A few days after Al’s ninetieth birthday, I happened upon a piece by Roger Angell on the New Yorker website. I was attracted by title: “Life in the Nineties,” which refers to the lives of nonagenarians. What I found were a few things that applied to a certain sexagenarian of my acquaintance. Take the second paragraph:
“Now, still facing you, if I cover my left, or better, eye with one hand, what I see is a blurry encircling version of the ceiling and floor and walls or windows to our right and left but no sign of your face or head: nothing in the middle. But cheer up: if I reverse things and cover my right eye, there you are, back again. If I take my hand away and look at you with both eyes, the empty hole disappears and you’re in 3-D, and actually looking pretty terrific today. Macular degeneration.”
I could have written that paragraph, although I probably wouldn’t have written it so well. And, in truth, my right eye isn’t as bad as Angell’s. If I covered my left eye, I would recognize you, although what I’d see would be something right out of a funhouse mirror.
Macular degeneration does have occasional benefits. I had an appointment Tuesday at the West Georgia Eye Care Center. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays Covenant Woods provides free transportation for residents with medical appointments, but the bus was in the shop early last week. They offered to take me and my lightweight chair in a car. Russ was available, however. He likes to push the old man around, so he packed me and wheelchair in the Aveo and off we went. The bus was back Thursday, and Friday’s trip to the Springer Opera House to see Les Miserables was on. To make up for Tuesday’s inconvenience, Penelope, the activities director, said Covenant Woods would pay my way. A more honorable man would have said, “No, no, Russ was the one inconvenienced, not I.” But twenty-five bucks for a ticket is twenty-five bucks, and what Penelope doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Thus, at no cost to me, I got to enjoy an excellent production of Les Mis. And since I wasn’t required to cover my left eye, my view was undistorted.
Later in the article, Angell talks about running into people he hasn’t seen for a while.
“ ‘How great you’re looking! Wow, tell me your secret!’ they kindly cry when they happen upon me crossing the street or exiting a dinghy or departing an X-ray room, while the little balloon over their heads reads, ‘Holy shit—he’s still vertical!’ ”
That hasn’t happened to me in Columbus, where Russ and Karen are the only people who knew me in the pre-MS days. The closest they’ve come to that is when Russ’ Uncle John sent them a video of some family gatherings back in the day. “Oh my God, Dad,” Russ said. “You had so much dark hair.”
But back in Ashtabula, my path sometimes crossed the paths of seldom seen friends and acquaintances. When it did, those folks would gush about how good I looked, which always left me thinking, “Holy shit – I must have really looked like crap before.”
Al’s favorite passage is when Angell writes, “I don’t read Scripture and cling to no life precepts, except perhaps to Walter Cronkite’s rules for old men, which he did not deliver on the air: Never trust a fart. Never pass up a drink. Never ignore an erection.” Al particularly enjoys sharing the third rule with other residents and the staff, and then he adds, “But I haven’t had one in twenty-five years.”
To stay young as you grow old, Angell recommends romance. “But I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again.”
The trip to the eye doctor went well. He and his assistants peered into my eyes, took pictures of them, made me prove I can’t read the chart with my right eye, told me nothing has changed and to come back in October. He didn’t have to stick a needle in my eye. That was a relief.
And yet . . . Grandma used to say, “As a rule man’s a fool. When it’s hot, he wants it cool. When it’s cool, he wants it hot; always wanting what is not.” The last time a doc stuck a needle in my eye was in January 2012. Sooner or later, they’ll detect bleeding in my eye and have to give me an injection of the stuff I can’t remember the name of, but it starts with an A. Up in Ohio, I had five or six shots from early 2011 through early 2012. I didn’t look forward to them, but the doctor administered them skillfully and painlessly, and I was getting used to the routine. Now every visit without a shot makes me more apprehensive about getting one. I keep watching the doctor for signs of klutziness, lack of fine motor skills and latent demonic tendencies. So, while I walk out of the eye doctor’s relieved that I didn’t need an injection; there is the fool in me that thinks a shot in the eye would do wonders for my peace of mind.
Fortunately, before I could get too tangled in the web of my thought, Russ said he had something to show me. “Those apartments over there are where Karen and I are hoping to move,” he said as he drove me home. Their lease at Whisperwood is up in a couple months. One of the things they’re looking for in an apartment is wheelchair accessibility, so I can go over and hang out. I’m probably more excited about their moving than they are.