I’m writing this at the library. The Mechanic’s Institute Library is the oldest library on the West Coast. The crowning feature of its 1909 building is an iron-and-marble spiral staircase that looks like a nautilus shell when viewed from upper floors. I’m sitting in the third-floor reading room looking out at the Crocker Galleria, an odd glass-canopied indoor/outdoor mall in the middle of the otherwise urban landscape of the financial district. If the Mechanics Institute is a distinguished old gentleman, the Galleria is standing across the street rolling its eyes like a 1980s teenager. There’s a huge clock in the façade of the Galleria, and when I look at it, I realize I should be getting back to my work.
In the silence of the library, the muted clack of old men shuffling wooden newspaper dowels is about equal in volume to the blur of traffic three floors down. But the loudest thing I can hear is a steady tick, tick, tick that I can’t source. I look out the window, at the giant mall clock: It has no second hand. I close my eyes and focus on the sound, the ticking, that penetrating sound that can keep me up at night, the reason I have no clocks in my bedroom. Tick, tick, tick. It’s coming from nearby, from inside the library. I realize it’s coming from my watch.
My rotary watch was a gift to myself when I first purchased a smartphone a year ago. I hoped wearing a watch would remind me not to rely on my phone for every single piece of information in my life. My new, antiquated watch has a gold-hued face that reminds me of a classic train-station clock, the kind from old films I used to obsessively watch as a teenager; its overly wide watchband surrounds my wrist in soft, imperfect leather that reminds me I used to be sort of punk rock. I’ve never before noticed the sound this watch emits, but I’m not surprised when I find myself wishing the librarian would shush it for me. It hurts my brain.
It's a natural reaction; I’ve just come from looking at the most mentally penetrating clock I’ve ever seen: Christan Marclay’s 2010 film installation “The Clock.” I sat inside “The Clock” for as many hours as I could, and then I left it and walked out into the city and went to the library to write about it. Everything still ticks.