Virtue & Mischief: Take that, Joseph Heller!


My work day consists primarily of two activities: talking to people—students, mostly—and reading (and revising) documents. When I speak with people, individually or en masse, I like to see their faces clearly, read their expressions, and look them squarely in the eyes.

Thanks to the successful lasik surgery I had over a decade ago, my distance vision is quite good and I don’t require glasses to execute that part of my job. On the other hand, when I pore over emails or draft a memorandum on my computer, I require reading glasses to do so. This division of labor and the optometric demands of each require that I constantly remove and replace my glasses, over and over and over throughout the day.

One of the predictable consequences of this repeated activity visited me on Friday. As I sat at my desk and “red-lined” a student’s letter to a prospective employer, I noticed a tiny, copper-colored object lying between my coffee cup and a binder clip. It was just a couple of millimeters long. Was it a crumb from the sandwich I had eaten earlier? I leaned forward and carefully picked it up, planning to toss it in the trash can.

It was solid. It was metallic. I placed it in my palm and brought it to my eyes. It was a screw. “What the…?” began my internal dialogue. “The only screw I’ve ever seen that resembles this one belonged to my glasses, connecting the temple to the frame. But that can’t be…can it?” I removed my glasses from my face. The right temple immediately slipped out of its hinge. “Yes,” the universe replied. “It CAN.” Apparently, the repeated motion of placing my glasses on and taking them off had gradually and imperceptibly loosened the screw connecting that temple to the right side of the frame.

I removed the remaining ¾ of my spectacles—the entire frame and the left temple—and laid them on the desk, next to the screw and the right temple. Well, now. “This is an interesting little Catch-22,” I mused silently. “I need to fix my glasses so that I can accomplish the remaining duties of my work day, some of which are due within the next couple of hours. But I can’t fix my glasses because to do so involves a delicate repair, requiring excellent close-up vision. And I don’t have excellent close-up vision without my glasses.”

“RITA!” I hollered to my assistant in the adjoining office.


“Can I borrow your glasses?”

“Ummm. Sure. They’re kinda, you know, feminine, but if you don’t care, I don’t care. Why don’t you use your own?” She walked in, handed her ornate, rose-colored glasses over to me, and spied the optometric detritus on my desk. “Oh, I see.”

I donned her glasses, withstood her “I-certainly-hope-no-one-sees-you-in-this-getup” expression, and commenced my ham-fisted repair attempt. Now I could see the diminutive screw, screw hole, and lonely hinge reasonably well, but my thick and arthritic fingers betrayed me. I had great difficulty merely plucking the screw up from the desk-top. Once I mastered that I tried six times to place it in the proper location atop the hinge from which I could screw it in and tether the frame to the temple. I failed clumsily and repeatedly. On the seventh attempt I finally succeeded and felt the exhilaration of a baby taking its first steps. I withstood the temptation to clap for myself, for I worried doing so would dislodge the screw from its hard-earned position.

Rita appeared at my door. “Tim, I’m really sorry, but a student’s here and she needs help with her Bar Exam packet. She needs to get this squared away immediately, so I’ve got to help her complete it—now.”

“Okay. Go ahead.”

“I gotta have my glasses back.”

I surmised at this point that the universe was having a pretty good laugh at my expense, and handed Rita her rosy reading glasses. I walked out of my office and across the hall to the law library. I found one of the librarians in her office and unabashedly asked if she had reading glasses.

“Sure. Here,” Maureen replied, unfazed. She handed me her equally dainty glasses without hesitation. Clearly, this was a woman who understood the fickle and bizarre machinations of the universe.

I returned to my desk, placed her glasses on my face, and considered my next step. The screw was still perched in the proper location—but now what? How was I going to screw it in? I first tried the tip of my letter opener. No good. Way too thick. Then I took a stab using the edge of the blade of an x-acto knife. The blade was the perfect width, but the angle of the handle made it impossible to turn the screw (thus securing it) without bumping into the frame of the glasses. “What would MacGyver do?” I wondered.

Hmmm. I glanced around my office. Multiple sets of revisions were due in an hour. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. Tick-tick-tick-tick went the small clock on my desk. Ten inches in front of me were perhaps 50 business cards declaring, “TIM SWENSEN, ASSISTANT DEAN, UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON SCHOOL OF LAW.” I picked one up and scrutinized it. The thickness of the card appeared about right, but it was too wide to turn the screw adequately in the tight quarters of the spectacles’ anatomy. I cut a sliver of the business card and gripped one end with the thumb and index finger of my left hand. I positioned the other end in the slot of the screw head. I rotated the card sliver clockwise (“righty-tighty!”) a quarter turn, then stopped, re-positioned my left hand and repeated. Two minutes later I completed my highly sophisticated and successful temple-reattachment operation and returned Maureen’s reading glasses.

I sat at my desk, put my glasses on, and resumed my time-sensitive work. And gave a quiet-but-gleeful Bronx cheer to the universe and Joseph Heller.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue and Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

No posts to display