Curse of the Japanese Watch

Curse of the Japanese Watch

Michael McGrorty

I spent about a year homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, a base the Japanese graciously presented to us as a goodwill token after the misunderstandings of 1941-45. I understood this before I came to the Navy, courtesy of an uncle who had experienced difficulty owing to the Japanese habit of killing American sailors with suicide aircraft. For some reason he held a grudge, probably due to the five or so years he spent in the hospital trying to get his scorched lungs to function.

Uncle Bill did not use terms of courtesy to describe the Japanese. Nor did any of the men on my block who had fought against them. Three decades after the official end of hostilities I found myself in their country. I had no animus toward either the Japanese or their Navy, but it was interesting to deal with them.

Their sailors never looked us in the eye, and their officers were even more distant. I imagine it would be the same if they had taken over 32nd Street in San Diego and given us the lousy berths. Despite the passage of time, one felt he was really in a conquered land.

Not long after my ship’s arrival, I went to the exchange and saw the wonderful merchandise available for sale. Any sailor who’s been there recalls the audio equipment and other stuff. But my eye fixed on the wristwatches. I’d never owned a watch and I needed one. That’s what I told myself, anyhow. Eventually, I made a bargain with my conscience: I’d buy myself a watch if I could also get one for my brother if only to prove that it wasn’t just about me.

So, I got him one of those complicated diver chronographs with all the little dials and stuff, and a plain day/date model for myself, deep blue, with a thick, flat crystal. His I mailed home and mine I just stuck on, but not before having to take out numerous links so it would fit my skinny wrist.

My brother was actually grateful for his gift, and I was happy with mine. My uncle heard about it and said that he’d never accept anything made by the [fill in racist terms here]. I had my watch a few weeks and then one day I swung my arm against a doorway and the crystal cracked. I had it fixed, and cracked it again, this time against a fireplug in a passageway. When that was fixed, I made sure to keep my arms out of trouble, but then the rope of a heavy mailbag caught on the bracelet and snapped it. I put the watch in my locker and left it alone for months.

Meanwhile back home, my brother went around displaying his diver’s watch to anybody who’d look. One night he was drinking at a bar called the Prairie Wagon, a country western dump a block from our home. Two guys came in with guns and robbed him of his wallet, money, and the watch. A few days later the robbers tried the same trick at another place and were shot dead.

Flash forward a few years. I’m a civilian now, working at a 7-11 store. Two guys come in the door and hold us up. A month later it happens again. I decide to quit working at 7-11 stores for my health. Not long after this I was drinking myself into a mild stupor at the Prairie Wagon when (wait for it) two guys burst in through the back door to demand everybody’s money. They were so inept that they failed to collect mine, but one customer resisted and was shot, and then beaten pretty badly by the robbers with pool sticks. It was a rather ugly evening.

What did all these events have in common? I was wearing that damned blue Seiko watch. This occurred to me, as well as that I should perhaps not patronize the Prairie Wagon any more. I tossed the watch into my took kit and forgot about it.

About a year later I was out in the desert, shooting at targets with some friends, one of whom asked to borrow a screwdriver, which was of course in my tool box. While searching for it, he found the Seiko, and asked why I’d put such a nice watch in a grimy box. I gave him its history and he laughed. I offered to give him the watch, and he accepted, but I added one caveat: he could have the watch if I took a shot at it and missed.

I set the watch up on a stick at about 25 yards, with the face toward me. I said “One shot. I miss, it’s yours.”

I am a terrible pistol shot who suffers from the usual tendency to pull to the right, so I lifted the Smith and Wesson .357, held it about six inches left, and gently crushed the trigger. The watch disappeared. I found the case shot clean through and the innards blown to timepiece heaven. That was it for the blue Seiko.

I could say that I’ve never been robbed since that day, except by an ex-wife, and that’s true enough. Nowadays all my watches come from China or the Philippines. I had the chance to pick up a German one a few years back but didn’t want to tempt fate.

The ex-wife? I got her a Seiko the same time I got the other two. She was mad because it didn’t have any diamonds.

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