Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dr. Schwartzberg's Wonder Emporium

If my dad were alive he would have turned 83 today. That is difficult to wrap my mind around since he never made it to his 53rd birthday. I have written some general reminiscences about my dad before, most notably on Father’s Day 2014. If you have not seen that post and are interested, please click this link.

Today’s post is inspired by something my wife did a few months ago. She came across an artifact from my dad’s work life and decided to put it in a small frame and display it in our living room. Being the stereotypical oblivious husband that I am, I didn’t notice this sweet gesture for weeks. But once I noticed it, I couldn’t stop looking at it. And now I look at it every day. I am, of course, talking about the eyeglass cloth pictured above. It is a seemingly simple object, but it does not bring with it, simple memories.

My dad was an optometrist and for years he had his own private practice.  His office location moved around a bit, but the eyeglass cloth pictured here is from the office I remember, as it is from the last office of his own, before he closed up shop and went to work as the optometrist for a local vision center. As a child my dad’s optometry office, located on 17th Avenue and 85th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, was a place of mystery and wonder and I always felt a thrill when I visited there.

I will admit that at 47, my memory is not what it once was, so my recollection of my dad’s office is spotty at best, considering it closed down sometime in the early 1980s. But this is what I remember…

When you entered my dad’s office there was a lobby. To the left of the lobby was a small examination room and to the right was a large magician’s shop. At least it seemed to me like a magician’s shop, though in reality it was my dad’s optometry workshop, where he made and repaired eyeglasses. This workshop was enormous and off limits to patients. I, of course, was allowed in, which is part of the reason it was special to me as a kid. I got to go where the public could not! There were a variety of unusual looking tools in this shop—clearly not the kind you would find in a hardware store. I can’t tell you what most of these tools did, but that added to the wonder and the impression that my dad was some kind of wizard.

Actually, there was one tool that my dad used in his shop that I was very familiar with—it was a very tiny screwdriver that he used to work on eyeglass frames. My dad was incredibly adept at using this tool and I would often marvel at the dexterity with which he drove those miniscule screws into the frame with his meaty hands. As I think back upon my dad’s impressive skill decades later, I find it somewhat ironic, since outside of his optometry shop he was one of the least handy guys in Brooklyn. Indeed, I have no memories of him ever holding a regular-sized screwdriver.

At this point in my life, my early memories are essentially a bunch of still photos floating around in my brain. I have a specific image of what my dad’s office looked like from the outside—the brick exterior with a grey, metal door; the last business before a row of residential houses. Interestingly, because of the miracle of Google Street View, I was able to see what my dad’s old office looks like from the outside today and it pretty much matched my memory perfectly—except now the door has a red awning above it and houses the offices of a newspaper called “Russian Bazaar.” But other than that, it’s just like the still photo in my mind.

Of course, I’ll never be able to see the interior of my dad’s office again. All the mysterious tools are gone now, but I do still have the eyeglass cloth. It has yellowed with age and at the bottom there is a reminder to “HAVE YOUR EYES EXAMINED REGULARLY.” I do not. I have not set foot in an optometrist’s office since the early 1980s.