I grew up watching television in the 50s. Both of my parents worked long hours and I was not allowed out of the house when they were gone, nor was I allowed to have anyone inside the house. Today I would be called a latchkey child but back then I was called obedient (that eventually changed).
One of my favorite commercials was for Timex watches. Veteran reporter John Cameron Swazey was the front man for the company and he was sent all over the world to record torture tests of the product.
“Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking” was the catch phrase and the watches really did hold up to a lot of abuse. They sold for $6 to $15 and were available everywhere from Drug stores to Hardware stores to Department stores. According to the company, “By the end of the 1950s, one out of every three watches bought in the U.S. was a Timex brand watch.” Over the years I purchased my share of Timex watches and when they no longer worked, I simply bought another one.
During the last year of my apprenticeship in the Electrical Trade I was part of a crew with a guy named Frank, a pleasant man in his late 50s. Frank came to work one day wearing an unusual-looking new watch. This watch had a shiny blue face and a buckle strap made of a synthetic fabric, a very distinctive combination in 1971.
10 o’clock came and everyone on the job sat down on some benches to have our morning coffee break. There were 10 electricians and, as custom dictated, the ritual breaking-of-balls began when someone noticed Frank’s new watch.
“Hey, Frank, that’s a pretty fancy watch,” said Jester One.
Jester Two chimed in, “Yeah, Frank, I never saw a watch with a blue face before. Where’d ya get it?”
“Timex sent it to me yesterday.”
“Well that was real nice of them. Was it your birthday yesterday? Did we miss an occasion here?” Jester One smiled and surveyed the crowd as he spoke.
“No, nothing special. I happen to be a watch tester for Timex.”
Silence. 18 eyes flicked back and forth between Frank and each other.
“Get the F**k outa here, Frank,” the chorus of voices responded. “Yeah, Frank, c’mon— who you tryin’ to kid?”
“No, no, it’s true! My son works for Timex and he signed me up to test watches.”
More catcalls and jeers greeted this new information.
“Really, guys. I really am a Timex watch tester. Look, they send me a watch 2 or 3 times a year and I wear it around, then they send me a questionnaire to fill out and a box with pre-paid postage so’s I can return it. Once they receive it, they send me another watch to test. I even get a yearly catalog and get to pick out a free watch as a payment for being a Field Tester.”
At this point Frank was getting worked up in his own defense and the rest of the guys recognized a chink in his armor and began to pick away at it. “Frank, you ain’t no Timex watch tester… Frank just admit it, you bought a fancy watch… Yo, Frank, how do I get into that program?… Frank, you ever meet John Cameron Swazey?”
It wasn’t pretty, but it was funny — unless you were Frank.
Desperate measures were called for at this point and Frank did not hesitate to take them. As he rose from his seat, Frank removed the magnificent blue watch from his wrist and held it over his head at arm’s length.
“If I wasn’t a Timex watch tester and got these watches for free, would I do this?” Frank slam-dunked the watch onto the concrete floor at his feet. The watch took one big bounce and two small ones as it skittered to a stop at my feet.
I picked up the watch and surveyed the damage. The watch crystal was shattered, the case was dented and mis-shappened, but worst of all the second hand had stopped moving. “Frank, it took a lickin’ but it’s no longer tickin’.”
Frank grabbed the watch out of my hand. “GIMME that!”
Echoes and silence enveloped us. The apologies started rolling in, “Jeez, Frank, I guess you must really be a Timex tester…., Frank, calm down, you didn’t need to do that…, Frank, we were just toying’ with you…, Hey Frank, if they can you for destroying their watch d’ya think your son could put in a good word for me to get yer spot?”
The next day Frank had a new watch, new to us anyway, and no one said a word about it, especially Frank.