By Janet Parmerter DiNola
In recent decades, an unfeeling thief has robbed valuable possessions from thousands of men and women. In some cases, this thief quietly appeared at night, long gone by morning, and stole their most precious irreplaceable treasure, their sight.
The name of this culprit is Macular Degeneration. It has been a devastating shock for many, but thanks to modern technology, coping with this disease has become easier. Since the age of nine, I have struggled with this now familiar eye disease. Therefore, I for one am grateful technology did not leave the blind in the dark.
For visually impaired individuals, now, talking aids make independence a reality. For example, in my home, there are clocks talking from different rooms, different handbags, and different times of day and night. There are talking desk clocks, talking alarm clocks, talking kitchen clocks, talking travel clocks, talking stopwatch clocks, talking calculator clocks and talking wristwatches everywhere. They are all shapes and sizes, but the tiniest is a talking mini clock kept in my purse. In our quiet home, when the hour strikes, and all clocks begin speaking this synchronized cacophony of voices, my usually patient husband wants to see time fly…right out the window!
When having overnight guests, I would attempt to turn off each clock but inevitably miss one. Kindly, my daughter began warning our guests about the speaking clocks after two friends from Italy were frightened all night, “Earing dee leetell teeny voices.”
Now this particular story, and believe me there are many, many clock stories, began in Europe. Unfortunately, for this little clock, the story also ENDED there. That troublesome watch would never take another trip with me. Its next journey was a solo, non-stop direct flight to the garbage pail.
However, in its defense, it did have one redeeming feature…its size. It was the tiniest little thing, the size of a credit card, with a small, square, raised button. When this button was pushed, it announced the time in a female voice. The problem was, this tiny square was raised just enough so if anything inside my purse touched the button, the clock automatically began an irritating time announcement. Often, the button stuck in the talk position, and repeated the time like a rap song. If the clock showed 5:36 p.m., it would rap the time as;
“Fififi fifi fif five ththithithithirty sisisix.”
Rapidly, this tiny ticker began a downward plunge to “the old clock graveyard.” Compounding its annoyance, right before its demise, it plagued me with a new dysfunction. Whenever it became cold, it started making strange high-pitched screeching electronic sounds, and stopped only after warming up.
At work, this tiny talking clock was very important and always with me. Being in the travel industry, arriving at each museum, city or hotel on time was essential.
Consequently, the next job I had was a ski tour in Switzerland. However, time was definitely up for this infuriating clock.
As strange, as it may seem, even being visually impaired, for years my job has been escorting groups of American tourists to foreign countries. My goal was, and still is, to help their international vacation be as fun and problem free as possible. Europe is my forte, but I travel along with my groups to places like China, Russia, and the Middle East. With assistive tools for the blind, like my typical white cane and talking devices, I still lead tourists around tiny quaint villages, to bustling world capitals. Honestly, I must admit because I was a skier, my favorite tours of all were ski trips to the western states and the majestic Alps of Italy, Switzerland, France and Austria.
At any rate, to continue the story, we must move back counterclockwise to my crazy clock’s last tour on earth. Setting the scene, this story begins as the tour group is departing from a one-week ski trip in the Jung Frau region of Switzerland. After the ski part of the tour ended, before flying back to the United States, a three-day excursion to Belgium was included. To catch the first flight from Zurich to Brussels, we all needed to wake up at 3:30 a.m. Yet, with everyone sleep deprived, they all seemed comfortable on the plane except me; I was freezing.
The floor beneath my seat had an open slot going directly to the unheated cargo area below. With a constant icy cold breeze blowing onto my feet and legs I was miserable. Liquid containers inside my purse nearly froze solid, and my feet felt like they were next.
As if things were not bad enough, all of a sudden, this continuous, high-pitched, piercing sound exploded from my purse. It was my tiny, temperamental timepiece again reacting to its intense dislike of cold. Quickly, I cupped the credit card size clock in my hand trying to warm it up and curtail the exasperating electronic shrieks. Regrettably, it screeched even louder! In a sleep-deprived state of confusion, I wondered how to shut up the squealing noise. Oh yes; warm it up!
Thus, thinking my body heat could warm up the clock, in a quick effort to stop the piercing sound or muffle the shrieks, I tucked it next to my belly, under the waistband of my pants. Little by little, the shrieks lessened, and thoroughly exhausted, I drifted into a comatose sleep.
Surprisingly, the rough landing did not even wake me. All of a sudden, someone shook me and laughed, “Wake up! We’re in Belgium!” Startled, I awoke in a daze, and again heard others from my tour group shout, “Hey, you have to get up, we’ve landed!” Only half-awake, by instinct, I grabbed my purse, coat and jumped to my feet. Simultaneously, as I stretched my arms up to pull out my overhead luggage, the tiny clock shifted from my waistband, slid down my silky panty hose, and stopped at my crotch. Now, every time I put my right leg forward to take a step, my thigh pushed on the raised button and in a muffled voice, my crotch proudly announced the time. From that point on, with every agonizing step I took, my crotch blatantly said, “It’s 8:30 a.m. it’s 8:30 a.m. it’s 8:30 a.m.” Sylvia, a friend who booked my tour, knew the muffled time announcement was my clock and burst into a fit of laughter.
With my confused and embarrassed red face, I tried to ignore people turning their heads staring at my crotch, and wondering where this semi-muffled time announcement was coming from. First, I wondered whether I should stop and try to dig it out. DUH, NO! After picturing the bizarre scene of digging the clock out of my pants, I reasoned, that would LOOK really, really strange! What was I thinking? Weighing the matter of sound verses looks, in a split second, I decided I would much rather SOUND really, really strange rather than LOOK really, really strange, so I left it there.
As if things were not bad enough, as I began strutting down the aisle, my crotch watch became stuck in that funky rap singer mode. Since it was a large plane, the aisle seemed endless, and my discomfort grew with each agonizing step. Horribly, my crotch started repeating, “It’s ehh ehh ehh th th th ethethethe thithihihi thihi ur ur urririrty two,”
“It’s ehh ehh ehhehh ehh ate tthethetthethe thithihihi thihi ur ur urririrty two,”
“It’s ehh ehh ehhehh ehh ate tthethetthethe thithihihi thihi ur ur urririrty two.”
Hearing the times 8:32, 8:33 and 8:34 sickened me, while those in my tour group hysterically laughed.
Frantically, in an effort to shut the humiliating thing up and stop my thigh from pressing on the button, I began dragging my right leg behind me. As a result of this abnormal gait, I looked like Quasimodo doing a STEP/DRAG, STEP/DRAG, STEP/DRAG.
Again, weighing the level of embarrassment in my choices, I wondered which brought me a greater feeling of humiliation, the talking crotch watch, or the Quasimodo drag. What a choice! If I recall, I did a little combo of the two, then finally came to the end of the plane.
With my tour group waiting outside the plane, my hysterics turning to tears, and my makeup running down my face, Sylvia and I prepared to disembark the plane. As we turned left to walk through the galley, Silvia looked ahead; bent over and started laughing even harder.
Through her giggles, she forced out the words, “Get this Janet, the whole crew is lined up, shaking hands, and saying good-bye to every passenger leaving the plane.”
Sure enough, there they were; the pilot, the co-pilot, and seven flight attendants, perfectly lined up like soldiers at attention bidding farewell to their troops. An impressive gesture on the part of Sabina airlines, but of all times, I could not believe the timing! Why now? In all my years of travel, this was the first time I ever experienced nine people from a flight crew on a happy handshake line. Even the “Friendly Skies” of United did not act THIS friendly. In any case, considering my current dilemma, this was a bit too friendly for me! A crazy thought passed through my mind to slip into the cockpit until everyone left the plane and sneak out when the cleaning crew entered. For a split second, I actually contemplated my outlandish idea. Could that work? Instantly, I dismissed the delusional thought with a shake of my tired and giddy brain. At once, I tried to think clearly, and wondered if I could possibly make it past this so-called, “jolly flight crew line-up” without being noticed. Now, that was something I was NOT sure of…however, there was something I DEFINITELY WAS sure of, that I would NOT stroll past this group dragging my leg behind me looking like some red faced hysterical Hunchback of Notre Dame.
At this point, Silvia and I desperately tried to stop laughing, regain our composure, and prepare for the inevitable. After we straightened our posture, I lifted my head up, took a deep breath and tried to appear poised and confident. Was I now prepared to meet each one of the polite, well-mannered and friendly crew? No, so taking one last deep breath, I wiped tears off my face, pulled my shoulders back, then boldly walked toward the airline cheerleading squad. With a somewhat stern face, I extended my hand forward, shook hands with each one, thanked them for a safe flight, and listened to my crotch proudly announce “It’s 8:38. It’s 8:38. It’s 8:38!!!”
Silvia put her hand over her mouth and chuckled as she whispered, “The crew is looking all around with puzzled and confused faces.” She continued, “They’re looking at the floor, at their legs, at each other, then uncomfortably at your crotch.”
Yes, they were also wondering where this strange muffled time announcement came from. Therefore, with my face still expressionless, I politely said good-bye to all nine-airline personnel, and pretended I heard absolutely nothing from my impertinent, impolite, and infuriating “TALKING CROTCH WATCH.”