A lot of people worry about aging and all its miseries, but not me.
Is that because I'm a spiritually-evolved soul who after years of meditation and esoteric study has risen above It All and achieved enlightenment?
Of course not.
Instead, I've mastered the least esoteric art of all - denial.
While other people look in the mirror and see wrinkles and liver spots, I see laugh lines and freckles. Whole others make their weight an obsession and dieting a full-time job, I'm always the right weight - especially since I haven't voluntarily stepped on a scale in decades. And if my clothes become uncomfortably if not impossibly tight, I just get rid of them since I know they'll only keep shrinking.
My drooping eyelids? They just add a sleepy, sexy, faintly ominous aura - a real Bob Mitchum look.
While my peers complain constantly about losing their hearing, I know the people around me don't speak as clearly and loudly as they used to. And if they don't want to repeat themselves three or four times, it's not my fault they never learned to be patient like me.
There is one area, however, where my denial fails me - my eyesight.
I first noticed it about ten years ago when things up close started to get iffy. I could read standard print all right, but only at arm's length. And after an hour of nonstop reading, even at arm's length, the print started to get fuzzy. As for smaller print or really tiny objects? They were a real trial to get in focus. It all peaked when I found myself unable to thread a needle - something, as an eagle-eyed youth, I laughed at my mother for.
What to do? Simple: I bought a pair of cheap-o drugstore glasses which worked just fineat least for a while. While the lenses were OK, the frames were not. Within a few months they got all loosey-goosey on me, slipping down my nose, off my ears, and generally looking exactly like what they were bottom-of-the-barrel crap chucked out by the Shanghai Peeper Works or some-such.
Plus, the aging process bestowed on me something I'd never had before - failing distance vision. Actually, my farsightedness wasn't terrible. I could still pass the DMV test, but things at a distance were becoming less sharp and defined than they had been. I noticed it most at night, when I was driving. All the headlights of cars coming toward me had, for want of a better word, halos. And ditto for streetlights. And worst of all, I could no longer see my intriguing lifetime companion - the man on the moon.
A rare attack of common sense
So I did the only sensible thing I could - went to my pal from our college days at Old Siwash, Dr. Neil Miller, and got tricked out with bifocals.
Funny thing about bifocals: As a kid, they were always a source of hilarity to me - one of those ridiculous accessories of Old Farthood, like canes, hearing aids, and the Big Kahuna of Decreptude - trusses. But once I started wearing them (bifocals, not trusses), there was nothing even faintly amusing about them. Instead, as I soon found out, they were vital.
As I'd said, I didn't need them for most things, but for the things I needed them for, there was no substitute. And beyond that, there were a lot of things I could see so-so without glasses, but could see perfectly with glasses, so why lose out?
Because I could now take care of all my vision needs and wants with one pair of glasses, and that one pair of glasses cost about 15 times more than my drugstore cheapies, it was only logical that I'd take good care of them. But after a while, I realized I wasn't being merely sensible about them, but downright scrupulous.
And this wasn't like me. While neither a wastrel nor a trasher, I've never really cared about keeping any everyday items pristine. The way I figure it, a tool's a tool; it's not a fetish.
But my glasses were something else. If I wasn't wearing them, they were in their case (and a crushproof case, at that). They were always clean, always polished, and whenever I put them on or took them off, I did it carefully.
And why was that? What compelled me to be so uncharacteristically meticulous with eyeglasses, something I didn't value any more than the things I only took casual care of?
I never understood it till last week, when listening to a Beatle's song, I was struck with an image of someone I saw in the London subway in 1970. And then I knew.
I was in London, on leave from my base in Germany, doing up the town royally, as only a 23-year-old kid who was conquered by the British Invasion could have. I went to authentic tea shops that had authentic British scones and just-as-authentic old British ladies. I went to a variety show at the Palladium. I drank a brown and pale in a pub (even though I had no idea what it was: I was so confused by the 50 or so beers on tap, I asked the bartender what he recommended). I went to Carnaby Street, the center of British youth fashion, funk and flash, and even though I was probably five years late, still, with all the birds and blokes around, it was a heady experience.
Seeing through the lens of time
Anyhow, I was on the tube at night, coming back from one of my outings, when I noticed an old man across from me. To the innocent I was, he looked exactly like an old Englishman should - thin and dignified, wearing a tweed jacket and cap, newspaper under his arm, much like Paul's uncle in Hard Day's Night. After the train started moving, he reached in his jacket pocket and took out an eye case. Then, with exacting detail, he took out a pair of ancient, gold, wire-rim glasses, closed the case and put it away. After that, he took out a handkerchief, then slowly and carefully polished the lenses. Then, satisfied they'd met his standard of clarity, he put on his glasses and started to read his paper.
The entire incident couldn't have lasted a minute, yet it's stayed with me ever since - as clear to me now as when it happened. And oddest of all, over the years I'd think of that old guy and his glasses from time to time, but never understood why. Now I think I do.
It wasn't about glasses at all.
Everything about man was meticulous. His clothes were old, but clean and creased. His shoes, which looked like something out of the 30's, were spit-shined. His handkerchief was bright white.
When he handled his glasses so carefully I immediately knew how he'd kept them in perfect shape for so long. But it took much more time to figure out why he had.
The glasses had stayed in perfect condition due to only one thing - their caretaking. And their caretaking was due to only one thing - their caretaker. His glasses, and his clothes as well, weren't mere objects - they were sources of pride.
Funny thing about that. Typically, we associate pride with our standard measures of success, with producing something - usually money, objects, or records.
But is successful maintenance any less of a source of pride? Is it any less an accomplishment to keep what you have, and keep it well, rather than getting rid of it simply because it's become "old-fashioned"?
I'm sure the old British gentleman has long since gone to his just reward. But I'd like to think his glasses case are both still in perfect shape, in a relative's drawer, somewhere - a keepsake in the truest sense of the word.
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Sept. 18 print edition of the Enterprise and was accidentally not posted online right away.)