Friday, March 27, 2020

The Meaning of Cat

From time to time, A Better Wrist features conversations about watches with my cat, Kinmo. The conversations don't always go as hoped.


Kinmo: Am I allowed to eat the Reese's?

Bill: No.

Kinmo: Am I allowed to use the Grand Seiko as a scratch pad?

Bill: No.

Kinmo: What's the purpose of my existence?

Bill: How about some tuna sashimi?

Kinmo: Now you're talking.


Friday, March 20, 2020

The Making of a Zombie Movie

a short story by Bill Adler

“Rats?” Anne raised her black baseball cap so she could look Sebastian in the eye. She leaned forward in the canvas chair, resting her palms on her legs. “There’s nothing in the screenplay about rats.” She surveyed the set. While scouting for locations, she had found the perfect spot for a zombie movie — the concrete yard of a seventy-year-old school in Albany that was as filled with rot and decay as the theme of their movie.

“I say we need rats,” Sebastian said. “I know it’s not in the script, but the schoolyard looks sparse. It’s bigger than I thought. We need to fill out the space, and rats are just what the doctor ordered.”

“Or what the director ordered.”

Photo by Dale Cruse. Licensed under Creative Commons
“Yeah, that’s me.” He savored a long look at his Rolex Pepsi, his pupils widening as he let his eyes drift out of focus, the bezel’s colors melting into each other in a way that reminded him of marshmallows melting onto graham crackers at summer camp. It was a comforting sensation. The Rolex was an extravagance that had cost him $20,000 he didn’t have. He was paying it off in installments, just as he was paying off his ex-wife in monthly alimony. Sebastian’s Rolex was an artistic masterpiece of red and blue on black, an engineering marvel, too. It was his gift to himself for enduring nearly ten years of marriage to Mrs. Director, bought the day his divorce was final.

His director’s salary wasn’t going to cut it, but the bonus for completing the movie on time and the potential of a percentage of the profits might pay off his watch and then some. He hoped. You never knew with zombie films. Some days he thought Zombie Revenge would become the next World War Z. Other days he thought that there was as much chance of this movie becoming a moneymaker as there was of a Hyundai spontaneously transforming itself into a BMW. God doesn't play dice with zombie films. He had no idea what that meant, but in some way it made sense.

Completing Zombie Revenge as quickly as possible was of paramount importance, but filming it with a paltry $400,000 budget was as difficult as rowing across the Atlantic.

“You want to shoot the scene—” Anne paused, thought, and continued “— in a few hours, right? So there’s no time to order plastic rats from Amazon.”

Sebastian shook his head. “No, no, no, no, no, my fair lady.” He slipped off his Yankees baseball cap and ran his fingers through his thick, red hair. “No plastic rats. Audiences can spot a plastic rat in a horror movie a mile away.”

“So what are you saying, like CG”

“No. Real rats.”

Anne grimaced. “Yeah, I don’t think so,” she said.

Sebastian clasped his hands together. “Look, Anne, we need all the help we can get with Zombie Revenge. Every dollop of realism we add sharpens our chances of making a splash. We’re all in this for the percentage, so let’s do this, okay?” He ran his finger over his Rolex’s bezel.

Realism is why he’d hired two amputees as extras. Realism is why he’d hired actors with limps — pre-injured. Realism is why he had hired actors with few, if no, previous movie roles — they’d be fresh and react naturally to the terrifying scenes. Plus, these types of extras and actors were also less expensive than regular ones.

“How am I going to get real rats by this afternoon?” Anne hoped there was no answer to that question.

“Give me a moment.” Sebastian rubbed his hands together and tilted his head up. He leaned back perilously in his chair, balancing on two legs. “Okay. You’re going to make a mash and attract them.”

“A mash?”

“Yes. Isn’t there a butcher shop a block away? I remember seeing it. And a pet shop around the corner? I recall that, too.”

Anne shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. I guess.”

“Pork bellies, sheep intestine, mice — yes, you’re going to have to slaughter the mice — some lizards, maybe a big spider or two, a Snickers if you want. Get it all. Lots of protein. Put it in a pail, mash it, mix it, stir it, and then spill it over there.” Sebastian pointed to the far corner of the yard, where the next scene was to be filmed. “If there’s enough protein, sugar, and especially stink, the rats will come out of hiding promptly.”

Anne shook her head even more vigorously than before. “This is not in my job description. This is not what an assistant director does.”

“An assistant director does whatever the director tells her and she does it fast, without complaint, and with a smile on her face.” Sebastian offered Anne his smile as an example. “Or an assistant director finds herself teaching acting to spoiled high school students at summer school instead of working on a movie.”

“Yeah, okay. Got it.”

“Well?” Sebastian cocked his head forward. “Get going.” He shooed Anne. “Git!”

Friday, March 13, 2020

Wake Up, Your Watch Is Here

I'm not fully responsible for my mistake.

We had an apartment building meeting today — Sunday morning at the crack of 10 a.m. — which meant rise and shine hours before noon, the time at which rationality and wakefulness coincide.

After wearing out the snooze button, I kicked the blanket aside, showered, picked up the t-shirt closest to the shower door, put it on, gathered the rest of my wardrobe from the hamper's top layer, and ran for the door to get to the meeting before somebody nicknamed me “the late guy.”

Maybe it was because I was exhausted from hitting the snooze button so many times or because the sorcerer’s muck called sleep still crusted my eyes, but it wasn't until I had one untied shoe out the door that I realized I had forgotten coffee and my watch.

I didn't have time to brew coffee and set a watch, so I chose the watch. And then it hit me: A hi-beat. That's what I need. A Grand Seiko hi-beat promises to send your body and mind into accelerated motion, the way a tuning fork vibrates guitar strings, transferring its magical energy into every cell in your body. Pleased with my genius revelation, I dashed into the hallway, nearly tripping over my other untied shoe, and sent a secret message to the elevator, "hurry!," by Morse coding the elevator button.

But you know what? I looked like one of those bobbing head dolls for the next hour and a half. Apparently, I was wrong. Hi-beat doesn't affect the body of the person wearing the watch.

So here I am now, having my morning coffee at 3 o'clock on a November afternoon, my inner mainspring slowly, but finally, winding, the world coming into focus. Maybe next time I should wear a Spring Drive because that will make me spring?

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Seiko Moonphase

Leaves of poplars pick Japanese prints against the west.
Moon sand on the canal doubles the changing pictures.
The moon’s good-by ends pictures.
The west is empty. All else is empty. No moon-talk at all now.
Only dark listening to dark.

"Moonset" by Carl Sandburg


I've only had my Seiko Spring Drive moonphase for a little over 24 hours, but I'll tell you this. If I wasn't wearing the SNR017 tonight, I might not be writing this article.

You need a moonphase. And while you could buy another watch company's moonphase, would you really want to rely on something other than a Spring Drive?

Earlier this evening I was abducted by aliens (again). It was only for an hour, and I can't say for sure what experiments they conducted on me during that time though I have my suspicions, but thanks to my Spring Drive moonphase watch I was able to tell that I was returned to the real Earth and not some trickery planet. After the lights of their transporter stopped twinkling, I found myself in a park, on soft, green grass that smelled like it had been recently mowed. But was it home? I compared the moon on my Seiko SNR 017 to the phase of the moon in the sky. They agreed and I knew I was back on our planet Earth. Phew! While the aliens are far more advanced than us, they can't outwit a Spring Drive.

Most readers of this website will be familiar with how a Spring Drive works, but in short a Spring Drive is a watch movement that’s powered by a mainspring like an ordinary mechanical watch. Instead of the familiar escapement, Seiko uses fancy wizardry in its place: A tiny thinking machine, an integrated circuit, compares the movement of the glide wheel to a highly accurate quartz crystal eight times a second. If the second hand is moving too fast, the watch deploys electro-mechanical braking to slow it down. Spring Drives are accurate to a second a day. A Spring Drive is not a quartz watch; there is no battery or capacitor. You have to wind it (or let the rotor power the mainspring), just as with any other mechanical watch. Seiko calls its magic a “tri-synchro regulator.” Think of the quartz crystal oscillator in a Spring Drive as a reference you’d set an ordinary watch to, such as your phone, an atomic clock on the internet, a GPS watch, or some other precise time device. If it sounds like Spring Drive is a technology that was invented in the future, it probably was.

I searched for a Seiko moonphase for a long time and when this one arrived yesterday from a seller in Greece I did a combination of somersaults and handsprings. (From Japan to Greece and back to Japan this watch traveled.) Manufactured in 2008, the SNR017 deploys a 5R67A movement, and as with all Spring Drives, the second hand’s fluid journey across the dial is a delight for the eyes.

The SNR017 is a gorgeous watch. Like the moon, this watch's beauty is immortal.


Friday, February 28, 2020

A Cat and a Moonphase


From time to time, A Better Wrist features conversations about watches with my cat, Kinmo. The conversations don't always go as hoped.



Kinmo: I like your moonphase watch.

Bill: Thank you.

Kinmo: You know what a moonphase tells you?

Bill: The phase of the moon.

Kinmo: No. When the moon is out, you're supposed to feed me my favorite snack.

Bill: What about during a new moon?

Kinmo: I don't appreciate trick questions.


Friday, February 21, 2020

The President's Watch

a short story by Bill Adler

"Are you sure you want to do this now, sir?"

POTUS' eyes drifted in and out of focus amid the pulsating lights, his silence all the more awkward because his was the only voice not heard.

"Sir?" Dennis pushed up his glasses, clicked his pen closed and rested it on the yellow pad. He hoped the answer would be no, because maybe there was still enough time to drive home to Bethesda and see his family. "Sir?"

The president continued to stare at the map wall as if he were in the embrace of a great movie, standing still in time as the world on the screen carried on. Only when one of the multi-starred generals directly addressed him from a distance of less than a foot did the president reanimate. "Like a sleeping dog responding to a familiar voice," Dennis thought.

"Mr. President, the first missiles launched from our subs will reach their Russian targets in six minutes." The president flicked his wrist, waving the general away.

At the mention of six minutes, instinct compelled Dennis to glance at his watch. "This is how and when the world ends," he thought.

"Russian missiles will hit Washington, DC, in eight minutes," another square-jawed general reported. The president waved him away, too, and the general flew as if the president's hand had generated a gale-force wind.

The national security advisor, who was seated next to POTUS, added, “You mean ‘obliterate,’ not ‘hit.’”

The president turned to Dennis. "I want to do this now, Dan. I want to finish my memoir today."

Dennis decided not to correct the president about his name. He also decided not to tell the president that a memoir couldn't be written in a day, let alone the eight minutes they had left.

The president picked up Dennis' Mont Blanc, clicked it back open, and handed the pen to his ghostwriter. "You write down what I say. I've got great ideas and a great career, but I want you to translate what I say into book. Book is a specialized language, like being a rock scientist, which is why I have you, Dan.” He nodded. "Where should we begin?"

Dennis pursed his lips. This was no time to be indecisive. In short order, he'd discover if the bunker 100 feet beneath the White House could withstand a hydrogen bomb. "Let's start with today, sir. Tell me about your decision to go to war."

The president rested his palms on the teak table and leaned forward, as if he were moving into a yoga position.

"When Vladimir insulted my Rolex, he insulted all of America." The president nodded and thrust his arm forward so Dennis could see his watch, a gold Rolex Yacht Master, pop out from under his sleeve. "We used to be friends, so I called him ‘Vladimir.’ But maybe I should call him 'asshole' now. Nobody gets away with insulting an American institution like Rolex."

The president clenched his fist, his knuckles turning red. "He had the nerve to wave his inferior Russian watch, an Omega, on the vid screen when we were chatting last week. Insulting me to my face." The president slammed his fist on the table. The room's hum snapped to a hush as all heads pivoted to the president. "Get back to work," the president commanded. He raised his fist into the air. "Viva Rolex! Viva America! Viva victory!"

The President's Watch is the prequel to War Time: https://www.abetterwrist.com/2019/01/war-time.html. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Rules of Love

a short story by Bill Adler

“I shouldn’t even be talking to you.” Noelle let Oliver’s hand slip from hers. She stepped back to enjoy a full view of him.  He was gorgeous, the likeness of somebody painted on the cover of a romance novel. Thick chest muscles bulging through his half-unbuttoned white shirt, flowing blond hair, wide, joyful eyes. On better days, Noelle saw the two of them painted onto the same book cover.

She was no wallflower herself, but she felt like a B-leaguer in his presence.

Oliver’s heart was as picture-perfect as his body, which made her words especially hard to say. “Our parents would never approve. Nobody will approve.”

They stood on the old stone bridge between their two islands. The scent of hibiscus from Oliver’s island and the aroma of plumeria from Noelle’s intertwined, dotting the air with bubbles of fragrance that spontaneously popped. Oliver was a coffee farmer, whose morning to dusk labor endowed him with an Olympian’s physique and a perpetual golden tan. Noelle owned a flower shop, which is why she always smelled like alyssum and rose.

“I don’t care.” Oliver recaptured her hand, sending a delicate current of electricity from her fingers to her head and toes. He squeezed his eyes shut tightly for a moment. “I want to marry you more than anything in the world.” He started to unfasten his Rolex Deepsea. The metal clasp’s unclicking sounded like a sigh.

Noelle wrapped her hand around Oliver’s watch. “Don’t. Please don’t.” She sniffled. The first tears rolled down her cheeks. Oliver kissed them but couldn’t stop her from crying. Her lungs heaved. When she regained the ability to talk, she spoke in whispers, choking on her words. “You’re a Rolex clan. You can’t give that up, not for me, not for anyone.”

Oliver brushed Noelle’s lips with his as he patted her watch with his fingertips. “Would you give up your Grand Seiko for me?”

Noelle cried harder.  She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. Forcing a small smile, she said, “Good thing it’s waterproof, right? I’d have to ask the clan for another watch if I ruined it.”

Now it was Oliver’s turn for a tepid smile. “You’re not going to ruin a Grand Seiko dive watch with just a few tears. It’s good down to 200 meters, and your tears are no more than 100 meters deep.”

Noelle chuckled faintly. “And your watch, good to 1,220 meters.” She leaned into him, wrapped her arms around him, pressed her breasts against his muscular chest. “See, my love, they’re not even compatible. You can dive into the darkness with your Rolex, but I can’t follow.”

Oliver kissed her ear and she moaned. “What would happen if we tossed our watches into the sea?” he said. “Right here, right now?”  She shuddered, sending a chill cascading down her body. He held her closer, trying to steady her shaking.

“We can’t,” she said. “It goes against everything. We can’t marry because you wear a Rolex and I wear a Grand Seiko. And shedding our watches won’t change who we are, where we come from, and what’s expected of us.”

Friday, February 7, 2020

Your Watch in the Movies


a short story by Bill Adler

So I'm taking a wristshot and this guy in an expensive wool suit walks up to me and says, "Your watch is exactly what we're looking for to put on Brad Pitt's  wrist for a scene we're filming for World War Z II.  We're shooting a couple blocks away and I can have your watch back in no more than an hour. May I borrow your watch as a prop?"

I reply, "Of course." I'm feeling lucky!

How cool is that? My watch is going to star in a feature film. I could probably now sell my Grand Seiko for ten times what I paid for it, assuming I ever wanted to sell it, though I might not even want to ever take it off afterwards.

He gives me a receipt. I wait at the nearby coffee shop for five hours until it finally and painfully dawns on me that there is no movie, no Brad Pitt, and I'd just had my watch stolen by a con man who preys on innocent watch owners. Lesson learned.




Friday, January 31, 2020

A Child's Watch


a short story by Bill Adler

“We don’t have any more room for your artifacts.” Marie shuffled in her slippers to the bookcase on the room’s far side. “Baseball mitt. Stuffed panda. Lionel train engine.” She picked up each object as she named it. “Lego dragon.”

“Don’t touch the dragon!” Antonio yelped. “It’s fragile.”  hated when she used the word “artifact.”

“It’s not as fragile as you.” Marie rolled her eyes but left the red, blue, yellow and white dragon alone. 

Antonio walked over to the bookcase. Marie sidestepped to the bar and poured herself a martini. He examined each of the toys that she had touched and adjusted their positions so they were exactly where they had been before she moved them. 

“And that.” Marie pointed. “We’re probably the only adult couple in America with a frosted glass piggy bank filled with pennies in their living room.” She snorted. “Why didn’t you break it and use the booty to buy candy or baseball cards or something?”

“I did! This one’s just like the piggy bank I had as a kid. I dropped mine when I was eight and got all the coins. I bought a baseball glove and lots of candy.”

Marie pivoted and pointed. “This baseball glove.”

Antonio shook his head, his blond hair rustling like it was blowing in a breeze. “No. Mine was like it. A Babe Ruth mitt, but the one I had is long gone.”

Marie sat on the couch and sipped her martini. “You see, babe, that’s the thing. These artifacts from your childhood aren’t even the ones you grew up with. They’re replacements. They have as much connection with your youth as a Bewitched rerun.” 

Of all Antonio’s possessions, the globe irritated Marie the most. It occupied the largest expanse of real estate on the bookcase, and many of the countries on it no longer existed. She aimed her glass at the bookcase. “That book’s a replacement, too, right?”

“Peanuts Treasury! I grew up with Peanuts. Snoopy, especially. I must have read that book a hundred times, probably more.” Antonio’s green eyes lit up like undersea coral touched by the sun. 

“And?”

“It’s not the actual one I owned as a kid.” Antonio lowered his voice. “I wish it were, though.”

“None of these mean anything. Our living room is awash with fakes. It’s like a shop that sells posters of famous art.” Marie downed the rest of her drink. She lifted out the olive, leaned back, and dropped it into her mouth. “Can we please get rid of these things. Fill the space with some things that are, you know, normal?”

“Our friends say my childhood memories are cute.”

“Our friends are just being polite.” Marie studied her empty glass and wrinkled her forehead. “There was something you wanted to tell me when you got home from work?” She glared at the shopping bag in Antonio’s hands and sighed. “You wanted to tell me you bought another artifact from your childhood.”

“I did. But it’s small and won’t take up any space. But that’s not what I wanted to tell you.”

“Let me guess. You quit your job to join the circus because you loved the circus as a child.”

“You’re half right.” Antonio sat on the couch next to Marie. “I gave notice today. I’m quitting.”

Marie twisted her lips into a grimace. “Okay. I’m sorry I criticized your childhood memories. I’m sorry. You got me back. We’ll talk about something else.”

“I’m serious. I quit. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’m just not cut out for finance. It’s too much stress, too much responsibility, too much anxiety.”

“Very funny.”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?”

The color drained from Marie’s face. She slumped back on the couch, brought her hand to her neck and slid her fingers along her gold Tiffany necklace. “I don’t believe you.”

“Why would I joke about a thing like that?”

“To get back at me for criticizing your romance with your childhood.”

“In two weeks I’ll start a new job. No joke.”

“What kind of job?”

“Ice cream parlor. The Magnificent Scoop on Wolf Street.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” Marie shouted, her breath hot like a desert wind.

“I’m not cut out for this business.”

“How are we going to afford everything if you fucking work at a fucking ice cream parlor.” 

“I’m going to be the general manager. I’ll make a fair living.”

Marie slapped her forehead. “Fair?” She shook her head with so much force that one of her earrings unmoored and flew across the living room. “Are you insane?”

“What I am is happier now that I’ve made the decision. We’ll be fine, sweetie. I promise.”

“Don’t sweetie me.” Marie covered her face with her hands, sounding like Darth Vador as she breathed under her palms. “We’re screwed.” 

Antonio put his arm around her shoulders, half expecting her to shrug him off. Instead, she folded into him and sobbed. He stroked her hair as she cried. 

When she was out of tears, Antonio said, “I used to go to The Magnificent Scoop nearly every day when I was a kid. I have fond memories of that place. I should have been working there from the beginning, but it’s never too late to return to your childhood.” Antonio’s smile was the opposite of Marie’s scowl. “Plus, I’ll be home earlier.”

Friday, January 24, 2020

Therapy

a short story by Bill Adler


“Please, make yourselves comfortable.” Dr. Lilly Green waved her arm toward the dark blue couch. Her office was bathed in warm, yellow light, like the hue of a sunrise. Len wondered if the wood paneling that covered the walls of the room was real. It probably was. He noticed a crystal pitcher of ice water on the table toward the left.

“Would either of you like some water?” Dr. Green asked.

“Yes, that would be great,” Len said as he hovered over the couch, flexing his knees, wondering exactly where he should sit on the three-person couch. In the middle, which would give Sylvie no choice but to sit next to him? Or should he wait until his wife sat down? If she chose the middle spot, that would mean she wanted to sit next to him, a good sign. If she sat on either end, that would signal that he should keep his distance, and would likely herald an even more acrimonious therapy session than he anticipated. Len felt like he was playing a puzzle game, only the consequence of failure wouldn't be losing game pieces, it would be losing his marriage. During the seconds that Sylvie took to decide where to sit, their entire marriage ran through Len's mind like a film on fast-forward. Rays of happiness and bullets of despair shot through his body.

"I'd prefer a vodka," Sylvie said as she sat on the sofa's far side. She pulled back the sleeve of her leather jacket and looked at her watch. As if cued, Dr. Green also looked at her watch. Sylvie saw it was a Grand Seiko. White dial. Snowflake maybe. Her own Lange Saxonia was no slouch, but she made a mental note to ask the doctor what inspired her to get a Grand Seiko, because at four hundred dollars an hour, Dr. Green could afford any watch she wanted. Four hundred an hour. Len had insisted they seek out the best of the best. Sylvie sighed to herself. It was money that could be spent elsewhere.

Len sidestepped like he was taking his first dance lesson and sat on the couch’s opposite end. He glanced at Sylvie and contorted his lips into a tepid smile. She did not return his glance.

"I'm glad you're here," Dr. Green said. "Let's see if we can make some sense about what's going on between you two and heal any wounds.” Dr. Green retrieved a chair and positioned it facing the couch exactly between Len and Sylvie. She sat down and asked, "Who wants to go first?"

Len cleared his throat, but before he let loose a single consonant, Sylvie said, "It's awful. It wasn't always awful, but now it is.” Her eyes moistened. She wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

Dr. Green leaned forward and nodded to Sylvie to continue.

“He’s lost all interest in watches. He'd rather have sex, romantic dinners, or take long walks than look at watches.” Sylvie shook her head. Tears fell.

Dr. Green passed Sylvie a tissue box.

“I suggest hunting for watches on eBay. He says, ‘Let’s watch a movie.’ I want to go to a watch boutique. He says, ‘Let’s go bowling.’ I tell him I want to calibrate a watch tonight. He says, ‘Let’s find a recipe online and cook something new.’

“I see,” Dr. Green said. She looked at her Grand Seiko for a full five seconds, then took out a cloth from her pocket and polished the crystal.

“He doesn’t even look at other people’s wrists anymore.” Sylvie glared at Len. “Neither men’s nor women’s.”

“Have you tried—”

Sylvie raised her palms. “I know what you’re going to ask. Yes, I bought him a new Rolex Pepsi. That was the first thing I tried. You have no idea how difficult it was to find one.” She swiveled her head toward Len. “Or how expensive.” She shrugged. “No effect. All he did was suggest I wear it while having sex that night.”

Dr. Green sighed. “I’m going to clear my calendar. We may be here for a while.”