Chicago was in reverse of itself, with growth and parties overlooking the skyline with instant promise. Everyone had a little bit more than they needed – and we were happy, happy – accruing ideas and things, while climbing on to the next great height.
It was time to own watches. However, you know how the story ends.
We were all idiots.
You and I share time itself. It exists in our collective imagination, and for many of us, our very nature defies it. In my own syncopation of sunrise and sunset -- the watch was an effort to organize my own inner disorder. Without a watch, a simple errand to the grocery store for a baking pumpkin could progress (quickly and without warning) into an unplanned search for a Wisconsin pumpkin patch that lands me miles and hours away. And the result would be zero pie. I was not born with an inner sense of time like the lovely watch-wearers. Watch-wearers were archaic and disciplined. The young no longer wear watches, but I was an apprentice. So as an adult I began to collect these watch faces—on walls and desktops, draped on my wrist. Blame our upbringing borne from the 60s for so desperately wanting a watch. We lived where existence is just a fluid experience taught to us as children—by bookshelves lined with the French; blame it perhaps on Camus or Sartre. Really there is no watch. Just collective madness.
Sometimes a watch is our only line back to the others, so I made sure I had a good one, the eager apprentice I was.
And then one day the watch broke. I don’t know. The clasp – then it stopped ticking.
But we were all idiots by then, so there was no reason to replace the watch. It was 2008 and I’d squandered a large sum of money, made several poor career choices, and was upside down in real estate. And in those years I wasn’t alone either. We were collective and slightly older, having learned what kind of momentum defines the impact of a crash. We were all broken in it, and I was one of the luckier ones. In the end I lived in thin-walled granite countertop condo, still had a car with leather seats, and a pretty darned OK career.
I wasn’t a watch person anymore. Deeply depressed, I threw it into an old cigar box along with loose buttons and safety pins—with some vague goal to have it fixed one day. When I deserved it again. When I was a watch person again.
And there in the cigar box it’s sat amongst the buttons for 7 years.
No worries because I wasn’t depressed that entire time. In fact, I was happy with the new regime after 2008, once the dust had settled. There was a newly-born alternative reality for us to share, with more pot luck. We focused strongly on friends, settling down in healthy relationships, and volunteerism. The parties were different. One time I bowled three strikes in a row! I would have never bowled so well before. I had business experiences that maybe happen once in a lifetime, but I barely noticed. It was intermixed with things like adult music lessons, summer fireworks, and long talks over coffee.
Lately, I had been thinking about the watch. Perhaps I should open the box? Watch, this symbol that stopped ticking so long ago. The watch with the too-tight band and the thin ghost of sadness surrounding it. I opened the box quickly and slipped it into my purse, heading downtown to the jewelry department. There I brought it limply to the counter of the watch dealer. To the very brightly lit glass case where I first purchased it.
Can I have my metaphor fixed?
I’m in a permanent state of suspension. I come to you weak.
There is talk of how old the piece is, and how the watch-making companies changed hands during the great crash that perhaps broke us all. The watch dealer is no ordinary department store representative. He is intelligent and lively, giving me immediate access to a vast knowledge of the industry of watches. He knows watches. Before long, I’m entrenched in the story of how watch companies failed and merged over the past 7 years.
And really, not many people keep a watch these days. His job has become serving the sentimental. Through a great strike of luck for me, the watch dealer had once worked for the very company that made my watch. But alas he was laid off in the great crash by the watch company’s new owner. It was the best job I ever had, he said. And then it was gone.
Well, we all broke together then.
There was talk of a warranty that before 2008 would have lasted 10 years. But that was before 2008. Now, the warranty was only two years! Bitter greed and money runners. There was a sharing of respective stories. There was talk of a secret code that would let the system return and exchange, perhaps. Perhaps you would understand how this all works. Perhaps you are someone who has been there?
Perhaps you deserve a brand new watch.
I nodded. Yes, I’ve been there.
And so the story ends there. There was more negotiation, but the sentiment is the same. A new watch is ticking and on my wrist. Like the great prophet of the 20th century once said – you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes though, you get what you need.