There I am in the evil teen clothing store, looking at a shirt for my 15-year-old son. For the life of me I cannot make out whether the price is $25 or $28, because it’s like the bat cave in there.
I move closer to a light and am squinting when a clerk says something to me. But of course the music is so loud I cannot hear a word he’s saying.
At least I think it’s a “he”. It is awfully dark.
“WHAT?” I yell.
“CAN I HELP YOU WITH SOMETHING, MA’AM?” he shouts back.
I want to scream, yes! You could turn down the music and turn up the lights, for cryin’ out loud! And stop calling me ma’am! What am I, like 100?
But then it hits me that’s exactly how I must seem to him, like one of those centenarians on Willard Scott’s Smuckers jars. And there’s no way on earth I’m going to whip out my reading glasses in front of this kid to decipher a $3 difference, so I just tell him I’ll take the shirt.
When I look at the receipt later, I still can’t tell what I paid. It’s blurry as well.
As much as I hate to admit it, my eyes are, shall we say, “maturing”. The writing’s on the wall. I just can’t read it. Those reading glasses I bought several years ago because they seemed “fun” are now a necessity.
Dinner by candlelight in a fancy restaurant is a lovely idea … until you try and read the menu. I’m guessing what looks like “chicken corduroy” is probably chicken cordon bleu. I wonder what exactly “gaelic bread” is until my husband points out it’s garlic bread.
And does that say fresh dish or fresh fish? There’s no way of being certain until I get out my “cheaters.” I really could use a spotlight, too, but I have to settle for the flashlight on my phone.
Even in good lighting, there seems to be more fine print all the time. The print in telephone books has gotten ridiculously small, as has the list of ingredients and expiration dates on food products. And those teeny tiny instructions on cold and flu medicine bottles are just plain cruel to those who are already suffering.
One day last year when I finally admitted to myself that the needle I was trying to thread probably hadn’t shrunk, I went to an optometrist for the third time in my life. He told me I still had excellent vision and didn’t really need glasses.
When I explained the problem with the shrinking words, he told me that was a common problem with aging, and that it’s not uncommon for people my age to rely on reading glasses.
Aging? People my age? What’s next — elastic-waistband pants and Depends?
So I’ve resisted. Really, can yogurt be that much worse expired? Will it make that much difference if I can’t figure out if that’s a “T” or a “t” on a recipe? And how important can those instructions that came with my prescription medicine really be?
My husband, who, I should point out, is older than me by five years (and three months and seven days, but hey, who’s counting?), has been wearing cheaters for years, and for years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed making fun of him.
How could I resist? Wearing glasses on top of the contact lenses he already wears seems redundant. Then, when he’s reading and watching television at the same time, he places the cheaters on the end of the nose, very Santa-like.
And though he’s probably bought hundreds of pairs over the years, he can never find a pair when he needs them. So he’ll start the cycle again, buying them at the dollar store and the grocery store and the three-packs at Menards. Soon they’ve piled up all around the house. And in his car. And my car. And his home office. And at work.
Then one by one they all disappear. Why in the world someone hasn’t starting selling glow-in-the-dark ones is a mystery to me. And beepers for those hidden in the couch cushions and underneath stacks of papers.
One day he put on a pink pair he had just bought (because, I’m assuming, he couldn’t see the color), and I couldn’t stop giggling.
“What?” he said.
“Now you look like Mrs. Claus!”
He tells me, so what, who’s going to see them at home? But this is the same reasoning he uses to justify keeping shirts with more holes than shirt, and then one day there we are at parent-teacher conferences when I suddenly notice he’s wearing the “not for public display” shirt. So I hide the pink pair, only to be used in case of emergency.
Not long ago I was at the library when I saw a novel in the new books section that I had been wanting to read. I was ready to check it out when I noticed it was the large print edition.
Thus followed my internal debate:
The first voice — the mean voice — said: “Getting that book means you are old. Put it back!” I put it back.
The second, kinder voice said: “Oh come on! Reading large print books no more makes you old than eating pickles and ice cream makes you pregnant!” I swallowed my pride and checked it out.
After getting over the initial shock that all the words seemed like the top E on the eye chart, I discovered the large print was rather nice. Though it could be argued if I’m hearing voices in public places, maybe I have more cause for worry than my eyesight.
According to the Foster Grant reading glasses eye chart at Wal-Mart, I only need a magnification of 1.5 strength. OK, maybe 2. I tell myself that’s not so bad for someone “my age”.
(Is it a coincidence that they carry the magnifying readers in the same section as all those medicine bottles with the microscopic words? I think not.)
Slowly but surely my resistance is fading and my pride disappearing, replaced by the desire to see. And slowly but surely, I’m stockpiling my own glasses in every room of the house. And in my car. And my husband’s car. And the emergency pair in my underwear drawer.
It’s not uncommon now when I’m with a group of friends and we’re looking at something for us to pass around a pair of glasses. Sure, we probably all have a pair or three in our purse, but who can see in that bat cave to find them?
And of course, being women we have managed to turn this necessity into a fashion statement. We have them in different colors and patterns and shapes, and are quick to compliment someone whose cheaters happen to match her outfit.
Now I’m the one with a pair perched on the end of my nose as I try and watch my son’s basketball game and read the program at the same time. It’s me who can never find one of my dozens of pairs, even when I have a pair on top of my head.
My hubby, though, has not said a word. It’s not like I don’t deserve it. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s just being kind or if it’s because I’m the only one who knows where his pink emergency pair is hidden.
JoAnne Beiermann and her husband live in Columbus. They have five children.