Two months later, both eyes cured by retinal lens implants, a miracle of modern science (technology, anyway), as I lay in bed in the early morning with my arms wrapped around my sleeping wife’s warm back, I remembered, still with animosity, a man I had encountered in the waiting room of the eye clinic.
The clinic is located in a converted mansion a few blocks east and south of Bethesda Fountain, in Central Park. A posh facility in a posh neighborhood, its waiting room looks like an old-fashioned parlor. On the light green walls hang four portraits of middle-aged men. At the time, I presumed the subjects were all doctors, although only one is wearing a white coat, with a stethoscope dangling from a side pocket. Like ancestors in the gallery of an aristocrat, these four could equally have been men of distinction, bumblers, or something even worse. But now that I think of it, they must be trustees.
It was at Bethsaida that Jesus healed the blind, not Bethesda (where he healed the lame). Unlike those miracles, the ones at the clinic are performed not upon the virtuous, the sorely afflicted, or the needy, but on anyone with minor eye problems and major insurance. BTW, when Jesus cured the blind man, he did it in two stages –two procedures, if you like. After the first, the man said people looked like trees, so Jesus laid hands on him again. Oddly, in Gioachino Assereto’s painting of this miracle (c.1640), Christ is touching the blind man’s nose with an index finger: The Immaculate Nose Job.
When I came to the clinic to have my first eye fixed, among the half dozen people in the waiting room was the one I mentioned at the beginning of this story. While I waited impatiently for my name to be called, my wife had her head buried in a book, Anna Karenina, which she was reading for the umpteenth time. The culprit-to-be was frowning at his red smartphone –stock tables, I assumed. He wore an expensive-looking black suit that hung loosely on his shrunken frame, and he had big hands and elephant ears.
Full disclosure: I was already annoyed because the receptionist had announced that the surgeon had been in a fender bender on his way to work, and was running late. He was a wonderful doctor who performed a complex eye-saving surgery on a friend of ours –I’m not sure of the details, but it was certainly not lens replacement.
Ironically it was the doctor who precipitated the disturbance. Bustling into the waiting room, mask down on the chest of his pale blue scrubs, he treated the old man the same way he always treated me: a firm handshake, followed by heartfelt reassurances.
“A complete success, Ned!” he beamed. “No complications. She’s awake now, resting comfortably. You can go in, in ten minutes, and take her home in about an hour.”
Already sounding obnoxious, the old man thanked him profusely, and the doctor hurried back to the operating room. Then, “Ned” glued his smartphone to one of his big ears and began pressing buttons. Thanks to this second miracle of modern technology, I was forced to learn quite a bit about this obnoxious stranger. He spoke in a loud whisper, an apparent concession that only served to accentuate his sense of entitlement, as if he were sneering at the rights of lesser mortals.
To be fair, though, the whispering may really have been dictated by a vestigial sense of delicacy. After all, it was his wife’s eyes, a fairly intimate topic, about which he was broadcasting. But I certainly did not think of that, then. What I did think of was those exploding cell phones terrorists use. Was he blind? Right in front of him on a coffee table was a placard: NO CELL PHONES.
“I guess some people can’t read,” I remarked conversationally to a sensible-looking woman sitting on the other side of the offender from me. If the broadcaster heard my rebuke, he ignored it. So did the woman, who seemed embarrassed.
The situation reminded me of the time, five or six years ago, when, at my wife’s suggestion, I had gone for a hearing test. “Your hearing is fine,” the audiologist said, after reading the results. “Actually, for a man of sixty-one, it’s remarkable.”
She smiled. “Spousal deafness.”
“Hi, this is Edward Worth returning your call. I’m at the eye clinic with my wife…” (Message, apparently business.)
“Hi, this is Ned calling from the clinic. Just wanted to let you know Penny is doing great. Complete success. Love you.” (Messages to two or three friends/relatives.) In full sentences, peppered with small talk, that was also the gist of two more calls, these with live humans, and each lasting a few minutes, before he cut them off with, “Lots more calls to make. Love you.”
Then came the long one. With Penny’s procedure as a prelim, Ned responded with relish to an apparent request for advice: “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself, Steve …how to make the most of… I agree … promising venture … bottom line… careful … folks you’re partnering with… terms in writing… up-front money…” etc. etc. Ned’s interlocutor must have been a young man, perhaps his nephew or son-in-law.
The alarm sounded; my wife awakened.
“Been up long?” she yawned, stretching.
“About ten minutes. I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Thank you, dear.” She yawned again. “You look so grim. What were you thinking about?”
I told her, trying to laugh off my seriousness.
“Huh!” she said, fully awake now. “You’re still bothered by that guy? Sure, he was a jerk. But he was just happy his wife was okay.”
“I suppose.” We stood up, each on our own side of the wide bed. As I was about to head for the bathroom, and she, to the kitchen to start the coffee, I fired what I thought would be a parting salvo. “Well, you didn’t act like that when I went under the knife.”
“ ‘Under the laser,’ you mean. And of course I didn’t! I’m not a man.” I would have let it go at that, but she stopped me in my tracks. “Besides, I have something to tell you.”
The “something” was that she had just visited the eye doctor, herself, and not only was she already scheduled for laser surgery next month, but she would be getting a more complicated lens than mine, which would also address her astigmatism.
Later that day, I took the subway up to the library. As I emerged onto the street, I saw someone a few feet in front of me who looked like Ned Worth, at least from the back: tall, bony, white-haired, wearing a fancy blue, belted raincoat. He had his hand on the shoulder of an overweight, slouching, younger man, who appeared to be eating something. Since they were going my way, I hurried after them, wanting to see if they really were Ned and his relative, Steve, and if so, what they were saying.
Pulling alongside, I snuck a glance. Not them. And the younger man was a younger woman, a twenty-something with cropped hair, messily eating a bagel with cream cheese. Deciding to eavesdrop, anyway, I dropped back a few feet, then matched their pace.
“Listen, Bobbie,” the man said (and, in the course of the two blocks I shadowed them, there were about five more ‘Listen, Bobbie’s) “… counting on you … mistakes, dear… hell, your mother and I … doozies … goes with the territory…excuses … ‘bad bosses’… ‘unfair’ … this time … home run!”
The lecture went something like that. (Was Ned Worth this guy’s speechwriter?) Bobbie’s “response” was to blush –her neck grew crimson– to keep eating, and to utter a few quasi-affirmative noises. When they turned into a storefront realty office, I proceeded to the library, where I settled down in the stacks.
Opening a book (no glasses!), it dawned on me that my wife was right: I had overreacted. Since she works, part-time, in a posh antique shop, she “knows these people.” Maybe, too, the coincidental pep talk on the sidewalk made Ned’s phone calls seem less obnoxious. (I’ll even admit that folding his advice into the good news about his wife was just the sort of thing I might have done.) But let’s keep this in perspective: I’m not about to join the Entitled Old Bastards Fan Club! Unless, of course, something goes wrong with my wife’s procedure, in which case all bets are off.
Ron Singer is the author of ten published books in various genres. Three more are in the works for 2020, and he has just signed a contract for The Real Presence, a historical novel set mainly in Nigeria. For more details, please visit www.ronsinger.net.