Posts Tagged ‘time’

Rummaging through a box of old knick-knacks I came upon a pocket watch. Pocket watches seem to have gone out with the Lindy and the speakeasy. It’s a shame, isn’t it? There is a certain dignity invoked when one is asked for the time and fashioning a response first begins with a knowing, slightly superior glance followed by a tug of a chain, not unlike the gimp scene from Pulp Fiction. Nowadays it’s almost impossible not to know what time it is. Time is everywhere. On banks, pharmacies, monitors, microwaves, DVD players, cable boxes, clock radios, cars, phones, and even an occasional wrist. It is much more readily available, yet it seems as if something has been lost. (As an aside, for reasons unclear, I always think when a man carries a pocket watch he probably speaks with a refined British accent. But then again I still say “groovy”, so my cultural awareness is suspect at best.)

This particular pocket watch no longer works. I can say this with absolute certainty because I turned the stem knob and it snorted at me as if I were some kind of rube. Oh, the irony of someone so young being called a rube by something so old! (Just go with it.) This from a piece of jewelry manufactured, at the very latest, in 1957. I know this because the American Waltham Watch Company folded in 1957. I ask: Would a rube use these kind of Sherlock-like, googlesque powers of deduction? I think not, old chap!

The name “John Brennan” is clearly inscribed on the face, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t my watch. Perhaps it was gifted in anticipation of my eventual arrival, but that’s unlikely. My family wasn’t known for its planning skills. That leaves two probable ownership possibilities: my brother’s father or my aunt’s husband. I guess there may’ve been another John Brennan floating around in those days, but for the sake of keeping an already complicated tale simple, let’s go with those two.

You see my mother and her sister both married men named John Brennan. Unrelated John Brennans at that. Imagine the odds! But since all of the principals have moved on (and I don’t mean to Del Boca Vista) the original ownership of this particular pocket watch is a mystery which will forever remain a mystery. Unless ghosts are real and one of those John Brennans suddenly appears before me in the middle of the night. Should that happen I imagine the question of the watch’s ownership won’t immediately pop to mind. Most likely I’ll hightail it out of the room, through the (hopefully) open door, and scamper down the street screaming like a wild banshee. Preferably clothed. Ghosts may be scary, but an image of an unclothed me is positively terrifying.

I’ve babbled on long enough. Doesn’t matter who owned this watch. It’s pretty neat. And I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

slipping away

Posted: October 24, 2011 in That's Life
Tags: , , , , ,

They live secure in our vault where everything we hold dear is ferociously guarded. We understand their importance, their irreplaceability. Make no mistake, we appreciate their value. We know this as instinctively as a hungry child reaches to suckle her mother’s breast. The way we act, what we feel, our perceptions, our jealousies and our fears all possess a direct line to them. Often we close our eyes and drift, opening the vault in search of redemption and cleansing. There, through them, we find the strength to face the difficult times and the wisdom to make appropriate choices.

But we’re an obsessive species. And from our obsession is born a skewed awareness. We trust our vault, but we’ve seen the realities of life. Things happen. Unforeseen things. So, as further protection, we write. We write incessantly in ruled notebooks, on scraps of loose-leaf, in leather-bound journals. We scribble down everything – the textures, the smells, the colors, the heartaches, the joys. We write it all so we can store it forever.

Yet for all our awareness, for all our precautions, the relentless winds of time will out. They will sweep over the mountains and across the plains to arrive at our door, first as a casual visitor until we realize we are faced with the visitor who will not leave. Then someday down the line, as the sun rests high in the sky and birds coo in the trees, our vault will undoubtedly spring a leak and the pages of our notebooks will curl, yellowed and faded. And all those memories we’ve ferociously guarded in our vault, which fueled our feelings and perceptions, will blur and float away like leaves on the breeze.

Every August Beloit College publishes what they call The Mindset List. It’s a puddle of facts designed to illuminate the rest of us about things which help shape the worldview of the incoming college freshman class. (The most recent list contained such sobering thoughts as “Amazon has never been just a river in South America” and “The Communist Party has never been the official political party in Russia.”) But the list does more than that. It also shows the past is much closer than we may think. When events are placed in context through time you realize how recent the past actually is, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Another reminder of this truism floated my way a few days ago.

On Friday I decided to go out for lunch rather than brown bag it. I work at a University so any jaunt outside pretty much requires immersion into the bubbling froth of youthful verve that is the student body. As I strolled across campus I was stopped by a young man who couldn’t have been more than 20. He was with two friends and called out to me. “Sir? Excuse me, sir?” I didn’t stop. You’d think by now I would be used to being addressed as “sir”, but every time it happens it still feels like a novelty.

When I realized he meant me I stopped. “Have you ever heard of the song Bohemian Rhapsody?” he asked. Have I ever heard of Bohemian Rhapsody? Did he just ask me if I have ever heard Bohemian Rhapsody? Don’t tell me he just asked if I have ever heard Bohemian Rhapsody. Geez louise. He might as well have asked me if I had ever heard of Abraham Lincoln. Despite my incredulous internal reaction I answered politely. “Yes, I have.” He must have expected this based upon the lightning fast delivery of his follow-up question. “It’s a famous song, right?”

Now we all know when a “right” is tacked on to the end like that it’s not really a question. It’s a plea for validation. His friends looked bored in that amateurish way only college kids can pull off, but it was also clear they were listening. When I agreed it was famous he turned to one of his buddies and shouted, “I told you it was famous!” Then back at me, “Everyone knows the song, right?” “Apparently not everyone,” I replied throwing a withering look at his buddy who, God bless his barely disenfranchised soul, was having none of it and immediately volleyed back with, “Maybe it’s famous, but it’s not relevant.”

I could tell my walk-on role was played out and this conversation was headed down a new track, a track where they would wade through the different shades of fame and relevance, so I veered off. But as I thought about this brief exchange over Kung Pow Chicken I was once again reminded how close the past really is.

As these things go Bohemian Rhapsody is old, especially if you’re 20. Hell, it was released in 1975, 36 years ago. It’s easy to understand how this song, despite its enduring radio life, could escape the radar of young people. Well 36 may be old for a song, but is it really that far in the past? I don’t think so. To put it in perspective the following things were just 36 years old when Bohemian Rhapsody first hit the airwaves.
- The film versions of The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind
- Hitler invading Poland
- The publication of Steinbeck’s seminal novel, The Grapes of Wrath

Much like Bohemian Rhapsody probably stinks of ancient history to today’s youth, Gone with the Wind and Germany’s invasion of Poland did the same for the youth of 1975. But to the people who were around when Freddie Mercury first scarmouched or Tom Joad first told Ma “I’ll be there”, 3½ decades seems like nothing more than a few blinks of the eye.