Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Four-Year Watch

Today I have a watch that used to belong to my grandfather. I never met him. The watch is an unfussy stainless steel Timex wind-up affair from the mid-70s, with glow-in-the-dark panels on the hour and minute hands, and a window to tell the date. The numbers printed on the watch’s face hint at the digital while being entirely analogue. It feels like an office man’s watch, and my grandfather was an office man. I imagine him putting on his brown or blue suit and wide 1970s tie, setting a hat over his pure-white hair, getting into his shiny gold 1970s Chrysler Newport, and as he steers out of the driveway of his tidy, stucco, 1970s home, I see the silver flash of steel on his wrist. I know him only through a few stories, a few photos and the watch.

One day the watch stopped winding. I sent it to Timex to see if they could fix it, but they sent it back to me with a note: unfortunately, there was nothing they could do, because they had stopped making the movements for this era of watch some years ago. I checked with some other watch-fixing folks – jewelers and watch-makers – who told me similarly that they didn’t have and couldn’t get the parts for it. It seemed like the watch’s time had run out for good. Then, on a weekend in a small town for a friend’s wedding, I spotted yet another watch-maker’s sign, and decided to take the number down to ask yet again if the watch could be fixed. 

This time, I was in luck. The man on the phone said that he could fix it; he would find a movement for the watch, or he would make one if he had to. I was elated. I mailed the watch to him, and waited. 

Time went by. I called the watch-maker and he said that the watch was working and he was going to put it back in the mail for me. We would settle up once I received the watch again. Time went by. I called the watch-maker and he said that the watch had stopped working and he was going to put a new movement in it for me. He’d let me know when he had it in the mail. Time went by. I called the watch-maker and he said that the watch had been working but now had stopped. He’d make another movement for it. 

Time went by. Months passed, and then years. I quit a job and started a PhD. My partner started and finished a professional program. My sister got married. I spent time in England. I thought about the watch every so often, but not that often. Every few months I would call the watch-maker. He would tell me that the watch was working or not working, going in the mail this week or going in the mail soon. I seemed to think about the watch most on Fridays, which was a bad day to think about it since the mail doesn’t run on weekends. If the watch-maker was going to put the watch in the mail, it wouldn’t be on a Friday, so I tried not to call on Fridays. 

Every time the watch-maker said the watch was going in the mail this week, I believed him. Then every time, I forgot about what he had said and when we had spoken. Weeks would pass before I thought about the watch-maker again and wonder where the watch was. Sometimes I would let myself get worked into a kind of outrage about how much time it was taking to fix the watch, because I missed it. I started to think that maybe I wanted it back, even if it wasn’t working. Sometimes I thought about telling the watch-maker these things, but I never did. His friendly assurances made my stern words evaporate on my tongue. I never worried it was lost; I always thought the watch was still sitting on the work-bench. I imagined the silver steel catching rays of light, glinting among the tools and wooden surfaces, sparkling in the dim with the boxes of gears and springs. 

Over time, the watch must have gotten to know the watch-maker well, much more than I did. They must have developed a relationship, the watch-maker peering at the watch, the watch watching back. The watch-maker replaced the insides of the watch countless times, tinkering with its movements and scrutinizing the spinning cogs and wheels. The watch was staid throughout repeated examinations, placid, waiting to catch up with the world outside of the workshop.

Last week I got a brown paper envelope in the mail. The watch-maker’s address was marked at the top. I tore it open and my watch slid out, the second-hand happily ticking away the minutes. The watch-maker has returned my watch to me, working. Now, nearly four years since I sent it away, my grandfather’s watch sits steely on my wrist, moving through the world and keeping time with me again.

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As appears in the Globe and Mail, Facts and Arguments column, entitled "As years ticked by at the watchmaker, my grandfather's timepiece stood still," Tuesday August 9, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

Abyss in August


One day Philosophy sent a spark into my brain. 
It was a small speck of light, and it settled inside my head and it started to grow. 
It swirled and glowed, all white and gold. 
What at first I took to be a star, I soon realized was a black hole. 
It shimmered with light and energy on the surface, but only because it was sucking in the thoughts and ideas around it.

That was over a decade ago. 
Philosophy's abyss in my brain is about marble-sized now,
one of the big throwing marbles. 
It grows quite slowly. 
But it still has the power to suck in parts of the goodness around it
when it gets close enough. 
It can still take a swipe at parts of my life that I think are meaningful, and leave them smeared like a ruined galaxy, all dust and smashed planets.