I worked at the Dakota Watch Company because Stacy was cute.
Stacy was the girl with ample breasts who convinced me to abandon The Cookie Company in favor of selling watches. The new job involved a pay cut, longer hours, and more work but this was balanced out by the dates Stacy promised me.
The first date was great. We played ping-pong at the local rec center, then made out in the back of my rusted-out station wagon. The entire reason I owned a station wagon was to own a portable make-out spot. I didn’t tell Stacy this but I was pleased my station wagon had finally served its intended purpose. I timed our session; it lasted twenty-six minutes. I was especially proud of the courage I demonstrated when I placed my hand underneath her shirt and very suavely brushed it against her breast. I didn’t actually grope it or anything but I hoped to build up to this eventually.
For some reason, Stacy hadn’t yet gone out on a second date with me despite me asking her every day for weeks. But it couldn’t be helped. She was very busy helping paint her little sisters’ nails and shopping for new work shirts. She hadn’t worn any of these new work shirts yet but I was absolutely convinced they would be modeled for me soon.
Regardless, Stacy was the center of my thoughts. In fact, she was what I was thinking about when the old traveler approached the Dakota Watch Company kiosk.
I didn’t actually see the old traveler approach. I faced the main doors of the mall watching for Stacy’s arrival. Our shop sat in the center of the hallway on the far side of the food court’s main doors and the man had approached from the interior of the mall.
I heard someone intentionally clearing his throat and turned at the sound. The old traveler wore a plaid shirt tucked into khakis pulled high above his waist. Wisps of white hair stuck out haphazardly from beneath a brown felt fedora–an 80-year-old Indiana Jones. He reverently held a watch in his cupped hands like it was the Holy Grail.
“This watch needs a battery,” the old traveler said. “I bought it in Jerusalem last week but it isn’t running. The man who sold it to me said it just needed a new battery.”
I took the watch from him. It was gold in color, the band thick and wide. The face was white with black hands that weren’t going anywhere. Curiously, there was no brand name evident anywhere on the face. This was a sign of either a very cheap watch or a very expensive one. “You bought this in a shop?” I asked.
The man shook his head. “No, a street-corner.”
A suspicion started to form itself in my mind. “How much did you pay?”
“Two-hundred dollars. The watch is solid gold.”
Yeah, right, I thought. The watch was much too light to be solid gold. If there was any gold present in the watch at all, it coated a stainless-steel interior. More likely, the watch was coated in gold-colored paint. Strictly speaking, I wasn’t supposed to work on expensive watches due to liability issues. A list of high-end brands decorated the side of our workstation and we referred any watch that matched those brands to the jewelers in the mall that sold them.
There was obviously no danger in working on the old traveler’s watch, though. “Yeah, I can put a new battery in here for you. But I want to warn you, a new battery might not be what the watch needs.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s possible, that since the watch wasn’t running when you purchased it, that it is defective.”
“Can it be fixed?”
I shrugged. “That depends. It might be something as simple as straightening out the hands. I can do that right here for you in the shop. But if the movement is defective, I’ll have to send that off for a series of tests and a repair at the central office.”
The old traveler sighed and scratched the side of his head. “What’s a movement?”
I smiled patiently at him. “The movement is the internal mechanism of the watch. It’s what the battery sits in and what makes the hands turn.”
“That does sound serious.”
I nodded again. “It would be – but don’t worry about that yet. I’ll try a new battery first. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try a few diagnostic things here. We’ll only send it off if we need to.”
I was almost positive the battery wouldn’t work but I didn’t want to dash the old man’s hopes just yet. Not until absolutely necessary. I suspected the street-corner watch dealer sold the old gentleman a watch he purposefully knew was defective. Most likely, the watch was not air-tight and dust from Jerusalem’s desert environment had gotten into the movement and stopped it. If the man wanted to pay for it, the central office could do a thorough cleaning for about thirty bucks and probably get it running again. Worst case scenario was a new movement, which ran about eighty.
The battery of a watch is accessed by removing its back. Most mainstream brands have a small lip on the side that a skilled hand can use to pry off the back with a case knife. Very expensive watches have a beveled back that requires a special tool to remove. I turned the watch over in my hands and examined the back.
This one had just a simple lip. I sat down on the swivel stool at the workstation and picked up the case knife. I slid its thin edge underneath the lip and pulled upwards while pushing down on the watch. The back popped off easily and my eyes went wide at what I saw inside.
In all my suspicions, I never imagined this sight.
I chuckled softly, stood up, and brought the backless watch over to the old traveler.
“Done already?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No, I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done because there’s nothing inside this watch.”
I held it out for him to see: completely empty. The backside of the face was smooth and flawless except for where the stem was glued in place to it.
The old traveler leaned his face in close to examine the bare inside of the watch. He sighed and looked up at me. “So, I’ll need a new movement?”
I shook my head again. “You would also need a new face, new hands, and a new stem. Honestly, you might as well just buy a new watch.”
The old traveler took the watch from me.
“I can’t believe this,” he said. “You’re saying I got ripped off?”
I nodded and put what I hoped was a sympathetic half-smile on my face. “Sorry.”
“But I bought this watch in Jerusalem. That’s in the Holy Land. You can’t get ripped off in the Holy Land. That’s just wrong.”
“Sorry,” I said again. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. There were no reassurances to make, no promises to give, and no condolences to offer above what I already had. So I just watched as the old traveler unceremoniously dumped the timepiece into his pants pocket, turned slowly, and shuffled off even more slowly, his head hung low.
I watched him disappear around the nearest hallway corner, then I turned back to the main doors and resumed watching for Stacy. She arrived a few minutes later, her brown hair swaying back and forth like a desert wind as she walked.
“Hey, Stacy,” I said, as she lifted up the door to the kiosk . “How about dinner tonight when you get off?”
Stacy turned stainless steel, her eyes painted sad on me. “I’m afraid I already promised my mom I’d share her meatloaf tonight.”
“I understand,” I said. She turned away and, for some reason, I couldn’t help but think of the old traveler and his watch.
Wonderful little story. Couldn’t be better developed and written. Deception on many levels.
Such an elegant and perfect story. I couldn’t stop reading — wow!
Great little story. I love the dialogue. Bryces’ time has arrived.
Smart, clever stuff. I especially liked the dialogue between the traveler and the narrator; really captures (mis)understanding.
Bryce Journey’s “Deceptions” is a terrific piece of creative nonfiction. Nice ironic and self-ironic humor, of course, and nice three-part story well crafted so the parts all fit as nicely as the mechanism in an expensive watch, but what I like best is the vulnerability Bryce shows and the courage to set what Tom Stoppard calls “ambushes for the audience”, i.e., moments of unexpected epiphany–both for the reader and for himself.
Well said, JJ!
“Deceptions” is a great title for this piece. I enjoy how the three different deceptions thematically tie the various threads together into a single amusing story. It’s clever way to structure the piece.