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Watch Your Values

Like most people, I take many things in life for granted, particularly everyday items whose reliable functioning I’d rather be complacent about and not have to monitor. I simply expect them to work without my having to do anything. Because they generally meet my expectations, I underappreciate them. My wristwatch is a good example of an important and dependable object that deserves more credit from me than it’s ever received. Unlike its attention-needy predecessors of long ago, it needs no special coddling, not even winding. That reference will probably mystify those youthful enough not to remember a time when watch stems had to be wound daily to ensure continuous running. Of course, several years from now, mine will need a battery change, but until then, it will rest maintenance-free on my wrist, its unobtrusiveness concealing how much it helps me get through jam-packed days. If I’m dawdling and running late for an appointment, it will remind me in non-judgmental fashion to get moving. If I’ve forgotten the date, a brief glance refreshes my memory which, needless to say, is much more fallible than the good old watch.

I have never before really considered its virtues, but I’m motivated for an unusual reason to examine it carefully at this moment: its round face with all the non-Roman numerology is clearly readable; at the press of a button on its side, it lights up briefly at night; and, unlike its rebellious predecessors, it has no aversion to water. It adapts without complaint to my swim workouts. And all these services I have procured at the cost of--brace yourselves--fifteen dollars! And that’s with mailing costs included! I sometimes pay that much at a local fast-food restaurant for a burger and fries, whose service to me will disappear in six hours or so. Not so my watch, which is in for the long haul.

I doubt I’d be thinking about my loyal little companion now if I hadn’t read something a while ago that really rattled my cage. I should have laughed at the human frailty depicted in the piece and just let it go, but some of its details continue to annoy me to the extent that I search for reasons possibly explaining the weirdness of certain human behaviors. The article profiled an alleged clergyman--I can’t help having doubts about the divinity school that so anointed him--who, among other notable details about his cosmopolitan life, has been mentored for some time by the mayor of New York City. The story nimbly skirted outright hints of impropriety in that relationship, but it didn’t take an overly suspicious mind to wonder about such an unlikely collaboration.

The most mind-boggling morsel of information dealt not with politics but with the fact that this man wears a wristwatch costing $75,000. This reputed Man of God flaunts a timepiece valued at roughly a year’s salary for a semi-skilled worker. Such a sum would provide temporary shelter for many who are homeless. My immediate reaction was that this guy’s congregation must be an offshoot of Our Lady of Cryptocurrency, whose members are required to wear diamond-studded shoelaces to services. To be a member, it would seem logical, one would have to publicly renounce any vow of poverty and replace it with the vow of profligacy. I get the same information this character gets, and I paid $74,985 less for access to it. Does he, I wonder, constantly wear unbuttoned short-sleeved shirts and a T-shirt emblazoned “Don’t Miss My Wrist!”? Is he the only person strolling the streets of Manhattan who constantly buries his face in a wristwatch rather than a hand-held device? Why would the mayor of NYC mentor a man so brazenly captivated by conspicuous consumption? Shouldn’t he, in the interest of wise and responsible mentorship, be introducing this shameless showboat to the concept of conspicuous compunction? Is it possible that the good mayor has been infected by the rarely discussed psychological ailment, wrist envy?

One of the magazines I read regularly generally contains three or four pages advertising various makes of these lavish investments in fiscal egotism. Usually, some second-tier celebrity whose name doesn’t spring to mind supplies the face for the ad. Whoever the semi-celeb may be, the expression seems patented, always smug and self-satisfied. The look transmits the blatant promise that the reader, too, can earn the right to behave with condescension and aloofness simply by purchasing one of those ridiculously overpriced ego inflators. “Wanna separate yourself from the common folk, baby? If that’s your end, I’ve got your means right here!” I guess, somehow, that message resonates effectively enough for the Rolexes of the elitist world to continue to make lots of money.

I suppose vanity has been part of popular motivation for longer than we think. It’s not beyond imagining that a few cavemen came up with the idea to decorate their animal-skin body coverings with artsy little do-dads made from bones of extinct animals. Doing so undoubtedly provided them with reasons to build their self-regard. There had to be some way to distract their peers from considering them the worst hunters in the group.

If I were motivated for some incomprehensible reason to try to gain stature through flamboyance, what would be my choice for self-promotion? Maybe I’d go for some attention-getter like a jazzed-up red Audi convertible, the status symbol I lusted after as a kid. Or, possibly, it would be an incoherent, therefore hyper-valuable, piece of artwork by someone like Banksie. But I’m past the stage of employing strategies like that. Even though nobody goes ape over our Toyota, it, like my fifteen-dollar watch, provides the service expected of it. And my taste in art is me-centered, not determined by anticipation of the envy of others. I’m content with a simple philosophy: I am what I am, not what I own.

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