Thursday, July 14, 2016

Spot On: Seeing Eyewear as Safety Gear


A freak thing.

After learning that stormy winds blew a panel of wood from a Manhattan construction site onto a passerby yesterday, I was reminded of my own similar brush with construction danger on Gotham's busy sidewalks.

Yesterday's victim, an older man, was hit in the head by the falling wood, and taken to the hospital in critical condition.  It could have happened to anybody walking by.  Just another unsettling reality of big city life.

There's an old joke that New York will be a great city - once it ever gets finished!  And sure enough, with construction sites a ubiquitous part of New York City's experience, most New Yorkers walk past work zones with barely a thought to them.  And considering the many ways pedestrians could become injured by all of the dangers of high-rise construction, whether it's a remodel or a brand-new project, perhaps the only surprise is that more passersby don't suffer a similar mishap as yesterday's.

Mine took place in the early 1990's, when I lived on East 28th Street, and was a regular commuter along the Lexington Avenue 4-5-6 line, which has a local stop at 28th Street and Park Avenue South (a far less prestigious stretch of that famous boulevard).  At the time, there was an old building on the northwest corner of the intersection that was being remodeled in some way, with scaffolding around parts of it, and one of those rickety pedestrian "tunnels" along the sidewalks.

It was a blustery morning, I recall, and I was approaching the subway entrance from the east, along with dozens of other people.  At the intersection, waiting for the light to change, I was looking up, enjoying the bright blue sky, and a small dot of water landed on one of the lenses of my glasses.

Living in New York, having droplets of water hit my glasses was a common occurrence for me, especially in the summers.  Air conditioners, from small window units sticking out of buildings, to those massive machines on skyscraper rooftops, regularly spit their condensation all over the place.  It's not that big of a deal, and frankly, the water created by those units would be far cleaner than what might be in your beverage glass at your neighborhood diner.

At least, I thought this was water.  I remember crossing the street to reach the subway station's Downtown platform, with the breeze whipping around; descending the dank stairwell to the underground platform, with the customary rush of wind coming up the stairwell as express trains blew through the station.  And as I stood waiting for my train, the dot of water was still on my glasses.

Odd, I thought.  With all of the air that's been blown over my glasses, this spot of water should have dried by now, and become invisible.  But I didn't take my glasses off to inspect them; Manhattan subway platforms during rush hour congestion aren't the best place to take off one's glasses and hold them up to the light.

So I rode down to my usual stop, got my toasted sesame bagel "with a schmear" (of cream cheese), walked down to my office building, and got to the 25th floor... and the dot was still on my glasses.

When I reached my desk, the first thing I did was take off my glasses, and wouldn't you know it?!  It wasn't a dot of water on my plastic lens after all.  It was a small hole!

Whatever liquid had landed on my glasses back up at 28th Street wasn't water, but some sort of corrosive chemical that burned a hole half-way through the plastic lens of my glasses!

My co-workers, most of them native New Yorkers, were only mildly interested in my discovery.  I, on the other hand, was a bit more excited.  "What if this whatever-it-was hit my naked eyeball?"

Fortunately, the optician's shop where I'd purchased the glasses was located a few blocks away in the Financial District, so I quickly called them up, and they told me to come on over.  An optician examined the lens with one of those magnifying glasses like jewelers use, and he held both my glasses and the magnifier over for me to take a look as well.  The hole had burned itself almost clear through the lens.

"If that residue that flew onto your glasses had actually landed in your eye, you'd be at the hospital right now, not this eyeglass store," I remember him marveling.  It took a couple of days for them to re-make my one lens, at a cost I don't recall.

Suffice it to say, ever since that morning in Manhattan, I've never once seriously regretted having to wear glasses.  Over the years, as surgeries and lasers have become more sophisticated, and the need for glasses to correct vision problems has been drastically reduced, I take a moment and think back to how that pair of spectacles may have saved me from severe optical damage.  From a freak speck of some unknown corrosive chemical that was being carried along by Gotham's fickle wind.

People have suggested that I should have gone to that construction site on the corner and asked them what they were using that could have become airborne and damaged my glasses.  But since I couldn't prove the chemical actually came from that construction site, meaning the contractors there would care even less about my story than my co-workers did, I figured it wouldn't be worth it.

So, what's my point?  Isn't it clear?  Although glasses can be inconvenient - and even annoying, now that I have to wear bifocals - I know they can be worth the bother.

Indeed, for me, "four-eyes" has a distinctly comforting ring to it.  After all, it's better than "three-eyes."  Or "one-eye."

Then again, maybe having to wear an eye patch would make me look more enigmatic and rugged...

I can hear myself now:  "I don't always visit New York City.  But when I do, I wear my glasses."


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