Time On My Hand
I’ve had the prefect wristwatch for nearly 19 years. Theresa (my wife) gave it to me one Christmas in Kauai. As soon as I opened the box, she noted quickly that the saleslady had informed her if I was not pleased with it, simply bring it back for exchange or refund.
It did have an initial look of complexity. Its face measures 1.25 by 1.5 inches and contains two circular analog dials, two digital readouts and a function monitoring instrument panel style gauge that informs you which of the several functions are being displayed. These are controlled by four push buttons, two on each side of the watch case. There is what looks to be a small speaker placed on the bottom right of the case, which you learn eventually is not a speaker, but a thermometer. Depending upon the combination of buttons activated, the readout indicates the current environmental temperature, or the temperature of your body when you awoke that morning. Very handy indeed. The face is particularly eye catching because the displays are inlayed in what appears be an ivory surface. When all is said and done, the watch can display the time in analog and digital mode, offer two temperature readings, call up two alarms, display an alternative time, serve as a chronograph and in a pinch, a night light. Its name is Citizen ANA-DIGI TEMP.
And what a citizen it is! Not easy to get to know, but after about six weeks of experimenting with the buttons, rereading the manual and more experimentation, our relationship developed into a healthy and hopeful partnership. It cost Theresa, as I recall, a little over $50, which I considered quite a large amount for a wristwatch at the time. I’ve worn my Citizen in work and play, rain and sun, through stress, discouragement and elation, and around the world. I slept with it nightly, and except for showering and particularly sweaty garden work, it was seldom away from my body.
It has an engaging personality all its own. The salesperson in the Kauai store predicted this. When we took it back the day after Christmas so that I could see for myself how it compared with the competition, she claimed that the Citizen had real character, and that I would soon come to understand why. I soon did. The best evidence is that once a month someone would compliment me regarding the watch’s handsome looks and further ask me to explain its multi-functional appearance. Depending on how gullible I suspected the inquirer might be, I would sometimes explain that it wasn’t a watch at all, but a satellite of my Washington, D.C. main frame computer. As time went on fewer people bought that, but in the early days it frequently brought a nod of understanding (and amazement).
The decision to seriously question our human digital relationship came not long ago and was a function of natural aging, both mine and the Citizen’s. In my case, night vision was showing early signs of deterioration. I had difficulty reading the digital time display, even with the built in light switched on (I forgot to mention that feature…just shows how one takes things for granted in relationships) and so I was limited to viewing the luminous analog display. Then one night, that suddenly quit. The watch repair person that I trusted said the analog display could not be fixed or replaced. It was an integral part of the mechanism. I fumbled around with a flashlight for several nights attempting to read the digital display but there was no point to that. If I needed a watch that was readable in the dark, then there was nothing to do other than replace it. New troops to the front, as it were. There was little that I could do about my visual degeneration.
The search began. My first discovery was that the Citizen company doesn’t make ANA-DIGI TEMP any longer. Hadn’t for years. It became clear, in addition that the Citizen company had risen in the ranks of watchmakers, and was now pushing what it must consider to be a much grander family of time pieces. I knew there were other brands, but why switch when you know you have a winner? The current Citizen stable includes models designed for people who fly 777s and space ships, sail in Americas’ cup races, deep sea dive, or believe there is gads of status to be gained by sporting a watch they believe people who do such things would wear.
After much searching and examining, I final settled on a Citizen model with the name Navigator. Much to my disappointment, as soon as my credit card was out of the card reader I was informed that there would be two months delivery delay. I should have changed course then and there, but didn’t and instead drifted impatiently.
The premier feature of the Navigator that sold me was the capability to dial up 22 world time zones. I live on the West Coast or Lax (Los Angeles) zone as we navigators say. But with the push of a button, I could go progressively ahead (or in reverse) one zone at a time. (I need this feature frequently, probably as often as maybe one or two times a year.) One small problem is that one button serves to both advance and reverse the progression. To change the actual direction it is necessary to push that and another button simultaneously. This is not space age engineering and control access is tight. The face has several displays, all located behind the analog “hands” which is okay when there is time for the hands to move along on their circular journey. The minute hand is no more than a nuisance, moving relatively quickly, but the hour hand is another story. It could block one’s view for….well, several minutes.
A second problem is selecting functions. There is a button for this with an associated display. The problem is that the display is not lighted. This can result in nocturnal decision making problems.
I can be more specific. Normally, I feel an urge to pee most nights about 3:00 A.M. When that happens, it is my habit to put on my glasses and check the time on my wristwatch. If the hour is prior to 3:00 A.M., I feel safe dozing off until the urge returns with more force, at which time I’m on my feet and soon looking down into the toilet bowl emptying my bladder. If the watch reads 3:00 A.M. or after, there is no horsing around with dozing and I go straight to the head. The Navigator inhibited this routine due to its technology and information overload.
Here is what often happened. When I awoke, I would reach for button “A” with the intent of illuminating the time display. However, not infrequently my finger aim was poor and I would push button “B” which moved the time zone ahead to Denver. I was unaware of this because, as I noted above, the function display was not itself illuminated. When I finally was able to illuminate the watch face, It displayed time for the Denver zone, not the Lax zone. Upon such occasions, the watch informed me that it was after three and time to pee, which would have been true had I been in Denver, but operationally false because I was physically on the West Coast, which was closer to 2:00 A.M. and too early to pee. But, I was not sure of that.
Being too considerate of my bed mate and wife (one in the same person, I assure you) to turn on the room light and set the systems straight, I would arise and maneuver down the passage way to the head aided by the faint light of the moon and a street lamp across the street. Sometimes I would pee, sometimes not. When I did, the body plumbing system usually self-corrected. When I could not, I would return to the arms of Morpheus only to awaken in a couple hours at which point there was no need to confirm the hour. I would arise again immediately. I would be confronted in the morning with the task of resetting the Navigator. The basic outcome was insufficient quality time in Morpheus’ arms, and it began showing. I yawned a lot after lunch.
After a few months of this, I decided that enough was enough and that I must face up to the information overload problem. The Navigator and I were like an organ transplant gone bad. This was a time when the wisest action was to face reality and seek alterative solutions, and so I gave the watch to a friend with greater mechanical finesse than I will ever enjoy. You may observe that this was an overly generous gesture on my part, but to be honest I must note that I had built up an large amount of what my mother referred to as “beholdeness” to my friend in the form of non-billed consulting time. He admired the Navigator and it was a good fit for him but probably he would not have purchased one himself, thus it was a satisfactory exchange all the way around. In addition, he reported that his two young daughters gained considerable pleasure from his using the Navigator to time races and other events on their ranch. So, I will always believe the Navigator to be an excellent choice in the long run.
Now the really serious search for the ultimate realistic time piece began. It was first necessary to define carefully the specifications I wanted in a watch, which of course not doing so was my initial error. That is to say, I had to distinguish carefully between what appealed to my ideal self concept and my basic needs. The time piece must be easy to read, have illumination and an alarm function. I soon learned that practically speaking there are two basic kinds of watches: digital and analog. For the most part, analog watches do not do alarms. Readability is absolutely critical, unless of course one is willing to live with a talking time piece or can afford an all night time keeper. Neither suited me, so I was faced with the task of finding an analog watch that was the exception to the rule, i.e., had an alarm. I must have visited ten retail outlets (stores, we used to call them) which do watches. The cost range is amazing, starting around $10.00 and running up into the thousands, even without jewels (the decorative type). I was attracted to the higher end models. The Movado brand is illustrative. It is big on analog watches sans numbers. Just a minute and hour hand on a black or brushed aluminum face. You can get into the basic men’s model for about $600, or if you prefer a tungsten carbide case and bracelet, expect to pay $1600. I didn’t have the courage to ask if adding numerals was an option.
The Rado brand out of Switzerland is especially appealing to me. They tout their scratch proof metals, crystals and ceramics, but offer the following caveat for the discriminating and informed buyer. “Scratch proof doesn’t mean indestructible….Dropping the watch from a considerable height onto a hard surface can have unfortunate results. In accordance with the rules of physics, objects of extreme hardness are subject to a higher risk of breakage.” I decide not to go there.
The search, having used up the better part of three days, ended in Valley River Center’s largest national department store (read May Company). There, I located a Timex Expedition with a large analog display, strong light and a simple alarm, all amazingly simple to set. It was on sale and put me back just under $45. I was pleased and hurried home to read the toilet paper thin manual (English version) folded with origami skill and stuffed into the box. Everything was as it should be except for one feature. After setting the hour and minute for the alarm, the instructions called for pulling a button at which time the light was supposed to flash once and the alarm ding once if the instructions had been followed correctly. But neither happened when I pulled the button. After several attempts at following the direction, I called the 800 Timex support number. After being disconnected once, I was able to converse with a tech person.
“No light, no ding?” she asked in a muddy Southern drawl.
“Right,” I replied.
“Take it back to the dealer, sugar, and demand a wawyatcht that works,” was her solution. So, I did, indicating to my wife somewhat smugly as I went out the door that I would get this straightened out in no time.
I entered the store and went directly to the watch counter. Actually there are two watch counters, located across from one another. There is the quality watch counter and across from it is the counter where my watch was housed. A very attentive and pleasant salesperson with an award winning smile asked how she could help. In response, I explained how the watch was malfunctioning and then went on to demonstrate the problem, undoubtedly revealing a bit of pride in my having mastered the instruction manual. As I kept talking and speculating on what might be wrong, she continued fiddling with my Expedition, smiling all the time.
After 2 or 3 minutes she looked up at me, still smilling. “There, its working. See? Light flashes, alarm dings. You just were not pushing the lower button,” she went on, pleasantly and being careful not to use the word “wrong”.
By god she was correct! I proved it by following her directions and pushing the lower of the two buttons, located below the main time setting stem at which I had been banging away. I thanked her with a noticeably decreased assertiveness in my manner. “Well,” she said, ” on occasion it just take two heads to figure it out, doesn’t it?”
I honed my operating skills and in no time was able to activate the Expedition night light and with more practice set the alarm for the 60 minute plus mode. The other day, I was surprised to discover by accident how to set it for the less than 60 minute mode. This has been of phenomenal value, enabling me to time the coffee maker and toaster and monitor the amount of time per hour wasted at the computer.
The only negative aspect of the Expedition is that it is relatively large and thick and thus when I shift my body around at night it beats my lower left arm to a pulp. I awake bruised. Sleeping with the old Citizen was a dream. It was such a good fit. Not so with these new mates. The nightly beatings got to the point last week where I quit wearing the Expedition at night. This necessitated purchasing a night table light. I acquired one for just under ten dollars. It has several features, including a night light (two settings, bright and not so bright) and a bright red medium size digital read-out.
Without my glasses, I can nearly read it, if I squint.
All of which, of course motivates me again to take up the search for the ideal time piece. But not until spring. I deserve a rest. I’m technologically drained.