Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It's About Time!

"Use it up; Wear it out; Make it do ... Or do without" 
(WWII era -- or earlier? -- slogan)

This was the prevailing philosophy all through my childhood.  I grew up in rural central Florida, where some goods and services were not always easily available, although I suspect that even "city kids" who grew up pre-1970's or 1980's had to apply this thinking to some extent.  Surely none of us could have envisioned the myriad choices that consumers can make today -- or dreamed of a time when it might actually be cheaper to throw something away than have it fixed!

Now, of course, thanks in part to the "Green" movement, things are starting to come full circle.  Though our culture has allowed us -- even encouraged us -- to take pride in having the luxury to toss aside even "gently used" items for something more stylish, nowadays it isn't always so cool to carelessly discard an item that may still have life.  When my watch recently quit keeping time, I initially had the sense of dread that usually precedes "major" shopping trips (yes, there are some of us for whom too many choices is, in fact, a curse).  Then, I remembered -- did memory serve me correctly? -- hadn't I passed by a watch repair store in downtown Black Mountain?

Yes!  Pellom's Time Shop, and the cardboard sign in the window read, simply, "We carry watch batteries."  I pushed open the door of the narrow storefront, and was immediately transported into yesteryear: old wooden display cases and counters filled with clocks of all shapes and sizes and vintages.  Clocks and old cigar boxes piled into this corner, clocks covering the counter, clocks hanging on that wall.  And a little hanging display case that had quite an array of watches.

I handed my useless watch to the quietly smiling, soft-spoken, man behind the counter (who I presume to have been Mr. Pellom, himself) and asked him if he'd be able to tell me whether it could be fixed or if it'd be cheaper to just buy a new one.  "Whether it's more expensive to you dead or alive, in other words?" he quipped.  He disappeared behind a partition at the back of the shop, and I turned my attention to the watches in that hanging display case, should I need to buy a new one.  It was an odd assortment, to be sure, but I saw a couple of timepieces that would serve me nicely.  In practically no time at all, Mr. Pellom returned with my good-as-new watch, having replaced the battery and given its running parts "a bit of oil."  The price for this service?  $3

Couldn't have bought a new watch for anywhere near that low sum.

I was glad, because that watch (a Timex) and I have been through a lot together.  For example, because I can't play guitar while wearing the watch (on the wrist of my strumming hand) I usually remove the watch just prior to a performance.  However, there have been times on stage when I've found myself picking up the guitar, only to discover that -- Yikes! -- I'm still wearing my watch.  I've quickly stripped it off and tossed it aside -- more times than is probably good for it -- and it always "Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'" just like the old TV ads claimed.

Before I left, and because there was one pretty and unusual watch that had caught my eye, I asked Mr. Pellom about those watches in the hanging display case.  "Oh, they're not for sale," he murmured, and then as an afterthought, "but if their owners don't come to claim 'em pretty soon, they might be."  

"Times are tough;" he said, "folks who've found themselves out of work need to buy food and clothes more than they need to pay for their fixed watches."  Without a trace of bitterness or self-pity, he added, "Don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep this up."  What could I say to that?  He wasn't one to commiserate, so I thanked him and turned toward the door.  My heart leapt a little to see an older couple entering the shop; Pellom's Time Shop was still in business.

Sandwiched as it is between two of Black Mountain's gift boutiques, Pellom's probably does get notice from a fair number of tourists -- after all, that's how I came to know of it.  But modern society has less and less need for the neighborhood "Mr. Fix-It": these days it's truly cheaper to buy a new TV, for example, than to have your old one repaired.  The kid who loved to tinker on cars back in high school can't manage his own auto repair shop, because vehicles these days have fancy -- and costly -- computer systems that only a dealer can afford to maintain.

But as our growing concern for the environment gives more and more power to the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle," perhaps those who enable us to more fully practice the "Three R's of Environmentalism" will regain their once-critical place in our society.  I'm pulling for you, Mr. Pellom!