An old man in denial in Cayucos

Dell Franklin and Wilbur

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted biweekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin.


This piece has nothing to do with the gentrification of Cayucos, but instead, the sad and alarming story of an old man (me) who was convinced he still looked young and was also, as a confirmed bachelor, a fairly good housekeeper.

Then I had cataract surgery in my right eye and elected to splurge on the miraculous toric lens because, as a passionate reader, I was having a terrible time reading, the print blurring and going dark even with bifocals.

Otherwise, though, I seemed to be seeing things okay and was not color blind, and when I looked in the mirror I saw a mop of brown hair barely tinged with gray and all of it still standing, for an old man with a wealthy mane of hair looks considerably younger than a bald old man.

I was pretty proud of my looks and for years had argued with Miranda, my lady friend of 30 years, that my hair had not turned gray as she insisted it had.

Well, when I awakened the following morning after cataract surgery and took off the eye patch and hurried to gaze into the mirror at myself, I was shocked and brutally demoralized at what I saw. My hair had not a tinge of brown, in fact was gray with tinges of silver. The beard I’d been growing, which I felt was neatly clipped and shaped to precision with scissors, was a misshapen mess, sprouting here and there. My once seemingly smooth face was a welter of wrinkles and actual crags, and there were bags under my eyes.

I  hadn’t slept well after the surgery and looked, at 77, like a decrepit 85-year-old, a scrofulous old duffer.

In shock, I walked into another room muttering to myself, returned to the bathroom and again inspected myself and broke out laughing. My sight was so crystalline that every pore was exposed. I brought out the clippers and carefully snipped at my now mostly salt-with-specks-of-pepper beard which I had thought was mostly pepper-with-specks-of-salt.

Since I could  now actually see, it appeared I did a pretty decent job. I peered at my teeth and rejoiced that they weren’t yellow and corroded.

Then, in the kitchen, as I began to prepare my coffee, I couldn’t help but glance at the floor, and again I was aghast at what I saw. It was filthy, caked with brown smudges. The corners under shelves were littered with dog hair and dust and dirt. The low cupboards were streaked with gunk that had dripped from the counter, as I have been cooking just about every day and night during this pandemic for nearly a year now.

I got out the broom and swept, then mopped and scrubbed the damn kitchen floor twice as my dog looked on, shocked at this unusual whirlwind of activity.

All day long new reminders of my sloppiness and negligence continued to pop up. Dust was everywhere and on top of everything. Had I dusted much? No. Why dust when you can’t see any dust? I went on a dusting rampage, filling the air with sifting motes of dust, batting it away with my duster, and sneezing.

The following day, after snipping a nest of nose hairs with my scissors, came the stove. Out came the steel wool. My arthritic finger joints stiffened and throbbed, but I plodded on.

I walked around with a soapy wet rag and dabbed here and there at everything in the tiny house. The bathroom, my pride and joy, which I felt was immaculate, was not. Sweeping and mopping, dusting and scraping.

I’m still at least 35% behind, but I can read again. And when I finally was able to play tennis and dreaded hitting on the side of the court with shadows, I no longer lost the ball in these shadows and had to back up and be handcuffed, but saw the ball clear a bright pathway through the shadows, and I easily lashed it and found, after ten minutes of eye-fluttering, that my game picked up a good 25%.

For years I put off cataract surgery because, like a lot of old men, I was in denial and hated going to doctors and am generally so steeped in laziness during an extended retirement that I dawdle and procrastinate and often find myself forgetting, or downright refusing, to do what I’m supposed to do while doing absolutely nothing and having absolutely nothing to do most of the time anyway.

But I can now donate enough time to peer into the bathroom mirror with my new good eye closed and observe the old brown-haired near wrinkle-free face, and then close my old bad eye and laugh out loud at the wizened, grizzled visage that gleams out at me, every wretched detail highlighted, like the first technicolor movie, bringing me back to the coldblooded reality of my descent into the final stages of utter dissipation.

All you can do is laugh.