You sold me these binoculars when I was sixteen. Never know when you might need them, you said. I didn’t need them, but you needed the money. Handyman work didn’t always pay the bills.
They’re like the ones you had in the Navy, when you scanned the seas for Japanese ships and the horizon for exotic ports, places a poor kid from Weehawken never expected to see. South Africa. India. Australia. Hawaii. Best time of your life you used to say. I was never sure how to take that.
Remember when you, me and Mom would picnic up at West Point? You’d take out the binoculars to watch the sailboats on the Hudson. I used to think you were recalling summers spent with relatives on the river, where you got your love of the open water.
Now I think you were watching dreams sail away.
I’m thinking about those Wednesday nights you’d pick me up at Mom’s and we’d go around collecting bundles of musty newspapers. With the trunk filled and the back seat packed to the roof, you’d drive your old Buick Skylark onto that truck scale at the recycling yard, unload the car, then weigh it again. Make a few bucks on the difference.
Driving me home you’d ask me how school was going. I’d give you some surly teenage reply. But you always asked, like one day you might get a better answer.
I really hated cleaning the American Legion hall: emptying foul ash trays, breathing stale beer, sweeping up, filing noisy folding chairs on metal racks. But it got you a little cash off the books. I did like the freezing cold Cokes in glass bottles that dropped from inside that ancient red machine in the kitchen. Popped the caps off with the opener screwed to the front of it. We’d clink bottles and you’d ask about my classes.
I was glad we did those things at night. I didn’t need my friends asking questions. Their fathers had regular jobs, probably regular educations, too. Certainly past the fifth grade.
It wasn’t like anything we did was hard work. I used to wonder if you were as lazy as Mom said you were. Not now.
Binoculars make it easier to see clearly at a distance. Sometimes it takes years.