To Overman, everything in life was a negotiation. In his dealings with women, the grueling battle of give and take was a foregone conclusion, cruelly validated by the indelible scars left in its wake. At the office, there was the ever- nagging question of whether the size of the paycheck justified the level of abuse. When purchasing a car, it was the time-honored test of wills between buyer and salesman, the exhaustive parrying back and forth that ultimately left both parties spent and irritable. If negotiation was indeed such an integral part of the hu- man experience, why then, Overman concluded, should it be any different with eye surgery?
The Lasik coupon he found in the Pennysaver advertised “FDA approved, Life-Changing Vision Correction” for $299 per eye, which immediately told Overman he could close the deal for $500 out the door. But now here he was, seated across from Dr. David Gonzales of the Clearview Vision Center listening to a quote of $1999 for the pair including a five-year extended warranty. The doctor seemed enthusiastic about slicing open Overman’s corneas, cheerfully adding that the fees could be paid in monthly installments with absolutely no money down.
Overman shook his head. “If it says $299, how can you charge me a thousand dollars each?”
Dr. Gonzales nodded sympathetically, eager to clarify. “Ira, I really don’t think you’d be happy with a $299 eye.”
Overman pondered the meaning of this remark, wondering if there was any sort of lemon law that applied to this procedure, and if so, how that would work. It was also conceivable that the warning had been issued because Dr. Gonzales himself, with his thick, coke bottle lenses, had opted for the bargain basement Pennysaver deal and wound up paying dearly. Apparently this was not the case. The doctor went on to explain that his astigmatism, paired with a family history of glaucoma, made him a poor candidate for Lasik surgery. The $2000 treatment, he continued, bought one the identical surgery but with the peace of mind that any complications would be fully covered for five years.
Overman smiled and said he understood perfectly. He took his wallet out of his back pocket, removed a wad of cash and slapped it on the doctor’s desk. “I’m a gambler. I’ll take the best you can give me for $450.”
Fifty bucks later, Overman and Dr. Gonzales shook hands and agreed on the terms. Two eyes Lasiked, one hundred dollars below the advertised Pennysaver price, no extended warranty. A Pyrrhic victory perhaps, if he went blind. But those were the wages of fear, paranoia and decades of perceived victimhood.
Overman hadn’t always been a miserable soul. Misery had slowly attached itself to him barnacle upon barnacle, culminating in the formation of a sublimely dysfunctional individual. As he walked over to the microwave to nuke his Healthy Choice Fettuccine Alfredo with Bacon, he imagined himself a modern-day Ratso Rizzo, drifting further away from reality while trapped in a dwelling fit for squatters. If only he could be more like Ratso, he thought, who somehow managed to look at the glass, no matter how filthy, as half-full.
The dinging of the oven signaled him to remove the paper tray and plunk it down on the dinette table, no plates necessary. That was his wife’s thing. The perfect place settings, the recipes out of Bon Appetit, the remodeled kitchen with its requisite Holy Grail, the Granite Counter. What was it about granite that made it an object of worship among the upwardly mobile? And what was it about kitchens? Back when he was married, it occurred to Over- man that most of the people he knew with fancy kitchens went out to eat all the time. Then they would take their friends back to the house to show off their gourmet kitchens.
Divorced Overman deals with food as fuel, not fetish. He shovels it in, the fettuccine sweet and congealed, the bacon limp and chewy. And yet, a healthy choice. All things considered, it is a mo- ment of triumph. For the first time since toddlerhood, Overman is consuming a meal without wearing glasses. He had often noted that while people don’t need eyeglasses to eat, they rarely act on that option. Oddly enough, they instinctively put on glasses when they’re not hearing well, even when lip reading doesn’t enter into the equation. The glasses become the thing one reaches for when searching for comfort. While Overman could never picture him- self finding comfort in anything, he suddenly felt the urge to look around. Just because he had always been terrified of the unknown didn’t mean he had to stay that way. The known was so mediocre and shitty, what did he have to lose?
In truth, the eyeglasses obscured Overman’s growing collection of wrinkles and crow’s feet, and the absence of spectacles actually made him look older than his pre-Lasiked self. But the surgery was less about vanity than a desire to shed unnecessary weight in his life, even if it was only that which rested on his nose. As he scarfed down the gluey noodles, Overman couldn’t help but notice that his newly unencumbered pupils not only saw better, but saw differently. While his peripheral vision had understandably improved, so, surprisingly, had his awareness. Every disgusting nook and cranny of the apartment now looked like it was being presented in IMAX3-D. The startling images beckoned him to focus on them with a yogi-like acuity. The mildewed carpet had far more texture than he had previously thought. The hole he had kicked in the drywall ex- posed curiously gray fiberglass insulation that had gone unnoticed for years. The “mid-century” cottage cheese ceilings were cheesier, richer, undoubtedly masking a history of secrets Overman dared not contemplate.
It was a strange sensation. As he continued to process visual stimuli, he recalled the advertisement’s claim that the surgery would be “life-changing.” Had the $500 eyes purchased from Dr. David Gonzales of the Clearview Vision Center altered his relationship to the world around him? Cleaning up the table and going off to brush his teeth, he considered this far-fetched possibility. He faced himself in the bathroom mirror and saw more wrinkles, but no sign of any change afoot. Still, as Overman climbed into bed and got under the covers, he felt that something was brewing. Yes, his world was a narrow and petty one, but his sense was that it was about to become narrow and petty in bold new ways.
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