For most of my adult life I did not need a white cane to navigate life’s travails. During my college years, I could “pass” for sighted unless someone saw me trying to read. In that era of strange addictions, people who saw me with my nose in a book assumed that I got my kicks sniffing ink.
It was not easy to look cool when I only had 10 percent of what is considered normal vision.
Standing in a cafeteria line, I did not want the young lady serving me to see me pressing my nose to the glass. So I asked a fellow journalism student what meat dishes were being served that day.
“You’re standing in front of what looks like some pretty good spaghetti and meatballs,” he replied.
I pointed and said, “I’ll take that please.”
When I got it, it didn’t exactly smell like spaghetti and meatballs. When I sat down to investigate further, I discovered a plate full of cherry cobbler.
Once, at a party, a young lady started a friendly conversation. As I went to the bar for refills, I asked a friend what she looked like.
“A dog, man, a real dog,” he said. “She’s so ugly you could catch it.”
I talked with her a little longer and then started a boring legal argument with a fellow law student seated next to her. I found out later that my friend must have developed a sudden canine crush, because he left with the girl.
It’s been many years, and I still haven’t gotten even with my friend. Fortunately, the statute of limitations hasn’t run out yet.
Dark restaurants also guarantee that I do not look cool. I gave up suavely reaching across a table to light a lady’s cigarette long ago. Although there was nothing better for getting a French waiter’s attention than my date’s piercing scream. Unfortunately, dousing the flames on her nose also dampened the evening’s mood.
To seem a tad less bumbling, I developed a number of standard replies when I wandered into the women’s restroom:
“I don’t read French!”
“I didn’t understand the symbol on the door!”
“I’m blind drunk!”
Even in a well-lighted place, there was no way I could read a menu, so my date had to perform this ritual. When she read not only the dishes, but also the prices, I knew she thought I was a loser.
Even with poor eyesight, mobility was easy thanks to my instinctive and unerring sense of dread. It even helped me cope with unforeseen events on my first trip to New York City:
“Sorry! No, I don’t usually step on people,” I told one guy, “but most people don’t lie on the sidewalk.”
No one can be cool in front of a doctor, except, perhaps, another doctor or an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice.
Several years ago, I went to one of the country’s leading retina research centers to find out what was causing my retina to degenerate. First, the assistant looked in my eyes and immediately called the head doctor, who called another assistant. The first assistant then got on the phone and summoned four other doctors. Within minutes, I was on my back in a darkened room with seven doctors lined up to take a look at what they hoped would be their next paper, article or book.
The only thing they seemed to know for sure was that I appeared to have a right eye and a left one. I decided to be cool because getting hysterical around physicians can get you locked up.
I tried to poke a little fun to lighten the mood:
“The last time I saw a patient get this much attention was on ER—and the guy died.” But there wasn’t a snicker in the crowd, so I took my eyeballs and went home.
During law school I discovered that photography could help eliminate the blur. By reducing millions of tones, textures and colors to a half-dozen shades of grey, I could see detail that had once been obscured or invisible.
I assumed my first self-portrait would reveal a young Robert Redford; instead I turned out to be a young Groucho Marx. As my eyes continued to fail I discovered digital photography and the ability to turn my portrait into high-contrast sketches. Now I can look cool and actually see what I’m looking at.
When it comes to the realm of flirting, my motto is: “I never make a pass until I make a print.”
by George Covington