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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
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
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
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
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
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
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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