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Gristmill: Keeping Time

Thu, 03/30/2023 - 09:41
Truck drivers shaving at a service station somewhere along U.S. 1 circa 1940.
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Farm Security Administration / Jack Delano Photographer

It is with great satisfaction that I glance at my wrist and see strapped there a gently glowing green face displaying back to me accurate time, as it has across a quarter-century of continued use. Satisfying because “No Battery Change Needed” is engraved across the back plate, that glow reflective of its solar-powered energy source.

The endurance of such a simple, effective device might make you wonder how the world that produced it can be such a mess.

Pulsar Solar is the make and model, bought for a song circa 1997 in a Fairbanks, Alaska, Fred Meyer superstore. Compass points charmingly though needlessly decorate its bezel. A tiny window showing the date keeps you grounded in time and space. A Google search didn’t call up a single match, even among the endless secondhand peddlers, adding to the mystery.

Simple is the operative word when it comes to the appeal of life way up north. Along with the solar watch, it was there that I adopted for all time the low-tech, earth-friendly use of a cake of shaving soap and a brush. I remember producing it from my Dopp kit in the public showers at the local campus of the University of Alaska, eliciting interested comment from a tourist at the next sink over.

A lot of guys grow beards when they first move there. Mine was an intriguing nest of brown, gold, red, and black, but a year had passed and I’d just shaved the itchy mess off.

“That’s right,” I answered, “it readies the whiskers better.”

Both the beard and the brush could be seen as affectations, but the reality was the former kept my face warm during a winter of outdoor work and the latter was a cheap and long-lasting method for a guy making 7 bucks an hour. Simple but effective.

The public showers had to do with all the no-running-water cabins nearby, sitting as they were atop permafrost. With the way the climate’s going, for all I know the water up there’s rushing like a tap at happy hour. Still, that life was a decent preparation for any coming economic collapse. Fewer resources? Use less. Capture your wastewater in a slop bucket. Go to the bathroom in a hole in the ground.

Because it’s true what Dostoyevsky wrote, man is a creature that can get used to anything. Just so long as I can keep my trusty Pulsar.

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