Christmastime 2013

It is not that Herman really wants or needs a timepiece of any kind. It's not like he's got professional obligations or social commitments or scientific calculations or any of those any of those any of those . . .. Any of those what? Any of those Best-Dressed Thumbsucker of 2013 Heading toward 2014 and Beyond ads in GQ, Fortune, or The New Yorker Magazine. There are lots of ways to gauge approximate time, and approximate time is more than good enough. Who needs a watch?

But maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have one of those elegant blue and silver Skagen timepieces, just because. Just because it would complement the turquoise and silver product of Navajo craftsmanship decorating the third finger of his left hand since, . . . well, for decades. There's nothing showy about that, and he's never tired of discovering it there at odd moments. Simple. Tasteful. Timeless. A Skagen watch might be just the thing. Maybe it's time.

He laughs quietly to himself, a simple, timeless, tasteful laugh as befits the unadorned quietude of his little joke to himself. Maybe it's time. Hardly original, he's sure, and certainly not a knee-slapper. But just what the non-occasion calls for. Not an Omega, a Rolex, or a Patek Philippe, though they are handsome indeed. But so is a Skagen, in its own quiet, unselfproclamatory way. Unselfprolamatory? Is that even a word? It is now, he smiles quietly to himself. She's been asking what she should get him for Christmas. Now he knows. She can buy him time.

"A Skagen," he says. "I'd like a Skagen watch."

"A Skagen?" she asks. "Herman, are you sure you're saying that right? Does it have an umlaut?"

"Skagen, Skigen, Skugun, Shogun," he says. "It's a watch made in Denmark, it doesn't cost much, and I'd like one for Christmas."

"Are you sure? I mean, is that really what you want? You've never worn a watch."

"I wore one in seventh grade. It had greenish hands and numbers you could see in the dark."

"But what I mean is, are you sure? Would you actually wear it?"

"Of course I'd wear it. Why else would I want it?"

"Well, you know you."

"I do know me, and I know I want a Skagen watch to always tell me the time of day and remind me of the one I love."

"Oh, you."

"See what I mean?"

The Christmas season is already well underway when the pursuit of the Skagen heats up. It seems that the only issue is where to get it. Online? At Macy's? Or Longs? "Actually, I think I saw one at Ross's that time we were buying towels. And I think it was only, like, thirty bucks."

"Her-man! Are you sure you want a Christmas present from Ross's? I mean, how do you know it's even a real Skagen?"

"It looked good enough to me. I'd wear a knockoff if it looks good and keeps time."

"I'll go online."

She goes online, and he goes back to signing Christmas cards. It's a nice tradition, he thinks, one he keeps alive with favored family and friends. Her and her damned iPad. What did people do before iPads?

"They have more than one model," she announces.

"I don't want more than one," he says. "Blue-faced, brushed aluminum mesh band."

"I'll leave this page open," she says, handing him the iPad. "You choose while I go to Whole Foods."

"I chose."

"Just be sure."

"I'm sure," he says, closing the site. He's already sent for her gift the old-fashioned way, via U.S. Postal Service. Works for me, he thinks. Always has, always will. He hopes it arrives on time. Again he has to laugh quietly to himself. On time indeed.

Time passes.

"Herman, it's time I sent in my order. Christmas is almost here."

"Same answer."

"Blue face, silver mesh band? Sure?"

Affirmative, of course, but just before she decides which site and clicks send, she decides to find out what Skagen owners say about their timepiece. She finds that they love its simple elegance, its understated good taste. But they hate that its crystal has a habit of shattering from very low impact, or even no impact at all.

"Her-man," she says, "Skagen watches aren't made in Denmark. They were designed by two Danish businessmen who sold it for a big profit to some conglomerate who has it made in China. Its crystal always breaks and costs as much as the watch is worth to replace. That's why they sell it cheaply at Ross's. Do you still want it?"


"Then we're back at square one. I don't have time to look for anything else."

Time? What's time to a pig, he thinks, remembering the punch line of an old joke. Oops, she wants an answer. "Well how about a Timex?" he says. "Simple. Practical. Reliable." Also cheap, he thinks. The truth is, he had his heart set on the Skagen, as much as his heart set on anything these days. Turns out there is no Skagen. Oh well.

"Timex?" she says. "Would you wear a Timex?"

"I'd wear a Hello Kitty if it kept good time."

"Is it OK if we wait until after Christmas? It's so late now, and I want to get something you'd really wear."

Of course it's OK, more time passes, and they find themselves taking a time-saving shortcut through Macy's on their way to Whole Foods.

"Hey look, watches are 50% off. Here's some nice Timexes." The Timex watches are on a display stand outside the glass case protecting the Seikos and Citizens.

"Are you really sure you want a Timex? They've got Seikos. Didn't you have a Seiko once?"

"That was a pocket watch." Simple and elegant, to be sure, it was such a nuisance to get at that he ended up leaving it . . . somewhere.

"They make very handsome wristwatches. Look at these over here."

"Too handsome for me," he says, observing that they run a couple hundred dollars more for the Seiko he wouldn't wear than for any of the Timexes he wouldn't wear. Damn it, he doesn't even want a watch, he wants the idea of a watch. He wants a Skagen. Time passes. Time passes.

"Herman?" she interrupts. "Which one do you want?"

"This one," he says, picking out one of the few with a leather band and handing it to her. "This looks like a watch should look."

She wanted to get him something nice, and he won't let her. Now it's up to him to enthuse, to effuse. To set things right. "Wow!" he says. "This takes me back a few years. Should I wear it with the buckle on top of my wrist? Easier to read that way. More private."

She pays for the gift with a dutiful lack of enthusiasm.

"Really cool!" he says. "Do you mind if I don't go to Whole Foods? I want to play with my new toy."

"What-ever, Herman."

When he gets back to the car, he takes careful note of the leather band, remembering why he stopped wearing his watch way back in the seventh grade. The buckle. It was a time-consuming pain in the ass to put on and take off, so you either had to leave it on all the time or not wear it at any time. Time was not important enough in those times, so he'd given up wearing a watch for all time. Until now. Well, might as well set the time, this time. The dashboard clock should be close enough.

But when he pinches the little fake winding stem to set his little battery-powered jewel, it comes off in his fumbling fingers, which quickly drop the silvery knob onto the floor, where it bounces somewhere, maybe under the seat, which he can only access by opening the door, getting outside on his knees, and laying his head on the mat.

"Her-man! What are you doing?" she says, juggling the Whole Foods bag into her left hand.

"Just look at this," he says, producing the silver knob. "Came off when I tried to set it."

"What? I thought Timexes were at least realiable. We're going right back to that store."

At Macy's, the blondish, middle-aged clerk is sympathetic and accommodating. "You know what it's like at Christmas," she says. "Everything out in the open. Things get broken. You can't keep an eye on everybody."

They don't have any more watches in that model, but he can look things over and see if there's anything else he might like. In the meantime she'll call other Macy's stores and see if they have that model and she'll get it to him in no time. Of course they also have other brands, Citizen, Seiko. He can take his time looking.

So he takes his time, his whole God-damned time, the broken Timex he got for Christmas, and throws it as hard as he can onto the hard marble Macy's floor, where the gears and springs of time passing do not scatter because there are none to scatter, and strides purposefully toward and through the nearest side exit, where he really hopes no one is watching. Christmas is not the time anyone wants to see an old man cry.

"Her-man," she cries out, her short, mincing steps carrying her quickly up behind him. "Herman, you shouldn't let yourself get so mad! It's just a watch."

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