Everybody needs the right pair of dark glasses. People have things to hide. Baggage. Crows feet. Dilated pupils. Pin prick pupils. A black eye…or two. Yes everybody needs the right pair of dark glasses. My last pair were too big, they kept falling down my nose, a situation made untenable by wearing a mask. They would hit the slick surface of my Korean knockoff n95 and head for the San Franciscan sidewalk. When you are talking about dark glasses what they cost matters. The most desirable are free. Billy had a stylish pair of Oakley aviator style specs, with a lightly mirrored smoky grey lens. He had made some sandwiches for a group of drunken bums, your standard pb&j, and sat there with them on the street, feet dangling into the gutter, eating lunch. He didn’t even drink with them, not that he was above it. There was no hint of maddog20/20, or night train on his breath, no wobble to his walk. He had simply enjoyed the free and easy conversation and admired Dan’s wolfish looking dog. As he made his excuses, his five minutes that he could stand talking to anyone all used up, one of the guys reached into his pocket, and gave him his shades. “Thanks for the lunch, Man,’ he drawled. Tennessee, they called him. A lank haired thin fellow with a slight stoop. Billy put them on immediately. Pleased. The ultimate score. Free sunglasses.
As I examined them later, and realized they were pretty nice sunglasses, and told Billy, Billy who doesn’t understand the cost of anything at all, but can tell you the value of most things, that these were at least hundred dollar glasses, he gave me a sly smile. “I guess these are stolen, then?” he regarded the glasses in a half smile of contentment. “Well, or dropped by some rich guy who is currently promising never to buy expensive glasses again,” I opined to the empty chair. Billy hung the glasses from his ceiling sunglasses line, strung from one corner of the RV bedroom to the other. It was inhabited by various shades of preposterousness. Broken light up glasses with lights that once ran in sequence from left to right across the rims, leopard skin pill freak shades with pink lenses, ones that he called poindexters which were tortoiseshell and square, round rimmed acidhead shades in orange with purple wire, black solid Lou Reed’s with solid black lenses. Flowery framed grandmas with graduated dark-rose-tinted lenses, wraparound sports frames that floated on the water. The procession of glasses ensured that we did not have much, but we did always have exactly the right pair of dark glasses.
The value of sunglasses is inversely proportional to their actual cost. The expensive but free Oakley’s were a conundrum, and declared priceless. He never wore them again. He pulled his nickel plated tan lensed small frames from the line, and looked like he might apologize to them, pushing them onto his face, shielding his rheumy pale blue eyes from both scrutiny and sunlight.
The Boy ran in…”unklebillyunklebilly can I borrow a pair of sunglasses, pleeeaaaaase!” he ran in breathless from zooming round an Oregon summer campground. Billy picked a pair of indestructible wraparounds from the line. The Boy grabbed them and ran back outside. “Looking good, boy!” his stepdad shouted after him. This was the point in time that those two boys loved each other. The Girl was busy painting at the campground table. She painted what she saw and what others often didn’t. She was painting a teeshirt with fabric paint. Dabbing details onto the white fabric with white fabric paint of a jumping coyote chasing a rabbit in broad strokes of the brush, and a look of perfect concentration on her perfect face. I knew better than to tell her that no one could see her lovely painting, white on white, but knew better than to challenge her. I would always be told that she knew what she was doing. The light caught the image. The Girl hated wearing glasses, more a bright light white light kinda girl, always looking into the sun. I was relegated to ugly but sensible poindexters with their horn-rims and not too dark slightly orange lenses. I wish I could describe to you the peacefulness of the emotion I felt looking at my family. Billy with his library of glasses, my son who barely ever got to leave the confines of a Tokyo city 2LDK, running freely around the forest picking up snakes and frogs and throwing baseballs at tarps, and the Girl, quiet and peaceful with her paints and her headphones playing Garth Brookes.
I replaced my too-large generic black frames. When I had left Billy, left the Beastie, left life on the road, I only took one pair of frames. I had bought them myself, they had cost ten bucks. Billy hated them. They broke all the rules.
Daiso, in Japantown had a huge selection of dark glasses for a dollar fifty. A pair of clear perspex rimmed, light grey lensed Warhols begged me to buy them. They were not quite the optimum price of a dollar, nor the big score of free probably stolen Oakleys, but for a pair of San Francisco shades they were as cheap as I have seen and what’s more they didn’t slide down my masked nose onto the street. I did not break the rule of sunglass buying: never over five bucks, and dollars shades are best. Daiso has a lot of things you didn’t even know you need, and I filled my basket with dollar fifty bowls, the perfect curry spoon, notebooks of varying colors and a good multicolor inkpen. My new shades slid into the brown paper twenty-five cent bag ignominiously. How can a throwaway bag cost a quarter, but my new best friends only a dollar fifty. Snatching them out once we were out of Daiso, smearing my finger over the lenses to make sure they hadn’t scratched or marred, I rubbed them over with hand sanitizer. I hate this new world with its masks and gloves and hand sanitizer. Everything cleaned and everything afraid. Faces hidden, anonymous, but who am I to talk? I live my life in the shadow of shades, I always have something to hide. I slid my new favorite pair of dark glasses on. They were just right.