Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Heads or Tails #71 -- Watch
The theme of today's Heads or Tails is "watch." However, Barb didn't tell us what to watch... and I'm feeling literal today....
Requiem for the Writstwatch
For nearly my entire life men have worn wristwatches. Getting a watch was a rite of passage for young people, another step on the road to maturity... sort of like one's first cell phone now, I suppose.
Getting that first watch meant we were old enough to be trusted with a complicated (and expensive!) mechanical device... mature enough to remember to wind it every day.
That was the theory, anyway. In my case there was a serious dichotomy between theory and practice: I'd overwind the watch, or forget to wind it, or otherwise scramble the poor thing's innards. I went through a couple of watches, at least, before my parents found me a self-winding model: Not a battery-powered model, but one that wound as you moved.
I was so sedentary the watch often stopped.
I don't think I knew anyone who actually wore a pocket watch. But we saw them in the movies. Old people wore them, especially rich old people. We knew the character on the screen had a pocket watch because we could see the chain leading to a vest pocket. And who but rich people wore vests anyway? At some point, the plot would require the actor to remove the watch, with elaborate ceremony, from that special vest pocket. If he had a long speech to deliver, winding the watch gave him something to do with his hands. If it was a really long speech, he'd polish the watch, too.
Pocket watches were symbols of retirement. Maybe John Cameron Swayze got a wrist Timex for 25 years' service. If you remember John Cameron Swayze you've probably taken a licking or two in your own life but kept on ticking. My grandfather, who died 10 years before I was born, had a pocket watch. It sits on the mantlepiece of my fireplace at home.
Pocket watches were manly; at one time, wristwatches were considered women's wear.
Then came World War I. Officers in the trenches found wristwatches easier to see and harder to lose. Soldiers needed their hands free for weapons and things.
But the day of the wristwatch has just about wound down. My kids don't wear them. I think they'd still get that weak old joke -- what time is it? a hair past a freckle -- but I'll bet their kids won't understand at all.
It dawned on me that watches were passe the night we moved into the Undisclosed Location. It had been a long afternoon and the evening was certainly well advanced. And we were paying the movers by the hour. One of my colleagues asked one of the young movers for the time. He reached into his pocket and consulted his cell phone.
"I remember when people looked at their wrists to tell the time," I said, to no one in particular.
Timex watch picture obtained from this source and edited to fit the space.