Reprinted from July 1995
That was the old-timey word used to suggest anything representing trouble or misfortune, such as a “Jonah” watch, which caused problems or simply would not lend itself to being repaired easily.
You can purge that word now because the modern slang has replaced it with a far better word – “bummer”, which means the same thing, only more clearly defined.
Last Saturday turned out to be a complete “bummer” day. We were awakened about 6 a.m. by the garbage men playing shot put with the can lids outside out bedroom window. This type thing always puts R.B. in a jolly mood, which is sure to last the balance of the day.
Arriving at the store, we found a lady customer waiting for us with a watchband she wanted installed. She had arisen early (perhaps with the help of the local garbage men) and shopped the local discount store. Now she could hardly wait to get us to install the bargain watchband – free, of course.
This didn’t improve R.B.’s mood, so by the time the postman arrived, he was really in a tizzy. Along, with the usual assortment of mail, bills, and hot checks, Mr. Zip also brought quite a few watch parts which had been back-ordered by our supplier. Happily, R.B. poured some long-needed balance staffs into a material tray and prepared to go to work.
About this time, though, Mrs. Gotrocks came in to pick up something and she was accompanied by her six-year-old monster – a really darling brat. Before anyone could stop him, he had darted behind the counter, eyes agog, his little fingers dipping into this and that, including R.B.’s tray of staffs. He promptly spilled the staffs all over the bench and apron.
R.B. groaned, and I screamed, and the child’s mother finally corralled him and managed to pry his chubby little fist open and return the materials to the tray.
After she departed, R.B. sat there with a tight smile on his drawn lips, so you can see he was determined to stay cool.
I thought as the day wore on that things would improve if I could just keep feeding R.B. the Alka-Seltzer. But it didn’t work out that way.
Pretty soon the store was filled with people, and right in the midst of all this, a lady burst through the front door shrieking at the top of her lungs: “It stopped! It stopped! I didn’t do anything to it. It just stopped!”
She was holding a tiny watch by one end of the band and shaking it violently.
“Lady please!” coaxed R.B. “Please let me finish with this customer, then I’ll take a look at your watch.”
(Now, personally, I thought that was a fair enough request. Wouldn’t you think so? But haven’t you noticed the comeback watches always appear when the store is full?)
This lady just stood there, beet red, with puffs of steam coming from her ears. Finally R.B. got around to inspecting her watch.
He took his tweezers and poked around for a second, then turned to her and said, “Lady, this watch has either been hit, or dropped. It has a broken staff.”
The lady puckered her lips and replied, “Well then, how do you explain that? I didn’t drop it. Why, I’ve hardly even worn it since you were supposed to have repaired it.”
I think R.B. was pretty well on his way toward being irked. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I can assure you this: it’s broken.”
She just took one step forward, folded her arms and tossed her defiant head.
“Look,” R.B. tried to reason, “even the crystal is cracked, and there, the case is dented, see? It didn’t go out of my shop that way, that’s for sure. You can see the damage yourself, can’t you?”
But she wouldn’t listen.
“You’re out of your tree, Charlie,” she sassed. “I did NOT break that watch! I’m not at all careless with my belongings. I never break things. Why, I even have a doll that was given to me as a child… you’re just trying to put the blame on me for your shoddy repair work.”
My man, R.B., sure got red in the face.
“My name’s not Charlie,” he told her. “It’s Robert, and don’t give me anymore of that crap about – oh, pardon me, what I meant to say was that even so, we still can’t guarantee against breakage.”
But, that old bitty just sneered: “Well, I didn’t break it – you did.”
I often wonder how it would have come out if right at that moment her husband had not walked in.
“Hi hon,” he said. “Well I got finished at the barber shop. Say, how much is it going to cost me to get your watch fixed this time?”
There was a slight pause, then the guy grinned at R.B.
“Did she tell you how she broke it?”
“She THREW the damn thing at me! I raised cain about her running into the center post of the garage. Boy, you shoulda seen my car! But, she was all upset after that big fight with my mother…”
“No,” sighed R.B., “she didn’t mention that.”
But Hubby went on: “Say, let me tell you, this little filly, she sure does have a temper! Why, just last week,” he swatter her on the behind and laughed, “just last week she threw a portable mixer at me, and the week before it was an iron!”
“Well, I sure feel sorry for the appliance repairman,” R.B. tried to joke.
It didn’t sound that funny to me, but it really rocked Hubby up. He swatted his darling again on her familiarity, and screeched: “Ya hear that, Agnes? Charlie here feels sorry for your appliance repairman! How about that one, sweetie? Ole Charlie here, ain’t he a scream!”
Too bad the customers had all cleared out by then. They’d have all liked the finale – and the lady left the watch again for repairing.
“My big mouth husband broke it when he hit me with it,” she explained.
R.B. was just beginning to quit shaking from the traumatic experience when the next “bummer” situation manifested itself…or rather, herself.
She was young and slim and shapely and sort of “pulsated” as she walked. Her hair was very long and immaculately brushed, and besides all that, she wore a mini skirt that was distressingly short.
“My watch has some wa-a-ater in it,” she purred to R.B., leaning over the counter, the better for him to see her timepiece. “And I just can’t i-imagine how it got there.”
“Well, don’t you worry at all,” R.B. consoled her. “These little accidents do happen and I’m sure it wasn’t your fault. So, I’d like to take another look at your movement.”
Her movement – Bah! He was having trouble locating an eyeball to look through the loupe.
“Why, it sure is wet in there all right,” he agreed with her. “Now, I wonder how in the world you ever managed to get all that moisture in your nice little watch. I bet you forgot to remove it when you, uh, undressed to shower.”
“Oh, no, Sugar, I took everything off, really,” protested that innocent-pretending little pussycat!
R.B. kept right on trying.
“I’ll be you might have got some spray into it while styling your lovely hair. Or maybe some hand lotion? Or…”
“No-o-o,” she breathed dreamily, making a puzzled frown that might have looked cute on Shirley Temple.
Then, all of the sudden: “Wait a minute, Sugar. Now I remember! Last week, I went to a swinging party and I used my little tee-ninzy watch to stir my cocktail after I’d lost my swizzle stick down the garbage disposal.”
R.B. looked disenchanted; she explained further.
“I was trying to get my shoe out that some jerk had put in there…”
“Of course,” R.B. nodded. “I understand how it could have happened, now. Happens all the time.”
“Do you think that might have goofed up my watch, Sugar?” the sweet thing asked.
R.B. sighed. “I’m sorry to say it did. What a pity, but I’ll fix you up all right again.”
I’m glad she didn’t actually hug him because just at that moment, our next “bummer” walked in. Old Granny Grunt, complaining her recently repaired watch had been stopping.
After Snow White wiggled out, I could see that this old girl was accustomed to riding on a broomstick. She didn’t mince words: “It stops on me,” she declared. “I’ve got a lot of electricity in me, and it stops watches.”
“Lady,” mumbled R.B. under his breath. “I believe it. And, you’ve got a face that would stop a clock.”
“Beg pardon?” she asked, leaning forward.
“I said, I believe I see why your watch stopped. It isn’t wound up,” R.B. said. “Wind it fully every morning, and it will be okay.”
She looked doubtful, but took the watch and left.
R.B. was starting to look haggard. “I think I should have taken up chiropractics or brick laying or something besides watch making.”
Just then, the door buzzer sounded and in came a middle-aged man. His face was stern as he stripped the watch off his wrist and plunked it down on the counter – hard.
“I had this watch fixed here and it won’t keep good time,” the man said. “Always ran perfect ‘til you worked on it.”
R.B. replied, “Well sir, if you want perfect time you’ll have to invest in an Accutron – or at least something better than a Timex. I can’t guarantee a Timex for better time that…”
“Ran perfect for 12 years ‘til you worked on it. Never even had to set it. Not one time.”
R.B. bit his bottom lip. He put the watch on the timing machine, flipped open the back, shoved the regulator, and then returned it to the customer without another word.
The customer smiled. “Now see, if you’d done a complete job the first time, I wouldn’t of had to come back. Other than that, you done a real good job, and I don’t’ expect to have more trouble with this little dud for another 12 years!”
He went out happy!
Shortly, another customer arrived to finish our “bummer” day. This one was a 30-year-old high school science and physics teacher. “I wound it up too tight,” was his complaint.
“It isn’t possible to wind a watch too tight,” R.B. explained. “There’s a recoil click on all modern watches which prevents this. Winding a watch too tight is an old wives’ tale.”
“Well, this one is wound up too tight,” argued the science teacher.
“No, sir,” smiled R.B. “Next thing you’ll be telling me is that unscrupulous watchmakers rob the jewels from their customers’ watches…”
The teacher didn’t see the humor in that remark. “Well, they do, don’t they?” he said.
With that, R.B. had had it. “Yep, they sure do. But don’t say it so loud because other people in the store might hear you.”
The customer looked suspiciously at R.B., then gathered up his prized timepiece and left.
“Martha, let’s close up and go home,” said R.B. “Monday may be a blue, blue day, but nothing can take the place of a ‘bummer’ Sad-dee!”