’s time for you to get a watch.


When Robert Lamm, of the rock band Chicago, was a teenager, he was walking down a street in Brooklyn and asked a guy what time it was. The guy shrugged and said, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”

Later on, Lamm used that response as the title and chorus of a song that appeared on Chicago’s first studio album. Most people don’t realize a musical joke is hidden in the song. To get the joke, you need to know that in music there are a certain number of beats that are grouped into what are called measures. When music is written out, there is a thing called a time signature that tells how many beats per measure there are. Many rock songs will have four beats per measure.

In the introduction of Lamm’s song (before the trumpet solo that precedes the vocal), there’s a fanfare, during which the number of beats per measure is erratic. There are four beats, then seven beats, then nine, then four, then seven, then four. Next, there are six measures of five beats each. Then one with six beats. Only then does it settle down to a steady four beats per measure for the trumpet solo and Lamm’s vocal, which asks, “Does anybody really know what time it is?”

That’s a much better joke than the hair, freckle, and elbow ones.

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