My style – and we are really stretching the meaning of that word about as far as it can go – is really an absence of style. Like a black hole of style – in that it is both an absence and yet also very very black.
I don’t mean to follow the example of Johnny Cash (or, for you younger readers, Neil Gaiman) quite so closely; it really is just a lack of imagination.
If I need a t-shirt, I always seem to prefer the black ones. The same for jeans, for jackets, for jumpers. The black one, in and of itself, looks the best to me. And yet, as I go to put together something that resembles a matching ensemble, I am always surprised when I end up dressed like someone about to begin an evening of cat burglary…or, maybe less dramatically, of being one of those not-really-invisible set movers in the theater.
So, we are virtual strangers, fashion and my wardrobe. This also goes for the more decorative elements of style: I wear no jewelry…my glasses are more functional than fancy. Any elements of color that exist in my world are chosen and purchased by my wife, who has a more creative and interesting approach to living.
My watches are similarly mostly functional. Dark, subtle, and with a minimum of information on the dial.
Except, I do have a special-occasion watch. When I wear it, I tend to jiggle it under someone’s nose and say something odd like, “Ask me about my Armani watch.”
In Austin, with an English accent, you can just about get away with such otherwise obnoxious behavior.
“This is a £500 watch,” I begin, cutting very much to the chase. Nothing else I wear has ever cost that much. I did once own an Armani shirt. I got it for about £15 in a second-hand shop in Newcastle. I wore that damn thing until it fell apart. It was black.
So, why do I have a £500 watch? Because my dad could get some strange ideas into his head sometimes – and once they were there, they were impossible to dislodge. Up to this point, the strangest idea I was aware he’d had was his belief that the movies on TV kept playing, even when the advertising breaks were on. So, even though an ad for dish soap might be on the screen, Clint Eastwood’s investigation was going on in the background, and when the advertising break was over, we just dropped back into the story wherever it happened to be.
I guess this explained to him why movies didn’t always seem to make sense when he watched them. But who really knows?
But, as he got old and maybe started to feel less permanent in this world, he got it into his head that he had a problem: there was nothing for him to pass on to his children. I think I understand. We all want to feel like we’ve made a mark, that there’s a legacy to go forward as we ourselves decide to sit this one out for the rest of time. He’d already asked each of his three sons to pick one item from the house to be claimed as an inheritance at some point in the future. I chose a wonderful lamp, from Singapore, in the shape of an ornately dressed Asian woman sitting with a bowl in her lap. It’s awesome. At least it was until it was dropped or bashed in some way. Now I have to ask my mam if I can have a second pick. But I digress.
I can’t pretend to understand the workings of my dad’s mind for sure, so I’ll not pretend to really know how and why he decided that watches were the solution to this non-problem – but that’s where he ended up. Three watches, identical, and worth a chunk of cash.
So, as I understand it, he and my mam take themselves up to the Big City and head for a pricey jewelers. There, I imagine, he announces what he’s looking for. And, says my mam, the staff immediately pull out the comfy chairs and the special coffee. They’re treated like those snooty women should have treated Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. My parents were not used to such treatment, which is a damn shame in itself.
So, they’re shown a selection of watches and, based on some unknown Dad criteria, he chooses three Armani silver watches, total cost £1,500. These, he has decided, will be the heirlooms that he’ll pass on to his trio of unsuspecting male children.
And so, that’s how it played out.
I don’t know what’s happened to the other two. One is probably in its box in a drawer somewhere. The second I imagine, perhaps uncharitably, blazed briefly and brightly on eBay.
Mine, I decided to wear. I’m a practical soul – I don’t believe in keeping things for special occasions. A table should have stuff on it, shoes should be taken for a walk from time to time, and watches should be on your wrist as much as possible. This might be because I don’t have many options when it comes to these things. It’s perfectly possible, for instance, that I would feel differently about shoes if I had more than three pairs at any one time.
So, I wore my watch. And, when the occasion arose, I told the story. This story. And it never felt like bragging – look at my £500 watch! It was more a story of how such a non-me thing came to be attached to me. But…time passed, my Dad died, and I was thousands of miles away. Suddenly, it stopped being a watch, even a £500 watch, and became a Dad memory.
And I was in my 40s. And then I can see my 50s not too far ahead, and the idea of a legacy, of what I leave behind, stopped seeming to be quite so alien. So, I put the watch away, for “special occasions”. It’s now a proper heirloom. I’ll pass it down to my oldest son when the time comes. And I’ll tell him that it came from his granddad and that it matters.
For daily use, I bought a new watch, a $10 deal from Amazon. It’s simple, non-flashy, and black.