I was rummaging around in one of our trinket baskets the other day and came across a pocket watch and a Rolex.
There was a time when pocket watches were sort of a marker in the lives of mountain men. They were a sign of maturity and stability. A great deal of courtliness centered around pulling the watch from the watchpocket, flipping the cover, checking the time and carefully replacing the watch in the pocket, making sure the watchchain didn’t tangle in the process.
These days, I’m not even sure if they make pants or suits with watch pockets. Or pocket watches, come to think of it.
Watches were once rather fascinating things, full of gears and cogs and whatnot. Most folks around here relied on their Timex watches. They were built well, well enough that John Cameron Swazye ran out of ideas on how to break them in a serious of commercials advertising their ruggedness. He ran over them with snowplows. He strapped ’em on to various vehicles. He made them watch “Jerry Springer.” Nothing could deter them.
You bought a Timex, you wound it, and you expected it to accurately tell the time for years. If the watch did eventually break, there were places that repaired watches. If it was broken so badly there was little hope of getting it fixed, you handed it over to the children. I recall attempting to fix watches – all the kids in the neighborhood would often help.
None of us ever actually fixed a watch. We’d unpack the guts and gingerly try to coax life back into a deceased Timex. When that failed we’d try to repack the guts, and it was always like trying to put 10 gallons into a 5-gallon hat.
Still, the attempt would be time well spent on a lazy summer afternoon.
Then, one day, someone handed me a broken watch, I cracked open the back, and all that was staring back were circuit boards.
My watch-fixing days were over. The same phenomena killed my nascent career as a mechanic when I popped the hood of my truck back in the 1990s ready to prime the carburetor with some gas and I couldn’t find the wingnut to open up the carburetor, or the carburetor itself. For all I know my current vehicle has a basket of hamsters under the hood.
It reminds me of a line the great newspaper columnist Richard Reeves once related: “I’ve survived through several recessions and downturns, particularly after I got my degree in mechanical engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology and soon found out that Texas Instruments was selling everything I knew for about $20.”
Technology can be cruel.
Guess I’d better explain about the Rolex before I wrap up. It was about as fake as fake can be. A friend had been on a trip to Southeast Asia and brought back a whole bag of them. Still, I would wear it to post-deadline, pre-dawn poker games with a group of sports writers I once hung out with, just to let them know I’d be able to cover whatever sort of crazy bet crossed my mind. If that didn’t work, I figured I could toss it behind me when they were chasing me out of the game. One of them would surely make a grab for it and slow the others down.
Sad part is, it was probably still the most expensive watch I’ve ever owned.
Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.