A few years ago my friend M. took early retirement from a job in the Parks Department. He has since occupied himself with sleeping late, visiting the library, swimming, gardening, and falling asleep in the middle of a conversation.

He invariably refers to himself as "SEMI-retired." I guess the "SEMI" is meant to convey that he is still vertical, and possibly even breathing. In my case, I could be described as more diagonal than vertical, at least most of the time. Perhaps I am not so much semi- as quasi-retired?

In line with the quasi-retired status, I now have acquired a Senior Citizen bus pass, a walking stick, and a dazzling array of pills to ward off cholesterol, high blood pressure, gout, yaws, sheep-rot, and the King's Evil. I also bought a set of reproductions of old magazine covers from Collier's.

With a little more practice, I might slip into a reverie over those golden summers before the Great War, or turn apoplectic at the mere mention of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (and his dog Fala). As Fred Astaire once said, "Old age is like anything else. To do it right, you have to practice."

If the extra-terrestrials led by Hilary Clinton don't get me first, I am going to alert the world about their plot to control our minds through rock music and microwave ovens. And don't even get me started on the UN and its black helicopters.

Another thing I have been practicing is wearing the wrong glasses. Now that I have three (or is it five?) different pairs, one for each and every focal distance, I almost always find that I am wearing the wrong glasses for whatever I think I am doing at any given time. This gives me countless opportunities to enjoy a psychedelic blur of the kind we used to seek in the 60s by chemical means, while walking into walls or stepping on my cat Hodge. Or else to fumble in every pocket for one of the other glasses, an operation which is now a major part of my daily exercise regime.

What with these difficulties, the omens just didn't seem auspicious for taking an eye test. However, the Department of Motor Vehicles (no doubt under the command of Hilary and the extra-terrestrials) insisted that I had to take a new vision test at once in order to get my driver's license renewed.

In my life, I have always followed the policy line of Clausewitz and Kissinger, which is to delay any action whenever possible. So, I explained to the DMV that, much as I would love to go in immediately for an eye exam, I couldn't take the test right away, due to a heavy schedule of top secret missions abroad and an upcoming heart-transplant operation.

They grudgingly allowed me a temporary extension of my license. I thought I might be able to use the extra time to do eye exercises, or get still another pair of super-strong, X-ray vision glasses, or something. However, my optometrist assured me that my present long-distance glasses should endow me with the visual acuity of a Peregrine Falcon. Sure enough, I was just leaving his office when a Peregrine Falcon flew straight into the wall and dropped like a stone at my feet.

Last week, I finally went over to the DMV to get the test out of the way. For a while, I loitered inconspicuously near the counter where vision tests were administered, listening to the letters called off by each of the testees, and carefully recorded them on the back of my hand. I figured that a cheat-sheet might help my vision more than exercises. Eventually, my turn came and I approached the counter, tapping my cane on the floor to find my way because, with my falcon glasses, everything closer than 500 yards is a blur.

I turned over my old license to the harpy behind the counter, who thereupon launched into a series of trick questions, obviously designed to shake my self-confidence. "Do you live at the same address?" she said, and then, before I could analyze the question's deeper complexities, she added, "Are you registered to vote?" Next, she wanted to know if I had any living relatives. I was just working out all the implications of that question, when she asked sweetly: "Do you want to be an organ donor?" The blood froze in my veins. I had heard stories about people going down to the DMV and never returning, and now I knew why. The light suddenly grew dim.

My reverie was interrupted by her next question: "Have you lost consciousness at any time in the last six months?" "Not that I can remember," I heard myself reply, feigning insouciance. I could scarcely admit that things had just gone black there when she asked about my organs. The fact is that I have always been rather attached to my organs, and they to me.

"Write down your social security number here," she barked, and then directed me to a mysterious device at my left. I mentally bade farewell to the liver, kidney, pancreas and sweetmeats that had shared all my joys and sorrows since childhood, and turned to the infernal machine. "Look through the eyepiece and read the bottom line," she commanded. The infernal machine turned out to be the vision-testing device. Sheer terror must sharpen the senses, including vision, because I made out the bottom line of letters without once consulting my cheat-sheet, and passed the test in a Trice. I passed the Trice across the counter to the harpy, who filed it under T and passed back to me my old license, which had in the meantime acquired a bullet-hole right through its middle. "You pass," she declared, "go over there to have your picture taken."

Shaking with relief, I took my place on the mug-shot line. I didn't bother to tell them that I don't photograph, like Count Dracula or the neutrino, and leave only an indistinct smudge on photographic emulsion. When my turn came, the counter lady directed me to turn my cap around backwards. "My Playboy cap?" I asked. "Yes, your cap," she said. I guess she thought that I should look like a Mexican juvenile delinquent as long as I was going to escape the DMV that day with all my organs intact. There was a flash of light. Then she handed me my temporary license, which bore my name above an indistinct smudge wearing a cap backwards.

I was so elated at passing that I completely forgot to turn my cap back around. I would be wearing it backwards still except that they pointed it out to me three days later at the Senior Center, while we were all sitting around grumbling about FDR (and his dog), the UN, the black helicopters, our medications, and our ungrateful children.

--- Dr. Phage
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