Quite A Spectacle

One woman’s perennial hunt for reading glasses

By Maria Johnson

“Are those your glasses?” asked the man in the broad-brimmed hat.

I looked down to see a pair of reading glasses with tortoise-shell frames lying on the folding table between us.

“Maybe,” I said.

He looked puzzled.

“I found them over there, where you were sitting,” he said helpfully.

I had been sitting in the grass, on my jacket, watching a high school tennis tournament.

I picked up the glasses from the table, flipped down another pair of reading glasses from atop my head — my dual-purpose headband for the last few years — and unfolded the temples, looking for a hint of ownership.


Close enough.

“Yep, thanks,” I said, stuffing the glasses into my jacket pocket, where they ran into — you guessed it — another pair of reading glasses.

I maintain a fleet because I’m in limbo, caught between the eagle eyes of my youth and the need for prescription lenses.

For now, my dollar-store magnifiers do the job. When I can find them.

Where do they go? Search me.

And my car.

And house.

And yard.

Those are the places I scour when I’m faced with small print and no specs in sight.

“Reading glasses?” my husband asks calmly whenever he sees me tossing aside sofa cushions, peering under beds, patting down hoodies or churning through our coat closet, turning pockets inside out.

When I’m desperate, I go granular, checking the interior pockets of my suitcase, purses I carry only at funerals and
the garden.

Once I was talking to a neighbor over a bed of irises. He kept looking down.

“Are those your glasses?” he finally asked.

I followed his eyes to the rhizomes.

“Maybe,” I said.

I stooped over, picked them up, rubbed the dirt off the lenses and put them on.

“Yep. Thanks.”

I think you see the pattern.

I know, I should put my reading glasses in a certain place when I’m not using them.

I do — on top of my head.

Usually this works. Sometimes too well.

I remember being at the beach, reading under an umbrella, when one of my sons walked up.

“Mom, do you know you have four pairs of glasses on your head?” he asked.

I knew about two of them. They were on my face: one pair of regulation sunglasses and one pair of readers propped in front of them.

Granted, it’s a look that will never land me in a fashionable eyewear advertisement, but I highly recommend it if you want people to leave you alone while you’re reading at the beach.

Without taking my eyes off the page, I raised a hand to the top of my head, where I felt two more pairs in storage.

“Yep. Thanks.”

“Just checking,” he said before dashing off.

I glanced at the mesh bag beside
me. A back-up pair stared at me, glassy-eyed. Check.

The way I figure it, readers are cheap, and the more I flood the market, so to speak, the better the odds of me finding a pair when I need them.

There’s a reason they’re sold in packs, right? As with anything you pick up and put down several times a day — pens, your cell phone, small children —  people expect you to misplace them once in a while.

Unfortunately, reading glasses, unlike kids and cell phones, make no noise when you call them.

Really, the only alternative is one of those old-lady chains that make a “necklace” out of your glasses.

Again, I offer a cost-reward calculation: reading-glasses-at-the-ready versus an accessory that magnifies your aging décolletage 2.5 times.

Yes, there’s a price to pay for living the unleashed life. It’s called dusting your breakfast cereal with chili pepper instead of cinnamon. Olé.

Or going to the store to buy a new box of glasses and not being able to read the box because . . .

But honestly, there’s an upside, too.

Recently, I invited a friend to lunch at my house.

I dusted, vacuumed and straightened up to a degree that I thought was passable, then I put on my reading glasses to check a text and looked around.

“Oh, man,” I said aloud. All of the minor smudges and crumbs around the kitchen jumped out.

There was only one thing to do: I took off my glasses as fast as I could.

Much better.

My friend arrived minutes later. She was carrying her toddler grandson, whom she had not misplaced. Yay.

And better yet, she wore no glasses.

Shew.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Contact her at

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