Eye, yi-yi

old age coming into focus

April 08, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Last fall, I was helping an early-thirtysomething friend move into a new townhouse. It was a beautiful day and I don't much mind heavy lifting, so my only concern was to wrap up the chore quickly enough to get back home in time for the football game.

I mindlessly went to pick up one end of a heavy desk set when two of the guy's friends quickly jumped in front of me and said, "We'll get that."

I didn't understand. They were, frankly, rather spindly, high-tech-computer guys who looked to me as if they might snap in half under too heavy a burden. Nevertheless, I stood back and watched as they wrestled the desk into the truck. Then it hit me.

They think I'm old.

Well, I'll be. In times past, I had always jumped in front of older guys to lift something I judged might give them a heart attack. Now I was the one being jumped in front of.


Immediately, I began thinking how I could use this to my advantage.

There was really no trick to it at all. All I had to do was stand in front of a sleeper sofa, place a hand on the small of my back and give a slight wince and, sure enough, help would instantly arrive. The rest of the day, I satisfied myself with carrying lamps.

But a more searing, age-related blow came last month when the Ophthalmologist in High Heels concluded that I needed glasses. Glasses, to me, are the old-age tipping point. Glasses, old; no glasses, young.

I could still see OK, except when I would try to read at night after a day on the computer. I made the mistake of mentioning a couple of times that my eyes hurt, and off I was whisked for an eye exam - my first ever, unless you count the MVA where, unless you are unable to make out a letter Z that's roughly the size of Canada, you are issued a license.

This test was a lot more demanding, with letters the size of protozoa and commands to read a chart with one eye closed.

"But I would never read a book with one eye closed, so I don't see the point in..."

There is nothing wrong with my peripheral vision, and out of the corner of my eye, I caught Andrea giving me one of those deeply disapproving looks that indicated I was being "difficult." I get that look a lot, you may be surprised to learn.

At the beginning of the test I was doing pretty well, but halfway through, I began to lose interest and, when that happens, I almost always stop providing the time-consuming, accurate answer and start providing the answer that I believe will get me out the door the fastest. You know, like telling the shrink, "Oh yes, I can see it clearly now, all my anger comes from repressed trauma over not being allowed to dust the erasers in first grade thanks doc I'm cured boy do I feel better now I can get on with my life bye-bye."

And then you go fishtailing out of the parking lot spraying gravel all over the stinkin' juniper bushes because you know if you aren't nuts now, you will be by the time the psychiatric interrogation is complete.

But I have to hand it to the eye guy. He had me pegged early on, and quickly and skillfully had me lined up for a pair of reading lenses to "reduce strain and fatigue." His assistant was very nice and helpful too, teaching me, a glasses novice, that you should remove your spectacles with two hands, instead of ripping them off your face with one. And to think, all those years, Perry Mason was doing it wrong.

I thought that was all there was to it, but for Andrea, the evening had just started. She had way too much fun picking out the frames, to the point where I started to suspect that she was less concerned about my vision and more concerned about me making a fashion statement.

I let her pick out a set of frames that, if I do say so myself, make me look exactly like the host of one of those crooked game shows back in the '50s. Glasses make most people look smarter. Not me. They just make me look more indicted.

And I can't remember to wear them. Forty-three non-glasses years is a hard habit to break. When I do remember to wear them, I forget to take them off, so when I get up and look around, the whole room swims and makes me dizzy.

But the worst part is that I'm always kind of crossing my eyes to look at the frames in an attempt to conclude whether the mere existence of frames bothers me or not.

Whether or not my overall optical heath is better off with them, I cannot yet say. But I know for a fact I'm going to wear them next time someone asks me to help move.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. You can reach him by phone at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324; by fax at 301-714-0245 or by e-mail at

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