When they told me I needed glasses, I did what most 11-year-olds do. I plea bargained. “How about a monocle?” “You need both eyes corrected.” No problem. “Two monocles!”
A week later, I tried out my new glasses and decided they were uncomfortable and made everything look screwy, so I didn’t wear them. I only needed them to see things in the distance, and most of a child’s world is the near field, where the comic books and snacks and televisions are. There’s no need to read freeway signs at night or to check out hot people from a safe distance. When I needed to see those unimportant things farther away, like blackboards, I could bring them into focus using an affordable, all-natural technique called squinting.
Squinting worked so well, in fact, that by my late teens the creases around my eyes made it easy to get into over-21 shows. But eventually I realized my secret myopia was creating some awkward social moments arising from people recognizing me from distances at which I couldn’t tell Raquel Welch from George Burns. They would make what they assumed was eye contact and wave or smile, which I appeared to ignore. Or they would call out something like, “Did you get my phone call?” If I couldn’t place the voice, I would have to either ask them who they were (“I’m your mother, you idiot”), or stall until I could get closer, or just say, “Which call?” in hopes they would provide a few more clues about their identity. It got tiresome. I had also recently seen Night of the Living Dead and became concerned I might not recognize a zombie until it was too late.
My job at the time involved building scenery for plays, and an ongoing need for eye protection was the selling point that finally brought me into the world of clear sight, a world with cobwebs on the ceiling and more than one kind of bird. I picked out some frames all by myself, which was a mistake. I became the exception to the rule that glasses make you look smarter. These frames made people want to hit guys with glasses. But they did save my eye from being shot out by a nail gun, so at least they died a noble death.
In my thirties, I modified my twin monocle dream and got contacts, though I was apprehensive about putting things in my eyes. My optometrist (Ophthalmologist? Optician? Obstetrician? I get them mixed up), who clearly had a peeve about this, said, “You’re not putting it in your eye. You’re putting it on your eye.” Contacts sounded freaky, but not as freaky as having somebody shoot laser beams into your corneas. I make it a point not to undergo any medical procedure that would have sounded batshit crazy just 10 years earlier. “Never be an early adopter where lasers or soothing music are involved,” I always say.
As I struggled to stick a contact in my eye, sorry, on my eye, I reflected on how I was once a carefree boy, happily ignorant of anything scary outside my focal range. But now, vision standards raised, my hand was trying to pry open an eye that had quite reasonably clamped shut after seeing the other hand approach it with what appeared to be a shard of glass. I wondered, how much more complicated is this “seeing” thing going to get?
That answer becomes clear after turning 45, unlike Sunset magazine pages. Smug fighter-pilot types who have never needed any correction resist reading glasses the longest. They hold the menu ever farther from their face, which to the young seems stupid, because obviously to get a closer look at something you look closer. A deeper step of denial is pretending to read the menu, and then going with the waiter’s recommendation. But eventually, everybody gives in. If you already wear glasses, you can get bifocals, with which you can read only if you look through the lower part of the lenses. It’s generally not a flattering look; peering down your nose at the menu with that weird stretch-your-face expression makes you look like a aristocratic snob visibly repulsed by the wine list.
It’s better to just get a pair of cheap readers from the drug store, which you’ll probably lose within hours. They seem to scuttle about and hide themselves when your back is turned, so buy a dozen and scatter them all around your life to improve your odds of finding a pair when you need them. (There’s a reason nobody owns just one pen. Or you can hang them around your neck, but watch out that they don’t accumulate crumbs that will cascade down your cheeks the next time you put them on. I saw that happen to an elderly friend once, and I felt really bad about how hard I laughed.
I can see fine up close unless my contacts are in (on). They make it harder to read for an extended period of time, so if I’m spending the day on the beach with a book, reading glasses help. But it’s bright, so I’d need to put my shades on over those. Ultimately I’m looking through three pairs of lenses to achieve what I can do at home with none. “Steampunk” designers often come up with complex-looking eyewear featuring interchangeable lenses. It’s an appealing idea (“one lens to rule them all”), and some companies have been working on making prescription glasses with variable focus. There’s one on the market right now; it’s got round lenses that change focus when you operate a slider on the bridge. They go by the dorky name Superfocus and they make you look like a middle-aged Harry Potter fanboy. Still, I like where they’re headed and I’d be willing to break my early adopter rule when the manufacturer calls me to provide a glowing endorsement—because those glasses aren’t cheap, but writers are.