ON THE AVENUES: Seeing is believing.
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
There were no press conferences at home plate, engraved sports watches or brand new cars when I retired from beer league softball in 1984 at the tender age of 24.
The season ended and my glove was thrown into a box, to be disturbed only a handful of times in the years to follow, before I gave all my equipment to a kid in the neighborhood.
He wanted to play ball, but I’d lost interest. Part of it was the realization that one needn’t use softball as an excuse to drink bad beer, and lots of it, while more comfortably seated in a clean, well-air-conditioned tavern absent the heat, humidity, dirt and sweat.
Moreover, my nighttime job started getting in the way of softball – or maybe it was the other way around.
I’d taken to working two jobs to finance my first European trip, slated for the summer of 1985, and gradually it dawned on me that taking nights off from work cost me twice, first decreasing my pay and then increasing those pesky bar tabs.
However, the biggest consideration of all was an ongoing erosion of my softball skills. I’d always been a decent enough player, but my hitting became anemic, and as for outfield play – well, it was wretched. I felt sorry for the spectators, and it wasn’t very much fun for me, either.
While my throwing arm always had been inadequate (true story: much later in life, I was diagnosed as having congenitally weak rotator cuffs), this fact presupposes the act of catching the softball, and near the end of the string, teammates would be forced to yell detailed fielding instructions to me on anything hit in my direction, almost as though I couldn’t see what was coming.
Ding Ding Ding.
As you already may have guessed, this was the real problem. I couldn’t see the ball, or much of anything else – drunk or sober.
While my eyes had been fine throughout high school, nearsightedness gradually set in as college days passed by. Given that my daily migratory patterns were fairly set, various ways of coping and compensating became second nature to me. I barely was aware of them.
But a softball traveling through the air at night above poorly lit playing fields posed more difficulties than a stationary highway sign, and so by the end of the 1984 season, it had become obvious to some of my friends that a tipping point had arrived, and been completely pole-vaulted.
It brings to mind the joke about the gifted young rock musician, paraphrased:
“He went from up-and-coming talent directly to ‘too drunk to play’ without ever bothering to become a star in between.”
Consequently, the prevailing assumption during my waning tenure in beer league softball was that I’d taken to partying a bit too heartily, although deep down inside, I knew better. After all, some games I didn’t drink — and still struggled.
It was embarrassing to be a detriment to my team, and yet for reasons unknown apart from being young, male and stubborn, I couldn’t bring myself to have my eyes checked.
Consequently, this points to another juncture in the ongoing series called “How European Travel Saved My Life,” because when spring arrived in 1985, and I’d finished making my apologies to teammates for being unable to play softball the coming summer owing to being overseas (they no doubt were relieved), it finally hit me.
The trip was only two months away when I picked up the Sunday Courier-Journal and was confronted by an advertisement from Dr. Bizer’s Vision World, or whatever it was called back then.
Remember: my reading eyesight was fine.
Just in the nick of time, I realized that all the money I’d worked so hard to save to see Europe would be completely wasted if I returned home without having seen anything, except mugs of beer being lifted to the vicinity of my face. How would I be able to see airport departures, nude sunbathers and the Pope in his window overlooking St. Peter’s Square?
Freshly clipped newspaper coupon in hand, off I went to Dr. Bizer’s in Jeffersonville to redeem the company’s latest “cheap-glasses-in-just-an-hour” advertising enticement. When I began my audience with a man from the Bizer optometrist pool, he started twiddling knobs, sliding lenses and guiding me through the familiar charts filled with letters and numbers.
At one point he stopped, took a step back, stared at me in puzzlement and cocked an eyebrow: “Tell me, exactly how do you function on a daily basis?”
With sixty minutes to wait, I answered his question by walking over to Cut Rate Liquors, where I bought a Harp Lager (it’s funny what you remember) and drank it while seated in my car. Returning for the glasses to be fitted and processed, the vision change indoors was significant in itself, but it wasn’t until stepping back outside into a glorious sunny day that I froze, dumbstruck.
Gazing up at those big green blobs, I became momentarily incapacitated by the realization that trees have leaves. It had been a while since I’d seen them.
For the past 33 years, I’ve worn eyeglasses for any activity or occasion requiring me to see past a point beginning roughly 12 inches from the tip of my nose. This long-lasting paradigm finally was flipped on April 26 and May 1, and now I can see wonderfully into the distance, although at the cost of foregoing my reading vision.
The procedures for this improvement came about when I visited my optometrist in January for a routine examination, and to ask her about Lasik options. She found cataracts in both eyes – unusual for someone my age – and explained the possibility of having them removed with laser surgery, during which (in effect) permanent contact lenses would be inserted – and insurance would pay for at least some of it (in the end, roughly half the expense, with the remainder financed for 18 months, same as cash).
Voila! No more eyeglasses.
Granted, the replacement lenses can’t do it all; one must choose whether to see up close or far away, and my priority was to remove the need to wear eyeglasses most of the time. Happily, my new eyes are calibrated to be inclusive of computer screens, and like so many other folks, I’ll be scattering inexpensive reading glasses throughout the house.
So far, it seems like a very good trade, although I keep reaching for eyeglasses that aren’t there, and persist in forgetting where I put the cheaters.
As an aside, the subconscious can be a burdensome companion. The day before the inaugural procedure on my left eye, I awakened to the long-suppressed memory of Saturday Night Live’s Michael O’Donaghue (Mr. Mike), circa 1975, performing one of his skits about plunging steel needles into the eyes of celebrities.
Fair enough, but why was I also being plagued by “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, looping endlessly in my brain?
Because their steel needles were the first to be comically inserted.
This said, the outpatient surgery was about as smooth as anyone could hope for. It lasts only minutes. I experienced some disorientation and lapses in concentration following the first procedure, but not the second. It’s nothing to complain about, because I’m fortunate to be able to see – and hear, and smell. I’m lucky to be physically intact and in good overall health in spite of a lifelong propensity to dissipation.
However, when we arrive at last call, we’ll have been able to inhabit only our own bodies, and no one else’s. Accordingly, I’m left to grope for larger meaning in this tale of corrected vision, and simply stated, maybe it’s that getting eyeglasses in 1985 signified a rite of passage; the convergence of deteriorating eyesight and European travel made it easy for me to contextualize a transition.
It turned out my softball glove wasn’t the only object being stored in a box as a memento, as opposed to something of ongoing importance. What I was really doing was evolving, by putting the ways of childhood behind me and moving forward toward my own set of interests, motivations and pleasures.
As for surgery and the discarding of eyeglasses in 2018, I think it’s happening again. The latest transition began three years ago, and Pints & Union is happening soon. Training camp’s over, and the game’s about to begin. I’m pulling for a late-career renaissance, and it’s within reach.
There’s never a foolproof way of knowing exactly where these pathways will lead, but being able to see the ground beneath your feet is a good place to begin the walk.
April 26: ON THE AVENUES: The wonder years.