Watch Yourself

A Timely Essay

By: - Oct 14, 2007

Watch Yourself - Image 1 Watch Yourself

The Time/Space Continuum is a subject about which Copernicus, Newton, Einstein and other non-arguable geniuses focused, analyzed and theorized. We, as mere mortals, must deal with time in our own space as best we can. This is what I have been doing for decades. But, this has not necessarily been in the best wound-up way.

It probably started when I saw the old pocket watch in my father's bureau drawer. In the 50's and 60's, fathers kept secret things in their bureaus. I must have been about six or seven. The object of my desire was my long deceased maternal grandfather's only legacy to me—an engraved gold round pocket watch ornamented with an Art Nouveau nude figure decoration. I was promised grandfather's watch when I graduated high school, but my grandmother had other ideas. She was somewhat a Mrs. Habersham doppelganger in many ways, but that's another story for another time. Anyway, I graduated from high school and started my freshman year in college.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, I noticed that my grandmother had somehow gotten a jeweler to create a link for her dearly departed husband's pocket watch to her already clunky charm bracelet. This was visually ridiculous, perhaps added to her arthritis and seemed to me to be a clear insult of some kind to me. I pointed it out to my usually sensible mother, but she said that the watch never worked, and it was my grandmother's husband's watch. I didn't think of grandfather's watch again for about twenty years.

When my grandmother died at 95, my sister and I reviewed my deceased granny's articles. There was the watch. I finally inherited it and moved it from Virginia to Boston. This was in the spring of 1993. A few months later, I went down to Newbury Street in Boston's chic Back Bay to find a watch repairman. After visiting several jewelers and watch shops, I was convinced that one elegant shop could do the job. I left the watch after receiving a cardboard receipt from an extremely attractive saleswoman. I was told it would take about a month.

I forgot about the watch for several weeks, even months. About seven months later, I called the shop, and they apologized and said that the piece was not quite ready yet to call back in three weeks. I waited six weeks and went down to pick it up. When I arrived, the trendy clerk said that it was not done yet. They promised that it would be done in a couple of weeks. I returned three weeks later and was told the same thing. At this point I was incredulous. I asked for the pocket watch back. They quickly handed me a small manila envelope with my last name on the outside and grandfather's watch inside. The watch had never been touched.

I stormed out of the shop and saw a small watch repair shop across the street. I walked in and a short gray watch repairman with an indeterminate Eastern European accent said, "No problem," He then said in a highly inflective tone,  " Next Saturday." And the following Saturday, I actually picked up my working grandfather's watch. It was beautiful. It is an International brand, Swiss watch dated 1928. After almost seven decades, it was ticking. I bought a watch chain (a fob) for it. I actually have worn it with a tux a couple of times. If I spent more of my time as a conductor on the Acela Express, it would be a real tool. It now sits in a nondescript wooden jewelry box. Strangely, my grandmother made better use of it than I do.

My late eccentric and highly imaginative friend Alfred Emsig always said that a man was judged by the quality of his shoes and his watch. Often wearing a flowing cape, he almost always wore nondescript comfortable shoes and a 1930's replica watch. Go figure. Putting up different pictures, certain pieces of furniture and floral arrangements, he would change the décor in his home each season. Therefore, every three months, there would be a different look to his abode. On his very elegant memorial plaque, there are four trees in each corner representing the four seasons. I guess that Alf had no time left. I miss him.

There are timely watch stories in all of us. I guess that as we get older, the clock is ticking loudly. My Uncle Asshole (we all have one of these or an Aunt Asshole, or both. And you know who they are.) from Cleveland died 30 yrs ago. A few weeks after his funeral, his daughter sent me his 1950's Omega watch. Apparently, it was mentioned in his will. Her somewhat nerdy husband was very hurt that her dad had left it to me and not to him, so I gave it to her husband. He still wears it today in Chicago where they live. He shows it to me and reminds me of my generosity every time I see him every few years or so. I would have never worn the thing. I hated the damn watch aesthetically and symbolically. Each time that I would have looked at it, I would have been reminded of my uncle. Yet, according to my cousin's husband, I am a truly generous man. Time goes on but can actually fool us.

Due to lack of interest from my sister when my mother passed away in 1986, I also inherited my older sister's vintage tin 1940 Mickey Mouse Watch and somehow I kept my Official Hoppilong Cassidy 1953 wristwatch. Mickey's genuine red plastic wristband had deteriorated many years ago, so I bought a brown leather strap for it. The Hoppilong Cassidy piece has a wonderful black band decorated to look like silver ornamented saddles and spurs. Both watches were manufactured by Timex, Pop culture is often very timely as well. Swatch Watches were very popular several years ago. In fact, I designed one when I was creating the 1996 Centennial Olympics in Atlanta. These were also thematic or commercially branded, but nothing like the Mickey or Cassidy pieces were ever manufactured and sold in such volumes.

My college roommate, Scott collects expensive watches. He has a Baum-Mercier, a $20 gold coin face watch and others of great value. When I bought my first Rolex, I was so excited that I called him to describe it. The watch was a black-faced and stainless Submariner. He was pleasant but not excited. Yuppies were into consumerism in the 80's, and I was one of them. About a year later, we saw each other (he lives in Pennsylvania and I in Massachusetts) and I showed him my watch. He carefully looked at it and softly said the he could understand buying a Rolex, but he couldn't understand that it had no gold on it. I was crushed. I was so proud of this expensive watch, but it did not make the grade with my ex-roommate.

So, I saved my money and a couple of years later, I bought a gold faced gold and stainless steel Rolex. This was an executive's watch. I sent my Submariner to my childhood Virginia buddy Rusty who paid me over time for it. I never really felt comfortable with the gold and stainless watch. It made me look like a banker or worse a lawyer rather than an artist/designer. A year or so later, I saw Scotty again and showed him my new watch. He carefully perused it and then said that he could understand me buying a Rolex. They were good watches, but he couldn't understand why I did not have a solid gold one. This time, I finally understood.

Within a month, I had managed to sell the watch. Several months later, I eventually bought a stainless black-faced Rolex GMT Master. I continue to wear it today. In fact, I never take it off. Scott is still one of my best friends, but I never ever ask his advice or opinion about my watches.

Time to move on.
So, let's sing it with the Rolling Stones:

Time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is

Now you always say
That you want to be free
But you'll come running back (said you would baby)
You'll come running back (I said so many times before)
You'll come running back to me

Oh, time is on my side, yes it is
Time is on my side, yes it is