Friday, December 14, 2012

“Bifocal Holidays”

c. 2012 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

With the holiday season approaching this year, one personal need waited in the background – new eyeglasses. I had been compensating for a lack of visual clarity by holding printed materials at arm’s length. Another tactic involved sliding my wire frames forward when reading. It was a habit developed instinctively, over time. But after the passage of years, I had reached the end of my nose. And it was impossible to find a proper distance for the Motorola handheld device I used at work.
The remedy was one I expected, with dread – bifocal lenses.
Stories about such glasses were everywhere. One coworker said his first pair ended up in a drawer for two years as he kept going back to his old spectacles. Another struggled to travel up and down stairs without falling on her face.
While pondering my need to see better, another note of puzzlement resounded. Since the age of twelve, I had owned plain, wire-framed eyewear. A stylistic nod to the age of John Lennon and Roger McGuinn. But at the age of fifty-one, this personal inclination seemed a bit stale.
Was it time for a change?
While watching ‘Heroes’ on NBC, a few years ago, the character of Noah Bennett provided a stylistic echo of bygone days. His glasses were the kind worn by my own father when I was a child. They were called ‘combination frames’ or ‘browline frames.’ A postwar curiosity reflecting the kind of space-age experimentation that would produce tailfins and Rock & Roll. I knew that Shuron had introduced the original ‘Ronsir’ in 1947, designed by Jack Rohrbach. So, while considering my options, I researched these vision-enhancing relics in detail. The Totally Optical website provided more information:

“As with many eyewear trends, combination frames are making a big comeback—but with a modern flair. And we’re not just talking about materials, but about combinations using patterns and designs. Here’s the inside story on the resurgence of this popular trend from the 1950s.You might say that combination frames are all mixed up. That’s because they don’t use the same frame material for the whole frame. For example, the frame front might be metal while the temples use zyl, leather, crystals, or wood. This type of application leads to some very interesting creations. The mixing of colors, patterns, and materials all help combination frames capture the attention - and pocketbooks - of patients. For those who remember the Ronsir ZYL and Nusir Bouquet by Shuron, Ltd., you’ll recall that these styles were perhaps the most popular combination frames of the 20th century. For those who came after, you may recognize them in nearly every major motion picture set in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. More recently, you’ve seen them on Kevin Costner in ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘JFK,’ Matt Damon in ‘The Good Shepherd,’ and Denzel Washington in ‘Malcolm X’. These frames have a metal eyewire with a plastic overlay (known as ‘trim’) on the top and plastic temples that match. Believe it or not, these frames (and others like them) are still available from Shuron for those who want a major ‘retro look.’”

By the time I visited my optometrist, courage to make a bold choice had faded. It seemed safer to simply choose a pair of frames much like those I was already wearing, But as I shopped the selection of styles his business offered, suddenly, a series of designer creations appeared.
There, amid bland offerings in wire and plastic was a pair that looked a lot like my dad’s long-lost spectacles.
They were called ‘Emery’ by the company Lucky Brand.
I remembered a family photo from Christmas of 1969. We lived in Owingsville, Kentucky. All five members of the Ice household squeezed into our kitchen for a group portrait. I was eight years old.
The memory gave me renewed confidence. When an assistant asked if I had seen anything of interest in their selection, I replied loudly. “Yes!” The reinterpreted browline glasses looked right, even to her.  
Later, I conducted more research. The Bill Gregory Optician website offered promotional prose about my new glasses:

“Shiny with dark, hard with soft, retro with modern, old with young. Combination frames that unite a metal rim with zyl tops and temples are some of the hottest frame styles around. The shiny silver rim is tempered by the black top; the hard metal by the soft curves of the rim; the retro 50’s and 60’s styling modern again after a resurrection from styling purgatory; and the old, vintage style made contemporary once more by young people who give fashion a bit of a wink and a nod. This style used to epitomize the white-shirt, pocket-protector-with-a-slide-rule company man. Who wears it now? The hip, urban espresso-fueled guy who has an idea for a web-based start-up in his back pocket, and will draw it out for you on a napkin over cocktails...”

I picked up the new glasses about a week later. They fit well, and my initial reaction to seeing the world through bifocal lenses was amazingly calm. Briefly, the vision technician explained related issues associated with such lenses. Then, my appointment was over.
I left the clinic and walked out into a wide open space for the first time – and nearly toppled over. It felt like I was falling forward. A man and his children stared with concern, as if I were drunk.
With a bit of effort, I made it to my truck. Behind the wheel, balance seemed to return. I sat there for a few minutes, and read text messages on my cellphone. It was odd not to scoot my glasses forward to see the words.
Finally, I peeked in the rearview mirror. What I saw looked a lot like that stout fellow offering Christmas greetings in 1969.

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