All I wanted for Christmas — all I’ve ever really wanted for Christmas — is 20/20 vision. Or 20/20-ish vision. Which means finding a really good pair of specs. But nearly all my life, I’ve been making a spectacle of myself in the process.
When I was very young, I was diagnosed with something called a lazy eye. Even in those far-off days, I was struck by how unprofessional, how unmedical this diagnosis sounded. But I was stuck with it. Ophthalmologists, eye doctors, opticians and a special kind of occupational therapy (which apparently trained the lazy eye to focus, but in fact just got you teased by your peers, because it looked like you were sewing) were my lot.
We all know, thank you Dorothy Parker, that men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses and that is fine, because men have been making an awful lot of passes of late and they are by no means always welcome. But what about boys who wear glasses? I’ll tell you what — they get ridiculed a lot, especially if they are British National Health glasses. National Health glasses — in other words, free eyewear, offered by the state — are what Harry Potter wears and, indeed, the boy wizard has given them a kind of respectability, even desirability. The expression “geek chic” springs to mind. But in my day, National Health specs were not chic. They were considered hideously ugly and derided by everybody — even those unlucky enough to have to wear them. The day I lost them I celebrated by eating two packets of Starbursts and a Mars bar straight off, even though I could hardly see to get the wrappers off.
In England, nowadays, there is a shop called Vision Express. A better name would be Vision Extremely Slow, because it seems to me that whenever you go into Vision Express, the one pair of frames you pick, out of a choice of around 13 million, is the one pair that is not available. So instead of your glasses being ready the same afternoon, which is the fast turnaround that the Vision Express business is predicated upon, you will be lucky if they are ready by two weeks next Thursday, which is when Vision Express generally tells you — or at least me — to come back. Now, I appreciate of course that Vision Extremely Slow is not half as catchy a name, but at least it would have the benefit of truthfulness, and also not raising the poor, shortsighted customer’s expectations, only to dash them to the ground, which is not a good thing to do in retail.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with different colored glasses, or I should say frames. I have tried blue frames and green frames and purple frames and tortoise-shell frames. I have tried frames so weird and so wacky they make Elton John look as prim as a librarian.
And, of course, there were the contact lens years, born out of vanity primped with a nod to pragmatism, encouraged by the pleasing, clean aesthetic of the rectangular, blue and white Acuvue packaging, like a personal gift each time you open a fresh box. I also loved the politically incorrect, single-use, extravagant fresh-pair-daily approach, the very name “daily disposable” suggesting profligate luxury. But you know what? Even daily disposables became too much of a bind, what with the dry eye and the dust and forgetting to remove them last thing at night and the chore of popping them in first thing in the morning. And worst of all, the running out, because, somehow, I was forever on my last box of lenses.
I’m back to regular specs now. And, at last, in reasonably respectable, or should that be “respectacle,” middle age, I am finally happy with my eyewear. There are two reasons for this. First, I have discovered Walmart, where it is perfectly possible to buy a pair of respectable spectacles for less than the price of a private island. Well, the frames at least are reasonably priced — I recently paid only $15 for a pair of lovely frames, which honestly could hold their own with any number of so-called designer frames, and which could only be improved upon price-wise if you sat down to make your own with a wire coat hanger or some pipe-cleaners and even yours truly is not going to go that far to save a few bucks.
And second, I have found what I believe is the perfect style, a simple black frame, which is neither too big nor too small, nothing statement-y about it, which just disappears into your face as much as much as it is possible for a spectacle frame to disappear, while saying nothing about the wearer, his political beliefs or proclivities.
And, what’s more, I actually see quite well in them. When I wear them, that is.
At a seminar in Mexico recently, seeking a bit of downtime, I unwisely walked into the hotel’s cobalt blue pool wearing only my swimming goggles (and my bathing suit, obviously) but not my glasses. Well, it’s difficult to wear goggles and glasses at the same time and I wanted to do laps. I promptly walked into the chrome hand rail at the deep-end, which caught me in quite an unfortunate place. I can tell you, dear reader, I winced, although I continued to smile, as I do think a sunny countenance is important. The pain wore off after a short time and I commenced my laps. Keep going in a straight line, I told myself, and turn around when you reach the wall. What can go wrong? And indeed, nothing did go wrong for a little while and I swam a few laps, happy as a halibut, or whichever fish it is that is supposed to be blissfully happy.
But when I came up for air, I accidentally upended another hotel guest whom I had not previously noticed, the way a rhinoceros might turf a smaller mammal out of the watering hole with his snout. Naturally, I apologized profusely. “You haven’t a clue who I am, have you” said the guest, whose voice I thought I recognized, but could not quite place. “Er, no, not really,” I conceded, since in truth I couldn’t see a darn thing. “I’m your friend, Bruce,” said the voice. And so it was. My dear friend Bruce, with whom I had been enjoying a cocktail only hours earlier.
The truth of the matter is, I am always making a spectacle of myself, whether I am wearing glasses or not.