Posts Tagged 'eyesight'

It’s my birthday

We celebrated my 83rd birthday with a weekend at the Ojai Valley Inn. Only 5 minutes from our home, yet it seemed far, far away. It’s the second time that we stayed overnight at Ojai’s premiere hotel. Bring lots of money.

Insisting on treating me to the weekend, Jackie had researched high-end hotels. Her first selection was the El Encanto in Santa Barbara where a single night is a brain hemorrhaging $1,600. Sanity returned and we picked the Inn, where the $600 price tag seemed a bargain after flirting with the El Encanto. As a reward for our infrequent conservatism, we decided to stay an extra night; so much for being frugal.

Jackie had wrangled an early noon check-in after pleading with every supervisor at the Inn including the Crowns, owners of the establishment. That made the per-hour cost of our visit an even better bargain.

There are lots of playful opportunities at the Inn to consume one’s assets. Extras can rapidly fill several pages of small type on the checkout bill.  A massage was first in line, at a cost approximating the purchase price of my 1960 Chevy Bel Air.

There are five eating venues at the Inn, and we visited four of them. The hotel was full, but the eateries were cooperative. We assumed that many Inn guests were visiting local Ojai restaurants, but it seemed inappropriate for us to even consider them. We wanted to maintain the illusion that we were far from home.

The Oak Grill is primarily an outdoor seating restaurant. Given my worsening night vision, I am in terror of dimly lit dining. Daylight is my friend and lunch on an outdoor patio is Valhalla. Unfortunately, evening dinners do not include much, if any, daylight. Indoor dining has similar problems due to the overworked fondness for romantic lighting.

We contacted the Grill and were offered either 5:30 or 7:30 seating. The late afternoon option seemed like a early bird senior special. I’m not ready to take on that role, complete with its Velcro shoes, a dinner jacket that looks like it was last worn by a racetrack tout, and salt-free, easily chewable entrees.

We picked the 7:30 option and hoped that the earth might slow its rotation around the sun to maximize the light. If we ate quickly, I might get through our meal with my dignity intact.

Seated at 7:45 on the patio and offered menus by Rod, a very pleasant young waiter. Behind schedule by 15 minutes. Nervous time intensifying.

I scan the menu and, with the aid of the Jackie’s iPhone light, can read my options. I realize that, given the failing daylight, I better avoid a selection that requires a great deal of attention.

Multiple items on the same plate are a crapshoot. I stab at the food in the darkness and, like a spear fisherman, hope that I will come away with a prize. The fork may be empty or have an unexpected delight. At times like these, I think back to my father and brother, both of whom experienced the same challenges. Somehow these memories make the trip a little easier.

An appetizer of six fried shrimp arrives. I can see them but can’t tell head for tail. I reach out and grab one, rotate it to the proper position, and eat. Delicious. I could make a meal of these simple creatures without seeing them. Make a mental note.

Jackie asks Rod for more light. But they only have little wax candles floating inside a glass container. The light is negligible and held in check by the container. Rod delivers a second light, also useless. The wind blows and one goes out. The next blow extinguishes the remaining candle. He brings a third. Lights all three. They go out one by one. Rod relights them. I marvel at his patience. Even though they are useless, he seems to enjoy the effort.

Our entrees arrive. I’ve forgotten what I ordered. Shredded meat, maybe pot roast. I’m clueless.

Jackie tries to reveal the mystery meal with her iPhone. It’s superbright like a volcanic eruption. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle. I think again of my father, a proud man.

Jackie positions her iPhone light behind my water glass in front of me. She rotates it like a lighthouse lamp. The intensity of the light changes as she moves, slides, and elevates the phone. She adjusts. I play my part like I was helping her hang a photo on the wall. We find a sweet spot. I can see what’s on my plate. I eat without fumbling. Jackie is a genius. Rod is happy. The world is good.

What a wonderful birthday.

Careful Where You Step

I wake slowly, stare out the window, and watch the night give way to the dawn. I welcome daylight and embrace it so I can avoid the pratfalls that afflict those whose night vision might better be labeled night blindness.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have the pleasure of being in Robert’s hands at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club. My thirty minutes with him are devoted to strengthening my upper body, working on my balance, and enjoying his wit. I haven’t fooled myself into thinking that I can reverse the aging process; I merely want to take a break from it for a few more years.

Since moving to town, I have been blessed with the ability to walk to the club instead of driving to it. Takes about twenty minutes and gives my cardiovascular system a small nudge in the right direction. Before Covid, my sessions with Robert began at 8am; a respectable start time that lets me walk to the gym in the morning light.

Covid changed all that. First the club closed. Then it was open. Then it was closed. Then it was sort of open, with restrictions that seemed to change twice daily. Robert also had his own health issues that limited his ability to entertain me on a regular basis. Things changed.

I now start training at 7. My walk to the gym begins in darkness and ends in the dim morning light. The first 10 minutes are a thrilling adventure as I stare down at the ground and strain to see what is underfoot. My mind sends me the message, “Watch out, be careful.”

At those times I am reminded of my brother Irv who, like our father, suffered the genetically delivered curse of macular degeneration. I recall walking with Irv when every step brought him closer to a fall. I see him hesitate as he puts one foot in front of the other. I watch him use the toe of his shoe as though it were a cane, probing the next step as though there was a deep chasm in front of him that might send him off the cliff into oblivion. At times like that, I remember thinking, “Poor guy, how frustrating this must be for him.”

Now I’m getting a taste of it, and it makes me feel old. In addition to obstacle avoidance, labels with small print taunt me; surely no one other than Lilliputians can read them. I try to decipher them with my bifocals. Failing that, I try it without glasses. Then I repeat the options without success. Excuses for banging into furniture on my way to bed, like the absence of a full moon, no longer cut it. Thinking that cataract surgery on my left eye will improve things is a fool’s paradise. I probe with my toe, just like my brother did.

Unlike Dracula, I long for the sunrise and try to complete my foraging before dark. Starting a morning hike at 6 is no longer possible. So, like yesterday, when Jackie was already on her way to body management in Montecito, I suited up and began a solo trek just after dawn.

I told Jackie that my plan was to walk through the less challenging Arbolada; a moderate grade trip through residential neighborhoods. Predictable, safe and ambulance friendly. I promised to take my cellphone, since screaming help into the thin air at that time of the morning would only antagonize the neighbors.

Ten minutes into the hike I changed my plans. I felt strong, my aging left knee had not yet offended me, and I was ready for sterner stuff. Shelf Road beckoned and, macho-like, I took the challenge.

Reaching Shelf Road requires a quarter mile jaunt up Signal Street, a thoroughfare that looks benign. Uphill all the way, lungs expand and contract at the speed of hummingbird wings. Heartbeats are no longer separated by intervals; they are, like a firehose, streaming nonstop.

Reaching the beginning of the Shelf Road trail would normally be cause for celebration, but I’m much too busy reorganizing my body into a more coherent machine; one that bears some resemblance to what it was like when I began this death march.

The trail is wide and seems to be continuously uphill. Its composition is shale-like with bits of ankle-twisting rocks thrown in to encourage me to keep my eyes on the road. On a weekday at 7, there are a few hikers with a lot of annoying dogs who seem to enjoy adding another obstacle in my path.

At the half-way mark there are two benches that can give one respite and provide a view of the Valley. I came upon the benches, occupied by a young couple in serious conversation. I waved without panache and mumbled the obligatory, “Good morning. Nice day isn’t it?”

Without waiting for a detailed response, I cruised past them and said soundlessly, “I’m proud of myself. Didn’t die on Signal Street and made it half-way up the trail. The rest is a piece of cake. Home for coffee in thirty.”

As though god hated braggards, I was mightily smitten by the lord for my brashness. The toe of my right shoe clipped the top of a stone which, I am sure, was placed there by an elf for that very purpose. I hurtled forward without a nanosecond of hesitation and found myself laying prone on the trail.

The bench couple ran to me and, believing that I was an old guy without much sense, helped me to my feet and began exploring my body. Normally, inspection by a young woman would be welcomed; however, the blood emanating from my several cuts and bruises put me off.

The inspection concluded without discovery of broken bones, torn ligaments or bleeding that couldn’t be stopped with the application of the three pieces of Kleenex that constitute my first-aid kit.

One of the bloody tissues was nestled between my hat and my scraped skull. Looking like that fife player marching in the painting of The Spirit of 1776, I completed my trek home, washed the blood off my body, and applied several dozen band-aids. I looked a bit like the mummy in the Boris Karloff picture of the same name.

The following day I told Robert my story. He carefully studied my wounds and added shame to my physical woes. He pronounced me a lazy foot dragger. Insisting that I had to learn to lift my feet higher brought on a new series of exercises that consist largely of my stumbling over obstacles he put in my path; much like the dogs did on Shelf Road. Except I was paying for this indignity.

Think I’ll go for a walk…before it gets dark.

The Eyes Have It

It’s a good thing he liked baseball.

My father, Morris, was a victim of macular degeneration. Not the treatable kind, it slowly robbed him of everything but a bit of peripheral vision and the ability to discern light from dark.

He’d spend nearly all his time indoors in their West Rogers Park two-flat that my folks shared with my Uncle Max and Aunt Jenny. He avoided restaurants as though they served nothing but e-coli. A proud man, he felt embarrassed fingering the food on his plate in order to tell the difference between the mashed potatoes and the green beans. Unable to cut his brisket without the aid of a compass, he relied on my mother to create those bite sized pieces that somehow found their way onto his fork and into his mouth.

Until it too failed him, his limited peripheral vision allowed him to focus on a hand of cards in his weekly gin rummy game with Cousin Harry. The cards were large and he held them to the side of his face so he could see them. The game moved slowly but he never lost his card playing skills and managed to best Harry most weeks.

Morris wore bifocal glasses even when they were no longer of any help. He really couldn’t tell if the lenses were dirty but that made no difference to his penchant for keeping them clean. He ran through packs of Sight Savers, those crinkly two by three sheets of tissue that miraculously clean lenses without streaking or smudging. Now pre-moistened, they were originally dry. He kept a pack of them in his pants pocket and often used them despite being unable to view the results of his efforts.

He was a rabid White Sox fan and listened to Bob Elson and Harry Caray doing the play by play on the radio. But, even with his affliction he dearly loved watching the Sox on TV. We had an RCA console that sat on the living room floor. My father would drag a padded folding chair to within a foot of the screen and turn it sideways. He’d then position himself on the chair so that he could watch the TV through the corner of his right eye. Looking at him you might assume that he was ignoring the game.

Always a baseball fan, he had tried football and basketball when he was younger but found them wanting. Perhaps the complexity of football was too much for a former Ukrainian. Maybe basketball too infantile. Baseball was his milieu.

His peripheral vision was not without its limitations. He could not follow images on the screen if they moved rapidly; baseball delivered what he needed. Images that seemed to be stuck in place. Chunks of time between batters that accommodated his need to refocus. Trips by the catcher or manager to the mound that were performed without a hint of urgency. A never-ending array of statistics thrown at the viewer to fill the down time while the other objects on the screen got their act together. On Sundays a double header consuming as many as eight hours provided the stimulus that was otherwise absent for my father.

He knew all the players and the scores of yesterday’s games. He’d criticize plays on the field even though he probably didn’t see the play or the offender. He’d rag on me about the Cubs who hadn’t won a World Series since the Bronze Age. I felt his agony when the Sox blew one in the ninth inning. I occasionally pretended to share his joy when they came from behind and won the game.

My brother Irv suffered the same afflictions…being a Sox fan and having macular degeneration. Unless pushed, he avoided restaurants and their wide array of traps and pitfalls. He didn’t watch much TV and relied on audio books. He gave up golf when he couldn’t see the ball on the tee. I sat with him through every minute of the 2005 World Series when, after 88 years, the Sox won it in four straight over Houston, while my Cubs still languished in the Bronze age. He died before the Cubs won it in 2016 and I have never forgiven him.

I’ve never been as much of a baseball fan as they were. But since I share my genes with them, thoughts of macular generation occasionally enter my mind. Like the other night at the restaurant.

Nocciola is a high-end restaurant with prices to match. We hosted my daughter Nancy and my faux son-in-law, Kevin. A lovely setting, it was dimly lit. Menus of a weight befitting the restaurant’s stature were passed. My initial exploration of its Italian focused offerings revealed that the Italian names of dishes including Crescione, Quaglia, Plin and the one dedicated to Old Blue Eyes, Anatra, were large, bold and plainly visible. The English language describing the content of the dish was not. For all I knew I could have been reading the menu upside down. Fortunately, Jackie’s smart phone provided much needed light and I was able to avoid starvation.

The food arrived and my selection appeared to be floating at the bottom of a dark well. I told the waiter that I had hoped to enjoy a last meal before succumbing to hoof and mouth disease. Accordingly, it would be nice to see the food I was eating. A kindly soul, he elevated the lighting a few lumens and I was able to conclude the task at hand without the necessity of asking Jackie to cut my food.

When I was nearly finished, the lights dimmed. Perhaps the manager concluded that the old man had eaten enough to get the idea of where each element of the dish was located. And, not wishing to offend normally sighted guests, had returned the lights to their Devil’s Island setting.

It’s too bad I don’t like baseball.


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