It isn't that I don't like jewelry. Rather, it appears that jewelry doesn't like me.
I don't know what it is, but for some reason, jewelry and I do not get along. I accidentally destroyed the first watch that I owned — an ugly incident with a lathe in eighth grade metal shop. A few years later I bought a high school class ring, but within a month it was sleeping with the fishes after I forgot to take it off while water skiing. The beautiful silver wedding ring my wife, Anita, gave me as a symbol of our eternal love lasted two months until it slipped off my finger — OK, I was playing with it — during church and rolled under the pews and slipped down a heating duct and was never seen again.
For most of my life, I have chosen not to tempt fate, and I have lived jewelry-free. But during our recent wedding anniversary cruise, I became frustrated at not knowing the time. There were no clocks anywhere on the ship — not even an alarm clock in our stateroom. So during one of our shopping expeditions, I went looking for a watch. I wasn't looking for something to make a statement about me or to make me look chic. I just needed to know what time it is.
Anita found a handsome-but-expensive watch that came with a nice pen and a wallet.
"I have lots of pens," I said, "and there is no cash to put in a wallet. I only need a watch."
'What sort of watch do you need?" asked the woman at the shop that sells, among other things, watches.
"I need the kind of watch that, you know, tells time," I said.
Undaunted, she showed me watches that also doubled as calendars, appointment books, portable meteorological stations and intercontinental ballistic missile launching platforms.
"Seriously," I told her. "I just want a watch that tells time."
By now the clerk was bored with me. She pointed toward a corner of the shop where a hand-lettered sign said, "Everything $10."
"I think there are watches over there that tell time," she said as she turned her attention to a customer who was looking for jewelry that required a doctorate from MIT to operate it.
I was thrilled at the prospect of a $10 watch. I wasn't expecting much — just something that kept reasonably good time — so I was pleased to find a nice-looking silver watch with a silver link band, a big hand, a little hand and a sweeping second hand. It also had three cool dials inside the face of the watch — I assumed they were for date, month and year — as well as three stems with which I assumed you set the dials and the watch to their proper settings. It didn't come with an instruction book, but the clerk assured me it was all very self-explanatory.
Which, it turned out, was absolutely correct.
When I got the watch back to our stateroom and started fiddling with it, I discovered that those cool dials are just painted on — they don't actually move or anything. Two of the three stems are simply decorative as well. And the silver band has a tendency to pinch my wrist.
But that's OK. I just want to know what time it is, and the watch does a good job of letting me know that — as long as you don't mind that it only has the numbers 1-7 on the face of the watch. From 8 o'clock on, you're sort of on your own.
Not that I'm complaining. I got what I paid for: a watch that is worth $10. Maybe.
Still, as we venture into the Christmas shopping season, it is good to remember that we generally get what we pay for. We put a lot of time, effort and money into our Christmas giving. And that's not a bad thing, I guess, until we become more focused on the gifts than on the reason for the giving. If we focus on the gifts, then we'll get what we pay for: pleasure and delight until something newer, fresher, shinier and higher-tech comes along — as it inevitably will. But if we focus on the reason for the giving — the tenderness of our most cherished relationships and the sacredness of the season — then what we get in return will have little to do with the gift, and everything to do with the feelings that were generated through the giving and the receiving.
Besides, everyone knows that the best gifts rarely come from the gift shop — they come from the heart.
And they almost never include ICBM capability.