It had been
a long and slow day. My back hurt bad. It had been hurting bad for a long time,
and I’d taken to referring to it as my "glowing albatross of pain"
for some reason. All I wanted to do was get back to the apartment, gobble some
pills, open a beer and lie down on the floor.
and checked the mailbox before going upstairs. Three envelopes, none of them
looking terribly interesting. I trudged
up to my apartment, tossed the mail on the table, dropped my bag and went to
make sure that both cats were alive (they were). Then I returned to the kitchen,
sat down, lit a smoke and idly flipped through the mail.
been right about two of the envelopes. They were advertising something or another.
Nothing I needed. The third one, however, caught my attention.
It was from
the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. I shrugged, emitted a small curse and tore the
envelope open. I knew what this was.
often surprised, for obvious reasons, to discover that I have a valid driver’s
license. Maybe I shouldn’t. Fact is, I’ve only been behind the wheel
of an automobile four or five times in my life, the last time some 12 or 13
years ago. It was on a straight, flat strip of a rural two-lane interstate.
Empty farmland to either side, no cars in sight either in front of me or behind.
Still, my driving style in those few times I attempted involved gripping the
wheel as tightly as I could, slamming my foot down on the gas and shrieking
until whoever was with me insisted that I pull over. I think it has something
to do with realizing, once the car started moving, that I was in control of
a several-thousand-pound hot steel killing machine. That last time I was behind
the wheel, I lasted maybe a minute and a half.
I have a driver’s license with all my original points intact. This day
and age, you need one. You try to present anything else as ID in this city (or
any other city), and you’re immediately suspect. Put on some sort of list
trying to get into a bar in Minneapolis a few days after my wallet had been
stolen. All I had ID-wise was my passport. They wouldn’t let me in.)
When I first
moved to New York and went to trade in my Pennsylvania driver’s license,
I was expected to take an eye test. I had been officially diagnosed with RP
a year earlier, but wasn’t telling much of anybody (especially not the
DMV). Fortunately, I stood in line long enough that the woman who was with me
was able to help me memorize the eye chart before I reached the counter. Everything
went very smoothly, and I had my new license half an hour later. If I had no
intention of driving, what was the big deal? Who was I hurting?
A few years
later, after I was registered with the state as being legally blind (even given
an official blind man number), I figured it would only be a matter of days before
someone from the DMV showed up on my doorstep and demanded that I relinquish
my license. I expected them to tear it up right there before my eyes, letting
the scraps flutter gently to the ground.
never happened. Instead, six years ago I received an envelope from them similar
to this new one. Fill out this little form, it said, and send us a check, and
we’ll send a renewed driver’s license straight to your home. No trip
to the DMV for a three-hour wait in line, no written exam, no road test, no
eye charts to read, no nothing.
I did what
they asked–filled out the form and wrote them a check–didn’t
lie about a thing–and about two weeks later, I had my license.
It was pretty
much the same deal this time around. Fill out the card, send them a check. This
time, however, there was one catch. See, there was another card in that envelope
that needed to be filled out and returned as well.
this form to your eye doctor…" the instructions read. My heart sank.
that was it. No more valid driver’s license for me. What now? Get a non-driver
state photo ID? Nobody accepts those for anything. I was screwed. At least I
was well beyond the point where I was being carded at bars anymore.
Then I got
to thinking. Thinking, I know, always gets me into trouble, but there I was
at it again.
As it so
happened, I was already scheduled to have one of my regular eye appointments
in just a few days. I’d been seeing the people in that office for years.
They knew me, knew what I did, and were extremely cool. It was the one doctor’s
appointment I ever looked forward to.
was not to ask them to fill out the DMV eye form in a deceptive manner–nor
to ask them to change a few numbers around on my behalf. Quite the opposite.
My plan was to bring the form to my appointment, just like the DMV said, and
ask my doctor to fill in all the numbers they asked for in an honest manner.
Hoping, of course, that the word "blind" didn’t accidentally
end up on the card somehow. That done, I’d write a check, mail everything
back to the DMV and wait to see what happened. I might well be throwing away
$40, but for some reason I thought it was worth it just to find out.
Tuesday, when I was first brought into the examining room to have a quick squint
toward an eye chart and to have my eyes dilated, I slid the forms from my pocket
and said, "I’m wondering if you could help me with something here."
DMV forms?" the first ophthalmologist asked (I deal with two at that office).
and I, uhh…"
at the eye test form. "Well, you’ll never pass this one," he
know that–I was just wondering–"
I do have one over here that you might be able to pass." He walked over
to a closet and riffled through some papers until he found what he was looking
for. He turned back, holding another form. "Yeah, you might be able to
pass this one," he said, without further explanation. "Just send this
one back instead of the one you have there." He then put some drops in
my eyes and sent me back to the waiting room as my pupils grew to the size of
really going to work? It was beginning to look like it might. He hadn’t
filled out the form yet, but I guessed he would be doing that soon. It was busy
in the office that day–maybe they’d have to mail it to me later. That
was fine. I still had a couple weeks.
room was packed, and from the sounds of it I was the only patient there who
was under 70. One was complaining about how cold it was. Another complained
about having Alzheimer’s. Another man had shown up on the wrong day, after
coming all the way in from Jersey, and was wondering if he could be squeezed
in anyway. Two women across from me eavesdropped on everyone else, and recapped
what everyone was saying.
I kept my
haven’t been able to drive in almost six years," said the man from
Jersey, who seemed to be the oldest of the lot.
hour later, a bit numb from the company, I was led back to another examination
room, where another ophthalmologist would check out my retinas and my cataracts.
I was led over to a chair, where I sat and waited for a few more minutes. At
least it was quiet in there. When my eye doctor opened the door, she was already
laughing at me.
she began, "I’ll be honest with you–I’m really not
comfortable with the idea of you driving a car."
you don’t have to worry about that–I haven’t been behind the
wheel of a car in over a decade–and don’t intend to try now. It’s
just come out and tell her that it was a harmless scam? A test to see if the
DMV would give a license to a clearly blind man? A bit of investigative journalism,
even, if it turned out. I didn’t have the chance.
can’t really in good conscience fill this out for you. I could go to jail."
no you wouldn’t. I’m not asking you to fudge anything. It’s–"
wouldn’t pass this test anyway. Not by a longshot." She was still
laughing about it, and my earlier hopes began to sag. "No, what you’re
gonna have to do is get yourself one of those non-driver IDs. It’s easy–all
you have to do is call the DMV."
I said. I guess in the back of my head I sort of knew this was what was going
to happen. "Well," I told her, "you can’t blame a guy for
giving it a shot."