Well, I’ve crossed a Rubicon, I suppose. After many, many months of putting it off, telling myself the eye strain wasn’t too bad, and willing my arms to grow just a bit longer, I finally walked into Walgreen’s and bought myself a pair of reading glasses.
I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer this past week in San Francisco, when, after a six-hour flight, I spent a couple of hours browsing in City Light Books and nearly fried my eyeballs. I read through their jazz books and eclectic science fiction section until I simply couldn’t focus on the print anymore. I tried chalking it up to exhaustion after the flight, or maybe to my eyes being sensitive to some West Coast pollen I hadn’t encountered before. My eyes were still throbbing the next morning. My second browsing visit to City Lights wasn’t quite as painful, but it wasn’t great, either. Then, this morning, after I dropped my boys off at Sunday school and went to a nearby Starbuck’s to read for a while (Philip Jose Farmer’s Flesh, which I’ll be sure to blog about) before heading back to join them for their Purim carnival, I just wasn’t able to concentrate on the prose. Reading had become a physical ordeal. My arms were too short to box with Philip Jose Farmer. When I left the Starbuck’s, I headed straight to Walgreen’s.
Why did I put off an obvious physical need for so long? It’s not so complicated. Oh, there’s my slightly wounded pride… but, hey, being able to put off wearing reading glasses until the age of 47 isn’t exactly an unconditional surrender to the weaknesses of middle age; I put up a decent fight. And I’ve still got most of my (original) hair. No, my unwillingness to buy a pair of reading glasses had much more to do with, not my loss of youth, but my memories of youth. Specifically, my memories of junior high school. The only other time in my life I’ve worn reading glasses was during seventh through tenth grades. The worst years of my life, by far. The reading glasses weren’t the cause of my misery. But I associate them with endless humiliation, degradation, and self-loathing. I was enormously happy when my vision self-corrected and the optometrist told me I could stop wearing glasses.
Oh, well. Time to man up. I love to read. It is one of my greatest pleasures. Reading once again with reading glasses sitting on my nose feels like taking a shower wearing galoshes. But I suppose the oddness will eventually wear off, and slipping the reading glasses out of their case will come to feel as natural as drinking my first cup of coffee in the morning or pulling on socks. Just so long as I don’t have to have braces put back on my teeth or spend another hour, ever, at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School…
(By the way, since we’re on the subject of encroaching middle age, this past week I bought a copy for a friend of my all-time favorite depiction of how the diminishments of middle age might affect a superhero, Robert Mayer’s absolutely wonderful novel Superfolks, now back in print.)