Even when I was 10 years old I liked nice watches, mostly because of my father. He was a construction worker, operating heavy machinery. Even though he didn’t have a lot of money, he seemed drawn to nice and expensive things.
A favorite drive of his was to go down Summit Avenue in St. Paul (Minnesota) and see all the stately mansions from a bygone era. These were from the late 1800’s, built by industrial barons. At the end of Summit was the crown jewel, the James J. Hill House – owned by the Midwest’s largest railroad magnate.
After the drive, we would often find ourselves in J.B. Hudson’s, a family-owned jewelry store in Minneapolis. We would usually just head straight to the Rolex section, and this is how my sickness began...
I graduated from high school in 1989, and got a job installing sprinklers for my uncle. This was the worst job I ever had, digging through rock and gravel (I was on a new condo installation with no lawn). The whole summer I saved up my money, and started scanning the Minneapolis Star and Tribune newspaper for Rolexes. The nicest watch my dad has ever owned was a gold-colored Seiko, and my watch sickness got the best of me: I was determined to own a Rolex. I was 17.
I found one way out in the suburbs, met the guy, and he mentioned to clean it all you need to do was put it in the dishwasher! I heard this, saw the dark green leather case, and was hooked. I told him I’d buy it, and the next day he told me he it was sold. I think he didn’t trust 17-year-olds (who does)!
Then I saw another Rolex for sale. The guy told me to meet him in the parking lot of Target, way the hell out in the northern suburbs, over an hour from my house. As I was waiting in the parking lot, I see this junky truck with a camper on top of it. Out of it comes a cross between Burl Ives and a Leprechaun, and he’s holding a small leather sack. He takes out the watch – I wanted an all stainless model, no gold. I look at it, and the hand is sweeping smooth, it must be a Rolex (I had no clue). The jubilee bracelet felt like a work of art, it was smooth, and effortlessly folded onto itself. I gave him $300 earnest money and left (again no clue).
A few days later I came back with the rest of the money, $550, and he gave me the watch, for a total of $850 in 1989. Right before I left he asked me “Do you know who I am?” My reply – “Nope”. He told me he was the-one-and-only Mel Jazz, an entertainer extraordinaire of the Minneapolis circuit. Sorry, still no. He gave me an autographed head shot, and I put it on my mirror at home. I couldn’t find a picture of him (read on), but a Google search turned this up from the Coen Brothers:
So how do a couple kids from St. Louis Park, MN fall in love with the movies?
Joel Coen: Well, they had this show on TV called Mel Jazz's Matinee Movie. Mel Jazz was the guy who introduced the movie and he also sold Munce TV's and, what was the other thing, Eth'?
(Ethan Coen is pacing the room now).
Ethan Coen: His other sponsor was Downtown Chevytown.
Joel: Yeah, he was really, in a way, a very eclectic programmer...
Ethan: He was a visionary...
Joel: A visionary, yeah. And sort of a precursor to a lot of the sort of, great film programmers that turned up on cable networks later on. One day he'd show, like,
8 1/2, and the next day he'd show Son of Hercules. (laughs). Ethan's theory was that he'd bought the whole Joe Levine catalogue...
The first thing I did when I got home was to take a bath (we didn’t have a shower), and put my Rolex on my left ankle, just to look at it submerged. Even though I knew nothing about watches, I did know about Rolex’s impressive waterproof claims. It didn’t leak.
Later on my Dad found out what I did, and he was furious. Me spending all my money on a watch I didn’t even know was real, from a snake oil salesman like Mel Jazz (he knew who he was). How dumb it that! I immediately took down the head shot and ripped it up.
Over the summer I wore my Rolex when I wasn’t digging through concrete. One occasion I got drunk off of cheap Screwdrivers, went swimming in Cedar Lake with my best friend and a bunch of girls, all the while complaining about why I couldn’t find any girls, broke into my mom’s house after losing my keys, woke up in my bed with the Rolex still ticking on my wrist. It still didn’t leak.
I brought my watch to college in the fall. A few weeks in I wore it while showering in the dorm, took it off and hung it on one of the knobs. I walked out of the shower room, completely forgetting I’d left my watch in there (these were group showers, like a health club). Fifteen minutes later I ran back in there, to find my watch still hanging on knob in the shower. I brought the watch back to Minnesota during Thanksgiving, and gave it to my Dad to hold onto until I graduated.
In the fall of 1993 I was re-acquainted with my watch, a basic stainless steel Date Perpetual with Jubilee bracelet. I had just started my 1st job out of college as a mechanical engineer. I had an austere lifestyle, and preferred my Ironman to my Rolex, which got little wrist-time.
In May 1997 I switched jobs, and by that fall I posted a for sale sign for my Rolex - $1300. An hour later a guy in the inspection department called about it, and he had the look. He was in its siren song. He bought it on the spot, told me it was for someone he knew. A couple days later John asked me if I had any other links for it. No I didn’t. OK, he said, that’s fine. A few weeks after that I was in the inspection department, and John had the watch on. It was hopelessly tight, I thought his hand was going to fall off.
Man I miss that watch!
(PS – I do have some pictures, but I don’t know exactly how to post them, and I don’t want to miss the deadline.)
Thanks for reading, if you made it this far!!!