The Eyes Have It

Several weeks ago, I was informed by my ophthalmologist that the cataract in my left eye had reached London-fog level. “We’ll remove the other cataract in a month,” he said.

I knew I was at a critical point with my vision. I could read most of the large signs as long as they had polar-bear-size white letters and arrows on dark green backgrounds. When the city decided that small flower-lined islands would beautify one of our major streets, I found myself cursing at their invisibility when I made left turns at night, barely shaving the blunt edges of the raised islands as I turned into the right lanes.

On rainy nights, I would squint at the front windshield trying to see through the patches of unstreaked clarity. The wipers would do their bump and grind, making vain attempts to clear away the glaze of film built up from the oil vapors unobtrusively spewing out of exhaust pipes at urban intersections.

The fortunate ones with good eyes or corrective lenses struggle enough trying to see through the cataract-like film sheathing windshields on rainy nights.

For cataract-surgery candidates like me, a night of rain can give us GERD. Oncoming headlights look like illuminated egg yokes. Roads become wet runways of splattered lights, neurotic mirrors bending and flashing small fragments of light in all directions, a stereophonic display of small lightning-like shards.

The story of an old-man’s glazed eyes continues.

Not long after my eye-doctor’s appointment, I was shopping at Marshall’s. As I was setting down my items in front of the cashier, she asked, “would you like to open an account for 10% off the cost of these items?” All I heard was “10% off.”

“Sure,” I said.

“May I see your driver’s license?”

I pull the license out of my wallet and hand it to her. She looks at it, casually, at first. Then she looks at it again. “Sir, I see you’re license is expired. No problem, I just need the number to process the application.”

I wait anxiously. Christ, what if the credit-card company has a security department specializing in expired licenses? What if they notify the Department of Motor Vehicles? What if I hit a Greyhound bus full of nuns touring from Paris on my two-block drive home? What if…..

“Sir, your application has been approved. You actually have been approved for a card you can use in any store, not just Marshall’s”

“Congratulations, Sir. That’s a good sign.” A middle-aged cashier walking behind my cashier felt obligated to make that announcement to all the customers waiting in line behind me.

I felt special. I was having a senior-citizen’s bourgeois moment. I could feel the envy of the other customers behind me.

“Now don’t lose this receipt, sir. You can use this to verify that your credit-card application has been approved.”

The next day, I drive to the DMV. I walk in and see rows of workers resembling bank tellers behind cut out sections to service clients. I look to the right and see an Information section. I wait in line and look around the open space to figure out the details.

Details are important in any state agency—if you miss a detail about which line you should be in or miss your called number because it wasn’t announced, you risk a confrontation with a jaded civil service employee whose icy attitude could match a winter in Fargo.

If ice doesn’t work, lethargy is a close second—a yawn, a cough, downcast eyes, slow breaths, and a facial expression somewhere between a mother saying goodbye to her last adult child or a surgeon’s defeatist look after sawing off the wrong foot of another surgeon’s patient.

I check out all the eye charts on the back wall about 20 feet behind each window. I squint my eyes. No letters decipherable.

On a wall to my left, I see what turns out to be two digital numbering systems that have their own sequence. “Number 145, please go to window 7,” I hear on the PA system.

Clear enough, I think. They have a numbering system.

“Number 146, please go to window 8.”

Mystery solved.

“Number 3B, go to window 9.”

Kafka had returned.

“May I help you, sir” from an earnest thick-bodied guy of heightened cheer and good will, a wide grin, and two yellow 3H pencils sticking up from the left pocket of his white shirt. (Erasing is very important at the DMV.)

“Yes, I need to renew my license and to change my address” (Did I mention that I have been in my new apartment for over a year?)

“Do you have your current license?”

“Yes, here it is.” I pull it out from behind the clear plastic-like window on the right side of my open wallet.

“You will need a photo. The woman to your left will take your photo. After the photo, take this form and fill it out in the waiting area. Oh, I forgot, your number is 8B. That’s for people who can be expedited quickly without any complications.” (“Expedited” was for my benefit.)


“No problem.”

I walk over to the photo window.

“I’m sorry sir, this women was here before you.”

I look around for a queue. There is none. I gently go behind a square paneled pillar, peeking my head around the edge of the pillar to check on the older woman in front of me. The young photo taker asks the woman if she likes her photo.

“No, I need to smile more. And it’s too hazy.”

The young clerk tries again.

“Smile, Mrs Garrison.”

Mrs. Garrison hunches her shoulders forward. The young clerk snaps the photo.

“What do you think?”

“I don’t look good in red, do I?”

“It actually blends beautifully with your pale skin.”

“Do you think so?”

“My sister never liked red. Her skin is very, very white. And I love when she wears the dark maroon velvet dress my mother bought her for her birthday last year.”

“You’re so kind. Thank you.”


I peer around the edge of the paneled pillar and walk up to the window.

“Are you here for a photo?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Stand back and peer into the red light in the camera.” She snaps the photo. I see momentary stars. I look at the computer screen and my instant photo. Dark circles under my eyes. Long rooster-like gullets and lines down the front of my neck. I look post-office-photo-of-a-criminal-at-large angry. I look very old.

“Do you like your photo?”

“Sure.” I walk to the waiting room and stand over the make-shift desk. I fill out the form.

“9B go to window 6.”

I rush to window 6. “Excuse me, I didn’t hear 8B.”

“Well, sir, I called 9B. I have to take 9B. Go to window 5. She’ll take care of you.”

I go to window 5.

“I’m sorry sir, I just called 168. I have to take 168 first.”

“But I’m 8B.”

“Wait over there by the center desk, sir, I’ll take you next.”


I wait. I’ve been expedited.

“I’ll take you now, sir.”

I walk up to the window.

“Ah, I see you need to take your vision test. Read off the last line of letters on the chart on the wall directly in back of me.”

I hesitate. I take a deep breath. Oh my God, I think I see the letters WARHOL on the last line. Can’t be. I squint again.

“L, M, N, 4, C, O, R”

“Try closing one eye.”

I close my left eye. Christ, I say to myself, now I think I see the letters DA VINCI. I take another deep breath.

“L, M, M, 4, O, P”

“I’m sorry, sir, you missed too many letters. Take this form and try with your eye doctor.”

I walk out of the DMV, defeated. I climb into my car and take my glasses off. I put my left palm over my left eye. I turn the ignition key. The car starts.

“What the Hell do they mean I can’t drive?”



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