EPISODE 25: The Eyes of June
When I was growing up, children were meant to be seen, not seen wearing shades. Thinking back to the poolside tableau at my grandparents' country club, there were no little girls wearing Foster Grants, just the intoxicating aroma of cocoa butter, snack-bar grease, freshly cut grass and chlorine. The only people wearing sunglasses were mums who could still rock a bikini, dads who had been in the military and single young guys who had been inhaling blow at Regine's the night before. Back then, wearing sunglasses was like growing a moustache or wearing driving gloves: a lot of people tried it, but few pulled it off.
That's changed. Sure, I could blame those charming Look Who's Talking movies in which Kirstie Alley gives birth to a baby with Bruce Willis' voice, but the trend is here to stay. And as my eight-year-old son contemplates his first pair of eyewear, his decision-making process has brought my choices of summers past into sharper focus.
The catalyst for all this ocular soul-searching came one Friday night when my wife, Honor, came home from work with not one but two pairs of sunglasses for our son to choose from. "Nicholas has such pale blue eyes that he really needs sunglasses," she said by way of explanation. Why not? She had already replaced last summer's straw pork pie hat with a new one, to prevent Nicholas from growing up into a crispy slab of bacon like his global warming-denier of a dad.
In my wife's defence, she had chosen miniature versions of the two most classic men's styles: the aviator and the wayfarer. I can vividly remember handing over $35 as a teenager and opening the hard, tan Bausch & Lomb case that contained my first pair of aviators. I could toss out a line about how the dark green teardrop-shaped lenses looked good on my face, but aviators look good on anyone's face. They are the Little Black Dress of shades. The reality was that as a third-form boy in a socially Darwinian boarding school, I took my style cues from whichever sixth-form boy seemed to attract the prettiest girls without having to play a varsity sport. That boy wore aviators.
As a third-form boy I took my style cues from whichever sixth-form boy seemed to attract the prettiest girls without having to play sport. That boy wore aviators
Still, Nicholas was not taking the bait. He emerged from his room freshly showered and wearing his blue-and-white striped pyjamas. He put on the aviators and announced, "They're nice, but too fragile."
In college I switched to wayfarers because Lynval Golding of The Specials wore a similar style, and ska exerted a heavy gravitational pull on my aesthetic. Of course, when Tom Cruise slid into his parents' living room in his skivvies to the strains of "Old Time Rock and Roll", the wayfarers went to the back of the drawer, never to emerge again.
My sunglass choices in my twenties were as hit-or-miss as my love life. A few stand out: in particular, a pair of WWII US Navy-issue glasses that had belonged to a friend's father. The lenses were oval, small and dark, dark green. The frames were gold and wrapped around the backs of my ears. The case included a laminated card that had illustrations of the various Japanese and American fighter planes a spotter might see over the Pacific. Around the time I settled down with Honor, I finally settled on a clear pair of Selima frames with small dark-green lenses.
With pair number two, the wayfarers, in hand, Nicholas went off to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. He came back, set them down on the counter and said, "Thank you. Maybe at the beach club..." My wife looked a little defeated as he scampered off to the living room to watch baseball on TV. Not exactly the enthusiastic response that new haberdashery courtesy of Mum usually elicits.
A few moments later he yelled, "Hey, Dad, Jordany Valdespin just hit a grand slam. Come quickly to see the replay." It has been a tough year for New York Mets fans, so we have had to make the most of the bright spots. Valdespin's early-season grand slam was one of them.
Valdespin is originally from the Dominican Republic and even though he doesn't always start, he's a favourite of my son's and mine. We like how he brings just the right amount of insouciance to his on-field persona. Valdespin wears wraparound shades and became a teachable moment in our house when the local papers reported that he violated team dress code by wearing a T-shirt on the bus. While Valdespin was out of the locker room, his collar-shirted teammates cut up his T-shirt and wrote "El Hombre" on it. Problem solved.
Nicholas' lenses were black and the frames had blue flames streaking down the sides, the way some hot rods have them coming off the front wheel well. They were horribly tacky but somehow looked good on him
My wife was understandably upset that she had bought Nicholas new glasses to no avail, so over the weekend I tried to get him interested in either the wayfarers or the aviators. He was in his room practicing "Let It Be" on the piano. Oddly, he has no clue or opinion about the song except that he knows he gets lots of applause and attention from grown-ups when he plays it.
"You know, Nicholas, a lot of rock stars wear aviators," I said as I held up his miniature pair. He put the glasses on and fiddled with the keys. I couldn't believe somebody who looked so natural playing The Beatles while wearing shades could have even a tiny smidge of my DNA inside of him.
"And a lot of blues musicians like wayfarers," I said. He took off the aviators, tried on the wayfarers, shook his head from side to side and asked me, "What are the blues?" As I rattled off, "Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Milton, BB King..." he looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin. Clearly we have some work to do this summer in the car when the heir is belted into his seat and DJ Daddy controls the iPod.
I decided not to push it. On Sunday, as we were headed out to the park to have a catch, Nicholas appeared in his neon-orange Mets cap and a style of sunglasses that neither my wife nor I had ever worn. They were wraparound shades, a style that I'd call Girl Watchers, the sort of thing Fred Schneider used to wear in the B-52s' heyday.
Nicholas' lenses were black and the frames had blue flames streaking down the sides, the way some hot rods have them coming off the front wheel well. They were horribly tacky yet they somehow looked good on him. "What about the sunglasses your mum got you?" I asked as we rode down in the elevator from our apartment. "They're nice, but when I'm playing baseball I just think these are better for sports," he said.
Instead of mimicking some groovy sixth former, Nicholas had chosen his own role model for eyewear. I never expected it to be me. I just never thought it would be a hard-hitting centre fielder named Jordany Valdespin.
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