Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Confessions of a Watch Collector

I have 41 watches I wear regularly. Yes, forty-one. Two wrists--only one of which bears a watch--and forty-one watches.
I spent some time trying to decide the difference between a collector and an addict, and, well... I'm not sure there is one. There isn't a Watches Anonymous, so I suppose that's one difference. I have been asked--somewhere around watch #12 why I collect watches. My answer was, "I can't afford to collect cars."

It all began when I bought my first self-winding watch when I was a kid. I was a Cub Scout and there was a Scout Show. For every 5 tickets I sold, I could win a Scout Buck. I sold a lot of Scout Show tickets. Really a lot. I had a hundred Scout Bucks when the show was done.

I bought a Boy Scout watch. Self-winding, Timex. I thought it was cool. At the age of 10, having a watch at all was pretty cool. Having one that wound itself--in a day when no one had a battery watch--was really cool. I wore that watch from 5th grade through college. The only reason I don't have it anymore is that I noticed the words "water resistant" on it when I was in Florida on spring break and decided that meant I could wear it swimming.

I was right. I could wear it. It was full of water when I got out of the pool, but I had worn it.

I hummed taps when I pitched it. Gave it a Scout salute. I've searched for another one like it, but there aren't many around. As you've probably guessed, Boy Scouts aren't easy on watches.

Then, although I looked for more self-winding watches, I spent the next 20+ years caught in the World of Quartz watches. It's a good world--they're accurate, and inexpensive, available in every price range, and...boring. Yes, I said boring! I don't like that lurching one-second-at-a-time movement of the second hand. I don't like that they're lightweight. I don't like that the battery dies when you least expect it. I don't like that the ones at the drug store counter are just as accurate as any in the world.

I want a machine on my wrist. In 2005, I decided it was time to find another self-winding watch. I had some trouble. No one had called them "self-winding" for a long time. Why would they? Few people needed to wind a watch. Quartz watches don't need to be wound. There's no spring. There's only a battery. Boring!

In 2010, I found an "automatic"--post quartz apocalypse wording for "self-winding" that I liked. It's made by Seiko, and it isn't humongous like some of the watches sold today. I bought it for $65. It was blue.
...and that's when the trouble started. The same watch also came in tan, green, and black. Yes, I bought all of them. Four watches, two wrists, and only one wrist wears a watch.

I could have stopped there. Trouble is, in saving my money to buy those watches, I noticed several others that I liked. I discovered that Russians make watches, mechanical watches. So...soon I had 4 styles of the Vostok Kommanderski. They're Russian handwinders, cheaply made, but modeled on Swiss watches.

I got tired of saving money to buy watches, but I was also getting tired of looking at the watches I had. I started buying different leather straps to put on my watches. The lady at the local jewelry store got tired of me having her put different straps on my watches. I'm not one to push myself on others, so I bought a spring bar tool and learned to change my watch straps by myself. That was an error. Now I have a drawer full of watch straps and I switch them around when I get bored.

Then my wife gave me some money, and I got some money from my Dad for my birthday. By then I had my eye on some Bulova watches that were automatic... Bought one. Bought another. Then I found another on Amazon's warehouse deals...

I discovered that Orient makes Japanese automatic watches. They're very accurate, come in lots of styles, and if you look for great deals, you can find them. They have lots of models in lots of price ranges. I started buying them.

...Then, after being chided by my very understanding wife for keeping my watches in a desk drawer when not on my wrist, I bought a nice box to hold my watches.

That was a problem, too. The watch box holds 20 watches, and I didn't have 20 watches.

Can't have a blank space in a watch box. Unheard of! Nature, they say, hates a void.

So... I set about finding cool watches to fill my watch box.

I should have stopped at 20 watches. That's one very nice box full of nice watches. Did I stop? No. Hell, I bough another box that holds 20 watches...but when I first got it, it had 19 empty spaces.

Less than a year later, I filled that box with 20 watches. Most people wouldn't have filled it, and many would have stopped when they filled it.

I didn't. When I had 22 watches and a box that held 20 watches, I bought another box. Guy logic at its finest.

Insane? Hell...uh...in a word? Duh. Yes! Collections are insane! I'm fine with that, by the way.

In the midst of all of that, when my mother-in-law passed away, I was given some of her father's watches. Only one of them worked--a vintage Glycine Airman, a Swiss watch favored by pilots. It started ticking when I picked it up--after sitting in a basement, untouched, for 20 years. That thing is accurate within 30 seconds a day, even though it was new in 1968.

Swiss! If you've ever wondered why Swiss watches cost so much, it's because they really are that good.

That meant I had not one, but two bugs. I wanted a new Swiss watch. Finally, around Christmas this year, I bought one. It's a beauty. The Hamilton Khaki King. I bought the black one on Amazon for $360. Unfortunately, it also comes in tan... That one cost me $380.


I fell in love with Hamilton watches. The company has American roots--American designs--and is now part of the Swatch Group, and they're Swiss. Swiss AND American!

I had to save up for a couple of months to buy it, but I bought this one...for $700. It will run for the rest of my life...and probably the life of whoever gets it when I go to that watchmaker in the sky.

The only real problem with buying that blue watch is that it's watch #42. I have two boxes that hold 20 watches each, and...I found some more that I like. I'm going to need another watch box soon...and I like the ones that hold 20 watches, so...

One of the nice things about these machines I wear is that they won't die. Unlike quartz watches, the movements inside don't wear out like quartz movements. They can be maintained and repaired as long as parts are available.

Someday, I'll kick the bucket... My watches won't. Attendees at my funeral will be asked to check the bottom of their chair. If there's a sticker, they can choose a watch from my collection. That's my plan.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

I Wanted to Make Our Anniversary Special...and Boy-Howdy, It was!

My wife and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary last Friday. I wanted to do something special, not because 23 is some sort of special number, but because it's easier to do big surprises when the expectation is low than when the expectation is high.

I was aiming for unforgettable--and landed firmly on unforgettable. Unforgettable. Lots of things are unforgettable...including surviving the Titanic's first voyage.

I decided to do dinner outdoors. Not just any dinner, but a very special dinner. For that I needed help.

The Plan:
The plan was straightforward. I work at a restaurant, and a friend of mine has impressed me mightily with his skills as as chef. I asked him to make a special meal for my wife and I, to be served outdoors on our anniversary. He agreed happily and readily. He's a great guy.
Another great guy plays the accordion at the restaurant where I work. I asked if he would be willing to come out and play at our little party, and he agreed. When he asked what I'd like him to play, I told him we were married in 1992, and anything from that time period would be great. He said he didn't know Unchained Melody. (Spoiler alert--he learned it.)
I planned to tell my wife we were going out to dinner. Period. I was lucky in that I didn't have to give much more information than that, other than to tell her on the day that she might want to bring a rain coat.

The Weather Report:
When you plan an outdoor event, you need to plan for the weather. We concocted this plan three weeks before our anniversary. I started watching the extended forecasts. On the day, the weather report predicted a 50% chance of light rain during our dinner.
So... Hedging my bets, I modified my plan. Instead of putting a white-linened table in the middle of a field, I bought a tarp to put over the table. I went out in the hot sun, selected a spot, and set up. It was 88 degrees when I set up the table. 

Getting My Wife There:
It's no fun, I suppose, to celebrate an anniversary without your spouse. We've had exactly one anniversary apart in 23 years, and as I recall, it was kind of a bummer. But what to tell her? A week after setting the plan in motion, I got around to checking her schedule. She had a conflict. I asked her to cancel it because, "I have special plans that can't be changed." Fortunately, that was enough for her. Until the day... Then she had questions. Lots of questions, especially when I told her to dress casually and bring rain gear.

The Menu:
If you're in the Mid-Michigan area and you're looking to have a special meal catered, I highly recommend Tyler Stark (810) 931-2718. I wanted some surprise in this for me too, so I didn't give him any guidance other than a budget. Here's what he came up with, delightfully presented in a picnic basket and served out of mason jars:
Appetizer: Smoked salmon dip with capers, pita chips and bread with tomato basil dipping olive oil.
Soup: Orange carrot puree with a hint of ginger--served chilled
Entree: Brazilian Endive salad with bleu cheese, walnuts, raspberries, smoked asparagus tips, and grilled chicken in a berry vinaigrette dressing
Dessert: Fruit cup with cream cheese dip

The Music:
The restaurant that employs me also employs some top-notch accordion players.

My friend Trent Arbaitis is one of them. When I asked if he would be willing to come out to our little picnic dinner and play a few tunes for us, he agreed. Here he is, smile, lederhosen, accordion, and...giant storm cloud over his shoulder. The storm cloud isn't his fault.

Enter the Weather...
All was going according to plan. My wife--her curiosity running high--was in the car with me, trying to guess where we were going. As we approached the field, I had a nervous eye on the tops of the trees, waving in wind that hadn't yet touched the ground. She saw the blue tarp in he field and said, "Look! Someone is having a picnic." I told her that the someone was us. We parked and approached the table. I pulled her favorite flowers (blue iris) from a cooler, and put them on the table. A minute or two later, Tyler pulled up in his car and chef's jacket. Introductions were made, and he served us our appetizers. As he served the soup, Trent pulled up and started to play. My wife was grinning wide. The food and music were great!
And the heavens opened up and poured water...cold water. Grey, misting, sheets of water...

We retreated!
Laughing in the rain, we made a dash for our car--conveniently located behind the accordion player--who was busy stashing his instrument in is car. We decided to finish our picnic at home, but still had to pack the table and the tarp away. Tyler jumped in the car with us and described the rest of the meal. He and Trent stuck around to help us take down the equipment. Both men went well above the call of duty, and we really appreciate it. Good friends do things like that for each other, and I've promised them I will do the same for them if the opportunity presents itself. I hope it does.

We ate the rest of the food when we got home and put on dry clothes. We'll never forget this anniversary, and in a strange way, the rain only enhanced the experience.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Wrong Way to Size a Watch Bracelet

   I started with damn and worked my way up to sonofabi**. I think sonofabi** is quite handy. Especially when I start something I'm not sure I can do.
    I bought a watch, and Amazon sent me the one on the metal bracelet instead of the leather strap I wanted.
    I decided to re-size the bracelet by myself. Watched a YouTube video on how to do it. I have the tools.
    Bent the first tool I tried to use because I missed the hole. Damn.
    Then I watched a different video and used a different tool. Struggled from damn to sonofabi** in a hurry.
    Wasn't sure I was going to like the steel bracelet, but was determined to re-size the sonofabi** and put it on the damn watch anyway.
    I did. Poked myself three times and drew blood--three times in exactly the same spot. My cries of sonofabi** grew quite rapid and loud.
    Reassembled the damn bracelet and put it on the damn watch after removing one more link than I should have. Sonofabi** rang through the air in the room.
    Put a link back in. Stabbed my sonofabi** finger in the same damn spot three more times. Did the "sonofabi**" in sign language because I was already waving my damn finger around.
    Re-re-assembled the watch. Didn't like the result. It didn't quite fit.
    So I removed one of the micro-adjust pins. It flew in the air, bounced off my damn head, and now I can't find the sonofabi**.
    Then I took the damn bracelet off the damn watch and put the parts of the sonofabi** bracelet in a damn drawer...
    ...and put the silicone strap I took off the watch in the first place back on the watch.
Learned a lot, namely...leave well enough alone.