Suburban Clock and Repair has been on Front Street in Berea, Ohio since long before I was born: 1953, to be exact. Growing up the clock shop, as we called it, was a place of wonder, for its fat antique Elgin pocket watches, and the enormous German cuckoo clock that the owner was constructing in the basement.
When my parents left Berea for Boulder, Colorado, my mother bought me a beautiful Hermle mantle clock that I had my eye on for years, for its deco numerals and sloped wooden beauty. The transaction has an almost mythic place in my memory, as there was no drama, no wheedling, no mitigation of any kind. She bought it for me because I wanted it, as a we're-leaving present, as a souvenir of my home town and I suppose a kind of solace.
For 30 years it has sat somewhere in my house, on my mantle in the city, when we had a mantle, on Logan Boulevard and Pine Grove Avenue, or on the Shaker hutch in our dining room in Northbrook. Sometimes I have it set to peal the quarter hour, sometimes not, according to my whim. Once a week I wind it.
A few decades ago, the clock mechanism gave up the ghost, and I had it replaced by the Chicago Clock Shop in Palatine. I know this because of a sticker they placed inside, the smallest advertisement ever.
Eventually, there was a mishap: the tiny circular nut that holds on the hands managed to fall off in such a way that it was lost. My theory is that it fell into the round face glass, then made its break for freedom when I opened the glass to wind the clock, not noticing. It vanished, going to wherever tiny round nuts go when they don't want to be found.
The nut wasn't vital. The hands stayed on. Mostly, but perhaps gently vibrated by our footfalls, or passing trains, the hands would eventually shiver off, and collect in the bottom of the front glass. Dynamic action on my part seemed required.
I started by calling Chicago Clock. I tried to make the job easy for them, by first going online and figuring out exactly what kind of clock I have—a Hermle Stepney mechanical tambour mantel clock (a tambour is a round embroidery frame, and must refer to the circular glass face of the clock, which swings open for winding). I told Chicago Clock that I'm looking for the tiny brass serrated hand nut that holds the hands on.
"We have those," the man on the other end said.
Success! God, this was easy.
"Great," I said. "I would like to buy one and have you mail it to me."
"We don't send parts through the mail."
Ah. A complication. "Why?" I asked.
"We've had a bad experience sending parts through the mail."
And I've had bad experiences writing stuff, but I still do it.
He gave the impression that he had a box filled with such parts, and would just give the nut to me, but I would have to show up and get it. In Palatine. A half hour drive. Not bad. Sixty minute round trip. It would be an outing. I could take the clock with me, strapped into the back seat, to get it eyeballed while I was at it.
But something grated. They should be able to mail the nut to me. Amazon manages. Eli's manages to send four pound cheesecakes packed in dry ice across the country. Thinking I would find Another Way, I went to Ace Hardware and bought the smallest nut they had. It was hexagonal, but it cost 23 cents. It was still too big.
So I went online, and appealed to several other clock shops. One in Michigan. And another in Oregon. I explained what I was looking for.
Creative Clock in Eugene, Oregon called and left a message. They had the nut, and I didn't have to drive to the West Coast to get it. They would send it to me for $7, total, including shipping. Before I could return his call, Amber, from the Michigan store phoned. They too had the nut, and would sell it to me. For $28. Plus $4 shipping.
I went with Oregon. The nut arrived in three days. And I was left with a sense of wonder. One place wanted $4 for what another wanted $28; a factor of seven. Quite a lot, really. That's like one car dealer wanting $15,000 for a car, and another $105,000. For the same car. While the third place, the local place wouldn't even try. Because putting the nut in an envelope and mailing it was several orders of complexity beyond, say, repairing a broken clock.
And since Chicago Clock might read this, I should add that you did a great job putting a new mechanism into the clock, and should it once again break, I'll return, and I hope you'll let bygones be bygones. But geez, it's 2020. Mail stuff.
Oddly, until this moment, I never considered asking Suburban Clock, back in Berea. Maybe because I've walled off that part of my life, and if I made a habit of reaching out to folks back in Berea, I'd soon find myself sitting on the Triangle on Front Street, watching the cars go by, like Forrest Gump. I'm very glad to have the nut in place, and the clock working, chiming the quarter hour, bonging the hour. It makes me feel like I have an ordered and established life of quiet dignity and leisure, even though I have nothing of the sort, except in this one regard.