If you know me, you know I have a soft spot in my heart for old watches. I love the mechanics inside devices that pre-date the quartz-and-battery era: the little springs, the pivots that turn on tiny jewels, the craftsmanship and artistry that are embodied inside them. The accuracy of watches was improved markedly in the 19th century, my hazy memory tells me, after trains collided when one engineer left too early, or the other left too late.
These days my crappy Wenger Swiss Army watch keeps better time than my Raymond Weil automatic, but it is far less interesting. Open it up and you see plastic and a battery that can be replaced, but not much else. I also have Raymond Weil watch with a glass bottom through which you can see the movement, including a weight that swirls to-and-fro as my arm does, which keeps the mainspring inside tensioned so that the watch keeps ticking without requiring a battery or the need to be wound.
Neither of these are as interesting as my 150-year-old Waltham pocket watch. Pop open the case and not only do you see the intricacies of the movement, but also beautiful patterns called "Damaskeening."
One day, I may bring this watch to Chris Carey at Watertown Watch and Clock. Old school watch shops like the one Chris and his wife run are about as easy to find these days as Republicans who think Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, but this one will clean and repair your old Waltham watch and will offer free advice, including "that clock isn't really worth repairing."
All this watch talk reminds me of visiting Europe back in the summer of 1983, after my sophomore year of college, when I took the little bit of money I had earned in May and June and met up with my old friend Peter Cook to busk on the streets of Paris, Rome, and Florence.
I arrived in London and quickly set my sights on meeting another friend, Bond Snodgrass (his actual name), in Amsterdam. I would probably have wandered those pot-infused streets aimlessly had Bond and his traveling companion not encouraged me to visit every museum I could, my favorite of which soon became The Stedelijk Museum. I had never visited a modern art museum like the Stedelijk prior to that and was immediately drawn to the irony of the pieces. One installation in particular, called "The Beanery," immediately resonated with me. A recreation of a bar in Los Angeles, the Beanery evoked numerous subtexts and metaphors by replacing the bar patrons' heads with clocks. My mind swam with the possible messages that the artist, Edward Kienholz, was conveying. Walking through the piece, it struck me that we are ruled by time, constantly checking our watches to tell us what our next move will be, not paying attention to the people we're with but at time itself, instead of letting it pass unnoticed.
Forty years later, we humans are still governed by the clock, but not nearly as much as we are controlled by our smartphones, whose screens hold our attention for hours a day. For a moment, I was imagining that The Beanery would be more fittingly evocative of our current human condition if the clock heads were replaced with smartphones. But the analogy doesn't really hold: Many of the figures in that installation are looking at their drinking buddies, and the ones who aren't are either inebriated or simply standing alone, as if pondering life. A truly apt modern version of The Beanery would have each figure staring down into their hand, not even bothering to pretend they are interested in speaking to the person they just bought a drink for.
It's taken me a week to stop crying – or was I laughing? – about the inanity of the NFL bringing "their brand" to the land of bratwurst. German fans of American football (or maybe American expats living in Frankfurt) were treated to a tremendously awful game, as the New England Patriots lost to the exceptionally mediocre Indianapolis Colts.
There was a time when Patriots-Colts represented the best the NFL could produce, with dazzling performances by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and an outcome that invariably would hinge on the last drive of the game. This wasn't one of those contests. Mac Jones threw a brilliant pass, if his intention was to hit the defender in the numbers. That underthrown ball may have been the worst pass I've ever seen in my life.
If the NFL exported that crazy-bad pass, and an only slightly less awful wounded duck a few moments later by Bailey Zappe, to the schnitzel-eating public in order to grow the sport beyond American shores, they surely failed. It was an awful game. Boring, even if close. They have probably had more luck this year exporting head injuries, torn ACLs, and broken ankles to Europe, rather than a love of gridiron action. To be honest, I doubt the NFL will make much headway in Europe beyond continuing to display couple of games now and again to a few curious souls in England and Germany. But maybe the fans will petition to have the English Premier League and the Bundesliga start trotting out scantily-clad women to lead the cheering during soccer halftimes. Drunken football hooligans are hoping so.
The very best Halloween candy out there is still, hands down, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I don't know who would even try to argue that, but I've heard a lot of crazy arguments recently so don't put it past someone.
I guess I'd give second place to Snickers, and after that it's a tossup. You got your 100 Grand, your M&Ms and your M&Ms with Peanuts. You got your Baby Ruth, your Milk Duds, your Junior Mints, your Kit Kat, and your Twix. All good, second/third tier candy bars. They're not Reese's, but they get the job done.
And you also got your Butterfingers.
Butterfingers aren't bottom-dwellers like Twizzlers, or Swedish Fish. They're not Neccos or Dots or – ack! – Almond Joy (hate coconut in candy bars). Butterfingers are legit. Yes, they splinter like old maple boards and probably are clogging your arteries. But even if they are reducing your lifespan, they are quite tasty.
Yet somehow, the kids who came to our street to Trick or Treat this year eschewed our Butterfingers. They wanted Reese's of course (we didn't have those because they don't make it past my mouth) but were willing to settle for Twix. Meanwhile, someone in our house had put out a new Reese's product called "Take 5" that I was told was awesome, with pretzels and peanuts and cheddar cheese or something inside. However, to be quite frank, Reese's will never be able to improve upon the Peanut Butter Cup. Still, this unnamed person thought they were so excellent that she held them back from the hoards of begging youths wandering our street, such that by 7:20 the only thing left to offer were the Butterfingers. No big deal.
When our doorbell rang and I brought out the bowl, there was a notable sigh of dismay from the ghouls and grim reapers at the door. One aggressive child grabbed a handful of Butterfingers and ran off, maybe to trade with someone who hadn't been clued it that Butterfingers were apparently poison. But the other two took one each and quietly left with their parents. And as I was closing the door, one said to his father, "I hate Butterfingers."
When I was a lad getting fed a lot of mumbo-jumbo at St. Matthew's Grammar School in East Syracuse, New York in the 1970s, a teacher assigned us a short story to read about a midget, as they were called back then, who was signed by a minor league baseball team because he was an expert bunter. This guy wasn't just able to lay down a bunt; he could place the ball anywhere he wanted (within bunting distance). My memory – which is always 100% accurate – tells me that he was discovered at a circus, where he was bunting balls into various buckets that were placed around his batting cage. He never missed, directing each ball with spin and bounce and speed in such a manner as to expertly deposit them into containers of various sizes. Needless to say, he became very valuable to the baseball team that picked him up.
This makes me want to write a modern-day version of this story in which I (the narrator) am cast as the hero. Except in this case, I don't bunt balls into buckets, but instead spit acorns from under the treads of my bike tires at motorists who irritate me on my morning commute.
The story starts with me on my sleepy bike ride into the office on a crisp fall morning. There is a traffic jam, but I, as a cyclist, am unaffected, able to breeze past all the cars that are belching greenhouse gases into the atmosphere while not making much progress on their commutes. As I ride along on this beautiful fall morning, my front tire runs over an acorn, which squirts out and strikes the side of a shiny, black BMW sedan, making a funny "ping" sound as it does.
The damage is non-existent, but that doesn't stop the douchebag driver of the Beamer, after traffic starts moving again and he catches up to me, to roll down his window and call me an asshole for purposely spitting an acorn at his stupid-ass car that costs like $150 just to change the oil. Of course, I didn't "purposely" shoot the acorn at his car. Who could do something like that? Wait, that bunting midget in the short story I read in fifth or sixth grade could have.
So, I set myself to learning how to shoot acorns from under my bike tires at cars stuck in traffic, particularly at douchebag drivers who leak into my bike lane because they are reading threads on X while driving about how bike lanes are ruining life for drivers. With time and a lot of practice, I become an expert at this obscure "sport," able to use my perfect vision to pick out acorns in the road ahead and determine, instantaneously, where to run over them to propel them at Hummers and Navigators and any car that I don't like or driver who has irked me. Soon, I become famous, alleged on obscure websites that I have caused "thousands of dollars of damage," never mind that you could shoot an acorn out of an air gun at high speed and not even put a scratch in a modern auto paint job.
Police try to set up roadblocks in bikes lanes to nab me, but I am too wily, weaving through traffic, dodging cars trying to "door" me, spitting acorns at cars all the while.
I haven't figured out the denouement yet, but I know that this story will have a moment when it seems like I will be caught, and then a happy ending as I get away Scot free, just like the story of the bunting savant had a happy ending.
[Editors note: I found the story online in a copy of The American Legion Magazine from August, 1949. Titled "Lay it Down Ziggy!", it starts on page 11, but don't let that stop you from perusing through the rest of the magazine. Plenty of fun stuff to see, including on page 2 the "The Bracer Royal Supporter Belt," which appears to be a male girdle.]