Friday, July 28, 2000

Not With My Eyeball You Don't

I have one major phobia, and it has to do with a body part. No, not that one, thanks for asking. You’d think that if there were one body part I’d be particularly sensitive about, considering the fact that I talk for a living, it would be my throat or mouth, but it’s not.

It’s my eyes.

I can’t put anything close to my eyeball except for my own eyelid. If I get a piece of dust or something in my eye, I’m out of action for several minutes while I go into a mild panic until it’s out of there. If my eyesight ever goes south, I’ll wear glasses forever because I could never put a contact lens in. I can’t even watch other people put them in. I have to look away and grimace.

That’s why I am not jumping with excitement at the announcement this week of the latest affront to eyeball safety.

At the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, they are testing a new device called EyeTicket. No, not E-Ticket, the electronic ticketing system that was supposed to cut down on paperwork but instead made you paranoid that your reservation didn’t exist because you didn’t have printed proof.

This is EyeTicket, another system by which you don’t need a paper ticket. You also don’t need to show the airline counter clerk a photo ID or anything else tangible to prove who you are and where you’re going. All you need is your eyeball.

With this new system, you put your face up to a device which then scans your eyeball. Because eyeballs are even more unique identifiers than fingerprints, the computer instantly knows who you are and can recall your reservation more easily and quickly.

Naturally, the manufacturer claims it’s absolutely safe to use. But just off the top of my head, I can think of three good reasons why I (and my eyeballs) won’t be going anywhere near this EyeTicket gadget.

1) Anyone who has seen the movies “Never Say Never Again” (the one where Sean Connery returned as Bond) or “Demolition Man” (the Stallone-Snipes-Bullock one that’s so bad it’s campy-funny), knows that these eye-scan systems can be easily subverted by some sicko who rips your eyeball out of your head, sticks it on a pencil point, and – whammo! – your identity is stolen. Granted, your identity is of little use to you anymore because you’re lying somewhere bleeding to death out of your empty eye socket, but that’s not the point.

2) These eye-scanners will no doubt be operated by the same high-tech-savvy geniuses who now control the x-ray and metal detectors at the airport security checkpoint. I have less confidence in them than I do in the kid operating the french fry vat at Hardee’s. After all, when he hears a beeping sound, he doesn’t take you into the back room for a full body cavity strip search, just because you forgot that the sunglasses in your shirt pocket have metal rims.

3) Most importantly, I have this incredible eye phobia.

Several years ago, I woke up one day with a weird throbbing just under my right eye. It was as if I could feel my heartbeat in some tiny capillary just beneath the surface of my lower eyelid. Rubbing it didn’t help; nothing did.

I whined to my wife about it on and off throughout the day until she finally ordered me to go to an eye doctor the next morning. Notice I didn’t say “my eye doctor.” The only time I ever had my eyes checked was as a kid in elementary school (you remember, it was the same day as the finger-next-to-the-ear audiology test) and as an adult at the motor vehicle department at license renewal time.

Fortunately, right around the corner from where I worked was the office of an eye doctor whose sign I had seen, so I knew his name. I called him and he said that he had heard of this happening to many people who weren’t getting enough sleep, and it was the body’s way of sending up a warning flare. I asked him what I could do about it and he told me to come in first thing the next morning. I agreed, but told him that I was sure I’d get absolutely no sleep that night just worrying about it.

Trust me when I tell you it is nearly impossible to sleep when you can feel your heart pounding in your eye socket. And if you do drift off to sleep, even for just a few minutes, you will have nothing but weird dreams about exploding eyeballs, which do a pretty good job of waking you right back up again, this time in a cold sweat.

When I got to his office, I was far from rested, which only increased my anxiety. That was exacerbated when I went into the exam room and the doctor sat me down in front of a machine that looked like some ten year old’s erector set version of The Iron Giant’s colon, assembled inside out without so much as a glance at the instructions.

The doctor told me to sit calmly while he brought this monstrosity closer to get a good look at my still-throbbing eye. As soon as the device got within an inch of my eyeball, I flinched out of the way involuntarily. Apologizing, I tried again. Same thing. One more time? Sorry, not gonna happen.

Finally, he called the nurse in. I assumed her job was to assist in strapping me into the machine. Instead, she asked if I would tilt my head back so she could take a look at my eye. Being a male human, I immediately interpreted this as flirting. So, to impress her, I did as she requested.

That’s when I felt the burning sensation. While I had suavely leaned my head back into her hands, the evil doctor had swooped in and squirted some eyedrops in my eye. As he said, “That should do it,” the nurse released my head. Or, she may have let go out of surprise, because at that moment I let out a yowl that woke up several dogs in nearby counties.

Regardless, I wasn’t happy. He asked if I could still feel the throbbing, and I replied that all I could feel was his napalm burning my cornea to a cinder.

He explained that the effect of the drops would wear off in about an hour and then I should be fine. I left the office, cursing him each time I blindly bumped into every doorway. To my surprise, an hour later, the burning sensation did in fact wear off and the throbbing was gone.

Sure, I was grateful. But I swore two things that day: I would never return to his opthamological torture chamber except under extreme sedation, and I would always carry a printed airline ticket, so that no minimum-wage-earning airport rent-a-cop could ever incinerate my iris.

I’d rather stand in line and throb, if you don’t mind.