May 28, 2016

Lessons Learned From My Optician Gig

Now look right here, I said, touching the space between my brows. Picking up the t-shaped millimeter ruler, I looked directly into the eyes of my patient and measured.

The t-shaped millimeter ruler had a name, but I still don't know the technical name for it even twenty-some-odd years later. It was a tool used by opticians like me way back in the day who worked at optical stores. The place I worked was a franchised shop in the neighborhood mall.

Optician training was trial by fire, but within three years, I learned the difference between progressive lenses and bi-focals; the difference between base curves and diameters; I knew how to UV coat an unfinished lens, set it into the chuck, run the edger and rotate the lenses into the frame according to an axis dependent upon the patient's astigmatism.

Impressed yet?

Of course, there were other things I learned too, unrelated to the fine art of Opticianing. (And no, that is not a technical term. I just made up that word.)

Leave the front lights off and stay in the back of the store until 5 minutes before opening.
Maybe 3 minutes. This is why: in the wonderful world of malls, when a store's doors are closed at 9:52 and the store opens at 10:00, people are drawn like moths to flame at the mere sight of fluorescent lights and an employee standing there in plain sight. The masses will stand outside the doors, begging, clamoring -- pleading -- for whatever is being sold, even if they don't need it or even know what is being sold.
Stay in back. Stay in the dark.
Artwork by My Daughter. #MomBrag

Hexes are Harmless
At my franchised optical shop, special frames or lenses would be ordered from corporate headquarters. The goods would be delivered on a specific date and time each week. This is exactly what I explained to The Hexer. She, in turn, showed up a day early, ready to pick up her glasses which were still enroute to our store from corporate.
The Hexer wanted no part of my exasperated gentle reminder/explanation. Her head briefly exploded and she then eerily calmed down, narrowed her eyes and hissed: The blood of Christ be on you and your children!
I felt a little like Mister in The Color Purple.


Maybe The Hexer believed it was a hex, but I'm a Christian, so um...Yeah. Either way, she finally got her glasses on the appointed day and time, and I was no worse for the wear.

Everyone has a Doppleganger
In the middle of my song and dance about the seasonal frames and lenses sale, I noticed my elderly patient had zoned out and was smiling at her husband. I stopped and asked whether she had questions. Instead she asked her husband Who does she remind you of? ("she" meaning ME) Without missing a beat, her husband replied: Cousin Dodie.
We all laughed, and they ended up ordering glasses. When they came to pick them up, they brought in a picture of Cousin Dodie. Was Dodie even black? Nope. Was she my doppelganger? Absolutely. Chances are, you've got one too.

People Don't See Color When They Need to See
She had Title Nineteen -- a kind of government entitlement to cover vision needs. I had always made a point of making sure anyone using that benefit didn't feel shame or embarrassment. I made sure to be discreet when showing her the velvety black box containing the restricting frame selection from which she could choose under her particular entitlement. And I could tell she appreciated it...until she said:

Wait. Are you black?

I paused for a moment and then answered her question with a question:

Do you still want the glasses if I am?

Turns out she did.

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