It was like the places that books made me imagine when I was a kid. The atmosphere was familiar and not familiar, reminding of a dream I once had or a place that I used to wish I could go to. I was there to see if they could fix my pocketwatch.
My mother gave me a beautiful antique silver pocketwatch for my birthday (July 13 for anyone who wants to buy me a present next year) that I hope to soon be able to use. The problem is that the winding key doesn’t fit and so it slips off the little gear that you use to wind the watch. I had looked all over the Internet for a pocketwatch store and couldn’t find one. I tried Bloomingdale’s, but they don’t do watch keys. The watch repair man at Bloomingdale’s told me about an antique clock store up the street and I decided to check it out.
The place is called the Sutton Clock Shop, which I
learned from the almost unreadable painted letters of the sign that are faded and peeling on the second floor of a building at the corner of 61st and Lexington. I rang the bell and was buzzed in. At the top of the first flight of stairs there was a door, slightly ajar, with more peeling letters. I knocked and peeked inside. The first thing I saw aside from all the clocks (which weren’t much of a surprise) was a shock of bleach-blonde spiky hair and a pair of eyes looking at me through some fashionable, round-lensed glasses. Entering the room, I saw that the hair and the eyes and the glasses belonged to a petite black lady who wore intricate copper bracelets and well-fitting clothes made from gold-colored raw silk.
The room was tiny, smaller than my roommate’s bedroom, and filled from floor to ceiling and everywhere in between with all sorts of old clocks. There were no lights illuminating the room: only the sunlight from outside, which streaked into the room, dodging the piles of old things and casting weird shadows. Neither the lady nor I had spoken yet so I decided to ask her if she knew anything about antique pocketwatches. She responded that Sebastian might be able to help me, and from behind a wall of clocks stepped a younger man with wild hair who was also sporting a raw silk shirt, open in the front. He moved very slowly and his eyes were open three-quarters, suggesting that he was calm at the core, not just on a hot day. I told him I thought there was a problem with the watch key. Without speaking, he took it from me and disappeared behind the wall.
Trying to make conversation, I told the lady that I thought her shop was really cool. She shrugged and said it was a shame that all the clocks were off the walls while they were reorganizing. It didn’t seem like all the clocks were off the walls. I actually couldn’t imagine there being space for any more clocks on the walls, but I guess there had to be places for the ones strewn all over the floor. After that, the lady told me she liked my glasses and continued puttering with something on one of the large workbenches that took up most of the space in the entryway. Sebastian returned shortly and told me he didn’t have a key that fit, but he was ordering some and I should come back in a couple weeks.
Both of them seemed ageless, old and young at the same time. Maybe it was the late afternoon sun coming through the window at strange angles, or maybe being surrounded by everything old made it harder to tell, but the whole place didn’t seem real. I’m struggling to describe it, because it was really the most special place I’ve been in a long time: a place that made my stomach jump and made me wonder for a second if I had been looking at numbers for too long at work. Most of all it was a place of the sort that I’ve always wanted to find in New York. Despite Times Square where life becomes an advertisement, despite Macy’s where you can find anything in the world, despite the rapid gentrification of the city and character being replaced with commerce all over, people always say there is “just something about New York.” I think that “something” is different for everyone, because I know some people would say that seeing the farewell performance of Cats is where they found that little bit of magic. Bennett found it in a comic book store where they don’t assume you’re stealing and they give you a discount for having good taste. I found it in this clock store, and it’s not that I’m particularly enamored with clocks (even though some of the ones there are totally awesome), but rather I found something that was built, not bought, and reminded me why small business is important. It was authentic in the most essential way and I can’t wait to go back. Maybe they’ll even fix my pocketwatch.