I Can See Clearer, Now
Updated: Jan 6
The world looked a little differently after a trip to NYC.
When you’re ten years old and growing up in a small town, things can look pretty good. But at that age, the world is getting larger, and you have to adjust your sights.
I was a good student. Getting Bs and some As came pretty easily (except for math!) But lately school was more difficult for me. Which was a surprise—I really liked our new teacher, Sister Mary Josephine. She was young and friendly, and had just arrived from Puerto Rico. Just like the star of that new show The Flying Nun—what a coincidence!
I also liked her because she seemed more like a girl than any of the other nuns. Young and pretty, not old and wrinkled. I was beginning to notice things like that. She showed concern for me, which was nice. She noticed that I was squinting a lot when asked to read the blackboard, and she moved me from the back of the room to the front row.
“Can you see the board any better, Joseph?” As a matter of fact, I could. A little better, anyway.
So that’s how I found myself on a commuter bus with my dad, riding into New York City on Veterans’ Day. We were going to get my first pair of eyeglasses. I was pretty excited by the outing, not least because I had Dad all to myself. He pointed out the sights, including the Empire State Building in the distance (just like in King Kong!), the future site of the Meadowlands football stadium, and a junkyard full of wrecked cars (“That’s the lady drivers’ parking lot,” he chuckled.)
If you say so Dad. Everything was still a little fuzzy to me.
We arrived at the Port Authority and walked a few blocks to Herald Square. It was all new to me, and Dad described the buildings, the neighborhoods, and most of all the people. This was his hometown, after all, and he was very proud of it. And so was I.
At the optometrist, I got my eyes examined, which made me squint and draw tears. The bright light he used to look inside my pupils burned right through me, making me tremble. I hated it, but eventually we got to the reading part. I had always been a good reader, so it was kind of a surprise to learn that those blurry letters were supposed to be clear. When the eye doctor snapped his goggles on me and asked “Is that better?” I was amazed to say that it was.
While we waited for doctor to make my new glasses, Dad took me for lunch across the street. I had been to diners before but this was very different. The room was huge, shiny with metal trim everywhere, and even little dolphins on some of the machines. We got a handful of coins from a lady behind a window, and walked over to a wall covered with little doors. Dad said I could get whatever I wanted, just put the money in the slot. The room was noisy with people talking, silverware clattering, and the click-click-click of nickels in slots. I turned the knob and the door popped open with my roast beef sandwich and a pickle on a plate.
The meat was a little dry, the bread was soft, and the mayonnaise was strangely sweet. But my head buzzed with other questions. Were there machines making the sandwiches? Maybe a robot chef of some kind? Could we get one of these someday? Like in The Jetsons? Dad laughed at that, “Your Mother would love to have a machine to cook for her.” I ate every bit, wiping the crusts on my plate to collect the juice and crumbs.
We strolled past a street vendor selling used books on a folding table, and we both stopped to examine his wares. A gold-colored paperback caught my eye—with a picture of a mushroom cloud. Just like the ones that I’d seen on TV. I remembered a movie about invaders from Mars, who couldn’t be stopped even with an atom bomb. One of the soldiers got burned up into a skeleton and I was too scared to watch anymore.
Dad picked up the book and waved it in front of my eyes. “I have this one at home. When I was a little older than you, we dropped the bomb on Japan and won the war. We were all so happy because your uncles might have had to keep fighting for another year.” He flipped through the yellowing pages. “The bomb was so powerful it turned some of the people into shadows on the wall. And the ones who survived were peeling the skin off their arms, like gloves.”
I started to feel faint. It was almost as bad as the optometrist’s light burning into my eyes. I wanted to know more about this bomb, but was afraid to ask. Dad said this was a good thing. But it sounded awful. How could that be? He saw the queasy look on my face. “Too much for ya, huh kid? Let’s get back.”
We sat in the waiting room for another hour. I swung my feet back and forth against the metal legs of the chair until Dad told me to knock it off. It was almost 4 o’clock, and I was disappointed we wouldn’t be home to watch cartoons today. When the doctor called us in, I was excited to see my new glasses. “Just like your father’s” he said. I felt the smooth hard plastic slide over my temples and behind my ears. They were heavier than I’d expected, and my eyes took a moment to adjust to the new focus. I looked away from the doctor and at my Dad. He was smiling “That’s my number one!”
I turned away from him to examine the rest of the office. The flood of details came at me like a rush. Everything in the room seemed like it was outlined with a pen. I could see each and every eyeglass frame on the shelf. The fluorescent lights were no longer glowing blobs but glass cylinders. And the floor—suddenly I could see every nick, every chip in the tiles. I gasped, and Dad laughed. “Sixty bucks for glasses and all he can see is the scratches!”
Of course, I could see so much more. The bus trip home, even in the fading autumn light, was full of wonders. The whole world was clearer—and dirtier—than it was that morning. I pressed my cheek against the cool window until I could only see the speckled lights of other cars on the turnpike. How would my home town look though my glasses? What else would I see differently in my house?
I thought about that book with the gold cover and the funny name. Hero-Shee-Ma. Bet I could find it on Dad’s shelf when we got home. I want to take a closer look at that.
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These memoirs are the product of my continuing work with writer, actor and director Suze Allen. If you're interested in telling your own stories, I recommend you check out her website ManuscriptMentor.com