Saturday, August 06, 2011


On the nightstand next to our bed is a nice wooden box containing a number of watches I've accumulated over the last several years. No antiques or high end Swiss chronographs, but rather a sport model with digital and analog readout, another with a nice moon phase dial I got for my birthday, even one I got from a client in Hong Kong with Mao on the face. I used to pick one out every morning when I got dressed based on my mood, and off I went.

Then, like many things in my life, I decided to try and simplify. As I was running a good bit, I bought a simple training watch with a nice big digital readout and a built in stopwatch. It was basic black with a rubberized band, and I made that my default choice. Whether I was wearing a suit or shorts, khaki pants or gray pin-stripped suit, or yes, running clothes, I strapped it on and was out the door. As such, for the last several years, all has been unimaginative but dependable in the time department.

Then just the other day as I was talking to someone, I unconsciously reached to my left wrist to adjust my watch. As I slid it up my arm a bit, I felt the cut in the band. I sneaked a look down and saw that near where the buckle sat was a tear in the rubber. Closer examination revealed that the cut was halfway across the strap, and was well on its way to completing its trip. In fact, when I went to tighten it, on the assumption less jiggling around would prolong its life, I learned that that assumption was dead wrong, and it snapped in two.

No matter, I thought: I have all those other nice timepieces in that box next to my bed. When I get home tonight, I'll pick one out and give it some air. But when I riffled through them, I realized that none worked. Nothing mechanical: it was all about power. Every one of them used a battery, and even though they have a serviceable life of several years, it had been that long since I had worn any of them, let alone replaced the battery.

So, options. I could pick out any one of the watches I had, and replace the battery. I could take the one with the broken band and replace it. I could pick up a new one, perhaps a different style that better matched my current needs. All easy, all relatively inexpensive approaches to solving a timeless problem. Or I could do nothing.

I could do nothing because we call carry a clock in the form of our phones. For many, this approach has been standard operating procedure for a number of years, even dating back to the days of pagers. Since it's always on and updated continuously, it's actually more accurate than most timepieces. If there's a disadvantage it's that it takes more effort, both physical and noticeable, to sneak a look. Hard to be chatting with someone and casually pull out your phone to check the time without looking like you can't wait for them to shut up.

Still, I decided my wrist would go commando for a bit. At first, it was strange. Like a missing limb, I keep looking for the phantom at the end of my arm only to see and nothing. I reached for it often, only to wind up scratching the missing spot a lot. And more than once I jumped in fright, glancing at my wrist to see it naked, only to remember it wasn't lost but au naturel by design.

Then a funny thing happened: I relaxed a bit. It's not like I didn't know what time it was: Lord knows there are clocks and readouts everywhere you turn. And there are certainly times you need to know the time. But other times, not so much. When I was chatting with someone, I focused more on them. When I was reading, I concentrated more on the book. Even when I was taking a walk, I spent more time looking around than figuring out how much time I had left.

The question sounds like a Zen koan: do you get more out of time when you can't tell what it is? I don't know, but as of this writing I'm still timeless. I don't think I've haven't missed anything. And if you ask me if I've got a minute, I can tell you yes, even if I can't tell you when it's over.


Marc Wollin of Bedford still likes watches, even though he doesn't wear one. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

1 comment:

Trenton Jewish Project said...

I ditched the watch years ago, but panicked a couple of years back, when I was on the way to the airport getting ready to go to Europe for work. Since I had a Verizon phone, I realized that it wouldn't work over there and that I didn't have a way to tell time. Picked up a $15 special at the local drug store. Actually turned my phone on in Europe and it still had the right time on it. But at least I had an extra alarm to backup the hotel's wake up call!