Saturday, January 31, 2009

Laser Surgery: A Distant Dream

How would you like to lie on a table with your eyelids propped open while a complete stranger carves up your retina with a laser beam?

It may not sound like much fun to you, but to me it’s sounding more and more appealing all the time.

I’ve worn glasses since kindergarten, and I have to say, it’s never been much fun.

Granted, it was a lot worse 20 years ago, when each lens in the average pair of spectacles was the size of a Frisbee and weighed four pounds.

Observe this random photo of a visually impaired person from the 1980s, whose eyewear represents the style typical of that era:

How could a person hold his or her head up wearing those things? They’re bigger than his whole torso, for crying out loud!

Nowadays, glasses are much less bulky and cumbersome, but, of course, that only makes them easier to lose (and less glamorous).

Mine are always getting smudged, scratched, and dusty. The people at the glasses place say I can only clean them with these special disposable cloths that only they sell. All other fabric will grind them into a fine powder, apparently.

I realize a lot of people wear contact lenses, but this is not an option for me, because I have a visceral reaction to the thought of anything touching my eyes.

If God wanted us to be putting stuff on our eyeballs, he would not have made them so squishy.

Maybe I’ve read too many horror stories about bacteria getting onto your lenses and getting trapped in your eyeball, where they gradually turn your eye all red and blotchy until it eventually falls out.

No sir, I’ll stick with the glasses, if necessary.

But now the “Lasik” surgery seems more promising, given that I could actually afford it if I sold all my belongings on EBay.

That’s what Greg and Brittiny Peters of Gainesville, Georgia did. According to the Associated Press, the self-employed couple faced massive medical bills for two of their three children, and saw no alternative but to sell everything except their house.

The winning bid of $20,000 was submitted by a Texas couple named Donna and Keith Blair. Get this: the Blairs said take the money, and keep your stuff.

This selfless act just about brought a tear to my misshapen eye until I realized how much stuff I’ve regretted buying on EBay because I forgot to calculate the shipping.

Imagine what it costs to deliver a Chevy Tahoe. No wonder they said, “keep it.”

Anyway, all I need to do to afford laser surgery on my eyes is find some wealthy, condescending jerks from Texas to sucker into purchasing all my belongings, right down to my collection of finger puppets made from Styrofoam packing peanuts.

I’d better do it quickly, too, because you never know when styles might change, and we’ll all have to go back to wearing spectacles that look like this:

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Marriage In Traction

My wife and I are having another one of those silly arguments.

As usual, the topic itself isn’t very important, but being proven right will result in eternal validation of my soul and my identity.

So, I’m going to write a column articulating my point of view. That way, I can show it to her and say, “See? Even this guy in the newspaper agrees with me.”

It all started when we were trying to decide whether or not to venture out during a snowstorm. My wife said she wished we still had our Honda CR-V.

Like most Americans, she feels safer driving a big, four-wheel-drive SUV in the snow.

I say our little two-wheel drive Civic is just as safe, if not safer.

(Of course, the safest vehicles have snow tires, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, heat-seeking missiles, etc. But who has the time or money to keep changing tires or warheads every season of the year? So this debate eschews those options.)

I admit, my position is a bit unorthodox. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

To borrow an underused metaphor: anxiety about winter driving conditions is a virus. This virus has clogged the nasal passages of common sense. To alleviate the pressure, you have taken the Sudafed of misunderstanding. You feel better, but the medicine actually hinders your body’s natural defenses. Only the chicken soup of logic will finally restore your health.

So please, hear me out:

Sure, the four-wheel-drive gives you better traction when accelerating. But accelerating is rarely a safety concern, unless you’re trying to outrun something, like a snowplow whose driver has gone crazy from 84 hours without sleep.

Winter weather accidents result from sliding in an undesirable direction when stopping or steering, and the four-wheel-drive won’t help you in those departments.

In fact, a heavier vehicle requires more stopping distance. All else being equal, you can halt your momentum more quickly in a small car than you can in a large one.

If you’re worried about getting stuck, I suppose something with four-wheel-drive is a better choice. But getting stuck isn’t really a safety concern, unless you’re too far away from civilization to get help.

My wife may long for the traction our old car had, but not sliding at all on slippery roads creates a false sense of confidence. If the road doesn’t feel slippery, you become less cautious and attentive to your speed.

This is why, during a typical snowstorm, most of the vehicles you see off the road (at least those not driven by the young and the reckless) are four-wheel-drive pickups whose owners thought they were so high and mighty that they were immune to all the basic laws of physics.

I say it’s better to have a sense of what your real stopping and steering capabilities are, based on the overall handling of the car.

Anyway, I haven’t managed to make a lot of traction with my wife on this issue, so it would be great if everyone reading this could email me about how right I am.

Some of you loyal readers (Mom?) might remember the last time I disagreed with my wife on a vehicular issue; I ended up a humiliated victim on NPR’s “Car Talk.”

I could use a little redemption, ideally before she makes the appointment to get those missiles installed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Boston on $10 a Minute

There are plenty of good reasons to plan a weekend getaway to Boston. Maybe you want to check to see if you act nervous around people who aren’t white.

Or perhaps you’re a history buff, and you get your jollies from walking past a monument that says:


Whatever the cause for your trip, the first step is to find a hotel. Generally, visitors to Boston have two lodging options:

1) A moderately-priced hotel with basic amenities like continental breakfast, fitness center, and free Internet, or

2) a hotel that is actually located somewhere in Massachusetts.

We managed a compromise – The Midtown Hotel, located right in the heart of Back Bay, near Fenway Park. The Midtown features, in its profile, an impressive array of amenities like “private bathrooms,” “windows that open.”

But it was also the only option within our budget that did not also offer complimentary mugging.

Once you’ve booked your hotel, you actually have to drive to Boston. From our house, it’s about four hours, which gives us an excuse to stop and use one of those swanky new turnpike service areas, which offer a variety of healthy and energizing foods to lift the spirits of weary, sedentary travelers.

Just kidding. They have fast food and greasy pizza.

But the restrooms feature “Waterless Urinals,” a revolutionary technology that boldly suggests that you don’t necessarily need two gallons of water to get rid of ½ cup of urine.

Once you arrive in Boston, start randomly swerving and cutting off other drivers until you get to your hotel. Leave your car there and take The T, the local subway system, to all your various destinations.

For the privilege of one ride, you have to pay $1.75. You can get a “Charlie Card” from a helpful touch-screen kiosk. This allows you quick, electronic access to the turnstiles until you are broke.

Interesting note: The name “Charlie Card” comes from a 1948 folk song about a man who gets stuck on The T forever because of the ridiculous fare structure.

Despite the irony, you can’t go wrong with a name like “Charlie.” How many unlikeable people named “Charlie” have you heard of? Aside from the entire North Vietnamese army, I mean.

Anyway, once you’re underground riding the train, observe the rules of urban public transportation, which, coincidentally, are exactly the same as the rules for Interstate Public Restroom Urinal Use: Don’t make eye contact, don’t speak, don’t be seen studying the map, and don’t freak out just because some sketchy dude with a serpent tattoo on his face is standing right next to you, talking to himself about how much longer it will take before he can get off.

To pass the time on The T, think of places where you would like to emerge above ground. I personally recommend the Museum of Science, where you can pay exorbitant admission to watch your kids play on the escalator for two hours.

You gotta love Quincy Market, where people with a lot of spare time watch talented street performers, and several actually give them money.

Sort of like Portland, only they’re not prostitutes.

Once inside, you can accidentally spend the $20 bill you were saving for that hour of parking and get a turnpike service plaza meal served in a Styrofoam box.

On second thought, you should probably just stay home.