Thursday, December 3, 2009


"The heart has its reasons that Reason does not know." (Pascal)

In the hollow of my hand lies a watch. It's not a wrist watch, a pendant watch, nor exactly a pocket watch. And I'll be jiggered if I know why I have it.

This watch is a serious but cheerful blue color, and about the size of a silver dollar. It boasts a red sweep second hand (sometimes useful); small numbers around the face that indicate 15, 30, or 45 seconds or minutes forever fled, data I can't imagine not knowing without being told; and another set of small numbers indicating that 2 o'clock has an alias (14), but for design reasons, I assume, the watch omits the aliases for 13, 23, and 24.

In the dark, the hands give off a glow. I'm of the generation made nervous by such moonshines. For many years, radium paint was used on watches and clocks, as well as on aircraft instruments, until its use was banned in the 1960's. The paint was poisonous; countless young women, working on assembly lines, died quite horrible deaths from radiation poisoning. (See the book RADIUM GIRLS, or, if you're lucky enough, an excellent play of the same name.)

What sets this watch apart, however, is not the variety of information it offers. Built into the design is a carabiner. (I thought that was the word, but looking it up, I found "a cavalry soldier armed with a carbine." Oh, come now. During the subsequent search, I was distracted by a ream of lovely words in the neighborhood: carambola, cartouche, carragheen, and one of my favorites, caryatid--
a sculpted column in the shape of a woman, with the entire pediment supported by her head. Turns out that the word for soldier was a "carabinier." Extra e.) So, carabiner: "an oblong metal ring with one spring-hinged side that is used esp. in mountain climbing as a connector. . . ."

Thus you could hook this small, sturdy watch to a loop of your belt--if you wore a belt. Or you could clip it to your backpack to see how late to class you were--if you toted a backpack. Or went to class. I have tried hard to figure out a way to clip this watch to something of mine, but my only thought would be a bra strap--if I wore. . . .well, let's move on.

The watch is sold under the aegis of the National Geographic Society, making it semi-official and semi-patriotic, I would say. Its movement is of Japan quartz though. But it's manufactured by the Dakota Watch Company, and has the side view of a bison or buffalo on the back. The buffalo is related to the model on the five-cent piece, so I think we can just call it flat-out "patriotic," with no apologies. It claims to be water resistant to "100 feet." Down or out, it doesn't say. If you press a small knob on its edge, a red light goes on, a small but useful flashlight, I guess. Don't know why it's red, but I'm sure there's a reason. Perhaps in order not to startle the fish, 90 feet down there, so far from tail-lights and stop-lights and all.

The thing is that I love this watch. I long coveted it as I paged through the National Geographic catalog, shopping for creative toys for the small adventurers on my list. It just seemed so, je ne sais quoi--perfect, complete. That's not really a logical reason. But at last I ordered it, scolding myself all the while. And it came, and it was exactly right. Its weight in the palm of my hand confirmed that it belonged there.

My cell phone gives the time; so does the computer; the car dashboard tells the time; there are clocks all over the house, and as an added pleasure, St. Monica's up the road tolls the hour with ancient assurance in its fine bass voice.

Why do I love thee, carabiner watch? Eh bien, ask M. Pascal.

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