You don’t know you can’t see until you can.
Of course, I could see before that fateful day as a 12-year-old, but not with much clarity. When I finally got glasses, I stood in amazement outside the old Eye & Ear Clinic, staring at each individual leaf on a nearby tree.
The Eye & Ear Clinic has long since been replaced in that spot by the Charleston Surgical Hospital. I revisited the facility last year, at age 56, for a colonoscopy. I don’t have near as much fondness for that memory compared to what I will always recall as “Glasses Acquisition Day, 1978.”
Dr. Holt used to be the top dog at Eye & Ear. He had sort of a Southern accent — not an Appalachian one — and talked in a calm, reassuring manner.
“OK, what looks better,” came the rumbling melody. “No. 1 or No. 2? No. 1 or No. 2?”
True to my fretful nature, though, I wondered if I answered the questions correctly. As one slide went away, another appeared, with the same No. 1, No. 2 routine. What if I flunked? Would I not get glasses?
But I did get a pair, and wow. Who knew about leaves on trees? Who knew you could see for miles and know what you were looking at? So began my love-hate relationship with spectacles.
Contact lenses and I have had a few brief flings, but I never wanted the kind you leave in your eyes for a month and throw away. Sounds like an infection begging to happen. Neither did they change me into the dashing, handsome man I had longed to be. And I got tired of screwing with the everyday ones.
Glasses are the tried and true. Put them on and they work. But they are fragile creatures. Once long ago, I was loafing in the gym during basketball practice and an errant pass smacked me in the head, launching the specs off my head, lenses separate, and temple broken.
Like Ralphie’s plight in “A Christmas Story,” news of broken glasses doesn’t go over well in modest-income households. By the way, Ralphie’s BB gun had quite the recoil.
In online dating profiles of the past, I’d always say I wore “trendy” glasses. Apparently not trendy enough. And just how trendy can they be? Brad Pitt could wear Woody Allen’s glasses or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s goggles and they’d look trendy.
It came time to get a new pair the other day. The exams these days are a little more sophisticated than the old “1-or-2?” eye chart, although that’s still part of the program. The lady asked me to focus on what looked like a submarine propeller as it pushed past trippy-looking space designs on the side. We had to do it again because I wasn’t fixating on the propeller. Huh.
The current specs had to go because whatever coating placed on them four years ago gave way, leaving weird spots and blemishes. But my eyes didn’t need further correction, as it turns out. My eyesight is the only thing getting better with age.
Those flawed lenses have had me leaving my glasses off if I’m not leaving a room or trying to watch TV. I don’t need them to see up close. Taking them off, however, means you need to find them, blind as a bat. Always an adventure.
Lately, I’ve worn the Vince Lombardi horned rims, which, when combined with a fedora, make me favor the Packers gridiron god. At least that’s what some guy at the YMCA told me. Vince had a full head of hair and a moody disposition. I possess one of those two things.
The plan called for keeping the frames and swapping out the lenses. OK, another lady said, but you’ll have to send the frames to the lab.
“Can you do without them for a week or so?” she asked.