Look around. Everyone is wearing a big watch. You or someone you know has a metallic gargoyle of acetate/chrome/quartz. Diesel recently released its Men’s Big Daddy Chronograph, which – aside from having an exceptionally absurd name – pretty much looks like the cross-section of a giant dong. And the hulking Aeromatic Cannon Worldtime 326A Luminous has four weird cylinders sticking out of its sides, making it look vaguely autistic. There is nothing better than insane shit like this for tying together the cluster of bones in a human wrist.
The word watch comes from the image of foremen: people in charge of making others sweat and move their hands/legs for fixed intervals. Those alpha men who stood in front of a group of betas and yelled at them when they didn’t screw in enough hubcaps. This happens often. Have you ever been insulted by someone larger than you, especially at work/while you’re on the factory line? Next time, take a pause during the hour of your discontent, and look at his wrist – betcha he’s wearing a big fucking watch.
When I was growing up, my dad always made me wear watches. He liked Timex but was open to other brands. He also had a few fancier ones – Movado, with the one dot like a distant moon pointing the way toward the next hour. But mostly he wore big rubbery ones. He was also the type of person who said America was the best country in the world, which I always disputed. But he fucking loved watches. He practically showered me with watches; I had a new watch every four months.
My mom wore a watch too, but only because my dad pressured her into it. It was a kind of cowering watch-wearing. And her watches were these diaphanous little silvery things made of, like, two diamonds and some Vaseline. They were very thin and never on time. One was a wind-up, and my mom never wound it up.
So, on the day I graduated college and moved to New York, my dad bought me a watch. I was about to begin Teach For America, and I guess he thought a large metallic manacle would be a good way to enact his foreman fantasies on my seventh-grade students in the Bronx. There is much more I could say here about my two years in Teach For America, but let’s just say the watch did not help. It didn’t even inflate my sunken little pillow of self-esteem. It was heavy, with large silver vertebrae. It made you want to lick it, which I think I did once or twice when I was feeling especially depressed/animalistic. It was the manifestation of the white-guilt-shaped Superman cape Teach For America gave me when I walked into my classroom on the first day of school.
That September, having just stepped off the cliff of college and not sure who/where I was, I slept with my watch every night. I caressed it and combed its hair and placed my cute little embryonic dreams on it. When you’re scared, it’s hard to face the fact that you’re nothing more than a carefully organized pile of carbon; you want to know for sure that you have metal parts, too.
Based on my experience laying my head next to a big metal Seiko, I’m inclined to believe the big watch phenom is a symptom of our contemporary impotence/uncertainty/sense of imminent doom. I do not know if our watches were this big on 9/11, but I imagine they’ve grown since then. A watch is where we go when we want to know how the universe works and where we stand within it. A big one is us telling ourselves: We have caught a piece of the universe and affixed it to our radius and ulna. We know its mechanisms and they are splayed out and labeled in gold and silver on our left wrist. We may not know much – and with the death of irony after two tubes of aluminum bisected two other, larger ones, we may know even less – but at least we know how much time we have.