Sometimes when I’m driving down Dodge Street heading to Westroads for my walking the mall activity I close one eye and read the outdoor advertising signs. Dodge Street is Omaha’s major East West thoroughfare and is the same as every other main street in every other mid size American city; it contains a kaleidoscope of street level and rooftop signs, and towering billboards. At each stop light I close my left eye and squint into the distance to see which is the furthermost sign I can clearly make out. If the light is still red I switch to closing my right eye and repeat my streetscape visual acuity test. Sometimes I start to second guess myself
m …… a ……c ……c …… a ……s
only to discover when I get closer it was McDonalds. From time to time I do the squint reading thing at the Mall. But it’s not a ritual I do every time I round a corner; it could be days or weeks between when I do it. I did the squint almost daily before I had cataract surgery.
Mr Fraser our fifth form science teacher at Williamstown Technical School would perform experiments at the science bench in the front of the room. When he finished the experiment he would recreate the assembled equipment in coloured chalk on one of the front of the room blackboards. And using only white chalk he would write detailed descriptions, observations and measurements, calculations, and conclusions on the other two front boards. We neatly copied that blackboard notes that spelt out scientific laws, theories, postulates and principles into our science exercise books. As the fifth form year wore on I had more and more difficulty reading Mr Fraser’s blackboards and so I asked if I could move from the third row bench to the front row. I was again, without error, able to copy the blackboards. I didn’t tell mum or dad I had had trouble reading the board. Three years later at Footscray Tech I confessed I had trouble seeing the board. And so I got glasses. I wouldn’t wear the glasses in everyday life. I would wear them to read the boards and take them off as as soon as I left the room. I don’t remember my world being blurry and smudged or ever being asked why are you squinting. It was the late sixties and nobody admired glasses for cultivating a mischievous and cultured look.
My education was nearing an end at Footscray Tech; it was an early Sunday morning when I knew that I would wear glasses for the term of my natural life. I drove Andrew Lambrainew’s Ford Fairlane in the blackness of that early morning. I remember squinting but the street lights persisted as smudged blotches and the suburban streetscape continued as an out of focus polaroid. Fortunately the city was still sleeping; trams hadn’t started to run. I was alone driving through the blurred streets. I looked back at the reflection in the windscreen not knowing how my life was going to change. A few years later I set out on my journey searching for inspiration and idealism wearing rimless metal frame glasses. As the years flowed on I became tied to the apron stings of my glasses.
The National Gallery of Victoria is the oldest and most visited gallery in Australia. The gallery’s new St Kilda Road building opened in 1968 and no one could resist running their hand along or through the streaming water flowing down the glass window that formed the arched water wall by the entrance.
And some could not resist sticking their tongue into the falling water; and some could be heard to say:
Don’t know why they bothered it looks just like a big fish shop window.
Once inside, and before entering the Great Hall to admire the world’s largest stained glass ceiling, the curious would walk over to the water wall and linger; watching St Kilda Road from behind the cascading water. And some could be heard to say:
I wonder if the green smudge is a Holden or a tram.
Is that a bus or people queueing for tickets
What they saw was sometimes my world; rain meant foggy, smeared, wet glasses and hot humid summer days would produce sweat blotched and fogged up lenses, and glasses that slid down your nose.
Wearing glasses has advantages; by pointing to your glasses you can thwart any invitation to go biking and thus ward off wearing spandex shorts. Glasses can also circumvent accepting invitations to participate in triathlons. I’ve tried to imagine but just can’t envisage how I would perform a full body shave in the shower without wearing glasses.
At the same time Mr Fraser’s chalkboards became blurry swimming at Williamstown beach became risky. It seemed as if the tides and water currents carried every Port Phillip Bay cluster of seaweed and jelly fish into the beach. The water was as fuzzy as the blackboards so I would swim into the masses of floating gelatinous jelly fish blobs. I couldn’t avoid hitting them with my head or arms; and the more I hit them, the more my arms flailed. The jelly fish were chopped and diced and I was buried in a churning gelatinous broth, unable to avoid painful jelly fish stings to my arms and legs.
Cairns is the gateway to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms. Endless coral formations provide shelter and a home to over fifteen hundred species of fish; an aquatic landscape that has to be admired and appreciated close up. The catamaran was bobbing and floating lazily with the current and the Reef was below the water line; deep enough for a snorkel dive without having to wear a lycra body suit or stinger suit. I drifted with the other snorkellers. All I could see beneath me through the snorkel mask was a fuzzy shroud. You can’t wear glasses with a snorkel mask. I took a deep breath and duck dived. The reef was just a couple of inches from my snorkel mask, I was holding my breath and my chest was wanting to let go, and I squinted. I didn’t see a bed of coral; the reef was a blurred, shadowy, waving carpet.
Sometimes I wonder why you can’t wear your glasses when trying on new frames. You pick out a few eye catching frames and then it’s time to see how they suit you; will they provide you with a mischievous, carefree, and cultured look. You sit or stand in front of a mirror wearing a pair of the potential new frames but without lenses. Your nose is almost touching the mirror so all you see is the bridge of your nose, or the top or the lower half of the potential new frames. When you turn to the associate they inquire:
And how do we like them, they make you look quite distinguished.
I only remember getting frames at an Omaha trend setting opticians. I became known for my funky unique frames that caused people not to notice that I was wearing glasses but wearing cool frames. And I had the three, four-day, just shaved beard look. Not too wild not too neat; somewhat similar to the rebellious and free spirited hippies of the sixties aka as hipsters.
Shaving is not easy sans glasses. All you see of yourself in the mirror is a soft, fuzzy face. All it took to maintain the messy but clean look was running an electric trimmer over my face and then putting my glasses back on to pay attention to the upper cheeks, beneath the chin, and around the neck with a razor. I’ve always thought that wielding a shaving razor around your face could be hazardous so I use a 90 degree pivot head disposable four blade cartridge razor; something that would turns and doesn’t damage the skin.
When I did community theatre none of the characters I played wore glasses. I would wear glasses during rehearsals, run through, and tech week, but starting opening night my glasses stayed in the dressing room. For the run of the play fellow cast members would display strange nervous mannerisms, rituals and behaviours, or just withdraw and stay silent waiting for their cue to walk out on stage for their first entrance. I didn’t have to deal with crippling stage fright, or worry about being less than perfect, because I couldn’t see anyone or anything. All I saw on stage were fuzzy blobs. And the audience was a sea of soft fuzzy blobs.
Whenever I went to the ophthalmologist the large E on the top of their Snellen eye chart was a soft fuzzy smudge. As the associate asked phoropter questions, the smudges slowly focused into letters of the alphabet.
Can you please read the first line
p …… e …… d
Which is better one or two
Which is better one or two
Which is better one or two
they about look about the same
Are You Sure ……. One or Two
Two or One
Let’s Try Again ……… One or Two
p …… e…… c …… f …… d
And then it was time for the tonometry test. After my eyes were numbed with a yellow liquid and the tissue in my hand became streaked with yellow liquid I would rest my chin in a plastic chin rest; and look straight ahead and focus to the left of the bright slit of light. The tonometer grew larger as it moved slowly towards touching my eye. Back when, nanna developed glaucoma and cataracts, so my ophthalmologist was monitoring the cataracts that were developing in my eyes; forewarning me that surgery would be part of my future. And then the future became the present; she removed my clouded cataract lenses and replaced them with monofocal synthetic lens designed for distance vision.
A few days after the surgery on one eye I remember opening it when she removed the dressing; I saw colour for the first time since as long as I could remember. And after covering my non corrected eye the E on the top of the Snellen chart was clean and crisp. I spent the rest of the day looking at the colours I had only seen through opaque, frosty, fogged up eyes.
I wear glasses for; reading, cooking, scanning labels on the cans in the grocery aisle shelves, cutting vegetables with a sharp knife, and watching the seat back entertainment when flying. I don’t wear glasses for; daytime driving, reading alarm clocks in the morning, getting out of bed after waking up in a dark hotel room, watching television in bed, finding soap and shampoo just before getting under the shower, walking in the rain, and drinking cups of hot tea or coffee. I wear sunglasses and I’m no longer afraid getting hit in the face with a cricket ball.