On Having a Paunch

I’d never worn glasses, having always enjoyed wonderful 20/20 vision. While others wore sunglasses during the summer months, my face went naked. Glasses had just never been part of my experience. Uncountable numbers of people wear glasses and many of those have worn them all their lives. It is obvious to anyone that a huge industry revolves around the simple expedient of improving an individual’s ability to see clearly. In the 21st Century there is by no means anything strange or unique about wearing magnifiers on the face. However, not me – no, never me - my eyes are perfect. Or rather, my eyes were perfect. Over the course of about three years it became increasingly impossible for me to enjoy reading without squinting, or outright guessing at the words on the page. I began to appreciate and understand why those large print editions at the library existed. Some of those microscopic disclaimers on various products, as well as ingredient labels on food, which I used to read without thinking, had now become veiled and secret. Maybe they had decided to print those things in another language now. Could that be it? The once lofty perfection of sight that nature supplied me through my hazel colored peepers had degenerated to a somewhat unfocused and hazy imitation of its former glory. Carrying the train of thought further, and using the analogy of an algebraic formula, my mind equated: if (a) the eyes were getting old and worn, then quite likely (b) so was the rest of me.

That’s really what this rant about getting glasses is about; it’s about getting older. The ancient adversary Chronos was taking away from me the dominion I imagined I held over my body. My wife was merciless with me on this one. “Get over it!” she remarked casually. My wife had worn spectacles, as had two of my children, since early childhood. Without ocular amplifiers of some kind, the world is nothing but a blurry blob to them. I submitted marginally to my wife’s kind advise by going to the drug store and buying a pair of stylish inexpensive reading glasses that are sold to people like me who won’t admit the truth. “Dad, you are wearing ‘Granny Glasses,’” my kids would frequently trumpet. While those black-framed cheapies did help my reading at home, I was not about to wear those embarrassing appendages outside the house.

I put it off as long as I could, more out of machismo, I suppose, than anything else. I had been rigorously athletic since my early twenties. For over twenty years now, I had been running, bicycling, lifting weights, adhering to healthy eating habits and staying as fit as possible while maintaining a busy lifestyle. As I look back now, I realize I saw this slight problem with my eyes as a foreshadowing of losing prowess and I wasn’t ready for that yet. The last straw came while I was tracking some numbers at work and realized I was putting down 3s when they should have been 8s, 1s for 7s and so on. At least three years I battled against the inevitable and now, at 43 years old, I was finally ready, though reluctant, to admit defeat. “Make me an appointment at the eye doctor,” I said to my wife as I was half way out the door on the way to work. “You’re finally ready to give it up huh?” she replied with a smile as I quickly shut the door behind me.

There we were sitting in the waiting area of the optical department at Sears, waiting to have my eyes checked. I was still mentally wrestling against the idea that I was now passing my prime and experiencing the first signs of physical decay. I was taking this way too hard as if nature had played some cruel trick on me personally that no one else had ever had to tolerate. So there I was fretting and whining about being middle-aged, about how our bodies were changing, how we would soon be falling apart all that drivel when in walks another 40ish couple. They were looking at the display cases, filled to capacity with all the latest fashions in frames and delightful accessories for the optically challenged. That’s when my wife took her opportunity. She knew how I felt. It must have been apparent to her that at any moment I might bolt from that lens sanctuary, and reinforce my doomed battlements against the siege of time and age. She must have known, but still, she saw her chance and she took it. She said, “Look honey, that man has a paunch, --------- too!” I looked over at the guy. Paunch nothing, the man had a gut! He was about 45, had a French-fried, beer basted, sagging, never done a sit-up since high school, gut! “TOO?” I replied emphatically. “What do you mean he has a gut, TOO?” “Oh I didn’t mean anything by it dear, I just meant that, well, you know, when guys get middle-aged, they get a bit of a paunch,” she explained. “Yes, but you said that he has a paunch, --------TOO! What do you mean by TOO?” I insisted. “Well, you’re a little sensitive aren’t you, a little insecure maybe?” she said with a snicker. “A little sensitive - a little insecure?” I parroted back to her as I looked on with an incredulous expression plastered to my face.

So, as the age old adage goes, “Pay Back is Fair Play!” Turning toward the woman who had accompanied Mr. Paunch into the Optical Department at Sears destined to becoming the focus of our day, I said, “Look at that woman over there. She has a big ass, ----TOO!” Yes, I said ass, and not just ass, but big ass, and yes, I said “TOO.” My wife’s jaw dropped! “You’re a little sensitive aren’t you, a little insecure maybe? I didn’t mean anything personal by it, I just mean that when women get middle-aged, they get big asses, that’s all” I said with as much fake sincerity as I could muster.

In your house, that might have started a war, but in mine, it was a different matter. We both started laughing and giggling. I am sure we were disturbing the others in the store, but we didn’t care, it was hilarious to us and as far as we were concerned that was good enough. We talked about that little episode for days and every time it brought, and still brings, a smile to our faces. I thought, if this is what getting older will be like, carrying on like kids together, it might even be fun.

Oh, and the paunch? I got rid of it. I went home and started a more rigorous fitness regime; not only losing the belly but also replacing it with a nicely defined, non-alcoholic, six pack. Maybe the eyes are going. Maybe there is nothing I can do about that, but until further notice the rest of the package still has to submit to me. Oh, My wife? She started her own exercise and diet routine greatly decreasing the size of her derrière.

The End (so to speak)

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