Wow, did I have a good one yesterday. And it made me think of you. Well, not you in particular, but the collective you who read my blog.
I took my watch to the jeweler’s because I’d bought a new watch band. The old one, which I’d bought pushing thirty years ago, had finally worn out. You buy something well made, it’s gonna last.
These days, since I have the time in my pocket on my cell phone, I don’t wear a watch. I do wear a watch on business trips, so when I’m in a meeting I can sneakily see how much longer I have before I have to leave for the next meeting without hauling out my phone and ostentatiously checking the time… I also wear a watch when I’m in Europe, because trains and things require punctuality and because I don’t carry a phone over there. So, this past month, in Europe, I had all kinds of trouble getting my admittedly frayed butter soft ancient leather watch band to even go on my wrist. Once it was on, I wasn’t worried about it falling off… but getting it cinched in place was a nightmare.
After nearly three decades of faithful service, the leather watchband had to be retired. I stupidly didn’t think to replace the watchband when I was in Rome. When I flew home, I realized I needed a new one. But no way was I paying for a leather watchband in this county. Too much money.
So, I’d gone to a couple of stores looking for those zippy cloth watch bands with stripes on them. Cheap, but decent. Finally found a blue and white one the right width at Brooks Brothers. Okay. And I took it to the jewelry store to get them to remove the old one so I could put the new one on.
Which takes me to rhyming scenes.
You have the first scene, which will be a bit like the second scene, except the character has gone through something, or changed, or grown or something… and the second scene reminds us of the first one, and we SEE how the character has changed.
In KRAMER VS. KRAMER, the dad can’t beat an egg, so he’s a terrible father. Later, we see him beat an egg like a pro, and we see he’s come a long way toward become Dad Of The Year. Simple but effective.
Two decades + ago, I was in Florence, Italy. I had the same watch. A Hamilton from 1955. You have to wind it every day. Keeps killer time. My father gave it to me and I like it. My watchband was wearing out, and I was in the city of leather, so hey, why not? On the way from the cathedral to the train station I spotted a tiny… watchband store. How cool!
The shop was less than six feet wide with ancient plaster walls, all ochre and peeling white. I took a step inside and saw cards mounted on the wall, each with watchbands on it, held in place with elastic. Hundreds of watchbands. Mostly leather. The gentleman in the chair behind the small counter was wearing a coat and tie. He was pretty damn old. And all he sold was watch bands.
Being a guy, it’s pretty easy for me to shop. I picked one out, and pointed. At this time in my career, I spoke zero Italian. He smiled and indicated for me to hold out my arm. I did, and he gently removed my watch from my arm. What service!
Then he began the elegant ballet I have remembered all this time.
He pulled out a thin metal paddle and pushed the pins in the watch that the old strap fit in — think the wooden thing your toilet paper hangs on — pulling them out of the watch, and slid them out of the strap and set them aside. Then he threw away the old strap, after looking at me and asking if I wanted it.
Then he took an orange stick and rubbed the whole watch, cleaning it.
Then he took the two little pins and cleaned the accumulated crud from them with a cloth. When he started, they were nearly black with dried goo. When he was done, they were shiny brass. Like new!
Then he got a cloth and polished the watch crystal.
Then he bent the new straps until they were supple.
Then he slid the shiny pins into the new leather straps and, with his paddle, popped them into place on the watch.
I reached out to take the watch, but he looked at me. Not finished yet.
He held my watch and indicated for me to hold out my arm. I did.
In a final flourish of genteel showmanship, he put the watch on my arm, did the strap, and smiled.
That is how to run a business! That’s how to keep a customer! Italy! What a country!
I left his shop on a cloud. For five dollars, I had been treated like a king. Of my entire life, it was the finest and most over the top satisfying business transaction I have ever made. What could ever compare to that?
Well, I’ll tell you.
I went in the jewelry store yesterday, in my own home town, which ain’t Florence. I needed the pins pulled out of my watch so I could put the new Brooks Brothers band on. I gave it to the woman and she took it into the back. She was friendly.
Then she brought the watch back, with the pins out. How was I supposed to slide the new band into place if the pins were loose? I explained this to her in my native language, which she understood perfectly. No nods or gestures required. A diminution of the magic that surrounds new watchbands, that’s for sure.
Then she took the watch into the back again.
I waited and wondered what the world had come to… (the change between Rhyming Scene #1 and Rhyming Scene #2… we’ve gone to hell in a hand basket.)
Then she came out. The pins were in.
And they were filthy dirty.
Gummy and black from years of use. Pretty gross, actually. The Guy In Back hadn’t even cleaned them! Did I remember the little man in the little store on the little sidewalk on the way to the train station in Florence Italy? You bet I did. With massive nostalgia and heartrending regret.
While she paid no attention, I cleaned the pins on my shirt tail — leaving it black and streaked — and then I had to fit the new watchband through the pins, myself, and, final insult, put it on my wrist. Myself.
No showmanship. No charm. No lasting impression. Zilch.
A rhyming scene.