It had to happen. In the last few months I noticed it was getting harder for me to focus when I was proofreading or editing a text. Letters were blurred until I squinted and everything was fine as long as I kept squinting.
One morning my boss called me into her office.
– You have been paying less attention to your work lately. Look at this: those should be curved quotation marks instead of straight ones, and over there, there are two spaces when there should have been only one. Careless mistakes like these could cause our publications to lose credibility. So please try to be more accurate in your work. I’d hate to let an old collaborator like you go. Now get back to work, chop-chop!
I hated it when she used that tone of voice.
Later, I was having lunch with my colleague Aaron and told him about the incident and that my eyesight seemed to be getting worse.
– Ah, he said, don’t worry about it; everybody knows that she’s a kvetch. However, about your vision, I hate to bring this up, but how long ago did your wife leave you?
– About 12 years, but I don’t see what...
– And you’ve been playing solo ever since?
– Well, you know, from time to time I have girlfriends, but still I don’t see what...
– I’m concerned about you my friend, that’s all. Maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time alone. You have a fertile imagination and it is not good for a man to take matters in his own hands too much, if you know what I mean...
In the 19th century, any good drugstore would sell devices like these to protect boys and young men against self-indulgence.
I was appalled at what Aaron was suggesting.
– Listen Aaron, I’m not a teenager anymore, I can control myself...
– It’s ok, it’s ok, no need to say more. I don’t want to know the details of your private life but listen to my advice: go out and meet people, mingle. That could help you. In the meantime take an appointment with your eye doctor to try to slow down the loss of your sight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go back to work.
He got up, I extended my hand to shake his but he ignored it and left.
Two days later, I was in the optometrist’s office, filling in a questionnaire about my medical history while waiting for my turn to see the doctor. I brought back the form to the cute Lebanese receptionist with a loose top that showed her cleavage and I thanked Saint Maron that my eyes were still good enough to enjoy the beauty of nature.
She looked at the card I handed her, scribbled a little bit on it and then asked me:
– Fine, fine, everything looks fine. So what brings you here today?
– Well, I noticed my eyesight getting poorer lately...
– I see, I see... Are you married sir?
– No, not at the moment, but...
– How long have you been single?
– Actually, I’m not single, I’m divorced, and...
She gave me an annoyed look then said:
– How long have you been divorced?
– It’s been about 12 years, but...
– Twelve years? she repeated, and started to scribble briskly. Then she said:
– The doctor will see you shortly. In the meantime, you can look at the frames we have, but please don’t touch anything.
What is surprising in an optician’s showroom is that all the frames look alike. It seems everybody wants to wear the same shape of eyeglasses, to feel part of the crowd, I guess. Curiously, they also all want to be different, unique, rich and famous.
After a few minutes of looking at the frames and feeling the receptionist cautiously watching me, it was my turn to go into the ophthalmologist’s office.
I sat down in the examination chair while the doctor – who looked like an older version of the receptionist, maybe her mother or her aunt, I thought – adjusted the projector that would display the Snellen chart on the wall facing me. Then she moved in front of me, leaning and flashing a small light at my face, she asked me to look at her eyes.
In 1862, Hermann Snellen, a Dutch ophtalmologist, introduced his eponymous chart to measure visual acuity. This chart can be found in every eye doctor office and, according to some sources, since it was made available it has been the most sold poster in North America. Admittedly it looks more professional than a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix saying "I Chew Aluminum Foil."
She had beautiful dark brown eyes.
Then she moved behind me and set the refractor in front of me asking me to place my chin on the chin rest. As she was switching lenses in the apparatus I was now wearing on my face she said:
– I see you have been single for quite awhile...
“I’m not single, I’m divorced,” I replied, slightly annoyed that people could not make the distinction between an old bachelor and a man who has had misfortunes in his marriage.
“Hold still please. Do you see better with this one or that one?” she said, flipping the lenses on the refractor.
A refractor (also called "Phoropter," which is the trademark the manufacturer uses) is an instrument that measures the refractive error in a patient's eyesight and determines the strength of the eyeglasses to be prescribed. If this photo seems blurry, do not worry: you are not spending too much time by yourself. The lack of focus is only due to the photographer's poor skills.
“That one,” I replied.
– Do you spend a lot of time by yourself?
Surprised by the question, I replied:
– Doctor, are you coming on to me?
– No, no. Keep your head still. It’s just a standard question to see if anything in your lifestyle could be altering your vision.
– Well, doctor, I’ve been working as an editor for many years. I spend hours every day in front of a computer monitor or reading printed documents.
– I see, I see. Well, it seems your visual acuity has gone down a little bit. You will need new eyeglasses. My assistant will help you choose new frames. In the meantime, I suggest you vary your activities, maybe increase your social interactions, spend more time with people, entertain at your house, you know...
I was starting to get somewhat irritated by the innuendos but I got up from the chair, thanked the good doctor and reached out to shake her hand but she was busy writing on my file and did not notice my gesture.
Back in the waiting room, the receptionist made me try on several trendy frames but I ended up picking some that were very similar to the style I was already wearing. She said:
– You’re lucky, those kinds of frames are yellow-tagged so they will be free, you will only have to pay for the lenses.
I guessed that “yellow-tagged” meant “out-of-fashion.”
– Your new glasses will be ready in two weeks; will this be cash or charge?
I paid cash and as I was leaving the room, I saw that the receptionist had taken out a box of anti-bacterial towelettes and was wiping the countertop, the door handle, anything I might have touched...