I actually wrote this column weeks ago and have been saving it for the right moment. Right moment defined as the weekend during which I don’t feel like writing a Soapbox.
We’ve been having a lot of fun lately on the air referring to Rolex watches; it’s the latest in my never ending series “success is nothing to be ashamed of, and people who tell you otherwise are assholes,” series. Enjoy:
Let’s first cede and stipulate the obvious; I am a very materialistic person. I like stuff and things; preferably big, shiny, fast and, as it turns out, expensive things. I am unapologetically a consumerist and I choose to make every single spending decision in the exact same way; if I see something I want, I buy it. “Why do you work so hard,” is a rhetorical way of life for me, constantly reminding myself that I not only can’t take my money with me, but that if I don’t spend it while I can enjoy it, I will have lived a wasted life. And yes, of course there are things far more important than money and stuff in life. But not many.
With that said, I arrived at a new station in life just over a year ago. It was December of 2013 and it was more of an emotional station than a financial one, but everything had fallen into place for me for the first time in a long time, and I was also acutely aware that 2014 was going to catapult me to even greater heights on all fronts. Most of you know that I spent the entire first half of 2014 negotiating a new contract for the show; a grueling, intense, exhausting process that was worth every second of sleeplessness that came with it. In December of 2013 I knew that process was looming, but I also knew that I had achieved some amazing things already elsewhere in my life.
So I bought myself my first Rolex.
For most people, this is the moment I win the coveted “whoopty-doo,” award, which I graciously accept, thank you. For me, this was another rung along the ladder of crowning achievements in my life because I am, as we established previously, a shallow lover of shiny expensive things.
I am far from a watch nerd. You know these weirdoes who have clocks all over their homes set to chime in unison at the top and bottom of every hour? Strange. In fact, while I am aware that there are now countless of over-the-top luxury watchmakers across the globe, I could not name five of them. But I’ve always known what a Rolex was and it symbolizes a lot more than a time telling piece to me.
I grew up before there were cell phones, an internet, and tablets. In fact, when I was young, they were still figuring out digital time keeping and a Casio calculator watch was actually considered cool for about 4 minutes (until we all figured out it was a trick to make us smarter and more efficient, then we beat up the kid wearing it…dork). One thing that was a constant was that men wore watches. Ironically, both my maternal grandfather and my dad had pocket watches and wore them almost daily. Other than that, as far as I know, my dad wore a Disneyland watch he bought 40 years ago which he stills wears to this day occasionally. There were no Rolexes in my family growing up.
But because of the way my worldview was formed, a man always wore a watch, so I always wore a watch. And while I was young I made sure to do everything I could to keep up with the cool trends, jumping from digital to Swatch to leather straps and back again.
When the Rob, Arnie and Dawn show located to Sacramento in May of 1999 I bought the most expensive watch I could imagine as a reward for our ascent. At the time, it was a $500 Movado; silver band, simple face, with gold hour and minute hands. I still own it, even though it hasn’t been worn in over ten years. In 2005 I negotiated the biggest contract the show had seen to that point and I jumped up to a $5000 watch from Tiffany & Company; gorgeous watch, all silver and looked great on my girly little wrist. That was my watch until December of 2013.
While my girlfriend Ashley and I were in New York for that Christmas we walked into a Rolex store at her insistence. At that point, we’d been together for a year and a half and had crammed about five years-worth of living into that time. She had an intimate understanding of the fact that I viewed a Rolex as the next stop for me as it relates to luxuriously over spending money on things. I told her I wasn’t going to buy a Rolex until the contract was done in 2014, but she thought I should at least look, so we did.
The thing about Rolexes is that a lot of them are ugly and/or look fake or cheap. The entire line of “submariner” watches with the numbers along the outside of the face as though you’re Magellan circumnavigating the globe is ridiculous. You look like a child wearing one of those. Any Rolex with a leather strap is out for the same reason; what, did your kid make that for you in shop class? Garbage. If you’re going to buy and wear a Rolex, it should look like a god damned Rolex. So we walked through the entire Manhattan store and saw almost nothing of interest. Lots of plain choices, all looking like the kind of watch Omega would make, which is still the poor-man’s Rolex. As we were about to leave, I spotted a gorgeous watch in a case on the wall adorned with a perfect gun metal band, black face and diamonds in all the right places. The watch screamed luxury and masculinity all at once, and it was the only one of its’ kind. Later, we found out it was the only one of its’ kind in America at the time. The New York flagship store had gotten the first and only one; and no, I’m not going to tell you how much it cost, but unless you’re an idiot you can guess and come close. Case in point, I had to repeat my “why do you work so hard,” mantra multiple times over days of kvetching whether or not I had truly “earned,” this watch. It took me two days and three trips in and out of that store to finally plop down the cash to buy it, and it’s one of the greatest purchases I ever made. Much like all of the years I’ve owned Corvettes and never got tired of seeing one in my garage, not a day has passed when I wear that watch where I don’t look at it with glowing pride and a sense of all that I’ve accomplished. It’s a symbol, to me, of so much that no one can take away from me. As ridiculous as that sounds to so many people, that’s what it does for me.
And so began the experiment. I told no one about the purchase. Not one text, no photos, no mention of it. Why should I? I didn’t buy it for them, nor did I buy it to show off. I bought it because it every time I look at it, endorphins shoot through my body. When we returned from New York, Ashley, in her glorious enthusiasm insisted on showing Dawn and her husband the minute we saw them. Ashley, much like Dawn, possesses an amazing positivity for other peoples’ accomplishments and achievements, even if they’re in areas they would never choose to endeavor. I doubt if Dawn would ever spend what I spend on jewelry regardless of her financial stability. From what I’ve seen, Dawn went into and out of her materialistic phase at the perfect time in her life; right around when her husband was shopping for engagement rings. Since then, if Dawn has money lying around, it goes into farm stuff, which is the perfect analogy. Dawn genuinely loves her rural life. I wouldn’t ever choose to live that way, but I see how much she and Gary love it, and it makes me happy. Dawn, conversely, would never think of buying a watch like I did, but she sees what it does for me, and is genuinely happy for me. It was that same impetus that motivated Ashley to prod me into that store two Christmases ago; she knew I had already earned the Rolex and how good it would make me feel, and she wanted me to feel that way right then and there, not months later.
It’s a funny thing when you wear something like a Rolex. It makes people very uncomfortable; much like getting out of a Lamborghini as people walk by. Some people are jealous, others feel as though you’re showing off. Many have even darker reactions of pure envy (much different and more perverse than jealousy), and of course, plenty of people don’t care or notice, although they’re irrelevant to the experiment, so we eliminate them from the focus group.
Since I started wearing my Rolex just over a year ago, it’s amazing how many people stare at my wrist. It’s an eye grabber, for sure. I have literally lost count of how many times I catch a man or woman looking, staring, gazing at my watch. This all happened organically somewhere around February of 2014 when I kept noticing the looks, made Ashley aware and she confirmed she was seeing it also.
And yet no one would ever say anything. You could tell that people were thinking one of a few things; “that is a gorgeous watch,” or “Is that a Rolex,” or perhaps “how much money does this guy make?” More likely, they were thinking something like “What a waste of money.” The looks were always on the border of awe, and certainly were of admiration of the watch, yet silence reigned supreme.
Only two people have ever, ever said anything to me. Arnie was the first, on the very first day I saw him after our vacation (PAID), he said “is that a new watch…holy shit, is that a Rolex?” And then for 10 months, no one said a thing. People would look, stare, admire, but none would say a thing, whether we were in Sacramento, Napa, San Diego, Chicago… until one day when I was in a grocery store in Roseville, California and the checker, probably about 25 years old, said to me “that’s a gorgeous watch…you can always spot a Rolex.” I thanked him and recounted that he was only the second person to say something, even though he was one of hundreds to have noticed it. He said simply “People suck, man. They’re all jealous and petty.” Whether that’s entirely fair or true is not for me to decide, but there’s something to it.
I’m not sure what it says about Arnie and that checker that they were not afraid to take notice and share in the experience with me, but I view it as positive. It’s funny how something so seemingly small can make you respect someone so much.
By the way, I bought another Rolex once the contract was done and it’s just as gorgeous. Not one person who wasn’t shown the watch first has commented, but they sure do stare. As for Ashley, as a successful Mechanical Engineer whose career is ascending at stunningly rapid rates, she too now wears a Rolex. And while she loves the watch, she hates what it has shown her; the pettiness, selfishness, and genuine lack of wishing joy onto others which exists in seemingly everyone. In her sheer joy she had no problem sharing her new found toy with people in her life, and she was met with almost universal disdain. Everything from “must be nice,” to a shoulder shrug and a “whatever.” Envy is almost as rotten as the people who exude it.