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Some Horizon July 15, 2016

Posted by anagasto in blogging.
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SOME HORIZON     by pcd

The counselor looked at his papers. He was new at school. “You are Douglas B.?”
“Yes.”
“So, have you thought about what you want to do later on?”
“Well, I….”
He looked up to see who was speaking.
“Would you like to go into business?”
“No.”
“Be a doctor, a lawyer?”
“No.”
He fidgeted a little and held his pen over the paper on his desk, ready to write. There were more kids to interview waiting outside. He pulled his nose. “Well, there’s still plenty of time for you to think about it. How about I put you down for business for now, then if you want to change…” He seemed to believe that, meanwhile, I would look around to see where my abilities or maybe some inclinations would take you, but I had no idea.

One day I saw a pair of binoculars in the jeweller’s window and asked Dad if I could buy them. He agreed but told me to ask the jeweller for a discount. I was shocked by what seemed his small-minded ways; and I walked very slowly to the jeweller’s, not knowing how to carry out such an ugly commission. There was a lot to learn.

The jeweller smiled when I came into the shop — I think we had never spoken to each other before, though he had often waved to me as I rode by his store on my bike. Now he seemed to rejoice in this next step in our friendship and he asked me about myself and school as he took the binoculars from out of his window and lay them in my hands. They were very good binoculars, with a wide, fifty-millimeter scope, and I thought they were even too good for my dirty hands to hold and for the modest, the careless, use I was going to make of them. I asked the price and then hesitated. I couldn’t do as my father had told me. I could not ask for—beg for, as I saw it—a discount. They were excellent binoculars—probably the price was right. How could my dad be so niggardly, so small-hearted, so crude? Nobody I had ever seen had asked for a discount. I told the jeweller I liked them but must first go and ask my dad for the money.

“Did you get them?” asked my father, smiling in anticipation of my good news. He was sure he had taught me my first lesson in business. “Did he come down?”

I explained that after seeing the binoculars up close I had decided that they were of even better quality than I had supposed. They were probably worth what the jeweller charged—maybe even more. I recommended taking them at that price.

My father sighed and put on an exasperated face. “Go back and tell him you’ll give him $50 which was ten percent less than what the jeweller was asking.” Just do it—he’ll come down, you’ll see.”

With very heavy feet I walked back to the jeweller’s. “Could I have them for fifty?” I asked. Just as I had foreseen, the jeweller was shocked. The smile went off his face. He was disappointed in me now, I thought: the good kid on the bike had become a scrounger. The jeweller shook his head and told me in an icy, lecturing, way that the binoculars were of such quality that lowering their price was an impossibility. They had come all the way from Germany, and so on. I hung my head as if it all were a scolding session. I knew he was right and that the very idea of soliciting a discount was unworthy of an honest boy. It was true that those binoculars out-classed me. I didn’t deserve them at any price. “No,” he said with great finality. “Their price is their price.”

The trip back to my father’s bar was worse than the one to the jeweller’s. After having just disgusted the jeweller and lost my reputation as a nice boy, I now had to face my father with news that would make him angry and disappointed in his son. But how could I have carried out his orders? It was as if he had told me to commit a crime — to go hold up the jeweller, and without a mask! And in the name of what — for what kind of perverted satisfaction? Surely the few dollars in question meant little to my father. I didn’t enjoy making the jeweller needlessly back down, so why should I be given the dirty job?

My father only nodded when I told him that I had failed. The nodding was full of that exasperation adults often let show at the inadequacies of children. “All right. Let it go.”

“Can I go get the binoculars then? “ I asked. If the terrible haggling story was over, what could stand in their way?

“I’ll get them,” said my father. “Just hold your horses.”

And the next day when he handed them to me and I asked if he had gotten the discount, he said, “Sure”; and smiled in pride. I saw that I was supposed to smile too — in pride at him.

That was the way of business. Nearly all the adult men I knew belonged to their store like birds to their cage. They sold food or hardware or furniture and chirped at their customers as they came in. They put on a face and praised their merchandise, and I could not imagine myself doing that.

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