I’m not the type that goes in for big, showy watches. Nor is my wife, Camilla. A watch can be gold, platinum, steel, PVC or composite. All that matters is that the mechanism is reliable, hard-wearing and precise. The look of the watch counts too. Personally, I avoid anything too modern, too designer, as these are the watches that tend to lose their value, or the ones you get tired of wearing first. A well-designed, classic watch will never go out of style. Having said that, I can understand how a gold watch remains the symbol of success in the collective conscious. As a kid, it used to fascinate me too. My first encounter with gold was the ring my parents gave me for my graduation. It means a lot to me as it was made from my mother’s and father’s college rings, old gold watches and one of my mom’s gold fillings! We weren’t a wealthy family, you know.
That’s right! A Christmas Eve like no other. I was 17 and we were in Houston. My father told me, “Come on kid, get in the car, we’re going to Kmart to get hair ribbons for your mom and some decorations for the tree.” It was a rainy day, grey skies and no more than 8° outside. We were heading north. My father came off Highway 59 and drove under the viaduct. This clearly wasn’t Kmart. We were in the parking lot of some abandoned mall. There was graffiti everywhere, dumpsters, downed power lines, smashed windows. Then this white van started coming towards us, flashing it headlights. I was beginning to freak out but Pop said, “Don’t panic, it’s Chicago John.” This fat, bald guy wearing some thin leather jacket gets out the van, like something from a Scorsese movie. When he opened the back door, I got a glimpse of dishwashers, microwaves, hairdryers, a whole heap of stuff. Then he pulls out this shoebox with something inside, wrapped in paper towels. I was a few feet away so I couldn’t see what was going on. I had no clue what could be in that box but my father knew exactly what it was! [laughs]. His shoulders shot up, he slapped palms with the guy, and pulled an envelope out of his jacket. Back in the car, he told me “put that in the glove box son, and make sure it stays closed.” I still had no idea what was in there. An animal? Some mystery object? His lips were sealed. Five minutes later, he pulled over and told me to open the glove box and check that whatever it was was still in there. “Open it”, he said. And inside there was this watch. This amazing watch. My father’s face lit up. I was speechless. After a couple of minutes he said, “You know what that is, son? That’s a titanium Rolex worth $22,000!”
Hold on, there’s more. In fact this is where it gets interesting. Pop asked me, “Do you know how much I paid for it? $3,000. And you know what else? It ain’t worth the money because it’s fake. It’s not even worth $200.” At first I didn’t get it, then he explained. The watch could be real or fake, he didn’t care either way. For him, it was all about doing business and the fun of negotiating a deal. Especially with a guy like Chicago John! My dad loved these small-time crooks and the whole circus going on around them. He loved the unwritten rules and the smooth talking. My father was the most honest, upright man in the world, but he was fascinated by these shady characters. He would rather do a bad deal with someone fun like this two-bit Mafioso than a regular deal with nondescript regular folks. He liked out-of-the-ordinary characters. Pop was the kind of guy who would invest in a diamond mine in Ecuador when there are no diamond mines in Ecuador. He and mom even hacked their way through the Ecuadorian jungle with a machete. He never did find any diamonds but he did get to share a fabulous adventure with my mother! He was an oil pipe salesman, a good guy who taught us that making money was less important than how you made it.
Not true! A watch would have been no use to me back then. I needed to get around, so I invested in this huge, chromed pick-up which I wrecked by driving it into a utility pole the same day. A couple of hours later I went to the laundromat to wash my jeans and forgot my wallet in the back pocket. When I came back, jeans and wallet were gone. Whoever it was at least left my laundry detergent…