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The Eye


Harry Buschman

It was all on a summer's afternoon. I was fifteen years old and three of my cousins were with me and my grandfather on the H.M.S. Pinafore.

Surrounded and threatened by a wife and five daughters, my Grandfather rescued the H.M.S. Pinafore from the bottom of the Paerdegat Basin and once the craft was made seaworthy, he sailed a series of erratic and foolhardy courses through the channels of Jamaica Bay. Sometimes he sailed alone other times he Shanghaied his grandsons and took them with him.

By the time I was fifteen he had so many grandchildren he didn't know them by name. He called most of them "Shorty" or "Kid." He knew my name because my mother named me after him and that gave me a special place by his side whenever we sailed together on the H.M.S. Pinafore. As I said, it was all on a summer's afternoon, and we were fishing for flounder in Sheepshead Bay. Except for the eel, the flounder is the dumbest fish in the sea, and in those days five people fishing off the end of a boat could catch enough flounder to open a fish store.

My grandfather leaned over toward me and said, "Watch this. The kid on the end what's his name?"

"That's Jimmy" I replied.

My grandfather took off his steel rimmed eyeglasses and said, "Watch his rod."

It snapped in two!

I was about to ask him how he knew that was going to happen but he held up his hand like a traffic cop and stopped me. "I got the eye kid." (he didn't always use my name) "I made it happen a Chinese fella gave me the "eye" a long, long time ago."

Well! I thought that was pretty cool. Imagine being able to do things like that just by looking. He went on to tell me that he was getting on in years and he didn't want the gift of the eye to die with him. He was looking for someone to pass it on to. There were his daughters and his wife of course, but he was fed up with them. Who'd want to leave anything as valuable as that to six bickering females? Besides, if he left it to one of them they'd probably use it on the others or maybe even him.

"I'm thinking of leaving it to you, kid." he said. "Remember," he added, "It won't make you rich and it could cause people a lot of grief and misfortune if you're not careful how you use it. It can't put things back together again once they're broken, and if anyone suspects you have the 'eye' they'll never trust you again."

My Grandfather kidded around a lot and it was sometimes hard to believe everything he said so I asked him if he'd give me another demonstration.

"Okay," he said, "One more see that guy in the white rowboat? The one pullin' out from the dock, that's Charlie Gibbons and he's rowing out to that little sloop by the pink buoy. Stuck-up bastard he is too, won't stoop to fish oh no, not him he has to go a-sailing."

Well, as I watched, both of Charlie's oars popped out of the oarlocks, Charlie went over backward and fell in the bottom of the rowboat. He let go the oars and they quickly drifted away.

My Grandfather gave me a wink and told me to keep our secret under my hat and I did, along with all the other secrets I kept from my mother and father. I was especially careful not to let them in on this one.

I never knew how or when my grandfather was going to give me his 'eye,' and I hoped he'd make up his mind because I knew he wasn't getting any younger. Anything could happen and he might just have to close his eye and take it with him after all. That winter he did take sick with kidney stones and although that wasn't what did him in, there was a good chance it might have been. He wasn't sure himself I guess and one Sunday afternoon when my parents and I went to visit him in the hospital after the operation, he grabbed my arm, pulled my head down close to his and while my mother and father were studying my Grandfather's kidney stone sitting in the bottom of a glass beaker, he told me, "Kid, remember the 'eye'? Get your ass over here tomorrow afternoon after school. I don't know how long I got, but I'll give you the eye tomorrow."

I didn't sleep a wink that night. I wondered if my life would be changed because of the eye. Could the possession of the eye give me the power to rule the world? Would it give me kidney stones?

The next day after school I managed to get past the guard at the visitor's door to the hospital, then the receptionist at the main desk and the head nurse up in my grandfather's ward. Even though I was too young to be admitted as a visitor without my parents, I knew if I tagged along with strangers I could slip in with them.

As I entered his four bed ward, I heard a crash. There was a nurse at the foot of his bed, swearing like a truck driver and trying to mop up something she spilled a moment ago.

"Watch your feet please stay on that side of the bed, oh, how could I be so clumsy. I'll have to get the orderly to clean up this mess." She stepped over the puddle and the broken glass and stalked out of the room.

"Wanted to see if it still worked, kid," my grandfather said, "No sense giving you something if it don't work." I sat by his side in the visitor's chair and we went through a short ceremony of 'transference' that's what my Grandfather called it. He wet two of his fingers in the glass of water that held his gallstone and touched them to his naked eyeballs without blinking. Then he told me not to blink to keep my eyes open at all costs while he put those same two fingers on my eyeballs. At the same time the two of us had to say:

"Nothin' could be finer
Than to climb the wall of China."

That was all there was to it. It was hard not blinking when he touched my eyeballs, but I was too scared to blink, and selfish enough to want to have the power he had. He told me the 'eye' would be activated by a quick double blink, and so long as I didn't do the 'quick double' as he called it, it wouldn't cause any trouble.

I didn't stay long after that, grandfather was getting out tomorrow and faced a long convalescence back home. He never really recovered and he found himself back in the hospital that following spring. That was the straw that broke the camel's back and he was put to rest in the new section of Evergreen, which was where the sanitary landfill used to be. His wife, his five cranky daughters, their husbands and his seventeen grandchildren stood by as he took what he used to call 'the lower berth.'

The day of the funeral was the first time I tried out the 'eye'. As the casket was lowered, I stared straight at one of the men paying out the rope, and I double blinked. Sure enough, the rope slipped from his fingers. The casket skittered crazily to one side and looked like it might even turn upside down. But the other three men compensated, and it landed with an audible thump at the bottom. It seemed to me I had given a signal to my Grandfather that all was well. The 'eye' was in good hands and he could rest comfortably knowing the power of the eye would continue through another generation.

My grandfather never fully explained the possibilities or the limitations of his marvelous gift he might not have known them himself. I had to teach them to myself like I learned to play the harmonica. For instance, I discovered I had to have direct 'eye' contact with the event, it wouldn't work with mirrors or over the radio or the telephone. I had to be there. But there are limitations to everything even the supernatural.

That year our high school football team won the city-wide championship mainly through my efforts from a seat on the sidelines. Our opponents dropped passes and fell over their own feet. Their coaches tore out their hair with frustration and couldn't understand what went wrong with their team whenever they played McKibben High. On the other hand the 'eye' did nothing to improve my marks in school, and the girls avoided me just like they always did. But I could make things tough for everybody else and I had to restrain myself from over-using the power of the 'eye'. I had to be careful, if I wasn't I could have caused traffic accidents, or people falling downstairs. They could all wind up in the hospital if I gave them the double blink. It was okay. to look at them, but it was the quick double blink that did it every time. I was gaining confidence every day, and for a person as young as I was, it's amazing that I showed the restraint I did.

But I let myself go the night of our high school prom with good reason, however. I was short for my age and although I was a good dancer, none of the girls wanted to be seen on the floor with a boy a foot shorter than they were so I raised hell with the band that night. They couldn't get in tune or find the right music and the dancers fell all over themselves. I singled out Vince Marconi in particular he was the class Valentino. By the time the prom was over Vince was the laughing stock of the entire school. I mean if you've never seen a guy doing the Lindy with his fly open and being pulled off the dance floor by the basketball coach you can't really appreciate how sweet it was.

After I finished high school, I drifted into Community College and majored in business administration. It seemed like it might be a profitable career with the eye on my side. I wasn't too bright ... dumb actually, and I was tortured by the mental image of young men my age scaling the corporate ladder. I was sure I could double blink my way to the top, as they lay in a tangled heap at the bottom. With a little help from my magic eye how sweet a successful career would be. It made me wonder why my Grandfather had not gotten any further in life than he did. Perhaps he had more scruples, or maybe he was smarter and could cut the mustard without the eye.

As I blundered my way through school it became painfully clear that the 'eye' alone would not make the difference between success and failure in the business world. Although I could easily ruin the lives of other, more talented people, it did nothing more than put me on a level playing field with them. Then, off they'd go again, their natural abilities intact, leaving me to bring up the rear.

I don't know why it took me as long as it did to catch on. But when I did, I became, if not the world's richest man, at least a man of considerable means. I've been able to stay at the best hotels and I never never check the prices on a menu before ordering dinner.

Some might call it gambling, but it is hardly that. There is no element of chance. It is simply a matter of investing against the odds and seeing to it that the underdog always comes out on top. It means, of course, that I have to attend football games, prize fights, tennis matches and horse races in person, but that is a small price to pay, a price that most losers pay for losing.

After my retirement from the business world, my record has been one of unbroken success. My limited mental gifts and my distaste for physical effort have been replaced by the gift of the 'eye' from my maternal grandfather. Almost everyone is the richer for my gift the underdog the IRS and my seventeen cousins.

Now, with old age approaching, my 'eye' by tradition, should be passed on to a new owner someone, hopefully, who will use it as wisely as I did. Yet I feel disinclined to do so. The hereafter is a place I know very little about, and having an 'eye' up my sleeve might work every bit as well up there, or wherever I am fated to go.

1995 Harry Buschman

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