Talk of the Town - Oh, say can you see? August 21 2003

A transitional view

New style on the street. Eyeglasses, most becoming. A possible trend? Not again.

It always happens. No sooner do I get a new pair of glasses than they’re rendered obsolete by the next generation of spectacle couture. I never catch up.

This has been going on for decades, ever since second grade, when earnest peering from the back row of Mrs. McSweeny’s homeroom clapped me into a pair of welding goggles. At least that was the feeling.

Those specs were every nearsighted child’s nightmare. There must have been one factory producing the same model for the entire prepubescent population of Earth during the mid-1960s: heavy, dark plastic-on-the-top rims, clear on bottom, rivets the size of railroad spikes. The only people still wearing them are British dons so wonkish they haven’t left Oxbridge since the Profumo Scandal.

It was a long visual purgatory before the oblong wire frames of high school, which afforded relief both in fashion and avoirdupois. From there, the pace picked up: aviator-style eyewear, supplemented by tint-when-you’re-outside lenses. Trouble was, they didn’t un-tint fast enough when you came back in. People at my first post-collegiate job thought I was constantly stoned. God knows I should have been, typing legal briefs all day.

Then came the prescription sunglasses. Thick prescription sunglasses. Think: trying to be cool but failing. Think balding men with ponytails. I was a ringer for Gen. Wojciech Jaruszelski, the former president of Poland. At least he had a nifty uniform.

There have been other options since: Clark Kent horn rims; small, round West German terrorist frames (the terrorists themselves were tall and lanky); elemental hues from gunmetal to copper; and, up to the present day, a rimless titanium number you can allegedly twist into pretzel shape with impunity.

My response to that dubious optometristic claim is akin to the language student who, when a professor declared the nonexistence of a double positive in English with a negative meaning, mumbled, “Yeah, yeah.”

But it must be admitted that the quantity of options pertaining to eyewear (whose purveyors will do anything not to refer to eyeglasses as eyeglasses) has grown exponentially. Do you want your lenses thin or extra-thin? How about the non-glare, non-stick, scratch-resistant coating that makes you wonder if you’re ordering a frying pan?

And the cost. The cost! My first pair was $35. (The figure is emblazoned in memory because, when I lost them after only a week’s use, my parents yelled, “Those glasses cost 35 dollars!”) That’s the sales tax on bills I get from the optometrist these days.

And while we’re here, let’s understand that the optometrist is the person who sells you eyeglasses. The ophthalmologist examines your eyes. The difference being, the latter can only announce you’re going blind. The former can bankrupt you.

When you go to the optometrist’s, the place is decorated with posters of young, sexy women wearing eyeglasses. They look so good with glasses, you wonder how they could look better without. The glasses, that is. (Shame on you.)

What are the qualifications for eyewear models? “Must be so attractive that the presence of a plastic and/or metal frame across the middle of the face will not detract from appearance.”

Yet, when you look around the waiting room, there are no young, sexy customers. Most people there resemble me. Worse than me — what with all the squinting going on. Despite the claims of eyewear poster makers, there is little romance to be found in this field of endeavor. Few couples begin their love story with the line: “We met at the optometrist’s.”

And speaking of blind, I am now an official candidate for bifocals. You discover this the day you find yourself throwing the newspaper on the floor in an effort to read. I have resisted such blatant evidence of encroaching middle age, but the eyecare industry is way ahead of me.

Because they don’t call bifocals bifocals anymore (see “eyeglasses/eyewear”). Now they’re called “transitional lenses.” Sounds like something issued to you en route to the Great Beyond. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what bifocals are. Damn those eye guys for their cosmic wisdom.

By now you’re wondering, “Why doesn’t this knucklehead just get contact lenses?” I’ve tried, and I’ve come to an accommodation with my eyes. I won’t shove slivers of foreign matter into them, and they promise not to hurt like hell.

There have been a number of red herrings, too. Such as those literary, horizontal black-frame eyeglasses that many young artistic types seem to wear. Oh no. I survived eight years of being a heavily riveted El Doofusmo. I wouldn’t go back into big frames if a dozen optometrists held me down and offered a 50 percent discount.

Unless they called in one of those eyewear models. Praise be, I can see!

Glen Slattery is on view in Alpharetta.