Yesterday morning I needed my checkbook. I pulled it out of my desk drawer and set it on my chair for safekeeping. Then something else crossed my mind for a minute, distracting me. Then I remembered I needed my checkbook. I turned back to my open desk drawer, dug around for it, and got frustrated. Where else could my checkbook be?
I proceeded to do an archaelogical dig through that desk drawer. Beneath the mending kit I’d torn my apartment apart looking for a few months ago and a big unopened box of staples, I found a St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section dated Sept. 18, 1988. Yeah, I know.

I also found my Swatch.

Swatch watch

Swatch is still around. The 1980s Swatch watches we wore were more garish than this one. I would have liked this one in the ’80s but it wouldn’t have made me cool.

Yeah, a Swatch. Remember those? Bright-colored plastic Swiss-made watches. I remembered their slogan: The New Wave in Swiss Watches. Well, my Swatch certainly looks New Wave. With its bright red plastic band and black body, with doses of blue and yellow tossed in, it could have come straight off the cover of a pop album of the time.

I’d forgotten I ever even had one of the things. But of course I had one. Everyone did. I told my buddy Sean about my find after church. “Oh yeah! I used to wear three of ’em at once!” He raised his arm and drew an imaginery line with his other hand, grinning. He was cooler than me in the ’80s, I see. Then another GenXer piped in, talking about her Swatches, while a couple of bemused Millennials tried to figure out what we were talking about. Next thing we knew, we were talking about Atari and Smurfs and everything else imaginable. I think they thought we were weird.

Just between you and me, I don’t think I blame them. It seems silly now the big deal we made about these things. It wasn’t enough to just have the watch, after all. No, you had to outfit it with guards and other stuff. We told our parents it was to keep the watch from getting scratched. But secretly, we all knew the idea was to make sure your Swatch didn’t look anything at all like anyone else’s.

The original Swatch Guard was this molded rubber thing, brightly-colored of course, that blocked your view of the time. This was a brilliant maneuver on the part of the company, because you’d shove the guard out of the way so you could read the time, and before long, it would snap and you were off to the store to pay another $3.50 or whatever for another molded rubber band. Then there was the Guard Too (at least that’s what mine says on it), which covered the outside rim and actually did afford some protection. A lot of people would outfit their Swatch with a Guard Too, then they’d buy several of the original guards, in different colors of course, and twist them together. The additional bright colors made you visible from another mile or so away and definitely made you look cooler, but then you never knew what time it was.

I seem to recall other companies realized they could mold rubber bands just as easily, undercut the price of the real thing, and still turn a nifty profit. Knowing myself, I’ll bet my guard was a cheap third-party imitation.

I also noticed it doesn’t work anymore. The battery probably died well over a decade ago. Not that it matters much. Swatches were never about knowing what time it was anyway.

Then I turned around and saw my checkbook lying on the chair.