It is now time to talk about the eyeballs.

My eyeballs, in particular. Unlike most of the rest of me, they are not perfect (refer to every picture taken of me since my teenage years). I hate the idea of contacts in general and so I've never tried them, which is rather like hating the idea of driving a pickup instead of an SUV without ever having tried it, but I digress.

So, I wear glasses, to correctly slightly-off vision. Which, ironically, determined a lot more about where my life wound up going than most other things I can think of did.

I was 16 or 17, I can remember I wasn't living at home at the time, but as I had recently graduated from high school, I was thinking about next steps. I had decided I wanted to fly planes, but not just any planes. I wanted to fly fighter jets for the Navy. It would either be fighters, or nothing at all. I didn't want to fly if it didn't mean extreme high speeds and blowing things up. I remember this much clearly. I remember telling a Naval recruiter that.

Said recruiter was kind enough not to try and pull one over on me, and made it clear that my chances would be as good as anyone elses' at landing a pilot's seat if I went straight into the serve. He said that I'd be a lot better off applying for their flight school if I was coming out of a top private flight college. Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, here I come. I was filling out the applications paperwork and pretty much planning to go there and nowhere else.

That's when it happened. Talk about timing, I mean, I had a half-completed ERAU application on my desk at home, sitting at the tippy-top of my to-do stack. I can still see it, clear as day - next to the first TV I ever owned, in the corner of that ugly, oppressive yellow rented room I lived in at the time. But I wasn't there when it happened, I was at work.

I worked in a supermarket and, thanks to unions and whatnot we had stupid ridiculously long break time with every shift that we were basically forced to take (I'd have rather worked an 8 hour shift straight through half the time instead of having to sit around for an hour and a half and be there 9.5). So, naturally, we had a fair deal of spare time on our hands each day, a few of us being on breaks together at the same time. This led to lots of interesting stuff, ranging from whip-its in the dairy refrigerator box, to flirting with the waitresses at the diner across the parking lot, to a hybrid form of wiffle-ball in the stockroom where the rules changed daily based on the locations and amount of product in the stockroom at the time.

The latter involved all sorts of weird specific rules that we made up as we went. Many times if you hit the ball, you might not be able to see where it clearly landed. If the pitcher saw that the landing location was out of the batter's view, he could offer the batter a gamble by shouting "food item" or "non-food item" (a term that's come back to haunt me on my current project here in Africa, ironically). The batter, already making his rounds of the bases, then had the choice to either guess the item (e.g. "Corn chips!") - hence accepting the offer, or, alternatively, decline the offer (by shouting "No thanks!" or some derivative thereof, often ranging towards the more vulgar). If the batter guessed correctly, he got to round the bases as in a home run, and it counted for two points. If he accepted but guessed incorrectly, it counted as an immediate out, and minus one point. It was, naturally, a gamble that was rarely taken except in desperate situations (e.g. low scores, break time perilously low, etc.).

Well, one day I was at bat, had a hit, and the offer was made. Rounding first base I had a view of the item the ball had landed on (in the liquor section) which the pitcher hadn't realized I would have. The rule involved that the pitcher couldn't touch the ball til the offer was accepted or denied, and failure to accept or deny on the batters part before reaching the next base caused an immediate out, however the batter could stop anywhere along the baseline to try to see where the ball was, without incurring any penalty. So I stopped, sized up where the ball was sitting, and guessed that it was liquor (duh). "Hah!" shouted my shift manager, the pitcher, then informing me that it was a box of pasta sauce. Argument quickly ensued, but upon walking over to check it out for myself, I found that yes, indeed, there was a lone stack of Ragu sitting in the liquor department area, far from where it should have been.

"I thought the big 'Ragu' on the side of the box might have tipped you off," Greg said.

"I never saw it."

"What? How did you miss it? Its right there. It was even facing you, from that direction."

I thought about what he said for a minute, and then walked back towards first base. It was a big stockroom, and I had put quite a smack on the ball, so it was no small distance, but still - standing there some 30 or 40 feet away, I realized that while I could see something written on the side of the box, it was a little fuzzy. To fuzzy to determine the difference between "Ragu" and "Malibu," I thought.

And that's when I realized I might have a very minor vision problem, which was not a very minor thing at all for a kid who knew he needed 20/20 unassisted to fly the kinds of planes he wanted to fly.

That all flew through my head about 10 times as fast as it takes to read it, and I immediately had that sinking feeling in my stomach.

A month or two later at the optometrist, it was confirmed - I had lost, and would never regain, my perfect vision (literally and figuratively, I suppose).


A friend of mine recently got Lasik, and I realized that the reason I've never been interested in looking into it is pretty closely related to this story. You see, they require perfect vision unassisted to fly fighters, but of course the first thing I looked into upon getting home from the optometrist was whether or not you could get in with surgically-enhanced 20/20. Something about the g-forces and the pressure on the eyeball and the potential to undo the effects of the surgery mid-flight. No go.

I had decided not to fill out the application for ERAU any further than I already had, back on that fateful day in the stockroom, but the second thing I did when I got home from the optometrist (after checking on the surgery option) was to throw that thing in the garbage and sulk bitterly.

So that's most of the story of how I wound up going to a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania with no idea about what I wanted to do with my life. It never would have happened, if it hadn't been for the union-enforced long lunches, or the batter's choice rule, or the misplaced Ragu, or perhaps my slight decline in visual acuity.

And that's why I've always had a small, stupid little thing against Lasik. It was the surgery that wouldn't help me out when I was in my worst bind. So screw it.

No comments: