With the Fourth of July approaching, I’m once again wondering if I should illicitly acquire a few sparklers or ground blossom fireworks to celebrate the traditional and beloved American past-time of setting my hillside on fire. Or accidentally gouging out my eyes with fiery sticks. It’s one thing to watch the hillside go up in flames—there are, after all, a lot of hillsides—-but I’ve only got two eyeballs. And if my eyes are, in poetic terms, the windows to my soul, I’ve noticed recently they could use a lot of Windex.
I’ve always considered my dark brown eyes my best feature, not counting my belly which, depending on its mood, can appear flat and firm or gracefully bulbous, resembling a work of nature—the planet Jupiter. For most of my life, I didn’t need glasses and probably took that for granted until the day I saw an ophthalmologist for a checkup. He dilated my eyes with what seemed an excessive number of drops (14 out of a two inch bottle that held 15). Possibly he instilled Vaseline. I couldn’t tell for sure once he anesthetized my eyes, since he immediately turned on a brightly-lit scope and, as always, ordered me to look at the top of his ear.
Patients are always required to stare at the eye doctor’s ear as their eyes are being examined.. (“Look up. Now look down. Now look at the top of my ear.”) This ear-staring procedure has always caused me tremendous anxiety and guilt. I know all patients are instructed to do that, but I’m certain after years of patient staring at the top of the doctor’s ear (which heats it up to at least 450 degrees F), the ear will soon wither and fall off. Just not while I’m in the chair being examined, dear God.
Within a few minutes after the drops took effect, the interior of the ophthalmologist’s tiny examining room nearly disappeared before my eyes, including the “E” chart which transformed into a white wall sprinkled with poppy seeds. The ophthalmologist laughed and said, “Now you know how you’ll see when you’re 60.” (This apparently is Eye Doctor Humor. Or possibly Slit Lamp Psychosis.)
After that exam, I became aware on several occasions of the failure or refusal of my eyes to perform properly, even if they didn’t require glasses. For example, when I was a college student attending UCLA, on cold mornings I’d often buy a cup of hot chocolate from a vending machine. I’d rave to my friends that this particular vending machine, which I visited every day, provided the best hot chocolate I’d ever had, possibly because the machine used a lot of cocoa powder or chocolate syrup.
One morning as I drank my hot chocolate from the paper cup, my head thrown back because I was in a hurry, I looked up at the bottom of the cup and admired its thick, intensely dark syrup (Hershey’s? Nestles Semi-sweet?) provided by the Aramark Company who tended the vending machines. I’d completely forgotten that given the opportunity, my eyes would often perjure themselves, making me believe, for example, that my time on a parking meter is still o.k. or that my thighs are thin. Fortunately (I guess) this time my eyes came clean and showed me that the soupy brown liquid I was looking up at on the bottom of the paper cup—- and which I’d been steadily drinking—– was, in scientific terms, a Jacuzzi for ants.
Another time my eyes failed me occurred at a business lunch with a male attorney who was wooing my employer for new business. The two of us were dining on the mezzanine of a popular Seattle restaurant—his choice— where the room light was dimmed, providing an uncomfortable intimacy especially since he was from Spokane. During the meal we ordered coffee, which was served in individual small flasks or carafes called “hottels” from which one would pour coffee into a separate cup.
Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I grew increasingly uneasy in the dark restaurant setting and from my own inexperience dealing with lawyers soliciting business, which generally requires a firearm. Although I’m not a fan of coffee, because of my discomfort I found myself drinking coffee repeatedly. Gradually, when the conversation tapered off, I noticed the attorney starring intently at me. Self-conscious once again, I reached for my coffee and started gulping it down. This time, because history repeats itself, I looked up to discover that for the entire meal with the attorney I’d been holding and drinking coffee straight out of the coffee carafe.
Clearly after these and similar experiences, I’ve learned the most important lesson about my eyes:
Don’t look up.
[Following day. Spokane attorney’s senior partner: “So, will she give us some cases? Did everything work out o.k.? Will we get their business?”
Attorney from lunch: “You know, I think we have a slight problem. The woman I’d be working for is partially insane.”]
Fortunately, as the years went by, I was fitted with glasses that I don’t wear because I prefer contacts. Mine are monovision contacts, which Barbara Walters wears, though we generally take turns wearing them. With monovision contacts, the prescription for my right eye is for close reading, while the prescription for my left eye is for distance. It takes a little while to adjust to wearing two entirely different contacts, one of which will be blurry at different times, but most wearers end up comfortable and confident. And rest assured, if you intentionally cross your eyes one day just to see if you can still do this, you’ll definitely have clear vision even as you immediately find yourself on the opposite side of the freeway driving against traffic.
Another issue with all contacts is that they require before each wearing that you read on the individual contacts several imprinted numbers or letters the size of subatomic particles. This is to make sure the contacts won’t be worn inside out. The size of the numbers or letters forces you to use glasses to read them, a constant, needling reminder that your eyes are old and SO BAD you shouldn’t be using contacts.
However, be assured it’s not difficult to put your soft contacts in each eye as long as you’re adept handling subatomic particles made out of Saran Wrap.