• by Robert P. Barsanti •
When they finally flashed I175 on the screen at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I wandered up to a pleasant fleshy woman who wore glasses on a chain of plastic pearls, a green vest, and a big orange button with two children and the question “Ask Me About My Grandchildren.” She asked me to look at the screen again and read the top line. Then, she asked me to hold both sides of the machine and try to read the top line that way. Then, she smiled in that pleasant way that nurses do when they are holding a needle, and gave me a sheet of paper for my optometrist to fill out when I got my glasses.
I have not needed glasses. My eyesight has been keen enough to find golfballs slicing vigorously into the trees, Dunkin’ Donut signs at a half mile, and the last jelly bean in the candy dish. Nonetheless, after I failed a series of tests in the doctor’s office, he confided in me. “I am glad you aren’t driving next to me.”
So I have my first set of glasses. They blaze a style carried forth from the fifties and would not look inappropriate on Don Draper, his partners, or any of the waiters who bring him his “Old Fashioneds.” I am unrecognizable in the mirror, but I am in much finer detail. The gray hair, the beard, the oddly shaped lines in my forehead; all of these are as clear now as the signs on the road.
And the signs on the road are visible to me again. Like everyone else, I assumed that what I had now was as good as it gets. I didn’t think anyone could read the Madaket Road speed limit signs or the sandwich boards on Old South Road, but now they leap to my eyes. I can read license plates, street signs, and can spots rabbits seconds before they run under the tires.
While it is a comfort for my passengers to know that I am not Mr. Magooing around the island, I am not sure if it actually makes a difference. I can see cars, intersections, and pedestrians with more detail now than I could before, but they weren’t invisible to me. Instead, I am invisible to them. Somehow an old Toyota with a rusted out shock absorbers can, shark like, slip up behind four women with four sets of sunglasses, flip flops, pedicures, and Red Cups walking up the center of Centre Street. The photographer for their shoot must have been on the wrong street.
The young have taken the month of May and swiped it like a road sign. On Friday afternoon, they stood fifty deep outside one downtown establishment while two others, a half block away welcomed the usual dozen swells and sailors. Twitter has focussed word of mouth as if it came through a fire hose. One bar gets soaked and the others on either side stayed dry.
They were comfortable in line. I could see that now, clearly. The cherry blossoms had dropped in petalfall, then drifted around the painted and sandaled feet. Everyone wore sunglasses, but used either the top quarter of the glass, or the bottom tenth. The men were in loafers, linen shorts, and one of Tommy’s shirts. The women wore the same labels, but better, with expensive sandals, scarves, and small, discreet tattoos. They held each other in rapt attention, either in person or on their phones. A selfie flashed every second: they were ready to check their privilege at the door.
Youth protects itself. Arrayed in beauty and armed in smiles, it forms phalanxes of pleasure and good will. They are having a good time and it will only get better. The cover charge, the tips, the rounds of drinks fall before the good time wave. Perhaps its Dad’s money, perhaps it’s the rent, perhaps it’s the student loan, but someone else is counting. And that someone else is a problem for another day.
Later that night, I passed another line at the Chicken Box. Same shoes, same outfits, and even the same glasses at nine in the evening. The line stretched down Dave Street and could have been one hundred and fifty deep. You wonder what the last guy in line is thinking. You wonder what he is hoping to find in a jammed Chicken Box by the time he finally gets in there.
My eyes are good enough to look back almost thirty years to see myself standing in line at the Chicken Box for Toots and the Maytals or the Savage Brothers. I could have been walking downtown in silly shorts with my red cup and my attitude. I wanted to be where things happened, and things happened at the Chicken Box.
Shortly after passing the Paradise on Dave Street, we drove into town and settled in a quiet restaurant. The young were there as well. They stood at the center of the bar with big smiles, flashing eyes, and a round dozen wine bottles before them. We listened to them laugh and gossip, then we hid and settled in behind our menus. My eyes remain sharp and focused on menus; the appetizers and the desserts remain clear and distinct before me.
Then, as we prepared to order, one of the young offered us the rest of her bottle of rose and another bottle of Pinot. We smiled, thanked them, and saw them, truly, for the first time. Then, of course, we toasted them.
Youth need not check its privilege. It matters then. Years into the future, the arrogance and the presumption that walks down the middle of the street will shame the eyes and shrivel the soul, but at that slippery moment in time, every gesture felt like an action. And every action would bring about change. Age and perspective robs us of certainty. We peer into the murky distance and guess what might be out there. We keep our wine to ourselves and sneer in the shadows. But youth sees itself and its world all too clearly; the possibilities excite, things are going to happen, and we might as well share the wine.