Friday, May 17, 2019

Watch Shopping in Japan's Pawn Shops

I don't want to draw overly broad lessons about buying watches at pawn shops in Japan, but I thought I would tell a short story about my recent buying experience at one Tokyo pawn shop.

There probably should be a tick mark to the right of the
date window, but there wasn't, indicating that this watch
lives in a Twilight Zone of uncertainty: It might be the
real deal, or it might not be. 
A short while ago, I purchased a 1970 Grand Seiko 6185-8020 VFA at a pawn shop in Shibuya. The shop sells high end watches, as well as designer handbags, and jewelry with fist-sized diamonds. The Grand Seiko I picked up is a beautiful watch, eye-candy for collectors, but as it turned out, the watch was flawed in several ways. It may have been water damaged, and in repairing the dial, the tick mark to the right of the date window had been erased. The crown was not the original crown, either.

I didn't notice those problems before buying the watch. In fact, I didn’t notice the flaws even after I got the watch home. But two Grand Seiko experts from the Grand Seiko Owner’s Club instantly spotted these two issues, kindly and gently alerting me to the fact that my watch wasn’t whole.

The watch came with a calibration certification from Grand Seiko that I thought also guaranteed it was the real deal. But I was wrong. The calibration paperwork was just like a test for blood sugar, revealing nothing more than it’s narrow mission.

I've posted a photo of the watch I bought. If you Google "Grand Seiko 6185-8020" you'll see what this VFA should look like.* The lack of an indice to the right of the date window, a (probable) staple of all 6185-8020’s, will immediately jump out at you once you know what you’re looking for.

As soon as my friends pointed out my Grand Seiko’s defects, I boarded the Toyoko Line, the express, back to Shibuya.

The pawn shop wasn't happy to see me again. They argued and said I should have noticed these problems from the photos on the website. The sales clerk consulted with an unseen manager in some hidden room behind closed doors. After the clerk returned with the word, “no” on her lips, I pointed out that the description had noted some problems with the watch, including a scratched crystal and scratches on the case, both of which were acceptable for a vintage watch. But the online description didn't say anything about the crown being replaced or the dial being changed. Eventually, the shop gave me a full refund. (The shop also has a four day return window, so ultimately whatever their argument, they had to take it back.)

Friday, May 10, 2019

Nothing Is Forever

a short story by Bill Adler

“Excuse me, sir, you’re going to have to remove your watch, put it on the tray, and go through again.”

“I’m sorry, what?” Ian said. He shifted his gaze to the red light above him. He hadn’t missed the buzzing — it was more than audible over the cacophony of random noises and voices — but he figured he must have left some coins in his pocket. Or possibly have forgotten to take out his keys. Or...the metal Amex card in my wallet! It had triggered a metal detector once before.

A World War I era J.W. Benson
“It’s my wallet. There’s a metal credit card inside. I’m sure it’s happened before with the new American Express cards. Whose brilliant idea was that, to make a metal credit card?”

“Your watch, sir,” the uniformed TSA agent repeated, pointing to Ian’s wrist. “You have to remove it. Your wallet, too, if it’s still in your pocket. Any and all metal goes into the tray.” She shot Ian a look of, “You should know that, idiot.”

“I can’t take my watch off. It’s valuable, rare, and of great sentimental value. It belonged to my grandfather, and I would feel terrible if anything happened to it.” Ian nodded, half hoping the TSA agent would nod back.

“Please remove your watch, put it on a tray, and proceed through the metal detector again, sir.” The TSA agent tapped her foot with foreboding, like a rattlesnake shaking its tail.

“I can’t,” Ian said. Ian had stepped back and to the side so he wasn’t holding up the security line. Except for Lucy, who stood behind him with her arms folded across her chest. She also was tapping her foot.

The TSA agent narrowed her eyes, as if she was about to discharge a deadly laser beam. Ian turned around and glanced at Lucy, quickly deciding he preferred the TSA agent’s angry face to his girlfriend’s. “Sir, I’ll ask you one more time. Please remove your wristwatch, put it in the tray, where it will be safe and secure, and proceed through the metal detector again.” The agent had stopped tapping her foot, as if ready to strike.

Ian shook his head for five seconds before his mouth joined in the answer. “No, sorry.”

“Then I’m sorry, sir. You can’t fly.” She beckoned with her arm, looking over Ian’s shoulder . “Next!”

“Okay,” Ian replied. “No problem.” He hoisted his backpack from the tray that had yet to be delivered by conveyor belt to the x-ray machine, pivoted around, and said to Lucy, “Let’s go, babe. We’re not traveling today.”

The hubbub of a hundred voices silenced when Lucy shouted, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Lucy stomped her foot, a thunder clap that echoed off the walls. “Just take off your watch, Ian, and let’s go to Greece.”

“I’m sorry.” Ian pressed his chin against his chest. His eyes were half closed and his arms hung limp at his side.

“You and your damn watch. You never take it off. Not for the shower. Not for when we go out to a fancy restaurant. Not when we have sex.” Lucy shouted the last sentence at an even higher volume.

The TSA agent stepped between Ian and Lucy, her roundness obscuring Ian and Lucy’s view of each other. “You two are going to have to leave now or I’m going to call the Airport Police.” She added in a hushed voice, “I’m in a good mood today because I won the instant lottery yesterday, which is the only reason I haven’t already called the police.” She flicked her hand. “Git. Scoot. Now.”

“We have to go, Lucy. I’m sorry.” Ian shuffled his feet. “I am really sorry.”

“You’re out of your mind. We’ll talk about this later.” Lucy pressed her lips together like she was sealing them with superglue, as if contradicting her just spoken words, determined never to speak with Ian again. Ian reached for her hand, but Lucy swatted his hand away, making a smaller, but still audible thunderclap.

“I’m sorry we’re not going to Greece. I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” With his backpack slung over his shoulder, Ian shuffled his feet along the floor.

Lucy wiped her eyes with the back of her palm. She rummaged through her bag, found a pack of tissues, and wiped her eyes some more. Wavy lines that looked like the beach after the tide had come in and out and a hundred times over the same spot covered her forehead. Her chest heaved as she breathed.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Watch Toss Competition

How good is your manual dexterity? Do you have the balance of a mountain goat, the eyes of an owl, and the speed of a jaguar?

Most importantly, do you have the nerve to participate in the First Annual Watch Toss? Or are you going to keep your watch safe and secure under your sleeve?

The rules are simple. Whoever tosses their watch highest and catches it wins.

There are three Watch Toss competition categories: $1,000 and under watches, $10,000 and under watches and over $10,000 watches.

So, do you feel lucky?

Friday, April 26, 2019

Watch Adoptions

Imagine if watches could be adopted like cats and dogs. We did, and this adoption rejection letter was the result. 

Dear Mr. Lear,

Frankly, we're not even sure why you applied. In the forty-nine-year history of the agency, we've never seen anybody as unqualified, undeserving, or unfit to adopt a wristwatch.

A Habring2
Watch Lives Watch Adoptions only places watches in homes where they’ll be cared for with infinite love, where watches are greeted with smiles each and every day, and where watches are treated with the admiration and reverence they deserve. Your home isn’t fit for an hourglass.

Our investigators found that your previous Breitling lived in a watch winder. You probably know that keeping a watch in a winder 24/7 wears your watch out faster because the gears are in constant motion — and that's unacceptable. It’s watch abuse, pure and simple.

We’re also aware that you never put a previously owned Omega in a watch winder, a watch that you rarely wore. Don't you know that a watch that’s stationary for months at a time causes the lubricants to congeal?

If it appears we're contradicting ourselves when it comes to your watches and winders, we don't care. We can deny your watch adoption for any reason. Frankly, we just don’t like you.

You wore your Alain Silberstein with a short sleeve shirt in June, exposing the dial to the harmful rays of the sun. Watches sunburn, too, you know, especially ones with colorful dials like Alain Silberstein’s. Heaven forbid you bleach an H. Moser Vantablack.

We know from social media posts that when you bought your Rolex Daytona, you had your suit jacket sleeve shortened so you could show off the watch. That’s bad taste.

You change the date between 10 and 2. We saw you. (We have eyes everywhere. Ever heard of drones?)

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Good Crop

a short story by Bill Adler

“Whatcha plantin’, Joe?”

Bob Haskins surveyed his neighbor’s field as he moved the wheat stalk in his mouth two teeth to the left. The afternoon sun seared his already burned neck. He wanted to get inside for air conditioning and ice tea, but figured it was polite to start the conversation outdoors because Joe had walked from his house to the driveway to greet Bob.

The furrowed ground gave evidence of recently planted seedlings. Raised brown rows with a narrow gully in between extended from one end of Joe Davenport’s property to the other. It was too early to tell what Joe had planted. All just-furrowed fields look the same to Bob.

“How about we talk about crops and life and such inside where the air conditioning and ice tea are nice and cool, and the blueberry pie is just the right temperature?”

That was music to Bob’s ears. He patted his ample belly. The blueberry pie was an unexpected plus.

Above the fireplace there was a wooden sign that with a quotation about farming printed in a sepia-stained, cursive font: “Some of us grew up playing with tractors; the lucky ones still do.” The sofa, dining room table, lounge chair, table lamp, wall clock, and fireplace tools were all in well-kept condition, but were mismatched, as if it had been acquired over a century.

Joe motioned Bob to the sofa. The ice cubes in the glass clinked against its sides as Joe handed the tea to Bob. Bob sighed as he wrapped his sweaty hand around the frosty glass.

“Not too sweet, I hope.”

Bob emptied nearly the entire drink in one gulp. “Perfect.” Bob smiled. “Another?”

Joe slid his chair close to the coffee table on the opposite side of the couch, causing Bob to grimace as the legs squeaked against the hardwood floor. He smiled a toothy smile and said, “This year, Grand Seikos.”

“Say what?”

“I’m planting Grand Seikos.”

Bob slapped his thigh so hard it sounded like thunder filled the room. “No way. Why ya doing that?” He held the ice tea glass against his forehead for about a half minute, drank the second glass in one gulp, and continued. “Do ya need to have sense kicked into you, Joe? Cause I’m willing to as a friend.” Bob raised his leg and aimed his size 11 shoe at Joe.

“Do you want to know why?”

Friday, April 12, 2019

Love Letters

a story by Bill Adler

Dear Becky,

I'll never know if you get this letter. I've handwritten three copies and given them to lawyers who I think work for long-lived firms. But I can't say for sure. How could I? What does a veterinarian know about law firms?

At least being a veterinarian means I have a job, which translates to a home, food — a fairly comfortable life, all things considered.

I miss you. I miss our world, too, but I miss you more than anything.

I know you've been wondering where I've been, why I suddenly didn't come home, and I'll tell you in a moment. But first I need to explain how I got here because where I am only makes sense when you know the how part.

Grand Seiko photo by Samuel Chan
Remember the last time we made love? It was a weekday. The chills you sent through me linger delightfully in my mind and body. We stayed up late, way too late for a school night, and the next morning we were basket cases, though basket cases with broad, just-fucked smiles. When I ran out the door to the clinic, I was in such a fog that I didn't wind my watch.

While walking — more like dashing — from the station to the clinic I glanced at my watch, noticing that the time was off by a few hours. When I looked back up, I saw the strangest thing. I don't know how else to describe it other than I had a vision of old New York City complete with gas lamps, men on horseback, an elevated train engine puffing black smoke, and no skyscrapers. Policemen wearing double-breasted, gray uniforms, and helmets stood on the corner nearest to me. I thought I lost my balance on a broken cobblestone. I caulked up my hallucination to the mind-bending sex clouding my mind —  as well as sleep deprivation. I now know I also had alcohol left in me from the wine we shared at 2 a.m. That’s important. I’ll explain about that, too.

I didn't mention my sleep-deprived mirages at the time, because these images vanished during my quick-walk from the station to the clinic. Forgive me for not telling you. Perhaps if I had, you would have put two and two together. Especially because it happened again.

Nobody wants to reveal their hallucinations. Dreams, yes, can be fun to share and talk about. But when there’s possibly something askew with the basic wiring of our brain, we close a tight fist around that possibility. At least until we're sure. I didn't want to worry you. When I was leaving the clinic a few days later I saw them: The same policemen dressed in uniforms right out of a movie theater wardrobe. Women wrapped in ankle-length, black dresses, pushing strollers made of metal with babies lying inside what looked like canvas shopping baskets. A man wearing jeans, a white shirt and gray vest was selling clams from a wooden cart on the adjacent corner. I saw a streetcar on rails being pulled by two brown and two white horses. I would have sounded loony had I told you about my visions.

Friday, April 5, 2019

I Don’t Want to Know What Time It Is

a short story by Bill Adler

It’s easy to decide what restaurant to go to or what book to read because if you make a mistake and the restaurant turns out to serve foods flavored with yesterday’s dinner or the book is as exciting as your seventh grade algebra textbook, you can easily fix that mistake. Just make yourself a BLT when you get home or start a book in which Philip Marlowe or Hermione Granger pops out of the pages.

Even a poor career choice—like being a lawyer when an astronaut’s life is your true calling—can be changed.

Most bad decisions are easily corrected.

Choosing a birthday present for a nine-year-old girl is not one of those.

Pre-teen is a difficult parenting era—though perhaps every kid’s age has its own special complexities and complications—and I wanted to get Leila something special. Something that would make her happy and be more meaningful than shoes, a gift card, or a bracelet. Something that wouldn’t vanish into a drawer the next day. I decided to give Leila my father’s watch.

Vintage Helbros
As with most kids her age, Leila had a cell phone, with an always accurate clock, so she didn’t need a watch. Like a loyal puppy, her phone was never far, the time of day readily summoned with a tap, usurping a watch’s one and only true function. And yet the divide between need and want is a fuzzy one, like our Boston weather, always changing, often surprising, and sometimes actually good. When I asked Leila what she wanted for her birthday this year, she shrugged and then shrugged again, which meant there was a chance—though a small one—that serendipity and surprise would be the magical ingredients that made the watch a keeper.

When I mentioned to her mom the idea of giving Leila my father’s watch, Julia nodded. “I like that idea,” she said.

That was positive insight. It also meant that Julia didn’t have a clue, either.“You think Leila will like wearing a watch?”

“I don’t know about that.”

Not as good as the first answer. “Thanks for the ambiguity.”

“If she doesn’t like it now,” Julia said, “she’ll look back on this birthday years from now and remember how special this gift was. She’ll love it and love you even more.”

I liked that sentiment. My father’s watch would be Leila’s birthday present. I wished myself luck.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Into the Mercury

a short story by Bill Adler

Part 1 of Into the Mercury was originally published as a stand alone story under the title, Learning to Fly. Here is the complete saga of Oceans flight 211, which took its passengers to a place where hope is in short supply, but nightmares are plentiful. Can a Grand Seiko save them?

Part 1, Invitation

Vincent exhaled, this time more purposefully, even though he knew it was as futile an effort as flapping his arms to fly. That's comical. Or maybe it's irony? Whatever. I'd give an arm if I could flap my arms and fly right now.  Now that’s irony. Vincent didn’t smile at his own feeble humor. He exhaled again, wind escaping from his lips like banshees who've been trapped inside a cave for centuries. It was no good. Expelling balloons of air wasn't making him smaller. In fact, Vincent was certain the moisture from his breath was combining with the sweat oozing from the pores of the sumo wannabees on either side of him, forming a viscous glue that would keep him trapped in his seat long after the plane had landed. From his seatmates’ pores sulfurous vapors rose, sending him to the edge of nausea.

I am the eater of worlds flashed through Vincent’s head, a movie marquee with an ominous message.

Photo by Jason Chien
Vincent looked at his left and right armrests. To his left was a snake-like creature, layers of flesh piled on flesh, a boa constrictor that hadn't ever shed its oily skin, a gelatinous slime coating that skin. It’s not his fault, Vincent tried to convince himself. He’s got no place for his arm. Though what I’d give for a saw right now.

Vincent bobbed forward and craned his neck toward the aisle, hoping to see what kind of watch the guy had on his left wrist. But trying to see  the guy’s wrist was like trying to spot what’s behind Mt. Fuji when you’re standing directly in front of the mountain. A sharp snap in Vincent’s neck sent lightning bolts of pain through his neck and shoulders. I think I pulled a muscle, maybe all of them. That was a stupid thing to try.

Vincent pressed his fingertips into the back of his neck, willing their dance to undo the pain. He’d arrange for a massage at the hotel first thing. Make that the second thing. Overpriced ibuprofen from an airport store was going to be the first order of business after landing.

The arm slithered closer, the fatty flesh undulating at different speeds toward Vincent. Vincent blew out another bubble of precious oxygen, but no matter how much he tried to shrink he couldn’t stop the slithering arm from touching his body. The more the arm pressed against Vincent, the thicker the pus that leaked out of the marble-sized pores became. Vincent thought that the layers of flesh and fat were on the verge of separating, each becoming a distinct creature determined to asphyxiate him. Guy couldn’t wear a long sleeve shirt? We’re going to Chicago — who wears a short sleeve shirt to Chicago in November? What’s the matter with him?

Vincent glanced to his right. “A long sleeve shirt is only marginally better,” he muttered, as the tentacle to his right undulated against his hip. “Keep that thing away from my privates,” Vincent prayed. Long sleeve, short sleeve, it didn’t make a difference, Vincent realized. The guy’s shirt and sleeve were soaked in briney sweat, and now Vincent’s pants and shirt were looking like they’d been dipped into the Dead Sea.

Friday, March 22, 2019

You'd Better Watch Out

a short story by Bill Adler

"I’m sorry. We tried everything we could. We used all our skills, training and knowledge, but in the end we couldn't save..."

His somber voice trailed off. Daniel tried to look him in the eye, but didn't have the energy to raise his head higher than the man’s chin. It didn't matter, though, because Daniel's thick, salty tears clouded his entire world.

Photo by James Marien
"Did you..."

"Yes,” he said, as he removed the loupe from his eye, letting it dangle from his neck by the metal ribbon. "We tried an ETA transplant, but your Grand Seiko rejected it almost as soon as we inserted the movement."

"It's a Spring Drive, so—"

"That was one of the problems. We didn't have any Spring Drives available for transplant. Perhaps if we did, things would have turned out differently, though it’s impossible to say given the risky nature of a movement transplant. Even when the parts are perfect, the success rate still hovers at around 20 percent. You should know that as soon as the ETA failed, we tried a Caliber 3285, but it was also eventually rejected. Your Grand Seiko ticked for almost ninety seconds with the Caliber 3285 inside. Be happy that life was restored, if only for a minute and a half.

“There are a million reasons movement transplants fail. Sometimes the beat rate isn’t compatible, sometimes the watch reacts to the alloy used in the transplanted mainspring, sometimes the patient is rusted or brittle, or sometimes the escapement resonates wrong inside the patient. Often we just don’t know why; the souls of the transplant and the transplantee just aren’t compatible.”

The watchmaker paused, waiting for Daniel to reply.

Daniel scratched his chin and surveyed his shoes.

"Caliber 3285. Rolex's next generation GMT Master II movement. You know it?

“Yeah, of course.” Daniel shuffled his feet.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Life in Two Minutes

a short story by Bill Adler


Quinn was daydreaming when the girl appeared from out of nowhere. She stood in front of the late afternoon sun, which surrounded her with an expansive, red halo.

Quinn looked to his left and right. The path through the park he took from his office to the subway station was usually empty, as it was this afternoon. Except for the girl.

Quinn squinted, then blinked a few times to dislodge the blinding beams from his eyes. Quinn’s brain’s cells shifted position in an attempt to reorganize themselves into coherence. Something in her smile looked familiar. But why would a seventeen-year-old girl smile at a random forty-seven-year-old man? Quinn looked down, in part to refresh his eyes, but also to remind himself that his forty-seven-year-old belly was decades past anything this young girl could have an interest in. Quinn noted that his waistline eclipsed his shoes.

I must have dropped my wallet and she's returning it.

The Grand Seiko 3180, where the magic began.
Still, a smile, whether genuine or not, was always a welcome sight, especially when worn by such a beautiful creature. Her flowing, chestnut hair floated over her shoulders with the grace and nonchalance of youth. Her eyes, wide with delight, beamed as she smiled even more broadly at Quinn.

“Hello, Quinn.”

Quinn stopped breathing. He wondered if his heart stopped beating, too. He peered into her eyes.

“You do remember me,” she said.

Quinn’s jaw loosened, his leg muscles on the cusp of dissolving. The color of Quinn’s face turned ashen, before burning like a crimson sun.


The girl stepped toward Quinn, and wrapped his hand between hers, her warmth igniting a spark that touched every neuron in Quinn’s brain.

“Janet?” It wasn’t a question, even though Quinn’s inflection made it sound that way. “Janet Oachs.” Quinn’s head swiveled like a weather vane. “No, no, no. You must be Janet’s daughter or something.” Quinn’s brow grew furrows. “But you look exactly like her.” Even as he spoke them, Quinn knew his words were mistaken.

“It’s me. Janet Oachs, here in the flesh.”

“I don’t understand —” Quinn didn’t know how to complete this sentence.