I realized that I’d spent forty-plus years of my life writing news stories on deadline and, as B.B. King would phrase it, the thrill of seeing the old minute-hand was gone. I had learned, early on, that deadlines had the word “dead” in them for a reason. Or as my boss Clarke Stallworth at The Birmingham News used to remind me, “I don’t need it pretty, Short. I need it now.” Then one day my battered black plastic wristwatch that I had paid $12 for, about 12 years earlier, bit the dust one day and on principle I didn’t replace it.
Obviously this didn’t bring the wristwatch industry to its knees and, truth be known, the deadlines didn’t notice either. They kept coming and going right on schedule. The only difference was that I could walk leisurely to a clock in another room to check my progress. Or even cheat by taking out my cell phone.
So the difference was symbolic but significant. I was like a racehorse who’d banished his dreaded saddle, for the mixed pleasure of being ridden bareback instead. A few years passed, and one day I took a wrong turn down a store aisle and came face-to-face, so to speak, with a wristwatch display. One of them had a fuzzy green Velcro “Sport” watchband instead of the black plastic kind with a buckle, and it was marked down to just $12, so I figured it had to be fate. And if journalism’s not a contact sport, then what is?
Long story short, re-adjusting to digital wristwatch time has been an adventure. Mainly, in setting the thing. Either my brain skills have devolved considerably in the years between watches, or setting the time has become a much more esoteric process than before. My old watch had a half-dozen tiny buttons to press and the new one just has three, which is rarely a good sign.
The instruction booklet had been shrunk to a sheet small enough to fit in a watch box, so after I got home I used a magnifying glass to decipher it. A bunch of unsuccessful tries later, I threw myself on the mercy of the lady at the watch counter. She quickly leveled with me.
”I can’t figure out how to set the new ones either,” she said. “What you need to find is somebody under 30.”
I had a flashback to my granddaughter, age 11, a couple of weeks before, working swiftly on her iPad with her left hand while using her right hand to correct a typo I’d made on my iPad, of a web address I was trying unsuccessfully to find. Too bad she was some 1,200 miles away — and busy at school, besides.
Then I thought, “Internet!” I searched the model number of the watch and found that apparently an old guy in who-knows-where had written a blog post about how to set the little, ah, booger. His instructions were about 20 times longer than the manufacturer’s, but they did the trick. Then came Daylight Savings Time. Fortunately I had bookmarked the techno-elder-guru’s post and used it to adjust my watch to the new time. My thrill of victory only lasted until mid-afternoon, though, when I noticed I had somehow set the watch to military instead of civilian time. Rather than start from scratch, I’ve left the watch alone and used the time-honored method of subtracting 12 from the displayed time (the $12 helps me remember it) and mentally appending “p.m.” to the result. Works fine, except on a stressful day when I get distracted and think for a minute I’m back in the Army again, in addition to being on a story deadline, and one of my brain’s little wires ignites like an overloaded circuit-breaker until I can take an iced-coffee break and acclimate to the current reality.
Fortunately, it’s only a few months until the time changes again and I’ll have an excuse to re-visit the issue. As long as the new watch just doesn’t take a notion to play “Taps,” I think I can pull through.
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos, and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM, streams live online at www.oldies1015fm.com, and is archived afterward on his website.