He seemed interested in everything but me. I was a small part of his day, or so it seemed, and had he yawned I would not have been surprised. “Can I help you?” he asked with the practiced salesman’s cadence.
“I need a watch,” I said, holding up my wrist to show him my ersatz gold Omega with the cracked black leather band.
He brightened, and pulled out the green felt square reserved for the better items in the case. “May I?” he asked as he reached for my wrist and put on his loop.
“It may be a fake,” I said. “My father got it from a friend who seems to deal in shady merchandise and….”
“Not to worry, we can determine if this is real. Do you mind?”
Before I could answer the Omega watch was off my wrist and on its way to the back room where a hunched over fellow was hard a work with other things. Whispers were exchanged and the watch was left in his care. He returned. “What can I show you?”
“I am not a watch guy, and I want something that will last.”
“I have something here,” he said and pulled out a older green box that contained a shiny watch and assorted papers. “This is an excellent watch and a tremendous buy. It will not last long; in fact we’ve got a special on this item today only.”
“For you, today, I think I can get them down to 150 dollars.”
Not knowing who “them” were, I scratched my head, and said, “I’ve never actually spent that much on a watch or much else.”
He coughed gently, and leaned forward, giving me a whiff of his cologne. “This is a buy that will never come along again and I wouldn’t be surprised if it sells later today, maybe at full price.”
“I’m not sure I can afford it and besides I wanted a metal band, maybe like the Spiedel ones that I used to wear.”
He grimaced. “For another twenty five I can add a stainless band, and let you keep the leather one for a spare.”
“I’m not sure, the watch is nice, but that’s a lot of money.”
“Consider it an investment, a lifetime purchase, something that you can pass down to the next generation.”
I blurted out, “I am not married so there is no real next generation yet that I know of.” For some reason my impending orders to Vietnam loomed large in everything that I did and said.
The jeweler from the back cam out and told us both that my “Omega” was indeed a counterfeit, worth maybe 25 dollars for the gold in the case.
We struck a deal that day that I would write a check for $150 and get the watch and the stainless steel link band, and be off. Since the shop was on a military installation, the biggest one, the Pentagon, there was no sales tax. I hoped I had that much in my checking account.
I called home that night and for the first time in a while my Dad answered. “You get trapped there during the riots?”
“Yep, I slept on the Terrazzo floor under a scratchy wool blanket while the protestors surrounded the building. They gave us free breakfast, so it was not all bad.”
“Your mother is out, anything you wanted to tell us?”
“My report date to Fort Benning, to the Infantry School, is still up in the air, but it might be after the first of the year. And oh yes, I bought a watch to replace the gold one that you got from Dave Johns, the Omega one.”
“Really, what did you pay?”
I told him.
He shifted to his you-are-a-fool Teutonic voice that I hated but endured. “You think this was a good idea?”
“Probably not, but I needed a new watch and….”
“My watch cost ten dollars and I have had it for…
I stopped listening at that point. “Well, please tell Mom that I called and that I love you both.” I rang off, more than a little mad at him and myself.
The watch followed me through my Army career, all three years of it. It’s was a wind-up, not really that special and from time-to-time I invested in a cleaning and once in a new crystal. My wife later threw away the box and the documents that came with it long ago. Digital and then analog battery watches were soon the rage and it sat in as drawer on my dresser in the bedroom for a long time.
We moved to California and I stuck it in our newly-opened safety deposit box at Bank of America. I wore it for a few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, telling myself that it needed to be wound so it would not get gummed up.
On my birthday I wore it to lunch in Carmel. My wife wanted to know, since it was “my” day, if I wanted to do something special.
“Let’s check out that jewelry shop, they’re a dealer, and see what it would cost to clean my watch.”
She rolled her eyes ever so slightly. “OK.”
The lady behind the counter took the watch from me and went to the back. Returning, she said that the cleaning would be $1400! “But,” she said breathlessly, “if you want to sell it I am authorized to write you a check for ten thousand dollars right now.”
I hesitated; feeling like the guy who owns the national treasure on the Antique Road Show and has no clue as to the value.
“But, we have a large collection of pre-owned and new watches. Perhaps a trade?”
During the next half hour I was tempted by another watch in 18 karat white gold with a meteorite dial, at a mere $33,000 and she was willing to make a deal for most of that with my trade. I decided to wait.
After the first of the year I sent the watch to the company’s West Coast headquarters in--where else but Beverly Hills--where it sat for about six weeks. The jeweler in Palo Alto, with whom I arranged this, called me on my cell phone as I was rocketing south on US 101 one afternoon.
“I have some bad news,” he droned. “But there is also good.”
“They can’t ‘renew’ your watch—too old and there is a fear they’ll damage the face.”
“And the good news is?”
“Your watch is worth between sixty and one hundred thousand dollars. In fact they asked if you would consider selling it. I told them I’d ask you.”
I don’t recall the rest of the conversation and began easing over to the shoulder on 101, serenaded by a chorus of horns.
That night I asked our daughter, our only child, if she’d keep it as an heirloom when I was gone.
“Nope,” she said, “I’d sell it in a second.”
Maybe my Dad was right after all.