The Program

by Rhamilton46

I sipped my second cup of coffee while watching the customers coming into the small cafe. It was in a part of town I only visited for special occasions. In other words it was a little seedy. I was dressed to fit in, clean but not too well off. I had almost given up finding what I was looking for when a woman in her early thirties came to the counter. She wore a cloth coat too thin for the weather, no gloves and boots that had seen better days. She pushed her thick glasses closer to her eyes and actually stood on tiptoes looking towards the menu board. She ordered then waited patiently for the coffee and muffin. After counting her change she walked carefully to the empty table beside me. I couldn't have planned it better if I had written the script.

Either her glasses were not strong enough or her vision was very poor even with them. Trying not to be too obvious I took a second look before deciding on the former, they were at least five years out of style. Their thickness gave some indication of their strength and whoever had fitted them didn't know their work very well. She practically inhaled the muffin, possibly the first thing she had eaten that day. I watched her slowly drink the coffee trying to stretch its warmth and nourishment. She had picked up the paper on the seat next to her but after one glance she returned it.

The next step was the most difficult, how to strike up a conversation without causing her any alarm. I chose an old standby. "Hello, weren't you at the Center last week?" I referred to a local agency, which helped people on social assistance. She looked in my direction squinting as if unable to focus and once again pushing her glasses close to her eyes. She was attractive but could do with some make up. Hair wisps escaped from under her hat, probably unseen.

"I was yes, do I know you?" She leaned forward shortening the distance between us by a foot or so.

I was already moving towards the table and sat carefully opposite her so as not to seem too pushy. "No, I just thought I recognized you, I was across the room. Can I get you another coffee?"

"Sure, that is, thanks, yes, I would like one, double cream double sugar, please."

I walked slowly to the counter giving her time to decide; stay or leave. I ordered two large coffees and several muffins, and then looked towards the table. Good she was still there.

"Have a muffin?" I asked, placing the plate before her and watching as she eagerly ate the first half of one then stopped and looked at me.

"Sorry, that was rude, I haven't eaten much lately, thank you for this."

"You are welcome."

"My name is Brenda." She smiled a little self-consciously and held out her hand, pushing her glasses up with the other. I looked directly at her bright blue eyes made slightly smaller by the strong glasses. They were quite strong indeed.

"Irene, nice to meet you."

The next time she pushed her glasses up I tried my next gambit.

"Looks like we share a common problem."

"What?"

"The glasses, mine keep slipping down too, it’s almost a reflex isn't it."

"Yes, and its worse with someone else's glasses."

"I don't understand." Now wait, let her speak.

She looked at me then sat back with a sigh and told her story. It included a marriage breakup, a very messy divorce and some health problems. Towards the end, "So these actually belong to my sister, they're her old spares, I broke mine last week, can't get new ones for three weeks. Just my luck. These are so much weaker than mine I can hardly see you."

Ah ha, I was right, now to play this carefully. "You mean yours are stronger?"

"Hard to believe isn't it, I need almost half again as strong as these. They help a lot but I feel so awkward. This is the first time I have been out all week. " She stood. "Thank you again, I have to go now."

"Eh just a moment I may be able to help you, I have a friend who is an optometrist, she might be able to fit you with something better today, then get your proper ones later."

She looked puzzled but she sat down, "You mean she has glasses like ready to wear?"

"Well not exactly, she specializes in very high prescriptions like ours, and usually has some on hand. Her office is about six blocks away, we could walk over or take a taxi."

She seemed puzzled at my statement and looked closely at my own glasses.

"You heard right, I'm pretty nearsighted myself. Try these. "I handed them to her. I supposed she looked through them her reaction was, "Geez, these are almost as strong as mine but they're so thin and light? How come?"

"My friend imports a new high index technology from Europe, its very good. Are you interested?"

"You bet I am! Would she help me?"

Before I answered I just had to get them back. My blurry world had shrunk too less than an arms length. "Please, could I have my glasses back, I'm uncomfortable without them?" I held my hand out into the blur and felt relief when she gave them back and the room came into focus. She had replaced her own and looked down at the table.

"Sorry, I should have known better. It felt so good to see again."

"That's all right, I'm sure you understand. Lets go and see my friend."

We were walking towards the door when she turned to me, "I have no money, how much will they cost?"

"She has a research project, you just might get them for free!" That clinched it.

"Brenda I'm sure my friend will be able to help you. She really is very good at her work."

By now she was smiling and actually holding my arm as we walked. I stopped after one block and used my cell phone just to make sure Andrea was in.

"Hello Irene." Call display takes all the mystery out of telephones.

"Andrea I have someone with me, are you still open?"

"Someone for the program?" She asked with an anxious hint in her voice.

"Yes, we are about five blocks away."

"Great, I was hoping to hear from you soon, come on over."

I closed the cell phone "She's in, let’s go!"

We walked in silence for two blocks then she broke the silence, "Why are you doing this?"

"Brenda there are a lot of people who just need a little help to get back on track. Most of the programs run by social services deal with education or special training. Andrea, my friend I keep talking about, discovered that people who need really strong glasses often suffer more when they break them or just need new ones. The plans don't cover them, right? Or they take weeks to replace broken ones."

"I guess, but how does she make money?"

"Don't worry about Andrea, she has a lucrative practice. Once you see her work I'll bet you buy all your glasses through her. In the end she comes out ahead."

"I see." There was still a hint of disbelief but the more we talked the more she relaxed. Twice I gave her my glasses so she could see what was in a store window. I held her arm just to make sure I got them back!

"I thought optometrists only examined eyes?" She was still looking for a fault in what appeared to be too good to be true.

"Yes most of them do. Andrea is a specialist she handles everything in her office."

"Oh."

There was a little more to it than that, but for the moment Brenda did not need to know all the details. We walked past the large chain optical store and took the first door in the next building. Climbing the two flights we entered the small but very well equipped private office. My friend met us just inside the door. Andrea's own stylish frames and thin lenses gave no hint of the powerful contacts she wore behind them. Without the contacts she needed glasses that would scare most customers off even with the new lenses! Her understanding of extreme myopia was from life long personal experience. She told me about the contacts years ago then quickly changed the subject. I have wanted to know her prescription ever since but I'm too shy to ask. We have never spoken if it again.

"Andrea, this is Brenda, she broke her own glasses and as you can see she really needs some help. Are you taking new research clients?" This was our code and Andrea understood immediately.

"Yes I think we can arrange something, come in Brenda, lets see what we can do for you." I waited outside, not wanting to appear too involved.

Half an hour later Andrea led Brenda back out to the waiting room. From past experience I knew her eyes would be so dilated to ease the strain of the examination as to be virtually blind. I took her arm and showed her where the chair was. Andrea flashed a small piece of paper towards me, -23 it read; this was our best find in years!

"Brenda, don't worry, those drops will wear off in about ten minutes, and I’ll just see what I have on hand."

"Thanks Doctor”

"Please, I prefer Andrea."

She returned to her lab and I sat with Brenda as her eyes gradually returned to normal. I put her old glasses back on and she looked puzzled then disappointment took over.

"Just wait," I said, "I'll bet Andrea can help you. " Right on cue Andrea returned smiling and sat beside us,

"Brenda these are the closest thing I have here today, try them." She put the high index glasses gently onto Brenda's nose.

"They're wonderful and so light, I can see almost as well as with my own glasses. Oh thank you, thank you both!"

For a minute I thought she would kiss me but Andrea took her hands and led her back into the lab. Five minutes later she returned with the frames fitting properly on her now much prettier face. Obviously they had done a little makeup work and some hair brushing. Andrea was very skilled at putting people at ease. The overall effect was startling. Brenda was an attractive woman and her smile certainly helped.

Later I called Andrea, "She is perfect Irene, don't do anything to spoil this, just enjoy."

Two weeks later on Saturday morning I contacted Brenda and made arrangements that afternoon to pick her up and take her to get her new glasses. She looked so much better. I found out that two days before she had started a job. She blamed her success on the new glasses and her two benefactors. I felt great!

"Brenda I need you to do some things for me as part of my research, will you?"

"Anything Andrea absolutely, anything at all!"

"Good, these are your new glasses, try them on and lets see how good a job I did."

"They're PERFECT! I can see real clear, oh thank you, so much." Her blue eyes flashed behind the thin highly corrective lenses. Her eyes looked much smaller and you could see the edge of her head a third of the way across the lens but somehow with the much thinner lens this didn't appear so strange.

"Now I have another pair for you which you will not like but they are just as important. They also have a special lens.

"Oh my god!" She froze. Most people did. The glasses were almost comical in their thickness. Andrea kept talking in a soothing way, removing the first pair and putting on the thick ones in their place.

"The reason for the thick lenses Brenda is to help rest your eyes. You can wear these thin ones all day, but after six o'clock you must switch to the thick ones. This is important. If you wear the other ones too long they will damage your eyes forever. Brenda this is vital! I mean it. This is very important. The thin lenses force your eyes to adjust and this causes severe strain. They will damage you eyes further if you wear them too long. You must do this, and keep a record for me."

Brenda was stunned, but recovered as Andrea took the thick glasses back and replaced them with the much thinner ones. "If I'm at home could I wear the thick ones during the day, then the thin ones if I go out?"

"NO! Brenda this is really important, wear the thick ones whenever you want but you must wear them after six o'clock understand?"

"I will, okay I really will."

"Good. Oh one other thing I need to see you once a week for the next three months. My assistant will call you to set up a time."

I drove Brenda home, she spent the whole time looking at things she hadn't seen properly for a long time. Twice she took the other glasses out and looked through them, quickly returning them to her purse.

"Brenda you look real good in them, especially the thin ones, glad I could help."

"Will you come up for a coffee?" Her voice trailed off.

"I'd love to but I promised my husband I'd be home by six. He hates me to be late."

"Husband?"

"Un huh, but thanks for the offer."

I dropped her off and drove home, on the way I phoned Andrea to set up Brenda's appointments.

"Irene, she is so perfect, did you see how those CR39's looked on her?"

"Yep, I didn't think you could go so far with them, I kind of hoped for myos."

"You would, I still like these better."

"Okay, you're the boss, 'night"

"Good night Irene."

Brenda called me the next day, she was upset and it took a moment or two to calm her.

"Irene, I have to come for my first check up on Saturday morning, and I can't wear my glasses from the time I wake up! I can't find my way without them. How will I get there?" She started crying and I had to wait before she would listen.

"Easy now, look I'm not to busy on Saturday morning, my husband takes the kids out l after lunch, I'll pick you up this week, then you can make some plans okay."

“You are so helpful. I have to be there at ten, is that still okay?"

Yes, that's fine, see you Saturday."

Saturday morning I stood outside her apartment building for a moment then rang her buzzer. It took a long time.

"Yes, who is it?"

"Irene."

"Oh thank god, come on in, I'm lost."

I had expected this, most of our clients don't do any planning, and they are helpless without their glasses. I got her organized, at least she was dressed. She explained why it took her a while to get to the door intercom, she couldn't find it! Then tears again and another five minutes to get her settled. I held her hand and we walked slowly to the stairs then out to my car. I made sure she didn't bump her head getting in, and then put the seat belt in her hands. I asked if she had both pairs of glasses with her, "So Andrea can check them," I said hoping she would not question why.

Andrea did the quick examination then had Brenda put her thick glasses back on. She told her she had to wear them for the next two hours, and then she could switch back to the thin ones until six.

"Do I have to? I mean okay its just that I bet everyone will stare at me"

"At least you will see them staring." Andrea replied.

As we left I gave Andrea a big thumbs up, she always arranged this so I would get a good OO fix while I drove the client home. It really wasn't necessary but Brenda's glasses were the second strongest we have ever had in the program and I spent every chance I could looking sideways at those wide flaring edges. I have been obsessed with thick glasses all my life. Andrea is one of the two people who know this. Once she found out she made sure I was looked after. This time I accepted Brenda's offer and spent a half hour enjoying her incredible glasses. They were fabulous!

There was a family picture on her TV and I looked carefully at it while she made coffee. It was not hard to see where she and her sister inherited their vision. Their mother's glasses must have been at least half an inch thick. Her sister had turned her head slightly sideways and it was easy to see that even as a teenager she was very nearsighted. Brenda's of course were by far the strongest of the three.

"Enjoying the rogues gallery?"

"Good picture, I see it runs in the family."

"Just the female side, some genetic thing I guess. Mom told me her mother wore thick glasses all her life. My father didn't even wear glasses until he was over forty."

"How did they meet?

Its kind of funny, he was the football star at college, almost made pro. Anyway, every good-looking girl wanted him and he fell for Mom! She worked in the cafeteria to help pay her tuition. You should see their wedding pictures, she kept taking them off and he kept telling her to put them back on. Its a riot she's half and half."

"Looks like things worked out well."

"I think he secretly likes her glasses, strange, my husband hated mine!"

"Well to each you know?"

"Maybe I should have worked in a cafeteria instead of a mortgage brokers office. We were okay as long as I could wear contacts, then we just, well enough of that. More coffee?"

We chatted for a while and I learned her sister had moved two years ago and lived about an hour drive away. They were friends but after her marriage broke up they had sort of lost touch. It was hard for Brenda to admit she couldn't afford to go out places. Her parents had moved to the sunny south, and she tried not to let them know all her troubles. I recognized the all too familiar story.

I called Andrea after I left Brenda's apartment. "Well, what do you think?" She asked after we had discussed our new client for a few minutes." I'm sure Andy would be a good match."

I thought for a moment seeing the tall young accountant in my minds eye and remembering Andy's big smile as he looked at the world through his very dramatic bi-focals. I had loved taking Andy to his checkups! "Andy would be perfect, let's set it up!"

Oh yes, THE PROGRAM, well our dear Andrea has a little twist in her heart of gold. Over ten years ago she started playing matchmaker to her severely nearsighted clients. Especially that select group she found to be optically obsessive. Knowing their genetics Andrea figured their offspring would need specialized help for many years to come, she has been successful beyond her wildest dreams.

Driving on towards picking up another client, I chuckled to myself thinking how nice it would be to watch Andrea at work. Andy and Brenda would be booked in for examinations at almost the same time. Andrea would keep them in the separate examining rooms, and then she would hold one back while she 'examined' the other. She would finish with the second one while the first was still in the outer office. Both would be wearing their wonderfully thick glasses when they met, 'seeing' each other for the first time. Andy would be helpless at the sight of Brenda's glasses, and how could a woman in Brenda's situation resist a professional man like Andy. Magic!

Later that evening, just before six, I walked along the corridor to our apartment; slipping my high index glasses into my purse I took out my own CR39's. My husband met me as I took my coat off. Gently kissing me and being careful to avoid banging my glasses against his much thicker ones. My guy has the strongest glasses Andrea has ever made. During the day he wears high index over contacts, after six his CR39 myos are OUT OF THIS WORLD!!!! He's been in the 'program' for over eight years, almost as long as I have! Our optical obsessions match perfectly. As we walked through to the kitchen our twin daughters called out from the family room. They were glued to a new computer game, leaning close to the oversized monitor, perfectly comfortable in their exceptionally thick glasses.

Thanks

rhamilton46  09 Dec 2001, 19:26

Mary, Robert's SNL

END

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