punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Beep beep... BANG!

When I was about... I think 13, I got for my birthday my first real digital watch. Before that, all but one were analog watches. My first watch was a fake gold Timex that broke. Then I had another watch that got stolen from my locker at a local pool. Then my mother gave me my father's watch he got from graduation in 1955, but the band was loose and made of some stretchy metal herringbone construction that pinched my arm hair like dozens of tiny pliers (I still have it, though). Then I found a digital watch in a park, but my mother was suspicious that I had stolen it, so she took it from me (I got it back years later, but by then, the batteries were dead). But this new digital watch I got was great.

It was a super Nelsonic Space Attacker watch.

In the early 80s, digital watches were becoming far more common. Just a few years earlier, digital watches were horribly expensive battery hogs. They usually only had one function: the time. Fancy ones had the time and date if you pushed a button. Then, in a "Fancy gadget catalog" I got from an airplane, I saw something so amazing, I thought I would pass out: a watch with a calculator on it. Think of the possibilities! Too bad it was $350 (in 1979 money, which would be $400 billion trillion today).

But years later, calculator watches were a lot cheaper. And the little LCD wonders had time and date and stopwatches, alarms, music, and in 1983, video games! So when I begged and begged for the Space Invaders watch I saw in a W. Bell & Company catalog, I was thrilled beyond continence to actually get one from my mother!

On my wrist, it was huge. The LCD was a wide screen where the date was on the top, a row of "Sun Mon Tue Wed..." in the middle with a horizontal bar to show what day it was, and the time was on the bottom. But there was more! It had a stopwatch, an alarm, tunes, and best of all, a Space-Invaders type game.

Sure, the tunes were nothing more than one tune that played a medley composed of bars from Star Wars, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, and a few other sci-fi shows. And the Space Invader game wasn't really like Space Invaders, but a weird game where you manned a Missle-Command like silo that shot at three rings of invaders, ever closing in on you. It was crude, hard to play with those tiny buttons, and didn't keep the best time (it lost a few minutes a week), but I had it for two years.

This watch was like my Crown Jewel of Materialistic Nerdvana.

Twice, someone tried to steal it. One guy actually succeeded, but because he was dumb enough to wear it the next day, I got it back, although the vice principal "suggested" (sort of coerced, but in a friendly way) I not wear it to school again because it seemed to be "trouble waiting to happen." I was angry about this as a kid, but as an adult, I can see his point of view with more clarity (one of the plots for "The Gods Must Be Crazy" is about a Bushman who has to get rid of a Coke bottle for similar reasons). I forgot if I wore it to school ever again, but by that point, the watch wasn't doing so well, so I kept it at home for just the video game.

It died... horribly. One of my goals was to get over 999 points. The reason was I knew the counter only had space for three digits, and I wondered what happened after 999. The ships came with ever increasing speed as the game went on, and points were done by the ring they were on: I think it was Outer Ring was 3 points, Middle was 2, and Inner was 1. If the ship got past Inner, you blew up. You had three lives, a standard back in those days, based on I think older pinball game standards. I had gotten up to 800 before, but by then the incoming ships were so fast, I lost simply due to hitting those eentsy buttons with the speed needed. When the batteries had slowed to a crawl, the game slowed down, and one day, I got past 999... and the watch exploded.

No, really!

What happened was this: the button batteries must have had a short or leak or something. I didn't feel the heat of the watch at the time because in order to press those teeny buttons and not leave a painful dimple in my fingers was to hold the watch in a towel. The back blew off with a sizzling sigh, and the LCD screen cracked and turned a darkish-green. My fingers actually got tiny first degree burns, although I thought at the time that part of it was because of the battery acid (do button batteries even have acid?), but now I wonder if it was just the dimple/scars from the small buttons. The carcass I think I sent to my friend Neal in Texas as "wow, look at THIS!"

I was bummed. I was not devastated because at this point I was tired of the watch, but'd sure give a lot to have it again now. How cool would that be? I wonder how many died like that, because I can't find them anywhere. Ebay hasn't had them, although they have had other, newer cheaper pastel plastic Nelsonic game watches from the late 1980s. Online, I did find those photos, but little else. I wonder, did they all blow up? I thought it was just mine ... maybe not.

I have never had a cooler watch. I think I am still comparing that watch to every new one I get. The only watch that came close was an Omega Constellation my uncle gave me for graduation. It was an analog watch with a relief of the Palomar observatory on the back, and of such high quality, that it pretty much weathered everything. But then the glow on the hands broke off, and got caught in the gears. I took it to get repaired, but two different watchmakers have told me that they aren't authorized to work on Omegas because Omega says they have to send them back to Omega to be fixed. And that costs more than I can spend on it.

So every few years, I buy a crappy digital watch, and wear it until it breaks. Because nothing will ever come close to my memory of the ultimate geek watch.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000225.html
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