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Will Rogers

Will Rogers

It must have been something like an old-fashioned parking meter

running out of time. There was a rapid whirring noise, a final “click,”

and then a loud “thunk,” all followed by utter and complete silence. It

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was my quarter running out. Somewhere inside my skull a flag popped up to

announce, “Time expired.” In an instant, the accusation of all those

gadflies and city officials was proven true -- something inside my head

had snapped. But contrary to charges that the failure meant an end to my

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abilities to reason, or to understand common sense, my system malfunction

affected my vision. I’d made it two years past the dreaded 40 when I was

finally forced to admit I needed glasses.

Several weeks ago, I was getting ready to dose one of my kids with a

cold remedy. Well aware of recent advisories that parents are drastically

over medicating, in some cases even overdosing their kids, I peered at

the minuscule print on the medicine bottle. My arms were too short. But

if I put the bottle on the counter and tried reading it from across the

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kitchen, I could just make out the printed alerts and dire warnings. But

reading the dosage instructions, the details of weight and age versus

ounces, was impossible. Given how far I’d had to back up to read the

large print, I figured I’d have to stop to gas up the car to cover the

distance I’d need to read the tiny letters.

You may think I’m being overly dramatic in describing my realization

that I now need reading glasses. But that’s only because you haven’t

witnessed my 40-plus years of lording my perfect vision over others. I’ve

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gained weight, turned gray and I groan virtually any time I get in or out

of a chair. But all that was true two decades ago. Throughout, and as

others have aged around me, I have remained exceptionally smug on two

points; my perfect vision, and my full head of hair.

*

I did have one scare. Back in college I performed the role of a

middle-aged man. I shaved my hairline back a few inches. When it grew

back, it didn’t come back to where it once started. Other than that close

call, for years I’ve attended reunions and come across old friends,

gleefully noting that most have hairlines receding to their collars. Of

course, I’m never so cruel as to point out my healthy yard to them. But

I’m always cruel enough to giddily mention that their lawn has bare

spots.

I’ve been every bit as compassionate with those acquaintances who’ve

succumbed to reading glasses. The first time they’re forced to pull them

out in my presence, I’ve been delighted to read the doctor’s and

designer’s names stamped inside the earpiece. And I’ve always made a

showy point of reading those details from across the table.

Then it was “whir,” “click,” “thunk.” I could no longer read in bed as

late as I always have because my arms tired from holding the book

straight up in the air for such long periods. Indeed, for a time I

thought the problem was with my elbows. It became obvious to me that, if

I held something in my hands and my elbows were bent, I couldn’t read it.

If they were straightened, I could read. Ipso facto, the problem had to

be with my elbows.

But there were conflicting signals. My kids were bouncing off the

walls or slurring their speech after a dose of cold medicine, and I began

to wonder. If the drug company really thought 22 tablespoons of cough

syrup was appropriate for a 6-year-old, they probably would have just

shortened the directions to “empty half of bottle contents into child.”

*

My wife has worn glasses for years. (She has a perfect head of hair,

so I’ve generously overlooked the imperfection.) I quietly confessed my

recent vision problems, and begged her to guide me in the world of vision

enhancement. That is, I had no idea who I was supposed to go to, what

they would do, or how much it would cost. I felt like the character in

the classic short story who had always been insensitive to a certain

group of people, then awakened one day to find he was one of THEM.

I was trundled off to a trusted expert for an eye exam. During that

process I learned my “eye cups” are abnormally large. I began to swell

with pride, once again glowing because there is still something

exceptional about my eyes. It was later explained that the size of the

cup part reduces the space between that and some other part, and so I am

at risk for some hideous eye thing. The doctor explained that I’ll have

to go undergo frequent exams to watch out for that hideous eye thing. But

it was in assuring me the exams wouldn’t be a burden that the doctor

spoke the cruelest words.

“That’s OK,” he said. “Because at your age more frequent exams are a

good idea, anyway.”

“At your age.” He said it just like that! I would swear he was

smirking. He may as well have said, “All old farts need to have their

eyes checked.” I would have taken a swing at the smug punk -- if only I

could have seen him.

*

Later the doctor started fiddling with the spooky contraption that

looks like a cross between a pair of glasses, and military-issue

binoculars. He slipped different lenses in and out, setting the various

dials. He was so fast and adept that I still suspect he was simply

turning the dials to all the routine settings, the ones marked “old guy.”

He slipped the contraption over my eyes and handed me a card with

writing samples. It was a miracle! In an instant reading was as I

remembered, though I hadn’t even realized I’d been missing it. Letters

were crisp and clear. 1999 isn’t filled with nearly as many doubled

prints and typos as I’d thought.

So I’m now wearing glasses now to read. Which is to say, I’m usually

wandering the house trying to find one of my pairs of glasses. I keep

forgetting where I’ve left them. No, that isn’t another sign of the

decline. I’ve been losing things for years. Now I just have another thing

to lose.

The hair, however, is still doing well. I don’t mind losing my

glasses, as long as I don’t lose my hair. And I won’t. The only spot in

danger is a thin spot, and that’s just wear from taking my glasses on and

off, right? Right? Click, whir, thunk.

Will Rogers’ column appears in every edition of the Leader. He can be

reached 24 hours a day at 241-4141 voice mail ext. 906, or by e-mail at

WillColumn@aol.com.


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