Durham County

Neil Offen: Keeping my eye on it

When I was in elementary school, I used to cheat on a test. The eye test.

As other students would stand in the back, cover an eye and read from the chart placed at the front of the classroom, I’d memorize what they’d recite — Z F G H S D, and so on — so when it came my turn, no one would know that I was so nearsighted I could only see the Z and thought it was an S. Or maybe an H. How about a $?

(I also, to be frank, had no idea what ZFGHSD meant, although I thought it could have been a Croatian acronym for boneless chicken breasts.)

I cheated because I didn’t want to wear glasses, which I thought would interfere with my career plan of playing centerfield for the Yankees. I understood that my eyesight wasn’t great back then, but I was willing to bump into walls as long as I wouldn’t have to admit I didn’t see them right in front of me. I just admitted to clumsy, not nearsighted. Fortunately, the walls, as I remember, were softer back in the day so I could get away with my little charade.

Unfortunately, as I’ve gotten older, so has my eyesight. I can no longer fool anyone, mainly because the print on menus, in an attempt by millennials to dominate the farm-to-table market, has continued to get smaller and smudgier and more difficult to make out.

Now, when I see Z F G H S D on the chart at the eye doctor’s office, cheating isn’t possible because there’s no one else in the examining room except the eye doctor, who refuses to recite the letters before I do, no matter how much I offer to up the co-pay. Most of the time when I look at the chart in his office, I just guess — It’s an F, right? The @ symbol? A topographical map of Nepal?

Then the eye doctor makes me stare into one of those bulky headsets where he can check what kind of new lenses I need for my glasses. (Yes, I now wear glasses, mainly because I discovered I couldn’t hit the curveball — or any ball — and the Yankee plan was probably not going to happen.)

The eye doctor slides the lenses in and out as I stare at another chart, this one inside the headset. And although the chart is just inches away, I have no idea what I’m seeing.

The doctor asks, “Is that better?” “Is that worse?” as he tries different lenses.

The answer he’s looking for, apparently, is not, “I can’t remember what the one before looked like.” And even if I could, there’s not much difference between seeing an R or a G when the letter on the chart is actually an F.

The eye doctor prescribes new glasses for me. I order them and try them on. I still can’t see the Z. Now, I cheat on the test you take when you go to renew your driver’s license. I’ve memorized where all the stop signs are.

Neil Offen can be reached at theneiloffencolumn@yahoo.com. Past columns can be found at www.theneiloffencolumn.wordpress.com.