Shades of Difference

This has been a rainy summer, but when the sun is out, it is very hot and very bright.  It’s been so bright that I have actually considered buying sunglasses.  When I had my annual eye exam in June (a must, since glaucoma is so prevalent in my family), I debated spending a little extra money on a set of prescription sunglasses, but they would be one more pair that I could lose or break.

I think that my resistance to buying and wearing sunglasses is that I have seen them more as a fashion accessory and statement than as a practicality.  Having never been a driver, they have not been a necessity when travelling.  I’ve always been able to brace myself against bright sunlight.

Briefly, I wore a pair of mirror sunglasses when I was a teenager.  These had teardrop-shaped lenses, and I had almost convinced myself that I presented an air of cool.  What brought me back to earth was when I was walking down Putnam St. in downtown Marietta.  Two teenage girls (possibly classmates of mine, since I was about 16 at the time) were passing me on the sidewalk.  One planted herself directly in front of me and gazed into my eyes.  Or so I thought.  Instead, she reached into her purse, took out a comb, and stared into the lenses as she combed and adjusted her hair.

After my annual eye exam at the OSU College of Optometry.  All I need to complete the look is a saxophone.

After my annual eye exam at the OSU College of Optometry. All I need to   complete the look is a saxophone.

It took me some time to associate jazz musicians, especially the ones from the 1940s and 1950s, with sunglasses.  (Please note that I drew on that stereotype in the caption for the above picture.)  The first time I saw a picture of a jazz musician wearing sunglasses was on the cover The Shearing Piano (Capitol T-909), in my dad’s record collection.  Dad explained to me that George Shearing (or “old God Shearing,” as Jack Kerouac called him in On the Road) was blind.

A friend of mine, a jazz aficionado, believes the reason that jazz musicians took to wearing sunglasses on stage (and whenever they were out and about in the daytime) was because of amphetamine use and indulging in other controlled substances.  One of the side effects is dilated pupils, so being under bright lights is quite uncomfortable.

I took to wearing sunglasses in the summertime when I was in elementary school, mostly modeling this on Joe Cool, one of Snoopy’s many personae in Peanuts.  Unlike Corey Hart, I did not wear them at night.

During Zappos Bay to Breakers last May, I waited impatiently with many other walkers in Corral G for the green light to step off and begin the 7+ miles to the Great Highway.  There was a family in front of me, a husband, wife, and two girls.  The girls were maybe seven and nine years of age, and, as we waited for the okay to hit the bricks and start walking, the girls were starting to get impatient.  (I probably wasn’t modeling the best behavior, patience-wise, I’m the first to admit.)  As they waited, they both posed with sunglasses (one had a pair of John Lennon glasses with amber lenses, and the older of the two had a pair of black Wayfarers that reminded me of Tom Cruise in Risky Business (1983)) while their parents took pictures of them.  The sunglasses were unnecessary at that time of the morning, as the sky was somewhat leaden and fog hung over the Bay.

While I was at CVS picking up a prescription the other day, I passed some time looking over the sunglasses on a spinner near the front door, while the pharmacist filled my order.  I was looking for a pair of rectangular clip-ons to go over my bifocals.  Once again, practicality reigned.  Unlike when I was younger, shades would not be a trademark.  (Some people manage to make this work quite effectively: the Blues Brothers, Fritz the Nite Owl, and above all, Roy Orbison.  In the latter case, he put on prescription sunglasses as a Plan B when he arrived at a concert and realized he had forgotten his regular ones.  For years, I thought he was blind.)

Maybe getting sunglasses at last is a sign of old age.  A friend’s mother used to say that one sign of old age is using a bridge table to play bridge.


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