North Avenue ran, as advertised, north. Not East or West, not even South. North Avenue was a one way street in a financially dubious industrial zone. There was a Remington Plant, still mostly operational, and a corner market. Of the five or six warehouses standing, only one had a functional loading bay; the rest were a mess of concertina wire, abandoned dogs, and weathered graffiti. North Avenue ran about a mile; a one-way connector between the edge of the city's financial district and the Affordable Housing Projects. The first street number was 1002, an abandoned three story Victorian with broken windows and a good size hole where the front door might have been. Remington was about a quarter mile from the Victorian and the numbers were going up, not down. The number wasn't clear but it had four digits. If there was a 220, it was hiding back at the intersection of North and Wilson.
Matt left the car in drive and took his foot off the gas; it rolled along at a steady 4 mph. He locked the doors and continued his North Avenue tour. He didn't want to drive into the Affordable Housing Projects but didn't see an option other than backing up all the way to Wilson. Affordable Housing was supposed to mean reserving a percentage of otherwise unaffordable space at a steep discount. It was housing meant to replace Projects, not expand them. He hadn't read or heard anything particularly bad about the neighborhood, but low income families were generally troubled and he didn't want any part of it.
If he'd been moving any faster, he would have missed it. About a hundred yards before the four-way stop at the end of the street, Matt looked left and saw a small dirt road running between two condemned pre-war factories. He pulled up alongside the street sign: North Avenue West. He couldn't see where the road went or what was behind the buildings, but that was for sure the street. He wondered if it had a back exit that bypassed the projects, decided it just might, and turned onto a well graded dirt road. It was either brand spanking new or maintenance went at it after every heavy rainfall. He didn't think the city was likely to give it much love other than the once a decade bare minimum required to keep the snow plows from falling into an abyss.
Matt rounded a sharp bend and hit pavement. He was at the entrance of what looked like a large medical building sitting on a dozen fortified acres of city scrub. He observed a very large 220 at the entrance, and American Ophthalmologists at the top of the building. There was an odd 'Welcome' sign hovering just over a concrete bench. The illusion was good, it seemed to hang just off the back of the bench without assistance. He decided to look later. He was already ten minutes late for an appointment he didn't really understand, but an appointment is an appointment and considerate people don't blow off appointments. Considerate people call and cancel 24 hours before the appointment. He parked the car in a mostly empty lot and hustled himself through the front doors. He was greeted by a deserted security desk and a giant arrow indicating that check in was on the third floor, West elevator bank.
The third floor receptionist looked vaguely familiar but he couldn't place her. She handed him a clipboard full of pale blue forms and a pen, and pointed to the waiting area. He was starting to panic; there appeared to be at least ten double sided forms and some of the questions were uncomfortable. Matt thought they looked like intake questions, the sort you might submit as part of a psychological profile. He thought about leaving those parts blank but decided against it. They must need the information for something and good old HIPAA would at least keep it contained, assuming they took insurance. Thirty minutes later, he returned the forms and expected to be rescheduled as he was now officially 45 minutes late. She smiled and told him to take a seat. He pulled his insurance card out of his wallet and was told, not yet, we don't charge for the initial evaluation. They'd discuss payment terms later, if he decided to proceed with treatment.
"But I'm just here for an eye exam, right?"
"Of course, but our doctors approach vision from a holistic perspective. There will be a variety of options once your evaluation is complete."
"But it's an eye exam, right?"
"Well, yes, your eyes will be thoroughly examined, don't worry!"
Matt sat down and picked up the only magazine on the table; the current edition of Mother Jones. An up close and personal portrait of a wild pig jumped off the first page. Apparently, hungry wild pigs were single handedly destroying the environment. He rolled his eyes, returned the magazine to the pile, and pulled out his phone. Absolutely zero bars and an apology from Safari for not being able to find the server. A WIFI message with a single connection popped up: AmOpHQ. Matt got up and asked if there was a guest password; the receptionist shook her head back and forth with a cute little smile and said, "No sir, we find that sort of thing distracting. It's better if you're fully present, don't you think?" Matt returned to his chair, leaned back, and closed his eyes.
"Mr. Franklin? Mr. Franklin, Doctor will see you now. It will be easier if you open your eyes for this part." The receptionist with the cute smile was standing over him with the clipboard holding his paperwork which was remanded into his custody as soon as he was on his feet. "Doctor will want this, so just hang onto it, OK?" Matt nodded and followed her down an oddly sterile hallway, and into a well lit examining room where he was instructed to sit and stay. "Doctor will be right with you!"
"Wait! This is a medical exam room! I just need an eye exam! Why am I here?"
"Holistic approach, remember? You can't just look at a single part of a person and diagnose based on isolated information. Think about it, if you went to a doctor about your knees and the doctor examined only your knees, what's the likelihood that you'd get a viable diagnosis? Zero to none, right? Most knee problems are actually symptoms of a problem in another part of the body." Did you know that over half this country is walking around with bad prescriptions because optometrists with minimal training miss something? The foundation, the very mission of American Ophthalmologists is to identify and correct the fall out."
"Yes, fallout. What do you think happens when 166 million people walk around mostly blind? It's an absolute shit show out there, or hadn't you noticed?"
Matt thought about his neighbor. Mr. Richards didn't wear glasses, but maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe he couldn't read past his own dogmatic propaganda to truly understand his political choices. Maybe he couldn't properly identify faces. Wouldn't that create a disconnect? If he had his vision properly corrected he might look at Laura a little differently, although he'd be hard pressed to defend an act of vandalism. A small, traitorous voice in the back of his head suggested it might be his wife in need of a vision correction. Not that her behavior excused his. Did it? After all, he was the one with all that frigging far left propaganda in his yard.
Mr. Richards was, in fact, a Centrist and Matt was, in fact, a card carrying member of the Conservative Right.
A tall man wearing a surgical headlight knocked and entered, his hand pre-extended as he crossed the room. Matt's right hand moved up and down, a slow yes, yes, yes; a counterweight to the receptionist's no, no, no. "Hi, Matt! I'm Doctor Evans. Welcome, glad you could make it! I see Christie's sent you back with your forms, that's excellent. We'll review the highlights together and then send the package over to the analysts."
"Oh, yah, we have a team of guys in the back who do nothing but feed this stuff into an analytical application, consolidate it with existing data, run the whole thing through a couple of algorithms, and Boom! More information about YOU in the world than you could possibly imagine. Great stuff. Couldn't do half this work without it."
"Is this part of that holistic thing Christie was talking about?"
"You bet! It's not just daily stress that affects your vision. Your personal observations and conclusions about the world have enormous impact on your physical and mental well-being. Believe it or not, your eyes take the brunt of the assault."
"I didn't know that."
"Of course not! How could you? Our mission isn't just about correcting vision, Matt; it's about correcting vision through education."
"Is that like altering perception?"
"I guess you could say that. Imagine you'd spent your entire life so nearsighted anything more than three feet past your face was a blur. This would be the baseline of your perception of reality, but it would look pretty normal, right? Let's say we gave you a pair of corrective lenses and suddenly that green patch twelve feet in front of you turned into individual blades of grass. You might experience that as a radical alteration of perception. Don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess I do, but Doctor, I really don't think there's much wrong with my vision."
"I understand, and maybe there isn't, but most people just don't know, because it's all they know."
Matt thought about Mr. Richards standing in his pajamas six inches off his bumper. Did Mr. Richards even know how close he came to becoming roadkill? A less comfortable thought; did he, Matt, really not see Richards standing at the end of his own driveway, morning paper in hand? Had Laura actually read those political statements, or had she been triggered by the the wrong sign colors?
Dr. Evans slapped himself onto the doctor's stool and scooted across the room. He flipped through Matt's forms, stopping about halfway through the pile. "OK, I'd like to start with the family dynamics in your household. I'm going to ask you to lie back and cross your arms over your chest while I slip these frames directly over your glasses. You won't see well, and the blur might be a little disorienting, but please try to keep your eyes open. You may also see images that don't make a lot of sense. That's just your brain trying to compensate for what your eyes can't see. Are you ready?"
"Sure. I'm here, might as well get it done."
"Buddy, nothing to worry about. This is a perfect example of how the unknown affects perception. And you know what? We have no idea when that's happening; we just react and believe what our vision tells us to believe."