HOME   BACK to the Columnist INDEX ARCHIVE
Back To This Month

BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief

"Eyewear Glasses"

So I'm cleaning my glasses in a hotel room in Iowa and they break on me. I'm getting ready for that night's show and, just like that-- no sound, no snap, crackle or pop-- they snap in two. Right at the bridge, the one that crosses the nose. I had another pair, so it wasn't a big crisis.

I immediately flashed back to when I purchased them, about five or six years ago. I hadn't had to pick out a pair of eyeglasses in quite a while. So, I hopped on over to the mall and strolled up to the nearest vendor of "fashion eyewear." (That's a curiously tortured way of saying "glasses." You see, men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses, but girls who wear fashion eyewear? They're a lot like that poor cat in all those Peppy LePew cartoons.)

I recall that I had to replace my old fashion eyewear (purchased five years before that) because gradually, over a period of years, they had evolved into "out-of-fashion eyewear." So, I edged up to the counter and tried not to attract the attention of what is often incongruously referred to as "the help."

There are four words that I have learned to despise when I am in a retail situation: "May I help you?" When I hear this, I suppress my first impulse-- That is, to simply say, "No." That would be rude... or so I've been told. So I say, "No, thanks. I'm just looking." Why the prickliness? I'll tell you why. More often than not, when the retailer asks me, "May I help you?" She/He has little intention of helping at all. Especially in the context of a fashion eyewear store. These people are special and rare.

I went into a Lens Crafters once (or was it a Pearl?), when yet another old pair of glasses busted somehow (I forget how, but it's not important). (If you're following along at home, this is a flashback within a flashback.) Thus, my education began (see above). I strode purposefully up to the counter, my injured specs in hand.

"May I help you?" asked the lady (with absolutely no intention of helping me).

"Yes," I began, "I was wondering if you could fix my glasses."

(Here comes the good part!)

She examined the glasses for a nanosecond, turned to me with a look of annoyance and pity and said, "Hmmm...that would be just fixing them until they broke again."

It was a turning point in my life.

In an instant, I turned the sentence over and over in my mind--That would be just fixing them until they broke again! Wow! The internal logic! The almost truth of it! The stealthy way in which she had simultaneously rejected my plea for assistance and enabled me to see the ridiculous and wholly untenable nature of my request! Why, of course! That would be just fixing them until they broke again! How moronic of me to think otherwise!

I should have known she would respond this way. She was, after all, in the business of selling new glasses. And I shouldn't have been surprised by her attitude. (I noticed, far too late however, that her landing gear was deployed--she was prepared to condescend! She had been treating other customers in an equally insulting manner.)

I said nothing. I was rendered speechless by this nifty bit of retail stonewalling. I have noticed since then that the folks who deal in the vending of fashion eyewear are masters at subtly bullying customers. But I have also taken a certain delight in standing my ground and actually trying to get what I want when I'm confronted with such obstinacy.

So, when my current prescription windows on the world snapped into two equal parts, I was reminded of how I got them in the first place. (Now we return back to the initial flashback.)

"May I help you?"

"Yes. I'd like those glasses right there." I pointed to a pair of plain, black frames. The plainest, blackest frames, unadorned, non-designer, timeless in their simplicity. They were, coincidentally in a "reduced price" ghetto, off to the extreme right, far from it's more fashionable friends.

"Those glasses? You don't want those glasses." (I swear to you, that's what she said.)

I repeated that I wanted those glasses and I achieved just enough of a menacing tone to get what I wanted, but not enough that it would maker her call 9-1-1. She complied.

I ordered a pair in black and I ordered a pair in a sort of amber and black tortoise shell color. The style had a name (all the styles have names!) and this one was called "Harry." This, too, delighted me to no end. I returned in a few days and picked them up. I ventured out into the world with Harry on my face.

It took only 15 minutes for the first wisecrack. On the way home from the mall, I stopped into a seafood takeout joint to order some flounder. I walked in and the man behind the counter, whom I had never met before in my life, said "What are you? One of the Hansen brothers?" (No "Hi, how are you?" No "May I help you?" Just "What are you? One of the Hansen brothers?")

I gotta give the guy credit for at least being original. His reference to the belligerent, hockey-playing threesome from the 1977 classic Slap Shot is an artfully obscure one. Since then I have heard the following "What are you?"'s (in descending order):

1. Buddy Holly
2. Drew Carey
3. Drew Carey on speed
4. Greg Proops
5. Tom Kenney

(Two minor points: One, Holly's frames were much thicker than mine and a bit top-heavy--a different style altogether-- the same goes for Proops' frames. And, two, Kenney doesn't even wear glasses anymore. So there!)

Finally, on the day before the glasses broke, as I was checking into a hotel, the lady behind the counter said (and I am not making this up), "You know who you look like? Billy Holiday!" Yeah. That's right. I look like a black, female, heroin-addicted blues singer. I think she meant Buddy Holly, but I can't be 100 per cent sure. Maybe she needs glasses.

I hear the comments when I'm onstage, too. "Hey! It's Buddy Holly!" someone will yell. It's a momentary distraction. Sometimes I deal with it, most times I let it drop.

And for some odd reason, these frames have reinforced this notion that I'm some sort of an intellectual comic. I've never really refuted this notion. In fact, in my press kit, I include a quote from Alan King in which he calls me "an egghead comic." But the stark reality is that, aside from using a couple of twelve-dollar words and phrases here and there ("digress," "euphemistically" and "atomic number" to cite a few), the act is built on a sturdy frame of dick jokes and scatology! The egghead thing is largely illusion! And, as for the glasses somehow "making" me intelligent, well, I gotta tell you, they didn't force me to take an IQ test when I bought them! Any lunkhead with $49 and an astigmatism can own a pair of Harry's!

So did I ditch the glasses? Certainly not! I took my sorry specs around to three or four different establishments seeking an identical replacement. No dice. "We don't carry those," they all said. "However, all of our designer frames are on special!" No thanks. I slunk out of each store, defeated. Once, when I was in a WalMart, I heard an announcement over the PA about their Vision Center. I hurried over only to find Our Lady of Medjugorje signing autographs. I began to despair. Then I got mad!

After a bit of scooting around the WWW, I found a website and an 800 number for the folks who manufactured Harry and-- joy!-- they still made them! I called and gave them my zip code and they gave me the name of two opticians in my area who either carried the frames or could order them! I hustled on over to one of the opticians, I pawed their catalog for a minute or two and-- there they were!

As I type this, I am wearing my new Harry frames. All is 20/20 with the world. My most recent dealings with the optician didn't go smoothly (of course!), but the end result is that I got exactly what I wanted. And I am learning to deal with the Buddy Holly references with grace and composure. ("You know who you look like?" they ask. "Billy Holiday!" I reply. It confuses them momentarily and it fills them with just a tiny bit of doubt. And it gives me just enough time to scramble away and deal with the next rude but well-meaning fan.) HOME Back to the Top