If You Can Read This, Don't Rub It In

April 24, 1997|By Kevin Cowherd

THERE COMES a time in a man's life when he realizes his best years are behind him, and that the long, cruel slide into the cold ground has already begun.

That time has come for me.

After 44 years, I need glasses.

Executive bifocals, Flat Top 25's, Smart Seg blended bifocals ... What difference does it make? My life is over.

Single-vision lens, tinted lens, transition lens ... I guess it should matter. But somehow it doesn't.

I first began having problems with my eyesight a few months ago.

Suddenly I found myself squinting while reading the newspaper, and holding books at arm's length in order to see the print.

I found myself muttering about how we had to get better overhead lighting when I couldn't read the labels on medicine bottles.

Finally, my family could stand it no longer.

One day they took me aside and, as gently as possible, they said: "You poor, dumb sap, you're going blind. And you're driving the rest of us nuts. Go have your eyes checked."

So I made an appointment with an ophthalmologist, whose office was in one of those flat, drab medical buildings that seem to squat like giant brown toads on the corner of every major road in the suburbs.

When I was ushered into his office, the ophthalmologist was sitting at a table laughing and counting huge stacks of $100 bills.

"Is this a great country or what!?" he cried. "You should go into ophthalmology! Everyone should go into ophthalmology!"

Pushing his money aside, he asked me to read from the bottom lines of various eye charts, which looked like they would if you'd just knocked back a six-pack.

Then he explained that in order to further determine how well I could see, it was necessary to blind me.

This would be done by putting drops in my eyes, which would dilate the pupils and allow him to test for glaucoma and other stuff.

"In 10 minutes, you won't be able to read a newspaper," he said.

"Will I be able to drive home?" I asked.

"Oh, sure," he said. "Why wouldn't you be able to drive?"

Oh, I don't know. A man has drops put in his eyes, can't see, jumps behind the wheel of a 1,700-pound motor vehicle ...

Maybe I'm an alarmist, but it seems to me that could lead to a few problems. Twisted steel, shattered glass, a trail of pedestrian bodies -- I'm just thinking out loud here. But you don't argue with a man who just finished counting huge stacks of $100 bills. A man with that kind of iron, you figure he knows what he's doing.

Anyway, when all the tests were over, the ophthalmologist said: "OK, your problem's called advancing age. Your eyes aren't what they used to be. All you need is a prescription for reading glasses."

Then he went back to counting his money as I grabbed my prescription and staggered into the blinding sunshine.

With my pupils now dilated to the size of manhole covers, it seemed like high noon on a snowy day in the Alps.

But I didn't hit anyone on the way home, which is always a plus, and the next day I went shopping for glasses.

As I visited one retailer after another, I was struck by how much eyeglasses cost. They must be coating these things with gold bullion.

Some of them cost more than I paid for my first car, which was a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle that cost me $250.

The other thing I discovered is that there are only about 10 people on the entire planet whose looks are enhanced by glasses. Unfortunately, I quickly found out, I wasn't one of them.

For some reason, glasses automatically make me look like I'm surprised about something. They make me look like the guy you'd see at the edge of the crowd in a photo taken seconds before a political assassination, the guy who's recoiling in shock as the man next to him pulls out a gun.

Pearle Vision, LensCrafters, Sterling Optical ... What was it Gertrude Stein said about Oakland? There's no there there?

Designer frames, scratch coating, invisible bifocals ... Tell me this is all just a nightmare.

Since all I needed were reading glasses, I ended up buying a pair in Rite Aid, of all places. They cost me 14 bucks.

Oh, yeah, these babies are flattering, too, just as you'd imagine $14 glasses would be.

When I wear them, if the light catches me just so, I look like Aldrich Ames right after the first FBI agent announced: "You're under arrest."

Only I look more surprised.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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