Sunday, February 22, 2004

Lunettes de Miel

Amilcare Carruga realized that perhaps the thrill of his new glasses had been the last of his life, and now it was over

-- Italo Calvino, "The Adventure Of A Nearsighted Man."

I love wearing glasses. I really do harbor an inner Elton John. I've worn them since seventh grade, for nearsightedness and slight astigmatism.Glasses and I had a brief falling out after the need for bifocals kicked in, but we have reconciled.

My first optometrist was a pleasant, ungainly man who talked very fast and mumbled so he was hard to understand. A friend of my parents, he had a narrow storefront dispensary in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I loved everything about going to his shop except his breath up close as he looked at my retina through the ophthalmoscope.

I especially liked trying on frames. Even then I loved glasses. Oddly enough, I've had plenty of pairs that I have not liked. In fact, I have yet to find the perfect pair. My first frames were a blue cats-eye number, ugly and wrong by any account. My second pair, for some reason, was a gray copy of the awful first. Then came some oval plastic horn rims, and a succession of coated wire-rimmed variants in tortoise shell, red and black. There was a gold rimmed pair, maybe even two, and a couple of ill-considered and owlishly huge plastic frames, one beige and the other a strange green-black.

I have my father, the dear Raul Stanati's, army issue world war two eyeglasses. They are delicate gold rims with cable ear pieces. Very, very beautiful. They are the UR-glasses in my optometric life. Iconic. A precious artifact. As are the horn rims Raul wore in the 50s and 60s along with his age-of-anxiety crewcut.

There is a distinct oedipal aspect to my eyeglass life. My mother had a pair of glamorous, pale horn rims that she kept in her drawer with her handkerchiefs and costume jewelry. They smelled like her: tobacco, perfume, ballpoint pens. She'd worn them in college, she explained. For typing. I never actually saw her wear those beautiful glasses. I want to wear glasses I thought, seeing them.

Wearing glasses was glamorously intellectual. One could cultivate so many sophisticated gestures with them, like sucking pensively on an earpiece, or pushing them up on top of one's head, or even pushing them absently up the bridge of one's nose. I simply had to have glasses. Nature cooperated: the blackboard blurred, and I was taken to the eye doctor.

My most nearly perfect glasses have been recent. I was heartbroken when an optometrist refused to replace the lenses in my ten year old round, reddish, light-brown horn rims with a new prescription, afraid that the plastic had become brittle and might break. He didn't want to be liable for that, he said. Luckily, I found a pair of coppery/bronze roundish wire rims that I like, and that have held up beautifully. I have a second pair of glasses -- plastic rims, a dark uniform ruddy brown, round but strangely flat on top, that are strangely severe. I feel like Cynthia Ozick in them. I wish I could say they make me think and write like her. Alas, they do not.

Nowadays, glasses have all become narrow, slit-like little jobs. I hate them. Narrow glasses look wrong on my big, squarish face. Plus, wearing them is like peering through keyholes.

I resent the little narrow glasses with an unreasonable resentment. They make people look like stock brokers. In MY day, we all wanted glasses that that made us look like Trotsky or John Lennon. Round glasses. I rest my case.

I tried to buy sunglasses last year with a Christmas gift certificate from the ever-thoughtful DK. I went to the local McEyeglass joint and, cheapskate that I am, bought a pair of little narrow sunglasses. Ugh ugh ugh. What a mistake. I hated them instantly. They made me feel ugly and dorky. I felt like small children were running from me in fear when I wore them.

Last September, on the day of my infamous auto wreck, I had been planning to bring the beautiful but brittle round hornrims to the glasses joint to get the lenses tinted. I'd set them aside on my desk for that purpose. I would do it later that day, after bringing the cat to the vet. Well, I certainly got sidetracked. Somehow, the accident seems linked to that plan to tint the beautiful old glasses.

The other day I realized that one can probably buy glasses on the internet. So I googled eyeglasses. And soon I was in glasses paradise. I found these and these and these and these and these -- the glasses of my dreams, lovely round frames in a world of sneeringly narrow ones. A small ember of glasseslust burns in my breast, kept in check for now by my inner skinflint. Who knows what will happen after my next eye exam, which I can schedule as early as next month according to the measured generosity of my HMO.

Until then, I am comforted to know that there are enclaves of round glasses in this narrow-eyed world.

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