Dear Switchback fans,
If there is one thing that signals the onset of middle age, it is the need for reading glasses. For myself, the one thing I always prided myself on was my eyes. As a kid, I had amazing vision and could read in the dimmest light. This super-human vision drove my family nuts on vacations, particularly while heading out to Wyoming when I would excitedly point out animals that nobody could see, especially at dusk when they would come out to feed closer to the highways.
“There’s a moose!” I would yell.
“Where?” Tony would ask.
“Over there,” I would exclaim and point. Eighteen eyes would automatically swerve to where I was pointing.
“Where?” Joe would ask, with a bit of irritation in his voice.
“Over there, by the trees!” I would say, pointing emphatically as our car sped by at 70 miles per hour.
"Too late," I'd say, as everyone slid back down into their seats.
That I could see animals no one else could see meant that I was looked upon with deep skepticism by my siblings. This led to their development of a new Zen koan: “If a moose appears by the side of the woods, and only Marty sees it, is it really there?” Eventually, I was looked upon as a raving hermit, pointing and muttering about the bear, coyote or moose as no one paid attention.
In Switchback, good eyesight comes in handy when driving with Brian, who's a dead-reckoning kind of navigator. In the old days before GPS, we would have a road atlas (yes, made of PAPER) to guide us on our journeys. A turn-off that was a mile away was easy to read for me. I can still see those far-away road signs, but the tiny print on a road atlas would be worthless to my aging eyes now.
When my wife Annie started offering to stand across the street from the restaurants where we would dine and hold up the menu just so I could read it, I knew it was time to get my eyes checked. We went to her beloved ophthalmologist in the Loop. I couldn't believe I was going to the EYE DOCTOR. I braced myself for bad news. "Yeah, let's see just how terrible your eyesight is," Annie smirked as Dr. Ortiz led me into the darkened room. "Maybe you'll need a transplant."
A few minutes later, the doctor and I emerged. "Well?" Annie asked. "His eyesight is really above average," he said. "Better than 20/20. He just needs reading glasses." Annie, near-sighted since age 12, rolled her eyes with an expression that shimmered between disgust and admiration.
I was the last of my siblings to need reading glasses and it is something that I really cannot stand. Aside from the reminder that I'm getting older, reading glasses are the latest addition to my ever-growing list of things I'm likely to lose (including gloves, toothbrushes and sunglasses; God willing, I'll at least keep my hair).
But sometimes actually finding your reading glasses is its own problem.
At my Dad’s funeral Mass, I found a pair of reading glasses in my bass case. I figured that I put them there and I congratulated myself on being prepared to take them out for a song I was not too familiar with. The time came for the song and I put on the glasses. We started playing and I squinted at the music. Why was everything was out of focus? People were starting to line up for Communion and I was mumbling what I thought were the lyrics while taking steps back and forward to refocus my eyes, all while playing the bass. The congregation, my siblings especially, looked from their hymnals to me, dancing and bobbing while muttering unintelligible half words among wrong words. “My God,” I thought. “What does my Dad think of all of this?” I could feel the heat of embarrassment seeping under my collar and that only served to fog the glasses that I couldn’t see out of anyway.
At the end of the Mass, I turned to Brian. “These glasses!” I said in disgust. “I can’t read a damn thing with them! I must be losing my mind!”
“Hey, let me see those,” he said. He held them up in front of his face and nodded. “I was wondering where these went.”
Now I know why my mother always insisted we brothers put our initials on our underwear in permanent magic marker.
It has been a period of adjustment. And in some ways, I have had to surrender to the inevitable: I am aging, my eyes just aren’t what they used to be, and that from now on, I have to embrace the fact that I will have a pair of reading glasses always somewhere nearby. That people under 30 do in fact design all labels for everything that we consume. I find myself silently thanking the people who design street signs that are big and lighted. That I will be the person who will have the glasses that are missing a lens or have an arm duct-taped to sort of work. And I will have to figure that across the world, like Johnny Appleseed, I will be leaving behind me a trail of cheap reading glasses for those who wish to follow.