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A Paper-Thin Watch, Four Feet Long

By John Gould / September 21, 1990



THE hatter dipped his watch in his tea. Then he told Alice that Time is not it; it's him. Those of us who are sensitive in such matters may now consider a development by Junghans, the Black Forest clock people, who are offering a remote-control watch that is tuned to radio impulses from the atomic clock at Brunswick - the world's most accurate timepiece, keeping within one millionth of a second. This new watch even sets itself for spring and fall changes of time. Thus he is abused, because if this watch catches on, what will be the economic impact on the cuckoo clock?

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Every tourist who has ever visited the Black Forest brought home a cuckoo clock, and all over the world they hang mute on walls - the cuckoo ceased to kook after a week or two, and none of the things ever kept time within a millionth of eternity.

I don't carry a watch, and have no need for one. If I don't step into the house while the dining-room clock is striking high twelve, my wife will go out on the porch to see what detained me. I am tuned to gastronomical signals fully as reliable as the radio impulses from Brunswick.

I do own a watch, but it's from an uncle, and I used it through high school and partly through college. It is a Longines, expensive in its day, silver, and it has a chain. On the other end of the chain is a gold toothpick, considered classy in its day, but meant as anchor in the port vest pocket.

The watch was worn starboard, permitting the chain to lie amidship, adorning the umbilical expanse. Then my uncle had a small silver replica-head of a mastiff dead-center, which he explained was his watchdog. The thing is lovely and I cherish it. It has a gentleman's delicacy, not so bulbous and overwhelming as the great Hamiltons that so many men of that era sported.

Before I came into possession of Uncle Eddie's Longines, I had been using an Ingersoll dollar watch. Here was something even more revolutionary than this Black Forest radio watch. Watches were bought in jewelry stores, where they would also be taken for cleaning and repairs as needed. They were not cheap.

Suddenly there appeared the Ingersoll dollar watch, which cost one dollar, and they could be bought in hardware stores, nov- elty shops, and even at the soda fountain. Jewelers shunned them, and they never came in for repairs - why pay $2 to repair a $1 watch?

My first watch was an Ingersoll dollar watch, and I carried it in the watch pocket of my pants. It had a fob, which Billy Titcomb at the grain store gave me. Billy gave these to anybody who bought anything from him, and the fobs said, ``Grandin Milling Company, Buffalo, N.Y.'' Nothing stylish, but useful, and the Ingersolls were reasonably accurate.

When my first watch slipped its mainspring, I laid it on the railroad track, and after the down-state freight ran over it with 122 cars I had an Ingersoll dollar watch that was paper-thin and four feet long. Then I bought another watch.

The watch makers of the world should have risen in economic wrath and frustrated two changes that came right after that. The wristwatch caused the pants people to cease putting watch pockets in trousers. Then, the gentlemen's vest went out of style and a suit of clothes began coming in two pieces. At the time I inherited Uncle Eddie's watch, a suit of clothes cost $18.00 and had coat, vest, and two pairs of pants. (Pants is singular at the top and plural at the bottom.) The pants had watch pockets, and the vest served as hereinbefore stated. All at once I had no place to carry my Ingersoll, and when I dressed for a sociable I had no place for my Longines.

In short, I stopped carrying a watch. I could, as I suppose everybody did, have stepped out to buy a wristwatch, but I didn't. I have never owned a wristwatch. No cause or reason; I just don't. I have, in all, six clocks in various postures so I can glance up most of the time and see where ``he'' labors. I have few appointments, so I seldom miss one, and if I do, so what? Why, says my philosophy, is one millionth of a second important? ``Half-past one, time for dinner!'' said the hatter.

Incidentally, I can tune the Canadian time signals on my shop radio, and get the time every minute in both French and English. Until lately, this was Eastern Standard Time. But now the two men who do this tell me they are offering Consolidated International Time, and I presume that means Greenwich. If so, it's a good thing to know in Friendship, Maine, what time it is in London. I don't need to get my watch down from the box on the shelf.