This is what I did when I realized my eyes were really going.
I was born with amblyopia. Commonly known as “lazy eye”. My right eye just didn’t want to work in concert with my left eye and so the left eye became stronger to overcompensate, leaving my right eye to suffer from muscular degeneration and to, in effect, atrophy. The school system informed my parents of this fact after an eye exam when I was six years old, and corrective lenses were purchased by my parents. Soon after, I suspect my older brother; a demented and emotionally retarded sadist either hid or destroyed these same glasses. My father, to teach me a lesson for losing them, refused to buy me a second pair, and so I was left to live with one eye. That’s the way to show a six-year-old child!
Over the years, my “good” eye, the left one, began to degenerate of its own. Increasingly, from the age of about ten or so, I became more and more near-sighted in the good eye until I reached a point where I had to have a lens for that one, which my parents finally purchased for me when I was about fourteen. By this time, the right eye was so far gone that the ophthalmologists I’d visit would merely prescribe a plain glass for that side—blurry peripheral vision from that quarter would have to do. I wasn’t blind, per se, but I sure wouldn’t wish my eyes on anyone but a truly blind man.
And as anyone who suffers from near-sightedness will tell you, the condition progresses at a generally accelerated rate leaving you with having to find a stronger and stronger lens for the problem every couple of years.
By the time I was forty-two, I found myself having made the rank of “regular” at my job as letter carrier for the US Postal Service. This meant that I was no longer a “part-time flexible” and now had, at least in theory, certain privileges that had accrued after two and one half years of seniority. Among these new privileges was that I was placed onto a route no one else would take in a part of the city no one wanted to visit to deliver mail to people no one wished to encounter. Additionally, I discovered that such things as a regular’s schedule were privileges in theory only, since, as low man on the “regular” totem, I was to be treated pretty much as a “part-time flexible”. That is, like shit.
A few days before I was to report for work at my new station, I went there to scope it out and look over my route and the case (a metal cubicle containing numbered shelves for sorting the mail). The first thing I noticed was that every case on the row in which I’d be working were in a shadowed, unlit area of the building, and that the cases in that row, which were supposed to be wired and lit, were without power. Standing in that very dark space, I quickly realized that I would be unable to see properly there. In fact, trying the space out, I found myself unable to focus my vision on the address of a random piece of mail I had picked up.
I went to see my soon-to-be supervisor, a fellow named Bill B****.
“These cases are unlighted,” I told him. “Look,” I said. “I have really bad eyesight to begin with, and I won’t be able to work over there unless you guys get those cases lighted.”
“Oh, yeah,” he told me. “We’ll have them wired and lit by the time you start next week.”
“Okay,” I said, and left.
A few days later, I showed for work and reported to my case. It was, of course, unlit. I went to Bill B****, my now actual, bonafide supervisor.
“You said my case would be lit. It’s not. It’s going to be very hard for me to work over there.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot to get that done. Look, you can work at another route that’s lit up if you want to.”
“No,” I told him. “That’s my route and I need to learn it so I can get it cased as fast as possible. I’ll work there today the way it is, but you need to get it wired by tomorrow.”
“Okay,” he told me. “It’ll be done.”
I went back to my case, and found it almost impossible to read the addresses on the pieces of mail there. In point of fact, it was not only the fact that I was working in the dark, but I had reached a point where I needed a bifocal lens, but just didn’t realize it. I thought it was merely the darkness working against me. Like a good trooper, I struggled through the morning and got out onto the street in the war zone of a neighborhood to which I’d been assigned. Dogs roared, teenagers raged, and the pop of gunfire was a happy background tune.
Next morning, I got back to work to find my case still in deep shadow. I went to see Bill B**** and asked him what was wrong. “What’s the deal? You said the cases would be lit up.”
“Look,” he said. I could tell he was in a really foul mood. “A union guy has to wire those cases and our union maintenance man hasn’t been able to get around to doing it.”
“No,” I told him. “You look. I’m not going to strain my eyes working in the dark. You need to do your job and get the cases wired so we can all see back there. It’s not just me, but the other dozen carriers working in the dark.”
“You’re the only one complaining about it.”
“I’ll hook up the damned thing myself,” I told him.
“Don’t touch that stuff,” he said. “We’ll get someone to do it today.”
I went back to my case, stood there for a second, and walked over to one of the other letter carriers working in the dark. “Hey, man,” I said. “How long have you guys been working like this? In the dark, I mean.”
The guy stared for a second, thinking. “Well, they rearranged all of the cases four months ago, so I guess it’s been this way for sixteen weeks.”
“Sixteen weeks? You guys have been working in the dark for sixteen weeks?”
“You pussies,” I said, and stalked back over to Bill ****’s desk situated as it was in the center of the workroom floor (but very well lit).
“Hey, B****,” I said.
“What is it now?” he asked.
“I hear those cases have been dark for sixteen weeks.”
“So, I’m going on break. If my case ain’t lit by the time I get back, I’m going to call OSHA. I’ve got the phone number and I’m going to call them right up,” I fibbed. And this was the Clinton-era OSHA, not the dickless Dubya Moron Bush OSHA.
Bill B**** looked as if he’d swallowed a turd. His eyes bugged and he stood, turned his back on me, and stomped off.
I went on break.
When I got back to my case, it was lit up like a freaking pro football night game.
The carrier I’d asked about the lights poked his head into my case. “How’d you do that? We’ve been trying to get these things lit for four months!”
“You’re a bunch of fucking pussies,” I told him. His face vanished from inside my case. I got back to work, and slowly realized I still couldn’t read the addresses on the letters clearly. And it was only then that I knew I needed bifocals. The word, long an abstract thought applying to others, was suddenly a reality for me. I’d deal with that later. In the meantime, I was going to have my hands full dealing with an antagonistic supervisor named Bill B****. Things were going to get really rough.
But at least I knew I needed bifocals.