I am sitting in a mechanical looking chair with a mechanical looking device pulled up close to my face. The room is dark. There is the sound of a projector humming in the background. An image with a pyramid of letters is on the wall about 8 feet in front of me. I am 6 years old and scared to death.
“Is this better or worse?”
I’m looking at a fuzzy row of letters. F D O Z T E S P
“Maybe a little worse.”
“Is this any clearer?”
“I’m not sure, a little bit I think.”
My entire visionary future depends on whether or not I can answer the Doc’s questions accurately. What if I make a mistake? What if the little lens three questions back was really the most clear one and not the one I chose? How in the world can a major decision like this depend on the judgment of a kid? I mean, the reason I’m sitting in this chair in the first place is because I can’t see very well.
It all started when my First Grade class was lined up at school to read the eye chart. I could make out the big E and that was about it. I didn’t tell my parents because I didn’t want to wear glasses. But Miss Betty knew my folks and told them about my eye test.
Later that week, my parents took us out for a burger and a shake. We were sitting in the parking lot at the Brazier Burger in Griffin. The menu was on a big sign just out front of the windshield. You place your order through a microphone, and they bring your food to your car.
Dad played it cool. “What do you want?”
“A cheeseburger with fries and a Coke.” I didn’t have to read the menu board to know that.
“You don’t want a milkshake? Look up on the menu and tell me how much the milkshakes are.”
I couldn’t read it, or more accurately, I couldn’t see it. Then he started asking more questions about the menu. And each time I was squinting and leaning up over the back of the front seat trying to make out all the fuzzy letters.
Dad finally let on. “I hear you didn’t do so good on the eye test at school.” I knew it. Miss Betty had ratted me out.
On a fall day in 1962 I walked out of the Eye Doctor’s office with my head hung down and tears streaming down my little face, wearing my first pair of glasses. Keep in mind that there were no “styles” to chose from. This was not some Optical World with 542 different frames on the wall. If you were a boy and you got glasses, they were black horned rim glasses. Just like the ones that Ernie wore on My Three Sons.
I remember exactly how I felt that day. I felt stupid. The embarrassment was about to kill me. I wouldn’t look up because I didn’t want anyone to see me. Four Eyes would be my new name.
My disdain for glasses lasted for years. Somewhere along 7th or 8th grade, I was playing basketball in the back yard. Just shooting around by myself. Driving in for lay ups. Lobbing shots from way out. We had a homemade backboard and hoop nailed up on the front of the smoke house. It seemed like every time I moved my glasses would fall off. It was hot and they were fogging up. I finally got so angry that I twisted them in my hands, threw them on the ground, and stomped them like I was putting out a fire.
I never confessed to my fit of rage. Sorry Mama. I was just a stupid kid with a stupid pair of glasses. I told her that they fell off while I was going up for a lay up and I just came down on them. I doubt she believed me, anyway. A crumpled up pile of black horned rim glasses doesn’t get that messed up from a basketball shot.
When I started high school, I got contact lenses. I was like a new person. I had worn my last pair of black horned rim glasses. Contacts lasted through college and into my early years of marriage, but I eventually went back to glasses. There were more choices by then and I didn’t have to wear the Ernie glasses, thank God. I got the big tear drop shaped ones. I looked just like Magnum PI except for the mustache and the 6’4” frame and the Hawaiian shirt. Other than that . . .
It is nearly 60 years since that first eye exam. I don’t really hate glasses anymore. I haven’t stomped a pair into oblivion lately. They fog up on me when I wear a mask. I take them off to see up close. My current pair has black electrical tape on the earpiece. The lenses are scratched up beyond hope.
Thus, again, I am sitting in a mechanical looking chair. This time the Doc grabs a high-tech pair of glasses instead of swinging the big black optical thingy up to my face. “I use these for older patients”, he says. “I find I get a little more accurate reading.” I wonder what he means by “older”.
“Can you read that first line?”
E T Z O F V P
The room wasn’t dark and there was a monitor instead of a projector. Otherwise it was pretty much the same.
“Is this better or worse?”
I am more confident now than when I was six. “Better. Definitely better.”
After I picked out frames and called my bank for a 2nd home mortgage, the young fella getting me set up with my prescription asked me how long I had been wearing glasses. “Since I was six”, I told him. “Wow, that’s a really long time”, he chuckled. “What exactly are you saying?” I asked. He chuckled some more and took my credit card.
As I got ready to leave, young smart kid handed me a gawky pair of plastic dark lenses to put over my glasses. My pupils were the size of marbles. The world was fuzzy. Driving home was a blur. The glare off the other cars made me squint. Then it hit me. The new glass frames I picked out are black.
Ernie is back.