In most ways I am thoroughly repulsed by luxury. Ferraris, I admit, are fine automobiles, and I’m sure that they are great fun to drive, provided, that is, that one has had the training required to be able to drive them properly. But I’m not interested in Ferraris, not even if the Ferrari is yours and you offer it to me for an afternoon. First class air travel? I’m sure that it’s nice, but it comes at a 700% penalty over economy. No thanks. And Hermes bags, and pretty much anything bearing the label “Chanel,” are just ridiculous. So why am I strangely attracted to Rolex watches?
Actually, I know why. I grew up in Queens, New York, and over the course of the late 1950’s and the 1960’s I walked the length of Main Street, Flushing, one or two thousand times. From Northern Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue I closely examined all of the store windows time after time. One of the nicest windows belonged to Greenwald’s Jewelers, and the things that attracted me most were the Rolex watches.
The Rolex “Oyster!” What a cool name for a watch. I didn’t even know that you could make a watch waterproof, beyond those special things that divers wore. Mostly, I thought that they were beautiful. Just very simple, strong, elegant and totally beautiful. I must have seen advertisements for Rolex watches, because I read the New Yorker, and the Sunday New York Times, and Life and Newsweek magazines, National Geographic even. There must have been ads. I don’t recall specifically. All I remember is admiring them in shop windows, notably Greenwald’s.
They weren’t cheap, but doesn’t everything from those days seem strangely affordable now? Up the block at Florsheim’s, you could get real alligator shoes for $29.95. There must have been high-line Rolexes in the window, but the ones that I liked, the ones that I remember, were stainless steel and cost between $200 and $220. That was only five or six weeks’ pay at the minimum wage at the time. ($1.25 per hour; $40.45 take home for 40 hours.) I worked summers in high school, and I had more than enough in the bank to cover a Rolex. When I was thirty years old I kind of regretted not having bought one. Other than a couple of cameras, I pissed away that bank money in my late teens anyway. Now I realize that buying one would have been silly. I mean, you could get a perfectly good Bulova watch for $29.95 or less, and I already had a Benrus watch myself, which was more expensive. (A gift from my grandmother.) It would have been strange for a fuck-up like me to show up wearing a Rolex. Quite pretentious, you know. I lived in a working class milieu. Even my father, who had a great job, wore a $20 watch. A Rolex would only have attracted thieves.
So now I’m watching the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and most of the ads are for Rolex watches. Roger Federer, whom I greatly admire, wearing a ridiculous fashion-forward suit in the modern, ridiculous style, wearing an enormous Rolex, strolling uncomfortably around some kind of art museum. Usually I find these ads for luxury products objectionable, but in the case of Rolex I experience the nostalgic old longing for the watch. A more modest model anyway.
Maybe I should buy a coffee-table book of Rolex watches. I would enjoy looking at the pictures. Maybe I should go on e-bay and look at the Rolexes for sale there. Even today I could find the money in the bank to buy a Rolex, but buying one today would be just as silly and pretentious as it would have been years ago. I have a perfectly good watch already, don’t I? It’s a Wilson watch that I purchased seven years ago for $45.00 (1,500 Baht, in Bangkok). It’s an attractive watch, it keeps perfect time, and it still works. Case closed.
The longing for luxury is a terrible suffering for people who can’t afford it. The advertisements, I believe, are acts of violence against ordinary people. I hate being reminded every day that airlines do not value my frequent purchases of economy tickets, that they only really love their first class passengers. The purchasing habits of the rich should not be rubbed in our faces like that. Their fabulous ability to pay is an affront to our dignity.
But the Rolexes! Aren’t they beautiful?