Friday, May 15, 2020

You Don't Choose Your Watch, Your Watch Chooses You

If there are two very solid constants I remember from my coming up as a Northern Youth, they are these -

1.  My father was a country club manager.  Meaning he oversaw the Elyria Country Club, in Elyria, Ohio back in the 70s and early 80s.  For those of you unfamiliar, a country club typically has a golf course, some tennis courts, a swimming pool and depending on the inclinations of the founding members (and in the case of the Elyria Country Club), a fairly massive amount of dining options for the members and their families and guests.  ECC had a main dining room, a "mixed grill" (essentially a slightly more casual dining space that could accommodate about 100 or so, and the "men's girl" which was a bar with about 15 tables in a private room that abutted the men's locker room (remember the golf thing).  And inside that men's locker room was where I got my introduction to the world of work.  I worked in the shoeshine room, where I polished the footwear of some of Northern Ohio's captains of industry, including one George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees immortalized in Seinfeld some 15 years later.

And in that job, as well as other interactions I got to know many of the members' kids.  Some were quite nice, some were little caricatures of their fathers and mothers (often exhibiting some of the less favorable characteristics).  They all had nice clothes, they all played golf, ate at the restaurant, swam at the pool, and partook of the tennis courts when their moms weren't either having tennis lessons or (in some instances) machinating over how to lure the tennis pro into a dark corner of the club where nobody could see.  As a side note - one year the tennis pro bore a downright striking resemblance to Tom Selleck circa 1983.

A fair number of those kids went to the nearby private school - Lake Ridge Academy in North Ridgeville, Ohio.  Curious to relate, there was more than a small rivalry between my alma matter - Oberlin High School, and Lake Ridge Academy in matters of Soccer (that's football to many of you).

2.  I was a soccer player.  I played A LOT.  I was not particularly intrigued by school, but managed to keep my grades in check so that I could play for the middle school and high school.  After practice, I would go to the (Oberlin) college fields and watch the team practice and sometimes one of the goal keepers would invite me to take practice penalty kicks with the team.  After they cleared out I would practice my corner kicks.  I had one ball, so it was a pretty tedious process of taking the kick, jogging to the other side of the field to gather it, then take another kick from that corner.  I would do this about 25 or 30 times before the autumn skies would get too dark to keep going.

In terms of how we matched up against Lake Ridge, at least in my time it was fairly level.  In middle school we won the tournament the first year, they won the second.  In high school we won my sophomore year (that game immortalized by the "Oberlin fake" corner kick play).  A brief bit about that -I always took the corner kicks, and the first kick that comes up in that game, my team mate David Sonner starts running towards the corner shouting - 
"I'll take it, I'll take it".  
Me, being me, was having none of it and a verbal altercation the likes of which polite, Town & Country Lake Ridge parents only heard when watching Cinemax After Dark flowed forth as we both now sprinted for the ball.  For the record, David Sonner was (and by all accounts still is) a phenomenal athlete and had he really been trying would have made it to the ball, knocked it into play, and returned to the center circle before I even got to the corner.  I would like to think it was anger that moved my less than swift frame, but it would become clear that his plan was for both of us to arrive at the ball at the same time.  We both, effectively shielded the ball from view, backs to goal as we continued to argue.  Just as the referee was about to put the whistle to his mouth, David took a quick step away and whispered -
"Here I'm going to pass you the ball."
And at that moment, the 20 watt bulb above my head went off, I understood how this would unfold.  All of our teammates were crowded around the penalty area, as were ALL of the Lake Ridge Royals (another reason to hate them - the Royals?  Why not just call the team the Lake Ridge Money?  But I digress).  Long story short, ball rolled to me, David ran into space as nobody was marking him, I slotted him the ball, he took three touches (his only weakness as a player, he liked to have at least 3 touches before passing or shooting), and parked it in the back of the net.  The Lake Ridge players protested, but there was no rule against exploiting a team's inattention.
Curious to relate?  Later in the second half we did EXACTLY the same thing, this time with me scoring.  That game taught me something, your parents can have a lot of money, you might have nice clothes and be a straight A student heading for Princeton, but if you are used to things in your life following a certain pro forma?  Sooner or later, you are going to get played.  

I guess they smartened up in our junior year as I seem to recall that we drew.  Our senior year I missed the game for romantic reasons probably best left vague in case surviving family members might be reading and be scandalized by what I was up to with a female a wee-bit older than me.  And we lost.

But let's get back to watches, and choice.  First things first, it was fair to say that by the time I hit 16 and 17 I had a fairly healthy aversion to people who were flashy with money, and more certain that money wouldn't necessarily reflect taste, or judgment.  Now, my own judgement was not exactly state of the art at that point, and my taste ran towards modern day Salvation Army.  Following high school I drifted a bit for a year, looked after my Mee-Maw (grandmother) who was in her final year fighting cancer, and finally landed a few thousand miles away at the University of Oregon.  And then my grandmother passed and part of my inheritance was her Omega.

Now let's reflect back on judgement, etc.  In fairness, the Omega was a woman's model.  A bit bigger than some, a fair bit smaller than others.  Even in the smaller sizes favored in the late 80s and early 90s this was more than a bit small for me.  I was also not much of a watch guy.  Oh, one other thing - I WAS POOR.  Following my graduation from the U, I absolutely struggled for the first 2 years or so.  To quote Bud Fox (played by Charlie Sheen in Wall Street) - 
"I'm tapped out Marv. American Express' got a hit man lookin' for me."  
Out of options, I replied to a newspaper ad (remember life before Indeed?) to teach English in Japan.  It was really more of a whim, a way of telling myself that I hadn't completely given up.  I went to the interview, got invited to a second one - asked to bring a copy of my university diploma with me (seemed odd) and was offered a job there on the spot!

Now while this would seem like all of my problems were solved, it opened up a slew of others!  Remember, gentle reader, I had no money!  So in fairly short order I had to:
1.  Sell off everything that would not fit into 2 suitcases.
2.  Buy another suit (A friend had loaned me an in store credit at a used clothing store where I lucked into a Polo suit that fit perfectly and had low mileage that I wore to my 2 interviews), a pair of black leather shoes, several dress shirts and ties.
3.  Come up with $1,200 for a one-way flight from Portland, Oregon to Tokyo, Japan.
4.  Sell my car (at a loss of $2,500).
5.  Save $2,500 for my first month of living expenses in Japan.

So after everything else was offloaded, it was down to a few items of resale value left, and truth be told that while my Mee-Maw's Omega didn't bring in a lot of cash, it put me over the top, and I was able to get on that plane.

And to be honest?  I would probably do it again.  My grandfather bought the Omega for his wife not because it was glamorous, expensive, etc.  Because it wasn't.  There were no celebrity endorsements, nobody was putting out press pieces about a model, model's family, model's troubled model children wearing an Omega.  The Omega he bought for his wife was what my grandfather called - "A very fine watch".  Very fine not being defined by how much it cost, but that it looked good and worked very well.  Remember, this was Omega pre Jean-Claude Biver revival.  Moreover, the Omega landed with me because my grandmother left a lot of jewelry, that all went to my sisters.  Fair enough, of course.  She was not particularly enamored of the watch as an heirloom, and it was viewed more as a means of "balancing the scales" for the purposes of inheritance.

Needless to say, a lot of years have passed since 1992.  And while I certainly appreciate a beautiful, expensive watch I find myself turned off by them more and more.  I think a part of it is wrapped up childhood memories of faux & nouveau riche and the crazy lengths they would go to pass themselves off as something more.  One last memory of that time - 
There was a minor scandal at ECC that involved the parents of a Lake Ridge student back in the early 80s.  I will state here quite clearly, how much truth there is to this remains unclear to this day, and I don't know how much of it was fact, and how much was locker room gossip.  The married couple were like so many of that era - husband worked "late".  Things apparently had come to a head when the couple split up after the husband announced he was running off with his secretary/ receptionist/ dental hygienist/ medical assistant (who knows or cares nearly 40 years later).  The wife, in a fit of pique, raided the husband's dresser while he was at "work" and grabbed his Rolex.  The Rolex had been a gift to him from a grateful patient/client (again, 40 years on it doesn't really matter).  Well, while the ultimate fate of the wayward husband and his romantic accomplice have been lost to history, the word around the back rooms of the club was that a few years later, the watch had found its way to a jeweler in Cleveland, and was revealed to be (a very good) fake.

Which brings us to now.  I have some watches made by friends who have their own brands, and I truly do appreciate them.  But about 5 years ago when I was raising money to put towards a charity, I sold several pieces.  One was, shall we say, a bit esoteric so you could not really leverage it for what it might sell for new.  But someone came in with some cash and traded this Omega into the bargain -
My original plan was to sell it as well.  But something twigged in my memory, and I have held onto it ever since.  I appreciate it because it is pretty simple in design - hours, minutes, seconds and date.  It is large enough to be quite readable to my 51 year old eyes, and like my Mee-Maw's Omega - it is a very fine watch.  

It does not dive down to the briny deep, it did not "go to the moon", and it is not crafted of Un-Obtainium.  Moreover, I do not lay awake nights hoping that George Clooney (who I do admire for his humanitarian work) will be spotted wearing the same model, therefore validating "My Choice".  Truth be told, nobody should really give two tosses what his "Choice" is.  

I am not an Omega fanboy, and truthfully find a lot of what they offer of little to no interest.  I think they have not recently treated several of their retail partners so well, their after service wait times have been, at times, pretty poor.  Sorry, but calling this one honestly.  I could not really care any less who else wears one, I think that they are currently grossly over-priced, and I feel that this is borne out over the abundance found in previously owned stock.  But deep down, there was a longing for something that tied together the past with the present, and my Omega in many ways reminds me of my Mee-Maw, albeit it in a convoluted, round about way.  

Life is, inevitably, seldom a straight line.  Just ask the Lake Ridge Varsity soccer team of 1983.  There are twists, turns and unexpected events.  It's a lovely idea to think that your watch will validate everything that you have achieved, and all of the choices that you made.  But ultimately, it is an object.  And we have a lot of objects in our lives, some stay with us, some some are passed on, and others are simply lost along the wayside.  For me, every time I have tried to choose that one watch, that super-duper-special piece?  It has really been anti-climatic and never really "taken".   Don't get me wrong, I love watches, I love wearing the pieces in my (very) modest collection.  But sometimes, if you are open to it, that one watch will choose you.  It happened to me, so anything's possible ; )

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