Central hours, minutes, seconds. Day, date, month, and year, in apertures. And a sector dial, because, sector dial.
A few months ago I began learning about wristwatches. (My interest was one part professional, one part natural, and fourteen parts post-surgical analgesics.)
I’m pleased to say that I now have a sound understanding of What’s Out There in the watchworld. I’m also pleased to say that I have rather exhausted my interest in the topic. It is always nice to descend, locust-like, upon a new subject; explore it; enjoy it; and burn it out. It does not do to linger. To be a dilettante of one thing is to have a little hobby and be a little man; but to be a dilettante of all things is to be alive.
But at the end of my time with the subject, something occurs to me: I don’t know what watch I want.
There are thousands upon thousands of wristwatches. But they offer more than just aesthetic variety. They have different functions – not just mechanical functions, but uses to a person. They say different things. And I’m not entirely sure what I want to say.
And that is because I don’t know what I want to be.
For example: if I was to be a businessman, I expect I would want something that is masculine, expensive, and goes well with a suit or a polo shirt. A sport-watch, maybe a diver. Probably in steel. A Subby or a Speedy if we’re being classical; a Polar Explorer or a PAM560, a little more interesting; a Ploprof or a Naut or a Bremont-WT, unconventional but still appropriate. Whereas if I was to be a lawyer I might want something simpler, dressier. Maybe something halfway between sport and dress, like a sector-dial JLC Master Control or Calatrava; or a sportier watch with a gold touch, like a Breguet Marine (5827) or a Sedna Speedy; or a pure archaism, like a Senator Chronometer or Cornes de Vache. And if I was going into tech, I might want something simpler, like a Sinn or Stowa; or something far more complicated, like a Portugieser Perpetual or a tourbillon. And if I was going to Hollywood I expect I would want to stand out in my fashion, and would get a Snowtrooper or a Panerai LAB-ID.
Whereas, at the moment, I would be very happy to take up any of these careers. I am an ambitious and capable man, and I am unemployed as the day is long. This is not a situation to which I would like to match a wristwatch – any more than I’d like to determine what wine to pair with a Big Mac and pack of Camels.
It is hard even for me to dream. Because if I got my foot in the door at a white-shoe law firm, I expect that I should be very happy to spend the next forty years of my life at the law. And if I got my foot in the door in an investment bank, I would absolutely relish the opportunity to earn my weight in gold. And if I could join a startup I would work eighty hours a week, week in, week out, to make my fortune and that of those around me. I know which of these I would prefer – but at this point, if one presents itself, then that is the one I shall take – shall fucking pounce on.
As a result, until my life has a bit more direction, I shall have to content myself with the knowledge that the world offers great lives and great things to complement them. And hopefully I will find one for myself. Hopefully – for the love of God.
There is a place in Cambridge with the pants-soilingly awful name “Danger!Awesome.” It bills itself as a 3D printer. You bring in a design, you pay them some money, they 3D print your design. You come back and they hand you a Thing.
There is a makerspace in Cambridge called Artisan’s Asylum. It contains innumerable tools and pieces of machinery. But a lot of its clientele are just interested in 3D printing. This means that they pay the Asylum some money, they bring in a design, they 3D print their design. The only difference is that they press their own button on the machine that hands them a Thing.
Calling that “making” is not just reminiscent of a Jetson’s joke: it IS a Jetson’s joke. (Pretty much THE Jetson’s joke, come to think.)
To be fair, some of the handmaking people do is archaic past utility. It’s a Flinstone’s joke, it isn’t really my scene either. But at least if you’re using a hand-lathe and a pterodactyl as your tools, you can legitimately call that Making. Whereas if you’re pressing a button, you can still use the thing that’s produced, but it isn’t Making. It’s just Receiving. There’s no You involved in the process at all.
However, this brings up what I think is an interesting question: in the days of mass-production and technology-assisted (or completed!) manufacturing, is there a place for handmaking outside of the baroque?
By “baroque” I mean “adornment for its own sake.” I mean the aesthetic of taking something that accomplishes its purpose and then adding shit to it for the sake of adding shit. To take something simple and make it more complicated solely for the sake of aesthetics – which is to say, by and large, to show off the skill or effort that was put into it.
In the 1700s, raisin cake was the most popular cake in America. This is because the other fruit cakes just required fruit, whereas a raisin cake required that the baker also dry the fruit beforehand. The only reason it was popular was because it was harder.
Or take another watch example. This little thing from a little manufacture made such a splash as Baselworld that other producers have started aping it. However, it is purely cosmetic. It’s like studding the watch with diamonds, except we now live in a world where diamonds are fairly common and certainly easy to bedazzle onto anything, whereas this kind of engraving shows time and skill. I honestly think it’s lovely, but I’m also aware that if it isn’t Raisin Cake, it is well on its way.
If technology has obviated the utility of many traditional forms of making, then the proper attitude for makers is either A) to do those things that technology cannot, or B) to find new things to do, that our forebears could not have dreampt of.
There is plenty of A-space left. A lot of watchmakers (my weird interest of the last few months) have rejected mechanical processes for some of the steps of construction, having compared it with human labor and found the mechanical labor to be inferior. As far as B-space, there is infinity to discover – and I will say that it won’t be discovered by a person whose only experience with materials is to press a button and receive them. No more than a robot doctor will ever discover a new surgical technique.
My lease has almost run. Having a little money in my purse, but fuckall to interest me in this bit of land called Portland, it looks like I will soon be closing up shop and moving on.
I am currently preparing my application to business schools. I want to be a businessman (or a business lawyer, wherein the difference is trivial). To spend two years learning the best ways to be that, would seem to me the best possible use of my time. Moreover, I want to be surrounded by people of abilities and ambitions meet with my own. It sounds about like paradise – probably more than an MBA program should – but I think I’m okay with that.
The difficulty, here, is that I will not be able to apply to schools until early September. I won’t find out if I’ve been made a good offer until November, maybe December. And I won’t be able to start the program until the following September. As such, I quite likely have eighteen months between Now and Starting School.
I am still casting about for gainful employ. But the impending loss of my lease is an excellent time to cut bait. I then have eighteen months to do… nigh-on whatever I want. Ah, that old brass ring!
Having considered the matter at great length, I have decided that I would like to do a little hiking.
I will be taking the month of April to see if that is feasible – I am out of shape in general, and just coming off of two ACL surgeries in specific. If it is, my plan is to put boots on the AT starting May 1st. If I start at Harper’s Ferry (the halfway point) and head north, I could well reach Katahdin by the end of July. I will then come home, submit my bschool applications, and go from there.
If hiking doesn’t prove feasible, I will try another bicycle tour – it is easier on the knees than mountaineering. Hopefully at least one of these options will be available to me.
Now, I have already done a little hiking, and a little camping, though not much. Consequentially I have a little gear. The only major purchases I will need to make relate to my sleep system.
The big questions before me will be:
Do I want to sleep in a hammock, or in a tent?
Do I want to sleep in a mummy sleeping bag, or a quilt sleeping bag (or two)?
Let’s take the first question: hammock or tent. Fortunately, I own both a teeny little solo tent, and an “adventure hammock” with a bugnet and tarp. I’ve overnighted in both and they’re both lovely.
My tent weighs 1247 grams, including the rain fly. My hammock weighs 992 grams, but 567 for its rain tarp – total 1559 grams. However, with the tent, I’d also have to carry a mattress pad. That’s 341 grams, for a total of 1588. IE, they weigh exactly the same.
If I go with a tent, I will be able to buy a quilt or a mummy sleeping bag. The use of a pad means that a quilt is probably preferable. To wit:
Quilts are more versatile, as you can cinch them tight against the cold or lay them open like a blanket when it’s warmer. In a mummy, you’re either hot or your not. Also, with a quilt, you are never sleeping on top of the down – compressing it, making it both less functional and also drastically reducing its lifespan.
If I go with a hammock, I will not have a pad beneath me. That means I will either need a mummy sleeping bag, and the hammock magnifies the strikes against them. OR I will need two quilts, one to wrap around the outside of the hammock, and one to go over me. Now, this sounds positively nestly to me – but the only thing worse than spending $300 on a down quilt is having to do it twice. (And then having to carry both of them – an extra pound of pack weight!)
As a result, it sounds more and more like I’ll be choosing to use a tent-based sleeping system, along with my trusty NeoAir pad and a down quilt. I sleep warm (I’ve done 29F nights in a 45F bag), so I expect I’ll be quite fine with a 30F quilt. The ZPacks 30F (regular length and width) weighs a mere 473 grams; the Katabatic Elite is about 2oz heavier but the down is treated to be water resistant. I’m sure there are other models to consider, too.
But during the month of April, I will be trying out both my hammock and my tent to see if there is a mote of personal preference which might push me in one direction or the other. I have a generously rated 15F bag that should suffice. I also have a synthetic 45F bag for lashing to the outside of the hammock, to see how that goes.
I’m in no hurry.
I went home and found the courier sitting on my front steps. He handed me a manila envelope and held out his hand. “Nakonechnik, pozhaluysta?”
“Are you asking for a tip?”
“Did you just Google Translate-”
He nodded. Then waggled his fingers.
“I… shit, I still haven’t been to the cash machine.”
His hand didn’t lower.
“Wait there,” I said. Went inside, dropped the envelope, brought him a bottle of Scotch and put it in his hand.
“I don’t drink,” he said.
“Shit, well, I… wait, bullshit.”
“Totally.” He put the bottle in his water-bottle cage. “Preesh.”
I watched him ride away until I realized I was doing that, then went inside and got to work.
The manila envelope contained a single MicroSD card. It contained a few thousand pages for me to read.
An hour in I made coffee. An hour later and I kind of regretted having done that. Six hours on and I made more coffee, went for a walk while I waited for it to kick in. Tried to digest the realization that, until then, I really didn’t know anything about my company.
I went to the restaurant on the corner. It was closed. It was three thirty in the afternoon so I guess that wasn’t surprising. I thought about getting a slice of pizza, didn’t think it would sit too well on two cups of coffee and a life like a ride on a roller-coaster. I walked until I found someplace open, this Brooklyn monstrosity where every surface was painted grey and the only decorations were illuminated wall sconces featuring jars of pickles. I ordered the daily special which was just called “Sandwich” and I am happy to report that, yes, it was a sandwich. On the way home I stopped for a slice of pizza. Then got back to work.
I flopped onto my bed at midnight. Woke up with my alarm at six. Sat right back at my desk chair and back to work. Worked until noon. Got up and stretched and tried really hard not to go get pizza. Got some pizza. Came home, wrote up a report, and called Fraidel.
“You wrote a report, didn’t you.”
“Yes, Fraidel. Good morning, Fraidel.”
“Don’t send it. Good morning. Fuck you. Come to me and deliver your report.”
“Like, read it?”
“Sing it to me in Viennese falsetto. Just don’t make me fucking read it.”
“My home,” she said. The line went dead.
I thought about calling her back. I thought about calling her all manner of things. Instead I called an Uber and headed for the city.
Her home was a townhouse just south of Stuy Town. Not a place with a lot of townhouses. She’d thought about building one, but instead she bought an old firehouse and turned it into a home. Cost her ten million dollars. I believe the quote she gave the Journal was “I would have paid more.”
And so there I was, realizing I’d been in New York for years and had never set foot in a townhouse. Let alone one that was old red brick with a black iron roof and a giant red firehouse door facing the street. But there was a small little human-sized door next to it. I dropped a knocker and smiled for the camera and the door buzzed and I went inside.
The ground floor wasn’t that big. It had just enough room to fit two cars and a pool table. The car on the left was a dull beige SUV that I later learned was bullet-proof. The one on the right was an old Shelby Cobra that was the first time I’d ever felt the urge to fuck an automobile. The pool table was a pool table.
There was a firepole in the ceiling but a staircase in the corner. Fraidel was sitting on a step about halfway up. Laptop on her lap, glass of water by her side. Sometimes she looked so small. Then she would speak.
“Mister Hardingfel,” she said, “welcome to the sort of house one purchases when one is a walking advertisement for wealth redistribution. Stop slobbering on my Shelby. Care to take it for a drive?”
“Yeah, I- no, ah, I don’t know how to drive stick.”
“Probably for the best. There is nothing worse than the knowledge that you could be going one hundred and eightfive miles per hour when you are doing thirtyseven on the LIE. It makes one feel positively unmanned. Rather like admitting that one cannot operate a manual transmission. Come upstairs and report to me.”
I followed her upstairs. Second of three floors. It was basically empty but for a pair of couches, a few chairs and little tables. Bicycles on one wall, guns on another, a modern stainless kitchen along the third. It looked like a boho loft on Mission Hill. It felt like her fire-tower in Siberia.
“Pretend it’s your kitchen,” she said, refilling her glass of water. I shrugged and grabbed a coffee-mug, opened the fridge and cracked a Perrier. Most people wouldn’t want someone else’s hands wandering through their kitchen, someone else’s eyes wandering through their house. Fraidel didn’t care. Maybe it was the hundred million dollars. But something told me that a strong case this-is-mine only increased with net worth. For most people. Which Fraidel wasn’t.
She leaned against the counter. “So talk,” she said.
So I talked.
I talked about the fourteen divisions which make up the Creighton Leigh conglomerate. Some had a dozen subdivisions, while others were fiefdoms unto themselves. I mostly understood what most of them did. I tried to admit what I did not.
I gave my analyses of each – profitability, competition, present and future, best that I could. But my analyses were based entirely on the official numbers and reports, so that was a strike against them. And according to those numbers, the company should be doing brilliantly. It wasn’t. That was three strikes by itself.
I said as much. Fraidel nodded. She looked just on the edge of being bored.
“So what did you find that is interesting?” she asked.
“The board,” I answered.
“Creighton Leigh’s board has significant influence over the day-to-day running of the company. In part this is through their influence over the CEO, who tries to make everyone happy. In part this is through other means which I don’t understand but are definitely there. I think this would probably be bad for a company at the best of times. But this isn’t the best of times, because the board is a fucking snakepit.
“There are eleven members of the Board. Among them they represent personal ownership of nine percent of the company – just shy of two billion dollars.
“Four of the board members are associated with major investing consortia. Two are retired from banks, one is in his early forties and retired from a hedge fund, one is some rich guy’s nephew who’s an art student at Tisch.
“One is a lawyer who is eighty-four years old, and still works eighty hours a week at his firm. He recently brought in movers in the middle of the night and swapped the desks of every associate in the firm with standing desks. His picture on the firm web site is terrifying.
“One is a heart surgeon who works at Mount Sinai, and thinks he is capable of understanding business. He isn’t.
“One is a guy who worked for the company for forty years as a fabricator. His main job is to provide a veneer or proletarian accountability. He lives with his wife in Sunset Park.
“One is a retired congressman from Nebraska who has no connection to the company, but someone really wanted him to have the fifty thousand a year boardmember stipend. He spends most of the year in Thailand getting his dick sucked.
“Two are members of the Creighton family. They hate each other.
“One is from the Leigh family, and is insane.
“And then there is Javin Akers, who at four hundred thousand dollars a year is the lowest-paid CEO in America, proportional to capitalization.
“From what I can gather, it’s a complete mess. There are roving factions and sub-factions. They seem to change from one board-meeting to the next. I’m pretty sure that a few of the people just like intrigue for its own sake, and a few others have no idea what’s going on around them and think everything’s just hunky-dory. I can tell you that as many as four of them want to break up the company and sell it off division by division, and two or even three of them would like to be made CEO themselves. And Ginny Leigh is actually batshit insane.”
“So what’s your advice?”
I thought about if for just a second. Then shrugged. “Don’t have any advice. Just analysis. All I have.”
She slapped her countertop. “Excellent! Good humility. Passed a pointless test. Couldn’t ask for more. What watch are you wearing?”
“Double pass. High marks. Brilliant. Show me your fucking watch or I will remove your head laboriously with a cheese grater.”
I flashed my watch at her. “You’re obsessed, aren’t you.”
“With so many things.”
“Yes,” she said, “with watches. When I was finishing school I determined to make myself look presentable for corporate interviews. I determined I needed a wristwatch. I determined which one I ought to buy. Then I waited tables for five months in order to pay for it. So when I became wealthier than Croesus I confess I rather let myself go. Made up for lost time. No, that’s not enough, I had absolute bloody revenge upon horology. Bought Pateks and Milsubs and grand complications and in general spent money like a moron. Oh, a beautiful moron. A happy moron, Mister Hardingfel, and there should never be any other kind. By the end of it I was contacting manufacturers to commission pieces and hiring renegade Swiss horologists to do post-factory modifications to suit my every whim. By the end of it I’d spent seven million dollars.”
“In five months.”
I made a noise with my mouth.
“Yes. Eloquently put. But after five months I was able to step back from the abyss, and as a result I did not bankrupt myself and end up in Betty Ford with a grand sonniere hidden under the pillow. And so that the pendulum might swing away from this lapidary despondency of the soul, I spent a comparable pittance on some functional items and set about a more functional life.”
“Firearms,” I said.
“Precisely. Because to hunt and kill is hard, whereas to tell time is only beautiful.”
“Okay,” I said, because that was all I got.
She sipped her water. I noticed she was wearing a wristwatch. I decided not to notice anything more about it.
“So where do we go from here?” I asked.
“An excellent question. The only first. First, Mister Hardingfel, restate the goal.”
“Uh… save the company.”
“Correct. It is important to restate the goal, for sometimes it is not so simple, or so pure. In this case, the company is unwell. We must heal it. And what, as you say, stands between the company and health?”
“The board. The CEO I guess.”
“The management, Mister Hardingfel. The company is being poorly managed. Which is why we have been brought in as management consultants. A seemingly unnecessary or even parasitic profession, but it is our job to keep the executives honest or to replace them with those who are. We are as relevant to corporate governance as the electorate is to the Presidency. And you shall have to take my word on this, because I bought you things and now you must earn them.”
I thought about saying something. Decided not to waste my time.
“I have been doing this longer than you,” Fraidel said, “and so you will forgive me if I take charge of the more qualitative aspect of our strategy.”
“I – shut up – have determined that there are three scenarios wherein Creighton Leigh will survive. The first scenario has our dear Mister Akers replaced by a competent tyrant who will master the board – ignore them, or run roughshod over their bleating forms until they fall in line. Unfortunately I consider that this is unlikely to be accomplishable. Most of the board-members are too independent, too selfish, and have been allowed to be for so long that they are beyond saving. The corruption has festered too long. It must be cut out.”
“So… fire the board?”
“That is option number two. Which I expect that a man of your legal training will recognize as a rather difficult proposition.”
“Not impossible, Mister Hardingfel. We are dealing with people, and in that arena, nothing is impossible. And what is law but the words of people? Very human, all throughout, and as such, infinitely mutable. But it would be an absolute bitch and so I would just as soon avoid it.”
“Quite. Also we would still be stuck with Mister Akers, whose lack of leadership will only allow the next board to grow monstrous as well.”
“I – oh, blow me – I am therefore of more of a mind for the third option. That would be to take the board as it is currently composed, and the CEO as we find him, and make them work.”
“And how do we do that?”
She stood. “Figure it out,” she said. “I’m going for a bike ride.”
She pulled her dress over her head and was wearing lycra beneath. Went to the wall, and after considering her options she took down a tiny black racing bike. I’ve seen more exertion from someone taking their jacket off a hook.
“What’s that weigh?” I asked.
“4,392 grams,” she said.
“That’s not much, is it.”
“My dearest Mister Hardingfel, I hope that you never stop being amazed at the things which human energy and ingenuity can produce using the materials of this earth. But I also beg you to assume that I only own the best, because I am fucking rich and fucking can.”
She put the bike over her shoulder, slid down the firepole, and was gone.