A Spectacle of Myself

Ever since I can remember I have always wanted to wear glasses.  I grew up before contact lenses or LASIK surgery became available, and to me anybody who wore glasses was immediately unique.  How many times did I sit at the school lunchroom table and alternatively try on everyone else’s glasses with insightful comments on the pros and cons of each choice?  I think that I was fascinated because, unlike a wardrobe of clothes, generally my classmates only had one pair of glasses which became a fundamental part of their appearance and persona.  Certainly, there was not the endless variety of frames that are available today – back then for girls the basic choice was whether to go cat’s eye or not – but nonetheless, the frame selection seemed to make a certain statement about the wearer.  What a quick and easy way to announce – I’m quirky, I’m eccentric, I’m traditional, I’m studious etc, with one easy facial accessory.  While more flexible, creating a similar statement with clothes called for a more concentrated and sustained effort, requiring an ensemble of shoes, skirt, shirt and tights, which constantly needed upgrading and refining. 

So it was with some delight that I discovered that I was unable to read the aisle markers in the grocery store.  Once I realized this, I also discovered that I was probably a hazardous driver since it was difficult to find exits and read other important signage.  But at the same time, I knew that I could still read close up, much to the chagrin of younger friends who had succumbed to bifocals.  Experimenting with one eye closed and then the other, I made the curious discovery that I was now equipped with one far-sighted and near sighted eye, and that I was basically relying on monocular vision with either my left or right eye, depending on whether I was lost in the grocery store or phone book, respectively.  A trip to the optometrist confirmed the obvious, and I left my appointment with a prescription for lenses to correct my astigmatism, farsightedness and nearsightedness.  So after close to 50 years I had achieved my goal to wear glasses.

While pleased to have the opportunity to announce my personality with my glasses choice, I also realized that I now had the more challenging task of defining the announcement.  With the vast selection in glasses frames, the choices were virtually limitless.  In my mind the look I was going for was retro, with dark frames on top, and no frame on the bottom.  Think Vince Lombardi, Malcolm X, or perhaps your grade school nurse or science teacher.  I think that the statement I wanted to make was that I was not into fashion – although my wardrobe alone would make this painfully obvious – but that I also was not willing to follow the crowd and buy either traditional tortoise shell frames or wire rim frames.  I wanted to create a look of funky anti-fashion timelessness. 

 But clearly, such an important decision should not be made in isolation.  An occasional disastrous clothing purchase can be rectified by quietly storing the offending item at the back of the closet, but with glasses you must live with your mistake – it essentially staresback at you in the mirror every morning.  So I headed off to Pearle Vision in the company of my husband and Andrea, a very fashion conscious work colleague.  Immediately the challenge became even more formidable.  First, Malcolm X type glasses apparently did not exist, and the prices for frames were truly astonishing.  One pair consisted of a small piece of plastic for the bridge of the nose – coming in various bright colors – and skinny plastic arms.  The most substantial component of these $200 frames appeared to be the lenses, but of course the lenses were just props and were there just for show – real lenses were at least another $100.  So your $200 purchase essentially bought you three small pieces of plastic, which in materials probably would cost no more than $5.  The profit margins on glasses must be extraordinary.  No wonder it seems that both designers and non designers license glasses, from Ralph Lauren to Sophia Loren.  And no wonder people generally only buy one set of frames – with the exception of the glitterati, such as Elton John.

It was clear that Nick and Andrea had not warmed up to my description of a funky retro look and were lobbying hard for a pair of tortoise shell glasses, whose only distinction was a small hint of blue amongst the brown hues.  This did not meet my specifications at all.  I think that this is probably the only time that I have consciously succumbed to peer pressure, and I left the store with the glasses on order.  When they arrived, they vastly improved my vision, but that seemed to be beside the point.  I had disappointed myself, and found that I did not really absolutely need to wear glasses, as this monocular vision thing seemed to be adequate.  I never wore the glasses and eventually they got lost in the shuffle.

About two years later I went on another glasses expedition with my brother Tim.  He had said that he knew of a great glasses shop in Chicago and that he had successfully helped others refine their image through their frames.  One great thing about Tim is that he is not afraid to spend money.  He absolutely nixed the notion that you need to limit yourself to one pair of frames.  If you consider the amount of clothing that you buy every year, and the fact that much doesn’t really fit, can only be worn in certain seasons, or is just a mistake, the purchase of more than one set of frames does not seem out of line.  He was absolutely correct, and I felt liberated.  Additionally, at this point, I did want to have reading glasses, so now I was in the market for three pairs of glasses – one reading, one distance and one for variety.  

The first stop was the Visual Effects shop in the Clyborn Corridor.  Again, my funky retro glasses did not seem to exist, and the prices were exorbitant, but I dug in.  The first thing that I noticed is that when you buy glasses you spend a huge amount of time looking at yourself dead on in the mirror.  Virtually all my clothes are purchased from a catalog, and I just don’t spend that much time in front of the mirror in careful scrutiny.  Therefore, it is somewhat ironic that I was looking for glasses to make a statement that I would essentially rarely see.  And I began to notice details for the first time.  Hmm, I could use a little Botox between the eyes to address the “chapter 11” wrinkle, my mouth seems to be exceptionally small (I subsequently measured it at 2 inches) and my ear lobes could be trimmed down.  Despite these distractions, I managed to leave the store with two pairs of glasses, one that approached (but did not meet) my ideal in that they did indeed remind me of my grade school nurse Mrs. Easton.  The next store was a high priced boutique on Michigan Avenue, but the dam had been burst and I was ready to lay down some serious money.  I immediately glommed on to a pair of brightish blue frames, which strayed from my original strategy of anti-fashion timelessness, but I was on a roll.

Now of course I had my glasses, unfettered by peer pressure, glasses that were mine alone, but I frankly I did not feel confident enough to wear them.  I occasionally used the reading glasses when I could remember where I put them, and used the others only for driving or watching movies. While glasses for driving would ostensibly make me a safer driver, it probably had the opposite effect, as I constantly sneaked peaks at myself in the rear view mirror, wondering if I had made the correct choice.

While I wore these glasses on and off for several years, I still clung to my original plan.  There were ample examples of just the glasses that I was looking for in news reels and period movies.  The movie “Quiz Show” relives the scandal of the 64,000 Question game show that occurred in the early sixties.  In one scene, the camera pans the studio audience, and I swear about every third woman was wearing my ideal glasses.  I can imagine the propmaster given the task of outfitting the audience.  Again, this is before contact lenses, so I imagine somebody somewhere had calculated the percentage of

Americans who wore glasses and the styles available.  In a more recent movie, “Catch Me if You Can,” Tom Hanks plays a 60s FBI agent who is tracking down a teenage check kiter.  Again, the perfect glasses.  When the movie skips a few years, the costumer needed to make Tom Hanks look a bit older, so when Tom reappears he has traded in the perfect frames for a pair of wire rims.  I have noticed that this is a standard movie tactic, i.e. to portray the passage of time, glasses frames are changed or a beard is grown or shaved off.

I also further investigated my theory that glasses more accurately reflected a personality than clothing by complimenting people on their glasses.  This generally had an extremely positive effect; random strangers were also immensely pleased at the recognition, more so than if you said, “Nice hat,” or “Nice shoes.”  If I truly liked the glasses I would always ask where they bought them, which further bolstered the initial compliment.  I was visiting relatives in Northeast Vermont, which is home to an impressive collection of creative people, including craftspeople, artists, performers, all of whom seem delight in the offbeat.  We were attending a performance of the Bread and Puppet Circus, which was presented in a field with a variety of different acts going on.  At one point, I was sitting next to a young women with incredibly long armpit hair, a pungent lived-in odor and a great pair of glasses.  As we watched the performers waft through the adjacent woods wearing oversized masks, I nudged the woman and said, “I really like your glasses, where did you get them?”   She looked at me with an appreciative smile and said, “Yes, aren’t these great, last year I found them in the field.”  

This past spring I participated in a bird banding project, which consisted of getting up really early in the morning, setting up nets in the woods, and then waiting for birds to get tangled in the nets.  We would then fan out, check each net, laboriously extract the bird from the net, and then return to the central station where the bird would be weighed, measured, banded and then set free.  I was stationed at one net with my feet deep in the spring muck and trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to remove a small blue winged warbler, who was flapping and squawking and generally making life difficult.   My neighbor at the net was an older man, who was struggling with a northern waterthrush.  When I looked up to ask him for help, I noticed he was wearing the perfect glasses.   I said, “Boy these birds are a nightmare.  But by the way, were did you get your glasses?”  He replied, “Yes, I can’t seem to get this net off the wing.  You won’t believe it, but I have had these glasses for over 35 years.  I got them when I was in college in 1965!”

I was astonished.  Here was a man who was so comfortable with his image that he had not seen the need to change his glasses, through the hippy days of the 60s, the disco craze of the 70s, the me decade of the 90s, and whatever it was we were living through now.  And I think that through all these decades, these glasses would never have been thought of as fashionable – looking nerdy in the 60s and retro for the next three decades.  Perfect.  This man was my role model.  I asked him, “I don’t suppose you know where you got them?”  This seemed to be the stupidest of questions, since it seemed improbable that any store would carry the same glasses for almost 40 years.  He said, “Well all I know is that they are called Shuron.”

When the birdbanding was over – at 7:30 AM – I rushed home and typed in “Shuron” to Google, and sure enough the company still existed and still sold the same model for the relative bargain of $100.  I was in orbit.  I quickly ordered a pair and excitedly thought that quest for perfect glasses was finally coming to fruition.  They arrived and with great anticipation I put them.  And though I was filled with pent up desire and dreams of making the perfect statement, there was no way around it – they looked AWFUL.  Far from funky, they were just plain unattractive and distracting and just all wrong.  My carefully crafted self image, one that I had held on to for over 10 years just went up in smoke.  It was a painful moment. 

Once I had assimilated my disappointment Plan B was relatively simple.  I no longer looked to glasses as a vehicle for self definition, but just wanted something serviceable.  I also realized that I had developed a nasty habit of losing glasses, so that of the 4 pairs I had originally purchased, none remained and once again I trudged off to the glasses store with a heavy heart.  I picked out nothing special, but nonetheless $170 of nothing special, and wandered around the store while the clerk was writing the receipt up.  Off in the corner I spied a dusty old pair that had a certain timeless dignity about them.  “How much are these?” I asked.  “Oh you don’t want them,” the clerk answered, “they are reading glasses.”  I realized that I could take the standard reading lenses out of them and put in my prescription lenses, so I pressed ahead, “How much are they?”  To my astonishment and delight the clerk said, “Those are eight bucks.”  And while the style was maybe not perfect, the statement that I was saying, at least to myself, was at least I did not get suckered into buying another overpriced pair of frames.  Perfect.

The missing words in the following poem are a set of anagrams (like spot, stop, post) and the number of dashes indicate the number of letters.  One of the anagrams will rhyme with either the preceding or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

 Are their parts of your personality that are ——-

 Or maybe your self image could use a bit of retooling?

 But if a complete makeover is ——- you,

 I have a solution for a sure fire switcheroo

 ——- yourself and buy new glasses to make people aware

 That you can hip, chic or square depending on the pair.

 *

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

Answer: dueling, eluding, indulge

Posted in

Leave a Comment