Tuesday, September 19, 2006

As Time goes By

"You need a watch?"

He was old, a little stooped, his pants and shirt clean and well pressed. I lifted my wrist. "From my kids on my fiftieth."

Murphy's bar on 2nd Avenue. Outside, the constant wail of sirens because President Bush was in town along with the heads of state of more than a hundred other countries. The UN General Assembly opening session. And much of the East Side closed.

He lifted his own wrist. "I'm the Watch Man. I got thinner ones than this."

"I just don't need a watch."

"Then buy your wife one?"

"She has one."

"I'm eighty-nine. What age are you?"

"Sixty-two."

He shook his head. "You're just a boy still." He lifted his day pack and turned away. He walked to the open door and stood there.

A black woman came by. They seemed to know each other. He touched her braceleted but unwatched wrist, and stepped backwards into the bar. In a corner they bargained. Fox News was too loud until she chuckled loudly. "You're a clever man, you know that?"

She came out of the corner and tried to set the watch.

"I don't cheat people," he said from the corner.

"I know you don't, I already bought."

She turned to me: "You got the time?"

"Five past three," I told her, holding out my fiftieth birthday wrist.

She turned back to the Watch Man. "This one's going to Atlanta. I want another for myself. You be here Friday when I get paid?"

"Sure."

Then they both left.

About an hour later, still in Murphys, I was interrupted from some writing.

"You still here?"

I looked up. "Yep."

"You need a watch?"

"No. But I'd really like to talk to you."

He shrugged. "I just need to sell watches."

I gave in. "How much?"

He opened his day pack and took out a timepiece. "Phillipe Patek. Seventy-five dollars. You can have it for twenty-five. Where else you get such a deal?"

He saw my resistance, reached in again and came out with something similar, smaller. "For your wife, or you could give it a present to someone else. Twenty dollars."

I picked up my money roll and flicked it. "I give you that, I won't have enough for another drink. I could give you ten?"

He shrugged, so I offered him the ten. He took it. Then I gave him back the watch. "I just don't need it."

"So, it's my first sale today." He must have forgotten about the black woman.

"Tell me about yourself."

He rested the day pack on a bar stool, but didn't sit.

His name is Jack. Jack Levy. He was in the Israeli army, but came to America when his daughter, already living in New York, married.

"What did you do when you came here?"

He touched the day pack. "I sold watches. I still sell watches. The Government looks after me now, and this doesn't make me a living any more, but it keeps me alive. It gets me out. I'm eighty-nine, what age are you?"

"I'm sixty-two."

"You're just a boy."

I told him I was a writer, from Ireland.

"I only deal with the Irish." The black woman must have been from Drimnagh, then. Though she'd lost the accent.

He stood up. "I got to go meet my wife."

"Can I take your picture?"

He shook his head. "Nah, I just need to sell watches."

Even when he stood outside the open door of the bar, looking for his bus, I could have snapped a really good one. But I didn't.

He only needs to sell watches, to stay alive. Not to live.

Keep on tickin', Jack. I know you don't need the money. Just the business of life.

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