Cataract Surgery: Part I

The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission.  As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.

It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance.  After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.

eyeball

It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year.  Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen.  I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.

I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known.  Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so.  Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.

Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me.  I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV.   He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes.  Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.

Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home.  In the dark.  From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.

After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic.  Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.

I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway.  Add to that a thousand glaring headlights.  I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.

As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film.  It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness.  Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road.  Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.

It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend.  Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.

headlights

So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood.  When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”

Lovelier words have never been spoken.

To be continued….

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In a Tent

A moment of weakness, that’s the only way to explain it.  Despite my heretofore utter, adamant (dare I say pig-headed?) refusal to participate in any way in the so-called recreational activity of camping — tent camping, no less — I caved to peer pressure.  I agreed to accompany John and two of our friends to a campsite in the woods and spend three nights, however insane the thought, in a tent.

Did I mention I was drinking wine at the time?  I was, and in a quantity sufficient, apparently, to throw me just enough off-kilter to almost convince myself it was a good idea.  I mean, I enjoy the outdoors.  Hiking is a lovely way to spend a crisp Pacific Northwest day.  Thing is, though, after the hike is finished I’m ready for civilization again.  A hot shower.  A restaurant.  A real bed in a real building with real walls.

You know, the opposite of this.

setting up the tents

When setting out for a three-day camping trip, not only are you forced to carry along your own shelter (and I use that word generously, considering the only things between you and the elements are a few sheets of stitched canvas and a zipper) but good heavens, it takes damn near as many days to pack everything else four people need — including what appeared to me to be a good half cord of logs to build fires (for warmth, of all the ridiculous things) — as it does to camp for that same amount of time.

camping stuff

Had we planned the exact trip — hiking, sightseeing and all — yet tweaked it just a little to include three nights in, say, a charming B&B, we would have instead packed:

suitcase

And we needn’t even discuss bathroom issues…but of course I will.

I give our camping friends the utmost credit for securing us a mighty nice site — or as nice as a site sans private bath can be — in that there was a perfectly respectable public restroom facility within reasonable walking distance.  In the daytime.  In the dark of night, however, it would have proven far too tricky a trek a la flashlight when half-asleep.

Thus, once (or twice, or thrice) per night when a certain business required attending, either John or I would shake the other awake and whisper the need to unzip the door and venture out into the blackness to find a tree at a (barely) polite enough distance from our friends’ tent.

As every woman in the universe knows, this is much easier for a man.  Much.  Granted, I’m a squatter from way back, beginning in the early ‘80s when we were building our second home on a couple acres hidden discreetly in the woods and minus the luxury of a portable facility.  Yet as accomplished as I became at answering nature’s call in full view of Mother Nature herself, my expertise is limited to the daylight hours.  With the cover of night comes the very real worry about the consequence of bad aim, namely — and specifically when sleeping outdoors — crawling back into the tent slightly, ahem, soggy.

I’m pleased to report, in spite of my fears, that never happened over the course of our three-day camping adventure.  At least not that I was aware of at the time.  Or would be willing to admit afterwards.

Fortunately for all of us — especially my three camping companions who would have otherwise been subjected to relentless whining — there were no serious mishaps of any kind during the trip.  The weather gods smiled upon us, granting us three clear, sunny days, and the one night we were awoken by sounds of something padding around our campsite, it turned out to be neither bear nor Sasquatch.  (As far as we know, anyway.  None of us unzipped our tents to find out).

And on the very last afternoon, while our friends chose to stay at the campsite to relax and nap, John and I headed into town — to civilization — for a little souvenir shopping and a visit to a waterfront adult beverage establishment to whet our whistles and reminisce.  We were in the charming village of Eastsound, after all, on Orcas Island.  The very spot where, just over two years ago, we decided quite off-the-cuff to sell our farm and move up here.  It’s a special place for us.

So all’s well that ends well, right?  Yes indeed.  Still, when next summer rolls around and we’re again partaking in a bit of the grape with our camping aficionado friends, should the topic of repeating this trip come up, I intend to take a drastic measure to ensure I keep my wits about me:

I’m switching to coffee.  Black.

The Massaaaahhhge

I love a massage.  I love everything about it.  The aroma of scented oils in the dimly lit massage room, the gentle new age-y music, the way the therapist speaks in hushed tones.  Even the padded face hole in the massage table pleases me.  If I could afford it, I’d have a regular spa appointment once a week.  Maybe more.

spa-md

And it wouldn’t matter what other treatments the spa offered — defoliating scrubs, body wraps, facials — I’m interested only in massage.  Twice John has given me a spa day as a birthday gift, and both times I eschewed any treatment that didn’t involve being rubbed.

Although I did make a fairly critical mistake on my first visit.  I signed up for the warm mud massage — it had the word “massage” in it, after all — and while the initial hands-on portion was sublime, once the therapist smeared on the mud and left the room for a while, all I could think about was how much time was being wasted; time that could have otherwise been filled with a whole lot more rubbing and a whole lot less lying there sweating.

I do have one very strict rule when it comes to receiving a massage:  other than the intermittent whispered instruction to roll over or to ask if the amount of pressure she’s using is adequate, the therapist must remain mute.  I’m not patient with chitchat during massage time.  I don’t need to know where the therapist grew up or what her children are studying in school.  Likewise, I feel no desire to report my life story to her.  I’m on that table for one reason and one reason alone, and that’s all I want to think about.  Massage me.  From head to toe.

Oh hang on, I almost forgot.  There is indeed one massage spot I’d prefer the therapist skip over.  Two spots, actually:  my ears.  When she starts kneading my ears it makes me feel silly.  I have no qualms about other extremities — each toe and finger thanks the therapist for the individual attention — but when she grabs for an ear, all I can think about is…big floppy ears.  And I have small ears, strangely enough, the right one even freakishly tiny.  Still, when someone touches them during a massage it’s like I’m Minnie Mouse.  Or Dumbo.

No matter.  Putting up with over-handled ears in order to be massaged everywhere else is a sacrifice I’ll make without qualms.  So when a friend offered me one of her pre-paid massage appointments, I jumped at the chance.  She had to give up the appointment because of a spinal problem that will likely require surgery, and I did suffer a pang of guilt for accepting her gift under such a circumstance.  Yet the feeling only lasted a second or two.  In my world, you see, the prospect of a free massage trumps all else.  I’m not proud of it but hey, I can live with it.

Especially when someone’s rubbing me.

Dancing Queen

Because I seem unable to form the word “no” anymore, I was recently recruited to be part of the Drill Team — a chorus line dance ensemble — at the upcoming Cape George Revue. Cape George, by the way, is my neighborhood. The Revue is its annual variety show. And the Drill Team uses — get this — actual electric drills as props. Who would have imagined that?

Yeah, I know. Pretty much everybody. Especially everybody who’s lived in Cape George for more than twelve months, it turns out, since the Drill Team always performs at the Revue. Different songs each year, happily, and different costumes…but always with drills.

Maybe I was enlisted because word has gotten out I don’t have a terribly full weekly schedule. While that is absolutely true, what the other Drill Team members are not aware of is that not only did they secure someone with ample time on her hands, as a bonus they’re getting a person with a background in professional dance. On an honest-to-goodness stage. With matching outfits and everything.

tap dancers

That’s me, on the far right. I was exactly as talented as I looked.

In fact, one year (because yes indeedy, I tapped my way to stardom several years in a row!), despite an instruction from the choreographer to STAY IN UNISON even if you know in your heart of hearts the other girls lost step with the accompanying piano score, I rebelled. Thing is, I was born with rhythm. Deep, deep in my soul. I wasn’t about to shuffle-ball-change on beat number 6 when I knew darn well it was supposed to happen two pulses earlier. No sirree. I clicked and clacked to my own inner drummer at that recital and was darned proud of myself for doing so. Never mind that at the end of the song I was headed stage left while the rest of the tappers remained smack in the center.

It was pure serendipity that the Cape George Drill Team found me, don’t you think?

There’s a down side to being chosen for the Drill Team, however, one I wasn’t aware of when the words “Sure I’d love to join” shot out of my mouth too fast to cram them back in: rehearsals are scheduled every Sunday for two solid months. Apparently, it takes a whole lot of dance sessions to memorize the steps (and drill moves) to Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman.’

I made it to the first rehearsal a week ago, right on time, drill in hand. We learned the moves for half the song in the 1-1/2 hour stint that had been set aside, after which the team leader announced she’d be out of town for this week’s session and thus would not be here to teach us the steps (and drill moves) for the remainder of the tune. Still, we were instructed to meet at the clubhouse as planned to practice what we’d learned so far.

I didn’t go. Not out of disrespect for the process, certainly, nor because I underestimate the importance of utmost perfection come Revue time. To be the creme de la creme at neighborhood variety shows, practice is essential. At least for the amateurs in the group.

Yet I’m no amateur. Not only do I have experience performing for an audience, I have experience performing for an audience while carrying a prop.

baton twirlers

Theater, you see, is in my blood.

Join the Club

I wasn’t one of the popular kids in high school. Too tall and lanky, too bashful, and yes I’ll admit it, too dorky. Almost always I was one of the last people chosen on a team in Phys. Ed. class, and the only clubs I belonged to were of the scholastic sort. No fashion club for me; no yearbook club or prom committee. I wasn’t invited to join and honestly, I wasn’t the type anyway.

Fortunately, my social life improved greatly once the horridly awkward days of high school came to a merciful end, and by the time I was settled into college I was able to let loose of most my inhibitions (being introduced to pot my freshman year probably helped). While I wouldn’t exactly say I flowered into a hipster — or more accurately, given the decade, a hippie — I was at least able to shed some of my earlier insecurities and felt more comfortable in group activities.

Still, I never belonged to a social club. The closest I got was when John and I became members of a racquetball club in the mid-‘80s, and that was only because we enjoyed the game and had no other option to play. When that came to an end, the only club laying claim to us as members was Costco. They’re not picky, those Costco folks. Pony up your annual membership fee and you’re set — tall, short, lanky, chubby, dorky, cool, it matters not.

Eventually we and our Costco cards moved up here to semi-retire. John’s a semi, at least, with his part-time job. Thus far I’m full-out retire, with local job creators not terribly interested in inviting me to join the employment club. I suppose that’s part of the reason, in fact, that when a neighbor asked me to be a member of her book club, I went for it. I figured if I’m going to be a retiree, I might as well behave like one.

Who would have imagined the slippery slope. Soon enough, I was approached about another book club — still in this neighborhood, yet with a completely different set of people. And although I made it clear to the woman who queried about my interest in her club that I already belonged to one book club and couldn’t possibly join a second, a week or two later I was handed a piece of paper with that month’s assigned book and the date and place her club was to meet.

I tried to pretend it didn’t happen. Shortly afterward I received an email from Book Club No. 1 and before I could say “I haven’t bought the book yet,” a similar email from Book Club No. 2 popped into my inbox regarding a different tome altogether.

While this was all transpiring, I did indeed read a book of short stories and a collection of essays.

books

Neither of them were assigned by the book clubs, of course. Those books, I ignored.

I’m starting to question whether I’m really club material.

Regardless, when the manager of the food bank invited me to a girls night out one Thursday evening — a club, of sorts — I kind of hated to say no. Not only do I admire the heck out of her, but she’s also a lot of fun and there would be other food bank volunteers there, people I wanted to get to know better. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to join in just this once. Besides, there would be wine. My resolve holds up only so long when you throw wine into the mix.

During the course of the evening, I found out these women meet for happy hour every other Thursday. It isn’t off the cuff; it’s a commitment. There are no prerequisites like book assignments, yet it screams social club nonetheless. What is it with the people around here? I spent the last portion of our get-together formulating an excuse to miss the next meeting.

A recent invitation to breakfast and a rousing game of Bananas (a mashup of Scrabble, crossword puzzles and elementary school) seemed innocent enough, so I set off that morning to join the four other women who’d be there. We had a great time. Lots of laughs. So much so, at one point the woman sitting to my right suddenly blurted out, “We should do this every month!”

Oh dear.

Unworthy

There is no logical explanation why I should be intimidated by her. I’m not bashful by nature. Just the opposite, actually, unless you stick me at a podium in front of a large audience; should that happen, I turn into a quaking, tongue-tied buffoon. A one-on-one confab is usually no problem. Yet when I attempt conversation with this particular woman, I’m suddenly an awkward 14-year-old again, one who’s been forced to sit at the grownups’ table at the monthly church supper.

It isn’t her fault. From what I’ve gathered the two times I’ve been around her, she’s a truly lovely, unassuming person. Come to think of it, she’s the one who’s a bit shy. In a totally charming way. Which, of course, intimidates the hell out of me.

female doctor

Oh, and did I mention she’s an M.D.? She doesn’t practice anymore, however. According to her husband — a surgeon I’m perfectly comfortable with — she quit the doctor gig because of her slight shyness. It made it a little difficult for her to be a family practitioner.

You’d think that would bring the intimidation factor down a notch, wouldn’t you? To my perceived societal level? Nah. She’s still an M.D., whether a practicing one or not. Anyway, it’s not the doctor thing that throws me off, case in point her surgeon spouse and the fact that I’ve known plenty of people with impressive credentials. Ph.D’s, J.D.’s, C.E.O.’s, C.P.A.’s, S.O.B.’s, T.G.I.F.’s. I’ve chatted up any number of multi-initialed types without feeling the tiniest hint of an inferiority complex.

Heck, in our neighborhood alone I’ve broken bread with a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a renowned Classical musician who conducted orchestra at the Lincoln Center, a professional artist whose photography has been shown in galleries around the world, published authors and more psychoanalysts than you could shake a stick at. (Although I wouldn’t advise stick shaking if at all avoidable — you might never hear the end of how your anger issues were your mother’s fault somehow).

It isn’t this woman’s physical appearance, either, that reduces my interpersonal skills to those of a trained monkey. I mean, she’s slender and pretty — more cute than beautiful, really — but I’ve been good friends with some real lookers through the years. In fact, I recently hit it off with a downright knockout who lives nearby. She’s ten years my senior yet when we’re together, she’s the one who turns heads. It doesn’t bother me. Much.

Whatever the case, I was determined to exude nothing but confidence in my next encounter with the charmingly shy, non-practicing M.D. She even opened the door by sending an email saying she hoped I’d make it to the New Year’s Day party we’d both been invited to. This was going to be my Big Chance to behave like a Big Girl.

buttons

It might have turned out that way, too, if I hadn’t worn my sweater with all different sized and shaped buttons.

She immediately complimented me on the sweater, and I explained it had been a Christmas gift from John. Isn’t it something that he buys most of my clothes for me! Yes, ha ha! My husband sure doesn’t buy my clothes! Smiles all around, buddies trading spousal stories. The muscles in my neck began to relax as I reached for my wine.

I noticed her look at it funny. Did she think I’d had too much? It was only my second glass, I swear!

“All those different buttons remind me of the curtains I’m working on,” she said, finally, her gaze slowly shifting away from the wine and back to my sweater.

“Oh, you make curtains?”

“Yes, I love to sew! You too?” She appeared hopeful, as if we’d soon be giggling over the intricacies of hemlines, or how best to cut along the bias.

“No, no. Not at all,” I disappointed. “In fact, one year my mother-in-law offered to buy me a sewing machine and I told her not to.”

“…oh.”

I smiled weakly and muttered something incoherent. Any poise I’d previously mustered fell with a splat to the floor.

Later, she showed a small group of us how you can hold your arms straight out from your body, and by placing one fist on top of the other starting at the horizon, be able to tell what time it is. “It works the same for everyone,” she explained, “since each person’s arms and fists are proportionate!”

Had I been able to come up with a good segue, I might have interjected a little tidbit of my own by pointing out the best way to get rid of hiccups is to get on your hands and knees and drink a full glass of water upside down. That likely would have only reinforced her opinion of me as a drunkard, though. A drunkard who wouldn’t pick up a needle and thread if someone had gashed their foot — on one of my many broken wine glasses — and needed emergency stitching STAT.

So instead, I chuckled with amazement along with everyone else and made a mental note to add “knows clever anecdotes about telling time” to the list of possible causes for my uncharacteristic timidity around this woman.

Who’s to say what she’ll come up with next time I see her. All I know is whether she announces she’s found a cure for cancer or the best way to wash windows without leaving streaks, I’m grabbing the first 14-year-old girl I find — preferably one with braces who has a huge crush on that cute boy in third period U.S. History class — and we’re headed to the mall for an afternoon gabfest at the food court. Quality time spent with an intellectual and emotional equal should be just the fix I need.

Backwards

It was a day of weird comments. First, during my weekly volunteer gig at the Food Bank, one of the clients explained, in no uncertain terms, the reason for the obesity crisis in this country: people have quit smoking.

Forget about fast food, forget about choosing electronic games over physical activity, forget about high fructose corn syrup. According to this guy, if overweight folks would simply pick up a carton or two of cigs and start puffing away again, the problem would be solved.

cigarettes

After leaving the Food Bank, I stopped to pick up a few things at the grocery store (none of which contained tobacco or high fructose corn syrup, by the way) and as I wrestled away one of the carts from the outdoor rack I inadvertently blocked another shopper’s path.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I exclaimed when I noticed what I’d done. “I was walking backwards and didn’t see you.”

“It’s all right,” she assured me. “We’re all walking backwards.”

I might have pointed out the fellow at the Food Bank who believes all Americans should backpedal to the nicotine-fueled days of tar-stained fingers and black lung would probably disagree. Yet assuming she was speaking in a more global sense, I simply smiled.

Less than 48 hours later I found myself traveling backwards again, though this time not in a parking lot. Instead, this rearward trajectory was a result of an email I received — a Facebook message, to be precise, a “friend” request from someone John and I went to college with and had since completely lost touch.

This isn’t the first college friend with whom I’ve reconnected through Facebook. As silly as social media can be — and oh my, can it ever — it’s difficult for me to argue with these kinds of results. I’ve been enjoying contact with my sophomore college roommate for some time, and now here shows up one of John’s former roommates and best friends from that same era. This one surprised me more, maybe because he’s male. (Females tend to make for better pen pals, in my experience, and I see Facebook as essentially the same thing). Or maybe it’s because my memory of him, although vivid, is kind of a drug-addled. His addled state, as well as ours. (This was, after all, college in the early 1970s.)

marijuana leaf

All these years later, we find out he’s an upstanding citizen, a pillar of his community who drives a bus for special needs children. He’s been long married, has an adult son and one granddaughter.

Wait a minute. A granddaughter? As in his child’s child?

baby

How can that be? I mean, he’s our age! And as we all know, John and I are far too young — FAR too young — to have grandchildren. Heck, we never had kids at all so even the idea of one of our old classmates…hang on, let me rephrase that…the idea of one of our former classmates having children older than, say, eleven is already a bit freaky.

Come to think of it, though, this former classmate and others we’ve subsequently “friended” are indeed starting to look a bit longer in the tooth. Gray hair, wrinkles around the eyes, extra padding in the midsection. And that’s what grandparents look like, right?

Thank goodness John and I still look exactly as we did the day we were married, over 36 years ago.

wedding photo

That’s us in the center. But you know that already, don’t you? Yes, of course you do because other than a change of fashion and hairstyles (for which we should all be eternally grateful) we’re both just as thin, our locks are just as brown and our skin is just as smooth as when that photo was snapped.

As proof, I refuse to post a more recent picture. You’d only be jealous.

Okay, okay, I’ll ‘fess up. I’m not reed thin anymore, not by a long shot (and I’m remaining steadfastly mum on the hair and wrinkles issue). And while I have no desire to be 21 years old again, I wouldn’t mind at all still being able to squeeze into that dress. That’s one backward step I’d be happy to take, fashion be damned.

John, on the other hand, has retained his girlish figure all this time. Even our recent Facebook friend expressed concern about John’s health, referring to photos I’ve posted of him as looking “awful skinny and almost gaunt.” I assured our newly rediscovered pal that John is absolutely fine, always has been. Truth is, he eats like a horse but is just naturally slender.

And get this: he doesn’t even smoke.