Friday, June 21, 2013

I See (If I Squint Hard Enough)

I'm getting older. We all are. (Yes, even you.) It's inevitable. It's like the song says, "You're older than you've ever been. And now, you're even older. And now, you're even older. And now, you're older still." ("Older" by They Might Be Giants.)

The saying goes that you are as young as you feel. That's great, but there are certain old age checkpoints that we all eventually pass. I recently reached a big one. What are some of these checkpoints? Here are a few:

*You find yourself complaining about "those kids today and their music."  (Bieber? Really??? BIEBER!!!???) [CHECK.]

*You have lived through at least three changes in music-listening formats. (For me, 8-track to cassette to CD to MP3 to...cell phones or The Cloud or Pandora or however the heck these kids today are listening to their Bieber.) [CHECK.]

*Television shows that began airing after you graduated from high school are now airing as reruns on Nick At Nite, and have been for several years. (Full House, Doogie Howser, Friends.) [CHECK.]

*You are told you have to wear bifocals. [CHECK.]

New bifocals for an old man

Yes, a couple of weeks ago I made the switch from regular glasses to bifocals. What's scary about that is I used to be the one in the family with good eyesight.

My brother and my sister were both pretty impaired without their glasses from a very early age. I didn't get my first pair of glasses until I was in high school, and even then I only wore them part of the time (to see things far away and to watch television.)

In fact, I made it all the way into my mid-40s before I needed my glasses to pass the eye test for my driver's license renewal. Even though I've always worn my glasses when I drive, I didn't want it put on my driver's license that I had to wear my glasses while driving. It was a point of pride that I could legally still drive without them.

So, every time I went in to renew my license I'd spend an hour or two without my glasses on, to acclimate my eyes. Then I'd walk in, put my face in their eye-testing machine, and play a nice little game of "Squint and Guess." I'm telling you, I could squint with the best of them! (Clint Eastwood's got nothing on me!) And I've always been good at guessing multiple choice answers. Once I'd squint that letter down to where I knew it was either an "R" or a "K," my guessing prowess would take over. And I would ace it every time!

Yes, I was the king of "Squint and Guess." Until four years ago. That's when old age started to catch up to me. I put my face in the eye-testing machine and I squinted, and I squinted, and I squinted until it felt like my eyeballs were going to pop out the side of my ears. And then I guessed. And I guessed wrong.

The test administrator gave me a look of disapproval and asked if I had any glasses. (He asked it in a tone that said, "For your sake I hope you have glasses, 'cause you ain't even close.") (I don't think it was his first time thwarting someone at the game of "Squint and Guess.")

So, I pulled my glasses out of my pocket, put them on,! It was amazing how much easier it was to read all those letters without having to squint so much!

That was four years ago. In the interim, my eyesight has gotten worse.

So now, I have bifocals. Because my eyesight is bad two ways. The idea behind bifocals is that the top two-thirds of the glasses have a subscription prescription that helps you see things that are far away, while the bottom third has a subscription prescription that helps you read things that are close.

It used to be that bifocals had a very distinct line in them where anyone could tell where the see-things-far-away part ended and the read-things-that-are-close part starts. Well, not anymore! The bifocals that "these kids today" (Hey! That's me!) are wearing have no discernible line between the sections of the two different subscriptions prescriptions. They do this because bifocal wearers don't want people to think they are old because they have to wear bifocals.

I've been wearing my bifocals for three or four weeks now, and I'm still not used to them. Sometimes I wish they did have a line so I could tell if I was looking out the far-away or the up-close sections.

One of the biggest problems I have with the bifocals is when I'm trying to look down to see things that are far away. Usually, things that are far away are things that you have to look up or look out for. It's very rare that someone has to look down at things that are far away. Unless, say, there happens to be a big, long flight of stairs that you have to walk down several times a day.

Yes, at my work there is a long, dark stairway that I have to go up and down 10 to 12 times a day. I have no problems going up the stairs with my bifocals. But, it's a bit different when I try to go down the stairs.

What I should see is this:


What I actually see out of the lower part of my bifocals is more like this:

Stairs! (As seen through bifocals.)

But that's not all. I also have problems reading. The bifocals were especially supposed to help with reading, and they do...most of the time. If I'm sitting at a desk or in a chair and reading, they help just fine. 

For Father's Day, The Wife got me a book titled Dad Is Fat. (She swears it's not a statement about my weight.)  (It's actually a very funny book by comedian Jim Gaffigan.) So, the other day I took my new book (and my new bifocals) to a place where a lot of people do a lot of reading. (No, not the toilet.) I took my new book to bed, where I hoped to get a good bit of reading done. 

Well, once I got myself propped up on my pillow, I attempted to read. But, I was having a hard time finding the right spot in the bifocals to read through. I tilted my head back. That didn't help. I tilted my head forward. That didn't help. I slid my glasses to the end of my nose. That didn't help. I tilted my head to the side. That really didn't help.

And then, I took my glasses off. And that did help! Sure, I had to squint a little bit. And guess what the words were every so often. But hey, I always have been pretty good at "Squint and Guess!"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Things I Learned On My Yellowstone Vacation

Vacations are supposed to be fun. But, they can also be learning experiences.

We went on a family vacation last weekend to Island Park, Idaho (at Buffalo Run Campground) and Yellowstone National Park. We had a lot of fun. But, we also learned a few things. What did we learn? I'm glad you asked:

1. Don't forget bug spray! On our first night in Island Park we decided to go see Upper Mesa Falls. This, in and of itself, was not a bad decision. Upper Mesa Falls is a very beautiful and powerful waterfall, and I would encourage everyone to see it. However, I would not recommend going to view it  at dusk in early June.

Upper Mesa Falls (Photo taken on a not-so-mosquito-ish day)

Why not? A) Mosquitoes thrive near water. And b) Mosquitoes are most prevalent around dusk.

We didn't think of those things. We just loaded up the mini-van to maximum capacity (five adults and two children) and went to see the falls. We didn't bring any bug spray.

As soon as we opened the van doors, the swarm descended upon us. It was like something out of a Stephen King story. Or an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Or a bad episode of Who's the Boss.

We made the short hike to the falls, slapping and swatting at ourselves the whole time. We glanced at the waterfall (because that's why we were there), then we darted back to the "safety" of the van. (I put "safety" in quotation marks because in the time it took us to open the doors of the mini-van and load our herd back in, enough mosquitoes entered the vehicle that if they had chosen to work together as a team they could have all flown to the inside roof and lifted the entire van off of the ground.)

Amazingly enough, five year-old Roni, who is often afraid of the most mundane things (like toilets that are too loud when they flush) was not in the least bit afraid of the attacking, never-ending swarm of blood-sucking skeeters. In fact, just the opposite: she thought it was hilarious!

After we shut ourselves back in the van, we all began swatting, slapping, and shooing away at the multitudinous horde that had followed us into the vehicle. People were slapping themselves, slapping each other, and slapping the walls, windows, and seats of the van. Roni deemed this a "Slap Party," and began to giggle uncontrollably. Her infectious giggling lightened the mood for all of us.

Eventually, with windows down and the van in motion outside of the "Mosquito Zone," we were able to slap, swat, and shoo the majority of the bugs out of the car. (So that only several hundred remained.) Roni had so much fun with it that over the course of the trip she requested a couple of times that we have another "Slap Party." We didn't. (We did, however, have a "Scratch Party" or two because of all the bug bites.)

I don't know if bug spray would have helped. But, it certainly wouldn't have hurt.

2. If a buffalo wants to be in the road, a buffalo will be in the road. This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you drive through Yellowstone National Park, you are probably going to see some buffalo. Buffalo are large animals. If they want to be in the road, there is not much you can do about it. The buffalo does not care about traffic. He doesn't care about how many vehicles are brought to a standstill because he decided to go for a stroll. The buffalo is large and in charge.

Some of the traffic waiting for the buffalo to roam.

Shuffling Buffalo
After this buffalo finally sauntered by, Grammy told Roni that she'd probably never see a buffalo so close in the road like that for the rest of her life. (Hold on to that thought.)

3. If a police car turns on its sirens, it's best to pull over to the side of the road. Unless the reason it turned on the sirens was to make sure you don't pull over to the side of the road. Confused? So were we.

First of all, it wasn't exactly a police car. It was a park ranger car. But, the car looked like a police car. And the sirens looked like police sirens. And, in a place like Yellowstone National Park, you should probably treat park rangers with the same respect you would treat police officers if you were outside of the park.

We were pulling along a large herd of buffalo that was near the side of the road. Cars in both directions were slowing down to look and take pictures. Here is one of the pictures I took from my window while driving:

Roadside Buffalo

The park ranger car was coming from the opposite direction. As soon as I took this picture, the park ranger turned on his sirens and flipped a U-turn so that he was behind the car that was behind mine. (The car that was now between the ranger and my van was driven by my sister-in-law Kimmie, who was following us on our way to Old Faithful.)

I wasn't sure what to do. Was he pulling me over for taking pictures while driving? (Admittedly, it wasn't the smartest thing to do, but since we were coasting at a rate of about one mile per hour I took that risk.) I decided to keep on driving, figuring if he was trying to pull me over he would wave his arms in the universal "pull over to the side of the road" motion. 

Kimmie, meanwhile, tried to do the right thing and pull over to the side of the road to let the "police" car with flashing lights go by. As she did this, the ranger pulled up along side of her and, through his window, yelled at her to not pull over to the side of the road. It was all very confusing.

Apparently, the reason he was flashing his lights was because he didn't want people stopping to take pictures of the buffalo. But, in doing so, he was actually getting more people to pull over because of our training to pull over to the side of the road when we see a police car with lights a-flashing.

(Perhaps a bullhorn yelling, "Keep it moving. Keep it moving. Move along," would have been a better choice.)

4. When approaching a crowded parking lot, it is best to take the first available parking spot. As we made our approach to the parking lot of the Midway Geyser Basin, we could see that the lot was pretty full. I saw that the third spot in the lot (which was quite a distance from the trailhead) was open, so I immediately pulled right into it. It was a good choice, because most, if not all, of the closer spots were already full.

We hiked up the boardwalk and saw the sights, which were breathtaking. (Sometimes literally.) (It can be quite windy on the boardwalk. We chuckled at the humorless park ranger who came along the trail carrying a long pole. His job was to use the pole to retrieve hats that had blown off unsuspecting heads into the wet bacteria mat that surrounds the boardwalk.)

Midway Geyser Basin (with no hats at the moment)

Anyway, as we finished our hike and approached the van, a vehicle who was just entering the crowded parking lot saw us. He decided he wanted our parking spot, so he backed up and waited for us to load and leave. Well, he had a bit of a wait. We weren't all yet back to the van. We had four adults and two children to load. That meant the taking off of backpacks, loading packs back into the van, getting treats and drinks, and getting two kids into car seats, among other things. He had quite a wait to get his coveted parking spot. (Which was not a very good parking spot at all.)

We saw him waiting, but we were in no hurry. (I did feel a bit bad for the people who were lining up behind him who would have liked the opportunity to try their luck for a different, closer parking spot.) We eventually got everyone loaded and finally pulled out. Our stalker immediately zipped into our vacated spot. But, sure enough, as we pulled around the lot there were several open and available parking spots, all much closer to the trailhead, that our Lurky-lurk could have had if he had just followed the rule of taking the first available parking spot.

5. Retired English teachers still know a lot about English. My mother-in-law (also known as "Grammy,") retired last year after teaching high school English for thirty years. As we were viewing the Fountain Paint Pots, Roni read a sign that said, "Don't throw rocks in the pool." This made Grammy cringe. Apparently, it should say, "Don't throw rocks into the pool." Saying "Don't throw rocks in the pool" literally means that you shouldn't throw rocks that are already in the pool. (Which, I guess, is also good advice. But, it's a lot less likely for foolish tourists to do than throwing rocks into the pool.)

To be fair, despite her English-teaching background, Grammy actually doesn't make corrections like this very often. And I'm very grateful for that. If she did, I'd probably be getting weekly critiques of the grammar problems in my blog posts. (Because I know I have problems with knowing "how" and "when" to use quotation marks, parenthesis, and semi-colons; and also with prepositions, which, even though I know I'm not supposed to, sometimes I end sentences with.)

6. Sometimes it's okay to let the buffalo set the pace. Remember how Grammy had told Roni that our experience with the buffalo in the middle of the road was "once in a lifetime?" Well, sure enough, a few hours later there was another buffalo in the middle of the road. This time, we were in a more remote area of the Park, and we were the first ones to come upon it.

Waiting for a passing lane to pass the buffalo.

The buffalo was moving very, very slowly. I wanted to pass it. But, we were on a corner. I knew it probably wasn't a good idea to try to pass the buffalo with a solid double-yellow line. I was afraid that someone might come barreling around the corner from the other direction. So, I decided it would be best to just let the buffalo set the pace. It's a good thing I did, because a car did come around the corner at the moment when I would have been in the wrong lane trying to pass the buffalo. And I don't think even Roni would think a "Crash Party" would be very fun.

So, to sum up, we had a great vacation. We slapped ourselves and each other. We pulled over to the side of the road, and we didn't pull over to the side of the road. We learned a thing or two about grammar and parking. (Like when it's a good time to pull in.) And, we learned that sometimes it's best to just take the buffalo's pace.