- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

MILFORD, Mass. (AP) - Barry Marcus has been fixing watches for 71 years- “at the bench,” as he says -since he was 10 years old. And now he has a book about it.

“Watches I Have Known,” co-written with his daughter, Julie Campisi, is a 330-page collection of vignettes from behind the bench, on watches and where they came from, from concentration camps to shoddy modern makers. Through the gears and shop talk, though, it’s about the people Marcus has encountered along the way, and the lessons they’ve imparted.

Marcus writes about repairing one watch given to a World War II solider by a Jewish man dying at a concentration camp. He tells the story of a Marine headed to Afghanistan, how he told him to keep the repair money. As a former Navy man himself, he ordered the young man to “convert it into beers.”

The writing is full of personality. Marcus never, under any circumstances, fixes a clock- well, maybe once or twice. He takes his coffee black, no sugar. At times, insights from a life spent in the shop poke through.

“The faster one finds the problem, the more difficult the repair,” he writes.

He and Campisi wrote it, really, for Marcus’ grandchildren.

“My daughters wanted me to jot down some of the stories for their children- this is their grandfather; this is what he believes. There is a lot of acceptance of human beings as they are, sympathizing with them, empathizing with them,” he said in an interview.

He explained the process- how his “doodling at a computer” came to be a narrative memoir -in his small, cluttered office on the third floor of the Milford Commons office space.

Talk radio played in the background. Old watch advertisements and “Don’t Tread on Me” banners interspersed hundreds of pictures of his grandchildren. Old filing cabinets full of parts and binders full of diagrams took much of the wall space. The office smelled of old, well-used wood.

“This accumulation began when my grandfather got off the boat in 1910,” he said.

A red tack in the option box for “ludicrous” lay punched in a “Work overload” chart. Hundreds of tacks were punched in a map of the world, one for each unique watch repaired. The tacks covered every continent but South America.

“No South America,” said Marcus. “We were never able to figure that one out.”

To employ his craft, Marcus crouches in front of a lathe, his grandfather’s, in a corner of his small office. He toyed with an old brass stopwatch, taking the back plate off to show “the movement,” the amalgamation of tiny gears, plates and screws that Marcus has surgical mastery over.

As a boy, Marcus apprenticed under his uncle Abe at a shop in Worcester. At 81, he still works five days a week. He says the 40-hour workweek keeps him sharp and healthy, and he has no plans of stopping.

“I’m still here, I like working on the watches, it’s fun. I have been at the bench 71 years now, I’m 81 and I still enjoy getting up and working on the watches.”

And, at the heart of it, it’s the fascination with watches, on a mechanical and symbolic level, that makes his work a passion.

“The fact that this little, insignificantly tiny machine can still be working as new 80, 90, or 100 years after it was made, in a day and age when things that last through the guarantee period means they’re opening champagne corks at the factory,” he said.


Information from: The Milford (Mass.) Daily News, https://www.milforddailynews.com/

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