My parents gave me a few things: a good start in life, a gray suitcase with plastic, stick-on initials for the DIY monogram (though we spelled out do-it-yourself in 1972), and an electric Timex Dynabeat wristwatch that I haven't worn in more than 30 years.
I'm not proud of that. My parents never had much in the way of disposable income, and 40 years ago, they spent precious money on a watch for me. I should have treated it with more respect.
Instead, I stopped wearing it after the second or third wristband busted. I socked the Timex away in a sock drawer. The battery died. The watch stayed among my cuff links and loose change.
Years flew by. I rediscovered the watch and put it in my briefcase, fully intending to stop one day at a shop to see if it could be fixed.
That was four years ago.
On Tuesday, motivated by NSW (Not Sure What), I carried it into Lakein's Jewelers on Harford Road in good ol' Hamilton. The sign in the glittering front window notes that Lakein's is observing "our 99th Christmas." Warren Lakein is the third of four generations of Lakeins in the jewelry business.
"Can I help you?" he asked from behind the front counter.
I handed him the round Timex with the brass-plated rim.
He looked at it and said: "What did you do, find that in a drawer?"
Before I could answer, he took the watch into triage.
I like the moment when a craftsman with a lot of miles on him takes something out of your hands, slides onto a stool in a timeworn workspace, slips on magnifying glasses or a jeweler's loupe, and becomes instantly absorbed in diagnosing and evaluating the patient. Then he starts prying and tinkering and tapping the thing, and you stand there and hope for the best.
I've been in the presence of some masters over the years: Johnny Sticks, a disabled man who repaired clocks and watches in Pigtown; Charlie the Lamp Man, who did his rewiring act on Cross Street well into his 80s; Stefan the Cobbler, who stitched up leather hockey gloves for me; Gioconda Mannetta, a seamstress who could fix a split in your pants while you sipped an espresso in her basement in Little Italy; and Chris Baragas, the eyeglass repairman in Pikesville.
Now, without looking up from his workspace, Lakein said of my watch: "Haven't seen one of these in 30 years. Don't make them anymore."
I had figured that to be the case — that Timex, headquartered in Connecticut, no longer manufactures the Dynabeat, an electric watch that actually makes a ticking sound.
Mr. Lakein seemed a little gloomy about the prospects for reviving the watch — and not because he didn't have the right battery in stock.
It was LOU that bothered him — Lack Of Use. LOU can be a killer of electric watches.
"If you just lie on a bed for 10 years, what happens to your legs?" Lakein asked.
"They don't work?" I guessed.
As Lakein worked, I tried to remember when my parents gave me this watch. When I turned 16? One Christmas way back when? High school graduation? I couldn't recall exactly, but 1972 seemed to match my memory of opening a box and seeing my first watch for the first time.
"It has sentimental value," I said aloud, and Lakein didn't respond. I'm sure he'd heard that before.
His attention to the watch seemed to have intensified in the last minute or so — as if fired by the possibility of saving the patient. Perhaps the inner works had not become corroded. Perhaps Mr. Lakein had detected a ticking sound.
He stepped out from his workspace.
"You need a new wristband for it," he said, and I knew from that statement the operation must have been a success. You don't buy new shoes for a corpse.
"Wait. My old Timex works?" I asked. "You brought it back to life?"
"I'm surprised," Lakein said. "But, yeah ..."
"Does this happen a lot?" I asked. "Guy finds a watch in a drawer and walks in here to see if you can fix it?"
"Oh, yeah," Lakein said as he spread a selection of leather wristbands on the glass case in the front of the shop. "But that one I hadn't seen, must be 30 years."
I paid my bill and strapped on the watch for the first time since the days when William Donald Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore.
On the sidewalk, as evening started to descend on Harford Road, I looked at the handwritten bill: $9.95 for the wristband and $6.50 for the battery, plus tax.
There was no charge for Lakein's work, for the little miracle of new life in an old watch and the satisfaction that brings.