Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Time Is It?

We Americans are often berated, by ourselves and others, for being too tied to our timepieces, not stopping to smell the roses, too much on the go, go, go, and so on. So you'd really start wondering where the shackels were if you were ever to enter this house. You'd think we were slaves to this arbitrary construct of time. There are clocks everywhere in here. But really, don't worry about us. Half the things don't work.

In the kitchen alone there are six clocks. The oven and microwave, wall-mounted one above the other, each has its own clock; they seldom say the same thing. We have one of those faux antique wall clocks that runs on a battery. It works. The clock on the land-line phone works. The clock on the coffee maker gave up the ghost nearly as soon as we brought it home. And the clock on the electric can opener (yes, don't ask, it was a gift) was impossible to set back in the days when it did work. True to its nature as a gift, it stopped bothering us by....stopping.

We have a clock in the basement made by Steve's father from a slice of polished cypress. That's in addition to the clocks on the cable box, the DVD player, the caller ID, the phone and the computer.

Aside from the kitchen, on the main floor there are two antique French clocks, the one from Lois I told you about a while back (still not working) and another that runs, and a clock on the Bose radio. Up here on the second floor there are the standard alarm clocks, another phone clock, my computer clock, and my wristwatch, which was a part of my daily wardrobe when I was working but now must be shaken awake when I put it on.

There are no clocks in the bathrooms. What? You think we're obsessed?

The clock in the picture is one I inherited from my parents. It's an Emporer clock, one of those that come in a kit for the ultra handy to toss together over a weekend. It was my father's first retirement project in the early 1970s. As you can see, he did a beautiful job with it and I was overjoyed when my folks told me I could have it. It has run like--well, a clock, until recently. A few months ago as I was winding it my hand accidentally hit the pendulum with such force that it was knocked from its hook in the back. No problem, I thought, until I turned the clock around to hang the pendulum back on. Damn if I couldn't make sense of how it would hang. There was nothing back there that would accept a hanging object. Steve, who is a natural genius about these things, couldn't figure it out, either.

So the clock stood there, right only twice a day, while I gathered up the courage (and the money) to call in a clock repairman. We had had the clock cleaned once before, about 20 years ago, by a company that had an innocent enough name, something like "We Fix Clocks," but turned out to be owned and operated by a recent Korean immigrant who barely spoke English and seemed to have learned but one facial expression, a scowl, and spoke in accented, monosyllabic grunts. A hundred bucks later, we had a working, reconditioned clock, and I filed the experience away as one never to be repeated, at least not under the aegis of We Fix Clocks. Now here I was again, with a broken Emporer clock. I did a little research and called the most respected local clock company and explained my problem. All was fine until I mentioned that the clock in question was a 40-year-old Emporer. There was a silence at the other end before I was told that I was lucky the thing was running at all--the Emporer clocks from that era were made of cheap parts, never meant to be heirlooms. He convinced me that if the clock ran at all, it was simply on its own fumes and by all rights should be dead as a doornail anyway. So much for that sentimental gentleman.

But I didn't give up. I found another place nearby, where a very pleasant woman assured me over the phone that the clock could be repaired. I had originally thought of having it cleaned again while the pendulum was repaired, but given this new information about the quality of the basic works I decided to forgo that expense and just have the pendulum put back on.

There was a knock on the door at the appointed time and there was the repairman. An OLD Korean man this time, so fresh off the boat he brought slippers to put on his feet as he entered the house, and barely able to say hello. But at least he smiled. He fixed the clock--turns out I had hit the pendulum so hard that the piece it hangs on in the back had been bent out of shape--that's why it didn't seem possible to hang anything back there. He bent the piece back into position, hung the pendulum and got the clock running, made sure everything else was OK, and, as he was leaving, via a word or two and sign language, gave me a helpful hint: as I pulled the chain to wind the clock, it would keep extra tension off the chain, thereby prolonging its life, if I would give the attached weight a little push up while pulling. Made good sense to me. And he didn't even charge me any labor. We were smiling best friends by the time he left.

Last weekend I decided to use this new tip. I pulled on the chain and gave a gentle upward push to the weight as I did so. Well. Suddenly there wasn't enough tension on the chain, and it derailed. Deep in the guts of the works. Steve and I together, using a hooked coat hanger, got the chain back on its sprockets last night, but that didn't satisfy the old man in the clock. After nearly 40 years of faithful, graceful service, he is suddenly subject to such abuse that he's staged a work stoppage. It wasn't my fault, grandfather clock!!

I think I'll go find a rose to smell.


Cuidado said...

Darn, I forgot to open this link in a new page and the Chicago song is gone. Oh, no about the clock!!!!! Have a piece of pie to settle your nerves but wait a bit I'm just going to put the recipe up now.

Peewit said...

But clocks are such lovely things even whenthey don't work. I have in my office a carriage clock given as a present to my great-great aunt on the occasion of her marriage by her then employers (she was a domestic servant in a big house in Devon in the UK)My father said he never remembered it ever working but it is just lovely. I also have the pocket watches of both my maternal and paternal grandfathers (both of which I suspect were previously their father's) I have had both restored but I never bother to wind them! However, I am secure in the knowledge that they do work.

P.s do you like my new photo id. I couldn't resist it when I saw it!

Ralph said...

Hi, Peewit. You're right, of course, old timepieces are works of art in themselves and should satisfy on their own terms. I think I'd feel that way about a pocket watch--I'd never use it--but clocks, out in public rooms, seem only half there to me if they aren't working. Like a prop in a play there for affect rather than function. It also somehow honors their venerability for me if they can still do what they were meant to do. Since I've learned my father's clock isn't all that great, I can at least accept that it may be on its last legs, but for sentimental reasons I'd like it to be running as it did in my parents' house.

That photo: very funny. You know, until I saw it just now it never occurred to me that a peewit was an actual living thing, much less a bird! Sent me to google and I found this picture: http://www.birdcheck.co.uk/main/previewpages/previewpage229.htm. Quite a handsome creature! So now I know you aren't just acting in that great Brit tradition of self-deprecation and describing your "wit." That's really what I thought!

Ralph said...

Cuidado--you can get the Chicago now, right? It'll be there for a week.

Just went looking for the recipe--not there yet. I'm very curious!

Peewit said...

Peewit is also a Britsh slng term for being small. My real name is Peter hence the "moniker"

Ravel said...

What a rough man you are... You should have the Old asian man again. And pay him. :-)
I really wonder WHY a can opener would have a clock on it? To find out how long it takes to open a can?
Take care of yr valuable antiques, Ralphie.

Ralph said...

Ravel, some day that can opener will be an antique! Want it?

Kat said...

I haven't worn a watch in years. I did have an alarm clock in Africa, and I brought along a watch, but the watch died. Clocks are strewn around here but only in this room and the kitchen. I try to keep them the same time, but that's my only obsession with them.

I loved the Korean.